What is the optimal dryness for cream puff shells?
Posted: 21 October 2008 01:40 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A while back, I made eclairs using the Cordon Rose Choux Pastry recipe from PPB. I followed the recipe, including allowing the eclairs to dry out in the oven for an hour-and-a-half, and removing extra dough from the interior before filling them with pastry cream. A professional food judge evaluated my eclair, and told me that it was too dry inside. She said there should be “webbing” inside, not total crispness.

This spooked me enough that I haven’t tried making choux again, until today. I made cream puffs, and I let them dry out for less than an hour in the oven. The outside was golden and crisp, the interiors were still moist and webbed, and I filled them with chocolate pastry cream. They tasted excellent to me and my family, and every last cream puff was gone by bedtime.

Here is my question: What is the optimal dryness for eclair and cream puff shells? Was the professional food judge correct, or is the degree of dryness and interior crispness only a matter of personal taste? It seems to me that homemade, freshly filled choux is going to be superior to any commercial product, no matter how moist or dry the interior, because it will have been sitting around for less time, and therefore, is less prone to becoming soggy from the filling. Perhaps letting the choux get really dry is a good idea, since the moist filling will re-moisturize the shell.

I welcome any thoughts and opinions on what constitutes the perfect cream puff and/or eclair.

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Posted: 21 October 2008 08:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Christine, in my humble opinion, it seems like the judge assumed that the most common style of eclair (i.e., when the center is left intact and not scooped out) was the “correct” or preferred style.  Rose’s Cordon Rose recipe is designed to be very light, crisp and delicate, so scooping out the interior would heighten that style and produce a lovely contrast between the exterior and creamy interior. 

These things are so subjective.  I’m surprised the judge didn’t appreciate a well-executed style or point of view, but rather just seemed to expect a traditional eclair.

It sounds like your chocolate cream puffs were dreamy, and now you can decide on your own point of view with respect to crispness.  I would imagine the crisper version lasts a little longer before becoming soggy.

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Posted: 21 October 2008 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think the ideal crispness depends a lot on personal preference.  Consider also what will be going into the choux.  Personally, I prefer a softer, webbed interior, but wouldn’t scoff at a crisper interior unless it was cracker crisp. 

So, how in the world did you find yourself in the position of being judged?  Did you ask for this person’s opinion, or did he/she just give it to you?  I once had a slight disagreement with a young chef, fresh out of culinary school, who insisted the only kind of ground pepper that should ever touch a batch of mashed potatoes was white pepper.  He also insisted that when making scrambled eggs, adding any kind of dairy product was completely unacceptable - to him water was the only option, period (if you’ve never tried adding a touch of cream cheese to your scrambled egg before cooking, please do - you’ll thank me).  Anyway, I’m sure that’s what he learned somewhere along the way, but some things just aren’t that set in stone.

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Posted: 21 October 2008 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Christine, I’m in total agreement with Julie and Patricia. It is a matter of personal taste and nothing is written in stone.

Patricia, re the water in scrambled eggs, I read it somewhere too. Don’t remember where. However, I always use a touch of sour cream when making scrambled eggs. I learned it from Rose (it’s on the blog). Just yesterday I made scrambled eggs for my husband with Garlic and Herb cream cheese. YUMMY is all I can say!!!!!!!!!!!

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Posted: 21 October 2008 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Rozanne - 21 October 2008 03:52 PM

Christine, I’m in total agreement with Julie and Patricia. It is a matter of personal taste and nothing is written in stone.

Patricia, re the water in scrambled eggs, I read it somewhere too. Don’t remember where. However, I always use a touch of sour cream when making scrambled eggs. I learned it from Rose (it’s on the blog). Just yesterday I made scrambled eggs for my husband with Garlic and Herb cream cheese. YUMMY is all I can say!!!!!!!!!!!

milk, heavy cream, sour cream, cream cheese, creme fraiche, etc…. what’s not to love? smile

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Posted: 21 October 2008 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Thank you, everybody, for your opinions, and for the tips about adding dairy products to scrambled eggs. I look forward to breakfast!

Patrincia, to answer your question, I entered a European pastry contest at the Los Angeles County Fair a few years back. I had entered other baking competitions at the fair, and I learned from the feedback I got from judges that they were often looking for an interesting twist on classic recipes. I won some ribbons for cookies and scones I submitted, and I used my experience to plot my strategy for the European pastry contest which was scheduled a few weeks later. I came up with eclairs filled with peanut butter pastry cream and homemade grape jelly from concord grapes I grow in my garden. I was sure it would be the kind of innovation the judges would love. Well, it turns out that for that paticular competition, the judges were looking for straight-down-the-line classic pastries. My creation, while good, was too non-traditional. That’s when the judge also told me that I needed to have webbing on the inside of the eclair, that is was too crispy on the inside. For a long time, I thought I had really gone astray and wasn’t good at making choux pastries, but after yesterday’s tray of cream puffs got consumed within hours, I know that isn’t the case. Reading everybody’s input on this thread makes me realize that a moister interior is classic, hence, the judge’s preference for webbing.

I also have to say that choux pastries are a breeze to whip up—they are much faster than making, icing and decorating a cake. I have already started to think about what kinds of delicious savory cream puffs I can make for guests and pot luck gatherings.

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Posted: 21 October 2008 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Savory Choux???  For cold, any meat “salad” like chicken, tuna, salmon, ham, crab, lobster.  For hot, fill with things like beef or chicken pot pie filling (easy on the gravy), cooked/chopped veggies with cheese sauce, etc. 

Congrats on your fair ribbons!  Happy baking!

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Posted: 23 October 2008 06:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Quite a few years ago, my knitting guild had a state fair judge in to speak about how she judges knitting. It does seem that state/county fair judges often have very definitely standards about how things should be done and aren’t as flexible as we might like. I remember that this judge was very definite about how you should weave in the yarn ends, whereas I have found that different ways may work best for different projects or yarns.

I think there may actually be published standards or handbooks, even—can’t recall. And of course, it also depends on what they are looking for in a particular event and category, and to some extent on the preferences of the judge.

So, please don’t get discouraged! Sometimes your creation may be wonderful and just not be a “good fit” with that event or judge.

Personally, I like my choux on the crisp side, to contrast with the creamy filling.

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