Daring Bakers Challenge August 2008
None other than your's truly was hosting this month's Daring Bakers challenge! So you can imagine my nervousness and my excitement all rolled up in one. I had two very handsome and talented helping hands though. Those hands belonged to the exceptional Tony of Olive Juice.
I pretty much was sure I was going to get the over a million Daring Bakers (slight exaggeration there) to make a recipe from the sugar daddy himself - Pierre Hermé. I was just stuck between macarons or éclairs.
In the end it was the éclairs that won, simply because these sinfully good French pastries brought back several wonderful memories of growing up in hotels. I remember sneaking into the side of the pastry kitchen and then stealing the freshly made éclairs from the pastry chef - who always seemed to place a tray full of these just in the right corner for me to grab a few. And there was always a glass of milk next to the tray. Funny don't you think?
When I told Tony about my decision he seemed really excited too so we both made a test batch of these in early July and knew straight away this was to be the August challenge. We decided on the modifications for the challenge. Under the motto - Culinary Liberty For All, Tony and I thought we should give enough leeway for creativity. After all my favorite challenges were always those which allowed me to use my own ideas.
What’s the point in cooking if not to cook what YOU want to eat?
The possibilities for éclairs are endless. So we attached just a couple of general guidelines for eclair month at the Daring Bakers.
- The dough used for the eclairs must be a pâte à choux from the recipe given below.
- Keep one chocolate element in the challenge. The recipe below is for a chocolate glaze and a chocolate pastry cream. You choose which chocolate element you want to keep. Then feel free to mix and match flavors to the base recipe.
- Everything else is fair game. Enjoy!
With that in mind the challenge for August was opened.
I knew there were many advanced bakers in the group who had made éclairs before, but with the allowed modifications I was hoping to allow them more creativity and leeway to try new flavor combinations. For the others who had never made éclairs before I knew this was going to be a challenge they might enjoy.
Éclairs consist of 3 elements:
Although I have made all the elements of the éclairs individually in previous challenges, I had never actually made éclairs. So it was going to be challenging and fun for me too.
For my first batch of éclairs I used mint flavored chocolate with 70% cacao. I love this pastry cream and have often made it to fill several pastries and cakes, like the chocolate crepe cake and the Danish braid. This time I experimented with a Brazilian mint chocolate bar. The results were sensational and I really loved the flavor it gave the entire éclairs.
My second batch were made 100% to the recipe given here. Pure, perfect and pleasurable. Nothing like purely chocolate éclairs!
Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
- Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.
Cream Puff Dough
(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
- In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
- 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.
- 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.
- The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
- Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
- 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
- 2 cups (500g) whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, melted
- 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
- In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
- Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.
(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
- 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.
- Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
- 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.
- 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.
(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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.
One of the huge plus points about being in such a group is that there are so many experienced bakers out there, who are kind enough to give us a tip or two. The Daring Bakers Forum was full of extremely useful tips and tricks for this challenge. So I thought I would share them with you too. I thank everyone for sharing all your ideas, tips and tricks for this challenge.
Éclairs 101: Tips & Tricks: (Scroll up for recipe)
- Instead of piping individual éclairs, pipe one long line of dough on your baking tray line with parchment. Then freeze until almost firm, cut the éclairs, using a sharp knife, in the desired size. Place them in the oven and bake.
- It is important to let the choux pastry dough cool down a bit before you add the eggs. If eggs are added to a warm dough it causes the eggs to coagulate and the dough will not rise as required. If you are making the dough by hand, place a piece of plastic wrap and cover the surface so that the plastic wrap is touching the surface of the dough. Poke a few holes in it to allow the steam to escape.
If using an kitchen machine, place the paddle attachment and turn on to medium speed. Allow the dough to turn for a minute or so, cooling it down faster. Add the first egg, turn up the speed to high. This will bring down the temperature so that you can add the remaining eggs.
- Your éclairs deflate after you take them out of the oven
You are not baking them long enough. The instructions for the recipe indicates a total baking time for the éclairs to be 20 minutes, however, the first time I made these they deflated after I took them out of the oven. The second time I made the éclairs I baked them for 15 minutes longer and they were fine.
- Freezing éclairs - the éclair shells can be frozen unfilled and unglazed. Take them out and place them in a preheated oven at about 150 degrees C for a minute or two.
- How well do they hold up? Although the éclairs taste and look best when they are served fresh, you can place them in an airtight container and keep them in the refrigerator overnight. My tip here would be not to glaze them. Glaze them on the day you plan to serve them. This is due to the fact the glaze will loose its shine and the condensation trapped in the glaze will cause it to look speckled.
- If you do not have a pastry bag or the right sized tips - simply use a freezer bag and cut a corner the appropriate size and pipe the dough!
- Once the éclairs have baked, turn the oven of and allow the éclairs to cool in the cooling oven. This will help the éclairs hold up their shapes and give a crispier texture.
- Once you take the shells out of the oven, make small slits in the sides to release steam. Steam once cooled turns to water, which is the main reason why éclairs might turn soggy.
When I first made these in July, I had the same problems as many of my fellow DBs. In the oven they puffed up beautifully and looked like a million dollars. However as soon as I took them out of the oven, they flattened on me miserably. But thanks to the tips I shared with you above, my second batch were a real success. These were a decadent treat. Not only did they bring back memories, I also spent a great afternoon with Soeren who was my eager helper and spoon licker for this challenge. Tom is a chocolate kind of guy and has a bad sweet tooth. As my challenge taster, these pastries were his favorite to date. I served these at a little cocktail party and really had a tough time convincing my guests that these were homemade.
Would I make this again?
Yes! I am proud that I managed these. Because of the fact I love éclairs I now do not have to wait to visit my parents in Dubai to enjoy hotel style éclairs. I can make them in my own kitchen.
What did I learn from this challenge?
Many things - like all those wonderful tips mentioned above. What it takes to make the perfect éclair shells and do's and dont's of this delicate pastry.
At this stage I really have to thank two lovely ladies, Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Helen of Tartelette, who went out of the way to help Tony and myself answer tricky questions and give their expertise advice on how to make the best éclairs.
Phew! I cannot believe I just hosted my own Daring Baker challenge! If anyone had told me this before my first challenge I would have given them a very funny look indeed! I hope that everyone who completed the challenge enjoyed it as much as I did. I also wish everyone who makes these delectable chocolate pastries good luck and enjoy a piece of heaven!
You might find these pastry and cake "How Tos" helpful too:
- Make Chocolate Pastry Cream
- Make Choux Pastry
- Make Creme Chiboust
- Make Perfect Pancakes
- Make Puff Pastry
- Make Raspberry Coulis
- Marble Cakes
If you are looking for more helpful tips and tricks, you will find several other "how tos" in the sidebar category The Know Hows of Food under the section How To...
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