Sunday, August 31, 2008

Aug 31: Daring Bakers Challenge - Eclairs

Time for another Daring Baker Challenge!

This is my second challenge!

Last month's challenge, I never made a cake from scratch or Swiss meringue frosting so as long as the kitchen didn't burn down and everything tasted good, which it did, I chalked it up as a success.

For this challenge, I think the saying, "Ignorance is Bliss" applies. I buy eclairs from the local French bakery and made pastry cream for other desserts so when it came to this eclair challenge, I had a preconceived notion of what the final results should be like. I was expecting eclairs the size of a hot dog bun with a crispy pastry shell, a rich, chocolate filling and a wonderful chocolate glaze. The eclairs I made had the delicious filling and glaze, but the size was more akin to a high-lighter marker and not as crispy as I had imagined.

I posed the question to the other Daring Bakers about what to expect - size and texture... Many reassured me that my results (especially the size) were on par with the recipe. Once I accepted those facts I erased my preconceived image and accepted my results. However, I did make a few more runs to try to get the Pate a Choux to puff up and crisp up some more in the oven. Those results of my experiments will be discussed in another post.

For this month's challenge, the hosts are Tony Tahhan and MeetaK.
The Challenge is Chocolate Éclairs from the cookbook Chocolate Desserts By Pierre Hermé written by Dorie Greenspan.

Éclairs consist of 3 elements:

- Pâte à Choux, also known as Choux Pastry or Cream Puff Dough
- Pastry Cream
- Chocolate glaze

For the Daring Bakers challenges, we are to bake the recipe as given. The host does allow for some modifications and variations.

These are the allowed variations for this month's challenge.
In terms of modifications of this recipe, the possibilities are endless. In order to maintain some sort of cohesiveness throughout the challenge, here are a couple general guidelines for eclair month at the Daring Bakers.

1. The dough used for the eclairs must be a pâte à choux from the recipe given below.
2. Keep one chocolate element in the challenge. The recipe below is for a chocolate glaze and a chocolate pastry cream. You choose which chocolate element you want to keep. Then feel free to mix and match flavors to the base recipe.
3. Everything else is fair game. Enjoy!

Forward to the challenge recipe!

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

The ingredients - the yellow rectangle is my template for the pastry (4.5" x 0.75").

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

Add all the flour and mix

Mix for 2 to 3 minutes

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your hand mixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be baked for the éclairs.

The finished cream puff dough (pate a choux).

1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Baking the cream puff dough
1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

I used a zipper top freezer bag with the tip cutoff. The yellow template aided me in making consistent lengths.

Two trays ready for the oven...

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

The finished eclair shells. (Hmmm... This isn't what I expected. I thought the shells would have puffed up a lot more. Some of the shells look like ladyfingers. I am confused.)

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Eclair Filling - Chocolate Pastry Cream
2 cups (500g) whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75g) sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

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

3) 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 stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

(Side Note: You may be wondering... that doesn't look like chocolate? You are correct. I was flustered by the way the eclair shells turned out that I forgot add the melted chocolate. After this photo, I realized my mistake and did add the melted chocolate... which flustered/frustrated me even more that I missed adding the chocolate.)

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Eclair Topping - Chocolate Glaze
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet.

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

Stirring in the last bits of butter and chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (250 g) water
½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

Water and heavy cream are combined in one measure cup.

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

Coats the back of the spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Assembling the éclairs:
Chocolate glaze (see above for recipe)
Chocolate pastry cream (see above for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

Shells cut in half. (Try 2 shells depicted)

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

I found it easier and aesthetically pleasing to drag the tops through the glaze instead of spreading with a spatula.

Glazed tops setting on a rack.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

Filling the eclairs - no particular technique. Here I was just making swirls. Others I just piped in a straight line.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Redo Eclair Shells Try#2
I was disappointed at the way my eclair shells turned out that I made another batch the following weekend to see if that's the way they should be or if it's my technique.

