When I saw this month’s Daring Baker challenge posed by the extremely talented hosts Meeta of What’s for Lunch, Honey?, and Tony of Olive Juice, (you should see their sites — Oh, my goodness…) I thought, great! No problem. We were given the freedom to explore the classic eclair with a recipe by none other than Pierre Herme — and Chocolate Eclairs to boot. Perfect, if you ask me. The first time I made pate-a choux was when I was in junior high and it’s never posed a problem until now. It figures.
Okay, so honestly, there was that crocquembouche one year…
I know the the flour goes into the butter which has been melted in the liquid — this time equal measures of water and milk. I know the eggs go in one at a time and that you beat them like hell, watching the mixture go from globby to smooth. Velvety. I have seriously weak wrists, but I always make pate-a-choux by hand because I actually enjoy working with it.
But sometimes it really doesn’t make a difference if you know these things, because well, Murphy shows up when I least want him to. Like this time. That’s his job.
Maybe I should have spent more time in the Daring Bakers’ Kitchen scouring the non-procrastinators’ comments and questions. After all, that would be the whole point of a forum, right? But did I? No. So was I able to find out whether others noticed something strange about the cooking time? No.
I used a fluted tip to pipe the soft dough onto my baking sheets, making plump little fingers lined up diagonally — 24 of them. But when the "about 20 minutes" of suggested baking time came and went, and I had diligently timed and repositioned pans and placed a wooden spoon in the door of my oven like directed, then examined the "puff" and scrutinized the color, and poked for "firmness" and even broke one open to peer inside, I knew that there was no way 20 minutes was enough.
I referred to other recipes for pate-a-choux to see what the differences were just in case I’d missed something — like pate-a-choux isn’t made now has it always has been. I struggled not to think about the idea that I’d learned to make "cream puff dough" from an old Betty Crocker cookbook and you couldn’t get any more basic than that. So I watched those chubby fingers of pate-a-choux re-puff after I checked them and decided to bake them longer, and longer, and longer. I lost count, but can estimate that they were in the oven about 35 minutes total, and still, they weren’t quite as I thought they should be.
The interiors were far too moist. They were not such chubby fingers after all. They were flat.
And if that wasn’t bad enough?
Let’s. Talk. Filling. Shall we? *Let’s not and say we did…*
I thought caramel with bananas and chocolate glaze would be heavenly. A few almonds sprinkled over it all. Sooooooo….I experimented with Sherry Yard’s Whipped Caramel Cream. I figured since the Daring Bakers have done caramel until the cows come home and I even longer, that this, too, would be a cake walk. What a total fat head.
Well. After whipping the heavy cream with the creme fraiche and other ingredients, the cooled caramel sauce never quite allowed me to "carefully" fold it in. Somehow, I knew this. I knew that it wouldn’t work since I also know that folding anything as thick as peanut butter into fluffy cream (hahahahaha, Sherry Yard — you’re just kidding us, aren’t you?) would be a complete miracle. I’d thought of making a stabilized whipped cream, knowing that it could work, but I’m usually game to try anything once, even when I suspect something is wrong. Certainly, it couldn’t have been moi….right? After all, I’m not Sherry Yard. There just wasn’t enough whipped cream to hold up the density of that caramel that was so decadently, deliciously spiked with lemon, and just the thought of the creme fraiche with it had me nearly swooning while thinking of the final taste.
But it began to separate, so I decided to whip up quite a bit more heavy cream, then slowly incorporate the almost broken caramel creme, and it held up. But the sacrifice was huge. There was no deep caramelly flavor that would have been in the original. I ended up with an ivory colored whipped cream that I’m not sure I’d think was caramel flavored if I hadn’t made it myself.
But, I persisted and put some cute eclairs together anyway, and we each ate a few, experiencing what always happens when I’ve bitten into an eclair — everything squishes out the sides.
Such a beautifully decadent and glorious mess after only one small bite, don’t you think?
When I asked my hunkster what he tasted, the response was, "Chocolate….and bananas." No caramel. But after he left, I drizzled some of the caramel sauce I made the whipped filling with over the top and oh, my goodness. It was heavenly. Fresh peaches and strawberries were also nice, but the chocolate glaze I made was too strong for their flavor, in my opinion. Pretty, though. A better idea would have been to leave the chocolate off of the top, and either sprinkle powdered sugar alone, or drizzle caramel over — especially with the peaches.
Clearly, I need to whip up some more pate-a-choux so that my ego doesn’t stay bruised for long.
To take a gander at 12 million more eclairs, please visit the other Daring Bakers. For the recipe I used to make the caramel filling…