Saturday, November 07, 2009

Chocolate Eclairs in Real Time

We have a quarterly supper club that meets tonight. Our theme for this meal is "air." All the components have to have some relation to air. That relationship can be as vague or as specific as desired (and if someone says, "I'm serving rack of lamb, because lambs breathe air," I won't be the least bit upset). The hostess provides the entree, and the other three couples provide an appetizer, sides, and dessert. We rotate who does what, and tonight I'm to provide dessert.

I cast aside the obvious "air" references in dessert--meringue because it looks like the clouds, souffles because they're airy. Instead I chose chocolate eclairs--the heated air is what causes the choux pastry to puff. Choux pasty is so easy to make, it's a shame people don't make it more often.

I decided to do this recipe in stages. That way, if any one step failed, I could chuck the whole thing in the garbage and go buy a pavlova or some Miss Meringe cookies at the grocery store. So I thought I'd share this as I made it.

Step one is the pastry cream, because it needs to cool for at least an hour, and it was the most intimidating piece to me. I've made choux pastry many times, but I can't recall ever having made pastry cream. Anything where I'm heating up raw eggs or yolks to the point where they could potentially scramble makes me a little uneasy.

And truth be told, I think I did scramble it a little, but at the end of the recipe the pastry cream gets folded into whipped cream, so I think the stirring I'll be giving it prior to the folding will take care of any little lumps.

But here's the result of my efforts:

Not bad. This spoonful went right in my mouth, of course, and I can report that it has a nice vanilla flavor. It looks like vanilla pudding, and I guess that's pretty much what it tastes like (indeed, pretty much what it is). But I'm pleased that it turned out and I don't, at this point, at least, have to make a grocery run.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
Enough for 12 – 13 ├ęclairs
From Fine Cooking magazine

1 cup whole milk (I was out of whole—I used ½ and ½)
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles appear around the edges. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Whisk to combine. Add the cornstarch and salt and whisk. Pour half of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk well. Add remaining hot milk and whisk again. Return the milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until mixture thickens to the consistency of vanilla pudding. This will happen all of a sudden. One minute you’ll be whisking milk, the next minute you’ll look up to see how hard it’s raining and when you look down, you’ll have pudding. It may look lumpy as it starts to thicken, but it will smooth out.

Remove from the heat, and scrape into a clean bowl. Whisk in the vanilla, and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream. Refrigerate until chilled, at least an hour.

Next up: the dough and the ganache, but not until this afternoon.