Sunday 31 August 2008

Daring Bakers August Challenge: Chocolate Éclairs

The hosts of this months challenge were Tony of Olive Juice and Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey? and they selected chocolate éclairs by Pierre Herme which got an instant thumbs up from my family. Éclairs are made using choux pastry, although personally I think it’s more of a batter as you have to pipe it rather than roll it out. It’s also the pastry used to make profiteroles, of which I have made often, but I had never made éclairs before so was looking forward to the attempting to pipe in straight lines. We were also required to make a crème patisserie filling and then top them of with a rich chocolate glaze.

The recipe provided was for chocolate crème patisserie and chocolate glaze but we were allowed to be creative and change one of these options if we wished. I decided to keep the chocolate glaze and vary the flavour of the crème filling. I made a large batch of vanilla crème patisserie and then divided it into three separate bowls from which I kept one vanilla, flavoured one with chocolate and for the third flavour I ground some pistachios into a paste and stirred it through the crème. I loved how just changing the filling gave the éclairs such a different appearance and flavour. I could happily have eaten the silky crème patisserie by the spoonful.The recipe makes quite a lot of éclairs and they are best eaten as fresh a possible. I made mine one weekend when we were having a family BBQ and so they didn’t go to waste. Having a choice of filling flavours proved very popular as it meant people could choose which one most appealed, vanilla for traditionalists, chocolate for chocoholics or pistachio for people who wanted something a little different. They were all a success although my favourite was the pistachio, I loved the little flecks of green and the nutty overtone and it went perfectly with the chocolate glaze.

Thanks Tony and Meeta for choosing such a great recipe. Be sure to check out the other Daring Bakers éclairs.

Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
• Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds bypositioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
3) Slide both the baking sheets into the 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 top to bottom and front to back. 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.
1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Assembling the éclairs:
•Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)
1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.
1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Cream Puff Dough:
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature
1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
1) Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
2) You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined bakingsheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer thepiped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream:
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by PierreHermé
• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy bottomed saucepan.
2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.
1) The pastry cream can be made 2-3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
2) In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
3) Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze:
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1 cup or 300g)
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature
1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce:
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)
• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
2) It may take 10-15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.
1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Borough Market

Last weekend I visited Borough Market in London, which is something I have been wanting to do for years. During the week I realised last Saturday was my last free weekend before returning to uni and so decided it was time for a visit. I don’t think I have ever seen such a selection of fresh good quality produce in one place before. It was fantastic! Some things were naturally more expensive than regular markets but the standard of produce made it worth while.

The market is only ‘open’ to members of the public on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays and its best to get there early to avoid the large crowds which start to form around midday.

There were bread stalls offering delicious rustic loaves ranging from rye and pumpernickel to sourdoughs, granary cobs, nutty date loafs and crusty baguettes.

Stands offering paving stone sized slabs of chocolate and indulgent handmade truffles in flavours ranging from praline to gin & lime all beautifully displayed.

Stalls selling every kind of fruit and nut imaginable with some dipped in chocolate or coated in yoghurt.

Herbs and specialist sea salts infused with spices or rubbed with dried olives for all salads or meat rubs.

Bakeries offering towers of cookies and dainty little cakes. How adorable are those owl shortbreads!! Almonds for beaks and chocolate drops for eyes – I just had to buy some. They were wonderfully tender and crumbly with a slight gritty shortbread texture.

Check out the size of those Emmentaler cheeses – they’re huge! They had been matured for 17months and had a great mellow nutty flavour.

Another stalls offering a wide assortment of baklava.

Anyone for a fudgey chocolate brownie? Surly a chocoholics dream.

Freshly picked wild mushrooms. I was particularly taken with the shape of the Eryngi mushrooms at the back.

Ever heard of Parrot Fish? I hadn’t but I love their blue tinged scales.

A stall specializing in tomatoes, they looked so pretty all arranged in their rows.

I had lunch from this middle eastern stall which was offering a wide assortment of dips, salads and marinades. I had a falafel wrap with salad, houmous and tahini sauce – delicious. I also bought a pot of aubergine which had been marinated in a spicy sauce with chunks of walnuts.

I ended the day with a slice of the silkiest creamy cheesecake I have ever tasted and a slice of zingy lemon tart from this stall. It was a wonderful day and I plan to go back at Christmas as it would be the perfect place to pick up a few foodie gifts.

