Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Eclairs


 Photos by Steve Shanahan

 First published Canberra Times 5 June 2013.

The original classic eclair has outlasted many boutique food trends. Yet, this unassuming pastry has never shoed it in to first place, playing second fiddle to the more sexy macaron, friand or tartelette.  That is, until now.  With eclairs sporting their luminous fondant coats and bold flavoured fillings they are enjoying the front row window of many boutique patisseries in Paris.

Fauchon, the Parisian specialty food store located at place de la Madeleine, parades eclairs as a changing and whimsical background to display their creations. Don’t be surprised to see the doleful eyes of Mona Lisa following you from her sweet pastry canvas.

Another couple of notable Paris patisseries, L’Éclair de Génie and L’Atelier de l’Éclair have both added savoury eclairs to their repertoire. If you plan to partake, be prepared to wait your turn for the privilege, as the locals have taken a liking to these and there is a regular line up of hungry customers on any given day.

The traditional eclair, and incidentally my favourite from my 1960s school tuckshop, is a simple affair. The case is made with choux pastry dough, piped from a pastry bag in a log shape, and baked until it is crisp and hollow inside. It is either filled by piping the filling in or split lengthwise and filled. The classic filling is a vanilla pastry cream and usually topped with a chocolate or coffee glaze or icing.

If you want to be adventurous, I have included some creative fillings for you to begin with. My choices were, cumquat, lime, strawberry and chocolate. I have also included the basic and traditional pastry cream filling, to add your fruit flavourings to. And just a warning before you start, if you plan to get creative, make sure you give yourself time to play.

For best flavour, allow the finished eclairs to be chilled for an hour or so before serving.
Tips
  • Although not traditional, this method of using an electric mixer to incorporate the eggs into the dough saves a lot of effort and produces great results.
  • If you are going to get creative and make the fruit pastes and coloured icing, there are a number of steps in the process. Prepare the fruit paste and chocolate ganache first, then secondly the pastry cream, thirdly, the choux pastry and lastly the coloured fondant icing.
  • Use a large size pastry bag with a size 13, or a 1.5 centimetre piping nozzle to pipe the pastry.
  • The consistency of the classic French pastry cream should be very thick and pudding like.

Recipe makes about a dozen eclairs.

Fruit pastes
You can use whatever fruit you like to extract maximum flavour. I used 6 cumquats, halved; 3 limes, 2 juiced and one chopped up; 1 punnet of strawberries, sliced.
4 tablespoons of sugar to each saucepan of fruit
Add water as needed

Using 3 small saucepans, place fruit and 4 tablespoons of sugar in each.
Add at least 3 tablespoons of water to the cumquats and the limes. The strawberries will need less water as they will produce more juice.

Place each pan on a medium heat with lid on.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat, lifting the lid to stir to ensure the mixture does not burn. Add the water as needed to loosen the mixture. Cook the fruit down until you have a jammy sauce. This will only take three to five minutes.

When cooked, push each paste through a fine sieve to extract a silky fruit gel. This should only produce a small quantity of fruit paste, however it should be enough to flavour the pastry cream. Discard the solids from the sieve.

Cool the individual pastes in the fridge.

Chocolate ganache
125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
25g butter
125g pure cream

Place the chocolate and butter into a medium sized heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Pour the scalded cream over the chocolate pieces. Stirring until the chocolate is melted and the cream is incorporated. Cool in the fridge.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
2 cups whole milk
6 jumbo egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla paste
1/3 cup cornflour
50g unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces

In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil. In another saucepan of medium size, whisk the yolks with the sugar and cornflour until thick and well blended.

Without stopping, whisk a third of a cup of the milk into the egg mixture, to loosen the mixture, then still whisking add the remaining milk in a thin and steady stream. Put the pan over a medium heat and with a wooden spoon, stir continuously and vigorously. You will need to make sure you stir into all the edges of the saucepan to stop the thickening custard mixture from sticking. While still stirring, bring the mixture to a boil, still stirring for about one to two minutes. The mixture should be thickened and pudding like. Remove the pan from the heat.

