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How to make perfect roasted hazelnut choux buns with help from Michel Roux, Mary Berry, Felicity Cloake and more

Beth O’Brien’s recipe combines choux pastry with a creamy filling and a chocolate hazelnut topping


Choux pastry (named after the French for cabbage because of the way it expands in the oven) is an unusual but versatile pastry. The ingredients are similar to those used in other, more common pastries, but the mixing method is more akin to a roux.

Choux has a reputation for being difficult to make, but it is actually very easy to put together, and can be used to make profiteroles, eclairs, Paris Brest, churros, gougères and more. Here, I tested six different choux recipes, and my own recipe features a craquelin top, roasted hazelnut creme diplomat and chocolate ganache – perfect for Valentine’s Day baking.

Ingredients

The addition of milk adds extra fat to the dough, which causes it to colour more quickly – and adds flavour, both of which are a win in my book. For seasoning, I think that salt and sugar are essential (as used by Michel Roux, Ravneet Gill and Felicity Cloake), primarily for flavour, although the sugar also contributes to browning.

When it comes to flour, strong was favoured by J R Ryall and Gill, while the rest preferred plain. Although I agree with using strong flour theoretically (it should aid structure), I did not find much of a difference in the resulting choux.

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With the addition of eggs, most recipes issue a caveat that the amount may need to be altered to produce the right consistency. If your eggs are abnormally large or small, I would recommend weighing them to 50-55g per egg; otherwise, just hold back a little egg, and only add it all if necessary (conversely, if you need to add more liquid, a drop of milk should do the trick).

Mixing method

Critically, the butter, milk and water should come to the boil before the flour is added. Once the flour is added, the roux should be cooked for at least one minute (to gelatinise the starch): this step is skipped by Mary Berry and Jeremy Lee, thus jeopardising the structure of the pastry.

The roux should be allowed to cool slightly before the egg is added, to prevent scrambling the eggs with the residual heat. Each increment of egg should be fully combined before the next is added (this can be done by hand, but is made easier with the use of a stand mixer). The final pastry should be glossy and smooth, with a consistency that drops reluctantly off the spoon.

Baking (and chilling)

All recipes tested used some variation of a baking method where the oven is preheated quite hot (200-220 degrees), before the temperature is dropped to moderate (170-180 degrees) for the remainder of the bake.

Some recipes (Cloake and Lee) recommend that you chill the dough before baking, but I found that this did not make a huge difference, and instead, you should make sure that the pastry gets a blast of heat as soon as it enters the oven. To avoid choux collapse, it is advisable to poke a small hole in the bottom of the choux once they are baked, to allow steam to escape (as recommended by Cloake).

Finishing

Choux buns are usually either baked as piped or with an egg wash (Berry) – this is a good approach if you are dipping the choux buns in ganache or caramel (Roux, Berry) or drizzling with chocolate sauce (Cloake, Lee). However, my favourite way to bake choux is with a craquelin – a sort of cookie made from butter, sugar and flour, which is used as a little hat on top of the choux bun. This not only adds flavour and texture, but also provides a foil that helps the choux to rise and bake evenly, producing lovely uniform round buns.

Recipe: Beth O’Brien’s roasted hazelnut choux buns
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