Saturday, January 23, 2010

Baking Class: How to Make Choux Pastry

Done with cakes.  Next up in baking class, choux pastry:  cream puffs and eclairs.  Coming soon:  meringues, pies, and tarts.  And all sorts of spectacular final projects are being planned, wait til you see them!

A few things to keep in mind with choux pastry:

* Be sure to let the batter cool before you start adding eggs.  If it's too warm, your puffs will not puff, and you will be very sad!

* It's not clear how many eggs you'll need.  Try 4, but be ready to add more.  If you add too many, the batter will be too runny, and you won't be able to pipe it.  But you want to add as many as the batter can take to get the most rise in your pastry.  In our class, one group used only 4, one used 5 1/2.  As soon as the batter closes back in on itself fairly quickly when you swipe your finger through it, it's ready!

* All purpose flour is fine, but if you have bread flour, use it.  It browns a little more, and the extra protein allows the batter to hold a little more egg - so more puff!

* The batter's not particularly tasty, don't worry.  And, in fact, the pastry cream doesn't even smell very good when you finish it (very eggy). But it gets better after it chills (and especially after you add the flavoring). The final product is totally yummy.  (and I'm sure some people even like that eggy taste...)

Pastry Cream

2 cups milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
4 tablespoons butter (2 ounces), cut into several small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dissolve cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Beat the eggs and yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Slowly pour the milk/sugar mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly (you don't want to cook the eggs). Strain.

Return to heat (medium/high flame), and continue whisking until the cream thickens. After the cream comes to a boil (little blips, not an active boil), cook one more minute; keep whisking!

Remove from heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla and melted chocolate. Cool completely in the refrigerator or over an ice bath. The ice bath will cool the cream more quickly.

Flavor options:

Vanilla:  Leave as is.

Chocolate:  Stir in 3 ounces melted semisweet chocolate when you add the butter.

Coffee:  Dissolve 1 ½ teaspoons espresso powder in 1 ½ teaspoons boiling water; let cool.  Whisk into pastry cream with butter.

Almond:  Replace 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with 1 teaspoon almond extract.

Kate, Peter, Andrew piping away

Choux Pastry

3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (all-purpose is fine, we used bread flour)
4-5 eggs (approximately)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Combine water, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. When the mixture starts to boil, remove from heat and stir in flour.

Return to heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixtures dries slightly and begins to leave the sides of the pan. Transfer to a bowl, and let stand for 5 minutes to cool; if using a stand mixer, beat for one minute to cool.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time; be sure to wait until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. You might not need the entire fourth egg; you might need another half egg. The dough should be stiff enough to pipe; if you swipe your finger through the dough, it should close up on itself fairly quickly.

Immediately pipe the dough into the desired shape (try some cream puffs and some eclairs) and bake for about 10 minutes or until well-risen. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking until completely dry. It should be completely firm when you take it out of the oven or it will collapse; usually it needs another 20 minutes in the oven after it starts to look done.

Baked puffs and eclairs

Chocolate Sauce

1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla (or Kahlua)

Bring the cream and sugar to a boil over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in corn syrup, chocolate, salt, and vanilla/Kahlua.  Let sit for one minute; stir until smooth. 

The Makings of A Chocolate Sauce

Fill and Decorate

When puffs/eclairs are completely cool, use the tip of a sharp knife to poke a hole in the bottom of each puff; for eclairs, poke one hole on each side of the bottom of the eclair.  Use a pastry bag to pipe the pastry cream.

Dip the top of each pastry into the chocolate sauce.  Drizzle with melted white chocolate, if desired.  (Heat the chocolate sauce in short intervals if it's already begun to set.)

Glazed puffs and eclairs

Sean's coffee cream puff

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  1. I love making pastries with choux. It is so easy to make, yet people think you've spent loads of time creating these little masterpieces. Thanks for sharing your little beauties.

  2. Okay, looking for pastry cream that's not runny and can be used in cannoli's...I used various recipes with either cornstarch or flour...can the rum (alcohol) be making it runny? Should I use rum extract instead? Some advice would be great.

  3. Hmmm, pastry cream should not be runny. Are you cooking it long enough on the stove? That's when it thickens. It takes some time, but it gradually gets thicker and thicker, and then it starts to boil - small blips all over. When that happens, cook for one more minute, and it's done. Then you can add a little flavoring - not a ton.