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.