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. :-)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Aug 30: KFC ?

I was reading Nancy Leson's Blog, All You Can Eat, when I came across an entry about fried chicken. Nancy Leson is a Seattle Times food writer and a former restaurant critic.

What caught my eye was about this place was the location, in a Korean Supermarket's food court. Hmm... Korean Fried Chicken! What's that all about? How does it taste?
Being a fried chicken fanatic, I had to go find out.

The place is called Chicky Pub.

When I arrived at the chicken place, ordering was straight forward, except the menu was mostly in Korean. There was an English title for the dish and a picture board. I ordered a #3 Fried Chicken. I passed on the sauce coated chicken to just try the basic fried.

Looking at the website, seen below, doesn't help. It's written in Korean too. :-)

My order came with two condiments - pickled diakon radish cubes and a sweet mustard sauce.
I passed on both sauces. Although the radish had an okay flavor (sweet and faintly vinegary), raw diakon radish has a funky smell which puts me off. The mustard sauce was a bit on the sweet side. I'm not a fan of sweet mustard. Hard to imagine there's something I don't like in regards to food. :P

The eight piece order.

The chicken had a nice light, crispy coating which held up to the drive home. No 7 herbs and spices, but the chicken had a satisfying savory taste and a little spicy kick that surprised me. Not bad.

The eight pieces were a hodgepodge of sizes. I'm guessing they cut the chicken on-sight with an inexperienced prep cook. The sizes weren't consistent, especially the breast pieces - one breast half and the other breast half was cut into thirds.

Overall, I did enjoy the crispy, crunchy coating and the slightly spicy kick. According to the website, the fried chicken is "flavor Cajun style" which explains the spicy kick. Ah, that makes sense.

The Korean fried chicken wasn't bad. I do miss the sides that you get from that Kentucky place. I forget the name. Hmmm.... lol :-)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Aug 27: See You Guy???

See You Guy!

I'm not saying farewell, but saying in phonetic Cantonese, "Soy Sauce Chicken" where "See You" is Soy Sauce and "Guy" is Chicken.

Soy sauce chicken is typically seen in Chinese barbecue houses hanging in the window next to the whole roasted pork, barbecue pork and Peking Duck. A very common sight in San Francisco or Seattle.

I've had a craving for soy sauce chicken and knowing I have three bottles of soy sauce in the pantry, this is a good way to start using the surplus and appease my craving. :-)

The bottle on the right is not naturally foamy. I dropped the bottle before setting up the photo... lol.

The recipe is improvised with the ingredients on hand.

The Fixins'
1 Green Onion
1 Star Anise
2 Cloves Garlic
25 g Rock Sugar
5 g ginger
3.5 oz from each of the soy sauces (11.5 oz total)
1.5 oz Shao Hsing rice wine
3 oz of water (add water to the soy sauce and rice wine to make 2 cups of liquid)
Chicken (wing, drumstick and thighs) - Traditionally, the chicken is cooked whole, but for speed the chicken was cut apart.

The seasoning - green onion, star anise, garlic, rock sugar and garlic.

Combine seasoning and the liquids (soy sauce, rice wine and water).
Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.
After which, the chicken pieces are added.

Adding the chicken to the soy sauce broth. Immerse as much as possible.

Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer.
Cook for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes rotate the pieces and simmer another 15.

The completed chicken. Nice rich dark caramel color!

The soy sauce chicken was served in a rice bowl.

Overall, the soy sauce chicken turned out really well.
I was afraid the soy sauce would oversalt the chicken, but the flavor was very similar to the chicken purchased at the Chinese bbq places I remember growing up.

The chicken was well seasoned, slightly sweet and just a hint of licorice from the star anise.
Star anise is similar to nutmeg or cinnamon where the spice has an inherent sweetness. In fact, star anise is probably the "secret" ingredient to this dish.

What I would change?
Cut back on the soy sauce. Mainly so it's easier to remember.
I would use a 1 cup of soy to 1 cup of water ratio. I don't know if the rice wine really adds anything to the mix.

A little more sugar... about 2 teaspoons.
I used 25 grams which is equivalent to 2 tablespoons of white sugar or 1.67 tablespoons (5 teaspoons) of packed dark brown sugar.

Add a little more star anise... probably 1.5.

Additions... some 5 spice powder to add more flavor and sweetness. A little will go a long way so probably 1/2 teaspoon.

Just a few ideas for the next time. :-)

See you guys! (as in "Bye for now! Happy eating!")

Friday, August 22, 2008

Aug 22: Fire in the Sky keeps on Burning

A very strange sunrise this morning - red and a beam of light from the sun. In fact the sun is just under the horizon, but the clouds are beaming the light up. A bat signal?

It's pretty cool.

PS... I'm terrible at lyrics. I was thinking of a Journey song and thought the lyrics were "Fire in the sky keeps on burning", but the actual lyrics are "Wheels in the sky keep on turning." Who's heard of a wheel in the sky? Well besides Ezekiel, of course. :)

However, I think my lyrics are better at least in this case. :-)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Aug 19: Beet Greens and Pasta

When I was researching the Internet about growing beets, many websites commented that beet greens are edible and a good source of vitamins.

Now that I've harvested the beets, I kept the greens to see how they tasted.

Also, I've been craving pasta and had some chicken sausage that needed to be eaten.

Pasta with beet greens and sausage

The Fixins'
A bunch of beet greens
A package of Chicken Sausage
Red Pepper Flakes
Balsamic Vinegar

A big plate full of beet greens and a cube of frozen chopped garlic (courtesy of Trader Joe's). :-)

The sausage was fully cooked, but I still sauteed in olive oil and garlic.
After a minute, I added the beet greens and some salt to cook down (about 10 minutes).