Monday 18 August 2008

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

The combination of peanut butter and chocolate is great American favourite and yet it has only recently started to take off here in the UK. It has quickly become one of my favourite flavour combinations. The creamy, nutty and slightly salty peanut flavour paired with rich, bittersweet chocolate provides a great sweet/savoury yin and yang match. What better way to encourage people to experience this taste sensation than in a simple cupcake, after all everyone likes cake.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
For the cupcakes
100g self raising flour
115g butter
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
20g cocoa powder

Peanut Butter Frosting
100g butter
40g smooth peanut butter
150g icing sugar

Chocolate buttons

Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
Beat together the butter, sugar until smooth and then beat in the eggs.
Sift over the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and beat until well combined.
Spoon into the muffin cases, using a tablespoon, filling each case half way.
Bake for 22-24 minutes until risen and springy.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool.
Meanwhile make the frosting. Beat the butter and peanut butter together until well combined.
Sift over the icing sugar in two batches, beating well between each batch until smooth.
Spread a generous amount of the frosting on top of the cooled cupcakes and top with a large chocolate button.
Makes 10-12 cupcakes

Saturday 9 August 2008

Almond Cupcakes with Cherry Jam & Toasted Flaked Almonds

These cupcakes are my own take on the much loved traditional English cherry and almond cake, enjoyed by many as part of afternoon tea in years gone by. Sadly although the flavour pairing of cherry and almond is still much enjoyed, the cherry studded, slightly dense almond cake has gone out of fashion with the younger generation, although, I must confess it still remains one of my favourites. These cupcakes are a more modern take on that great classic cake. They consist of a light almond sponge which is spread with a layer of cherry jam and then topped with toasted flaked almonds.

The use of ground almonds in the cake helps keep them lovely and moist and the addition of almond extract provides a great almond frangipane flavour. The cherry part comes in the form of a fruit studded black cherry jam which results in an instant cherry hit when a bite is taken and helps keep the cake light as no heavy fruit is mixed into the cake batter. The cupcake is decorated with a scattering of flaked almonds which are first lightly toasted to enhance their flavour. A hit with cherry and almond fans of any age.

Almond Cupcakes with Cherry Jam & Toasted Flaked AlmondsCupcakes
100g self raising flour
20g ground almonds
115g butter
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp almond extract

100g black cherry jam
30g toasted flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
Beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs and ground almonds before sifting over the flour and beating until well combined.
Add the almond extract and baking powder and beat again.
Using a tablespoon, divide the batter into the muffin cases, filling half way.
Bake in the oven for 22-24 minutes until golden and springy.
Remove from the oven, leave for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool.
When cool, spread a teaspoon of cherry jam over the top of the cupcakes, leaving a rim of sponge showing around the edge.
Top with the toasted flaked almonds.
Makes 11-12 cupcakes

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Cupcakes As Far As The Eye Can See

These last few weeks I have been baking masses of cupcakes, up to 200 a week for a summer job. I have done a range of seven flavours which are then packed snugly into plastic boxes, labelled and then sent on their way. I thought it would be fun to make a series out of posting the recipes, so for the next two weeks I shall be introducing you to each of the seven cupcakes varieties I have been baking. They are all quite simple, but when baking in bulk I find it’s easier to keep things straightforward.

So to start off I give you vanilla cupcakes, filled with strawberry jam and topped with glace icing and sugar sprinkles. These are a favourite with young children who get attracted by the colourful sugar strands but they are also a good choice for people who don’t like anything too ‘fancy’ done with their cake.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Jam & Sprinkles
115g self raising flour
115g butter
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
¾ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

70g strawberry jam

100g icing sugar
20g sugar sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
Beat together the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs and then sift over the flour and mix until well combined.
Add the vanilla extract and baking powder and beat again.
Using a tablespoon, divide the batter into the muffin cases, filling half way.
Bake in the oven for 22-24 minutes until golden and springy.
Remove from the oven, leave for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire wrack to cool.
When cool, cut out a cone from the top of the cake using a small sharp knife.
Fill the space with ½ teaspoon of strawberry jam and replace the cone of cake.
For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and dissolve with a little water, starting with ½ tablespoon of water and then teaspoons of water until you get a thick spreadable paste.
Spread the icing onto the top of the cakes and immediately decorate with the sugar sprinkles. (I find it easiest to place the cake on a plate to catch the excess sprinkles)
Makes 10-12 cupcakes.