Saturday, September 6, 2008
For my first endeavour into what I assumed to be a more ambitious baking project, I was surprised to find that eclairs aren't exactly as overwhelming as one might fear. The process itself is actually quite manageable and the end result was perfect eclairs that received rave reviews from my family and friends. I can truly say that it was worth it to take the challenge and try my hand at a Daring Bakers' Challenge, because this pleasant experience has definitely encouraged me to take on more intricate recipes.
I am, however, hesitant to official join the Daring Bakers' Blogroll because I'm unsure of how committed I can be to the monthly challenges. I fear that in a few weeks my schedule at school will prevent me from having as much free to time to frolic in the kitchen as I have the privilege of doing at the present. Regardless, when I see an idea that I think I could manage, I am now eager to try it for myself.
Now that I realize how simple eclairs really are, I'm looking forward to experimenting more with flavors and colors and possibly try to concoct a "cuter" pastry.
Cream puff dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.
Notes: The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Assembling the éclairs: [This is where I deviated a little from Pierre Hermé’s original recipe, because instead of chocolate pastry cream, I made vanilla and I also used a simplified version of a chocolate glaze that didn't require making a chocolate sauce first. If you wanted the entirely original recipe you can check it out here.]
Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
Dip the tops of the éclairs in the chocolate glaze and allow them to set. In the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottom of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to set them.
Notes: The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.
Cream Puff Dough
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
½ cup (125g) whole milk
½ cup (125g) water
1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
Notes: Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately. [You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.]
1 cup granulated sugar
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup all purpose flour (scooped and leveled)
2 cups boiling milk
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
In a 3 quart mixing bowl, gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks with a wire whisk or an electric beater. Continue beating until the mixture is pale yellow and forms a ribbon.
Beat in the flour.
Beating the egg yolk mixture, gradually pour in the boiling milk in a thin stream of droplets.
Pour into a clean, heavy bottomed 2.5 quart saucepan and set over moderately high heat. Stir with a wire whisk, reaching all over the bottom of the pan. As the sauce comes to a boil it will get lumpy, but will smooth out as soon as you beat it. When boil is reached, beat over moderately low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the flour. Be careful the custard does not scorch in the bottom of the pan.
Remove from the heat and beat in the butter, then the vanilla. If the custard is not used immediately, clean it off the sides of the pan, and dot the top of the custard with softened butter to prevent a skin from forming over the surface (alternatively, cover with plastic wrap making sure the plastic is sitting right on the surface of the custard).
The creme patissiere will keep for a week in the refrigerator, or may be frozen.
Makes 2 1/2 cups.
Hard Chocolate Glaze
1/4 cup unsalted butter
5 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Combine chocolate with butter in the top of a double boiler, over simmering water. Stir frequently until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.