Sunday, August 31, 2008

Pâte à choux, I love you

Pâte à choux à la Wikipedia: a light pastry dough used to make profiteroles, croquembouches, eclairs, French crullers, beignets, Indonesian kue sus, and gougères.

Oh and let's not forget cream puffs which you might be thinking is missing from the list - but actually is the same thing as a profiterole.

The Daring Bakers tackle the Chocolate Éclair:
Ebony and Ivory - Éclairs; Master Hermé style

I LOVE choux pastry. It somehow became tradition in my family to have cream puffs (ahem - profiteroles) for Christmas Eve dinner every year for something like the last 15 Christmases. And it has always been I who makes them. One set filled with chocolate pudding and one set filled with vanilla pudding. And let's not be too snobby here - I've always used a "fancied" up version of boxed cook-and-serve pudding mixes, with a little gelatin added and whipped cream folded in. So not only do I love eating cream puffs - I love making them!

When I logged into Daring Bakers about a month ago I was TICKLED that our hosts for August, Tony and Meeta had chosen éclairs!! No cakes. No buttercream. Éclairs!! And specifically the recipe out of Dorie Greenspan's chocolate homage to Pierre Hermé; a book I actually own! This challenge would force me to try a different recipe than my trusty one and also force me to get creative about some different fillings. Hallelujah!!
Such perfect little pockets
The Rules:
Hermé's recipe was specifically for chocolate éclairs; choux pastry filled with chocolate pastry cream and topped with chocolate glaze. Tony and Meeta asked us to keep 1 of the chocolate elements (either the glaze or the filling) but could play with the other. We also had to use the choux pastry and specifically Hermé's recipe for it.

My Spin:
I made these éclairs twice in August. Once to be creative and a second time when my creative attempt didn't go so happily (nor did I end up with much time to photograph them). I seem to be eating and breathing pistachios these days. I think it started with the macarons and continued on into even last month's challenge. My friend, who has observed me shelling an abundance of pistachios lately, brought home a few pretty bags of them from a fruit stand on his way home from LA last month to support my obsession. So not only does it seem like I have pistachios coming out of my ears - now there are bags of them all over my counter-tops! (okay, really only 3 bags). So when I read that we could get creative with the filling - suddenly pistachio pastry cream flitted through my thoughts and I was AFTER it.

Pretty pistachios wrapped with a bow -- Pastry cream with so much potential

The only problem is, I didn't have a recipe for pistachio pastry cream. So I scoured the web until I thought I'd found a good one. The recipe didn't call for cornstarch but instead of making what would surely end up as pistachio crème anglaise I decided to add a couple tablespoons so that it would thicken. I obviously didn't add enough - the resulting cream was too runny. And since the recipe didn't ask for it and I was doing things too quickly with little time to think, I didn't strain it either - so it was gritty with pistachio bits. Needless to say I didn't like it. I considered my "creative attempt" a failure.

So I had to do it again... and in the 11th hour too: from roughly 11pm-3am Friday night!

Choux pastry or pâte à choux, is very simple to make. Boil milk, water, butter and teensy bits of salt and sugar together on the stove. Then you quickly stir in a cup of flour and watch it suddenly turn:

from a liquid... to a ball... and after quickly adding the eggs - to a soft and smooth ball...

The main difference between éclairs and profiteroles is that éclairs are long and profiteroles are round. To get a uniform long éclair it's best to pipe the dough onto the sheets.

Oops Silpat is upside down! -- They look like banana slugs -- Mmm warm and toasty

Since I always do vanilla and chocolate for Christmas I decided to go back to my never-fail combo and do just that for my 11th hour attempt. I used Pierre's chocolate pastry cream recipe and a vanilla pastry cream recipe that I've sort of made up over time.

Adding melted bittersweet -- Mixing it into the pastry cream -- Chocolate pastry cream completed!

Assemblage was fun - though more work than my typical "spoon and dump" method I do for cream puffs. Piping makes everything look fancier. So I piped the pastry cream into each éclair.
Some filled, some glazed, some vanilla, some chocolate
The glaze wasn't really very fun to me. I typically use a light chocolate frosting recipe that works perfectly each time. This glaze kept separating (mmm butter) and then wouldn't stick to the top of the éclair. But if I whisked it briskly between each "glazing" it would work okay. I also wasn't a fan of making a separate chocolate sauce that would then get added to the glaze. It seemed like an extra step that just wasn't worth the work - plus, some of the sauce was wasted since the glaze recipe didn't call for an entire sauce recipe.
BUT - they certainly look nice glazed!

I guess I *gasp* won't be making this recipe again. The pastry cream was too rich and dense, the glaze too much work for what it was. I made my cream puffs for my Girls Night In party this past spring and a friend at that party also got to sample these. Without prompting she said she liked the others better so hopefully I'm not just full of myself! Don't get me wrong - these were great! Comes in a very close 2nd behind the Danish Braid (of my 4 DB challenges). But since I feel like I've already mastered the cream puff - it's really hard to top it.
I loved making them, loved photographing
them - and really loved eating them!

Please don't forget to visit all the other Daring Bakers who'll be posting their éclair blog entries today too! You can find Pierre's recipes on many of them as well. Thanks again to Tony and Meeta! I heart Daring Bakers and I especially heart that pâte à choux...
(I seem to end a lot of blog posts with that sound)


  1. What gorgeous pictures! Your Eclairs look extremely scrumptious and so beautiful! Great job!



  2. Gorgeous shots you have! LOVE the shot where a plate of eclairs were placed onto PH's book! The eclairs are pretty too. ;)

  3. Beautiful! And I'm so envying all of those pistachios. Lucky!

  4. Your pictures are lovely! Yum!

  5. Lisa, your éclairs look great! Too bad the pistachio pastry cream didn't turn out well.

  6. Your éclairs are beautiful, Lisa! It's a shame that the pistachio pastry cream didn't work out, but I'm certain that the vanilla and chocolate creams were delicious!

  7. These are so perfect and impressive. Wow!

  8. How did you make them hollow??? I am amazed. I don't live too far from you, near Modesto in the central valley or 'hell' as I like to call it due to the heat. Very nice results.

  9. Yay, the Chocolate Desserts book! A mainstay on my shelf! I agree I prefer my simpler glazes that are thinner and shinier and easier to work with. But it's hard to argue with all this chocolatey goodness. P.S. My bf is in love with your puppy.

  10. Thanks everyone!!

    Amber - my cream puffs/eclairs are always hollow. If the oven is hot enough when you first put them in - they'll puff up and stay puffed as they bake. Then I just pull a little of the "eggy" bits out of the center before filling. :) Hollow!

  11. wow, these look amazing! i passed along an excellence award to you over at my blog. :)