Olivia Potts

If the choux fits: the secrets of perfect profiteroles

Three tips that will help you crack the Goldilocks of pastry recipes

  • From Spectator Life
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Choux pastry can inspire fear in even the most confident of cooks. There’s a good reason for it: it’s difficult to give a very precise recipe for choux pastry, as the amount of egg needed to create the correct texture depends on the flour you’ve used, how long the choux has rested, and how fast and how thoroughly you have cooked the choux mixture out. It’s the water content in the egg that primarily causes the choux to rise and puff in the oven into those distinctive domes or elegant eclairs: not enough and they will fall flat, but too much and the pastry will be too sloppy to pipe properly. It’s the Goldilocks of pastry recipes.

I am not unfamiliar with choux-dread. One of the first dishes I ever cooked was profiteroles, following the recipe from the First Cookery Book that I had been given for my sixth birthday. Mum and I did our best, but our choux was burnt and unpuffed, shrivelled and prune-like. I didn’t attempt choux pastry again (or much else really) for the following 20 years. When I went to pastry school, two of my three final exams were based around choux, and it took me a long time to get over my ingrained choux-anxiety.

Despite my early difficulties, profiteroles are actually a really good place to start if you’re nervous about choux: they are not the tricky-to-pipe smooth-topped sausages of eclairs – indeed, slightly craggy is how a profiterole should look, in my book – and there is none of the finger-burning caramel or structural engineering required for a croquembouche. And while they might feel a little kitsch, there’s nothing ironic about how delicious profiteroles are, or how eagerly people dive into them.

Profiteroles are actually a really good place to start if you’re nervous about choux: they are not the tricky-to-pipe smooth-topped sausages of eclairs – indeed, slightly craggy is how a profiterole should look, in my book

My aim for recipes is always to take the anxiety away from the baking process and leave you with just the enjoyable parts.

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Olivia Potts
Written by
Olivia Potts
Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

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