Assessment: Choux Pastry for Profiteroles & Eclairs

Usually, I will only do an assessment entry after the event itself (my assessment is tomorrow!) but I’ll take this as a revision point so here goes.
Well, tomorrow is here and I’ve completed my assessment this afternoon. Got good results, what a relief!
I missed the class on Choux pastry as I was not well last Saturday so home-practice was essential. Very important, as I stuffed up my first batch and that itself was a point of discovery for me. Coupled with helpful response from my trainer and photos from my classmate, I got a fair idea what was required of us for the assessment. Fortunately, I’m not entirely unfamiliar with Choux pastry as I’ve made profiteroles in the past BUT I noticed that gradually over time, my efforts got uglier, flatter, discoloured, burnt, collapsed and I could not understand why that was so. After educating myself with notes from the workbook and spending 8 hours in the kitchen on Thursday practicing (including one failed batch and frangipane tartlets), I can say that when it comes down to choux pastry, like the french  macaron, precise measurements, method and consistency is paramount.  

‘Choux’ in french translates to cabbage which is attributed to its cabbage likeness when baked. The Choux pastry has many applications as bases for both sweet and savoury items; they can be oven baked to produce profiteroles, cream puffs and eclairs, deep-fried to produce  beignets which are french donuts, even spanish churros uses a base of choux pastry. A baked result should have a golden dry outer crust or shell, be able to hold its shape when cooled, must have a hollow center and some moisture retained in the internal walls.

The main ingredients of choux pastry are:-

  • Medium strength flour, eggs, water and fat.

Flour – provides structure. A medium strength flour is ideal. This just means the flour contains medium levels of protein, such as our everyday use plain flour, although our recipe called for hard flour/bakers flour which I suppose strengthens the structure even further. Protein content plays an integral role to the structure of the choux pastry. As you can see from the recipe below, the flour is added to the boiled mixture of butter and water and negligible amounts of sugar and salt. The flour is cooked off to a shiny, smooth mass which leaves the sides of the pan, until it reaches a minimum of 80oC. This cooked floury combination is called the panada where the heat partially coagulates the proteins and gelatinises the starch in the flour, thus lending that structural wall of a baked choux pastry item.

Eggs –   The bulk of the ever important protein comes from eggs. When the panada has cooled down below 50oC, whole eggs are beaten in and this motion incorporates air into the dough, which when baked, gives it volume and causes it to rise with the help of steam from the water content in the panada; hence the hollow puff. Eggs moisten, aerate and adds flavour to the overall pastry base. The eggs must be gradually incorporated (very critical step) into the dough otherwise it runs the risk of flopping in the oven. The gradual incorporation evenly distributes the films of egg albumen (the whites) which is like a elastic band i.e. it expands and contracts with the pressures of steam and air. Think of it as an invisible extendable wall like a balloon, only when the egg albumen is cooked i.e. coagulated, it holds its shape. That is why, opening the oven doors is a NO NO when baking the choux pastry as the drastic drop in temperature can cause this wall of egg albumen to collapse. In terms of quantity, eggs must be added in precise quantities; too much and the puffs risk collapsing resulting in a dense centre devoid of any cavity, because don’t forget eggs imparts moisture as well so the batter will be too soft to hold up the structure. Too little and the wall might be too tough and resist steam production, creating yet another low volume, misshapen product. 

Water/Whole Milk – provides moisture in the form of steam which aids in generating volume. Water as mentioned partially gelatinises and coagulates the flour starch and proteins respectively for main structure of baked puff.

Fat – Butter is the recommended fat for choux pastry although substitution with margarines and other shortenings are possible but I think butter tastes the best still.

Ok so aside from making sure the panada is cooked to 80oC, the ingredients are measured accurately, the oven door remains closed for the duration of baking time, what else is important. Three things:-

  • Trays must be just lightly greased, not well greased. I experienced the ramifications of a well-greased one all too well just yesterday and it was astonishing as I had two different results from the same batch of dough! The well-greased non-stick tray caused my dough to lift off and stick with the top so I had no hollow puff. It had a dense center. The base to some degree, must cling to the tray so the rest of the dough can expand to form that puff. But don’t get me wrong, the trays must still be greased, albeit lightly, otherwise complete adhesion to the tray will cause problems when removing baked goods; top crust and body will break and separate from base i.e. disaster. Behold! The failed version below.

