The Daring Bakers
The Daring Bakers are a group of bloggers who get together every month to make some challenging baked good or another. In previous months they’ve attempted everything from croissants and breads to cakes and tarts. All recipes are challenging in some way, requiring many steps or ingredients or making things from scratch we might normally just buy boxed instead (like, say, the ‘mirror’ topping on the Strawberry Mirror Cake).
This month I decided to join them, and found out the challenge recipe was Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Eclairs, hosted by Tony Tahhan and MeetaK.
I’d wanted to try making choux pastry for a while now, ever since our wedding planning days where we originally thought we might want a cromquembouche instead of a wedding cake. In the end we decided to have cupcakes for our wedding, and my taste for choux was forgotten for a while. Until now, that is!
This recipe is somewhat complex, requiring three different steps: making the choux pastry, making the chocolate glaze (which requires making a chocolate sauce that goes INTO the glaze… holy confusing) and making a pastry cream. We were instructed that we must use the choux recipe as written, and had to make either the pastry cream or the glaze, but could do whatever we wanted with the remaining element. Since Rich simply can’t do tons of milky products, I decided to do a vegan vanilla pastry cream instead of the heavy-cream-filled chocolate cream that was offered with the original recipe.
For my first time making choux, it actually went ok! I followed a tip offered by Tartelette, which was to make and pipe the choux into long strips on parchment paper, then freeze it. Once frozen, cut to the exact size you need, defrost slightly, and bake as directed. Her tip worked like a charm, and my eclairs were actually pretty uniform in size! Considering I’m not much of an accurate baker (tending to just toss in a little of this and a little of that as I choose… not always the best plan), this was a great tip for me.
One little problem I ran into was that the choux, once baked, can easily fall if cooled too quickly. I got a bit over excited and pulled them from the oven the moment they were done baking. Hey, I was so glad they had puffed up at all; I figured they were all going to be hard little rocks after the baking time was up, but no, they actually looked like little eclair shells! Anyhow, when I pulled them from the oven, two of them immediately deflated. Lucky for me, I had also read a tip on preventing that from happening: shut off the oven, leave the door open, and put the pan back in. That way they can cool more slowly as the oven cools down. So I tossed my pan back in, threw the oven door open, and prayed the rest of the pastries wouldn’t fall over.
As you can see from the photographic evidence, I did manage to save some of them! In fact, I saved all but two. Phew! After letting them all cool for the afternoon, I cut and filled them with the vanilla pastry cream, and topped them with the awesome chocolate glaze.
The pastry cream was actually very straightforward. I made it the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight to let the flavours meld. It was delicious, and we both couldn’t help but keep sneaking a little of it out of the bowl. Honestly, it’s a wonder that any was left for the eclairs the next day.
The glaze, however, was not so straightforward. Hah, I wish! I decided to make it the day before making my choux, figuring it would make the eclair process easier. The chocolate sauce component was easy enough, and really delicious. But when I went to make the glaze, the whole thing started to seperate into this buttery/oily mess. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, and I just sort of shrugged and tossed it into the fridge overnight. Well, the next day it certainly didn’t look a whole lot better, and as I started to reheat it over a double boiler in order to use it, the glaze components just weren’t coming together as I expected. In the end, I poured off a bit of the butter and just kept slowly whisking until it finally decided to congeal into a glaze instead of a mess. Magic? I don’t really know, but it did work.
Once completed, the eclairs taunted me from the kitchen for days. I’m not a huge pastry kind of girl, but these are really, really good.
Would I make them again? Maybe not, given the amount of work they take.
To see more delicious eclairs, check out the Daring Bakers Blogroll! To make this yourself, just click through to read more.
Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
For this recipe you need three things: cream puff dough (aka choux pastry), pastry cream filling, and chocolate glaze. I’ll post the individual components first, then tell you how to assemble them.
Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
• 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
1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a 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, 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.
4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs.
1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately. (editor’s note: Seriously, they’re not joking! It’s like glue if you don’t.)
2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined (or silpat-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) 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, or with silpats if you have them.
2) 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.
3) 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.
1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Vegan Vanilla Pastry Cream
Recipe by The Vegan Chef
• 1/2 cup unbleached flour
• 2 cups soy milk, rice milk, or other non-dairy milk of choice, divided
• 1/3 cup unbleached cane sugar
• pinch of salt
• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• 2 t. grated lemon zest
• seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean
1) In a small bowl, place the flour and whisk in 1/2 cups soy milk, and set aside.
2) In a small saucepan, place the remaining soy milk, sugar, and salt, and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture to the liquid ingredients and whisk well to combine.
3) Cook the mixture over medium heat, while whisking constantly, for 5-6 minutes or until thickened. Add the remaining ingredients, whisk well to combine, and cook the mixture an additional 1 minute.
4) Remove the saucepan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a glass bowl. Place a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming on the top.
1) This is much tastier if left to cool overnight in the refrigerator. The vanilla flavour really comes out if you do.
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or 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.
1) 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.
2) It is best to glaze the eclairs 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.
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)
• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
1) 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.
2) 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.
Assembling the éclairs:
1) 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.
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. 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.
1) 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.
2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled. They do keep ok for a few days, but are most tasty if eaten immediately.