Let Me Solve Your Whipped Cream Problems

Like many pastry staples, choux pâté is made with a few simple ingredients and the technique required is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make the perfect choux pastry every time.

The recipe is deceptively simple. Cook the all-purpose flour, butter, milk and water together in a saucepan on the stove (forming something like an extremely thick dressing), take it off the heat and add a few eggs until it’s “just right”. The finished pasta is a thick, sticky dough that turns into an elegant pastry shell when cooked. Like sourdough bread, choux pâté is hardly “easy to make”; pasta can go bad in a number of ways. If you’re cooking batch after batch and aren’t getting the tall, crispy, hollow shells that food blogs and reality TV judges tell you about, let me trouble your baking problems.

My custards are too small/too dense/no cavity/too small cavity.

If any of the above describes your choux pastry, then your pastry doesn’t have enough eggs. Custard is a simple concoction with no chemical leavening agents, which means that all of its upward power comes from the eggs. This characteristic cavity in the middle of the choux pastry is formed as a result of the expansion of the egg and the evaporation of water. If you don’t have the correct proportions of either, you will see a smaller cavity (or perhaps none at all) and less puff overall.

When adding eggs to a mixture of flour, butter and water, check the consistency of the dough before starting rolling. If the dough sticks straight when you take the spoon out of it and doesn’t sag or wilt at all, it’s too stiff and needs more eggs. Even if the recipe calls for fewer eggs, trust your eyes and add one egg at a time until the paste is runny. When you stop stirring, the dough should hold its shape for a second and then relax or wilt by about 50%. However, it should not be liquid . If it’s runny, you’ve added too many eggs.

My custard puffs are sad and flat.

Where have I been… oh yes: you added too many eggs this time. Perhaps after reading that choux pastry gets its “growing power from eggs,” you thought that more eggs would make for the most beautiful giant éclairs the world has ever known. Unfortunately, this is not the case. An excessively high proportion of eggs inhibits the structural gluten from the flour, which cannot support puffiness. You end up with a loose dough that you might even find difficult to load into a piping bag so that it doesn’t spill out the front. If you manage to start squeezing out the dough, it won’t hold its shape and may form more of a puddle than a ball or ring. After baking, you will see only a slight puff of the dough, which will look smooth, not uneven. The texture will be soft and maybe a bit rubbery.

To avoid this, take the step of adding the eggs slowly. Instead of throwing in all the eggs at once, add one at a time and mix until smooth. Between adding the eggs, check the consistency to see how the pasta goes. If you notice that the dough has reached the perfect semi-soft, glossy state one egg early, hold your hand back. Save this egg for the omelet. Sometimes recipes can work perfectly, but depending on the size of your eggs, your dough may have different requirements.

My custards puffed up in the oven but deflated as they cooled.

Sometimes the problem is not the eggs. If you notice your eggs puffing up gracefully in the oven, showing all the signs of a successful puff pastry shell, only to collapse later, you may be dealing with a weak gluten structure. All the bloating and evaporation happened as expected, which suggests that the proportion of the ingredients is right, but when it comes to holding those big, plentiful air pockets, the structure isn’t strong enough and it collapses.

Deflating after the fact may be due to underdevelopment of gluten during the mixing steps of batter preparation. Because nothing else is holding that bundle of air together, gluten plays a critical role in the choux pastry form, so don’t overdo all the mixing steps. There are two of them, and they are needed to create the necessary gluten. The first is on the stove, when flour is added to the liquid; be sure to mix and thoroughly boil the mass. It usually takes a few minutes of vigorous stirring until there is a thin layer of mixture lining the pan. If you are using a hand or stand mixer to add the eggs, let it mix each egg thoroughly and don’t worry about over-mixing. If you’re kneading the dough by hand, feel free to knead the dough for as long as you need to get a smooth, glossy paste before you start squeezing it out.

If you’re sure you mixed that pasta, damn it, another possibility is that the choux pastry was underbaked. It is important that the puffs are thoroughly cooked before they leave the oven so that their texture sets like any other pastry. The good news is that if the mixture is fine, you probably won’t have to start over. With the next tray, adjust the time so they can dry for another 10 minutes.

They look great, but they are not crunchy.

Moisture from the inside penetrated into the outer crust. One of the virtues of a well-cooked choux pastry is the textural contrast. The outside is tender and crispy, but once you break through to the center, you’ll find a tender web of soft egg dough. However, in the battle between dry and wet, one (wet) always wins. Eventually the crunch will give way to moisture no matter what, but there are ways to expand that textural medley and keep the crunch on the outside for quite some time.

When the choux pastry is baked, remove it from the oven and, using a small paring knife or toothpick, poke a hole in each puff in an inconspicuous gap. (If you made a large tin or ring, poke a few holes around the tin.) Return the puffs to the oven for another two to three minutes. The hole you made serves as a vent for moist air to escape in a controlled way from the dough instead of being trapped in the central cavity where it will eventually soak into the crust.

My choux was raw the next day.

I’m sorry, but you didn’t store your baked goods correctly. The freezer is the best place for baked custard shells without toppings. In fact, because this is such an efficient way to store them, you can make choux pastry weeks or months in advance so you have cream puff shells without making them a day.

Spread the freshly baked choux pastry on a baking sheet so that they do not squeeze each other and place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes or until set. Once they are completely frozen, transfer the custards to an airtight container (I usually use a plastic bag) and return to the freezer until needed. To spice them up, place the puffs on a baking sheet and toast in a preheated 350°F oven for 5-15 minutes, depending on the size of the pastry crust. Fill and cook as if they were freshly baked (they will taste the same).

I was trying to fill the choux pastries and made a mess / they were half empty.

Whether you’re making cream puffs, eclairs, parisian brest, or swan, there are two common ways to stuff choux pastry: through a hole in the shell, or by cutting the shell in half. You can use a long nose nozzle (aka Bismark nozzle ) for eclairs, a small round nozzle for small custards, or simply cut any shell in half and fill it. Both styles look equally elegant and are well practiced in the food industry. (Note that stuffing can sometimes be a nightmare if you’re not used to it.)

To squeeze out the filling, poke a pilot hole in the dough with a paring knife, about the size of the tip of the tube. Trying to pierce the shell with the tip of a tube is foolhardy, so it’s best to prepare the entrance with a knife. Fill a piping bag with a suitable nozzle – either Bismarck or regular round if the shell is small. Pack the filling and insert the metal tip into the shell until it stops without protruding. Slowly press down on the bag; you will feel the bag pull back as the shell fills up. Take your time as you will end up with half empty baking pans.

If you’re a beginner or want to decorate your toppings, instead cut them in half and use a piping bag fitted with a rose or star tip. You can also use a spoon if the filling is thick enough that you can handle it gently. Cut the dough in half with a serrated knife and remove the top. Fill the base with the filling of your choice and put the top back on.

Can you make cream puffs without a pastry bag?

Yes. There’s been a lot of talk about a piping bag here, but you can shape and fill éclairs and brownies without using the proper piping bag (or even the wrong one ). A pastry bag helps make the process cleaner and the shape of the dough comes out more precise, but if you use a spoon to scoop the little balls of choux pastry onto the baking sheet, they will bake fluffy and perfect, if not a little irregular. Part of the charm is that they get cracked and rough after puffing anyway, so spoon off!

This famous pastry might drive some crazy, but once you get a taste of it, you’ll know what it’s all about. They are impressive, delicious, and versatile enough to have countless uses. Even puff pastry that didn’t turn out quite the way you planned still tastes damn good.


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