Rereading the recipe and looking at Julia Child's The Way to Cook, I found I did overlook a couple things.
1) Stirring the flour for 2-3 minutes. I thought this step was to ensure the flour was fully incorporated and absorbed the liquid. However, this step also dries out any extra liquid.

The technique is to mix, but also smash the choux against the sided and bottom of the pan so moisture would escape. Originally, I kept everything in a ball while mixing.

2) The final choux should be thicker. My first attempt the choux was very soft and flowing. The pictures I've seen is the choux stayed together a little more.

My try #2 choux. Note: The choux is not as runny. However, watching Alton Brown his choux was more pliable and tore into a V-shape when the mixing spoon was lifted from the dough. (Hmmm... another thing to try)

3) Piping with the ziploc produced ovalized strips which I wondered if it contributed to the ladyfinger look.

Since I didn't have a 2cm (about 0.75") plain round tip, I used a water bottle top which had a 0.75" diameter opening and a ziploc.

Piped choux. I also dragged a fork across the top to encourage rising and cracking, as read on the internet. I made a doube (side-by-side) eclair to see if I would get a bigger eclair.

The finshed Try #2 eclair shells.
Yes, they did turn out a lot bigger (in diameter). Not flat like the Try #1 shells.

The Finished Products
Try #1 - Taste good. Shell not as large and crispy as I had expected.

Try #2 - Taste is still very good. Shell is larger, but not as large as the local French Bakery's shell. Also, still not as crispy as I had hoped.

Overall, the eclairs tasted very good. The chocolate pastry cream filling and the chocolate glaze had an intense bittersweet chocolate flavor, not overly rich nor too sweet. The pastry cream and glaze are keepers. The eclair shells are very easy and straight forward, but I think needs more tweaking. However, that just may be my picky-side talking, especially when I can go to the local bakery to pick up hand made eclairs. I probably don't know what a "real" French eclair looks like, but I feel I need to work on the eclair shells to make them to my liking.

The motto for this challenge from Tony Tahhan and Meetak: Culinary Liberty For All. :-)


Anonymous said...

As they in physics [●,○]=i◑ (Life's full of black and white yet it isn't any of these shades in reality)where the black ball is for all the known facts and the white ball is for all the unknown facts and these are all connected to the mixed coloured ball (the true facts)via the imaginary
square root of one. I'm a physicist so can totally understand your feelings and motivations in this venture. I found that I needed to bake the éclairs at 220C for 30mins to get the best results. And really I found that using 100% water was the best and about 20 grams less butter.

Great work about testing the variables involved in the recipes (on the DB forum) your results are very impressive. Great work. Also thanks for the thanks you sent me on my blog. I really like the people I've meet through DBs. Yours Audax

CookiePie said...

Great job! I know you were disappointed with the size, but hey - it's not the size that counts, right? ;) Seriously - your eclairs look great, I hope you enjoyed them!

Anonymous said...

Wow that pastry cream looks good! And the final éclairs, from both attempts, look fantastic too!
I also made another pate a choux recipe cause Pierre Herme's recipe didn't work out for me and found the same observations as you did, for example that the dough wasn't as fluid as Pierre Herme's and that this puffed more.

Cristine said...

Your eclairs look great!

K8 said...

thanks for the kind words! I am going to have to keep the soda bottle top idea in my bag of tricks.

Anonymous said...

Totally impressed with your tenacity on this! I'm such a slacker. That photo of the two next to each other really tells what you went through to get your results. Very nice! I think I'm just going back to the recipe I normally use and chalk it up to a good lesson!

Unknown said...

I love viewing the other DBers posts because I pick up cool tips and tricks. I mean, the top of a water bottle? TOTALLY INGENIOUS and trust me I'll be trying that out!

You did a nice job!!!

Have a delicious day :)

Alpineberry Mary said...

I like all the research you did on the pate a choux. Sorry that even after try #2 the eclairs didn't live up to the ones from your local bakery.

Dragon said...

