Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers - Eclairs

Eclairs. The word rolls off the tongue, smooth and silky, arousing images of Parisian cafes and glass-paneled patisseries, shiny chocolate glaze and luscious swirls of pastry cream.

I remember browsing the pastry case at cake shops, looking at the beautifully crafted fruit tarts and lusting after the dark mysteries of chocolate torte. Eclairs drew my eyes though, as something always constant, always delicious.

I remember going to Costco and buying the frozen cream puffs or eclairs filled with Bavarian cream. It was always a question of just how many I will allow myself to have in one sitting. They suggested serving them slightly thawed. But I always preferred them right out of the freezer, liking the way the cold cream warms and melts on my tongue.

Therefore, I was ecstatic to learn that this week's challenge is eclairs. And the recipe is from none other than the remarkable Pierre Herme. Of course, I put off making them until the very end. *sigh* Everything came together nicely though. There's a batch of baked puffs cooling right now, waiting to be filled.

I made the dough on Friday. It was quick and painless, very very cooperative. I don't think the dough was as loose as the recipe saids it should be, but it still turned out well nonetheless. I realized as I grabbed my piping set that I had lost a coupler for my tips, so I couldn't use the giant tip I bought and was so excited to use. Instead I spooned the puff dough onto the baking sheet, and made them quite a bit larger than I probably should have. I let them bake an extra 5-10 minutes longer to compensate. I made a third of the dough into long eclairs shape, and spooned the rest in round dollops for cream puffs. I froze those and baked them after thawing this morning.

The pastry cream recipe I followed to a T and finally broke the curse of the lumpy pastry cream that has haunted me...since I started baking. It was delicious and very easy to make. I kept things simple with vanilla and chocolate, but there's plenty of room for experimentation.

I actually didn't make the listed chocolate glaze recipe. I still had ganache in the fridge from my chocolate caramel tartlettes so I heated some of that with a bit of whole milk. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, I spooned that onto the top of my eclairs.

Cream Puff Dough:
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs

In a medium sauce pan, bring milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil.

Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, turn the heat down to medium and add all the flour in at once. Stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough should come together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it's suppose to happen. Keep stirring a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. At this time, the dough will be very soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough into a bowl. With a wooden spoon or better yet, a electric mixture, beat in the eggs one at a time, waiting until the previous one has been incorporated into the dough. The dough may separate during this process, but at the end should come together, leaving you with a thick and shiny dough.

While the dough is warm, spoon or pipe 4 to 4 1/2 inch chubby fingers onto a baking sheet, leaving 2 inches of space to allow them room to puff. Bake in a preheated 375 degrees oven for 7 minutes. After 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven door to keep it slightly ajar and bake for another 5 minutes. Rotate the pan at this time and bake a further 8 minutes. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. The eclairs should be puffed, golden, firm, and hollow-sounding when tapped.

Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch, sifted
2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted (for half the pastry cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract (for half the pastry cream)

In a medium saucepan, bring milk to boil. In the meantime, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Still whisking the yolk mixture, slowly drizzle in about half of the boiling milk. This will temper the eggs. Strain the yolk and milk mixture back into the saucepan (on medium heat) to remove any bits of scrambled eggs and whisk vigorously until the mixture thickens. Continue whisking for 1 to 2 more minutes.

At this point, you can add in your flavorings. I split the pastry cream in 2 and added melted chocolate to one and vanilla extract to the other. Once the flavorings are incorporated, take the pan off the heat and cooled the cream in ice water. Stir in the butter in 3 to 4 installments, and continue stirring until the cream is completely cooled. Store in the fridge until ready to fill.

Chocolate Glaze:
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate
4 tsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
7 tbsp chocolate sauce (see below), warm or at room temperature

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly add in the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Stir in butter, piece by piece, followed by chocolate sauce.

Chocolate Sauce:
4 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup creme fraiche, or heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens. The sauce is done when it coats the back of your spoon (may take 10-15 minutes).

To Assemble:
Once the eclairs (or puffs) have cooled, slice them horizontally in half, using a serrated knife. Set aside the bottoms while you glaze the top. Spread the barely warm chocolate glaze on top of the eclairs using a knife or metal icing spatula. Will the glaze set, fill the bottom with pastry cream.


Claire said...

Wow! Your eclairs look great. I think they cooked up better than mine did. Bummer about the coupler...I had not such issues as I used a ziploc bag!!!

Rebecca of "Ezra Pound Cake" said...

Wow, your cream puffs look so nice and puffy. Delish!

Amy said...

Mmm I sure wish I had some eclairs left, I wonder if they'll taste good frozen like the Costco ones. Great job with the challenge!

goooooood girl said...

Very good......