Pâte à choux (pronounced paht – ah – shoo) and I became good friends this month. And by friends, I mean frenemies – you know, I told the batter how much I loved it hoping it would be kind in return and result in gorgeously puffed gougères (yeah I’m a bit of a superstitious cook), but deep inside I was secretly whispering every version of curse word I knew in every language I could muster, because this is the challenge that stumped me.
Erin of The Sensitive Epicure hosted this month’s event, and challenged us all to make choux pastry. Gougères, profiteroles, eclairs, they’re all made from the same batter – in a gluten filled world they aren’t very hard to make – when I was younger my mother would whip up rings of choux pastry and fill them with pastry cream and fresh berries to serve on Summer days as her one of her quick and low-stress dishes for entertaining. Gluten free doesn’t seem like it should be a big conversion – after all the dough is cooked before it is baked, and all it has to do is puff up. Nothing else. I thought I would make gougères with gruyère cheese and some fresh thyme. Easy, no?
Ha. This is the Gluten Free Ratio Rally challenge where I learned something. Not just how to make a ratio and result in a tasty baked good, no this challenge unlocked key concepts and strategies to recipe development and baking that I had not considered before. And there’s no way I could’ve had such amazing realizations if it weren’t for the myriad of kind and helpful gluten free bloggers who chatted, commented, and emailed back and forth about my trials.
Was I successful? Did I actually make gluten free gougères??? I did, and my husband is sweet enough to eat them and tell me they’re wonderful. Did I make ones that puffed up like choux pastry so famously does? Only when I used a prepackaged GF mix (which I did just to test my method). Those are the ones you see above. When it came to creating my own mix, however, I had some other challenges…
But you know what? I’m ok with it. I haven’t given up on them even though I didn’t get a decent GF mix before the month deadline. I did make a total of 8 different batches of gougères this month though. I gave it a good go. I have strategies for next time. But most importantly, beyond the results and their respective success or failure, were the concepts that opened my eyes.
You see, up until this month, I was convinced that the main factor that affected the quality of a GF mix for a certain application was the starch:flour ratio – and as long as that ratio was maintained for a particular baked good, one could pretty much replace any conventional recipe with a gluten free one (as long as substituting by weight of course). And that’s well and good – the starch:flour ratio certainly is very important in baked goods, especially in this case where the pastry needs to have steam puff up fast inside them in the oven and then hold that air trapped inside until the form really has a chance to bake through into shape. I started with Ruhlman’s main ratio for pâte à choux and then my first four trials were all about finding the right starch:flour ratio for the dry GF ingredients, like I always try to do:
Trial 1: 30% starch (corn/tapioca) 70% flour (corn, chestnut)
Trial 2: 60% starch (corn/tapioca) 40% flour (corn, chestnut)
Trial 3: 80% starch (corn/tapioca) 20% flour (corn)
Trial 4: 100% tapioca starch
None of them worked. They all rose in the oven, and then collapsed in the oven. It turns out that’s not the only aspect that must be tuned. The type of starch matters too.
Starch is essentially a large linkage of sugar units – totally all carb – it’s what is used in plants to store energy for when it’s needed. If you heat it up it dissolves into the familiar gel-like substance that can help hold your gluten free foods together. But I learned this month that not all starches are created equal. Starches are made up of two major components – amylose and amylopectin, each with their own properties that they lend to a baked good. What makes gluten free baking interesting is that we can take advantage of the relative amounts of these components within a starch and use that to choose which starch would best fit our needs. Common gluten free starches are glutinous rice, tapioca, cornstarch, potato starch, arrowroot powder – and each one has not only different sizes of starch molecules, but also a different ratio of amylose:amylopectin which affects their properties (yes another ratio!). The major difference between the two is subtle – it mainly has to do with how the sugar units are linked together – in a straight and linear chain (amylose) or a larger more branched and networked fashion (amylopectin). This is sounding like a lot of chemistry, I know. But bear with me, it’s important.
Amylose and amylopectin are each responsible for the properties of starch, but in different ways. From what I can find online and also from the great informative help of Erin, amylose tends to be responsible for the firmness, whereas amylopectin tends to provide viscosity allowing it to be more free form. In the case of pâte à choux, the most important aspect was getting them to puff – so we needed that amylopectin in order to let the batter stretch and puff up in the oven. The starch with the highest amount of amylopectin is glutinous rice flour, which is virtually 100% amylopectin – so the thinking was glutinous rice flour was the way to go for starch choice.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have glutinous rice flour on hand for a while – but it made me think my cornstarch/tapioca blend maybe wasn’t the right choice for my starch, so I decided for my next trial to use all tapioca (which still has a fair amount of amylopectin in it), and try to keep the starch content high to make sure things gelled together well –
Trial 5: 60% starch (tapioca), 40% flour (corn, rice)
I had high hopes, I used tapioca as my starch the very first time I made eclairs and profiteroles 2 yrs ago! Oh yeah, but they collapsed in the oven and instead of being able to fill them I actually hand to sandwich two of them together –
Trial 6: 60% starch (tapioca, glutinous rice flour), 40% flour (corn, white rice)
And here was the result:
So just for kicks, why not try all glutinous rice flour? Then for sure I won’t have a shortage of amylopectin! And I’d seen a few gluten free pâte à choux recipes that actually called for only this as the GF dry ingredient, so thought it was worth a shot.
Trial 7: 100% glutinous rice flour
Sigh. No luck either. Still flat. Was it the overall ratio of ingredients? Well my prepackaged GF mix worked out ok – just check the pictures at top! And I’ve made successful gluten-full pâte à choux before, so I don’t think it was my technique that was the problem. To solve my issues, I did what every food blogger does when they find themselves in a perplexing situation – ask the twitterverse.
I got all sorts of responses… mostly about technique which to me just confirmed that I was doing the technique right, but then Shauna reminded me that starch isn’t the only thing that matters in a GF mix. There’s also fat and protein in flours. And while it’s important to have the right starches, I wasn’t thinking about balancing out the other two in the flour part of my dry ingredients. Fat wouldn’t be so useful here because fat would melt and probably spread them out even more – so that ruled out the nut meals and coconut. But what about protein?? What is its role in the success of pâte à choux?? And are my corn and chestnut or white rice flour combinations doing the job?? Suggestions were given to me to try brown rice, millet, sorghum, or teff – unfortunately brown rice, millet and sorghum flours are three things I cannot find here en Suisse (or at least haven’t found yet at any of the eight stores I buy gluten free ingredients at), but I do have teff – I would have loved to experiment, but sadly ran out of time.
Next time, next time!!!
Well I did learn a lot – I learned not only about starches and how each starch has its own ratio of components, I also learned that I need to balance starch:protein:fat as well to make a GF recipe work. And most of all, I learned that my husband will tell me they all taste great and will eat them anyways
Other participants were much more successful than me, so I encourage you to look at others’ posts and see what they came up with for gluten free pâte à choux
Amie of The Healthy Apple | Pate Choux with Creamy Macadamia Icing
Britt of GF in the City | Pâte à Choux
Erin of the Sensitive Epicure | Gougères filled with Herbed Goat Cheese Mousse
Erin of the Sensitive Epicure | Churros y Chocolate Sin Gluten
Tara of A Baking Life | Parmesan & Black Pepper Gougères | Frangipane Puffs