(Eeee, I’m posting a day late… That’s what I get for spending 12h in the library studying!)
It’s my first time as a Daring Baker and we’re taking on eclairs (click for challenge recipes) this month. I’m home for three days before I head back to NY and med school. I decided to tackle this challenge here at home because it’s the last time I’ll have time for a big baking project, mom has a bigger kitchen and it’s better stocked with equipment (including a more reliable oven). It’s also my brother’s birthday at the end of this visit, so I’m making a Genoise cake with buttercream frosting as well. It’s taken some careful planning to make it all happen. Since I’m not allowed to post until the end of the month, I’m going to try to write this up daily and post it all at the end.
I decided to keep the chocolate frosting for the eclairs but use Julia Child’s pastry cream filling with a little Italian Meringue folded in (since I had to make some anyway for the cake’s buttercream frosting). It was my brother’s suggestion, and my mom agreed I should try a classic eclair. I’m not the biggest fan of classic eclairs because of the custard filling (it’s a texture issue I have with custards and smooth puddings). Luckily Julia also offers an almond custard variation so I’m trying that one too. I really need to buy my own copy of “The Way to Cook.”
Here’s what’s on the schedule:
Wednesday: Creams, Glazes, Sauces, Meringues and a Brittle
Julia’s Italian meringues
to add to…Julia’s pastry cream
and for…Julia’s buttercream frosting
to make…Chocolate glaze
Almond brittle to pulverize into Praline… just for the hell of it.
Thursday: Baking Day
Two Genoise cakes
Choux (Cream Puff Dough)
Assemble the birthday cake and play around with cake decorating
I compiled the ingredient list for everything and went to the store to buy:
17 eggs (2 dozen, really, since I’m bound to mess up)
1 lb of butter
12 oz of chocolate
1c heavy cream
2c whole milk
… and I don’t even want to know how much fat that adds up to.
I started with the custard. This I whisked by hand because it was all on the stove. Mom has a hand held mixer, but it didn’t seem like it would be that much whipping. I didn’t count on how thick the yolks, sugar, and flour would be. I need to work on my whisking arm. The only thing I would recommend is a third hand for dribbling in the hot cream. I made a bit of a mess trying to whisk with one hand while pouring with the other. The batter was so thick at first that whisking tended to move the pan around instead of the batter.
The Italian meringue came next, and this is always a bit of a nightmare. It requires boiling sugar syrup to soft-ball stage. Mom has a candy thermometer, but its accuracy is questionable. Thankfully we hit the upper end of soft ball stage and the meringue was perfect.
Next I folding in some meringue into the pastry cream, which really altered it’s custard-like texture and flavor. Next time I might use less meringue… or maybe I’ll just try the chocolate pastry cream from the challenge. I’m also looking forward to trying it with the praline (aka, pulverized toasted almond brittle… which doesn’t really remind me of praline all that much).
The chocolate sauce and glaze came together very easily. The glaze might be a bit lumpy, but I’m not too worried. It’s in the fridge right now and I hope I don’t mess up the mixture when I heat it up to glaze the eclairs.
At the end of the afternoon of cooking my dad came home and was impressed with all I had made, but he did point out that I still hadn’t learn to clean up as I go. Tee hee.
I’m writing up the recipes from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook.” She gives more detail than I do, and this book is seriously a huge help for some scary recipes. It even has step-by-step photos for some of the more complicated techniques. If you can’t buy it, or don’t own it, just swing by a bookstore and flip through some of the recipes for some great pointers.
Italian Meringue: From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
2/3 c egg whites (4-5 egg whites)
pinch of salt
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 1/3c sugar
Beat the eggs slowly at first until they foam, and salt and cream of tartar and beat on medium-high until soft peaks form.
Meanwhile, you want to make the sugar syrup so it’s ready about the same time as the eggs. Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved, then boil until it thickens to soft ball stage. Check it with a candy thermometer or by dropping a bit into cold water and checking that it’s soft when cool.
Slowly pour the sugar syrup into the eggs while the mixer is running on medium. Continue beating until stiff white peaks form.
Pastry cream: From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
Julia offers some variations. I’m writting up the recipe I made.
6 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1T unsalted butter
Heat the milk. Whisk eggs, sugar and salt until lemon yellow in color. Whisk in flour. Slowly add the heated milk while whisking so the eggs don’t cook. Heat the whole mixture over medium until it boils. Whisk out any lumps that may form after it starts to boil, then you can switch to a spoon. Cook about 2 minutes to cook the flour. Pass through a sieve, then add the vanilla and butter. Allow to cool. Fold in one cup of the meringue. Technically this is called Creme Chiboust with the meringue in it, which lightens the custard and give it more hold.
Praline (pulverized toasted almond brittle): Scaled down from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
1/2c blanched and slivered almonds, toasted in a pan on the stove
Boil the sugar and water until it starts to turn golden brown and caramel color. Leave it on the stove a few more seconds. Mix in the almonds and try to spread it out on an oiled baking sheet. Brittle is supposed to be thin, but if you’re pulverizing it anyway (I used a food processor), I doubt it really matters, as long as you can get it off the baking sheet. Julia suggests having a metal spoon and spatula on hand.
For the Chocolate Sauce and Glaze, I send you to the original recipe (link to come).
This day started with two genois cakes for my brother, and then the choux. The batter really did come together quite quickly. I pipped mini-size eclairs which were perfectly two-bite sizes. With the bit of choux left over, I made a few round eclair shells, too. I made two sheets of mini-eclair size, which each baked up very differently.
The one on the left, with the crack down the middle, was baked on a heavy, thick pan, started on the lower shelf in the oven, and when turning pans and shifting shelves during baking, I set this pan down a little hard and it looked like it caused these choux shells to collapse a bit. They puffed up again beautifully in the last 8 minutes of cooking. The choux on the rest of that pan has beautiful cracks all over the place that really reminded me of eclairs.
The one on the right, with the very smooth top was baked on a thin pan, started on the upper shelf in the oven, and wasn’t jostled at all during the pan rotation. Every eclair on this pan had a similar smooth top with some cracks around the bottom where the choux touched the baking sheet. I ended up flipping these over to remove the bottom “pedestal” of the choux (which came away very cleanly) to coat with chocolate. You really can’t tell that these eclairs are upside down. In fact the few I didn’t flip kept tipping over with the heavy pastry cream.
I wish I knew a little more about how choux worked so I could figure out why this happened.
I took over the entire kitchen table to put these together.
The pastry cream kept very well in the fridge. The chocolate glaze was nearly solid when I took it out of the fridge, but a quick turn in the microwave on a very low power setting softened it right up. I folded the praline into some of the cream. Perhaps I folded in too much, or the damp day added some moisture to the praline, because the almond pastry cream lost a lot of it’s hold. Really, it was a runny mess… but a very tasty runny mess. The pastry cream on the other hand help up quite well in the choux. For the round choux, I just stick the tip of the pastry bag into the middle and filled up the puff with cream. I added some slivered almonds on top of the eclairs with the almond filling. I was having so much fun piping the custard I accidentally piped it into some intended for the almond pastry cream.
Photographing this was a lot of fun. I didn’t let anyone eat any of them until I had all my pictures… until the camera tipped over on it’s tripod and fell on two of the eclairs. Those were up for grabs. And thankfully none got on my lense!