We had a great time making them, and of course and even better time eating them! We first made choux pastry which Mrs. S found easier than she remembered.
For the recipes, I have a few comments. Recipes for pate a choux are always varied with two main differences between them that can radically change how your choux comes out.
The first recipe difference is where the main liquid is all milk. This is great as milk gives pastry very nice flavour and makes it brown really nicely. However, the protein the milk makes the batter heavier and it makes the air you beat in even more important for the puffing that goes on in the oven. Some recipes suggest using only water, other recommend using a split of half of each. Using only water will give a crisp blond coloured choux, but it won't taste as nice.
The second recipe difference is which flour to use. Again, some recipes call for plain or all-purpose flour and others use bread flour. The main difference being that the stronger the flour the more protein or gluten will form when you are beating the hell out of it in the mixer. Developing the gluten is important because it's the structure of the pastry and those expanding air bubbles need something to support them. However, too much can result in doughy, chewy pastry.
We decided that given all these differences, we would need more than one session to become true choux experts...(as if we needed an excuse!) We decided to try the recipe from the Culinary Institute of America Baking and Pastry book which uses all milk and bread flour. Go for the hardest one first I say! The first step of making the paste went really well. It combined easily and stuck to the pan sasatisfactorily. After cooking, it went straight into the Kitchen Aid for a bit of mixing to cool it down before adding the eggs. We added the eggs a bit at a time and did it only until the mixture came up as a soft, shiny, ribbony paste that I knew looked perfect. You really have to eye ball it because the right amount of eggs for choux pastry isn't always what is listed in the recipe.
Scraping it out of the bowl and into a large piping bag fitted with a large round tip, Mrs. S piped it onto the sheet pan lined with parchment in nice and tidy 4 inch lengths. (tip: use a ruler and a black marker to make the lines to guide you while piping, then flip over the parchment and it will be safe to use!)
This is where the drama begins and why I have upped my campaign to replace my crap oven, the éclairs didn't puff up enough. The did about a half-puff and honestly, they smelled really lovely and went a deep golden brown but they didn't do their thing nearly enough. (I really do blame my oven, as it's crap at keeping temperature during long baking times. And it's electric, which I genuinely hate for several reasons. Strangely, gas ovens aren't that popular here and I need to do some serious homework to find a good one to replace the stylish but unreliable one they installed in my flat when it was built.)
Because my oven didn't give them the reliable heat needed to expand the air bubbles for proper puffing up, the heavier-bread flour-whole milk recipe might have been too much. Next time we are going to try a half and half of bread and AP flour as well as half and half water and milk.
However, we decided to persevere even though we weren't thrilled with the pastry outcome. We made the most glorious pastry cream from the same book. It was flavourful, light and silky, but still rich and custardy enough. Just gorgeous!! We flavoured half with coffee extract from France called Trablit, which is what professionals use, or we could have made really strong sweetened espresso in a pinch. The other half we flavoured with 75gr of melted dark chocolate. We had a hard time not eating it straight from the bowl!!
We piped the cream into the pastry shells with a small pointed tip, after first poking in larger hole with a (clean) screwdriver. Then proceed to make the glaze. I also bought from France some white glazing fondant which is what all pastry shops use. I scooped it out of the tub into a bowl over a hot water bath and warmed it gently until it was of glazing consistency. We did the same method of flavouring as with the pastry cream and again, they turned out perfectly.
We had so much fun making these and Mr. S and Mr. H were well impressed! We resolved to try again because to me, half the fun is in the making of things like this and I really would have been much happier if they puffed up all the way. I don't profess to be an expert choux maker, as cake is really my thing but I would like to be more proficient at it. When first you don't succeed, try try again!
here is a photo of the finished result. Sorry the photo is a bit dark and you can't see how shiny they were....
If you would like recipes for any of the above, I will be happy to share. Just post a comment and I will email them to you.
When we try again in a few weeks time, I will post a summary of it again with recipes if more successful.