I hope you are ready for this month’s theme because we will be covering choux pastry! Are you as excited as I am?! This is probably one of my favorite things to bake, although it has also caused me a lot of frustration. But the important thing is to persist, because mastering choux pastry will open the door to so many incredible desserts.
I have made so many mistakes along the way that I thought sharing them with you would speed up your path to success. You might be wondering why it will take a month to cover choux pastry. Well, we will put our newfound skill to practice and prepare several amazing desserts with choux pastry. We will be making together profiteroles, Paris-Brest, éclairs and chocolate religieuses. But you can even make savory choux pastries if you like, such as gougères, that are filled with cheese.
So let’s get to it, shall we? But before we start, unless you already have piping skills, I would really recommend you follow the order of the recipes we will cover. Do not attempt to make an éclair before making the choux. Trust me, been there, done that!
Why Is It Called Choux Pastry?
Choux in French means cabbage. And if you take a good look at baked choux, you will see the resemblance to little cabbages.
Recently though, a few bakers have been using craquelin to cover the surface irregularity and make the choux look smooth and puffy. We will discuss it in detail next week.
Choux pastry should have a crisp shell with a hollow center that you can fill.
What Equipment Do I Need?
- A small saucepan, preferably not a non-stick one so you can see the formation of a film when the dough is properly cooked.
- A wooden spoon
- A medium-sized mixing bowl: you can use a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon, a hand held mixer or you can use your stand-mixer with the paddle attachment.
- Parchment paper or a silicone mat
- A baking sheet
- A pastry brush
- A piping bag fitted with the desired piping tip (optional)
- A tall cup to hold the piping bag (optional)
- 3.8cm dome-shaped silicone molds (optional)
- An offset spatula, to smoothen the pastry in the silicone molds (optional)
What Ingredients Do I Need?
You don’t need to stress out making a shopping list. That’s probably the best part of making choux pastry. Well, second best, after eating it! Choux pastry only requires a few basic ingredients which you most likely already have!
So let’s take a quick look at the ingredients and what their role is in the recipe.
- Water: provides hydration. Can be used in combination with milk.
- Milk: using milk is optional. Milk is used for hydration, flavor and gives a nice color to the choux.
- Unsalted butter: for flavor and richness.
- Sugar: traditionally no sugar was added. But it does make the choux pastry shell more flavorful and enhances browning. Some recipes will use honey as a sweetener.
- Salt: used for flavor and color. And according to Suas1, it also “helps to bind the water to the paste and makes smoother dough”. The salt should easily dissolve in the mixture so avoid using coarse salt.
- Flour: flour provides structure to the choux pastry. I like to use all-purpose flour. Some bakers have used bread flour with success but it personally didn’t work for me. Choux made with bread flour were sturdier but they rose less. If you decide to use bread flour, just keep in mind that, since it has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, it will absorb more liquid. So you will probably need more hydration (more eggs for example) than the recipe calls for.
- Eggs: eggs will provide hydration, from the water content. And the egg proteins will provide structure to the choux when they coagulate with the heat of the oven. The egg yolks will also add richness and flavor to the choux pastry. The amount of egg in a recipe is usually about the same as the amount of water.
Make sure your eggs are at room temperature before starting. If your eggs are too cold, you will have trouble incorporating them into the dough (panade).
Water versus milk in choux pastry
Choux made using only water will be crispy and have a hollow center. Using milk, on the other hand, will yield choux that are softer, and are less likely to crack in the oven. They will be slightly wet in the center and the cavity won’t be as clear as it is when you use only water. You’ll notice some dough in it, even when it is properly baked. They will also brown more during baking. Using milk will yield slightly smaller choux than if you were using just water.
So when should you use milk? It all depends on your preferences and the recipe you are making. Sometimes, softer and richer choux are more desirable. Other times, you will need crispy choux that last longer and can be used for decorative pieces.
Recently, a lot of bakers have been using a combination of milk and water. Usually, you’ll find that equal amounts are used, although this can vary of course. I recommend starting with just water as you’ll get the most rise and you’ll be able to pinpoint any issues much easier.
How Does Choux Pastry Rise?
Choux pastry does not contain any baking powder or soda so you might be wondering what causes the choux to rise in the oven.
Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients. There is:
- Butter, which is made up of 10-18% water
- Whole eggs, which are about 73% water
- Sometimes milk which is about 88% water (for fresh whole milk)
You probably noticed that there is a lot of water! And now picture all this water going into the oven. What will happen? Steam! All this liquid will start evaporating, and will create upward pressure on the choux pastry, causing it to puff up.
