Friday, May 18, 2012

Et voilà... les éclairs!

Éclairs are the kind of thing I didn't really consider making at home. I imagined it to be a rather complicated. Alors, vous savez quoi?! It's not! It's a bit more time consuming than other pastry and it's probably still not something I would recommend to people who claim that they are not so experienced with baking, but if you are, you can definitely give these a try! Alex, who came up with the idea of making éclairs in the first place, and I where delighted with the outcome of our choux-pastry-experiment. It is not as difficult to make as you might imagine. You could also assemble the baked shells with a savoury filling - for a party buffet for instance. But I, of course, prefer the sweet version... the pastry cream is to die for... the recipe below is great and you can use this cream for other purposes as well. It's hard to stop oneself from eating it straight from the mixing bowl anyway. Usually, éclairs come with a glaze which we left out because we were too keen on eating them right away without any further delay. They were delicious... not many of them were left.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
(from the lovely Tartine by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson)

500ml whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
3-4 tbsp cornstarch
115g sugar
2 large eggs
55g butter

Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine-mesh sieve resting in the rim.

Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape th seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat and bring just almost to the boil, stirring occasionally. Make sure that that the milk does not burn on the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the sugar. If you want to have a firmer pastry cream, use the larger amount of cornstarch. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. Don't let it boil vigorously, however. Remove from the heat and immediately pour through a sieve into the bowl. Let cool for 10 minutes, stir occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming on the top.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and whisk them into the pastry cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before the next tablespoon.

To cool the cream, cover the bowl with cling film, pressing it directly onto the top of the cream to prevent a skin from forming on the surface.

The cream will keep for about 5 days in the refridgerator if well covered.

La pâte à choux
(from: Ginette Mathiot - Je sais faire la pâtisserie, a good basic choux pastry recipe in German is also available here)

2.5dl water (we used half milk, half water)
a pinch of salt
20g icing sugar
80g butter, cut into pieces
150g flour
4-5 eggs

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Pour the water into a heavy saucepan. Add salt, sugar and the butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixtrue comes to a full boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan and some moisture has evaporated (about 3 minutes).

Take the pan away from the heat, transfer the dough into a large mixing bowl. Using a mixer, add the eggs one at a time and mix on medium-high speed, incorporating each egg before adding the next. When all eggs are incorporated, the mixture will be thick, smooth and shiny.

Transfer the dough into a pastry bag with a 1cm plain tip (we used a smaller one with toothed tip, worked fine). Pipe out fingers of about 7cm onto your prepared baking trays. It depends on how large you want your eclairs to be, keep in mind that the fingers will be about three times larger after baking than before.

Bake on the lower half of the oven until they are puffed and are starting to show some color, about 10-15 minutes, depending on their size. Then, take them out of the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. You can easily freeze these baked shells if you don't want to use all at once.

Assembling the eclairs:

When your pastry shells have cooled down, cut them open on the sides with scissors. Pour your pastry cream into a piping bag and fill the pastry shells. Alternatively, you could also split them in half with a knife and spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms and then replace the tops.

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