Pâte á choux is named after the French word for cabbage due to its irregular and unusual appearance.
It’s not so much a pastry dough, but more a paste comprising milk/water, butter and flour and whole eggs.
Mastering choux pastry is essential because it is the basis of incredible classic French desserts like éclairs, profiteroles, Paris-Brest and Gâteau Saint-Honoré. Or if you’re in the mood for savoury, you can make cheesy gougères.
Choux paste itself is relatively simple, but the trick is the cooking technique to ensure you have a crisp golden shell and a hollow centre – ready for filling.
Some choux pastries have a tendency to go soggy or collapse as they cool despite looking perfect when you take them out of the oven.
Eric Lanlard has a couple of tips to help overcome this – open the oven midway through baking to let the steam out. Then, once baked and cooled, place the pastries back into the oven on a moderate heat for a few minutes to dehydrate.
Julia Child recommends piercing the pastries once they have baked, then return them to the oven (switched off) and leave them to cool with the door open for 10 minutes.
I used Julia Child’s recipe which doesn’t include any milk. This allows the pastry to be cooked at a higher temperature, but you may not get the colour and tenderness that a mixture of water and milk provides.
I also found that the high temperature meant that some of the choux buns cracked open as they rose, so next time I will try Michel Suas’ technique of staging the cooking – 175 degrees for the first 5-7 minutes and then lowering the temperature to 165 for a further 15-20 minutes.
85g butter (6 tbsp) butter
1 cup water
¾ cup flour
1 tsp caster sugar
Heat the water and butter in a pan until the butter melts.
Remove from the heat and add the flour. Beat together vigorously with a wooden spoon and then put back on the heat for a couple of minutes to cook the flour.
Take off the heat again and add the one of the eggs. Mix together until the egg is fully incorporated, then add the next egg before mixing again. Continue adding the eggs one at a time.
Use a piping bag or tablespoon to create mounds around 1 inch in diameter and ½ inch in height. On a greased tray.
Dip your finger in water, and gently press down on any peaks that may have formed to prevent burning.
Beat an egg in a small bowl, and use a pastry brush to coat each bun.
Bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the buns from the oven and pierce each on before returning to the turned-off oven for 10 minutes with the door open.