Choux Pastry Swans
Yes, I know these are very 1970s, but we include them in the classes at our school because they offer a great way to become used to piping choux pastry, and people are fascinated to see how they are assembled, and very proud of themselves when they have made them.
The swan necks are the trickiest part because they are very delicate an fragile, which is why I suggest you pipe double the quantity you need, as up to half of them are likely to break when you lift them off your baking tray or silicone mat. Casualties are just a hazard of swan-making.
I use three different fabric piping bags for these. Two are filled with choux batter for piping the necks and bodies of the swans – one bag has a thin nozzle and the other a medium star-shaped nozzle. The third bag I use to pipe the chantilly cream, again with a medium star-shaped nozzle. You need three bags ready to go, as there is not time to wash and dry them in between piping, but you can of course use disposable bags. The chantilly cream that forms the swans’ feathers is also good for serving with fruit tarts.
- For the choux pastry:
- 125g plain flour
- 225g or ml water
- 60g butter
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 eggs
- butter or baking spray, for greasing the baking trays
- 1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt, for glazing
- icing sugar, for dusting
- For the chantilly cream:
- 250g whipping or double cream
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- a few drops of vanilla extract or rosewater (optional)
For the choux pastry:
1. Have all your ingredients ready before you start. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Bring the water, butter and salt to the boil in a large pan.
2. Tip in the flour in a steady stream.
3. Keep whisking all the time until the mixture clings to the whisk.
4. Swap the whisk for a wooden spoon and beat well over the heat for 2–3 minutes, until the mixture is glossy and comes away from the edges of the pan. This hard cooking dries off the batter, ready to take the eggs.
5. Because the mixture is quite hard to work by hand, I would use a food mixer, if possible. Beat the mixture with a paddle attachment for a minute.
6. Now start to add the eggs one at a time while keeping the motor running. If you prefer to beat in the eggs by hand, transfer the mixture to a bowl and beat them in one by one with a wooden spoon. Whether mixing by hand or machine, go carefully with the eggs as you might not need them all. You are aiming for a mixture that is smooth and glossy but that will hold its shape for piping. When you reach that point, it is ready to use.
For the swans:
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas 3. Lightly grease two non-stick baking trays or have ready two silicone mats. Prepare three piping bags: insert 1 cm star nozzles into two of them, and a plain nozzle with a tiny hole the size of a biro point into the third. Take two piping bags – one with the fine nozzle and one with a star nozzle – and fill with the batter.
2. To pipe, hold the bag in one hand with the other hand underneath to steady and guide it. Squeeze with the hand holding the bag, pipe, then turn the bag anticlockwise, squeeze again, applying the same pressure all the time, and pipe again. I have noticed that most people tend to hold the bag with one hand and squeeze with the other, but this doesn’t give you the same control.
3. First make the swans’ necks. Using the bag with the fine nozzle, pipe 24 thin ‘S’ shapes onto a prepared baking tray or mat.
4. Now change to the bag with the star nozzle and pipe the bodies onto a separate prepared tray or mat. Squeezing gently, pipe a rosette shape, then draw the bag towards you so that you end up with an elongated ‘body’ with a little tail. Repeat until you have 12 bodies.
5. Put the tray containing the necks into the oven and bake for 8–10 minutes, checking all the time to make sure they don’t burn. They should be golden brown, but will go from beautifully golden to burnt very quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to cool.
6. Brush the tops of the bodies very lightly with the beaten egg – not so much that it drips onto the tray or mat. The bodies need to bake longer than the necks in order to dry out properly.They should take about 20 minutes, by which time they will be golden and puffed up. For the last 4 minutes of baking, leave the oven door slightly ajar to allow the steam to escape and help the drying process. Remove the tray from the oven and leave to cool.
7. To make the chantilly cream, whisk the ingredients together until thick, but be careful not to overwhisk or you will end up with butter rather than cream. Fill your third piping bag with the mixture. Slice the top off each choux pastry body – the inside should be dry and hollow. Lay the tops, cutside down, on your work surface and cut in half to make ‘wings’. Using a circular motion, pipe some of the cream into the cavity of each body. Gently insert a wing (shiny-side upwards) into the cream on each side.
8. With a scraper or small palette knife, carefully lift each swan neck from the baking tray and insert into the cream at the opposite end to the tail. Finally, very lightly dust the whole swan with a tiny amount of icing sugar.