Today’s Recipes: Chocolate Glazed Eclairs, Pate a Choux Pastry, Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Ganache Glaze.
For my Academy Awards Chocolate Monday I knew there was only one place to go for inspiration … Sherry Yard, the amazing woman behind all of the Oscar-worthy desserts served each year at the Governor’s Ball catered by Wolfgang Puck and his team. Sherry has been with Puck at Spago since joining the team in 1994. Prior to that, after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, she worked at some of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants including the Rainbow Room, Montrachet and Tribeca Grill in New York City. Then she moved west and headed up the pastry kitchens at Campton Place in San Francisco and Catahoula in the Napa Valley before landing at Spago. In California, the New York native discovered the beauty of fresh fruit and the flavors they impart. She reveled in the amazing bounty and started to discover and define her own style of desserts. As the Executive Pastry Chef for Wolfgang Puck’s culinary empire, Sherry runs the dessert and baking programs at Spago, Cut, and Chinois. Her remarkable desserts are always stand-outs at the annual Academy Awards, Grammy Awards and Emmy Awards post-show feasts.
Sherry has been awarded “Pastry Chef of the Year” awards from Bon Appetit magazine, Pastry Art and Design magazine, and the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association. In 2002, she was named “Outstanding Pastry Chef” by the James Beard Association, and she won a James Beard award for “Best Baking Cookbook” for her first book, “The Secrets of Baking: Simple Techniques for Sophisticated Desserts.” The Women Chefs and Restaurateurs presented her with their Golden Bowl award in 2004.
Absolutely delightful, exceedingly generous with her knowledge, and just as enjoyable as her desserts, Sherry has a way of making even the most challenging recipes seem easy. Each of her cookbooks is like taking a masters class in baking and are must-haves for your culinary library. She describes each step in detail, giving you all the tips needed to guarantee your success. Don’t be afraid – follow the recipes and you too will be Pastry Chef to the Stars!
Today’s eclairs are composed of three main parts: the pate a choux (pot-ah-shoe) batter which makes the pastry, the vanilla pastry cream filling and the ganache glaze. You can make each of these elements ahead and then assemble the eclairs themselves up to 4 hours in advance of serving. If you are planning on serving a complicated dessert, then I suggest you plan on a relatively simple or make-ahead meal so your focus can be on the dessert preparation. A stew or braise that can be made the day before, a perfectly roasted whole chicken or similar dishes are exactly the kind you want to consider so you aren’t too rushed or harried when your guests arrive.
If you need to save some time, you can substitute sweetened whipped cream for the pastry cream. But please do us both a favor and make your whipped cream from scratch. You can have it done in less than 5 minutes and the flavor is exponentially better than store-bought whipped toppings. Whip the cream until it is foamy and starting to thicken just slightly, then add powdered or granulated sugar slowly while the mixer continues to beat the cream. At the end, add a little splash of vanilla and you’re done. Amazing whipped cream that actually tastes like cream and not preservatives!
Buying vanilla beans is expensive and sometimes difficult to find for a lot of people. This year I discovered an amazing product that you will love. Vanilla paste is a vanilla concentrate with vanilla seeds in it. You can use it in place of either vanilla beans or vanilla extract in equal proportion. Adding a little gives your desserts a boost of flavor, visual appeal and texture!
Chocolate covered eclairs are one of those desserts that everyone ooohs and ahhhs when they see them. Impossibly indulgent, this is the perfect ending to your Academy Awards dinner. Enjoy the applause as you present these to your guests and bask in the glory of their adulation. It’s your version of an Oscar!!
- Yield: 24 eclairs
- Piped into finger-length batons, these chocolate-glazed puffs are filled with pastry cream that can be made in a variety of flavors. The name means “flash,” as in a flash of light or lightening, which is fitting because that’s how quickly they disappear.
- Eclairs are made by piping pate a choux paste through a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain or starred tip (the starred tip makes a very pretty eclair). To pipe straight, draw lines on the underside of the parchment paper as a guide. Be sure to draw the lines on the underside, or the marks will transfer to the eclair during baking.
