Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers August: Eclairs!

consisting of 3 parts: pate a choux, chocolate pastry cream, and chocolate glaze

This month's Daring Baker's challenge was a blast! I teamed up with Kirsten of Pincushion Crumbs to prepare the elements of this delicious pastry, which we halved and altered to our own unique flavors. Neither of us wanted the sweet, sweet temptation of 24 eclairs hanging around our apartments, so we figured... 12 of each would be much more reasonable! So, mid-month we met and spent the day together baking - whisking and whisking and, as it turns out, whisking some more.

For the contest, participants were allowed to change one of the two chocolate elements to a non-chocolate one, but the other element had to remain chocolate. I chose to keep the chocolate glaze and change the chocolate pastry cream to an espresso pastry cream. I used Starbucks Arabian Mocha Sanani. These beans are amazing, with cocoa flavors and a complex, rich taste. I know they pair well with chocolate, so it seemed like a dream combination. The recipe doesn't seem that complex, but the timing of the steps is crucial. I was glad, a bunch of times, to be working with Kirsten. I cut and pasted the recipe, and added notes about our experience in blue. Enjoy! And don't be afraid to make this at home. I doubt you'll be as silly as we are, and you will love, love, LOVE the taste of these amazing pastries.


• 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

In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the
boil. 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.

Okay, y'all. When dairy boils? It BOILS! It's not messing around. Boiling dairy waits for no cook. There I was, whisking (as it turned out, this became a common theme of the day) what seemed to be heated dairy, when BAM!

It's boiling! Everywhere!

For the first time, I was glad to have someone else there to dump in the flour! Stir, stir, stir. And then stir some more.
After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth. Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your hand-mixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand (HA!). 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 (or so. Ours was back together by the time all the eggs were in). In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. You must shape the eclairs immediately, while the dough is still warm.


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. 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.

We made mini-eclairs, so we had more. Mine were more along the lines of round cream puffs. I wondered how such a thick dough was going to transform into a light, airy, hollow eclair. But don't worry like I did. It will. Heat will take care of it!

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 20 minutes.

Ours did not take 20 minutes! I don't know if it was because they were mini, or the oven temp was off, or what, but ours took only 12 minutes total to cook before the bottoms were getting a little crisp.

After 12 minutes, they looked a lovely golden color!

Keep a close, close watch on them. They are too good and already you've done too much whisking and mixing to lose them!

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

Um... we left them for, like, 1 hour maybe. It still worked out. Also, we kept them in the kitchen, which was warm-ish. Don't be afraid if you're pressed for time.


• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks

• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 2 shots of strong, delicious espresso

• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Be ready for it! Again, it's going to sneak up on you. We yanked the pot from the stove in an effort to prevent it from boiling everywhere. But, it turned out okay. Have a partner ready to help you do the next step, since it gets done at the same time. Yet agian, I was glad we were working together! In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan. (Whisk, whisk, whisk) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture. (Whisk) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled.

Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil.
(Whisk! Whisk! Feel the burn!) Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the espresso shots and then remove the pan from the heat. Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue whisking the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth. (Whisk? Yes. Oh yes.) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use.

During this time, I was mightily convinced that my cream wasn't creamy enough. It did turn out a little runny. I think this was because I omitted the chocolate, which would have firmed it up a bit, and replaced it with more liquid. I'd maybe add a bit more cornstarch, just a pinch at a time, to try to thicken it up a bit.
At the point right after we strained the mixture and returned it to the stove, Kirsten and I split the mix in half and she prepped her half, with the lavander flavor, while I prepped my half with the espresso elements. So, if you're going to make a whole batch of espresso cream, remember to use 4 shots of espresso, and not just 2!!

Using a serrated knife, gently halve the eclair bodies horizontally. Place the tops on a cooling rack over a layer of foil or parchment. Place the bottoms on a plate. Fill the bottoms with the pastry cream and allow to set while you make the glaze.


Make the Chocolate Sauce:
• 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

Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. (We're stirring now, not whisking. Don't you feel better?)

I feel better. Wait, no. I'm still whisking. It must be the beer.

Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens. 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. It only took our sauce about 5-10 minutes to thicken, which was awesome.

