Friday, November 13, 2009

Cream Puffs & Eclairs. Gluten Free, Oh My!

My last term in Culinary School was challenging with adapting my Professional Baking class and lab to be gluten free. Kudos to my Pastry Chef Instructor for being so patient and a good about it. (Go visit her at the Cincinnati Hilton Orchids. Chef Kat Kessler is the best!) To me, it was important to get objective feedback for how it compares to the standard (gluten-filled). She was always happy to provide constructive feedback. Even provided benchmark qualities such as texture and flavor for the target finished product. For example, describing the difference between a cake and muffin texture, crumb, and flavor. Every week I did trial runs for every single recipe, adapting it gluten free before class/lab. Sometimes it induced a bit of anxiety, especially scaling with others carelessly throwing around flour in the lab. But in the end, the payoff was worth the anxiety and extra work upfront. And thankfully, I never got sick.

One of the items we were to make made me both scared and at the chomping at the bit to try. Pate a choux. Also know as eclair dough. This dough is amazing in how it is made. It works by gelatinizing the starches before baking. This was an experiment that I have been meaning to do. Now I had to. The procedure for making pate a choux calls for boiling liquid, fat, and salt. Throwing flour into the mixture and cooking it until it forms a ball. Immediately put dough into a mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until cools. Add in eggs until elastic and doughy. I figured it was just crazy enough to work well for a gluten free adaptation. What type of gluten free flour would gelatinize the most? Easy - sweet rice flour. I thought why not go for it, and just substitute out the bread flour (high gluten content) for sweet rice flour at a 1-for-1 swap? It worked so well, maybe even better. Amazing. The dough had a sweet reminiscent flavor and aroma of Cream of Rice cereal. My Pastry Chef instructor was amazed, too. Yes! The dough gave plenty of loft to fill with the pastry cream mousseline, had the strength to withstand the needed manipulation of filling and dipping in chocolate ganache. And the feedback I received from my fellow classmates was outstanding. Some of them actually preferred mine to their regular, gluten-filled eclairs/cream puffs.

So what's the difference between cream puffs and eclairs? Shape. That is all. A cream puff is round and an eclair is elongated. I decided not to post this recipe for the process of making, and it's really long. It is very involved and time intensive, about five hours to make finished product. My recipes are all based on Gisslen's Professional Baking. First step is to make the pastry cream, and chill. Second, make the pate a choux dough. Bake. Completely cool. Third lighten the pastry cream with whipped cream for a mousseline. Lastly, make the chocolate ganache and dip. Maybe, if enough of you request the recipe, I can post a holiday special entry with a seasonal twist on the filling. I am open for suggestions. Yum. It is possible to bake even more delicious gluten free. And I am on the path to unlocking the secrets. Without xanthan gum.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure


Melie said...

These look heavenly. Quick question: Do they freeze well? I don't think I would be up to the task if we could only enjoy them for a day or two. But, if I can make a larger batch and freeze them for an occasional treat, I'm up for the challenge.

Anonymous said...

Would love to have the recipe. I love spending time in the kitchen myself trying to perfect different "normal" recipes to gluten-free and figuring out which flours work and taste best. I hope you post it soon . . . my 10-year-old daughter who has Celiac is drooling over the picture (okay, and mommy is too)!!!! Yum

Jenn said...

I am so impressed by these - they look gorgeous and held their shape wonderfully! I am just curious though - why do you not want to use xanthan gum? When I have made GF pâte à choux I didn't use much xanthan gum, but it was def. in there for sure.

Erin Swing said...

Hm. Freezing? I have no idea how they would survive. The question is the pastry cream with all the egg/custard base... These do not survive long enough to be frozen in my house. They disappear within four days. They store well in the fridge in an sealed container. It could be a future experiment. Good excuse to make these for entertaining and impressing your guests.

Ok. I will post the recipe for these. Look for in early December. I will do a holiday twist to them. Any suggestions? How should I flavor the filling? Chocolate? Coffee? Hazelnut? Eggnog? Butterscotch? So many options. Need your help for tasty seasonal options!

These did hold their shape very well. No problem. I did not use xanthan gum because I never use xanthan gum. As a Chemist Culinariam, I firmly believe that it provides zero benefit to gluten free baking. It it a rheology modifier in that it provides thickening properties to liquids to yield sheer-thinning properties. What does that mean? It means it works awesome for stabilizing all those spices & herbs in your salad dressing you buy in the grocery store as an example. You know how it seems thick, but pours easily? That's xanthan gum at its best. How does that relate to baking? In my opinion - it does not. Xanthan gum does not provide that elastic & plastic qualities in a baked good right out of the oven (in a solid form) that gluten provides.

The only things that xanthan gum adds to gluten free baked goods is difficulty in handling the batter/dough (gets weird), the bitter taste it imparts to the finished product, and the cost at $20 for a tiny bag!! I will pass xanthan gum for my gluten free baked goods. Believe me, you will not miss it, too.

Gaile said...

wow, great info on xanthan gum!! I might have to try baking without it as well. In the meantime I'll vote for a hazlenut latte filling for those creampuffs, and keep watching!

Simply...Gluten-free said...

Wow I am so excited about this I can't stand it! I am so going to try what you said and just swap out the sweet rice flour 1 to 1. I am literally jumping out of my chair! Can't wait.

Kathy said...

Those look so yummy. I've been wanting to try to make eclairs, but
not sure I could do it. I'll be
back to try out your recipe!

Nona said...

wonderful! I look forward to the recipe and trying it myself, I made my first batch of 'regular' puffs a week or so ago, and had excellent results (in the second batch, :)). I'm excited to try a version that I can be a glutton with and not reap the difficulties of gluten!

Nancy said...

Hey, if you want some other great recipe ideas. I found this woman by the name Rose Cole, she's a certified nutrition coach and she has awesome Holiday Recipes that are gluten free. Her site is I highly recommend checking it out!

Anonymous said...

OMG I would love to see this recipe! I have been craving gluten free sweets and nothing seems to live up to the gluten filled memories I have!

Muddmomma said...

I hope you're going to write a cook book!

Cheryl said...

Bummer, I read your post hoping you were planning to share. I made a zillion eclairs for a small 50 person event last week and it made my Mom want eclairs. So for mothers day I am making GFCF eclairs for my Mom. Ah, well. They should not be too hard to convert.
Glad you had fun making them.

Just in case you are curious I will be blending Silken Soft Tofu for my pastry cream substitute.

Well, I am off.

trudyf said...

I have been looking for a great GF pate a choux recipe for so long. I just stumbled on your blog and cannot tell you how thrilled I am.
I will be making a batch this afternoon for my grandchildren!
I have been baking professionally for over 30 years but have only been in the GF arena for 4 years. Oh, so much to learn from one another.
Thanks so very much. I will try my recipe and check back to see if yours is on board soon.