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.