Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers August -

Lately, there have been a lot of things fueling my uncontrollable obsession for all things French. Edith Piaf hits were pumped into a restaurant I recently visited. My friend and Paris-via-Chicago restaurateur, Daniel Rose, treated me to a lazy lunch at Sepia while he was in town. The September issue of Gourmet, devoted to exploring Paris on a budget, landed in the mailbox, making me nostalgic and starry eyed.

Had I tried, I would have been unable to forget Paris this August. The Daring Bakers challenge for this month only fueled the fire. The assignment was to recreate the recipe for eclairs from French pastry master, Pierre Herme.

Upon reading the challenge, I was immediately returned to a state of pure bliss, as I recalled visiting one of the Herme boutiques in Paris last fall. Walking into the store was more like entering a haut couture fashion mecca than a pastry shop. The minimal decor, in shades of lavender, coral, and sunshine yellow was manned by stoic pastry professionals clad in black. The counters were brimming with colorful tortes, exotic macaroons, and layered mousses made from the freshest ingredients. Packaged chocolate bars and pates de fruits demanded to be taken home. For me, it was heaven, surrounded by all of that perfection in the form of beautiful edible art. Pierre Herme's pastry shops are yet another reason to return to Paris, as if I needed one.

After such an amazing experience at his shop, I was delighted to see that the August installment of Daring Bakers was a Pierre Herme formula. Our instructions were to replicate his recipe for eclair dough, professionally known as pate a choux. His original recipe fills the crisp dough with chocolate pastry cream and covers the top with chocolate ganache. We were given liberty to follow the recipe as written, or substitute either the filling or glaze. As an eclair purist, I chose to fill my batch with vanilla bean pastry cream, leaving Herme's ganache to act as the sole chocolate component.

Pate a choux, which can be used as a vehicle for a multitude of fillings, is an easy way to showboat. Although it may not seem like it, choux pastry is relatively easy to make, and it yields an impressive product that far outshines its production. Guests who eat it would not think that the dough is so simple. A combination of eggs, flour, and butter steam in the oven, creating a finished product that is crisp on the outside, and just a bit chewy inside. Steam builds inside the dough as it bakes, leaving crevices that act as a surface area to fill with custards, ice creams, mousses, or fruit curds. One basic pate a choux recipe can be formed into a variety of shapes, including profiteroles, swans, and of course, eclairs.

Herme's choux formula is one for the books. It works beautifully, becoming the perfect golden shell. It will replace my old stand by, as I know that it will consistently yield excellent results. His chocolate glaze recipe, although delicious, included several steps that seemed unnecessary. It involves first making a chocolate sauce that is incorporated into a chocolate ganache to reach the final product. The finished glaze tastes exactly like a much simpler, less time consuming ganache. Since it didn't set up as hard as I would have liked, I think that next time I make eclairs I will default to a basic ganache recipe.

I shared the eclairs with a few friends, and they were undeniably delicious, a real treat. If you missed out on them, here's what it looked like when a partially eaten eclair approached your mouth. It's not quite as good as the real thing, is it?

Participating in this challenge reminded me how of how simple, yet impressive, pate a choux can be. I look forward to making it again soon, and anxiously await the September installment of Daring Bakers! The recipe for Pierre Herme's choux paste and chocolate glaze, from his book, Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, is below.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm

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.

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 20minutes.

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

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Vanilla bean pastry cream

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.

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.

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.

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.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

• 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

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.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer 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 used for the éclairs as directed above.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(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

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.

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
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 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

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.

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.


Mcwhisky said...

Your eclairs really did puffed up beautifully, unlike mine. Love the intrisic details of the pipeable pastry cream! Your eclairs + PH's shots made me drool even more!

Susie Homemaker said...

You asked which recipe I like better - actually, I like my standby. 2 sticks butter, 2 cups water, 1/4 cup sugar, pinch of salt. Do the stovetop thing, add 2 cups flour. Then in mixer add 7 eggs, one at a time.
Put in 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes depending on size, then shut off the oven and leave them n there. Works for me!
Oh, and I am with you on Herme ganache - way too complicated for the result. Nice pics!

Natashya said...

I love all the shots of Pierre's shop in Paris!
And your eclairs look lovely, great job, I especially like the vanilla bean filling.

Audax Artifex said...

Yes the choux recipe as given is unique half milk half water. But I think this very old French recipe really works much better and is so much easier
300 ml water
15 g sugar
100 g butter
225 g strong white flour
6 eggs, beaten
Do the normal procedure and then place piped éclairs in 220C oven for 30 mins, cut open to release steam cool in oven. Much better results then Herme's.

Aside from that - excellent photos of the Paris food available and your éclairs what a great result love the shape and colour of your choux and the great glaze and filling.

BC said...

I'm so curious as to the weight of the eggs that went into your recipe - mine were far too eggy. I'm happy yours worked beautifully.

Rebecca said...

Great post and beautiful photos!

HoneyB said...

Yummm, vanilla bean.

Claire said...

Your eclairs look much better than mine! How exciting that the challenge fit the genre you're interested in right now!

Zita said...

Great job on the challenge, Hermes's is a better way to remember Paris by:)

TeaLady said...

As good as Pierre's. Good job.

How To Eat A Cupcake said...

Ahh I'm so jealous! That pastry shop is so gorgeous!

Your eclairs look delish!

breadchick said...

Wow, you got great puff on your eclairs! And I love the "eclair towards your mouth" shot. It DID look like that... umm, need more eclairs....

Anonymous said...

nice job on the piping!!

Tartelette said...

Beautiful job on the challenge! You would make any French pastry shop very proud! BRavo!!

Cakelaw said...

Your eclairs look wonderful Beth - not to mention all those fabulaous shots of Pierre Herme creations. I now have a hankering to go to Paris just to see this shop - sigh ...

Katie said...

Your elcairs look heavenly!

I love the golden macaroons in your last photo from France - how cute!

marye said...

beautiful images!
your eclairs look delicious.

Aparna said...

Your eclairs look so pretty. And some of the cakes there are beautiful.
Thanks for those tips, Beth.

Clumbsy Cookie said...

Thanks for sharing the PH's pictures. He's great, isn't he? Your éclairs are just perfect, so lovely!

Ann said...

Wonderful job! Your eclairs could fit right in with the other photos!

Meeta said...

gorgeous! that's on my to do list - visit PH's shop one day!

Ruth said...

I am so jealous your eclairs rose beautifully. And the shop in Paris Ooh La La

Jude said...

Awesome pictures from PH's shop. Wish I could check it out!
Pate a choux really is so simple to make but yields impressive results.

Y said...

I missed out on visiting PH's store the one time I was in Paris - how on earth did that happen!? Great photos, and awesome looking eclairs, by the way!

Anonymous said...

They look wonderful.

Liz Randall said...

You eclairs are very tall! How divine. I like your photos of Paris, too!

Jennifer said...

I agree! ANOTHER reason to go back to Paris! Ahhh... so beautiful... so yummy!

Your eclairs look great! And tasty too! Great job!