Friday, April 15, 2011

Eclairs? Be still my heart...

**This post was originally published on, a brand new online food magazine, for which I am a contributor. The website launched in March, and it is a great new resource for recipes, travel, restaurant reviews and foodie opinion pieces. Check it out here!**

I had no clue that I held a secret, deep down, buried-in-the-depths-of-my-soul obsession with eclairs. I feel that this love/want/desire/need has always been there, waiting to be discovered, but I don't think I have been exposed to a serious eclair in the 26 years I have been on this pastry-filled planet.

People think I am insane when I tell them that I don't really like sweets that much. Then their jaws drop the rest of the way to the floor when I say I am just not that into chocolate. Then they practically faint when I follow that up with the news that I am in pastry school and I tend to spend my days making cakes and confections for showers and weddings, treats which I am not really tempted to eat. I know what tastes good, but just a taste is enough for me. The pleasure I get from sweets and desserts is the process, the ritual, the craft, and the art of making them, just not necessarily eating them.

It doesn't make any sense, I know, but there are important exceptions to my general ambivalence towards desserts, and one of those exceptions is shaped like a log, filled with pastry cream, and dipped in chocolate.

I have finally discovered what may be my perfect dessert. It starts with a neutral, fairly un-sweet pastry shell, which is similar to one of my great loves, the popover. Then you fill said shell with an amazing thick, rich, and refreshing pastry cream. I could stop here and be the happiest girl in the world. But adding just a very thin layer of chocolate ganache to the top takes it to pastry perfection. The chocolate adds just the perfect amount of sweetness, and coming from me, the typically chocolate-abstaining baker, says a lot to the importance of this component.

There are a few steps involved here, but each separate component is fairly simple and can be made a bit in advance if you aren't up for tackling the entire project in one go. My guess is though, once you start the process, you won't want to stop until you are biting into the creamy goodness that is the chocolate eclair. Try to save at least a few to share with others, you may win some hearts and make new friends. They are that good.

Chocolate Dipped Eclairs
adapted from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen
You will notice that I measure everything on a kitchen scale, even liquids and eggs. This really is the best way to measure ingredients for baking, as it is very dependent on precision. If you do not have a kitchen scale, you can visit this site for approximate conversions: Cooking Conversions.
Pâte à choux:
  • 1 lb (454 grams) water or milk
  • 8 oz (227 grams) butter
  • .18 oz (5 grams) salt
  • 12 oz (340 grams) bread flour
  • 1 lb 4 oz (680) eggs
Combine liquid, butter, and salt in a saucepan, and bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and add all the flour at once, stir vigorously to combine. Return the pan to medium-high heat, and stir constantly until mixture dries out a bit, forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer dough to a stand mixer (you can mix it by hand, but you might get blisters on your hand like I did, just a warning) and mix on low speed until dough has cooled a bit. Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs in 4-5 additions. Wait until each addition is completely incorporated until adding the next addition, you may not need to add all the eggs.
When the pate au choux is ready, you should be able to drag a finger through the dough, as deep as your second knuckle, and the two sides of the dough created by the drag should slump back together and touch. You should still see a parting line, but the the sides should touch. If they stay apart, mix in a bit more egg. If they completely blend back together, you may have gone too far, and then well, I don’t know what to tell you. You can do one of two things, start over, or use the dough anyway. If you decide to use the dough, they will probably spread out more than you would like. They will still most likely be delicious, but there probably won’t be as much room for the pastry cream, and that is a shame.
Transfer the paste into a piping bag fit with a large plain tip, and pipe three inch long lines onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then reduce the temp to 375 degrees F and bake until golden brown and cooked through on the inside. The best way to tell if they are done is to sacrifice one and break it open. It should have the consistency of a popover on the inside, hollow and still a bit moist, but not sticky or wet.
Pastry Cream:
  • 2 lb (907 grams) milk
  • 4 oz (113 grams) sugar
  • 3 oz (85 grams) egg yolks
  • 4 oz (113 grams) whole eggs
  • 2.5 oz (71 grams) cornstarch
  • 4 oz (113 grams) sugar (this is an additional 4 oz of sugar, to be used separately from the other 4 oz)
  • 2 oz (57 grams) butter
  • .5 oz (14 grams) vanilla extract
1. In a heavy saucepan, bring 4 oz sugar and the milk just to a boil. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks, whole eggs, cornstarch, and the rest of the sugar until completely smooth. Temper the hot milk into the egg mixture, then return the mixture to the pan over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and immediately remove from heat. Stir in the butter and the vanilla and mix until completely incorporated.
2. Pour into a shallow pan, and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is touching the entire surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for a few hours or overnight. Whip until smooth again before using.
Chocolate Ganache:
  • 1 lb (454 grams) dark chocolate, chopped
  • 12 oz (340 grams) heavy cream
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil, remove from heat, add the chocolate and stir. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir until smooth. If all chocolate has not melted, place bowl over pan of gently simmering water and stir chocolate until completely melted and smooth.
2. When the eclair shells have cooled completely, take a star piping tip, and gently poke two holes in the bottom of each eclair. Pipe pastry cream into each hole to completely fill the eclair. Alternatively you can also use a bismarck tip if you have one, to pipe the cream into the eclair. Try to get as much cream inside as possible, trust me on this, you will thank me later!
3. After eclairs are filled, carefully turn each one over and dip the tops into the chocolate ganache. Place eclairs ganache side up on a baking sheet to set.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fuel to Ride

