Choux pastry is one of those foods that seem impossible to make but is actually so so so easy to make once you know the basic premise and how to troubleshoot the most common problems.
When cooked a choux pastry should have a crisp, golden-brown crust with big air-pockets on the inside. There will be some cracks on the outside, but choux should keep its shape after being cooked.
At its most basic level, choux pastry is made up of a 2:1:1:2 ratio by weight of water, butter, flour, and eggs. To make a sweet choux, you can add some sugar, and I always like to add a bit of vanilla. I like to add a little extra flour because I find that it makes the dough a little bit stiffer and helps the look of the choir after it’s been cooked.
This is the basic choux pastry that I use and haven’t too many problems with:
8 oz water
4 oz butter
4.25 oz flour
8 oz eggs (about 4 large eggs)
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons caster sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
Make sure to weigh these all out; precision is key!
Preheat you oven to 375˚F.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the water and stir in salt and sugar (if using) until they are completely dissolved. Once the mixture starts to boil, take the pan off of the heat and sift in the flour. This is one of the only times I actually take time to sift the flour because any little balls of flour can create weird results in your choux pastry. Vigorously mix in the flour (I use a wooden spoon) until the flour absorbs all the moisture and the mixture resembles a dough.
Once the mixture is completely combined, return the saucepan to medium heat and stir until the dough pulls away from the side of the pan (about 3-5 minutes). You’ll know when it’s done when it pulls away from the sides, has small oil droplets on the dough, and (this is the most important in my opinion) when you cans stick your spoon in the middle of the dough and the spoon sticks straight up without falling.
Transfer the dough into a bowl (I use the mixing bowl for my stand mixer) and let cool. Add vanilla is using. Whisk the eggs and add them into the dough, one at a time, while mixing to make sure the eggs don’t scramble. After mixing all of the eggs into the dough, take a moment to make sure the mixture is the right texture. It should be glossy and you should be able to easily pipe the dough, but the dough should hold it’s shape after being piped. I’ve explained below how to troubleshoot if your dough is too runny or too dry.
Pipe the dough to your desired shape (either a ball with a spiral-like shape for profiteroles or a straight line for eclairs). With a damp finger, flatten any pieces of dough that stick up to stop them from burning. Bake for about 30 minutes, but make sure not to open to oven until the 20 minute mark or the oven could loose heat and cause the choux to not rise as much. However, choux baking times change slightly with size, so use your best judgement. When done, the choux should have puffed up and have a golden-brown color.
Remove from oven and poke a small hole in the top with a toothpick to let the moisture out of the middle. Return to the oven for 2-3 more minutes to dry them out. Remove from oven and let the choux cool completely before filling. I prefer letting them sit and dry out for a few hours to a day before filling them. The traditional filling is a creme patisserie, but I’ve also tried frosting and whipped cream, and both came out great! Enjoy!
These do not store well after being filled, but if you have to, put them in the refrigerator for up to one day. To make them keep longer, fill only the ones that will be eaten and store the filling in the refrigerator and keep the choux in a container that is only loosely covered (to make sure moisture can escape) and store in a dry place.
If your pastry is too dry, add a little bit more eggs (I would add it teaspoon by teaspoon) and mix until the mixture looks glossy and has a good consistency.
If your pastry looks too wet, DO NOT ADD MORE FLOUR. I cannot stress this enough. Make another half-batch of the mixture (without eggs!) and, once cooled, add the new mixture spoonful by spoonful into the runny mixture until the consistency is ideal.
For a gluten-free choux pastry, simply replace the flour with my gluten-free mixture that I use in a 1:1 ratio in all my gluten-free bakes. In fact, the profiteroles in the picture are gluten-free and were delicious!