Pâte à choux tricks and tips.

From Patrick, 13 December 2009, Cream puffs: bland and dense

Q: I don’t see much on this site about baking, but thought I’d send this question your way anyhow. I tried making cream puffs this weekend and at least thought I stuck to the recipe pretty closely. However, the result was a bunch of balls of pastry the were bland and fairly dense. Not airy at all. My wife says the pastry should be bland, it is really just a vehicle for the cream, but the texture/consistency was cleary off. Are you aware of some technique/trick that pulls this all together. I’m missing something.

A: Hey Patrick, thanks for your question. Cream puff dough, or pâte à choux, should not yield heavy or bland puffs, so if it does, you have a technique problem most likely in one of three places (you also could have a problem with ingredient ratios, but choux pastry recipes are pretty standard so I doubt that was your problem). I’m not sure what recipe you used – and please email it if you want me to check it out – but a simple way to remember a good, standard recipe is:

1 cup liquid (water or half/half water and milk), 1 stick butter, 1 cup of flour (minus about 1 tbsp), and 1 cup of eggs (and a big pinch of salt).

By weight – a far more accurate measure you want 8 ounces liquid, 4 ounces butter, 4 ounces flour, and 8 ounces of eggs (and again, a big pinch of salt).

These are the three most common problem areas with choux preparation, in no particular order:
* Insufficient beating of flour and butter before adding eggs – the flour/butter crust needs to develop sufficiently to provide structure
* Failure to incorporate eggs one at a time – the eggs need to be beaten enough to provide leavening
* Baking at too low a temperature or removing puffs before fully baked – the water in the dough needs to steam to leaven the dough as well

Below are my tips for successful choux pastry preparation.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Sift the flour before measuring.

Combine liquids, butter, and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add sifted flour at once, reduce heat to medium, and stir with a wooden spoon, working from the outside in, pressing dough against side of pan, and collecting again toward the center into a ball, until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Do not rush this process. It will take about five minutes. Do not attempt to scrape up the floury film that forms on the bottom and sides of the pan – just let it be. Your goal is to dry the dough a bit.

Once the dough forms a ball, remove from heat, cover with a kitchen towel, and let stand for five minutes. You must remove it from the heat or the butter will separate from the flour.

Add the eggs one at a time, stirring well with a wooden spoon and letting each fully incorporate before adding the next. If you can, perform this step in a stand mixer or using a hand held mixer, because the finished dough should be quite stiff, and may be hard to turn with a spoon. Each egg will take a couple of minutes to incorporate, and make sure that no bits of raw egg are visible when you incorporate the next. This is a crucial step. When the egg is incorporated, the mixture will be sticky, not slick with egg.

Your oven must be fully heated when you bake. Spoon or pipe the choux paste onto your prepared baking sheet – use a Silpat if you can, or parchment. Immediately smooth down any points on the puffs to avoid burning. Bake at 425F for about 10 minutes and then, without opening the oven, turn the temperature down to 350F. Depending on the size of the puffs you will bake for 15 to 30 minutes more.

They are done when crisp and golden on the outside and tender with a moist crumb, but not wet or eggy, on the inside. If they are not done (break one open and see), then you need to return them to the oven.

14 thoughts on “Pâte à choux tricks and tips.

  1. Pingback: Puffy. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Patrick says:

    Well, right off the bat, I missed this step.

    “Once the dough forms a ball, remove from heat, cover with a kitchen towel, and let stand for five minutes. You must remove it from the heat or the butter will separate from the flour.”

    Instead, I added the eggs, one at a time, to the dough ball, but it did not come off the heat to rest, and the eggs were added on the heat. I incorporated them by hand, which I usually do fairly well when baking, but I probably did not fully incorporate them.

    So I’ve got at least to leavening issues, which explain the dense results. Thanks Wendy. I’ll keep this in mind and try them again.

  3. Jessica says:

    I made pate choux, and i have a question, is it one cup before the flour is sifted or after?

    • Hi. Thanks for your question. It’s one cup well-sifted, and remember to take out 1 tbsp. One cup of flour is 125g or a little more than four ounces and you need to subtract a little to get down to four. I specified 8 oz (1 cup liquid) of eggs, which is four large eggs. For best results, you should measure by weight, which is a far more accurate measure, but I know most people don’t have a kitchen scale and that’s totally fine.

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  5. Chas says:

    Thanks for you tips. But when I add my flour to the boiling water/butter mixture, my flour starts forming a ball within say, 45 seconds. I keep smearing the “dough” out along the sides for 5 minutes, but it didn’t form a ball, I continued for another 3-4 minutes but the ball never returned. I stopped beating then and removed from the stove. The dough glistened but I continued with your recipe, and my choux turned out heavy.

    Should I stop beating the water/butter/flour combo so soon once the ball forms?


