firstly apologies for the radio silence. i spent last week in hospital fighting a freak viral infection that, for someone who usually enjoys excellent health, was a truly terrifying experience. i have emerged from my hospital bed with a profound paranoia of all things edible and for the last week have limited food intake to meals cooked by myself or the bear. today however the baking itch resurfaced and i had to scratch it. a potential path has opened and in an effort to determine if i should follow it i have set myself a task. if successful i go…if not, i don’t. i like leaving some decisions to the universe.
i have never made eclairs before and apart from shortcrust i don’t really dabble in pastry. so being completely out of my depth i pulled out annie bell’s baking bible and went through her recipe. it seemed simple enough. the ingredients are all pantry staples. the recipe consisted of three stages: filling prep, choux pastry and finally the glaze. one thing in the recipe did make me frown though. she mentioned scooping uncooked bits out of the eclairs once they were baked. i didn’t like that so i turned to larousse. hands down the best cook book buy EVER! i can spend hours paging through that gigantic volume (and this is the concise version!!) learning about all sorts of terms and methods i never even knew existed.
larousse had lots of great pointers. i really wanted to use the larousse recipe but the volumes were high and i couldn’t find a custard recipe to match quantity wise. i think i’m still recovering from my illness so i was not as dynamic in the brainium today as i would normally be. so i went with annie. we can always try larousse next time around.
i started by making the chocolate custard. 5 egg yolks, icing sugar, flour and cocoa were beaten together to form a smooth paste. i heated the milk in a saucepan with some vanilla powder. the recipe doesn’t call for vanilla but i always add it. i decided to try vanilla powder because vanilla bean costs the earth. i have tried using vanilla essence instead in my custards but there’s a certain fullness of flavour that you get from the bean that just isn’t there in the extract.
the vanilla powder aroma was on the money. the only thing i wasn’t thrilled about was that instead of getting that really classy looking black speckle i got something that looked like…
since i made a chocolate custard i couldn’t tell for certain if the powder would actually cause discolouration but we can figure that out. i’ll keep you posted.
the recipe said to mix the custard and to whisk any lumps that form. i figured this meant that i shouldn’t use a whisk the whole time which is something i usually do. i think using a whisk incorporates too much air into the custard mixture. anyhooooo i didn’t use the whisk and noted some thickening at the bottom of the pot. i stirred more vigorously…eventually gave up and used a whisk…a little. i kept going till i thought it was thick enough. the recipe keeps saying things like “a couple of minutes” or “a few minutes”. Not great markers but hopefully it all works. i ended up with a nice (smooth) thickened custard that i placed in a bowl and covered with cling film. the cling was contacted with the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming.
for the choux paste larousse says to gently melt the butter in the milk/water before increasing the heat enough for the milk to boil. this prevents undue evaporation of the liquid. larousse also says not to beat the mixture too much as it will make the dough greasy. i used a half half milk/water mixture as per larousse. the recipe calls for just water. interesting point to note: some recipe books follow the convention that water is not listed in the ingredient list even though it is required for the recipe. i did get caught out once with this and have since learned to pay attention to the method if i notice a shortage of liquid ingredients. the body of the method indicates 200ml of water.
as soon as the milk/water mixture came to the boil i took it off the heat and added the flour all in one go praying vehemently that i don’t get lumps. i try not to beat to vigorously with the wooden spoon. once the mixture looks smooth i return the pot to the heat and keep mixing for a few minutes to cook the paste. this was quite difficult since the paste forms a ball so basically all you are really doing is moving it around so you get even cooking. every now and then i’d split the dough with the spoon so that the middle was exposed to more heat. i don’t know if that’s right or not but it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
i interpreted the “few” minutes to mean four minutes. once the time was up i set the paste aside to cool for 5 minutes. i then beat in three eggs one at a time. this was hard and at the end of it i had lumps 😦
i think the lumps where from the skin that had formed on the surface of the pot which came loose when i added the egg. next time i might have to beat in the eggs in another bowl.
so the mixture was runnier than i would have thought and now with the lumps i’m convinced that this is going to be a dud. poor me.
i put the paste in a piping bag and piped 5cm fingers onto a baking sheet that i had lined with baking paper.
i pulled out any lumps that i saw, crossed my fingers and popped the baking sheet in the oven. i had chosen to make smaller eclairs than the recipe suggested so i adjusted the cooking time with larousse guidance. i baked the eclairs for 10 minutes at 220ºC and then reduced the heat to 180ºC for a further 10 minutes. after about 6 minutes the eclairs were golden and started to smell like they were on the verge of burning. i waited for another minute and then pulled them out.
i quickly lopped off the tops (poor burnt fingers) and left them to cool on a wrack. you have to take the tops off to release the steam on the inside. failing this the eclairs will go soggy. it was clear that i hadn’t given the eclairs enough room and as a result stifled some of the rising that should have happened.
there were some uncooked bits which i removed. the eclairs had a slightly eggy aroma and tasted not unlike pancakes. they cooled pretty quickly so at the earliest convenience i popped some custard in one and gave it a try. delicious!
the custard had a good chocolate kick and the eclair was a light no-nonsense carrier. it didn’t have the same weight as the store-bought eclairs i grew up eating. in truth i’m not sure that that was bad thing. i do however think that the custard needed to be thicker. the first bite generally sent a gloop of custard onto your side plate (or in this case onto my top).
the chocolatey custard was such that i couldn’t validate the addition of the glaze. i just felt like it would be overkill so i didn’t finish the final step. i only filled as many as i needed and stored the rest in an airtight container once they were completely cooled. larousse mentions popping them back in the oven for a minute or two to crisp up again. i’ll try that out tomorrow. i have tons of custard left.
lessons learnt: give a brother room. don’t mix things in pots that have bits stuck to the bottom. have faith.
i guess this means i’m going down that path.
ps. this write-up was submitted Perfecting Patisserie blogging event hosted by Lucy@bakingqueen74. check out more eclair submissions there.