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Choux pastry, or pâte à choux, is the pastry used to make éclairs and cream puffs as well as gougeres, a version made with cheese. Preparing choux pastry can be difficult, as the pastry needs to reach the appropriate level of dryness without drying out too much. To ensure evenly cooked pastry, a cook should make each the same size. Three different temperatures are also required throughout the cooking process. To prevent sogginess, the pastry needs to be aired out and not filled too soon.
Four basic ingredients are used to prepare choux pastry. Water and flour should be used on a one-to-one ratio. For example, if the recipe calls for 8 ounces (227 grams) of flour, it should also call for 8 ounces (227 grams) of water. A single egg should be used for each ounce of butter. Usually, for every 4 ounces (113 grams) of butter used, four eggs are used. One cup of flour and water are used with every 4 ounces of butter and four eggs.
When preparing the choux pastry, the cook should boil the water and butter and then stir in the flour to make a paste. To prevent curdling or cooking the eggs, she should let this mixture cool before stirring in the eggs. Each egg should be added one at a time to ensure that they are mixed in thoroughly.
After the pastry is prepared, a cook can either bake it immediately or let it rest overnight in a covered bowl. It should be placed in the refrigerator if it will rest overnight. Resting the pastry in the refrigerator is ideal if it won't be eaten until the next day, because doing so will prevent the cooked pastry from becoming stale or soggy.
Before baking, the choux pastry needs to be piped on the baking sheet. Piping pastry can be difficult if a baker has not done it before. A large tip should be used on the pastry bag. She should hold the bag straight up and down at a 90-degree angle to the baking sheet. Each puff of pastry or éclair shape should be the same size for even cooking.
Three different oven temperatures are used when cooking choux pastry. The first temperature is the hottest, which causes the pastries to puff up and become hollow. The temperature is then reduced slightly to allow the pastries to cook through and brown. Finally, the temperature needs to be reduced again to let the pastries become crisp and dry. After they are removed from the oven, a small hole needs to be poked in each to let steam come out and prevent them from becoming soft.
I might attempt choux pastry. It looks pretty straightforward. No way I'm trying a puff pastry on my own, though! It takes like a pound of butter to make and you use the rolling pin until your arms want to fall off.
I watched an episode of "America's Test Kitchen" where they made puff pastry, and honestly, it looked painful! They did comment that it took a lot of rolling and turning and folding. I think that's more work than I'm interested in doing.
I'd much rather try a choux pastry that requires no rolling, no kneading or anything like that. Just pipe it on to a cookie sheet and bake it. That's it! I think doing the croquembouche Pippinwhite mentioned would be easier than a puff pastry!
I tried a choux pastry after just seeing some TV chefs make it. It wasn't difficult at all. You just have to remember to follow all the steps and have your pastry bag and a big piping tip ready to go.
I didn't try to do a croquembouche or anything that elaborate, but I did do a very nice batch of cream puffs and a batch of eclairs that turned out really well.
Most baked dishes, in spite of their reputations, really aren't that hard if you just read the recipe through several times and make sure you understand all the steps involved. Having your recipe in front of you and being ready for the next step is the key to success in most baking.
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