    • Thanks for your question. That’s weird. If my dough formed a ball that quickly I probably would stop beating at that point. You know what, I’m going to make some gougeres tonight to see if I have the same problem.

    • All right. Well, I made a batch of choux paste (and then made gougères) to see if I could figure out why your puffs were heavy. I’m not sure, but I will say this (and I’ll probably revise my original post to reflect my findings and some additional comments): as with almost all cooking, it’s something of an art rather than a science. Depending on the heat of your stove, it may take far longer for your paste to dry before you incorporate eggs. When your paste first formed a ball (within 45 seconds as you mentioned), it was probably quite wet. You need to keep smearing it, and it may take quite a long time, but eventually the paste will be thicker, about the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. And it should cohere, because there’s quite a bit of butter. I have a fairly powerful stove, and on a more conventional home kitchen stove, it probably will take more like 10 minutes to cook out enough water.

      If your dough is too wet, the choux will be heavy because you can’t bake off all the water. Some water is essential since the leavening egg works with steam to puff the choux, but too much will leave them soggy.

      Another suggestion – I recommend baking at 425F and then lowering the temp. Depending on the size of your puffs (eg if they are smaller than, say, a golf ball when you pipe them), you may want to bake at a constant 375F. Higher/lower tends to work better with larger puffs – smaller ones may brown before the moisture bakes off. But be sure your oven is at 375F – too cool and the choux will not puff as well.

      Finally, I consulted Larousse Gastronomique for the definitive word on classic choux preparation. Their method is essentially the same as mine but instead of 4 oz butter, they recommend 2.5 oz (that’s 5 tbsp). With less fat to bind to the egg, these may puff more effectively. I may try that to see if it works better, but even just thinking about it, I think it might.

  6. gg says:

    i made them and they stuck to the sheet. tasted great, but had no bottoms so i couldn’t fill them. what did i do wrong?


  7. gg says:

    made them and they stuck to the sheet. tasted great, but had no bottoms so i couldn’t fill them. what did i do wrong?

  8. Christoph says:

    I have made choux pastry for more then 20 years. Here are my tips:
    1. Use less liquid since you want more eggs in the batter than water/milk. I typical use 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup
    2. after the butter melts, remove saucepan from heat and add the sifted flour all at once and stir until all incorporated into a buttery ball.
    3. Return to low heat on the stove and cook for at least “15” minutes stirring regularly. This will release a lot of the moisture allowing more egg to be introduced into the dough
    4. place the dough in a kitchen aid mixer with a paddle attached and stir at speed 1 to continue releasing the steam
    5. After 5-7 minutes when steam release stops, add 1-2 eggs at a time and speed up mixer until eggs are incorporated then slow the mixer and continue adding. Never add all 5 eggs until absolutely sure that the dough will take a fifth egg. If you followed the steps above and used 3/4 cup liquid, chances are it will take the fifth egg. The texture you are looking for is smooth but very adhesive and definitely not runny. If the dough is runny, forget it. Do not use it.
    6. Do not bake at a very high temprature. This will make the pastry blow up into irregular shapes. Before placing the shapes in the oven, heat it to 500 degrees, then when ready to bake, set it to 400, convection preferrable, and bake for 12 mins, then reduce to 300 and bake for another 10-15.

  9. rosr says:

    Read all concerns, my puffs came out light, hallow on inside, were round and puffed up but quickly flattened before I could poke them, why did they collapse?

  10. elizabeth says:

    ROSR, i had the same problem as you. Then ive been following these comments and reading UPSTARTKITCHEN’s tips and tricks replied to PATRICK and i find out my mistakes.

    I took out my batches from the oven too early before they losses most of the moisture. Yes it was puffed up, yes it was browned perfectly and yes it was perfect shaped. But 1 minute after i took it out, it shrinked and the sides fall and it formed an odd flat piece of bun.

    I tried everything, and did lots of batches again. Lessen my water, stir longer before incorporate eggs, some say use more whites than yolks but still yields up to 1 cup.. It seems these just change the taste of the pate a choux. Cremier if more butter. Lighter if less water. So i tried the oven temperature setting UPSTARTKITCHEN and CHRISTOPH talking about. Its perfect. Start up with fairly high heat 10 mins, then lower it for another 15 mins. I cant give u exact figure. My oven fluctuates in temp settings. Old oven -_-‘

    Heres another of my tips for you since we hv the same problem. Everytime u take out yr batches from the oven, use a metal teaspoon to tap the top and sides of the pate a choux. They should give u a hollow firm tap. Not bouncy n soft. To be safer, i took one out, tap it, got my hollow sound, then tear it apart, satisfied with the hollowness, n leave it to cool for 10 mins to make sure it didnt shrink. It didnt.

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