Reader Paul writes in with a very interesting choux question:
Rather than the milk vs water thing, what about alternatives to butter? We make our choux paste with butter, but our pate brisee with shortening for a more neutral, puffier crust. Would it do the same thing for choux? As far as I’m concerned, choux paste, like brisee, is more of a filling delivery system than a confection in its own right. Making it neutral allows the filling to take center stage. Before I go off on a testing tangent what are your thoughts, Joe?
A fascinating idea, Paul. There’s no reason I can think of that shortening wouldn’t work in choux, though you’d want to scale it down by 15% since butter is about 15% water and you don’t want to weigh the batter down any more. On the functional impact, my feeling is that there won’t be too much in terms of texture. The finished puffs will probably be a bit more rigid since you’re losing some milk solids. They probably won’t be any puffier however, as tart crust (pâte brisée) and choux are very different things. When you reduce moisture in a tart crust you get noticeably more flake since there’s very little water in the dough to begin with. Taking away a little water in a choux batter won’t make any difference at all since it’s already awash in water via the egg white.
The major difference will be in the flavor department, and I suspect you’ll miss the butter if it isn’t there. I don’t think of choux as having much flavor at all, even though it contains a fair amount of butter. Remove even that mild taste and I think it’ll leave the shells too bland. I could be wrong of course. I urge you to try an experiment and get back to me with the results. I’ll be interested!