Bake: Choux pastry made easy

Once you follow some simple rules, it is a very easy pastry to make

We've all grown up admiring chocolate éclairs in cake shops. I remember my first taste of profiteroles slathered in hot chocolate sauce, after my mum let me help with her glamorous dinner party preparations by filling little choux pastry balls with cream. In France, pastry chefs construct towering pâte à choux (choux pastry) centre-pieces called croquembouche as stunning wedding cakes. Consisting of choux pastry balls, they are piled into a cone and bound with threads of caramel.

The latest pastry trend are miniature style éclairs filled with pastry cream called ‘Les Carolines’. Small and dainty, with pretty pastel icings, they are adorable served with afternoon tea. Depending on who you ask, choux pastry is either super easy or insanely difficult to master. Now, I have to admit, in the cookery school I have seen my fair share of saggy choux pastry dough: pastry which is too soft for piping, unrisen, too pale in colour, textures that weren’t crisp enough. Having worked with many talented pastry chefs, I have learnt the secrets to consistently good choux and once you follow some simple rules (see recipe), it is a very easy pastry to make. Most important is a hot oven, which gives the initial burst of steam to leaven the pastry so not opening and closing the oven door to peep in sounds obvious, but is essential while the pastry structure is forming. For a party, bake them a day in advance, recrispen for five minutes at 180°C and fill near to the time you wish to serve them.

Choux pastry Carolines

Makes 20

  • 150ml water
  • ¼ tsp caster sugar
  • 50g butter, cubed
  • Pinch salt
  • 65g strong white flour, sieved
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten

Pouring fondant icing

  • 3 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 tbsp liquid glucose (glucose syrup)
  • 150g fondant icing, cubed small
  • 50g icing sugar, sieved
  • Pink, blue, yellow food colourings
  • 200ml whipped cream

Method: Preheat oven to 200°C and line a greased baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring the water, sugar, butter and salt to just boiling in a small heavy-based saucepan, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add all the flour in one go. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to incorporate the flour and return to a medium heat, continue stirring for one minute until the mixture forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan (this is necessary to cook out the flour).

Allow to cool for three-five minutes before adding the beaten eggs. Using a wooden spoon, beat in a little egg at a time in two or three additions until fully incorporated. Continue beating vigorously for five minutes until the mixture resembles a smooth, shiny paste (the consistency should be thick enough to hold its shape when piped).

Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a 5mm nozzle and pipe into 7cm lengths. Bake in the preheated hot oven for about 23-25 minutes until puffed up and golden brown (to crispen fully, in the final two minutes, upturn and pierce the base of each with a skewer and return to the oven for two minutes). Cool on a wire rack.

Method: To make the pouring fondant icing, add the glucose to the boiling water in a bain marie (a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water), add fondant icing cubes, stirring until melted (do not allow the mixture to go above 38°C or the icing will turn stringy – if it does, cool again and reheat with a splash of water). Whisk in icing sugar to a thickened pouring consistency, then divide the icing between three small bowls and colour each using the tip of a cocktail stick, dipped in food colouring.

Cut open a side of each Caroline and fill with whipped cream. Use a piping bag (or ziploc bag), pipe a narrow line of icing over the top of each Caroline, and set for a few minutes before serving.

Variation: You can also fill Carolines with pastry cream or Chantilly cream. This recipe can also make larger éclairs by simply baking for 30 minutes and dipping in melted chocolate.