This is my 100th post – go me! – and will be the last before I take a break from the blog for a month or so, so I decided I would make it a special one so that you’d have lots to keep you busy over the coming weeks.
I’ve talked about choux pastry before, in an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-baking-choux-pastry tutorial and to introduce the lesser known savoury version, the gougère. Choux pastry is usually used to make a sweet cream puff, which can also be served with a pouring of warm chocolate sauce as profiteroles, or cemented together with a glass-clear caramel as the impressive croquembouche. Alternatively, choux pastry makes the equally recognisable eclair.
This repertoire is all well and good, but being able to count the number of recipes on one hand is surprisingly limited in terms of what may be created with choux pastry, when compared to the dozens, if not hundreds of creations made from both shortcrust and puff pastry.
So here are a few suggestions for expanding your choux pastry repertoire. Use the recipe from here and why not try several of these variations from the one batch?
The simplest way to glamourise your choux buns is to add a finish, or glaze that will enhance both the appearance and the flavour.
a) Egg glaze
Brush your choux buns with the beaten yolk of an egg mixed with a tablespoon of water just before they go into the oven. This will result in a deep, rich mahogany brown with a very pleasing sheen.
Those of you that keep a keen eye on the international world of patisserie – What? You mean you don’t do that? Stop looking at me funny! – will have noticed the current trend of adding texture to choux buns. This is done by making a paste of brown sugar, butter and flour and rolling it out thinly between two sheets of plastic film.
The sheet of paste is then frozen for 10-15 minutes before circles (or fingers if you’re making eclairs) are cut out. The disc of craquelin paste is then placed lightly on the top of the choux paste just before it goes into the oven. It provides a great texture, but be warned, it will only remain crisp on the day you bake it.
I also made a savoury version of the craquelin by replacing the sugar with fresh grated parmesan, for use on gougeres and other savoury choux.
50g soft dark brown sugar
50g plain flour
50g fresh grated hard Italian cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano)
50g plain flour
- Blitz the sugar (or cheese), flour and butter in a food processor until the mixture comes together into a ball.. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, there’ll be enough moisture to make it hold together when pressed.
- Roll the paste out between two sheets of cling film until extremely thin – about 2mm.
- Put the sheet of paste into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up.
- Using a pastry cutter of the same diameter as your choux buns, cut out circles of the frozen paste and balance the discs on the top of each choux bun.
- Bake/cool/fill as usual.
These little choux delights were allegedly created in 1856, in the famous Frascati cafe in Paris. They consist of a small choux bun atop a larger choux bun, both filled with a flavoured pastry cream. Both buns are then dipped in fondant icing, usually of the same flavour as the pastry cream, and are joined together with a ruff of whipped cream. They are named for their resemblance to a nun in her habit.
Choose any flavour or combination of flavours for your pastry cream and fondant, and use a large star tip to pipe the whipped cream ruff. For a savoury version, use a soft, white cheese instead of the cream to form the ruff. Set the religieuse in a blind-baked, shortcrust pastry tart, for that finishing touch.
Another simple presentation idea, also using two choux buns, this time of the same size. One is filled with a coffee pastry cream and glazed with coffee fondant, the other with chocolate pastry cream and chocolate fondant. The two buns are then joined together with whipped cream.
The Harlequin, The Acorn and The Salambo
All three of these are made from a short, oval choux bun, about half the length of an eclair, and a little bit wider.
- The Harlequin – Caramel pastry cream filling, chocolate and caramel fondant icing, each covering half of the bun.
- The Acorn – Kirsch pastry cream, pale green fondant icing, one end of the bun dipped in chocolate sprinkles.
- The Salambo -Not pictured, but a variation of The Acorn with Grand Marnier flavoured pastry cream. In the Champagne region of France, the colour of the icing is used to denote the flavouring of the filling: white = vanilla, green = rum and pink = Grand Marnier. Chopped pistachio nuts are an alternative option to the chocolate sprinkles.
Created in 1910 with the inspiration of the famous cycling race, the Paris-Brest is formed from a circle of choux pastry, topped with slivered/sliced almonds before baking and traditionally filled with a butter-enriched pastry cream (crème mousseline) flavoured with praline. The Paris-Brest can be made large enough to serve several people, measuring as uch as 30-50cm, or as a smaller, individual serving. Rather than a plain circle of dough, I like to pipe six tiny choux buns in a circle, which will then rise and join themselves together during baking. Once filled, dust with icing sugar to serve.
This final variation is a little different in that the choux pastry is piped around the edge of a sweet pastry base and then both are baked together. The centre is then filled with pastry cream, dusted with icing sugar, and a heated metal skewer used to caramelise the sugar in criss-crossing lines. Other variations include a poured caramel sauce, and a brulée of sugar over the top of the pastry cream.
To make the sweet pastry:
This has a slightly different method to normal, and is sometimes known as Kneaded Pastry, in that the paste is broken into small pieces and then re-formed several times before being chilled. Best made the day before, it should chill for a minimum of 2 hours before rolling out.
140g plain flour
1 large yolk
- Blitz the flour, butter, sugar, salt and yolk in the bowl of a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Gradually add cold water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together.
- Tip out the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
- Using the back of a spoon, break off small pieces of pastry. It’s similar to scooping a bit of butter to spread on toast, but with more of a squashing-onto-the-worktop motion.
- When all of the pastry has been broken off, reform it into a ball and repeat the breaking process.
- Repeat a third time, then wrap the pastry in plastic and chill until required.
For the Polkas
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Roll out the pastry thinly (3-4mm) and cut into circles using a large, plain cutter.
- Lay the pastry circles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
- Prick the pastry with a fork to prevent it rising too much during baking.
- Put the choux pastry into a piping bag fitted with either a plain or star tip, and pipe a ring of choux around each circle.
- Brush the pastries with a mixture of egg yolk and water to glaze.
- Bake for 15 minutes until the choux is risen and free of moisture.
- Cool on wire racks.
- When cold, fill the centres with pastry cream, dust with icing sugar and caramelise the sugar with a hot metal skewer.