Choux pastry has grown to become one of my favourite pastries to make. It’s simpler in comparison to its shortcrust and puff cousins, you don’t need to roll it out and worry about overworking the pastry and what’s more, it’s also incredibly versatile, capable of making sweet and savoury bakes. Today I’m doing a sweet version, sharing my Salted Caramel Choux Buns.
Choux has two important stages in the cooking and mixing process, the cooking of the flour and the addition of the eggs. Choux pastry employs a different method of pastry making compared to the rubbing in of the fat into the flour for shortcrust and the folding/layering of fat in rough puff, flaky and puff pastry. The flour is added to boiling liquid and cooked out over the heat. Heating up the flour will allow the flour to gelatinise as the starch molecules in flour absorb the liquid and swell upon heating. You’ve cooked out the flour enough when the bottom of the pan starts to look furry.
The second stage is adding the eggs (only once the dough has cooled down slightly or the eggs would curdle!) which are responsible for adding extra moisture which will expand in the oven and create the puffed up hollow choux bun. Eggs are a source of protein and lend themselves to giving a structure capable of holding the shape of the puffed up choux bun. And in the oven, the moisture from the water in the first stage and the eggs will evaporate, forcing the choux bun to expand.
I always think of choux pastry as the pastry that looks like it’s going wrong. You add the flour into the liquid and you think it will never mix together to form a dough; you start to beat in the eggs and you never think the choux pastry will come together but after a solid minute of beating, the eggs emulsify and the pastry comes together.
The filling for these choux buns is an almost addictive salted caramel whipped cream. I know salted caramel is a bit of an overused ingredient nowadays but I just can’t get enough of it.
For the choux pastry
¼ tsp salt
100g plain flour
3 large eggs, beaten in a bowl
A handful of flaked almonds
For the salted caramel
120g caster sugar
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp margarine
150ml double cream
½ tsp salt
For the filling
250ml double cream
Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Line 2 baking trays with some baking parchment.
Place the margarine, water and salt into a pan and heat until the margarine has melted. Turn up the heat and bring it to the boil. Once the water is boiling, take the pan away from the heat add in the flour all at once; this technique is often referred to as shooting.
Beat the flour into the liquid with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough. Return the pan to the heat and cook the choux pastry until the bottom of the pan looks furry and a ball of dough which is smooth has formed. Remove the pan from the heat and let the dough cool.
Beat in the eggs one at a time, adding the second once the first has fully incorporated, until it forms a smooth and glossy pastry which when you dollop it off the wooden spoon will form a ‘V’ shape hanging from the spoon.
Fill a piping bag with the choux paste and twist the top firmly so none of it leaks out during piping. Pipe out balls of the dough around 3-4cm wide, leaving space between for expanding. Lightly brush each of the choux buns with milk or an egg wash. Then place some flaked almonds on the top of the choux pastry. You can smooth out the choux buns using the egg wash if they have a point, which could burn during baking.
Bake the choux buns for 15 minutes before opening the oven door to release the steam and dropping the temperature down to 180˚C and baking for a further 12 – 15 minutes until they are firm, rich golden colour and risen well. They should lift off the parchment easily too, leaving it clean.
Remove them from the oven and use a sharp knife to pierce a hole in the base of the choux buns. Upturn them so the hole is facing upwards and return the choux buns to the oven for a further 5 minutes to dry out. When you are ready to fill the choux buns, split them in half and keep the matching halves together.
For the salted caramel, stir together the water and sugar over a medium heat in a pan until it dissolves. Add the margarine and stir to melt. Bring the mixture up to the boil and let it boil away for around 6-7 minutes until it turns a caramel colour, swirling the pan every now and then to make sure its evenly mixed.
Carefully pour in the double cream as it will spit and splutter. Whisk in the double cream and the salt over the heat until the salted caramel is smooth and silky. Pour into a heatproof bowl to cool down fully. Once cool, it should be thick and sticky.
In another bowl, pour in the double cream and whisk it (by hand, I promise this doesn’t take too long!) until it just holds a soft peak. It will look very soft and pillowy and should just hold on the whisk. Add in around a third of your salted caramel and whisk the cream until it changes colour slightly and the caramel is mixed in well. It should still be quite soft, don’t overwhisk.
Fill a piping bag attached with a pointed star nozzle with the salted caramel cream. Pipe the filling generously into the bottom halves on your choux buns, sandwiching the two halves together and pressing down lightly to stick together but not too hard to disrupt the nozzle pattern. Finish with a dusting of icing sugar.
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