Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers - Eclairs

I've mentioned before that I love cream desserts. Creme brulee, napoleons, custard, and cream puffs. Thanks, dad. Anyway, the selection for this month was eclairs. For me this wasn't really a challenge. As a child I used to make the cream puff shells and freeze them. Then I had pudding so that whenever I wanted one, I'd nuke a shell, fill it with pudding, and be good to go.

As an adult I have not had as good luck. For some reason I haven't been able to get them to puff up correctly. I blame it on the oven, the only thing I can think of that would make the difference. As a child I had an electric oven. Now I have a gas oven. Moisture is an important factor in making puffs and gas ovens have a lot more moisture than electric.

Puff dough is called pate a choux and has a lot of eggs. The principle behind it is that the protein cells in the flour and egg are stretched and expand from the steam from the wet dough. The steam creates the puff and then you need them to dry out to hold the shape. My theory is that in an electric oven the steam is all inside the puff expanding outward to form it. But with the gas oven there is also moisture outside the puff and it somehow counteracts it.

The rules of Daring Bakers state that you must all follow the one recipe selected. So although there are multiple recipes out there for something, you can't use them. This month's recipe came from a cookbook written by Dorie Greenspan: Chocolate Desserts By Pierre Hermé. I decided to use the challenge to make a dish for a potluck. I was unhappy by the quantity made by the recipe, so I ended up making two batches. I made mini eclairs and puffs.

The recipe calls for the puff, a chocolate pastry cream filling, and then the chocolate glaze. The option for this month was that you had to make the puffs but could choose to do either the chocolate filling or the glaze or both. I've never cared for eclairs with the chocolate on them. I like just plain puff and filling. So I opted for the chocolate glaze because I figured I could just drizzle it versus dunking the puffs in it.

I've not been a big fan of pastry cream because I think it is too thick. So I made my vanilla bean pastry cream, then a batch of whipped cream, and then folded them together to lighten it up. I used a star tip on my bag and filled the puffs. Then I tasted one. Not sweet enough. So I ended up drizzling a lot of chocolate after all to add the sweetness that was lacking. I've pretty much decided that I prefer my childhood pudding in them better than cream.

As I said, I like puffs and so I will make them again. But first I must figure out how to get them to inflate nice and large and then to stay that way (not flatten out like a deflated balloon).
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