Choux Pastry

I know English, I learn him from a book.

– Manuel, Fawlty Towers

It’s all very well reading about how to do something, but some things just need to be experienced. Today’s attempt at choux pastry proved that. (My parents used to get terribly stressed about making this stuff, and I was banished from the kitchen, so never got to witness the process. And nobody else’s parents ever made choux pastry, or if they did, they kept very quiet about it.)

Docteur de Pomiane’s recipe sounds charming enough, so I decided to use it, although the measurements were in Imperial and as usual, not entirely clear whether things were by weight or volume. A quick cross reference with the usual sources suggested that all was in order.

It started off encouragingly enough, the butter/water/sugar being brought to the boil. (Chop the butter into chunks, so it melts about the same time as the water boils.)

Removed from heat, flour added, vigorous stirring et cetera. Pomiane does warn that it will look like an unappetising mess at this stage.

As predicted, the pastry detaches from the saucepan and comes together in a ball.

And then, it’s time for the eggs. I crack the first one over the pastry and – whoops! – my faithful heavy bottomed saucepan is still hot enough to instantly cook it. So essentially I have a giant ball of roux mixed with a poached egg. FAIL.

On the next attempt, the glistening ball of paste was deposited into a mixing bowl, and repeatedly tested with the little finger (Pomiane’s favourite cooking implement) until it had reached a bearable temperature. The eggs get incorporated after that. I follow his advice about four eggs possibly being too many, so beat the final egg, and add about half, by which time the pastry has gone from the sticking-on-the-spoon state to the reluctantly-falling-off-the-spoon state, without having turned into liquid.

On the baking tray, they do spread out a little too wide, but puff encouragingly. Perhaps I need to stop at three and a quarter eggs next time.

They’re turned onto the cooling rack and a little hole bored in the bottom of each to let the steam out. Looks like the larger ones didn’t cook and puff as well as the smallers ones, so that’s another lesson for next time.

Quantities

Here are the metric amounts that I translated from Pomiane. I’d approach these amounts with caution, ’til I double check in the cold harsh light of day.

  • 250mL water (3/8 of a pint)
  • 100g butter (3oz)
  • 25g caster sugar (1/2 oz)
  • pinch salt
  • 125g plain flour (4 oz)
  • 4 eggs (Pomiane reckons add the first three whole, and only beat the last one, I think I’d be inclined to beat all of ’em)

Here’s what Delia reckons:

  • 150mL water
  • 60g strong (i.e. bread making) flour (this will have more gluten, so should result in a stickier pastry, I guess)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 level teaspoon sugar

She makes a great deal of “shooting” the flour into the butter/water mix, whereas Pomiane just says add gradually whilst stirring. (Rapid addition of flour also appears in Je sais cuisiner.) She also has the oven at 200 for the first ten minutes and 220 for the next 15. She fails to mention the risk of the eggs cooking upon being added.

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