Saturday, August 30, 2008


Éclairs (large)

"Binder clips in my hair," I thought. That's how I got here -- binder clips in my hair.

A few months ago I had the distinct "pleasure" of interviewing another round of candidates for our office manager position. (We all know how well that temporary employee turned out.) One of the interviewees -- a sullen girl, just a year younger than me -- was particularly memorable. To say she interviewed poorly would be an understatement. Slouched in her chair, decidedly underdressed, and without pen, paper, or appropriate questions, I was just about to usher her out of my office when she caught me off guard: "How did you get where you are?" she asked. "You look about my age -- how did you get your position?" I thought about it for a moment and then gave her a short summary of my work experience. This answer seemed to satisfy her, but it didn't satisfy me, so I continued to think about her question long after the interviews were over and a delightfully cheerful new office manager was hired (not the aforementioned girl, of course).

The answer didn't hit me until a few weeks ago. I was sitting in my office on a sticky and hot Thursday evening. The rest of the staff had gone home hours ago, but I was chipping away at a particularly important and time-consuming project. In a brilliant stroke of conservationism, our landlord must have decided that no one works after 7:00 p.m., and therefore it must be OK to turn off the air conditioning at night. As I sat there in my squeaky desk chair with 8 binder clips from the office supply cabinet keeping my hair off of my now sweaty neck and face, it occurred to me that that's why I am where I am -- a willingness to tackle the extra project, attend to that last detail, and push forward long after my peers have laid their work down for the night.

I think it was nearly midnight when I finally packed up my things to head home. Though I was bleary-eyed and ravenously hungry, I couldn't help but smile. The project I had just finished would help ensure that a local nonprofit would soon receive a grant payment large enough to cover all their administrative costs for the next year. Is there a better way to spend an evening?

Éclairs 2

It’s the end of another month and time for another Daring Bakers challenge. The August recipe is for Pierre Hermé’s chocolate éclairs. I’m not wild about éclairs – I’m not likely to choose one out of a pastry case if there are other options – but I was still enthusiastic about giving these a try, especially since I got to make them in Mom and Dad’s my new ovens back home in IL. I found this challenge to be easier than the first, and quite a bit more fun because it didn’t contain as many tedious steps. To suit my own tastes, I substituted Pierre’s vanilla pastry cream for the chocolate pastry cream called for, but made no other alterations to the original recipe.

I thought my éclairs turned out perfectly acceptable -- my top rating for any éclair since I’m not a big fan of them to begin with. The vanilla pastry cream earns 5 stars and the éclairs themselves were quite pretty to look at. I should note, however, that they did deflate quite a bit after they were removed from the oven, perhaps due to the high humidity level in the house when I made them. Therefore, instead of sawing them in half before filling, I had to use two whole baked éclairs just to get one final filled éclair (not a big deal since there are only 3 people here to eat them all anyway).

The recipe below is rewritten and reorganized for clarity.

Makes 20-24 éclairs

Cream Puff Dough
A recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
5 eggs, room temperature

Vanilla Pastry Cream
Adapted from Desserts by Pierre Hermé
2 cups whole milk
1 plump, moist vanilla been, split and scraped, or 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 3 pieces

Chocolate Sauce
A recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup water
1/2 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar

Chocolate Glaze
A recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 teaspoons (1 1/3 tablespoons or 20 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
7 tablespoons chocolate sauce, warm or at room temperature

To Make the Éclairs:
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt to the boil. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium, and stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan. Continue stirring for 2-3 minutes more until the dough is soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the flat beater. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated. The dough should be thick and shiny and, when lifted, it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. The dough should still be warm.

Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 inch plain tip nozzle with the warm dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, chubby fingers, about 4 1/2 inches long. Leave about 2 inches of space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.

Slide both the baking sheets into the preheated oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets 180 degrees. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes, or until the éclairs are puffed, golden, and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. Allow éclairs to cool completely before proceeding.

To Make the Pastry Cream:
Bring the milk and vanilla bean (pulp and pod) to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat, and allow the milk to infuse for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. Remove the pod and reheat the milk until it is hot but not boiling. [If using vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean, add the extract to the milk and heat until hot but not boiling.]

In a separate, medium-size saucepan, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Whisking constantly, drizzle 1/4 of the hot milk over the yolks. When the yolks are warm, whisk the remainder of the milk into the yolks until incorporated.

Place the saucepan with the yolk mixture over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, bring the mixture to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes, whisking constantly, and then remove the pan from the heat. Press the cream through a sieve into the small bowl. Let the cream sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter. Cover the cream with a piece of plastic wrap—pressing the wrap against the cream’s surface—and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Pastry cream can be made up to 2 days in advance. Rewhisk before serving.

To Make the Chocolate Sauce:
Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens, about 10‐15 minutes. When the sauce it done, it will coat the back of your spoon.

To Make the Chocolate Glaze:
In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove pan from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula until melted. Stir in the butter and then the chocolate sauce until incorporated. Allow glaze to cool and thicken briefly until it reaches a spreading consistency. Use immediately.

Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a wire rack over a piece of parchment paper.

Spread or pipe the warm glaze over the éclair tops. Allow the tops to set. Meanwhile, fill the éclair bottoms with the pastry cream. Once the tops have set, place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them. Serve immediately.


  1. Good idea to "sandwich" two deflated eclairs! They look gorgeous!

  2. Your Eclairs look wonderful and extremely good! Very well done!



  3. I totally relate to you about "how you got where you are." I too work hard, most times from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed. It may not be my office job keeping me busy, but life outside of the office can keep me going also. I love my family and pretty much LIVE for them. I am happy to be where I am at.

    That all said, your eclairs are lovely! I would have never guessed you had two eclairs stacked!

  4. Your éclairs look fantastic, despite deflating. Great job on the challenge!

  5. My first batch of pastry deflated as well. Good thing I had enough ingredients to make a second batch that turned out better. Your eclairs are gorgeous!

  6. Your eclairs look delicious. The pastry cream sandwich with choux bread is a great idea! Decadent! :-)

  7. D-

    I really enjoyed reading your reflection about how you got where you are. You certainly have my respect and admiration, and as soon as the ND residency week is done, we'll catch up on the friendship part!


  8. HoneyB -- I love my job and it keeps me going nonstop, but I envy your family time, for sure. All of my family members are 2,000 miles away!

    Amy -- Looking forward to it. I'll be back at ND right before Christmas again. Can I expect to see you in NYC in January? (Because they SHOULD be sending you.) What about the always hot and delightful Matt? (I'm now envisioning you forwarding this blog page on to him. Oh well -- you know he knows he's hot anyway!)