At one point, the coagulated egg proteins and the gelatinized starch will form a crust and the choux will stop rising. When you bake it long enough, you’ll get a nice crispy choux with a hollow cavity that doesn’t collapse.
How Is Choux Pastry Made?
Choux pastry doesn’t follow the “traditional” baking method: mix ingredients and then bake. You actually have to cook it first on the stove, and then bake it.
Let me walk you through it.
Making the choux pastry panade
- The first thing you want to do of course is weigh all your ingredients and have them ready on your table. Yes, I know it’s such a boring task. But you really have to, so you don’t end up running around looking for something, whilst leaving your choux pastry unattended.
- Next using a fork, gently beat the eggs so they are easier to incorporate into your dough later.
- In a small pot, heat the water (and milk if using) with the butter, salt and sugar on medium-low. Stir occasionally to make sure the salt and sugar have dissolved.
- Once the butter has fully melted, increase the heat to medium-high and keep heating until the first bubbles appear.
Tip: The butter should be cut into small pieces so it melts faster. We start with low heat so the butter melts before the mixture starts to boil and too much water evaporates. If this happens, your recipe proportions will be incorrect.
Adding the flour
- As soon as the first bubbles appear (at around 95-98°C/203-208°F)2, remove the pot from the heat and add the sifted flour in one go. The temperature will drop to about 70-72°C (158-162°F). Before moving on to the next step, make sure there is no flour visible in the mixture. If there is, try pressing it along the sides of the pot.
- Once the mixture is completely combined, place it back on the heat for about 3 minutes or until the dough no longer sticks to the pot. This time might vary depending on how hot the mixture was when you added the flour, the type of flour, how much water evaporated etc.
How to know when the panade is ready
The most talked about indication is the formation of a film at the bottom of the pan. This will not be visible in non-stick pots however.
If you shake the pot vigorously, the mixture will also form into a smooth ball and start slamming the pot as you are moving it. I love doing that!!
If you like checking the temperature, the panade will theoretically be ready once it reaches 90-95°C (194-203°F). But I wouldn’t rely too much on that as an indicator as it can be hard measuring the temperature of the dough, especially when the quantity is small.
Why should you heat the panade?
Let’s dive into what happens when you add flour to the hot liquids. If you recall, we talked about how steam leavens choux pastry. So you want to add as much liquid (eggs) as possible without compromising the structure of the choux pastry. Basically you want lots of liquid in the dough, without ending up with a puddle!
What happens when you add flour? The heat from the liquid phase will cause the starch granules in the flour to gelatinize and inflate. The swollen starch granules will then have the ability to absorb and retain more eggs. If you don’t heat the panade enough, the starch granules won’t swell to their full capacity and you won’t be able to add as many eggs. If on the other hand you overheat it, you will destroy the ability of starch to retain liquids.
Troubleshooting the panade
Flour lumps in the dough: You might have boiled the liquids a bit too much. The temperature of the liquids should be around 95°C (203°F). Make sure to remove your pot from the heat before adding the flour.
The dough is not firm enough: The liquids weren’t hot enough when you added the flour. If you don’t weigh your ingredients, another possible reason could be that the proportions were incorrect (e.g. too much liquid, or too little flour).
Adding eggs to the panade
Cooling the dough
There is some debate about whether or not the dough should be cooled down before adding the eggs. Some claim it is an unnecessary step. I prefer to err on the side of caution and cool the dough. I really don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs in my choux pastry.
The dough should reach an internal temperature of about 60°C before you start mixing in the eggs. To do so, you should transfer the dough to a medium bowl or to the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Tip: Transfer the dough to another bowl to stop the cooking process from the warm pot.
- Mix for a few minutes on the lowest setting or by hand using a wooden spoon. Steam will come out of the dough. When your bowl doesn’t feel extremely hot and there is no more steam coming out, you can start adding the eggs.
Tip: Although you might find conflicting information online, it is better not to use a whisk for mixing. You don’t want to incorporate too much air into the dough. Air bubbles can create holes in your baked choux.
Adding the eggs
- Add about a third of the eggs to begin with and mix until fully incorporated. Don’t add more eggs until everything is fully combined. The dough will suddenly look curdled. Don’t worry! It’s normal! Just keep mixing and it will come together.
- Add the remaining eggs little by little until the dough looks smooth and glossy. It’s important to add the eggs very slowly or you might end up with runny dough that won’t rise in the oven.
