Thursday, September 11, 2008

My First Eclairs

I remember as a child my dad would buy us boxes of eclairs and cream horns as special treats.  They were days my family, even my mom whose not into sweets, would sit around the dining table and devour all the contents in these boxes within minutes.  We would laugh at each other since we would be covered with the cream oozing out of the eclairs and powder sugar dusted all over us from the cream horns.  Ahhh, childhood memories...

Well, I haven't thought much about those days until I came across How to Eat a Cupcake's post about making eclairs.  (She has a great site where we get to vote on what type of treats she'll make.)  Hers looked so yummy that it made me want to make eclairs.  

I was at first a little skeptical that I could tackle this recipe since I've read a few other bloggers/ bakers have given it a try and had trouble with this fussy pastry.  But with some encouragement from friends and family I decided to give it a try.  

I got it right on the first try.  YEAH.  It's probably just beginner's luck, but I'll take it anyway.  I used Martha Stewart's recipe from her Baking Handbook (it has become my baking Bible).  It wasn't that bad to make, but it was time consuming and a lot of cleaning afterwards.  I did have a few minor problems.  I had made the chocolate glaze too thin and ended up having to dunk and spoon on 3 layers, making my eclairs look messy.  Plus since I piped the cream into the eclairs through a hole on one in, I discovered some of the cream didn't make it into all of the pastry.  I had a few hollow eclairs.  :(

Nonetheless, they tasted pretty good.  D was at first reluctant to try one (he too is not into sweets), but after I told him they were fancy longjohns (lol) he gave them a try and gave me a thumbs up.

Recipe for Chocolate Eclairs:

Pate a Choux
6 ounce semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
Pastry Cream

1. Make pastry cream at least 2 hours beforehand

Pastry cream recipe:

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks, cornstarch, and 1/4 cup sugar.  Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture.  Continue adding and whisking at 1/2 cup at a time until all of the milk has been added.  
3.  Pour mixture back into sauce pan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens (about 2 minutes).  Do not overcook, otherwise you will have scrambled eggs.
4.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Add butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture has cooled (about 5 minutes).
5.  Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly to the surface of cream and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.

2.  Make Pate a Choux when ready to make eclairs.

Pate a Choux Recipe:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

1. In a medium sauce pan, combine butter, salt, sugar, and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Immediately remove from heat.  
2.  Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in all the flour until combined.
3.  Return pan to medium-high heat, and cook, stirring constantly until mixture pulls away from the sides and a thin film forms on the bottom of pan (about 2 minutes).
4.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.  Mix on low speed for about 1 minute to cool the mixture slightly.  Increase speed to medium and add eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated before adding the next.  Test the batter by touching it with your finger and lifting to form a soft peak.  If a soft peak does not form, you may need to add another egg, adding a little at a time.  Use immediately.

3.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. with racks in the upper and lower thirds.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.  With a ruler and a pencil, mark lines about 3 1/2 inches long on the parchment, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart.  Turn parchment over with marked side down.
4.  Fill a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch plain tip with pate a choux.  Pipe along the lines on the parchment paper.  Gently smooth tops with a moistened finger to ensure even rising and a prettier pastry.
5.  Bake for 10 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Continue baking, rotating the sheets halfway through until the pastries are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.
6. Transfer pastries and parchment to a wire rack to cool completely.
7.  Place chocolate in a medium bowl.  Heat 3/4 cup cream and corn syrup in a small sauce pan over medium heat until bubbles begin to appear around the edges.  Pour milk over the chocolate.  Let stand about 5 minutes, then stir until smooth.  Let cool, stirring occasionally.
8.  Insert a wooden skewer into one end of the pastry to form a small opening to pipe the pastry cream in.
9.  In a mediu bowl, stir the pastry cream until soften.  In another bowl, whip the remaining 1-1/2 cups cream to stiff peaks.  Fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream in 2 batches to lighten.
10.  Transfer cream mix into a pastry bag with a filling tip (1/4 inch plain tip).  Insert the tip into the opening of each pastry and pipe to fill.  You can also cut the pastry in half and just spoon or pipe in the cream.
11.  Dip the top of each eclair into the chocolate glaze, let excess drip off, and place, coated side up, on a wire rack to set.  
12.  Refrigerate in single layers in an airtight container up to 1 day.

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