Eclairs with Vanilla Pastry Cream

The last time that I made choux (pronounced like shoe) pastry, was when I made a croquembouche for Shavuot a couple of years ago. It was a little bit involved as you had to make the cream puffs, the cream, dip them in chocolate or caramel and then stack them up carefully.  It came out tasty, but I felt that the cream puff shells were not crispy enough, probably because I had filled them and stacked them the day before we ate the croquembouche. (Just as an aside, Rocker Dude thinks that the word corquembouche is too pretentious, so he calls is a crokey douche and that is what we really call it in our household. He also uses it as an example of a fancy dessert).Chocolate Glazed Eclairs

We were invited out to E. and A.’s for lunch this weekend, and when I asked E. what I should bring, she told me that she had just read the post about the Chocolate Silk Pie and would please like something decadent. But after indulging in the Chocolate Silk Pie, I was chocolated out.  I needed something different. So I browsed around on Pinterest for other decadent desserts. Someone pinned a picture of an eclair pie and that started the eclair mindset.

I did a little research on different recipes and different fillings and came the Joy of Baking site. The site is wonderful and has a lot of instructional videos that show all the steps of a recipe so you can make sure that what you are making looks like it should.  I watched the video for the eclairs, and though there were a few steps, it seemed relatively simple and straightforward.

Eclairs
Eclairs

i decided to make the pastry shells and the pastry cream and chocolate glaze on Friday, but only fill the eclairs on Saturday. That way they would not get soggy.  The Little Rocker asked me if she could please help me and as I couldn’t refuse such a request, I told her that she needed to watch the video on the Joy of Baking site and tell me what to do. It worked out wonderfully. The Little Rocker updated me every few seconds with what was going on, though she didn’t allow for time lapses when the video cut to the next step while I was still mixing. We had to pause a few times :). Squeaker cooperated by sleeping and not needing to be held – and that is even more helpful than the Little Rocker wanting to mix the batter!

The shells baked up really nicely – nice and crispy on the outside and almost hollow on the inside. When they were cool I cut them in half and then dipped the tops in the chocolate glaze. I decided not to poke holes in the sides and force the cream in because as this was my first time making them and I was making them for friends, I didn’t want to take a chance that the filling would not fill the whole eclair and just settle on the side.

A bite of eclair
A bite of eclair

I felt that the glaze on the site was too thin.  Adding corn syrup and vanilla I think was unnecessary and made the glaze harder to deal with. Next time I make these, I will use a regular ganache that will harden a bit. I had to keep these refrigerated in order to keep them from being sticky.

Eclairs with Vanilla Cream Filling
Eclairs with Vanilla Cream Filling

My plan for keeping the shells nice and crispy worked! I filled them shortly before lunch and then refrigerated the finished eclairs until dessert time. Success!

FYI I am submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #34: Choux Party (August 2013) hosted by Jasline of Foodie Baker.

Recipe (based on the Joy of Baking):

Choux Pastry:1/2 cup (65 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter/margarine, cut into pieces
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Glaze (optional):
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Pastry Cream:
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) whole milk/soy milk
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (50 grams) white sugar
2 tablespoons (20 grams) all-purpose flour
2 scant tablespoons (15 grams) cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Glaze:
2 ounces (55 grams) semi sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy/whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. To make all the eclairs the same size, you can use a template. Take a piece of parchment paper and draw 12 – 3 1/2 inch (8.5 cm) lines, spacing the lines about 2 – 3 inches (5 – 7 cm) apart. Place the template under your parchment paper so you can use it as a guide.

In a bowl whisk the flour with the sugar and salt. Place the butter and water in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add the flour mixture all at once, and stir until combined. Return saucepan to the heat and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (about 1-2 minutes). Transfer the dough to your electric mixer (can do this by hand or with a hand mixer), and beat on low speed to release the steam from the dough (about 1 minute). Once the dough is lukewarm start adding the lightly beaten eggs (dough will separate and then come together) and continue to mix until you have a smooth thick paste (dough will fall from a spoon in a thick ribbon). Place the dough in a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe 12 oblongs of dough (about 3/4 inch (2 cm) wide) onto the baking sheet (using template as a guide). If desired, with a pastry brush, gently brush the tops of the dough with a lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Continue to bake for a further 25 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are almost dry inside. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. If they are not dry inside then poke two holes on the bottom of each eclair with a toothpick or a skewer. Turn off the oven and let the eclairs cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar. This will help dry them out inside.

