Friday, August 18, 2017

A Breath Of Fresh Éclair.


Ahhhh.  The éclair.  What a divine creation. 

This is the perfect culinary project for your weekend.

But first, a bit of culinary history.

 It is believed that Chef Marie-Antoine Carême, famous pastry chef for French royalty in the 19th century, is responsible for this culinary delight.  Possibly the first celebrity chef, Carême revolutionized French haute cuisine, the "rich, intricate, and elaborate cuisine of the aristocracy and upper classes."  It was Carême who conceived the four "mother sauces-" béchamel, velouté, espagnole, and allemande.  He systematized many basic gastronomic principles with both drawings and step-by-step directions.

   He was the Julia Child of his day, urging people to experiment. He's credited with being the first cookbook author to use the phrase, "you can try this for yourself at home."

He perfected the soufflé and he also introduced the standard chef's white uniform with toque, which conveyed an overall image of cleanliness, still worn by chefs today. Chef Carême was the chef célèbre who elevated dining into art.  His gastronomic displays were legendary.  Carême's creations, many of which were opulent edible architectural creations of famous buildings, captured the eye of French diplomat, Talleyrand, who challenged the young chef to produce a full menu for his personal château, instructing him to use only local, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and to not replicate any dish over the course of a year.   

  Carême focused not only on the flavor of his dishes, but also on the appearance of his table, writing, "I want order and taste.  A well displayed meal is enhanced one hundred per cent in my eyes." 


In his cookbooks, the chef would include a sketch of himself so everyone would know what he looked like and people on the street would be able to recognize him.



 The fact that Carême is responsible for the éclair is but icing on the cake.

The éclair is a pastry made with choux paste, or pâte à choux.  The dough is piped into an oblong shape on a baking pan, then baked until crisp on the outside and hollow inside.  In the oven, steam lifts the pastry, puffing it up into a thin, crisp shell with a hollow middle that simply begs to be filled. My filling of choice is pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, and then I topped my éclairs with a chocolate glaze.

By the way, the dough, pâte á choux, is the same dough used for cream puffs and profiteroles, all variations on a wonderfully delicious theme.

  Pâte à Choux

1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
5 eggs

Note:  It is important to use skim milk, not whole.  The first batch I made I used 1/2 skim and 1/2 heavy cream and the éclairs didn't puff nearly as much as using just skim.  The fat content makes a difference.  And I have seen recipes that used water instead of the milk.

Heat oven to 425°.
In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter.  Cook over medium heat until the butter melts and mixture comes to a full boil.  Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously.  Keep stirring for 3-4 minutes until the mixture forms a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer dough to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and add eggs, one at a time, incorporating each each before adding the next.

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tip.  I used a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  For éclairs, pipe out log shapes 4-5 inches long and 1 inch wide, spacing 2 inches apart.  For the cream puffs and profiteroles, pipe out small circles, 2-3 inches in diameter.

Bake at 425° for 10 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 375° and continue to bake about 12 minutes longer, until nicely browned all over.  Remove from oven and poke a small hole in the end of each shell to allow steam to escape, keeping the shells from collapsing.  Cool on wire racks.

Fill each éclair with pastry cream.  You can spoon the pastry cream in a pastry bag with a small opening and fill the éclairs through a small hole in each end of the shell, or you can split the éclairs in half and spoon on the filling.

If you don't have a pastry bag, use a zip-lock bag and make a small slice in the corner.

Top with chocolate glaze.

  Crème Pâtissière
2 cups whole milk
 OR 14 oz. skim milk and 2 oz. heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 TB cornstarch
1/2 cup + 1 TB sugar
2 eggs
4 TB unsalted butter, cut into 1 TB pieces

Rosie never has whole milk on hand, however, she always has skim milk and heavy cream. To approximate whole milk, for each cup I used 7 ounces skim and 1 ounce heavy cream.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk with the salt and split vanilla bean and scraped out seeds.  Bring to just under a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, making sure that the milk solids don't stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the cornstarch and sugar.  Add eggs, whisking until smooth.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle in about a third of the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper the eggs.  You don't want scrambled here.  Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard thickens, 2-3 minutes.  Don't let it boil, or you will curdle the cream.  Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine sieve into another bowl, removing the vanilla bean pods.  Let cool for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release heat.

When the pastry cream is about 140°, whisk the butter into the pastry cream, one tablespoon at a time, whisking until smooth before adding the next tablespoon. Cover with plastic wrap directly on top and refrigerate.  Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the fridge for about five days.  Heh.  Not in this house!

Chocolate Glaze
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 TB light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine chocolate and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl.  Bring cream to just under a boil in a small saucepan.  Pour hot cream over chocolate mixture, letting mixture sit a few minutes without stirring until the chocolate melts.  Gently stir until smooth and shiny.

   And the finished product!
I sliced these cream puffs in half, slathered on the Crème Pâtissière, and drizzled on the chocolate glaze.

For the éclairs, I filled a pastry bag with the Crème Pâtissière and piped it through a hole in each end of the shell, filling from both ends.  Pour chocolate glaze over top.

And enjoy!

This is heaven!

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