Category: - The Baker and The Chef
 
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A chocolate eclair is all that's good about French pastries... whole milk, butter, chocolate.  Is there any way that could result in something not delicious?  They're breath-takingly beautiful when you see them in a bakery display case.  At most bakeries when you order one they put it into a miniature box and tie it up with twine and it just screams elegance.

Maybe you've made these at home and they were a complete flop.  To make the pate a choux (the pastry dough) you are looking for certain things, and unlike most baking recipes a pate a choux recipe can't tell you exactly how many eggs to add.  If you've tried to make these and they didn't turn out, take a look at the recipe you used.  If it didn't explain to you that the number of eggs varies depending on a variety of variables then it will be hit or miss whether the recipe works out.

Why would the number of eggs vary?  Well, the first thing you do is bring the water (or milk) to a boil.  What happens when you boil water?  Some of it evaporates.  Most likely every time you make these the amount of water left after the boil is different.  Next, you add the flour to the boiling water and then you put it back over the heat.  The cooking again is affecting how much liquid is evaporating.  When you begin mixing the dough to cool it down you can see steam evaporating.  All of these things are affecting how much actual liquid is in the dough... and an egg is mostly liquid so you're replacing some of the evaporated liquid with the liquid from the egg, which is why it varies.

So, what are you looking for?  When you're cooking the flour over the heat the dough should come together as a ball and should look like mashed potatoes.  You want the pan to have a dried crust from the liquid evaporating.  Really what you're looking for is to get the pan to the point where you know it's going to be a pain in the butt to wash because it's all crusty.  (You won't get the crusty pan if you're cooking in a non-stick pan.)  Then you want to put the dough on the mixer and mix it to cool it down.  If you started adding the eggs right away you would end up with scrambled eggs.  When the mixing bowl is cool enough that you can comfortably rest your hand on it, you can begin adding eggs.

After you've added enough eggs, the dough is ready when it has a glossy surface, and is slightly yellow.  If it's not glossy and looks like mashed potatoes then you haven't added enough eggs.  If the dough is yellow but soupy, then you've added too many eggs.  When it's just right, you should be able to run your finger through the dough making a valley; the valley you make shouldn't disappear, but the edges should just barely start to fall in on themselves.  If the valley you make stands up rigid you're not quite there.

Next you pipe the dough onto your prepared pans and put them into a hot 400 F oven for 30 minutes.  It's important that the oven be hot because this will create the steam that will cause the dough to puff.  The opening inside the puff is where you're going to put all your luxurious filling, so you want as much space as possible!

Once the puffs have poofed up, and are a beautiful golden brown don't immediately remove them from the oven.  The insides are still a bit wet, and if you take them right out your beautiful puffs will collapse on themselves.  Begin turning down the temperature of the oven by 25 degrees every five minutes until you get to 200 F.  Then take them out of the oven and let them cool.

Once cool, poke a hole in the bottom of the puff.  Fill a pastry bag with your pastry cream and poke the tip of the bag into the hole.  Fill the puff until it starts to feel heavy.  When all the puffs are filled, gently warm the icing and dip the tops.  Set aside the dipped puffs to dry and then enjoy!

You can fill the puffs with lots of other things, and they can be either savory or sweet.  For example, you could pipe out round puffs and then cut the tops off and fill with a shrimp mousse for an elegant appetizer.  Once you master the dough let your taste buds go wild!

One word about the pastry cream.  Of course, anything that you cook or bake you always want to be careful to use clean utensils and wash your hands thoroughly.  However, with pastry cream those habits are even more important.  The ingredients are highly susceptible to food borne illnesses and you must be sure to keep everything clean and cool down the cream as quickly as possible.  The fastest way to cool the cream is to put it in a wide, shallow container and then set that container into an ice bath and then periodically stir the cream to even out the temperature.  This will quickly cool it down and keep it safe to eat.

Enjoy!

-The Baker

PATE A CHOUX:
yield:  24 - 2 1/2" eclairs
  • 1 C Water (or milk)
  • 4 oz Butter
  • 1 t Salt
  • 6 oz Bread Flour
  • 10 oz Eggs (approximately)
  1. In a heavy pot, bring water, salt and butter to a rolling boil, being sure the butter is completely melted
  2. Take the pot off the heat and stir in all of the flour, using a wooden spoon; return to the heat; cook until it's smooth and the pot looks clean (the mixture should not be stuck to the bottom or sides of the pot)
  3. Put on a mixer and on low speed begin mixing to bring the temperature down
  4. When the mixture is no longer burning hot begin adding eggs, one at a time until a glossy, but stiff paste is achieved
  5. Pipe or scoop onto parchment lined pans and bake at 400 F for approximately 30 mins; after 30 mins begin lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees every five minutes; the reason for this is to dry out the inside of the puff so it's not soggy
PASTRY CREAM:

  • 14 oz Milk
  • 3 oz Sugar, divided (1 1/2 oz and 1 1/2 oz)
  • 1 1/2 oz Egg yolks
  • 3/4 oz Cake Flour
  • 1/2 oz Cornstarch
  • 2 oz Milk
  • 1/4 oz Butter
  • Vanilla, to taste
  1. In a heavy pot, boil milk and 1st portion sugar; stir constantly so as not to burn the sugar
  2. In another bowl whisk together the 2nd portion sugar, yolks, flour, cornstarch and milk until perfectly smooth
  3. Remove the boiling milk from the heat; using a small ladle pour some of the hot milk into the yolks mixture, whisking constantly; continue adding the milk until the yolk mixture is warm (this is called "tempering" and it will prevent you from scrambling the eggs by dumping them into the hot milk all at once)
  4. When the yolk mixture is tempered, pour everything back into the pot and put back over the heat, whisking constantly; bring back to a boil, letting it boil for one minute in order to cook out the starch; remove from the heat
  5. Stir in the butter and vanilla; dust the surface with sugar to prevent a skin from forming as it cools
  6. Place in a shallow pan and set into an ice bath to quickly cool the custard
CHOCOLATE ICING:

  • 2 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate
  • 2 t Butter
  • 2 C Powdered Sugar
  • 4 T Water, hot
  1. Over low heat, melt together chocolate and butter; remove from heat
  2. Add powdered sugar and hot water and beat until smooth

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
  1. Poke a hole in the bottom of the cooled pastry shells
  2. Fill a pastry bag with the pastry cream; push the tip of the pastry bag into the hole in the shell; gently squeeze the filling into the pastry shell; when the shell starts to feel heavy it's full
  3. Gently warm the chocolate icing; dip the tops of the filled pastry shells into the icing; set aside to dry; refrigerate any uneaten eclairs