  • Piping – If making puffs, the piping bag is held vertically with a small gap between piping nozzle and tray with even pressure and gradual lifting until desired shape is achieved. Our profiteroles were piped to 5cm in diameter. As for eclairs, the nozzle is held in contact with the tray at a 45 – 60 degree angle and pastry is piped in one fluid even-pressured motion. Any breakage in motion due to trapped air in dough (in the piping bag) can affect the shape of the baked eclair. Our eclairs were piped to a length of 9cm. Both profiteroles and eclairs were piped using a medium sized star-shape nozzle (about 2cm I think)
  • Items must be uniform in shape and spaced out appropriately to ensure room for expansion and even cooking.

The results from my home practice was pretty yummy. Both profiterole and eclairs were filled with chantilly cream with melted chocolate for decoration; given to J’s colleagues. Hehehe.
Ok then, wish me luck for tomorrow.

Below is the recipe for Choux Pastry as adapted from my ‘Prepare and Produce Pastries’ workbook by William Angliss.
I’ve halved the quantities for my assessment but didn’t keep count of how many profiteroles or eclairs this can make. From memory, I roughly recall making 14 profiteroles and 14 eclair fingers (for 7 sets of eclairs). Both pastries can be filled with all types of fillings, whipped cream, creme patissier, custards even ice cream and decorated with whatever topping you fancy, melted chocolate, glaze icing, toffee caramel, fondant etc.

Choux Pastry

105 g   BUTTER       
      225 g   WATER
      pinch   SALT
      pinch   SUGAR

150 g    Hard Flour/ Bakers Flour (at home I just used plain flour – medium strength)

C  275 g    Eggs

Method

  1. Boil “A” in a pan.
  2. Add sifted “B” into “A” while stirring.
  3. Cook on low heat until the fat/flour mixture loosens from the bottom of the pan. The mixture has to reach 80oC, for proteins to coagulate. Cool down the mixture by transferring it to a separate bowl. This is to stop the residual heat of the pan from drying out the panada.
  4. When cool (below 50oC), add the eggs slowly, clear the mixture after each addition of egg.
  5. Scrape the bowl (or pot) occasionally.
  6. Mixture has to have piping consistency, it should be soft, but has to be able to hold its shape.
  7. Just immediately before baking, lightly spray the choux pastries on the tray with water. This helps to generate additional steam which aids in pastry volume/lift whilst baking. 
  8. Bake at 210oC-220oC for 12-14 minutes until golden brown in colour.
  9. Place onto cooling wires on removal from oven.

Note: The above is just the basic recipe for the choux pastry. You can either make profiteroles or turn them into fingers for eclairs. The baking times will vary according to the size of your piped pastry. For my 5cm (approximate) piped pastry for profiteroles, I found that it took me 16 minutes to achieve that golden brown cooked result so you have to play around with the cooking times but be mindful that you should not open the oven doors until the pastry is cooked. Yeah..that makes it difficult doesn’t it. 😉

All the best! Enjoy the photos.

 

 

 

Oops! one choux finger should be cut into 2 halves to form 1 eclair. I used 2 whole fingers!
but I like their height in this photo 

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3 comments to Assessment: Choux Pastry for Profiteroles & Eclairs

  • Moyang

    Oh man, the eclairs look so yummy. I want some after your class tomorrow. Lol

  • SHF

    I’ve been baking eclairs for the past 5 days (at least 10 batches thus far); they are driving me crazy because I can’t seem to get a perfectly hollow eclair (oddly enough, the webbed interior does not appear in profiteroles piped using the same dough!).

    Will try making another batch tomorrow. Thank you for the tips (especially those on piping eclairs and adding of eggs)!

  • Mei Sze

    Best of luck and let me know how it went. :)
    Don’t forget to lightly spray the tray of choux pastry with water just before you put it in the oven to bake. This helps it to expand more.