Sunday, August 31, 2008

A lot of saucepans

Like July, August has been crazy busy. But unlike July, August has been all about my Australians.

"My Australians," whom I have known for more than half my life, are a delightful couple named Kerrie and Greg, as diligent readers may remember from previous posts. Along with their two sons, they were my host family when I visited Australia on an exchange program in 1990. Eighteen years -- and three more trips I made down under -- later, they were finally able to plan a visit to this hemisphere. They are staying with us in Ohio for about a week and half, bookended by side trips to New York and Canada. It has been wonderful having them here, showing them around, introducing them to our friends and favorite restaurants and sites. Kerrie and Greg keep mentioning how lucky we are to live in Ohio, and I keep reminding them that -- hello -- they live in Sydney, Australia.

Needless to say, we spent many weeks prior to their arrival trying to make sure that the house was in perfect working order, and perfectly clean. Every odd job that we have been putting off for years suddenly got moved to the very top of the to-do list. We replaced the missing window screens. We purchased and installed new, sleek house numbers. We steam-cleaned the carpets and sofa. We replaced the heinous window treatment in the guest bathroom. For that matter, we replaced the old and ugly brass towel bar, toilet paper holder, shelf, light fixture and cabinet pulls in the guest bathroom with shiny new chrome fixtures that match the fancy hardware in the antique claw-foot tub. I organized my basement office and -- gasp! -- finally moved the bag of outdoor Christmas lights from its perch on my desk to its proper storage space. (It is only August; no need to rush.) We repaired a mysterious hole in the floor of the upstairs landing, revealing what appears to be original hardwood floors. We deadheaded all the irises, peonies and daylilies. We painted the floorboards on the porch. For goodness' sake, we even painted the front door blue.

Because, you know, I'm sure Kerrie and Greg would have turned right around and flown back to Sydney had the front door remained a faded shade of burgundy.

I knew the Daring Bakers' August challenge posting day was August 31, and I knew based on Kerrie and Greg's itinerary that I would have to complete the challenge early, lest I be bogged down by a time-consuming recipe the day before they are scheduled to leave. So one night several weeks ago, after working all day to organize the pantry, wash and press the bed skirts and plan the menu for the welcome-to-the-U.S. party we planned for the Australians, I got to work making éclairs.


Yes, éclairs. The August Daring Bakers' challenge.

I did not start on the recipe until about 9:00 p.m. that night. Which means at about 11:30 I was driving across town to deliver finished éclairs to Mom and Dad so the treats did not go to waste (Husband and I can only eat so many -- though considering his marathon training, Husband can eat a lot more than I can). Thankfully Mom and Dad did not mind being force-fed éclairs late in the evening. However, even if you have a hungry and receptive late-night audience of eaters, I do not recommend making éclairs at that hour -- not because they are particularly difficult or time-consuming, rather because éclair-making requires a lot of saucepans that you might not feel like washing after midnight. But if you are getting your house ready to host international visitors and can only carve out a few late-night hours for the task, well, there are certainly worse ways to spend a Saturday night.


The recipe comes from Pierre Hermé and appears in Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, by Dorie Greenspan. The recipe as written includes the traditional cream puff dough, otherwise known as pâte à choux, chocolate pastry cream and chocolate glaze. This month's Daring Baker hosts -- whose task is to choose the challenge recipe and lay down the law regarding ingredient substitutions, etc. -- stipulated that we had to keep at least one chocolate element in the recipe but were otherwise free to experiment. I kept the chocolate glaze and made some chocolate pastry cream, but also made some peach pastry cream. I had purchased some particularly luscious peaches at the farmers' market and thought they would bring a lightness and summery yumminess to the whole éclair endeavor. And, damn, was I right.

Now, I love chocolate. Love it. Love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and chocolate ice cream. Love ganache and truffles and chocolate bars. Love chocolate chips and Nutella. Love Tim Tams. Love Cadbury. Love chocolate-covered pretzels. Love, love, love. So one might imagine that I would have loved the whole-hog chocolate approach to these éclairs. Yes, the ones I filled with chocolate pastry cream were delicious but -- seriously! -- the peach ones were even better. They were so refreshing and subtly sweet and...peachy that I could not get enough of them. The light and hole-y pâte à choux was the perfect doughy home for the lovely peach pastry cream, while a sparse coating of glaze was justenough of the good stuff to meet the chocolate requirement without overpowering the fruit.


Though I was relieved to have completed the challenge early, my heart sank a bit when Kerrie arrived and told me how much she loves éclairs. And I was already done with the challenge. And so it goes.


++++++

CHOCOLATE ÉCLAIRS
Adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, by Dorie Greenspan


I made chocolate pastry cream as well as peach pastry cream, and filled some éclairs with chocolate, some with peach, and some with half-chocolate and half-peach. The next time I make this recipe, I am going all-peach. Please note: if you wish to use only chocolate -- or only peach -- double the pastry cream recipe of the flavor you wish to use.

The pastry cream can be made a day or two ahead of time, then stored in a covered container in the refrigerator. The chocolate sauce can also be made a few days in advance; just reheat it over a double boiler when you're ready to use it.

A word to the wise: have lots of saucepans on hand when you make this recipe, or at least be prepared to wash and dry your pans several times over the course of éclair preparation.


The pieces parts:

1 recipe pâte à choux

1 recipe chocolate pastry cream

1 recipe peach pastry cream

1 recipe chocolate glaze, which uses 7 T. of chocolate sauce


For the pâte à choux:

1/2 c. whole milk

1/2 c. water

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1/4 t. sugar

1/4 t. kosher salt

1 c. all-purpose flour

5 large eggs, at room temperature


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the oven into thirds by placing the racks in the upper and lower halves of the oven. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil over medium-high heat.