Choux pastry consistency
Knowing how many eggs to add is one of the trickiest parts of the process. Too dry and it won’t puff up properly or it will crack. Too runny and you’ll end up with some puddles of choux pastry that won’t rise. There are a few tests you can do to check if you are at the right consistency:
- The choux pastry should look smooth and shiny. If it looks dull, it probably needs more eggs.
- When you hold the paddle or spoon up, the choux pastry should hold onto it for a few seconds before falling back into the bowl. If it doesn’t fall, it’s too dry. Keep adding more eggs.
- As the choux pastry falls back into the bowl, it will leave on the paddle (or the spoon) a V-shape.
- When you run a wet finger through the choux pastry, the trough you created should close back very slowly. If it doesn’t close back, it needs more eggs. If it closes back too quickly, you added too many eggs.
Now that your choux pastry is ready, it’s time to pipe it onto the parchment paper. If you don’t want to pipe it, you can use two big spoons. Or you can fill silicone molds as I will show you later.
Filling the piping bag
I’ll try to write a post detailing how to use a piping bag in the future. But for now, there are two key steps which you should keep in mind:
- Twist the piping bag where the piping tip is so nothing leaks while you are filling it.
- Get rid of air bubbles.
Getting rid of air bubbles
Let’s quickly talk about how to get rid of air bubbles as it is a very important step. I used to think I could just skip it. But I realized, especially when making éclairs, that I had to learn how to do it!
- Fill the piping bag with the choux pastry.
- Place the piping bag on a surface and flatten the choux pastry as much as possible with your hand.
- Using a dough scraper, start pushing the choux pastry towards the piping tip until there are no more gaps.
- Squeeze out a little bit of choux pastry into your mixing bowl.
- Start piping your shapes.
It’s actually kind of fun to do!
You have a few options when it comes to piping choux. You can pipe:
- Onto the parchment paper or a silicone mat
- Into small silicone molds
Creating an outline for the choux
If you rarely use your piping bag, chances are you won’t know when to stop applying pressure to the bag. If that is the case, I would recommend drawing out circles on the back of a parchment paper that will serve as a guide. Simply use a cookie cutter (or just a cup) in the size you want and draw the outline on the parchment paper. Then turn the parchment paper so that the side with the circles is facing down. Better not to pipe on the pen marks!
If you don’t feel like drawing circles, another thing you can do is dip a cookie cutter (or cup) into water and then flour. Then gently drop it on the parchment paper. The flour that spills on the paper will create an outline that you can use as a piping guide.
Another technique I’ve seen is counting. This hasn’t worked so well with me as I tend to exert more pressure on the piping bag every now and then. But if you want to try it, simply count to a certain number (3 for example) when you are piping and stop applying pressure as soon as you reach that number. Ideally, this should help you get choux of equal size.
It is best to pipe the choux in staggered rows to ensure they won’t stick together when they puff up and to allow for proper heat distribution. I’m terrible at eyeballing this so I sometimes use templates which I slide under my baking sheet. The only problem with this is that you’ll need to remove the template before baking so you can’t stick the parchment paper to the baking sheet (see next point).
How to prevent the parchment paper from moving
Since the parchment paper can move around when you are piping, it is better to secure it by sticking it to your baking sheet. Simply pipe some choux pastry on the four edges of your baking sheet and stick your parchment paper.
Ok, if I’m being honest, I almost never do this. As long as I don’t need to remove the choux pastry I piped (to try piping again), I don’t really bother sticking anything. I can also easily slide my template under the parchment paper and remove it when I’m done.
Piping in silicone molds
As a terrible piper, this is my preferred technique. And it’s very convenient if you want to freeze the choux for later.
- Place the dome-shaped silicone mold on a baking sheet or sturdy surface that you can later freeze.
- Pipe the choux pastry in the silicone mold. Mine has a diameter of 3.8cm which is a really good size for choux in my opinion. And if you don’t want to even use a piping bag, you can just spoon the choux pastry in the cavities. Just make sure to fill them evenly.
- Get rid of air bubbles: Even though you already did this when you filled your piping bag, you should flatten the choux pastry with an offset spatula to make sure there are no gaps in the pastry which would lead to big holes during baking.
- Freeze the silicone mold. I usually cover it with a Tupperware cover but you could use parchment paper or whatever you have, so nothing goes in.
- Once the choux are fully frozen, remove them from the mold. You can either bake them or place them in a zip-lock bag with the date written. Try not to forget them on the baking sheet for days like I do!
