Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers - August '08 Challenge!

No, I haven't dropped out of Daring Bakers, or the free world, for that matter. Still, I'm truly surprised that I wasn't able to do the June and July challenges! Wah! But it was really impossible the way things were going (schedules and all). Now I'm back on track. :)

This month's challenge was a Pierre Herme' recipe was chosen by our hosts Meeta of What's for Lunch, Honey? and Tony of Olive Juice: Éclairs from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé'. Hermé is a French pastry chef who, honestly, I had not heard of until recently, but I think it's safe to say he is truly a premiér Pastry Artist. The only cookbooks I've been able to find by him are in French, and I actually entertained the idea of buying one to refresh myself on the college French that I took. Just for fun, don'tcha know!

Tony and Meeta graciously gave us a good deal of leeway with the recipe. We did have to use the choux recipe provided and have one chocolate component, but otherwise we could do whatever we wanted in the line of flavorings and fillings.

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 20 minutes.

I made mini eclairs and mini cream puffs. They were most excellent!

Notes: 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)
• 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. [As you can see, I ignored that part of the instructions. I thought it was easier to open them like clam shells; that way you could pipe filling into each half and just fold them back over themselves.]

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40degrees 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.

Notes: 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.

[OK...I don't know about a ribbon but it looked OK to me.]

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 parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets 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.

Chocolate Pastry Cream
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) 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.

Gah, just give me a spoon, man!

3) 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 stopping) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. [Here, I was paranoid that my water was going to slop into my pastry cream - I was careful and it didn't.] Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) 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 or store in the fridge.

1) The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

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.

I made both éclair and cream puff shapes - fun! Both were incredibly tasty, but I really liked the bitty cream puffs because you could pop one into your mouth and it was great - not too much (like that matters when you eat eleventy-six of them)!

I pretty much stuck with the original recipe, but played around with complimentary flavorings. I split the filling 3 ways: Grand Marnier with crushed almonds on top; Mocha (I added about 1 Tbsp. instant espresso); and "Mayan" (a large dose of cinnamon with maybe 1/4 tsp. cayenne to give it a subtle heat). I will admit, I was extremely tempted to use the pastry cream as a vanilla without adding any chocolate, but I decided to try the chocolate this time.

Left to Right: Mayan cream puff; Grand Marnier éclair; Mocha éclair

Several DB's commented that the rolls tasted "eggy", and I agree that they did on their own. However, once filled and glazed it gave it a subtle richness that held up with the filling and glaze. It wasn't too bland (I have had me some b-l-a-n-d eclairs in my life and that just detracts), but didn't overpower. It was an excellent supporting player. Kind of like the right undergarments help that little black party dress look uber-fab.


Inside of a Mayan cream puff, and a nibbled-on Mocha éclair

I really liked this recipe, and each component was ridiculously easy compared to how hard I always have thought éclairs would be to make. I'll definitely do it again, and be sure to make them a little bigger (though I must admit I liked the bite-size quality of these). Now that I've seen exactly how they rise, I'll be able to judge better next time. I *really* want to do a vanilla bean pastry cream in the future.

For those who've been daunted by the "hoh-hoh-hoh" Frenchiness and perceived difficulty level of éclairs, take a weekend afternoon to try this out. I think you will be pleasantly surprised! Thanks, Tony and Meeta!
Check out the other Daring Bakers' creations here!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Little Schoolgirl :)

I'm sure all parents nod and roll eyes when I say, "It seems like just the other day....she was born!" but it's true. Sweet Pea has another milestone notch in her belt; along with first word, 1st birthday, first steps, we now have First Day of School. We have a big kid 5-year-old in the house!

Wake up, sleepyhead! Hey, how'd you get in our bed, anyway?


Lest ye wonder - no, it wasn't a tearful day for me. It's been worse the last 5 years going to day care (rack that up to an eternal disagreement between Hubby and me re: stay-at-home moms)! I was actually excited that FINALLY she was going to be in a place where she would really have the opportunity to thrive.

Getting ready - she picked out her clothes the night before and was so excited
I thought it was funny - I was so the tomboy and HATED dresses of any kind (I remember howling to my mom on several occasions why girls had to wear a dress to church but boys didn't!) so obviously the "dress" gene skipped from my mom to my child. This kid LOVES them! As a matter of fact, she's started getting kind of "vocal" on the days I'd try and put shorts on her to go to day care.... Hey, whatever floats your boat, kid. ;>

Cute l'il jumper, and showing the dangly flower on her backpack


We had her backpack all stuffed and ready. This was a gift from a friend of mine who got this for her when we had a group vacation with college friends on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

"Granny Sheila" is actually nowhere close to being a granny. She is actually just a couple of years older than I, and was in the same social club at college (a social club is basically a non-Greek sorority); we are actually in the same "family tree". Specifically, this means that my big sister Nicole had a big sister Lauri; Lauri's big sister was Sheila. In club speak, Lauri is my "granny" and Sheila is my "great-granny". Get it? Anyway, she and Sweet Pea were major buddies during vacation, and Sheila was totally sweet to get her this totally adorable backpack. I got it monogrammed when we got back home.

We also got a big-girl haircut the weekend before school started, while she was visiting Grandmama and Granddaddy (my parents) in Mississippi. One of her vacation friends, Brenna, had the most precious haircut, which I loved, and when I mentioned it to Sweet Pea she became totally excited, as well as determined to have a Brenna Haircut. :) I thought it turned out adorable, and Sweet Pea is very fond of it, too!

We got to school and to the classroom (which we'd found a few nights before at "Welcome Back" night), where all the other kids and their parents were congregating. I heard the sweetest voice behind me, and turned to see none other than Ms. Susan, the teacher. She really seems so nice, and perfect for a kindergarten class. At first, Sweet Pea was excited; then Ms. Susan instructed them to hang their backpacks on hooks next to their names. This was when she froze up and got the Deer in Headlights look, and I had to point out her name/hook for her.

We walked back over to her desk, and she looked at me and said, "Mama....I WANT YOU" (which means, "I'm not really cool with this and you need to hold me or something."). I gave her a big hug and started talking about ALL of the fun things they'd do that day, and she seemed like she might have tried to accept that for a second.

Feeling a little reticent....but ended up OK!
If I'd wanted to slip out unnoticed, I failed miserably by leaving my purse in the car, so when Ms. Susan called for lunch money and my child looked at me like I had totally left her to the wolves.... I promised her I'd take care of it - with a quickness. Any meltdown I anticipated never happened, though she was left looking a little lost, and her best friend Olivia, who's in the other K5 class, began crying at some point. Sheesh.

Fortunately, by the time the hour came to pick her up, I was met by this exuberant little girl who proudly and confidently took me on a "tour" of her new school. The day was a success, and Mom and Dad were relieved. All is right with the world.