After a hectic summer I'm back for the August DARING BAKERS CHALLENGE; a challenge I really enjoyed making and eating! The assignment this month was Pierre Hermé's chocolate éclairs from the book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé. Hermé is considered to be France's premier pastry chef. I find making any of Hermé's pastries to be a bit intimidating. If you have ever looked at his cookbooks or better yet, been to his shop on rue Bonaparte in Paris, you will understand. His creations are absolute perfection. And as I've said before, my baking style is more rustic. Although my éclairs do not have the exacting uniformity of Pierre Hermé's, I can't believe his could taste any better than mine did. My éclairs were delicious!
The guidelines for this challenge were 1) The dough used for the éclairs must be Pierre Hermé's recipe for pâte à choux 2) There were two chocolate elements in the recipe--a chocolate glaze and a chocolate pastry cream. Only one was required. I chose to substitue a vanilla pastry cream isntead, to avoid chocolate overload. I did, however, use Pierre Hermé's recipe for vanilla pastry cream. I had just recently roasted hazelnuts and sprinkled the chopped nuts on my freshly iced éclairs.
Pâte à choux has always been a favorite of mine. No matter how often I make it, it is still a delight to see it transform from a shiny, smooth dough to crisp, golden-brown puffs. The one thing I did change in my baking of Pierre Hermé's éclairs was to not wedge a wooden spoon inside the oven door after 7 minutes. I always end up baking choux pastry longer than a recipe calls for, and I saw no need to let hot air escape my oven. Also, I have never frozen piped choux dough before and doing this made last minute assembly extremely easy. I plan to make this again and keep the piped éclairs in my freezer for expected and unexpected house guests.
Pierre Hermé's Chocolate Eclairs
recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 éclairs)
CREAM PUFF DOUGH (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with 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 4-inch lengths. Leave about 2 inches between each dough strip to allow room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs (I got about 18).
3. Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep it 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 another 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and FIRM. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes (I did not open the door after 7 minutes, and after 20 minutes I turned my oven off, but left the éclairs in the oven for another 5 minutes. It's probably just my oven).
NOTES: The éclairs can be kept in a cook, dry place for several hours before filling.
Assembling the éclairs:
• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below 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.
2. The glaze should be barely warm to the touch. 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.
Pierre Hermé's Cream Puff Dough
• 1/2 cup whole milk
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces
• 1/4 teaspoon sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup 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. 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. 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. Do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back together 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.
1. Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2. You can pipe the dough and then freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and slide the sheet 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.
Vanilla Pastry Cream
• 2 cups whole milk
• 1 plump, moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
• 6 large egg yolks
• 1/2 cup (slightly rounded) sugar
• 1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
• 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1. In a small saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla bean (pulp and pod) to a boil over medium heat. Cover the pan, remove from the heat, and allow the mixture to rest for 10 minutes, time enough for the liquids to be infused with the warm flavor of vanilla.
2. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished cream and be placed in this ice bath.
3. Whisk the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Whisking all the while, very slowly drizzle a quarter of the ot milk into the yolks. Still whisking, add the rest of the liquid to the tempered yolks in a steady stream. Remove and discard the pod.
4. Place the saucepan over high heat and, whisking vigorously and without stop, bring the mixture to the boil. Keep at the boil, whisking energetically, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Pour the cream into the reserved small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath (you can add some cold water to the cubes now) and, stirring frequently so that the mixture remains smooth, cool the cream to 140 degrees F, as measure on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter in three or four additions. Keep the cream over ice, stirring occasionally, until it is completely cool. The cream can be used now or refrigerated.
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tablespoons 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.
2. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
• 4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup water
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1/3 cup 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.