Water or Milk?

Both maybe? Choux formulas are pretty standard in the proportion of flour, eggs, liquid and fat. Where they sometimes differ is in the type of liquid they call for: some say milk, others say water, some say a combination. Does it make a difference?

It does. As in most baked goods, milk acts as a tenderizer. The milk solids and fat disrupt gluten networks and create a softer product. That said, there’s plenty of fat in choux batter to begin with, so a little more milk fat won’t make that much difference. However milk also contains lactose and proteins, both of which will help the choux puffs brown in the oven.

So milk will have three effects: a (slightly) lower rise, a (slightly) more tender texture and a (noticeably) darker crust. If you want to mitigate those first two effects, you can take away a tablespoon or so of the butter, which will bring you more or less back to where you started in terms of fat and milk solids content.

10 thoughts on “Water or Milk?”

  1. So is there any advantage to using milk over water? In other words, should I switch out the milk for water in a recipe or not worry about it? Those effects don’t sound very desirable.

    1. My feeling is that unless you really value well-browned choux, you should just use water. You’ll get crispier, more rigid puffs with water, and that to me is the priority.

      Thanks for the comment!

      – Joe

  2. We’ve found a distressing taste come from our milk choux. The taste of cooked dairy overwhelms any other flavor, so we stick to just water now.


  3. I have found the recipe for choux pastry from the joy of baking. The joy of baking recipe uses water, and i had another recipe that uses milk. I was so confused, which recipe I should bake, but in the end I went for the joy of baking recipe for choux pastry. I am very very happy with the result, the choux was golden, puffed up nicely, crisp and inside was hollow, dry and slightly moist. Every time I bake, I end up having excellent cream puffs and eclairs. So, for me water wins.

  4. We compromise a little. Choux paste is made with water and we add a little skim milk powder in there as well, not even to become milk, but enough to soften things up a little.

  5. Hmmm, once again you got me to thinking (bad habit that).

    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?


    1. Fascinating question, Paul. I think I’ll post it on the main page and answer it there if you don’t mind…other readers will be interested I think.

      – Joe

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