When the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once. Reduce heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly; don't worry if a crust forms in the bottom of the pan. Stir for 2-3 minutes to "dry" the dough. The dough should be very soft and smooth.


Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each egg is added to incorporate it fully into the dough. After the eggs have been added the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

Fit a large pastry bag with the nozzle and coupler, but without a tip. Alternatively, you can use a pastry tip with a 2/3" diameter, but I couldn't find one in my local cake decorators' shop. I found that a tip-less bag worked perfectly. Fill the pastry bag with the warm pâte à choux. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets into chubby "fingers" about 4 1/2" long. Leave about 2" between each éclair. Place both baking sheets in the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon in the oven door to prop it open slightly.


Bake for 5 minutes with the wooden spoon in the door, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for 8 more minutes -- again with the wooden spoon in the door -- until the éclairs are puffed and golden. (The total baking time is 20 minutes.) Remove the éclairs from the oven. With a small paring knife, cut a 1"-long slit in the side of each éclair to enable steam to escape and prevent the éclairs from deflating. Place on a rack to cool.



For the chocolate pastry cream:

1 c. whole milk

2 large egg yolks

3 T. sugar

1 1/2 T. cornstarch, sifted

3 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted

1 1/4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature


Fill a large bowl about half-way with ice water; set aside.

In a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, place the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in another saucepan and whisk to combine.

Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

Using a wire-mesh sieve, 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 stopping until the mixture returns to a boil. (It has a way of burning as soon as you turn your back on it, so make sure to keep whisking until the boil.) Once it has reached a boil, continue whisking for 1-2 more minutes. Then, stir in the melted chocolate and remove the pan from the heat.

Place the chocolate pastry cream -- still in the saucepan -- in the ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Stir it a little more so that it remains smooth.

After a few minutes (when the pastry cream has reached a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit) remove the saucepan from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter. Return the pastry cream to the ice-water bath to cool completely, stirring occasionally. The pastry cream is now ready to use.


For the peach pastry cream:

1 c. whole milk

2 large egg yolks

3 T. sugar

1 1/2 T. cornstarch, sifted

3 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and cubed

1 T. water

1 1/4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature


Fill a large bowl about half-way with ice water; set aside.


Place the peaches and 1 T. of water in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat for about 8 minutes, until the peaches are soft and heated through. Use an immersion blender or a regular blender to puree the peaches. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, place the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in another saucepan and whisk to combine.

Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

Using a wire-mesh sieve, 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 stopping until the mixture returns to a boil. (It has a way of burning as soon as you turn your back on it, so make sure to keep whisking until the boil.) Once it has reached a boil, continue whisking for 1-2 more minutes. Then, stir in the peach puree and remove the pan from the heat.

Place the peach pastry cream -- still in the saucepan -- in the ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Stir it a little more so that it remains smooth.

After a few minutes (when the pastry cream has reached a temperature of about 140 degrees Fahrenheit) remove the saucepan from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter. Return the pastry cream to the ice-water bath to cool completely, stirring occasionally. The pastry cream is now ready to use.



For the chocolate sauce:

4 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 c. water

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/3 c. sugar


Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and stir frequently until the sauce thickens, which will take 10-15 minutes. The sauce is ready when it coats the back of a spoon.

Note: you will have chocolate sauce leftover. Use it on, well, anything. Like I need to tell you what to do with chocolate sauce.


For the chocolate glaze:

1/3 c. heavy cream

3 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 t. unsalted butter

7 T. chocolate sauce (recipe above), warm or at room temperature


Bring the heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, stirring to combine and melt the chocolate. Then stir in the butter and the chocolate sauce.


OK! Time to make the éclairs. Slice the cooled éclairs horizontally using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper or a baking sheet.


Spread the chocolate glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a spoon or a metal offset spatula.

Spoon the chocolate pastry cream and the peach pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Fill some with all chocolate, some with all peach and some with half-chocolate and half-peach.


Place the glazed tops onto the pastry-cream-filled bottoms and, well, eat! The éclairs should be served and enjoyed immediately.

Makes 20-24 éclairs.

11 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Great job! Your Eclairs look terribly good!

Cheers,

Rosa

Mcwhisky said...

Pretty luscious eclairs!

Angela said...

Oh wow, peach and chocolate pastry cream! Very seasonal and they look beautiful.

Claire said...

Peach...wow! These look great.

CookiePie said...

They look fantastic! And the peach sounds so delicious!

Jude said...

your headline cracked me up. Never had to use so many pans to make something. Thanks for the peach pastry cream idea.

Tanya said...

Yum - peach and chocolate! Great job on your eclairs.

Dragon said...

Peach cream is an inspired addition. Very beautiful!

Amber said...

I love the double fillings, that way you get both choices and a few less fat cells. Company is always fun. When I was married, I would invite his family, partly because I really enjoyed them, but also because it was the only way to get him off the couch and fix things. I also cook too often till midnight, my heart is with you.

Dianne said...

Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful comments! And for the compliment on the addition of peaches to the pastry cream. Yum. I'm enjoying just thinking about it.

Jude, I'm glad you can relate to the dozens-of-saucepans-required element of this recipe.

Amber, sometimes you just HAVE to cook until midnight! There just aren't enough hours in the day, and certainly such late-night culinary adventures make me very grateful for my comfortable bed.

silverrock said...

Mmmm... the chocolate glaze looks to-die-for... I'm a sucka for a good chocolate pastry. Way to go on this month's challenge :)