This is my first Daring Baker’s Challenge, and I must say, I’m very excited to participate in such a fun challenge with so many talented bakers and pastry chefs. Daring Bakers was created by Lis from La Mia Cucina and Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice back in 2006, and may I say, what an absolutely fantastic idea! Everyone is given the same recipe, and barring certain rules by the host(s), must bake it as written, adding your own take on it, depending on what the host(s) decide. The host(s) usually give you some leeway in that respect.
For a while now, I’ve been admiring the gorgeous and awe inspiring creations of many Daring Bakers, so I’m so honored to be a part of it. Any bakers out there who haven’t already, should definitely join up! Click on the photo below, and it will take you to the Daring Bakers site where you’ll find instructions on how to join in on the fun!
Now that I’ve waxed poetic about this awesome challenge, I was fully expecting my first challenge to be something along the lines of a 12-layer ice cream and cake Bombe with hand-pulled sugar faces and about 31 flavors of homemade ice cream. Although that sounds daunting, I was ready for it! Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be something I’m more than quite familiar with, and make on a somewhat consistent basis; the eclair! I’d like to thank this month’s hosts, Meetak and Tony Tahhan for choosing such a great eclair recipe from one of my favorite sugar kings, Pierre Hermes, taken from his book; simply titled, Chocolate Desserts. Buy this book, you won’t regret it!
OK..I have to admit, I really, really like my old standby recipe for pate a choux. Not only does it produce the perfect eclair shell, but it doesn’t get soggy, even when kept in the fridge for a while. However, using Pierre’s recipe for choux paste was a must in this challenge, along with at least one chocolate component. When I saw there was milk (I prefer to use all water) and lots of eggs in his formula, and read how some ended up with sogginess, no puff, too eggy of a flavor, or shells that weren’t hollow, I knew I would have to take some extra care to insure that didn’t happen to mine.
By ‘extra care’, I mean increasing the baking time, making sure to let the steam out of the eclair by slitting each shell open a little for the last several minutes of baking, (which is a main cause of a soggy eclair shell, depending on the recipe), then letting them dry in a turned off oven for a bit. With my old standby recipe, I never have to do any of the above since they always come out perfect; no any extra steps needed. Pipe, pop in the oven, and voila, perfectly crisp, hollow, not too eggy, sunken or soggy, eclair shells.
I’m really not trying to pull a ‘my pate a choux is better’ deal here, as I couldn’t shine Pierre’s chouxs when it comes to pastry, but let’s just say I’m so used to and satisfied with my standby recipe, that I had to mention all of the above prior to talking about my entry.
Your basic eclair contains 3 components – Pate a Choux aka Choux Paste aka Cream Puff Dough, for the shell, a pastry cream filling, and a chocolate glaze of some sort. In this challenge, Herme’s pate a choux and one chocolate component, whether it be the glaze or the pastry cream, had to be used. I decided to play around with the filling and use the glaze in the original recipe. I had like 100 ideas going through my head, and at one point, I was going to do several takes on this eclair using different fillings, flavors and shapes, without even doubling the recipe.
For instance, 12 eclairs, each with a different filling, whether it be a pastry cream, mousse, whipped ganache etc – enhanced with nut pastes, fruits curds ad infinitum, plus a mini croquembouche, for fun. However, after over a week of A LOT of baking and big dinners, which resulted in my not being able to get started on these until the very last second (literally, August 31st), I changed course and instead added a surprise layer of cooked fruit beneath the pastry cream. Half the recipe contains a layer of diced bananas, caramelized with sugar, salt, butter and rum, with a dusting of edible gold and dried banana ‘dust’ on top of the chocolate glaze. The other half of the recipe contains a layer of raspberries..very briefly cooked down with raspberry coulis, beneath the pastry cream.
The only changes I made to the original recipe was using white chocolate in the pastry cream instead of the bittersweet chocolate it called for, and a little whipped cream to lighten it up. However, due to last minute mania, by the time I got to the pastry cream, I was so tired I rushed it, resulting in a much looser consistency than usual. I also coated some of my eclair tops with melted white chocolate, drizzling the chocolate glaze from Pierre’s recipe over the white chocolate (Doesn’t the eclair in the photo with the raspberries look like Shamu the Orca?). I must say, I really enjoyed alternating glazes from white to bittersweet, and playing around with different designs to make my little french darlings look tres jolie. Actually, ‘little’ is a misnomer. I prefer my eclairs very chubby, so no long, thin, ‘finger like’ baked babies here. Let’s just say mine are the big guys pushing the dainty ones off the dessert tray.
Finally, I usually like to just stick a pastry tip into one end of the eclair shell and fill it up with pastry cream, but since I was incorporating a layer of fruit, opening them up was the only choice I had. Regardless, a split eclair makes a very pretty presentation, albeit being a little messier to eat.
Salted Butter Rum Caramel Banana Eclairs and White Choccie Raspberry Eclairs
Pierre Herme’s Cream Puff Dough (Pate a Choux)
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
- 1/2 cup (125g) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (125g) water
- 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 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.
5. 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.
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 eclairs.
7. 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 eclairs 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 eclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking
time should be approximately 20 minutes.
TIP: To insure even rising of the eclairs, dip a fork in water, and run it over the tops of the piped pate a choux prior to baking.