In a heatproof bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together. Whisk the flour with the cornstarch and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan bring the milk just to a boil (just until milk starts to foam up.) Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. (If you did get a little curdling, then pour the mixture through a strainer.) Then pour the egg mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. When it boils, keep whisking constantly for another 30 – 60 seconds until the pastry cream becomes thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. (For a chocolate pastry cream stir in 2 ounces (55 grams) finely chopped semi sweet chocolate. For a mocha flavor add 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder to the hot milk.) Pour the pastry cream into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate until firm (can be made up to 3 days ahead). Whisk or stir before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.

Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream just until boiling and immediately pour it over the chocolate. Gently stir until the chocolate has melted.

Split the pastry shells in half, lengthwise. Take the top shell and dip into the chocolate glaze, letting the excess drip off. Place on a wire rack to dry. Fill the bottom half (can spoon or pipe) with the cream. Once the glaze is dry, gently place the top half of the pastry shell on the cream. Can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for two days.

Daring Bakers: Piece Montee – Croquembouche

I know it has been a while.  After Shavuoth, work really picked up – think 10-11 hour days of total chaos.  But thank God, the season for the Q1 2010 results reporting is over and we can look forward to a little quiet, and best of all, I can get back to baking!  The end of the month also means Daring Bakers challenges.  This month’s challenge was a croquembouche (literally a crunch in the mouth).  It is basically a stack of pastry cream filled eclairs dipped in chocolate or caramel to hold it together.  I have always wanted to make eclairs and this was the perfect time to do it.

I decided to make the croquembouche for Shavuoth when we would be having 10 people anyway.  Also, J., an avid Top Chef watcher,  was coming and he appreciates what I do.

On Shavuot there is a widespread custom to eat only dairy foods (for many reasons, but one is because they taste so good – there should be at least one holiday when we eat dairy instead of meat!).  So as this was probably my one and only chance for the whole year to make fancy dairy desserts, the croquembouche was not the centerpiece it should have been, but it was delicious anyway.

Melting the butter with the water.

I made the eclairs over the span of a few days.  First making the eclair shells, and the pastry cream.  And then the next day putting everything together.  I’m pretty sure that it was too warm to make this, as my pate a choux kind of spread when I piped it onto the pan.

Eclairs ready for baking.

Either way, they puffed up and got crispy.  I put them in a Ziploc bag overnight because the recipe said that you could store them in an airtight container until you were ready to use them.  This made them soft and I had to recrisp them afterward.

Pastry Cream Filling

I wasn’t sure how to stack the eclairs to make the croquembouche.  Some recommended to use toothpicks to hold the eclairs together.  I didn’t want the toothpicks to show when people started taking off each eclair, so I decided to just let the chocolate that I was using to coat the tops of the eclairs to harden a bit before putting on the next layer.  This way the eclairs would stick to each other.  This worked perfectly and made for great presentation.

The final product - the Piece Montee

I decided to use melted chocolate instead of caramel to dip the eclairs because it would be easier to clean off the pot (sometimes these are important considerations.)

Everyone loved them and they went wonderfully with the mint ice cream that I made – yum!

Recipe:

For the Vanilla Crème Patissiere (Half Batch)
1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.

Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.

Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.

Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.

Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.

As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.

It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Piping:
Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.

Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Baking:
Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

Can be stored in an airtight box overnight.

Filling:
When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

Use one of these to top your choux and assemble your piece montée.

Chocolate Glaze:
8 ounces/200 g. finely chopped chocolate (use the finest quality you can afford as the taste will be quite pronounced; I recommend semi-sweet)

Melt chocolate in microwave or double boiler. Stir at regular intervals to avoid burning. Use the best quality chocolate you can afford. Use immediately.

Hard Caramel Glaze:
1 cup (225 g.) sugar
½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan with a metal kitchen spoon stirring until the sugar resembles wet sand. Place on medium heat; heat without stirring until sugar starts to melt around the sides of the pan and the center begins to smoke. Begin to stir sugar. Continue heating, stirring occasionally until the sugar is a clear, amber color. Remove from heat immediately; place bottom of pan in ice water to stop the cooking. Use immediately.

Assembly of your Piece Montée:
You may want to lay out your unfilled, unglazed choux in a practice design to get a feel for how to assemble the final dessert. For example, if making a conical shape, trace a circle (no bigger than 8 inches) on a piece of parchment to use as a pattern. Then take some of the larger choux and assemble them in the circle for the bottom layer. Practice seeing which pieces fit together best.

Once you are ready to assemble your piece montée, dip the top of each choux in your glaze (careful it may be still hot!), and start assembling on your cake board/plate/sheet. Continue dipping and adding choux in levels using the glaze to hold them together as you build up. (You may want to use toothpicks to hold them in place).

When you have finished the design of your piece montée, you may drizzle with remaining glaze or use ribbons, sugar cookie cut-outs, almonds, flowers, etc. to decorate. Have fun and enjoy! Bon appétit!