As usual DBaker meets up to it’s usual high standards! This being my 4th DBaker challenge I’ve begun to expect the “unexpected” at the start of each month. August challenge is no exception and it’s a chocolate éclair recipe from Pierre Hermé - Chocolate Desserts!
I was pretty excited when I saw what was in store! Only 2 weeks ago I was watching Sugar hosted by Anna Olson and in that particular episode, she made chocolate profiteroles. It looked simple enough and I was all geared up to give it a try, so you can imagine what a coincidence this is. As with all DBaker challenges, I usually find the set of instructions lengthy, but good thing is that it can be broken up and made over a few days.
I did my challenge one week prior to posting date as I didn’t have time earlier in the month. Last weekend was miserable as it had been raining since Friday late afternoon. My husband and I had initially wanted to go out on Saturday but it poured again and continued doing so way into the night. We holed ourselves up in the apartment and with nothing else occupying my time, I thought I’d attempt the challenge. My hubby was curled up at the sofa watching the Olympics and golf!
I started with the choux which I had to beat by hand as my very inexpensive (ahem!) cake mixer would not be able to handle the stress. I tried using this mixer previously to knead bread dough and it was a disaster – the dough curled up the blades like a snake and almost lodged itself into the motor. At this point I was expected my mixer to start sending out smoke signals. However a quick flick of the “off button” stopped this from happening. Whew!
Okay I digressed a bit .... now back to my challenge! Everything went smoothly and I got my “unpaid helper” aka my husband to help me beat the choux after the addition of each egg (I needed some muscle power). I piped the pastry onto baking trays, pre-heated the oven and popped the trays in. I followed the initial recipe posted in the DBaker forum which said to leave the oven door slightly ajar by sticking the handle of the spoon against the door after 7 minutes of baking time at 180C. Followed the rest of the original instructions but after 20 minutes into baking and turning the trays around, the éclairs started to deflate. They went from puffed to phoofed!
Oh dear not another DBaker disaster! Every single éclair came out flat. I searched through the DBaker forum and discovered that a few DBakers also experienced the same “deflation”. I then did a Google search and the searches came back with choux not dry enough, too much moisture, should slit the éclairs and leave them to cool in the oven. I was a bit dejected by then and told my husband that I could probably salvage 2 or 3 éclair and use these for my posting. He told me to try again … and without trying I would not know why it happened. I did just that and made another batch.
This time round, I did not open the oven. I cranked the heat up to 200C for the first 25 minutes and then lowered it to 180C for the remaining bake time. I would anxiously peer into the oven every 10 minutes or so just to check on the rising. Once baked I left them in the oven to dry out for about 30 minutes. The 2nd batch faired much better than the first and I managed to slice each shell into halves. However I did realize that the centers were still slightly moist (they should in fact be dry and hollow) but they tasted good in any case. I left the éclairs to cool some more whilst I went about preparing the vanilla bean pastry cream and the chocolate glaze. After assembling all the éclairs I decided to refrigerate them for a while – I personally prefer them slightly cold and they tasted great. Only managed to bring five éclairs to the office for my regular tasters and they all thought I had bought the éclair shells instead of baking them from scratch! Ha-ha I guess it was that good!
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
Ingredients for the Choux:
1/2 cup (125g) whole milk
1/2 cup (125g) water
1 stick (115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
2) 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.
3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Alternatively you can do this process 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.
4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
* Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
* You can pipe the dough and then 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.
5) Preheat your oven to 200C. 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.
6) 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.
7) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 25 minutes in 200C. After 25 minutes, turn the oven down to 180C and bake a further 8 – 10 minutes. Remove from oven and using a sharp knife make a slit on the side of each shell. This is to allow the steam to escape and let the éclair shell try out properly. You can either place the shells onto a wire rack to cool or alternatively you can pop the trays back into the oven, with the door open, to cool down the éclairs. The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Ingredients for Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream:
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup of sugar
3 Tsp cornstarch, sifted
1 vanilla bean pod, inside scraped
3 1/2 Tsp unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature
1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk, vanilla bean pod and seeds to a boil . In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy bottomed saucepan.
2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).
4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.
* The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
* In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
* Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.
Ingredients for the Chocolate Glaze:
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
100g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
1) 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.
2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
* If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
* It is best to glaze the éclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.
Assembling the éclairs:
• Chocolate glaze
• Vanilla bean pastry cream
2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. (Though I find it easier to invert the tops and dip them into the glaze) Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
3) 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.
* If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
* The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled. (However my preference is to eat the éclairs slightly chilled!)