I also had to make the pastry twice as the first try went flat. :) I love the look of your pastry cream. YUM!

Shelby said...

You did an awesome job!

Anderson Zoo Keepers said...

Thanks for stopping by - and I really appreciated seeing your process. I hated how me glazed looked and I think your idea of dragging the tops through is genius.
Great job!!

Iron Chef Shellie said...

mmmmm that chocolate filling is making my mouth water!!!

Ranee @ Arabian Knits said...

Very nice. It was good to see your experiments and the step by step photos. Thank you for stopping by and visiting me, as well.

Anonymous said...

Yours look great! You did a wonderful job at documenting your experience, you photos look GREAT!


PAT A BAKE said...

Your Eclairs look wonderful. Amazing that u made a 2nd attempt. Liked the idea about the using the mouth of the btl...good thinking.... :).

Anonymous said...

There's always the 1st time to everything. My personal motto is "if you don't try, you'll never know", Congrats on your 2nd challenge and great job at it.

Amy J. said...

Your eclairs look great! Good job. :)

Lisa said...

John, Congrats on your second DBC! Talk about amazing photos and gorgeous eclairs!! I love how you did the step by step photo demo. Your eclairs look absolutely mahvelous!

That said, thanks for the sweet compliments, but I'm still learning photography, and I'm many, many steps, and several lenses short of where I want to be. I need to reshoot or find a better photo of the interior of the eclairs. Like I said in my blog, REMIND me never to start a DBC recipe on the day it's due!! LOL

Gina said...

I think they look wonderful! And I love the bottle in the ziptop bag - I'd have *never* thought of that and will definitely make note of it for the next time I make the eclairs.

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

Great job! I love the Try 2 eclairs as they are beautifully formed.

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

All's well that ends well and your eclairs look good to me.
I baked mine a little longer without opening the oven. My eclairs were also much smaller.

Anonymous said...

Great Tutorial on Eclairs John...Love the photos and the results speak for themselves....hope you fed them to someone who truly appreciated the artistry!!

Anonymous said...

Your eclairs turned out lovely! I followed the instructions for the first batch, and was disappointed in the outcome too....

Shirley said...

I had a flat first batch too, but it looks like you were as determined as I was to get it right! :) Great job.

ingegerd said...

its look yummy!

janjan said...

I think your dragging the pastries through the glaze is a great idea - they look fantastic. Mmmm.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

oh i love the comparison of both! you did a great job and glad you gave this a go - twice!

Amber said...

Great tip with the plastic bag and cap! Your eclairs look so great, I wish that mine would've risen. But I wasn't about to make them again! I got lazy though and didn't stir for 2-3 minutes, that could have something to do with it too.

Anonymous said...

I had the same preconception about the size of my eclairs due to what I had seen in bakeries, these just seemed too small, but apparently that is the intent. I really like the bottle top idea, I'll need to try it next time.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Thanks for all the photos and descriptions. Nice job!
I'm so happy I decided to make mine mini, because the small size was expected. After seeing how a few bakers had trouble with this recipe I might stick to my own pate a choux recipe the next time. I did love the chocolate pudding cream, though!

Pat in NY

Christy said...

Your glaze looks so nice!! Glossy and perfect!! I tried dragging my choux pastry across as well but they did not hold up as well as yours did. Great job!!

Adventures in Gluttony said...

You were so smart to use a waterbottle top in your ziplock bag. I just cut a hole and used some duct tape to hold it together; needless to say it didn't turn out. Next, I use your idea! You're eclairs look delightfully delicious!

Ruth said...

Your plastic bag and water bottle top so inventive. I love your photos. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I was frustrated by my lack of a pastry bag too... my ziplock bag began leaking in several places and I was covered in choux! I love your creative idea for the water bottle tip. Thanks for visiting me on my first post day!

Anonymous said...

I love that you went back to try to figure out the best way to make the dough. THAT IS AWESOME!!! Your eclairs look awesome. Great job :)

Pardeep said...

its nice cake....i have tried it but not up to mark