Think eclairs, cream puffs, Paris-Brest, St. Honoré, profiteroles or the mighty Croquembouche… master this choux pastry batter and you’ve got them all covered!
Choux pastry is the easiest and fastest to make yet one of the most dreaded. If you don’t pay close attention, it will only take seconds to ruin the batter. But on the other hand when you master the technique, it becomes the most enjoyable process of all.
I remember the first time making these while I was still a little girl (years ago, of course). I followed a recipe from a cook book and it turned out almost perfect. I didn’t have any prior experience or knowledge at all. It was just beginners luck! And then I got over-confident and ruined a few batches afterwards, which made me realize that I need to get the fundamentals right rather than following a recipe blindly. Years later, after bakery school and three baking jobs, I still believe in that single fact.
The recipe attached at the bottom is a guideline. Pay careful attention to all the details on the blog post and you will be able to get perfect choux batter every time. Each and every step is important!
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To make the choux pastry
If you are going to use craquelin topping, make the craquelin paste first! Roll it out, freeze and cut out shapes and set them in the freezer while you make the choux. Otherwise jump straight in and make the choux pastry!
Gather everything you need.
– Sift the flour so there are no clumps
– If you are using unsalted butter use 5g salt otherwise a pinch is enough
– I’m using full fat milk but you can replace milk with water (yes it is possible. Eclairs will stay drier and firmer for longer and more stable)
– You will need 3.5 to 4 eggs depending. Make sure they are room temperature
Place water, milk, sugar and butter in a heavy bottom saucepan and heat stirring until the butter is melted. Then bring to a boil.
Take the saucepan off the heat add flour and salt in one go. Mix quickly using a spatula or a wooden spoon. Use quick, steady motions and make sure everything is combines into a paste. Check the image!
Return the saucepan to the stove. Cook the paste stirring on medium heat for about 5-8 minutes. The row flour need to cook and some moisture will be evaporated.
When you see cake like residue catching up the bottom of the pan, then it is done. It will be less sticker too.
At this stage take the pastry off the heat and let it cool down slightly (until it reaches 35°C roughly or just warm to the touch)
In the meantime, preheat the oven. Break the eggs into a jug and give a quick whisk, just to mix egg yolk and whites.
Having the eggs in a jug will help you add a little at a time.
Once the paste has cooled down (warm to the touch is fine), place it in a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle.
Add a little egg mixer at a time and mix on medium speed.
Scrape the sides and continue, until you get a silky dough. Always mix to clear all the eggs before adding anymore
This is the tricky bit. If you add too much eggs, the mixture will be runny and unusable.
This is how it will look like with half the egg mixture added. It is starting to look smoother but quite thick. So add about a tablespoon of egg mixer at a time and keep mixing
it’s possible that you’ll be left with a little unused egg mixture
Final dough consistency
This is what the final dough/paste should look like.
– It is shiny
– Not runny
– Not stiff either
– when you lift the paddle, the dough should hang like shown in the picture
If you are not sure, place some of the mixture in the piping bag with a tip fitted, and try piping. The dough should be effortlessly pipeable and holds it’s shape without collapsing.
Choux pastry is now ready. You can now use this pastry to make eclairs or profiteroles or basically any other choux variety. I use a half sheet pan lined with a silicon mat to pipe these. It helps with better rise and easy peel off. You can of course use a parchment paper instead.
Make sure to stick the parchment paper to the tray before you start piping otherwise the paper might try to come off when you lift the piping bag.
You can use either a
– french tip ( .56″ opening diameter)
– round tip ( 17mm opening diameter)
To pipe choux buns (profiteroles) use the round tip
Hold the piping bag in an angle. One hand to squeeze and the other hand to guide and control the movement.
To make choux buns, pipe a blob with 3.5 cm to 4 cm diameter. If you pipe it too big, the bun will lose its shape and have an uneven top.
smooth the top with a wet finger
To make eclairs, pipe long cylinders. The length is up to you. I use my bowl scraper as a guide. You can use either the French tip or the round tip.
Leve about an inch between these as they puff up and expand in the oven
Use a wet finger (dip your finger in water) to smooth out the uneven ends.
Do this with choux buns and eclairs
If you don’t have a French tip and used a round tip, to pipe eclairs, use a wet fork to slightly scratch the surface. This will aid the even expansion of the surface and prevent cracks
Dusting the top with powdered sugar will also help achieve the same smooth even top.
Use your preferred method
When you dust these lightly with powdered sugar (icing sugar) it will create a thin crust on top, which will prevent cracking and also help these rise (puff up) all around evenly
Once piped, these are now ready to be baked.
Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375°F. Then prick each shell in a few places with a toothpick (or cake tester) and bake for a further 15-20 minutes at 350 °F or until steady and completely dried out.
