Sunday, August 31, 2008
Daring Bakers August: Chocolate Eclairs
This month Meeta from What’s For Lunch, Honey? and Tony Tahhan challenged us to make Pierre Hermé’s éclairs. My first thought ... yum! However, my first Daring Bakers Challenge was an almost complete disaster as I didn't get a single edible eclair from the recipe.
First of all I knew I was going to have oven issues. My two choices are a 30 year old electric oven with base elements that cooks unevenly and lets a lot of heat escape. Or the convection setting on our microwave (the only time we use it) which is fan forced, has limited temperature settings and tends to cook very quickly.
I decided I would follow the recipe exactly, and as it stated that after a certain amount of cooking the door had to left ajar, clearly I had to use the older oven. I don't know of any microwaves that start with the door open!
I prepared all 3 chocolate components first thing Saturday morning and they were a breeze. At the time I thought the quantities were excessive and I was right. I definitely should have halved (or third-ed?) the amounts.
Eclairs Round #1
I was keen to try out my new piping bag and nozzle and carefully piped out 9 chubby lengths onto the baking tray. The mixture seemed a bit thinner than I thought it would be and some oozed out the end as I filled the bag. They also spread a lot on the tray once they were piped.
After 7 minutes baking as instructed, I propped the door open and continued to cook. After 20 minutes, they were puffed and slightly golden and I felt quite chuffed! It didn't last long though. As soon as I removed them I noticed the bottoms were very dark, almost burnt, and they weren't as golden on top as I had thought. They also began to sink before our eyes and within minutes were as flat as pancakes.
Once they were cool I attempted to slice off the top (the whole thing was only about 1cm high so it wasn't easy!) only to discover a stodgy middle that released a disgusting scrambled eggs smell. Ewww! Not cooked!
As I naively thought this batch would work, I had piped the rest into rounds to make profiteroles. I decided to check online for other eclair/profiterole recipes to see if there were any tips. This is a summary of what I found:
1. a cooking time of eat least 30 minutes, whereas this one said only 20
2. prick the tops with a knife once the cooking was finished to release the steam and prevent them from going soggy
3. leave them in the turned off oven for at least 15 minutes to dry out before removing them to cool
All of this is logical so I decided to incorporate the advice.
Profiteroles Round #1
This time I decided to use the convection setting and fiddle with the time and temps. I put them in for 10 minutes at 180 deg C then dropped it to 160 deg for 20 minutes. At this stage they were puffed and beautifully golden so I left them in the turned off oven for 15 minutes and then left them to cool for another 15.
When I came back they were again flat as pancakes and when I sliced the top off one I found more doughy, stodgy, egginess. Aaaaaah!!!!!!
In a fit of temper I threw them back in the oven at 180 for a further 15 minutes not really caring what would happen.
Yet again, when cooled and sliced, they were still eggy and uncooked.
Clearly there is something going on here and I think it was that there was just far too much egg to begin with. Perhaps if I wasn't a choux pastry virgin I would have been able to assess it and leave 1 or 2 eggs out and make it work. The mixture did come together beautifully, it folded in thick ribbons at the end but still it didn't work for me. (the photo below was about half way through - it was thicker by the end!)
By this stage it was nearly 5 pm and I was totally over it. I also had 3 separate containers filled with chocolate glaze, chocolate sauce and chocolate pastry cream and nothing to do with it. What was annoying me more was having to throw all of those eclairs in the bin. Such a waste of ingredients!
Having now almost run out of eggs I hunted online for another recipe. I decided this was a better option than trying to doctor the original recipe which I have never been able to do very well. This time ... success!
recipe from Taste.com.au
40 g butter, cubed and at room temperature
50g plain flour
2 eggs, at room temperature
Place water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes or until butter melts and mixture just comes to the boil. Add all the flour to the butter mixture at once and use a wooden spoon to beat until well combined. Place over low heat and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture forms a ball and begins to come away from the side of the saucepan. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.
Whisk 1 egg in a small bowl and set aside. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, then add it to the flour mixture, beating well with a wooden spoon. Gradually add a little of the reserved egg and beat until the mixture just falls from the spoon but still holds its shape.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Brush a baking tray with oil to lightly grease. Spoon 25-30 teaspoonsful of the mixture onto tray, about 3cm apart (I made 15 larger ones). Alternatively, use a pastry bag fitted with a 1.5cm-diameter plain piping nozzle to pipe the profiteroles onto the baking tray. Brush the tops with a little of the remaining egg. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the profiteroles are puffed and golden.
Remove from oven and turn the oven off. Using a skewer or a small knife, pierce the base (or top) of each profiterole to release the steam. Return the profiteroles to the oven and leave them for 15 minutes to dry out. Remove the profiteroles from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
The results of the 2 recipes could not be more different. This time around the mixture was a lot thicker and didn't ooze out of the piping bag. They were puffed, golden brown and dry to the touch. They also felt as light as air when cooked, whereas the others were heavy and solid.
Having said all that there are about a thousand other Daring Bakers and from reading the forums it seems this recipe worked brilliantly for 90% of them, so make sure you check out their results!
Overall this was a major challenge. But that's why I joined the Daring Bakers ... to stretch myself, try new things and not ignore recipes that look too hard. The fact is I can now add choux pastry to my repertoire, even if it is not Pierre Hermé’s éclairs. Bring on September!