Then use the chocolate sauce to make the Chocolate Glaze:

• 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, warm or at room temperature

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. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

I have no idea what happened or why, but this part? Did NOT work for us! Instead of having a nice, melted chocolate in heavy cream with butter deliciously folded in, we got... a floating glob of chocolate hardness in a sea of butter. It was... gross.

See? Gross.

So, in order to save the recipe, we didn't stir in the chocolate sauce. We used just straight sauce in place of the glaze, piping it in ribbons across the eclair tops.

It turned out elegant, I think, and quite tasty. It wasn't your typical eclair, of course. But it looked refined and tasted rich and understated.

Pincushion Crumbs long mini-eclairs and my puff eclairs

In the end, we were tired. But happy.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Iron Cupcake:Earth Challenge - Chili

A Thing I Do Not Like About Austin is that it's so hot here all the time.  I get tired of the heat.  I'm from Ohio originally, and lived in California for a few years before settling in Texas.  I miss the four complete seasons, honestly (which we didn't really get in California, but it was certainly closer than Austin.  It's just hot, hot, hot, then winter, then hot.  Around this time, with school starting, even though I'm no longer involved in school, and September practically hours away, I start expecting fall to come, and crisp weather to allow me to wear jackets, and leaves to change.  And even though I know I won't get that, really, I still long for the colors and tastes of fall.  That's where I really started, with this longing, when I started thinking about this contest.

My specific inspiration came from a few places.  First, in terms of cooking sweet things with peppers, I have very little experience. I know and loooove chilis in all kinds of savory foods (one of the real benefits of living in California and Texas was getting the variety of splendid Mexican, Tex-Mex, and MexiCali flavors that it's still hard to find in Ohio!)  I consulted my New Vegetarian Epicure cookbook by Anna Thomas.  She can put a chili in everything (and I love it).  She had a recipe for a Chocolate and Chile torte, which was a starting point for me.  I didn't want to do something like a torte, and, because of my participation in the Daring Bakers, I am a little chocolate-ed out.  But she mentioned that the cake had an almost gingerbread-like flavor, only with a kick.  So... I thought a gingerbread-esque cupcake might be different, and delicious.  Then I got to thinking with such a spicy cake, I might want a sweeter icing, and at work we sell a gingerbread with cream cheese icing... so I decided to incorporate a cream cheese icing.  Only, I think the chocolate would still be good with the peppers, so I would make a chocolate cream cheese icing.

Second, in terms of the chili, I was inspired by living in Austin!  There are certainly a lot of chilis here, but this time of year happens to be the celibration of the Hatch chili at Central Market, a big grocery store in Austin.  The Hatch Chili hails from the Hatch Valley of New Mexico, and is a long, thin green chile.  I chose the mild variety, with very little heat, only rich chili flavor.

The recipe is a look forward to fall, a celebration of the Hatch chile, and the excitement of the local shopping I was able to do to to create it!

Spicy Hatch Gingerbread Cupcakes with Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

I started by sauteeing 1/2 a mild Hatch chili in 2 tbsp of the 1/2 cup of butter used in the recipe.  I used a mild chili to add some spice to the gingerbread base I was making, infusing some of the butter as well to spread the flavor throughout.

I mixed 1 1/2 c. unbleached white flour, 3/4 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. cardamom and 1/2 tsp baking soda.  Meanwhile, on medium I beat the whole 1/2 c. Earth Balance with chilis in the electric mixer to soften it.  After it was soft, I added 1/4 c. brown sugar and creamed the two together.  I added 1 egg and 1/2 c. mild molasses.  Then, I beat in 1/2 c. water and the flour mixture in alternate batches. 

I lined 12 cupcake tins with paper wrappers and baked them at 350 for about 15 minutes, till a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean.  I let them cool while I made the icing.
For the icing I softened 4 oz. cream cheese in the upright mixer, then added 1/4 c. Earth Balance and 1 tsp. vanilla.  Then I added 1/4 c. Dutch process cocoa powder and about 3 cups of powdered sugar.  It made a rich, creamy, delicious icing that is a lovely counterpoint to spiced cupcake.  Sweet with a very, very mild hit of flavor.  Mmm!