- Make each component first and then assemble the eclairs. Once assembled, they are ready to serve immediately or will hold in the refrigerator up to 4 hours.
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup sugar, divided
- 1-1/2 tsp finely chopped orange zest
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, 2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 tsp vanilla extract plus 1 tsp vanilla paste
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour or cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- 5 large egg yolks or 3 large whole eggs, chilled
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- If you need to cool this quickly, line a baking sheet with plastic film and set aside.
- Bring the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, the orange zest, and the vanilla bean and seeds to a simmer in a medium-sized nonreactive saucepan over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, sift together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the flour or cornstarch, and salt onto a piece of parchment paper. Whisk the egg yolks or eggs in a large bowl. Add the sifted dry ingredients and whisk until fluffy.
- When the milk comes to a simmer (small bubbles breaking the surface), remove from the heat and ladle out 1/2 cup of the hot milk. Drizzle this slowly over the eggs while whisking constantly. (This is tempering, bringing the eggs closer to the temperature of the other ingredients, minimizing the chances of scrambling them!) Once the 1/2 cup milk has been incorporated into the eggs, pour the mixture back into the hot milk, whisking constantly. Be sure to scrape all the eggs into the pan with a rubber spatula.
- Immediately begin to rapidly whisk the pastry cream. In less than 1 minutes it will boil and begin to thicken. Continue to whisk for about 3 minutes, or until it has the consistency of pudding. To test the cream for doneness, tilt the saucepan to one side. The cream should pull away from the pan completely.
- Rinse and dry the large bowl. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh strainer back into the cleaned bowl. Add the butter and stir until it is melted and incorporated. If the cream seems grainy, pulse it in a food processor or blender until smooth.
- The cream is now ready to use, or it can be cooled to room temperature and refrigerated for up to 3 days. To cool the pastry cream quickly, spread it out on a plastic-lined baking sheet. To prevent a skin from forming as it cools, place a sheet of plastic film directly on the surface.
- Yield: 2 to 2-1/4 cups, enough for 2 (9-inch) tarts
- 8 oz bittersweet chocolate
- 4 tbsp apricot jelly
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 tbsp light corn syrup
- Using a serrated knife (which is safer because it won’t slip off the chocolate as easily), finely chop the chocolate into 1/4-inch pieces and place it in a medium heatproof bowl.
- Warm the apricot jelly in a small saucepan over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring until it is melted. Whisk in the cream, milk, and corn syrup. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Pour the hot cream mixture over the chopped chocolate. Tap the bowl on the counter to settle the chocolate into the cream, and then let it sit for 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula, slowly stir in a circular motion, starting from the center of the bowl and working out to the sides. Be careful not to add too much air to the ganache. Stir until all the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes.
- When all the chocolate has melted, insert a candy thermometer. The temperature should be 90°F for the best glazing results. If the temperature is too low, place the bowl over a saucepan with a little simmering water in it, creating a double boiler, and gently stir until the thermometer reads 90°F. If the temperature is too high, occasionally stir the ganache off the heat until its ready to be poured. Glazing should be done as soon as the ganache reaches 90°F for maximum viscosity. The glaze can be chilled for later use, and then reheated slowly over simmering water. If the reheated glaze seems too thick, add 1 tbsp water.
- Yield: 2 cups, enough for 2 (9-inch) cakes
- 1 cup bread flour or all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 4 to 5 large eggs
- Egg Wash
- 1 large egg
- 1 egg yolk
- Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Bring the water, milk, and butter to a boil in a large saucepan over medium heat. At the boil, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour mixture all at once. Using a sturdy spoon, stir vigorously to combine.
- Return the mixture to medium heat and stir constantly in figure eights. Cook for at least 4 minutes, or until the mixture has a smooth, mashed potato-like appearance. This helps to break down the starch and develop the gluten. Remove it from the heat.
