There is definitely an art to making pastries. Ask any seasoned pâtissière and she will tell you the tricks of the trade designed to make the perfect pie crust, croissant, etc. Yet somehow the process of making pastries has always seemed to be a skill that I have lacked. However, in an attempt to expand my baking repertoire, you can expect to see several new pastry recipes popping up in 2013.
For my first recipe I tried making mini choux buns, something I’d admittedly never heard of before. Yet they looked like one of the simpler recipes in my cookbook, so I decided it would be a winner. Choux pastry is a light pastry dough used to make several familiar desserts. Most popularly, it is used for the tasty éclairs and cream puffs that you see behind the glass doors of your bakery. It can also be fried to create mouthwatering beignets. The dough is quite simple containing only butter, water, flour, and eggs. There is no leavening agent, and instead the high moisture content creates steam during the baking process to puff the pastry.
Once you’ve cooked your buns, options are abundant for what you want to do next. You can slice them and pair with meat and cheese for a mini sandwich. You could present them plain, showing off the light and flaky crust. If you want to fill them with something, the sky is the limit—think whipped cream, custard, pudding, jam, or even something savory like a tuna or crab salad. Finally, don’t forget to garnish the top with a chocolate glaze, powdered sugar, caramel, or perhaps paprika to spice things up. These little buns truly are a versatile addition to your baking repertoire.
½ cup milk
½ cup water
8 tablespoons butter, diced
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 medium eggs
Egg-wash (1 medium egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk)
Combine the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan and set over low heat. Bring to a boil and immediately take the pan off the heat. Shower in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Return the pan to medium heat and stir continuously for about 1 minute to dry out the paste, and then tip it into a bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, beating with the wooden spoon. Once the eggs are all incorporated, the paste should be smooth and shiny with a thick ribbon consistency. It is now ready to use.
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. For small choux buns, put the paste into a pastry bag fitted with a ½ inch tip. Pipe small mounds in staggered rows onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or directly onto a greased baking sheet. Brush the choux with egg-wash and lightly mark the tops with the back of a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the outside of the buns is dry and crisp but the inside is still soft. Cool on a wire rack.
Once buns are cooled use a pastry bag to fill the choux buns with your filling of choice. Feel free to be creative. Pudding, custard, whipped cream, and jam are all viable option depending on the flavor you want to achieve. If you’d like a chocolate topping, melt chocolate over a double boiler and dip buns in the chocolate to coat. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Heather’s Helpful Hints
Once cooked, it’s important to prick the base of each bun to release the steam that has helped it to rise. If left to go cold un-punctured, the steam turns back to water resulting in soft or soggy buns.