Adventures in Baking: Extreme Baking Edition No. 2
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Over spring break, I decided to venture into the realm of pastry, generally considered a baking challenge. Specifically, I wanted to attempt the February Bake Along by King Arthur Flour: chocolate eclairs.
According to Craftsy and Puckles, crafts and baking websites, respectively, eclairs were invented in France by a chef named Marie-Antoine Carême around the turn of the 19th century. A long, thin pastry similar in appearance to a long-john doughnut, an eclair is made from pâte à choux, or choux pastry, and is filled with custard and (in general) glazed with ganache or frosting. King Arthur’s recipe for Valentine’s Day uses chocolate custard and a chocolate ganache.
First, I made the choux pastry. Choux pastry, unlike other pastry doughs, is cooked in a pan before adding the eggs. Moreover, to form the pastries, the batter must be piped. After making the choux, I created my piping bag and (attempted) to pipe the batter. It turns out that my piping skills are horrendous, but I managed to create some logs for eclairs. For those of you who are unfamiliar or inexperienced with piping, like myself, I suggest you use the spooning method suggested in King Arthur’s directions. Another note though, on reflection: when the instructions say each pastry should be piped or spooned to five inches long, that measurement is important. I learned firsthand that if the pastry was too short or too thin, it wouldn’t be able to hold enough filling inside.
Once the pastry was baked, it was beautifully crisp, dry, and light, with a nice golden brown color. There was also little pastry inside the shell (when I managed to pipe the pastries correctly, of course), allowing for a huge amount of filling. Basically, King Arthur’s recipe makes a great pastry.
Next, I made a custard for the first time ever. I followed the directions to the letter, and for the most part the recipe is well-written. However, I do have a bone to pick: in step 13, when the recipe wants the pan taken off the heat once the mixture “just barely starts to boil”, I believe the instructions are too vague. I took the pan off when I saw what I consider a bare boil, and ended up with a custard that was too thin. I’m sure the instructions are accurate, as I still created a tasty custard, but the meaning should be clearer.
I continued to follow the instructions, refrigerating the custard for two hours (built-in homework time!) before making the ganache and attempting to pipe the custard into the eclairs. However, as aforementioned, the custard was too runny and hence I couldn’t add very much to each eclair. The ganache was delicious, though, and so was the eclair as a whole.
For my first time trying pâte à choux, I considered the venture a success. I wholly recommend this recipe and believe King Arthur created an accurate blueprint for a tasty pastry. However, I would suggest a bit of research on choux pastry before making the recipe. For example, as an avid lover of The Great British Baking Show, I had seen both choux pastry and eclairs made before, so I was already familiar with the process.
In summary, the recipe is fantastic and if you love chocolate and crisp pastry, King Arthur Flour’s Dark Chocolate Eclairs are for you!