Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eclairs

I remember the first time I had an eclair.  I was about 10 at a friend's birthday party, and though I wasn't the pastry enthusiast that I am today, I knew that I was eating something special.  With its rich chocolate coating and a silky vanilla filling, a fresh eclair is downright luxurious.  The best eclairs come straight from the bakery, which is part of what makes them so special.  Cupcakes and ice cream cones are everywhere, but these bad boys are a bit harder to come by.  When you find a good one, you have reason to celebrate.  Now you have even more reason, since you can make them in your own kitchen.

My test drive of Tartine is winding down, and it has definitely earned a spot on my bookshelf.  It's full of easy and accessible recipes, but this isn't one of them.  While the final batch of eclairs was a delicious treat, this is definitely a labor of love.  There are a LOT of steps.  And ingredients.  And it's a bit of a mess.  Ok a huge mess.  But when all was said and done and the final pastry had been dunked in chocolate, and the boy took a bite and grinned from ear to ear, I knew we had a winner.

We'll start with the pastry cream.  It is sooooo delicious I'd eat it on its own.  Set a strainer over a bowl.  This will come in handy later when you need to cool your custard.

Next heat some milk with half a vanilla bean and a bit of salt.  If you've been hesitant to use vanilla bean, now's the time.  It has killer flavor, and while a little pricey, it takes these eclairs to the next level.
In another bowl, mix sugar and cornstarch.  Cornstarch is one of my favorite ingredients.  It thickens in an instant, like magic.
Add your eggs, and stir everything together until smooth.
Now add a small amount of the warm vanilla milk.  We're slowly warming the eggs so they don't scramble. 
Then we slooooowly add the eggs to the pot of vanilla milk.  Keep stirring and cook the custard until it thickens.
Strain the pastry cream to make sure no large egg pieces get in and spoil the party.
But wait!  There's more...  Hellooooo butter!
Stir in your butter.  You know you want to.
The pastry cream needs to chill out in the fridge.  In the meantime, let's make the pastry.  This is a choux paste, the same dough that's used for cream puffs.  The technique sounds a little weird, but give it a shot.  Milk, water, butter, sugar and salt.
Melt everything together, and warm the mixture. 
Now we add a cup of flour, and stir constantly for about three minutes.  This is an important step, as we're evaporating water in the dough.  This makes it thick enough to pipe.
Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl, and gradually mix in 5 eggs.
Your dough will be rich and yellow and shiny.  But fear not, it's completely 100% healthy.
Oops, no photos of the piping.  But you'll want to pipe strips about 5 inches long.  Your pastries will puff up, and all those eggs give them killer color.
Once they've cooled, you can fill them.  I used a sharp pastry tip to cut two holes in the bottom of each eclair.
Fill a pastry bag with your vanilla pastry cream, and pipe it into the holes in each eclair.  I'm not gonna lie, this part was messy.  My delicious beautiful pastry cream was all over my hands, all over the outside of the pastry bag, and all over the counter.  I barely salvaged enough to fill each eclair.
The last step is to dunk these beauties in chocolate.  Chop some chocolate and put it in a shallow bowl with a bit of corn syrup.  Heat some heavy cream in a saucepan, then pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Let it sit for a few minutes, then stir very gently.  The hot cream will melt the chocolate.
Pastries.  Chocolate.  You know what to do.
Hello lover...
Awww yeah!  Eclairs.  Make 'em.  You won't regret it!


Eclairs
From Tartine
 
For the pastry cream:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup + 1 Tb sugar
2 large eggs
4Tb unsalted 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 in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk.  Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pam.  The larger the batch, the more careful you need to be.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar.  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.  You want to see a few slow bubbles.  However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream.  Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl.  Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming on top.

Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces.  When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140F), whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream.  Chill in the refrigerator until cold.



For the choux paste:
1/2 cup nonfat milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
5 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.

In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil.  Add the flour all at once, stirring vigrously 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 of the moisture has evaporated.  This will take about 3 minutes.

Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the eggs one at a time and mix on medium-high speed, incorporating each egg before adding the next.  When all the eggs have been added, the mixture will be thick, smooth, and shiny.  If making by hand, add the eggs one at a time and mix with a wooden spoon, incorporating each egg before adding the next.

Transfer the contents of the bowl to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip, adding only as much to the bag as is comfortable to work with.  Pipe out fingers about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  If you end up with a bulge or "tail" at the end of the piping, you can smooth it over with a damp fingertip.

Bake until puffed and starting to show some color, about 10 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375F and continue to bake until the shells feel light for their size and are hollow inside, about 12 minutes longer.  They should be nicely browned all over.  Remove from the oven and, using a metal skewer, poke a small hole in the end of each shell to allow steam to escape.  This keeps the shells from collapsing.  Let cool on wire racks.  They should be used as soon as they are cool enough to fill.



For the chocolate glaze:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 Tb light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream

Combine the chocolate and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl.  Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan.  Pour the cream over the chocolate.  Let the mixture sit for about 2 minutes without stirring until the chocolate melts, and then stir gently with a rubber spatula until smooth and shiny.  Let cool until just warm.


To fill and glaze the eclairs:
Stir the pastry cream until smooth (it must be very cold) until smooth and then spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with a very small opening.  It is easiest to to start with a hole in each end of the shell and fill from both ends if necessary.  Sometimes pockets inside the shell prevent the pastry cream from filling the entire shell from a single hole.  Fill the shells until they feel heavy.  To glaze the eclairs, dip the top of each filled eclair into the glaze, shaking gently to allow the excess to drip off, then place upright on a wire rack and allow the glaze to set.

Serve the pastries at once, or refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving.  They should be eaten the same day they are filled.

7 comments:

  1. very impressive! this is the second post i've read about eclairs today, which is weird. a friend of mine is going through the same culinary school program i went through, and eclairs are being made this week in her class. i remember making them, and they are a lot of work, but sooooooooooo good!

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  2. These were remarkable. I'm serious I'm still thinking about them. Go Mary!

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  3. love eclairs..going to try soon

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  4. These look great! I'm definitely going to try making them sometime :) How many eclairs does the recipe make?

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  5. The recipe would have made at least 12 eclairs, but I only had time to bake one batch and 10 is all that would fit on my baking sheet. If you wanted to make smaller ones, you could probably get at least 16 out of the dough. What I nearly ran out of was the pastry cream. I'd recommend doubling the batch, and using the extra for another dessert (spoon a dollop on top of some brownies, or serve with a bowl of fresh strawberries. Crowds will adore you). xoxo, M

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  6. O live eclairs and these make me want one... right now!

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