Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Eclair

This month's DARING BAKERS' CHALLENGE was to make Chocolate Eclairs, from a recipe by Pierre Herme.
It was a great choice by

The cooking method that is highlighted in this recipe is the creation of a Pate a choux. I've made this kind of pastry before, but, as with the other methods I've covered with the Daring Bakers, it's not until I've done it with a Daring Bakers' Challenge that I really begin to understand (and, more importantly, remember!) it.

Of course, my favorite part of the recipe is the chocolate stuff: the sauce really is great on its own--oh, you know what I mean, I'm not just drinking it straight, (really.) but on top of some other good thing--and the glaze is quite nice, but the chocolate cream is really fantastic.

I enjoyed making the eclairs, although I'm stumped by how one tray of the pastries totally collapsed once removed from the oven, while the other didn't. Could it be that the collapsed eclairs were a little bigger than the nice puffy ones, and therefore were undercooked and so sunk once they hit cool air? I dunno. See?

Nice Puffy Eclairs:

Sad Sunken Eclairs: (Still Tasty, Though):


So here's the recipe: not too hard, just a little time consuming. Over all, quite enjoyable to make. I myself do not care much for eclairs, or most puff pastry, for that matter, but generally these guys got rave reviews from the tasting panel. (Guests at a well-timed party.) Sakhtein!

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs

Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

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.
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 bakingtime should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

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 thebottoms 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.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• 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 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, 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 as directed above.
1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2) You can pipe the dough and the 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.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk 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).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the 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 in three or four installments. 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.
1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
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.

Chocolate Sauce
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) Add 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.
1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our Trip to the Orchard, or, How I Got My Color Back.

Since it is apparent that I will be eating fried green tomatoes and green beans and yellow pumpkin flowers this year, we headed out to the nearby orchard/farm to see what else was growing. It's a great place: as you drive up, you smell the doughnuts cooking, no matter the season. In the fall you get the cider undernotes as well. There's a barrel of apples to taste test, and candy, and jellies and jams, and pickles, and doughnuts and muffins and pies, and whatever fruits and veggies are in season. This weekend, peaches and blueberries were in, and the first apples of the season, J-Macs, were up, too. We bought lots of good stuff, and now I don't know where I'm going to find the time to bake with them!

Who am I kidding--they're already disappearing; there won't be enough left to cook with!

Monday, August 18, 2008

It's not easy being...

Go ahead and say it:


I love green in the spring, I love it in the summer, but come on, I need some variety! See, here's my problem--everything is green!

My garden has lots of good things growing in it, but everything is green.

It seems a little late to me, to have no color blooming in the place.

No blush on the tomatoes, no shiny red on the peppers.

My little grape tomatoes are supposed to turn white; but nothin'.

I suppose I'll accept that the green beans are green.

Ooh, some yellow! Right, this little pumpkin plant hasn't even made it to the green stage yet!

Man, that's an ugly flower. Hey, at least it's not green!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Birthday Cake: A Short Chapter in the Saga

I make a birthday cake for my husband every year.

It started as a pretty regular cake, but quickly became a one- to two-day event. I was making all kinds of crazy cakes, with names I can't pronounce (but would be able to, if I were French, or were a real chef/baker.) This year I wimped out, using the kids as an excuse, but really the cause was laziness, and I made a pretty basic good old fashioned cake, which turned out just fine.

I managed to burn out the hand mixer (I mean come on, it was only what, forty years old? I thought it had a few good years left!) so I got quite the workout during my baking experience. Which was okay, as I pretty much bailed on my pre-vacation plan to run every morning and swim every afternoon. Oh, hey, did I mention that every year my husband's birthday is during our vacation? So these are vacation days by the sea that I am spending trying to bake things.

Simple as it was, the cake had multiple ingredients on my husband's favorite's list, so I think it was a relative success. I myself, not liking cake much at all, (except coffee cake, and blueberry buckle,) am not much of a judge.

This is the cake: The blueberry and orange layer cake with cream cheese frosting from
Bon Appétit June 2001 :

and here is the recipe:


2 1/2 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

1 cup whole milk


2 1/2-pint baskets blueberries

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

3 1/4 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2-pint baskets blueberries


For cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides; line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Sift first 3 ingredients into medium bowl. Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until blended. Beat in concentrate, peel, and vanilla. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with milk in 3 additions. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool in pans on rack.

For filling:

Combine berries, sugar, and lemon juice in heavy small saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until mixture is reduced to 3/4 cup, stirring occasionally and mashing berries coarsely with fork, about 8 minutes. Chill filling uncovered until cold, about 30 minutes.

For frosting:

Beat cream cheese and butter in bowl to blend. Beat in powdered sugar in 4 additions, then orange concentrate, peel, and vanilla. Chill until firm but spreadable, about 30 minutes.

Cut around cakes to loosen. Turn cakes out. Peel off parchment.

Place 1 layer, flat side up, on platter. Spread filling to within 1/2 inch of edges. Chill 5 minutes. Top with second layer, flat side down.

Spread 1/2 cup frosting thinly all over cake to seal. Spread remaining frosting over cake.

Mound remaining blueberries on top. (Can be made 1 day ahead; chill. Serve at room temperature.)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Vacation

Do you have a place in your memory, a place exemplifying the best of your childhood summers? So that when you think of that place, you see it in sepia or technicolor, depending on the memory or your mood? A place so entrenched as a part of you that a warm salty breeze or rain pounding on the roof or crickets in the cool night conjure a brief flash of the place?

We've been spending time at that place of mine--which isn't my place in real life, it's my parents' place, and my grandparents' before that; where my mother grew up with her sister and brother and best friend, and I grew up with my sisters and cousins, and now my kids and my nieces and cousins are doing the same. Where the grownups hang out on the porch long after dark and the usual bedtime hours, chatting and laughing; and the kids hang out in bed laughing and scheming. Where the neighbors are the same families as four generations ago, and the few new families are a good source of gossip and a good object of spying (depending on your age, of course.)

Here's where the kids get a real taste of freedom and self-responsibility. It's where you'll see your first shooting star, and where the milky way looks like a milky way. This is where you're brave enough to put your feet down even though that kid just pulled up a gigantic pinchy crab, and where you're brave enough to swim over to a jelly fish and capture it in a bucket. It's where you get your swim endurance and finally swim to the buoy; and where you get your land endurance and make it to the mile store for breakfast or candy or ice cream, depending on the time of day. On your way there, you'll screech when you see the bridge, and on the way home, you'll cry with your heart broken.

I love this place, with the rambling old cottage and the log at the end of the street at the beach, and that's where I've been spending my free time.

No blogging, nothing all that modern. So I'm back. I guess I'm back.

But there's still some summer left. I imagine that there always will be.

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