I usually forget to do this step! So what really is the point of the egg wash? Well, it has a few benefits:
- You can conceal your bad piping skills and press down those little peaks which would otherwise burn in the oven.
- It will give a nice, shiny, golden color to your choux.
- The choux will rise more evenly.
Is it really necessary? Not really. Unless you want your choux to sparkle for guests, you can skip it!
How to make egg wash
An egg wash can be a whole egg or an egg yolk that you thin out with a little bit of water or milk (or even cream).
How to apply egg wash
I have found that the best way to add the egg wash is to the frozen piped choux pastry. I don’t worry about ruining the shape. But if you haven’t frozen your piped shapes, you can use a pastry brush with thin natural-fiber bristles. It should be soft so it doesn’t damage the surface of your choux pastry.
Careful not to drip. If the egg leaks onto the sides, it will prevent the pastry from rising.
Baking Choux Pastry
You’re almost there! All that is left is to bake your piped choux pastry! Before we discuss oven settings, let’s go through what happens in the oven.
Baking choux pastry can be divided into two phases. During the first phase of baking, the oven heat will cause the liquid in the choux pastry to evaporate. The steam created will start pushing the choux pastry upwards and you will see your pastries rising. If you open the oven door at this point, the steam will escape and your choux will deflate.
The second phase of baking is when your pastries will start setting and drying out. The coagulated egg proteins and the gelatinized starch will provide more structure to your baked goods. The steam will escape from tiny holes on the surface of the shell. It’s important to dry out your choux properly at this stage. If you take them out of the oven too early and there is moisture remaining in the pastry, you will end up with soggy choux.
Oven setting for baking choux pastry
You will have to experiment a little before you find your best oven setting. I’ll explain the oven setting I used in the recipe so you can adapt it easily (hopefully!) to your oven.
I found that using a convection setting gave my choux the best rise so I start off with that setting. But the fan does dry out the choux and makes them extra crispy so once the choux have risen and set properly, I prefer to remove the fan and continue baking using a conventional setting. My oven doesn’t have a fan only setting, it’s actually a combination of conventional and fan which tends to be quite warm. So if I set the convection to 170°C, the actual temperature on the middle rack is 190°C. And when I remove the fan, the oven temperature becomes the temperature I have actually selected, so 170°C.
So if you want to use a conventional setting, I’d say start with 190°C then reduce it to 170°C when the choux have risen and look set. Some recipes suggest using the same temperature of 180°C during the whole baking process. But personally, this didn’t work at all in my oven. My choux pastry did not rise properly.
Other recipes will recommend a high starting temperature such as 205°C and then reducing it to 180°C. In my experience, this worked fine when making choux but the initial high temperature completely cracked my éclairs. The perfect oven setting is not as critical when making choux as it is for éclairs. If you are making éclairs, you might like to read more about oven settings in the post dedicated to éclairs.
Hopefully you managed to get perfect choux pastry following these tips. But just in case, let’s talk about some common mistakes (I made almost all of them!) and how to fix them.
I’ll break this part down into two sections: issues encountered before baking and after baking. Let’s start with what could happen before you even put your choux pastry in the oven.
Troubleshooting Choux Pastry: Before Baking
Choux pastry isn’t smooth
If your choux pastry looks lumpy after you have added the eggs, you might get cracks in your pastry when you bake it.
- This might be due to improper mixing when adding the flour to the hot liquids (step 3 in the recipe card below: making the panade). Make sure you sift the flour and add it to the water-butter mixture off the heat. Only return the pot to the heat once the flour has been fully incorporated. The liquids shouldn’t be too hot (around 95°C/203°F is good) when you add the flour or you might have trouble mixing it in.
- If you are mixing in the eggs by hand, you might not have mixed enough. It does need a little bit of strength. Make sure to add the eggs little by little and don’t add more until the previous egg is fully incorporated.
- Solution: Try mixing the choux pastry a bit longer. If that doesn’t work, you could try straining it before piping.
Choux pastry is runny
If you have trouble piping and the choux pastry just leaks, you have probably added too many eggs. If you bake them as they are, they won’t be able to rise. Solution: Don’t try adding more flour to thicken it. You could try making another small batch of choux pastry until the point where you add flour (panade) and add that to the runny batch. If necessary, add more eggs until you reach the proper consistency.
You weren’t able to add a lot of eggs
If the amount of eggs you managed to add was much lower than what is stated in the recipe, you might not have heated the panade enough. If the starch didn’t swell to its full potential as explained previously, its ability to absorb the eggs will be reduced. Solution: Make sure you heat the panade enough next time. You can find visual information in the section “How to know when the panade is ready?”
