Wednesday 18 February 2009

Choux toux: how to dress

This is a continuation of the thoughts on choux which commence here. The pastry made, here are some thoughts on dressing it (i.e. shaping it for the oven).


Grease the baking tray. Surprisingly easy to do badly... an over-greased tray reeks havoc with the bottom or 'foot' of choux pastry items, something I've seen first-hand (on someone else's batch, fortunately).

If using butter, it's a good idea to melt it in a little pot (but not too much... maybe soften would be a better word). Apply a few dabs around the tray and then spread it out with some balled kitchen towel. This will help give an even layer of grease. Once the butter is all over I get a clean bit of towel and wipe all over to take off all the excess. Very little butter is needed.

Brushed butter

Once spread out and excess removed, grease scarcely visible

A few NBs from our practice at the INBP
- we don't ever wash oven trays or moulds. We simply rub them down with kitchen towel and if there is any debris, chip it off with a triangle. This way things have less tendency to stick. Maybe not a good idea if you have invested in expensive teflon trays.

- to the butter we use for greasing we add a small shot of flower. The gluten in the flower helps give you a decent, even layer of butter.

You could also use one of those non-stick sprays which are highly effective. Even more important to take off the excess as these are uber-powerful.

Freestyle dressing

My mother always used to make her profiteroles by dolloping portions of the choux pastry onto the baking tray with a couple of spoons. This is a great low-tech answer which gives nice rustic looking buns. However, it is worth considering that this apparently simpler way does make it harder to achieve consistent results because it's more difficult to dole out equal portions which will lead to irregular cooking. Similarly, if the buns aren't round you risk uneven cooking within the bun itself. (But Mum always used to manage to make excellent buns with this method.)

An easy way to get regular buns

Here is a tip I read in a French book about choux pastry but have not tried: dress the pastry in silicone muffin tins. That way you don't have to grease and you'll get the same diameter every time. Quicker and smoother to pip it in but you could also use a dollop technique. The purist in me dislikes this idea but it could be very practical.

Personally, I would recommend going traditional and using a piping bag for best results (and it's pretty much the only option for eclairs).

Piping bags

Convention is to use a reusable bag for anything which is going to be cooked and a disposable bag for anything which is to be served as is (although you may as well use disposable ones for everything, I reckon). As for the nozzle (what is the proper English word?) you have a fair amount of leeway. For eclairs and both parts of the religieuses and even the fat salambos we use just one size which is a stainless-steel 10 (I want to say 10mm but I haven't got one to measure to be sure).

I had always hated piping bags until I was shown a good way to use one. They're actually really quick and efficient and give excellent looking results. Here's a quick description. Fold the bag back on itself at least half-way and hold it in your hand like you're grasping a pint (with the folded back bit forming a collar over the hand). This way is least messy. Then with your other hand scoop and fill (only up to about half way for max control and min mess). If you are a bit of a retard or accidentally lost an arm you can sit the folded-back bag in a measuring jug or something to free both hands. I think if we did that at school we would be shot but there are many things you can do in the privacy of your own home.

(I think that is all pretty obvious if you give it half a second's thought but you never know. And now we've started teaching grandma to suck eggs we may as well continue...) Straighten out the bag, use a scraper or palette knife to push the pastry cleanly down to the nozzle and twist the bag to close it off. I find I have most control by keeping a lot of tension in the bag by frequently twisting the neck as I go (same principal as rolling up the toothpaste tube).

NB Not essential for choux pastry as it is quite thick but a good idea is to ram a little of the bag that is directly behind the nozzle unto the nozzle with your finger before filling it to act as a stopper and prevent everything going in one end and exiting just as swiftly the other.

Eeking the stuff out

The actual way to pipe an eclair or choux is hard to put into words. So I shan't try.

A general thought, though, is this: in the oven, the pastry will double or triple in volume, mostly in a vertical direction. This means if you want something to come out spherical, it needs to go into the oven rather flatter than the eye wants. An eclair is piped round, squashed a good deal during the glazing process but comes out of the oven round again. Which leads nicely on to...


Works well with a nicely beaten egg (we just glug a bit out of a cartoon of liquid egg). Glazing is a great opportunity to

- flatten out the nipple left as a result of piping
- flatten the whole item out a tad as mentioned above
- tease the freaks back into proper shape and smooth any ripples made by the nozzle 

NB Glazing eclairs in the opposite direction to the way they were piped is meant to be good practice. Well, it helps even out any irregularities.

Everything dressed but nipples still erect

Glazed and forked

Groove it all night long baby

Immediately after glazing, run a fork the length of eclairs or press down on top of choux (twice for big ones, the second stroke perpendicular to the first) to leave grooves. The groove pattern effectively makes a pleat in the top of the pastry so as it expands in the oven the crust will not tear.

My first teacher told me just to let the weight of the fork do the work. More recently I have been adding a touch of extra force with excellent results. Nevertheless, probably best to think harrow not plough (there's a joke in there somewhere...)


That's everything we do to prepare the pastry for the oven. Will write about cooking the stuff next time.

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