Baking Adventures: Cheating at Eclairs

Sometimes I have real adventures or at least adventure-like experiences, but sometimes I have adventures in my kitchen. Those are all the times when I decide to try my hand at baking something I have never baked before. Normally it’s not something easy – I wouldn’t call it adventure if it was. And usually things don’t go as planned – again wouldn’t be an adventure without something going wrong. But this time I was determined to achieve presentable result at all costs… so as more things went wrong, I had to come up with new alternative solutions. The end result probably shouldn’t be called an eclair, but it looked pretty so who cares (if you do then don’t read beyond this point).

Now, before we begin I probably need to provide some background story – why I ended up with baking those damned eclairs! Well, my childhood friend is currently taking photography classes and she has weekly assignments (homework). The week before it was a very simple one – make photographs of objects. After inquiring what is her plan, she said that she is going to take pics of edible things.  My inner baker stirred with potential challenge. Word by word, and I was saying that I might bake something, no trouble at all, I have wanted to bake eclairs for ages and so on (the last one was true, by the way). I even treated myself to a new baking gadget (it had been such a long time) to mark the occasion.

Firstly, I made a plan! I didn’t want the classic filling because I remember the best eclairs being filled with chocolate cream. And I needed to be ready for the dreaded chocolate ganache. So here’s how it all went down in my kitchen…

I began by making the choux buns. I checked some eclair recipes and most of them suggest making choux buns with milk and a bit of sugar, but I was having none of that. I have had great success with Mary Berry’s plain choux bun recipe and I wanted to have a safe start (no choux buns, no eclairs – simple as that). For approx. 12 eclairs you would need:

  • 150 ml water
  • 60 g butter
  • 75 g flour
  • 2 eggs

I used double of everything because I thought it would be a brilliant idea to make a bigger batch. Anyway, the steps for preparing choux pastry are very straightforward. And if you do exactly as written, nothing should go wrong.

  1. Put the water and the butter in a saucepan (preferably heavy-based), heat until the butter melts and then continue heating till the mixture reaches boiling point.
  2. Remove from the heat and quickly add the flour. Start mixing quite vigorously and don’t stop till the mixture forms a soft ball. Put the saucepan back on low heat for 3-5 minutes and continue to stir (at this point you will be super happy if your saucepan has a long handle and your fingers don’t get burned).
  3. Once more remove from the heat and leave it to cool off for a while (20 – 30 min or so to be on the safe side). Then gradually add the eggs and mix them in. I made sure that my eggs were about room temperature to avoid great temperature differences, but it is still a stressful moment (you don’t want your eggs to get cooked). Anyway, mix till you have smooth and shiny paste (or just smooth, even paste).
  4. Heat your oven to  220 C. Line your baking tray with baking paper (don’t use any kind of grease). Put your choux paste in a piping bag and pipe out your eclairs. I used around 1.5 cm plain nozzle and piped them out about 5-6 cm long and 2-3 cm apart. It will make an average sized eclair (not a mini one).
  5. Pop them into the oven for 10 min at 220 C, then turn the heat down to 190 C and continue baking for another 15 min (try to get the golden color on them). Pierce each eclair to let the steam out and put them back in the oven for a bit so that they dry out.

As I made double the amount of choux paste and had two trays of choux buns, I decided to pop them into the oven at the same time. Bad, bad idea! It probably could work in some ovens but in mine things didn’t go quite as planned. The top tray was doing just fine, but the bottom one not. Not to ruin the whole batch, I didn’t attempt to switch the trays before I was sure my choux buns in the top tray were decently ready and wouldn’t go flat. In the end, I got around 12 good choux buns and another 12 semi-good (not so well puffed, but still good for filling).

While my choux buns were cooling, I moved on to experimenting with the filling. I had found a simple recipe that had a promise of really chocolaty cream. But it all failed before it really started (note to myself: don’t use recipes from web sites you are not sure about). It’s not worth going into details, but it was simply disappointing to waste chocolate… just saying.

With the chocolate cream down the drain (literally), I proceeded to plan B. I whipped up double cream with a bit of caster sugar and vanilla sugar, and added cocoa powder at the very end. To fill about 12 choux buns, you will need around 300 ml double cream. I added 3 table spoons of caster sugar and about 2 tea spoons of vanilla sugar, but you can adjust it according to your preferences. When the cream was whipped up, I added 1.5 teaspoons cocoa powder (again, you can adjust it to your taste).

Finally, I could start filling my choux buns. I have to say it was a lot more annoying and time-consuming than I imagined. I used a large decorating syringe with quite long nozzle and piped it in both ends of the eclair to get it really full (nothing worse than half filled eclair). Some people pipe it in from the bottom, but I guess the easiest and fastest would be to cut the tops off. I think the last option would really be cheating, but whatever works for you.

Now, it was time for the dreaded chocolate ganache. I have to say I fail at it every time. It doesn’t matter which recipe I take, it just splits. This time was no exception. I’m starting to think it’s my baking curse or something. Anyway, I wasn’t about to try more than once not to waste too much chocolate. Instead I melted white chocolate and dipped top of the filled eclairs in it (wait till the chocolate is reasonably cool before you do that). In the end, I decorated them with some dark chocolate and berries (they had to be photogenic, remember).

Maybe the result wasn’t what I planned, but they looked nice (yes, it’s them in the picture below!) and tasted good. And if I hadn’t wasted time on destroying all that chocolate, it might not seem like so much work. But I have to say that I won’t be making eclairs anytime soon again!

eclairs

Photo courtesy of IPfoto.lv

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