Troubleshooting Choux Pastry: After Baking
Flat choux that didn’t rise at all
This could happen for several reasons:
- Too much moisture: This could be due to runny choux pastry from adding too many eggs as mentioned previously.
- Too little moisture: The steam created from the liquid ingredients in the pastry will cause the choux to rise during baking. If your choux pastry is too dry, there won’t be enough steam. This could happen if you didn’t add enough egg and the dough was still dry. Or the starch didn’t gelatinize properly, and you weren’t able to add enough egg as mentioned in the previous section. Solution: Make sure to add enough egg next time until the choux pastry looks smooth and glossy and falls off from the spoon after a few seconds. If it looks dull or doesn’t fall from the spoon, you should add more egg. And if the consistency did look right but you didn’t add a lot of egg, try heating your panade for longer next time.
- Incorrect oven setting. The choux need to be baked at a high temperature to create the steam. If the temperature is too high on the other hand, the crust will set before the steam has a chance to expand the pastry. Solution: If your temperature was very low, try baking at a higher temperature next time. And if it was too high, decrease it. Think of 180°C (356°F) as the average temperature when deciding if it was too low or too high.
Choux pastry rose, then deflated
If you started doing a happy dance while they were rising in the oven, but then ended up with deflated choux pastry shells, you probably underbaked them. Or you opened the oven door at a bad time. Solution: Bake them for a bit longer next time. And never open the oven door while they are rising. You can only open it once they have set. If you are unsure of when that is though, refrain from opening the door until the end of the (possibly extended) baking time.
If you don’t dry out the shells properly during the second phase of baking, the remaining moisture will humidify your dough, creating soggy choux. This could also happen if you keep your choux on the baking sheet and you don’t transfer them to a grill to dry out.
The condensation created between the baking sheet and the choux will lead to soggy pastry. Solution: Dry out your choux in the oven until they are completely golden and you don’t see any streaks of paler color. Check if needed by cutting one open. When the choux are out of the oven, transfer them to a cooling rack when they are not too hot to touch.
Cracks in choux pastry
- Too little moisture: You probably did not add enough eggs (see previous points on “too little moisture” for more details).
- High oven temperature: If the oven is too hot, the surface of the choux will set before the steam has fully escaped. The steam created will then exert pressure from the inside of the choux causing cracks. Solution: Bake at a lower temperature next time.
- Water versus milk: Choux pastry made with just water will give very crispy choux that might have a tendency to crack more. Solution: Try replacing a part of the water with milk for a softer choux next time.
- Improper piping: Piping irregularities will cause cracks in the baked shell. Solution: If you notice irregularities while piping, simply scoop it up and try piping it again. You could also use a craquelin if you are not comfortable piping yet.
- If you didn’t sift the flour or the sugar and salt didn’t dissolve properly, your dough won’t be completely homogeneous. Solution: Stir the sugar and salt while heating with the butter and water to make sure they are fully dissolved. Sift the flour and remove the pan from the heat before adding it.
Shells have a very irregular surface
If your oven fan is too strong, it might be distorting the shape of the pastries when they are in the oven. Irregular piping could also lead to surface deformities. Solution: If using a convection oven, try switching to a conventional setting. If piping is the issue, practice will help. You could also put a craquelin on top of your pastries to hide any imperfections.
Baked choux shells crack when cut
This will happen if your shells are too dry. You probably dried them out for too long in the oven. Bake less next time. Solution: Refrigerate the baked shells for a few hours and try cutting them again. They will get slightly softer from the humidity in the fridge.
Holes in your choux shells
Improper piping can result in air bubbles which will leave holes during baking. Solution: When filling your piping bag, don’t forget to get rid of air bubbles by flattening the choux pastry and pushing it with a spatula (see visuals in piping section).
Choux is doughy
Not enough moisture: If your choux rose a little but don’t have a hollow cavity, you might have added too much flour or not enough eggs. In the picture above, I had used bread flour (higher protein content flour which needs more hydration) and my choux pastry tasted more like bread.
Okay! I think I’m finally done troubleshooting choux pastry! Didn’t I tell you I had made tons of mistakes?! Well, hopefully, you won’t have to go through all this and you’ll make amazing choux pastry on your first attempt!
Now, how about some profiteroles? Or would you prefer some éclairs?
You Might Also Like:
1Suas, M. (2008). Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach (1st ed.). Delmar Cengage Learning.
2Gilles, C. (2009). La Cuisine Expliquée. Editions BPI.