Making choux paste or Pate a choux is not particularly difficult, but it can be frustrating if you end up with big cracks on the surface of the éclairs or other products. I have spent a lot of time on researching and perfecting choux paste and I hope that this article will help, if you too, like to see smoother surfaced éclairs.
For years I would bake the éclairs at a high temperature, (Above 400°F – 200°C) it was what I was taught and it made perfect sense to me at the time. It made the choux paste expand very well and consequently made a large enough inner space for any type of filling. However, the other consequence was the irregular surface, the cracks, which makes it difficult to glaze the éclairs or other choux paste attractively.
To control the cracking, it is important to use the right flour or flour blend. I have used bread flour, with lower gluten (protein) content with good results, but mixing part bread flour and part pastry flour is very good. Certainly many chefs use all purpose flour. The reasoning for using flour with slightly higher gluten content is to permit more eggs into the paste. More eggs allow good expansion in the oven at lower oven temperatures. Lower oven temperatures help in the reduction of cracking.
Another important factor is the baking process. When baking choux paste products, try to fill the oven quite full (A filled up oven creates more moisture in the oven) and leave the steam escape closed. The initial built up of steam will help with the expansion and reduce cracking as well. Once the products have reached their full size, slightly open the door for steam to escape and allow the choux paste products to dry properly.
Piping your products evenly spaced makes a difference as well and examine which oven temperatures work best for you. Smaller piped items need a lower oven temperature or you will end up with a cracked surface.
Not all flour mills have the identical amount of gluten in their specific bread or pastry flour, so you may have to experiment which flour or blend works best for you. I suggest to make small changes at a time and observe the results.
Choux paste – Éclair Paste – La Pate a Choux
Yield: All or part of this batter can be frozen and baked at a later time. The recipe can be cut in half for home use.
|1 Cup||(8 oz)||Milk||240 g|
|1 Cup||(8 oz)||Water||240 g|
|2 teaspoon||(1/3 oz)||Salt||10 g|
|1 Tbsp + 1 tsp||(2/3 oz)||Extra fine granulated sugar||20 g|
|2 sticks||(8 oz)||Unsalted butter, cubed||240 g|
|2 Cups||(9 oz)||50% bread + 50% pastry flour||270 g|
|2 Cups||(16 oz)||Eggs, loosely beaten||480 g|
- In a saucepan bring to a boil the water, milk, sugar, salt and butter.
- Remove from heat and immediately add the sifted flour. Stir well until combined. Return to heat and stir until the dough releases from the sides and bottom.
- Place the mixture into a bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium speed gradually add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl often. Once 14 oz (420 g) of the eggs are added examine the batter, it should be smooth and have a light sheen. It should be firm enough to hold it’s shape when piped. Add the remaining egg if needed.
- Pipe the batter using a large plain tip on parchment lined sheet pans. Brush with egg wash lightly if desired. Place in the oven at 350F (180C), steam escape closed. When the products are well expanded, open the oven door slightly to let the steam escape. Bake until the products are crisp when pressed on the sides. About 35 minutes for éclairs.
- When cool fill with pastry cream of choice and glaze.
Pastry Cream, Vanilla or Pistachio
Flavor the cream by either boiling one plump vanilla bean into the milk mixture or after cooling the cream add natural pistachio flavor of choice.
|3 ½ Cups||(28 oz)||Milk||840 g|
|½ Cup||(4 oz)||Whipping cream||120 g|
|½ Cup||(4 oz)||Extra fine granulated sugar (a)||120 g|
|10||(10)||Large egg yolks||10 g|
|6 Tablespoons||(3oz)||Extra fine granulated sugar (b)||90 g|
|9 Tablespoons||(2.5oz)||Cornstarch||75 g|
|2 Tablespoons||(1 oz)||Unsalted butter||30 g|
- In a saucepan bring to a boil the milk, cream and sugar (a) and vanilla bean (If using)
- In a separate bowl whisk the egg yolks smooth, add the sugar (b) and whisk quickly and vigorously. Whisk in the cornstarch.
- Add one fifth of the boiling milk into the yolk mixture and whisk. Pour the yolk mixture into the remaining boiling milk and whisk quickly until boiling and is thickened like honey.
- Pour into a clean bowl, cover with plastic food wrap (Plastic touching the cream) and set the bowl on ice to chill rapidly.
- For pistachio cream add the flavor and if desired also a few tablespoons of Kirsch liquor to enhance the pistachio flavor. If vanilla pastry cream is made, a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier is also delicious.