>> Monday, March 21, 2011
I recall learning the word, compartimenter, from my high school French classes.
I liked this word as much as compartmentalizing things.
A compartment of practical (and comfortable) clothes - worn ninety percent of the time.
A compartment of fancy clothes - worn the rest of the time.
To me, an éclair belongs to the compartment of fancy - along with other dainty and delicate desserts with pretty sounding French names you might see in a pâtisserie.
This particular compartiment in my life is visited rarely...definitely not as often as I'd like.
Just because it is not of the one-bowl, or minimal-post-production-clean-up type.
But once in a while, on that slightly special occasion....
Or on days when I nostalgically reminisce back on the Paris trip of too long ago.
There are three components which make up this éclair (four, if you want to make a chocolate glaze too):
- Pâte à choux (choux pastry)
- Dulce de Leche
- Vanilla bean pastry cream (crème pâtissière)
The last 2 components are whipped together to create the filling for this éclair.
Dulce de leche is a thick, almost caramelise-like sauce that is milk-based (unlike caramel which is just heated sugar). It can be made the traditional way by boiling down a pot of milk and sugar for hours or the cheats way (which I used here) - which is heating up a can of condensed milk.
One way to heat up the condensed milk is by boiling the can for a few hours. However, if you choose to do so, you must ensure the can stays submerged in the water at all times otherwise the can will explode. My usual clumsy self did not dare to attempt this potentially explosive method ;)
Other people bake the condensed milk to make dulce de leche.
I prefer to steam it with my much loved Datung rice steamer (trust any Taiwanese to have a Datung at home!) I can leave it steaming while I go out as it will turn off automatically when it's done. No explosions of any kind! Yes!
After an hour and a half, you get something wholly amazing that you just want to have it by the spoonful...
Add this beautiful caramel-like sauce to the vanilla pastry cream and whip them together for a silky smooth filling. I didn't add any sugar to my vanilla pastry cream as I know that once you combine with the sweet dulce de leche, it will balance out.
If you are not so keen on the dulce de leche (or your last can of condensed milk exploded? I hope not!), just fill your choux pastry with plain sweetened vanilla pastry cream!
As I am not too crazy about the glaze that you'd normally see on éclairs, I skipped the chocolate glazing in the recipe. However, I've included the recipe for it, in case if anyone's interested.
These éclairs are best when they are served the same day they are filled and are delicious with a strong cup of coffee or tea :)
Dulce de Leche Eclairs
From The Art and Soul of Baking
- 1 recipe Spiced Pâte à Choux (see below)
- 1 recipe Dulce de Leche Pastry (see below)
- 1 large egg
- 4 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
- ½ cup (4 ounces) heavy whipping cream
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205C) and position two racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven. To make the templates, line the baking sheets with parchment paper, then remove the paper and use the ruler as a guide to draw twenty 4 by 1-inch rectangles with a pencil, dividing and spacing them evenly between the sheets. Turn the pieces of parchment paper over and return them to the baking sheets with the marks facing the sheets.
2. Pipe the Pâte à Choux: Spoon the dough into the pastry bag fitted with the ½-inch plain round tip. Pipe the dough into ½-inch-high rectangles to fill each template. (To stop the flow of dough from the pastry bag and disconnect it from the piped dough, slice a lightly oiled dinner knife across the opening of the tip.)
3. Glaze and bake the Pâte choux: In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg to blend thoroughly. Brush a light coating of egg over the tops of the piped dough, being careful that the egg does not drip down the sides (it will glue the éclairs to the parchment). You will not use all the egg. Bake both sheets of the éclairs for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, switch the sheets between the racks, rotate the pans from front to back, and bake for 20 minutes longer. Reduce the temperature again, to 300°F, and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer (to dry out the interior). The éclairs should be a deep golden brown, with no more bubbling moisture visible around the sides. Transfer the éclairs to a rack to cool completely.
4. Fill the éclairs: Spoon the pastry cream into the cleaned and dried pastry bag fitted with the Bismarck or ¼-inch plain tip. If using the Bismark tip, first make a little hole in one of the short ends of the éclair with the tip of a paring knife. Then, insert the end of the Bismark into the éclair as far as it will go. Squeeze firmly as you slowly pull the tip out of the pastry, filling the cavity with the pastry cream. If using the plain tip, make two evenly spaced small holes in the bottom of an éclair with the tip of a paring knife. Insert the plain tip into each one, squeezing firmly to fill the center of the pastry. Repeat to fill the remaining éclairs.
5. Make the glaze: Place the chocolate in a small bowl (which should be just large enough to accommodate an éclair, which is about 4 inches long). Bring the cream to a boil in the small saucepan. Immediately pour it over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for 1 minute. Whisk until the mixture is completely blended and smooth. Cool for 10 minutes.
6. Glaze the éclairs: Turn the éclairs upside down, dip the top of each one halfway into the chocolate glaze, then lift it and let the excess glaze drip back into the bowl. Set right side up on a serving platter or parchment-lined baking sheet and allow 30 minutes for the glaze to set. Refrigerate until serving time. Reserve any leftover milk chocolate glaze for another use.
Storing: You can store éclairs in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days. However, they are at their best the same day they are filled, as the pastry absorbs moisture from the pastry cream and eventually becomes soggy.
Spiced Pâte à Choux
From The Art and Soul of Baking
- 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 cup (8 ounces) water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, plus another tablespoon or two, if needed
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
2. Transfer the dough to the bowl of the stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute to slightly cool the dough and develop the gluten. In the medium bowl, beat the eggs together until you can't distinguish the yellow from the white. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs a couple tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend completely into the dough before continuing. When all the eggs are incorporated, the mixture should be shiny and elastic and stick to the side of the bowl. It should also pass the "string test": Place a bit of dough between your thumb and forefinger and pull them apart. The dough should form a stretchy string about 1½ to 2 inches long. If the dough has not reached this stage, beat another egg and continue adding it, a little at a time, until the dough is finished.
To shape and bake, see individual recipes.
Storing: The dough can be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Dulce de Leche
- 1 can of condensed milk
To boil:In a large pan, completely submerge the can of sweetened condense milk in water. Make sure it is covered by at least one inch of water and remains covered throughout the entire process – this is VERY important otherwise it could explode. Cover the pan with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for three hours. Continually check to make sure the can is completely covered with water.
Refer to here.
Depending on your steamer. I used a rice steamer for this: Pour out the content of the condensed milk into a shallow bowl and put it into the steamer with ~3 cups of water. Let it steam for just over an hour until the pale condensed milk turns into a deep caramel colour.
From The Art and Soul of Baking
Makes 2 cups
- 1½ cups (12 ounces) whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean (or 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
- 1 large egg
- 2 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) sugar (I omitted this as the dulce de leche is sweet already)
- 1/4 cup (1¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold unsalted butter
- 1 cup dulce de leche (above recipe)
2. Heat the milk to just below the boiling point and remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, and sugar until well blended and smooth. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very smooth. Pour about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the yolks. Slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the hot milk, whisking all the while.
3. Heat the mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the flour from lumping, until it reaches a boil. Continue to cook and whisk for another minute, until the pastry cream is very thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter (and vanilla extract, if using). Strain the pastry cream through the strainer set over a medium bowl to remove any lumps or tiny bits of egg. (Save the vanilla bean: Rinse it thoroughly, allow to dry, then use it to make vanilla sugar).
4. Whisk room temperature dulce de leche into the strained pastry cream.
5. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream, then set the bowl into the bowl of ice water. Once the pastry cream has completely cooled, use or store in the refrigerator until needed.