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 Herme
- 2 cups (500g) whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons (75g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, (use white chocolate, such as Valrhona Ivoire or white Callebaut, melted, for both my raspberry and banana eclairs)
- 2 1/2 tbsp (1 1/4 oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
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. Fold in the whipped cream. The pastry 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.
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
- 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
- 3 1/2 oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 4 teaspoons (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
- 7 tablespoons (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.
3. 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 (I prefer to dip the tops into the glaze).
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.
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.
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme
(makes 1 1/2 cups or 525 g)
- 4 1/2 oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup (250 g) water
- 1/2 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.
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.
Salted Butter Rum Caramel Bananas
recipe from Dessert Circus by Jacques Torres
- 4 large bananas, peeled and diced
- 1/4 cup dark rum
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon fleur de sel or any other mild sea salt, like Maldon. Kosher salt is fine too
1. Place the diced bananas in a medium-sized mixing bowl with the rum and toss to coat. Set aside to let macerate at room temperature while you prepare the caramel.
2. Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-high heat. If it starts to smoke, it is too hot and you need to run it under cool water, dry it, and start again. When it is warm, sprinkle the sugar into the pan. Try to keep the sugar in an even layer to allow it all to caramelize at the same time. As soon as you see the sugar begin to melt, start moving the pan over the burner to keep the sugar from burning. Tilt the pan from side to side so that the melted sugar runs over the unmelted sugar. Cook until all of the sugar is a light golden brown.
3. Stir in the tablespoon of butter and sea salt. Add the rum macerated bananas and spread evenly in the pan. When cooking with alcohol, there is always the chance of it catching on fire, so be very careful when adding the rum macerated bananas. Continue to cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the bananas are soft but not mushy; they should still hold their shape. Remove from the heat and pour the rum caramel bananas onto a plate. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool for about 20 minutes. Covering the hot bananas with plastic wrap keeps the caramel from drying as it cools.
Banana Fairy Dust >can’t you just feel the twinkling?<
- 2 bananas, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
- Edible gold flakes, glitter or luster dust
1. Preheat oven to 200 F. Lay the banana slices on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Let dry out in the oven for 2 hours. Flip each one over, and let dry for another 2 hours equaling 4 hours total. You can also do this with a food dehydrator or just purchase a bag banana chips (salted makes great dust) but make sure they’re all natural, no artificial yellow #7!
2. Grind up the banana chips in a food processor, or pound them in a plastic bag with a mallet until they’re as fine as dust or close as you can get to it. Stir in the amount of edible gold you’d like and sprinkle on top of eclairs before the chocolate glaze sets.
2 pints of raspberries, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. In a medium pot, combine raspberries, sugar and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until raspberries are mushy and mixture has thickened. Pour hot mixture into a bowl and stir in lemon juice. Cool completely.
2. Once cool, stir the mixture well, then pour into a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl. Using a spoon, press on the cooked berries and stir to extract as much coulis (thick raspberry juices) as you can into the bowl. Discard solids.
3. Pour the other pint of raspberries into a bowl and drizzle with coulis until the raspberries are completely coated. Use any extra coulis to drizzle over eclairs and/or decorate the plate.
For the Salted Butter Rum Caramel Banana Eclairs:
Split each eclair shell in half horizontally. Spoon about 1 -2 tablespoons of the caramelized bananas into the bottom half of the shell. *Decoratively pipe or spoon the pastry cream over the bananas, and top with a chocolate glazed/banana fairy dusted shell.
For the Raspberry Eclairs:
Split each eclair shell in half and spoon some of raspberries in coulis into the bottom half of the shell. Drizzle with some more of the the raspberry coulis, if desired. *Decoratively pipe or spoon pastry cream over the coulis glazed raspberries Top with a white chocolate glazed eclair shell, then drizzle with any chocolate glaze left over from the banana eclairs. Lather, rinse, repeat all of the above until you’ve filled and topped all of the eclair shells.
*As I mentioned above, I started these late, late last night/early morning, so I didn’t have time to let the pastry cream cool and set as it should. When I piped it into each shell, it started to weep and lose its shape almost immediately, as you can see in the last photo below. Rushing is NEVER a good thing in baking!
My final verdict:
Cream Puff Dough (Pate a Choux) : It’s a good one, but a tad too eggy, and they need to be baked longer, as the interior isn’t fully cooked at 20 minutes total, hence all the collapsing shells many experienced. Regardless, I prefer Gail Gand’s choux recipe when making eclairs.
Pastry Cream: Fantastic, although I rushed it (once again, see above) and ended up with a somewhat runny cream. MY BAD, not Pierre’s recipe. Don’t you hate when you screw up something you can usually do/make in your sleep?
Chocolate Glaze: Also fantastic, although a little more involved than need be. A simple, shiny chocolate ganache is what I usually top my eclairs with.
All in all, this was very enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the next DBC.
Finally, I must remind myself never to start a DBC recipe the day it’s due. Even though I’ve been incredibly busy the past two weeks, I had two weeks to get these done! Then again, I used to leave HS and college assignments until the night before they were due, no matter how far ahead they were assigned. I’ll never forget the almost 100 page long essay project I finished in the passenger’s seat of my friend’s car on our way back to Boston after driving home the previous night (4-5 hours each way) to pick up summer clothes for Spring Break. I had 2 months to research and finish this essay, yet I didn’t start it until two days before it was due. Some things never change, huh?