Sunday, August 31, 2008
Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Éclairs
After my failure with the July daring bakers challenge, I was anxious to redeem myself with this month's challenge.
Although I was happy to see that this month's challenge had nary a hazelnut or layer cake in sight, I was still a bit taken aback by the choice: chocolate éclairs.
Now, I have often admired éclairs looking like the prettiest thing in the pastry case, but I would bypass them any day for an apple tart or piece of chocolate cake. I would never pick a fancy pants éclair.
But I was ready to learn French if it meant I succeeded at this month's challenge.
This month's challenge is hosted by Tony Tahhan and MeetaK and is from the Picasso of pastry, Pierre Hermé. The recipe is from "Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé," written by Dorie Greenspan.
The recipe consists of three parts:
1. The Choux Pastry
2. Chocolate Pastry Cream
3. Chocolate Glaze
As I read through the recipe for the choux pastry, I realized that it might be called choux pastry in the French language, but in the mid-west where I grew up, we call it cream puff dough.
I wasn't quite as nervous now.
The only stumbling block I encountered in gathering my supplies was the required pastry tip. The recipe called for a 2 cm plain tip nozzle to pipe the choux dough into éclairs. How hard could it be to find a 2 cm nozzle? Plenty hard. None to be found at Sur La Table, Williams-Sonoma or my local gourmet market. The helpful clerk at Sur La Table did direct me to a jumbo box of 12 tips for $35 but it seemed a bit pricy when I only needed one tip. In the end my solution was to not use a pastry tip at all.
Instead, I used the 2.5 cm coupler tip that came with a mechanical pastry bag that I purchased from Williams-Sonoma for $25.
The clerks at W-S and I huddled together and discussed this radical idea. I guess necessity really is the mother of invention. In the end we all agreed that it just might work.
For those pastry bag novices (like myself), couplers are used to change pastry tips without having to empty the pastry bag every time you want to use a different tip.
This solution had the added benefit of my not having to use a traditional pastry bag. Plus the kit came with ten tips for my future baking experiments
The choux dough came together easily and I slipped the warm dough into the metal pastry cylinder. I quickly piped the dough into chubby fingers about 11 cm long.
They were a thing of beauty when I took them out of the oven. I let them cool on a wire rack while I made the chocolate pastry cream.
When I next checked on my beauties, my éclairs had deflated into a custardy mess.
A frantic look through my various cookbooks yielded no clues. That is until I checked a book I had recently picked up: "Best-Ever Pastry Cookbook," by Catherine Atkinson.
Atkinson recommended an additional step before taking the finished éclairs out of the oven to cool. She recommended cutting a small slit along the side of each éclair to release the steam. Then, lower the oven temperature from 375 degrees to 350 degrees and bake for an additional five minutes.
My next batch was perfect. I filled and glazed them then gazed at them.
Éclairs are one of those desserts that are best consumed immediately. That wasn't a problem for my family. Although they were very good, I realized that I didn't have a taste memory to compare them to.
The next week I found myself at Tartine Bakery, the famous San Francisco bakery. I ordered one of their éclairs and was pleased to discover that although not even close to the perfection of a Tartine Bakery éclair, mine were a pretty good first attempt.
Bring on the September Challenge!