I am back in Chicago once again, after a much needed vacation. After two weeks of sun, scuba diving, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, jungle trekking, and beer drinking (I believe Salva Vida is my new favorite beer), it's back to reality. Paying bills, getting ready for school and work to start, loads of laundry and spring cleaning...this is how I spent my weekend. Kind of a post-vacation buzz kill right?

Luckily, there are a few things this spring that I have to look forward to, weddings to attend and new babies to meet, and of course, the big bike ride. Every summer for the past four years, my sister and I have participated in the MS 150 bike ride in northern Minnesota. Our mama was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 2007 (she still isn't convinced, she's stubborn like that :-), and with the help of great doctors and almost daily yoga, she is doing great and thoroughly enjoying her retirement. We will continue to do this ride, and raise money for the cause, because even if it turns out in the long run that our mom doesn't have MS, other people's moms still do, and that's more than worth riding for.

The ride is less than two months away, and that means after a lazy winter, it's time to get back on my bike. I have learned my lesson about exercising for four hours and not replenishing my calories, or not eating enough before the ride. It's not a pretty sight when you are a mile away from your apartment, but your legs just stop working, and you simply can't fathom riding another yard. Not pretty at all.

I am much more proactive now, making myself a fairly big, protein-rich meal before I leave, and packing lots of high calorie snacks with me when I go on those 40-to-50 mile rides. It makes for a much happier and healthier biker. This meal was chocked full of protein, healthy fats, and filling calories. Plus, it was all stuff I had in my pantry, save for the avocado, but I usually have one or two of those lying around anyway. Simple ingredients, with big flavors and textures, this meal is a snap to throw together before a big ride, but tastes decadent enough for a great meal anytime.

If you would like to donate to the Multiple Sclerosis Society you can visit my personal page here, and read more about the disease and why I ride.

Quinoa with Edamame, Parm, and Egg 
serves 1

1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup shelled, cooked edamame
1/2 oz shaved parmigiano reggiano (I used a vegetable peeler to get big shavings of cheese, but you can grate if you prefer)
1 extra-large egg
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for frying egg
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced

In a bowl, mix together the quinoa and edamame, and toss with one teaspoon of olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Fry the egg until whites are set, but yolk is still runny (this will make a nice little sauce for your quinoa). Season egg with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle the cheese over the quinoa and top with the hot fried egg. Serve with the sliced avocado, drizzled with a bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

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