I love Choux!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

There is something quite extraordinary about pastry. I find it truly amazing that a simple mixture of butter, flour and water can magically transform in the oven into a light, airy puff, or develop a multitude of flaky layers. There are so many desserts that would be amiss without pastry. What would the world be without the 'pie' in apple pie, the buttery crust of a lemon meringue tart, or the light softness of a chocolate éclair?

Choux pastry is a variety that has always been of particular interest to me. In terms of texture, taste and structure, it is very different to puff or shortcrust pastry. The recipe relies on ingredients with a high water content (eggs, water) to generate steam that allows the dough to rise. This is what creates that signature hollow interior and crispy outer shell. 

Making choux pastry is not as hard as it looks. Unlike other varities, the dough does not require a laborious process of resting, rolling and shaping. In fact, you do not need to get your hands dirty at all. It is also relatively quick to make, and is very versatile, too. Grated cheese can be mixed in before baking to create gougères (cheese puffs), or plain puffs filled with crème pâtissière and sandwiched together with toffee to craft an extravagant croquembouche. The dough can be baked as long lengths for èclairs, or piped into a ring as the foundation of Paris-Brest. The possibilities are endless!

I made choux pastry for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and it has since become a go-to recipe for an easy but luxurious dessert. The process of making choux is quite particular. First, butter and water are melted together on the stove until the mixture just boils. Flour is vigorously mixed into the liquid and cooked out to form a relaxed, golden-yellow ball that comes away from the sides of the saucepan.

The roux is then taken off the heat and left to cool slightly, before eggs are gradually beaten in to achieve a thick, smooth dough that only just holds its shape when dropped from the spoon.

The choux is then ready to be piped into rounds or lengths. Smooth over the surface with a finger dipped into a little water, spray the top with some extra water to help the pastry rise, then pop into a hot oven and let the heat do its magic.

Baking the choux requires a little bit of extra attention. After a short period on high heat to help kick start the rising process, the temperature is dropped a little so that the dough can cook through and turn a nice golden brown colour. Finally, it's dried out in the oven for a little longer so that any residual steam is able to escape.

The result is an unbelievably light, hollow pastry puff, ready to be cut open and filled with whatever your heart desires. Cooked choux pastry is the perfect carrier for any filling, whether it be a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, custard or sweetened, whipped cream.

My favourite thing to do with choux pastry at the moment is make profiteroles. I cut each puff open through the middle, fill the crevice with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream, sandwich the lid on top and drizzle with this homemade hot chocolate sauce. Absolute heaven.

If you have never made pastry before, I think choux would be a great place to start. It's not as temperamental as puff or shortcrust pastry, and does not require you to make a filling or topping to go with it - store-bought ice cream or custard works a treat!

Choux Pastry Recipe
Adapted from this recipe by Australian Women's Weekly
Makes about 14-16 moderate-sized profiteroles

20g butter
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup plain flour
1 egg, beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius fan forced. Line one oven tray with baking paper.
  2.  Combine the butter and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, mixing until the butter melts and the mixture just reaches boiling point.
  3. Take the pan off the heat, add the flour, and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the flour is absorbed. Place the saucepan back over low to medium heat and continue beating for a further 2 - 3 minutes. The mixture will come away from the sides of the saucepan to form a rough, ball-like clump.
  4. Take the dough off the heat, let cool slightly, then beat in half of the egg. The mixture will become gloopy and look like it has split, but continue to beat vigorously; it will gradually come back together again. Add the remaining egg and beat until it has all been absorbed and the dough turns smooth and glossy - this may take a minute or two. At this stage, it will resemble a very thick paste that droops off the spoon with some resistance.
  5. Transfer the pastry dough into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm nozzle. Pipe small rounds 3 - 4 cm in diameter onto the lined baking tray, about 5 cm apart. Wet the tip of your finger and gently smooth over any ridges or bumps on the surface of the rounds. Flick a spray of tap water on top of the puffs (this helps create extra steam to allow them to rise). 
  6. Bake in the oven for 7 minutes, the turn the temperature down to 160 degrees and bake for a further 10 minutes or until crisp and golden. Check the puffs are cooked by picking one up and gently tapping the surface; it should sound hollow and feel very light and dry. If not cooked, place back into the oven for another 2 - 3 minutes until dried out. Take the puffs out of the oven and let cool on a wire rack. 
  7. Once cooled, cut open horizontally and fill with ice cream or creme patissiere. Place the lid on top and drizzle with homemade hot chocolate sauce, if desired.

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