This morning I was pummeled awake at 7 am by a 3 year old and his 65 pound puppy. It was chilly and rainy and grey, so I pulled on my big brown socks with the orange stripes (damn sexy, they are) and went downstairs, made oatmeal for W, put on his beloved (and very dated) Green Eggs and Ham DVD, and made cream puffs.
Today is the day for my Daring Bakers challenge – and this month our assignment was chocolate eclairs. Happy is the day when someone else tells me I have to make eclairs, absolving me of any guilt.
When I was a kid, I literally used to fantasize about chocolate eclairs. I would choose a cream-filled chocolate eclair over almost anything; it seemed to me the biggest and best thing with the most elements – doughnut, chocolate and cream. If the choice was between cream puffs and Nanaimo bars, I would have had a hard time. Fortunately I can’t remember ever being in that predicament.
It turned into a good eating day, albeit an extraordinarily unhealthy one; kind of like Christmas and my birthday all at once. Mike and I got to be judges at the BBQ on the Bow barbecue competition this afternoon – our categories were chicken and pork ribs – a tough job, but somebody’s gotta. So we sampled 6 barbecue teams’ chicken and 5 teams’ ribs – each judge is given a large baggie so that he/she may take just a nibble and then doggie-bag the rest, but you must all know by now I’m not one for restraint. I made another judge laugh so hard a rib almost came out her nose when I scarfed down our first in its entirety while everyone else sniffed and licked and pondered their dainty bites. (We weren’t allowed to talk – it was like laughing at your friend in math class, which made it even funnier.)
That was mid-afternoon, and afterward we were so cold and damp that we needed big cafe mochas, and then ate a few handfuls of Glossette peanuts at Mom & Dad’s when we went to pick up W. We were then supposed to go for a barbecue at C & J’s, and my plan was to pile the cream puffs into a rough mountain and stick a sparkler in the tippy-top one for J’s belated birthday, but the party got rained out and we got stuck at home with an entire batch of freshly made eclairs. NOT GOOD. Unless you’re one of our neighbours. So I guess dinner was a long procession of chicken, ribs, Glossette peanuts, cafe mochas and chocolate eclairs with espresso-mascarpone cream. Talk about the stuff dreams are made of.
Under the motto Culinary Liberty for All, we were given the freedom to do what we liked with our eclairs, provided at least one chocolate element remained. I chose to keep the chocolate glaze and fill them with a mascarpone cream. (I didn’t want to stray too far from a creamy filling; I’m fairly picky when it comes to fillings, especially of the creamy sort. It was always a disappointment to find them filled with some sort of pudding. I even prefer real cream to pastry cream.) And when I went to the Italian market to pick up my tub of mascarpone, it occurred to me that the cherry preserves I always pick up while there (for some reason I can buy a jar of morello cherry jam at many small ethnic groceries for around $2.50) would go just swell; especially if I swirled the cherry jam throughout the mascarpone-cream mixture, then I’d really have morello cherry-mascarpone fool, which sounds so much more elaborate, don’t you think? But for some reason I was set on a chocolate-espresso combination, so I made those. And then I quickly beat a little more whipping cream and swirled in some cherry jam, just to try it. Yet more evidence of my complete infatuation with eclairs and food in general.
You could use any pate au choux recipe to make cream puffs, but we used Pierre Hermé’s, from Chocolate Desserts By Pierre Hermé, written by Dorie Greenspan. Here are my immediate thoughts:
– I don’t like having to make one recipe in order to make another (in this case, a specific chocolate sauce in order to use 7 tablespoons of it – not 1/2 cup, but 7 tablespoons – to make the chocolate glaze, when you don’t need the chocolate sauce for anything else) – instead I mixed up a batch with just chocolate, cream and honey; the recipe is below
– I’ve made choux pastry many a time using just water, butter, flour and eggs, so I didn’t see the need for whole milk mixed with the water – I used 1%, because that’s what was in my fridge, and it worked just fine
– I also don’t see the need for unsalted butter, especially since you’re adding 1/4 tsp. salt anyway; I used salted butter and omitted the salt
– anytime you make cream puffs of any shape, pierce them through their sides as soon as they come out of the oven, otherwise they tend to collapse on themselves as they cool
– you don’t need things like a pastry bag or metal icing spatula. You can use a big ziploc bag and cut off the corner to pipe out your dough, and I drizzled the glaze overtop using the whisk I used to make it
I hope they don’t kick me out of the Daring Bakers for my delinquency.
Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé
(from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé)
Éclairs consist of 3 elements:
– Pâte à Choux (also known as choux pastry or cream puff dough)
– Pastry Cream (or other cream filling – in my case, mascarpone cream)
– Chocolate glaze
Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
½ cup (125 mL) whole milk
½ cup (125 mL) water
1 stick (1/2 cup) 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. (And it will have pulled away from the sides of the pan.)
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.
Preheat your oven to 375F. 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. (Alternatively, you could use a heavy-duty ziploc bag and snip a chunk off the corner to squeeze the batter out.) Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inch 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 it ajar. After 5 more minutes, 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.
The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling. (Careful not to seal them in a plastic bag, which will make them go soft.)
1 8 oz. container mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. instant espresso, dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
Using electric mixer, beat the mascarpone, sugar, espresso and vanilla . Add 1/2 cup cream; beat until soft peaks form. Add the rest of the cream and beat until thick and stiff. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or up to 5 hours.
(My) Chocolate Glaze
3/4 cup whipping or coffee (18%) cream
6 oz. chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp. honey or corn syrup
Bring the cream to a simmer in a saucepan; take it off the heat and stir in the chocolate and honey. Let it sit to allow the warmth of the cream to melt the chocolate, stir until smooth and use immediately.
(from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé)
1/3 cup (80 mL) heavy cream
3½ oz (100 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
7 Tbsp. (110 mL) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature
In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
(from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé)
4½ oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup water
½ cup crème fraîche, or heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
Place all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens. It may take 10-15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
To assemble the éclairs:
Slice them 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.
The glaze should be barely warm to the touch and spreadable. Spread (or drizzle) the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.