Stir in the vanilla paste and let stand for a few minutes, then stir in the butter, a piece at the time. This will make the pastry cream silky.

Scrape the pastry cream into a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on top. This will stop a skin from forming and create an airtight seal. Then place another piece of plastic wrap around the top to seal the bowl. Refrigerate to cool.

To flavour the vanilla pastry cream, when cool, divide the pastry cream into smaller portioned bowls and add some of the cooled fruit paste or chocolate ganache to each portion of the pastry cream. Tasting to ensure you have enough to flavour the pastry cream. A rule of thumb is not to incorporate any more than half the ratio of fruit paste to vanilla pastry cream, to ensure the pastry cream remains stable.

Choux pastry
½ cup whole milk
½ cup water
120g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 cup plain flour
4 jumbo eggs, at room temperature

Place oven racks evenly positioned in the oven. Preheat the oven to 190C and line two baking trays with baking paper. Stick the paper down with a little cooking spray to hold it in place.

Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a rolling boil in a medium sized heavy based saucepan over a high heat. Add the flour all in one go, and lower the heat to medium. Start to mix the flour in immediately with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together, and a light crust will form on the bottom of the saucepan. This stage is meant to dry out the pastry. Continue to stir the pastry even though it will be stiff, for another two minutes. The dough should be smooth and pull away from the sides of the saucepan.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and turn the dough into the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Alternatively, if you don’t have a mixer, you can continue the next stage while the pastry remains in the saucepan off the heat. Let the dough sit for a minute to rest, then add the eggs one at the time, mixing between each addition. Beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next. The dough will fall apart and come together during this process. The dough should be glossy and smooth and ready to use immediately.

Fit a large pastry bag with a size 13 or 1.5 centimetre nozzle. Fill the pastry bag with the dough and pipe out even strips of dough that are about 13 centimetres (5”) in length, and about 4 centimetres apart. This will allow them to spread.  When piping the dough, cut the ends with a sharp knife to keep them even and smooth.

Bake the eclairs for about eight to ten minutes, then rotate the trays for even cooking. Check them for browning. Continue to bake the eclairs for another five minutes (or so), then wedge the handle of a wooden spoon in the oven door so it stays slightly open and bake for another three to five minutes. The total baking time is about fifteen minutes.

Remove the eclairs from the tray to an oven rack to cool.

Fondant
1 box of ready to roll fondant icing, Orchard brand is readily available at most supermarkets
food colouring
decoration

This stage will be the very last before assembly. Place the fondant in a saucepan for stove top heating, or a microwave proof jug for microwave heating, on low heat, only enough to melt just below blood temperature.

Once melted, separate into smaller portions to equal the number of different icing colours you plan to use. I chose, green, orange and pink. Mix in a few drops of food colouring to each portion, adding more to increase the colour intensity required.

The icing should be a runny consistency without being too liquid causing it to run off the top. You may need to reheat the fondant slightly to keep it at the required consistency.

Assembly
You can either cut the eclairs in half lengthwise with a bread knife, and using a small pastry bag and small nozzle, pipe on some of the flavoured pastry cream. Alternatively you can leave the eclairs whole and make a small hole with the nozzle tip in the base of the eclair and pipe the cream directly into the eclair until it is full.  The latter is my preference.

You will need to use a different pastry bag for each flavoured pastry cream.

Once you have filled the eclairs with your choice of fillings, you will need to top with the matching icing fondant.

Hold the eclair at a ninety-degree angle up over the icing and spoon the icing from the top to allow it to run down the éclair to the other end, letting the excess drop back into the bowl. The icing should settle around the top nicely without dripping off. Continue with the remaining eclairs, finishing one colour up at the time.

For the chocolate ganache eclairs, fill these with a half vanilla pastry cream, half ganache mixture. Top with the softened ganache using the same method as the fondant.

Finish off each éclair with your choice of decoration.

If you were to only make the traditional eclair, fill with the basic vanilla pastry cream, no added flavourings, and finish with the chocolate ganache for the topping.