The first weekend of June was a long one for us: four hot days passed lazily in the south of Burgundy, where the grandparent's of Rémi's grandmother bought a home that, many years later, remains in the family.
While there, Rémi's mother showed me how to make choux (pronounced a bit like "shoe") - a French pastry I've been wanting to learn how to make for some time. She stressed the following points, which I found useful when I went back to Paris and tried to make choux on my own:
- Before adding the eggs, make sure to transfer the dough into a cool bowl so not to risk over-cooking them.
- When adding the eggs, don't hesitate to vigourously whisk lots of air into the batter as you mix. Yeast isn't used in this recipe, and it's this whisking that helps the pastries rise.
- Don't open the oven door once you've put the choux inside - otherwise you'll risk deflating them.
- If you want neater looking choux, you can use a piping bag with a 8-10mm nozzle instead of teaspoons.
- Choux can also work as a savoury appetiser: fill them with things things like cream cheese or salmon pate topped with chopped chives or dill.
The following is a recipe I've translated into English from Maison Ladurée's cookbook Sucré. The method, however, is formed from both the book and the advice I garnered from Rémi's mum. Happy cooking!
Choux pastry ingredients:
- 120g plain flour
- 100ml full-fat milk
- 100ml water
- 10g castor sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 80g butter
- 4 eggs
- Fillings/toppings ideas: custard/creme patissiere (recipe below) and fresh berries, or, if you're short for time, whipped cream or nutella are easy substitutes. Other topping ideas: crushed nuts, 100s & 1000s, desiccated coconut. And then, as mentioned earlier, you could always go savoury (cheese, pate, etc)!
Choux pastry tools:
- medium-sized saucepan
- silicone spatula
- medium-large mixing bowl
- teaspoons or piping bag with 10mm nozzle
- baking tray
Choux pastry method:
- Preheat the oven to 180 celsius, butter the baking tray and sift the flour.
- In a saucepan, warm up the milk, water, sugar, salt and butter until just boiling, and then remove from heat.
- Add the flour to the melted ingredients in the saucepan and mix energetically with a spatula until the batter is well combined.
- Put the saucepan back on the stove and on a low heat. Vigorously mix the batter for around 1 minute - what your aiming at is to "unstick" the pastry from the saucepan so that it forms a rough ball.
- Now put the ball of batter in a bowl.
- One by one, add an egg. Using the spatula, mix in the egg until it is well combined before adding the next one.
- When all the eggs have been well-incorporated, take a heap of dough between two teaspoons and place it on a baking tray, forming dollops that are approximately 4cm in diameter. The dollops don't have to be neat! If you want perfect-shaped choux, though, I recommend using a piping bag with a 10mm nozzle.
- Repeat, making sure to leave space between each dollop - the choux will expand as they cook.
- Place the choux in the pre-heated oven. After 10 minutes they should start to inflate.
- Let them cook until they've obtained a golden colour - perhaps 20-30 minutes, but it really depends on your oven.
- Once you're happy with their colour, turn off the oven and open its door just a crack to release vapour. After 10 minutes or so you can take out the choux.
- Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream (poke a hole into each chou and inject the cream inside), berries, nutella and/or the custard (crème pâtissière) recipe I detail below.
Crème pâtissière (custard) recipe
As mentioned above, if you're using whipped cream out of a can you can simply make a little hole in each pastry and inject the cream inside. But if you're going to use a heavier cream, such as the recipe I'm about to detail, I suggest cutting off a little cap from the top of each chou and spooning the cream inside before putting their cap back on.
Crème pâtissière ingredients:
- 1 vanilla bean (or 2 tsp of vanilla essence if you can't get a bean)
- 400ml of full-fat milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 80g of castor sugar
- 30g of corn starch, sifted
- 25g of butter
Crème pâtissière tools:
- medium-sized saucepan
- medium-sized bowl
Crème pâtissière method:
- If using a vanilla bean: cut the bean in half, down its length, and scrape out the tiny grains inside with a spoon or with the blunt side of a knife.
- Put the milk in a saucepan, add the two halves of the vanilla bean and the vanilla grains and heat until the milk is just simmering.
- Remove from heat, cover, and let the duo infuse for around 15 minutes.
- In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and the sugar until the mix lightens in colour a little. Whisk in the corn starch.
- Remove the two halves of the vanilla bean from the mix and discard. Reheat the milk-vanilla liquid until it's simmering once more, and then add 1/3 of it to the egg/sugar/corn starch mix, mixing well with a whisk. Now pour it into the saucepan to mix with the remaining 2/3 of milk-vanilla liquid.
- Heat until the mixture just boils, turn down the heat to low and whisk continuously for around 2 minutes or until the custard has thickened to your taste (note that it will thicken a little more once it cools down). Make sure to scrape at the walls and base of the saucepan so that the mix doesn't stick and burn to it.
- Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Let it cool down for 10 minutes and then, while it's still warm, mix in the butter.
- Can be served warm or cold. Use immediately or store in fridge, covered, for at least 2.5 hours or until you need it. It should be fine to use for around two days, maybe even three if stored in an air-tight container.