- MIXER METHOD: Transfer the hot mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or use a hand mixer. Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the dough cools to 180°F. Add 4 of the eggs, one at a time. Be sure to let the batter absorb each egg and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula before adding the next egg.
- Before adding the last egg, test for consistency. Pinch off about 1 tsp of dough with your thumb and index finger, and then pull your fingers apart. The dough should stretch rather than break. If it breaks, add the last egg. Mix on low speed until thoroughly incorporated, about 2 minutes. Do the consistency test again. The dough should be shiny and smooth. It is now ready to be piped. To store for later use, cover the surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
- SAUCEPAN METHOD: If you don’t have a standing mixer or you want to avoid dirtying an extra bowl, you can do everything in the saucepan. Once you’ve removed the pan from the heat, stir by hand with a sturdy spoon to cool the dough down to 180°F. Add 4 of the eggs, one at a time, mixing until thoroughly incorporated before adding the next egg. Pinch off about 1 tsp of dough with your thumb and index finger, and then pull your fingers apart. The dough should stretch rather than break. If it breaks, add the last egg.
- SHAPING: Fit a large (#6) plain tip into a large plastic piping bag. Make a big cuff at the top of the bag and fill the bag halfway with choux paste. Unroll the top and twist it to push the contents toward the tip.
- For large cream puffs, pipe mounds of pate a choux 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch high onto the first baking sheet, 2 inches apart. For medium puffs, the mounds should be 1-1/2 inches in diameter and 1 inch high. Small puffs should be 1/2 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch high. At this stage the unbaked cream puffs can be frozen. Cover with plastic film and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Defrost at room temperature about 30 minutes before baking.
- EGG WASH AND BAKING: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and place a heatproof baking dish or pan on the floor of the oven (or on a rack set at the lowest level).
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. “Glue” each corner of the parchment to the sheet with a dab of the choux paste. This keeps the paper in place during piping and baking. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper and place a wire rack on it.
- Make the egg wash by whisking the egg and yolk in a small bowl. Brush lightly but evenly over the puffs witha pastry brush.
- Place the puffs in the oven and pour the hot water into the pan on the oven floor. Quickly close the door to keep all the steam in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, or until puffs begin to rise, then turn the oven down to 350°F and rotate the baking sheet (spin it front to back). Prop the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon and bake for 18 to 20 minutes more for large puffs, or until the puffs turn nutty brown. (For medium puffs, bake 15 to 18 minutes more; for Small puffs, bake for 10 to 12 minutes more.)
- Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack, about 15 minutes, before filling and serving. At this stage, the cream puffs can be frozen for later use. Place the cooled puffs in an airtight plastic bag and freeze for up to 2 weeks. They will also keep for 24 hours at room temperature (wrapped tightly in plastic) before being filled.
- Yield: 1-1/2 lb dough, enough for approximately 24 large, 36 medium, or 48 small cream puffs, eclairs, etc.
- From above
- To Form the Eclairs: Fit a large (#6) plain tip into a large piping bag and fill the bag halfway with Pate a Choux dough (from above). Pipe 24 (4-inch) strips on the parchment paper. Stagger the rows on the diagonal and space them 1 inch apart. Brush the eclairs with the egg wash, but before baking, run a fork down the length of each puff. These score marks will help the eclair expand evenly. Bake the eclairs then allow them to cool completely. Wash and dry the pastry bag and tip.
- When the eclairs are completely cool, cut the top half off each one and set the tops on a rack set over a second baking sheet. Spoon the Ganache Glaze over each eclair top, letting the excess run off onto the baking sheet below. Place the tops in the refrigerator to set, about 15 minutes.
- Fill the Eclairs: Fit the large tip (either plain or star) into the piping bag, fold back a thick cuff on the top and fill halfway with the Pastry Cream. Fill the entire length of the eclair by piping a slow, steady strip. (The pastry cream can also be dolloped in with a spoon and smoothed out.) When all the eclairs are filled, place them in decorative paper cups or on a serving platter. Top with the glazed top halves. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator up to 4 hours.