Tossed in the pasta, drizzled in a little balsamic vinegar and mixed.
Garnished with red pepper flakes and Parmesan.

The beet green had a texture similar to kale - a little chewy, not as tender as spinach. The flavor was slightly sweet, but nothing really strong.

Overall, I enjoyed the dish and the pasta appeased my craving.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Aug 15: K's Birthday (Part 2)

After our fabulous lunch at the Space Needle, K wanted to go school clothes shopping at her favorite thrift store in the University District. The U-district is the area surrounding the University of Washington.

In the Puget Sound, thrift store are actually thrift stores that sell second-hand merchandise at bargain prices. S has noticed in California most thrift stores label themselves as "vintage" clothing stores. These "vintage" clothing stores sell their second-hand merchandise at crazy expensive prices.

Since today is K's day, a thrift store shopping we went. Also, K wanted bubble tea from a local shop. S and I split a handmade lemonade. Very refreshing on this hot summer day. After the bubble tea, we went to a second-hand bookstore.

When we got home, I harvested the beets I planted in the container. I wanted everyone to try some before they left for Californ-i-a.

The beets didn't grow as large as I expected. I was expecting the size to be between a baseball and softball. These beets ranged from ping pong ball to tennis ball. Most of the beets were the size of a large chicken egg.

I wanted to try two cooking methods. The traditional boiled method which is boiling for about 1 hours. The other method was oven roasting.

The oven roasting method - cleaned beets, a sprinkle of salt and a splash of olive oil. Bake 375 for about 45 minutes.

The beets after baking for 40 minutes.

I'm not sure if this is the boiled beets, the roasted beets or both mixed up.

The beets turned out nicely. I've never cooked beets before so I was happy.

K and I liked the roasted beets while S said they both tasted the same.
However, both the roasted and boiled beets were good.

The roasted beets were saltier, a darker red and had a light "caramel" flavor.
The boiled beets had a cleaner, sweeter flavor to them.

After an afternoon of shopping and walking around the U-District, we must have been hungry. The beets were devoured. Next year I need to plant more and in a deeper container.

My original intent was to serve the beets with a frise salad, a basic vinaigrette, blue cheese and candied pecans. I did vinegar some beets and added blue cheese. However, it looks like I'll save the full salad for next year's visit. :-)

Aug 15: K's Seattle Birthday Celebration

Summer vacation in Seattle is coming to an end for K. So S planned an early birthday celebration for her. The itinerary was a surprise. I just called the day her "Seattle Birthday".

When K arrived in Seattle she wanted to go to the zoo. Well... we finally made it.

The sky was clear, but the temperature was in the high 80's.
Ack! Very Hot! I'm melting! :-)

The animals were off lounging in shady places since we didn't see that many moving around.

Did this zoo even have animals?

We did see two elephants. An African elephant (large ears) pacing back and forth while the other elephant, an Asian elephant (smaller ears) just stood in the corner rocking and grooving to some imaginary beat.

The giraffes weren't hard to miss. Always cute.

The sign at the zoo entrance stated, "The Flamingos are here".
Well... Here are the Flamingos!
Trivia: Flamingos are pink to orange due to their diet of brine shrimp.
Hey! I did learn something at the zoo after all. :-)

After the park, the next stop was a surprise... of course. :-)

We drove down to Seattle Center passing the Ducks.
K's guess was "Are we riding the Ducks?"
Our answer... "Maybe."

The Duck is an amphibious transport that's now used to tour bus/boat taking people (tourist) around various sights in Seattle on land and in the water. Ride the Ducks

Alas, The Ducks were not on the agenda for today.
Which is good, K was getting hungry and we were trying to stall here.
Instead, we went to lunch at the Skycity restaurant atop the Space Needle.

Skycity is a revolving restaurant, making 1 revolution every 47 minutes, which offers a 360 degree view. It's just below the observation deck about 500 ft above the ground.

For lunch, K ordered Salmon. Oh... ahh! Looks good!

S ordered the Skycity burger. Yum! Bacon!

I ordered the Prime Rib.

The meals was delicious and the view grand!

Another surprise!

For dessert we pre-ordered the Lunar Orbiter which is an ice cream sundae set on dry ice. The dry ice creates fog and smoke trail that follows the server to our table. Eerie! lol!

The weather was clear so we had a great view from the restaurant, a fun time and good food.
I believe S and I surprised K... at least she acted surprised. lol.
Overall, we had a great day. I know I did. :-)

Happy Birthday K!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Aug 13: Monkey Munch

We've been watching the show Jon and Kate Plus 8 on TLC.
Jon and Kate Plus 8 is a reality show following a family with 8 children - an older set of twins and a younger set of sextuplets (6). Eight kids total... hurts my head just thinking about it.

What caught my attention one episode was Kate making "Monkey Munch" for the kids. The recipe seemed easy and contained chocolate and peanut butter. Two great taste that taste great together! Yum!

Doing some quick research on the Internet, the recipe popped up as a Chex Recipe called "Muddy Buddies". The full recipe was not aired, but as Kate was reading the ingredients I followed along to verify that both recipes were the same. The type of cereal she used was bleeped out. I guess Chex is not a sponsor of the show... lol.

We made a half recipe, but here's the full recipe.
Chex® Muddy Buddies® (aka Monkey Munch)

9 cups Corn Chex®, Rice Chex®, Wheat Chex® or Chocolate Chex® cereal (or combination)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1. Into large bowl, measure cereal; set aside.

2. In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.

3. Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

The recipe was very simple to make and tasted really rich and delicious.
We should have made the full recipe. :-)