Let these cool in a warm place. Best place is oven switched off and with door ajar. This will help them dry out without collapsing or going soggy
Always pipe only the ones you are going to bake. Do not let piped choux sit for an extended period as they might lose shape. It is okay to keep the tray in the refrigerator until ready to bake.
Let these cool completely before filling and decorating.
Empty éclair shells and choux buns (unfilled, undecorated) can be stored at room temperature in an air tight container for up to a day or two. If they have gone soft, place in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes to crisp up. let them cool before filling.
You can also freeze these. Simply place the cooled shells in a zip lock bag (or an air tight container) and freeze for several weeks. To use these, let them thaw at room temperature and place in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes. They will crisp up again. Now you can let these cool and fill with your favorite filling.
Craquelin is another fancy technique to use on choux pastry. This will elevate their look and also will help give them a nice and even top. Craquelin is nothing but a paste made with butter, brown sugar and flour. Let’s see how to do this!
You need brown sugar (dark or light) cold butter and some all-purpose flour. Also a few drops of water/vanilla extract
Place the cold butter cubes, sugar and flour in a food processor. Process in ‘dough’ mode until it represents large bread crumbs. Add a teaspoon of water/vanilla extract and keep processing until it start to come together (1-2 minutes)
When it comes together like this, take the mixture onto a non stick surface and form a ball
The craquelin paste.
Place this in between two sheets of parchment paper and roll out until very thin (about 3 mm thickness)
This is the rolled out paste. If your paste starts to get too soft or sticky, place in the fridge until hardened and continue to roll again.
Once done place this in the freezer for about an hour or until very hard
Once frozen, you can cut out the shapes to go on the choux.
Use a pairing knife to cut the rectangles.
I use the back of a metal piping tip(nozzle) to cut round shapes. Once cut, keep the shapes in the freezer until needed
The shape should be slightly smaller than the choux you piped. Check next picture below.
Place the craquelin disk on the choux pastry, just before you place the tray in the oven.
Rectangles go on the éclair shapes.
Place the craquelin just before you bake. If you let this sit, the paste will start to melt.
Baked choux bun with craquelin top
Baked éclair with craquelin top
We did talk about several ways to bake the choux. Lets compare and contrast the results. I am not saying any method is better than the other. You can choose how you want yours to look like and stick with it.
Now that we have sorted out the choux pastry, let’s see what options do we have for the filling and how to decorate these.
Decorating and filling
You can fill the choux buns with
– whipped cream ( cream and vanilla whipped up to stiff peaks)
– chantilly cream (1 cup cream + 2tbsp powders sugar+ vanilla, whipped up)
– diplomate cream ( custard folded with whipped cream or thickened using gelatin)
– mousse (chocolate mousse, berry mousse, coffee mousse etc.)
– thick custard (pastry cream)
Choux buns (profiteroles) are served with a chocolate sauce or runny chocolate ganache. It is common to use caramel, butterscotch sauce these days.
To make a ganache
All you need is 1 part semi-sweet chocolate and 1 part cream in weight.
eg: 200g chocolate + 200g cream
Place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two. Then using a spatula, slowly mix the chocolate and cream until all the chocolate is dissolved and it looks smooth and silky. Do not rush this process. And be gently, so you don’t get air into the mixture.
Let the ganache cool a little bit, so that it is thicker. This way it is easier to dip and the ganache won’t run too fast down the sides. As soon as you dip the shells, place them in the fridge to set the ganache.
How to fill
To fill a choux bun, make a hole at the bottom using a skewer or a tooth pick
To fill an éclair, make two holes on far ends.
Pipe halfway though one hole and the other half through the other. When you see filling pushing out from the other end, you are sure there are no gaps in between.
Use a nozzle with 3mm opening for piping or you can use a special nozzle designed specifically for this purpose.
Filled profiteroles can be then dipped in chocolate ganache
If you have used craquelin, then all you have to do is fill the buns or eclairs and you are done!
You can split open the choux buns or eclairs and sandwich the two pieces instead of filling them. This is great if you want to show off the filling and also adds height to the product. These are less stable and need to be kept in a fridge or consumed relatively quickly.
It is often a good idea to split open the shell and dry it off in an oven before you sandwich. This will prevent the shells going soggy too quickly
Filled eclairs should be eaten fresh for the maximum enjoyment. The longer they set, the softer the shell will be. Also the filling may go off if you let it sit at room temperature for longer. If you want to store filled eclairs, you can do so. Place in an air tight container and refrigerate. The shells will go a bit soggy (soft) but still be delicious.
How to fix runny batter
If your batter ended up being too runny, possibly you have added a little too much eggs. To fix this, cook a paste using roughly half the choux recipe (water, milk, flour, butter similar to how you started).
60g water, 60g milk, 50g butter, 75g flour
Bring water+milk+butter to a boil, add flour and cook for 5 minutes
Let the paste cool down and add a little at a time to the runny batter and mix on medium. As soon as you reach the correct consistency, stop adding any more. Now this choux is ready for piping