Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Flour. Butter. Eggs.

You guys, do you know how amazing those 3 ingredients are? Add a bit of sugar--you can make sugar cookies, or madeleines, pound cake, or sponge cake. Add some milk--you can make waffles, crepes or éclairs!

Crepes image available at: http://tinyurl.com/ps3qeq2
Éclairs image available at: http://tinyurl.com/248xqrm
Ponder for a moment the difference between crepes and éclairs, the same ingredients combined by different techniques--vastly different results. If you don't find that just a little bit thrilling, well then, heck, you are probably reading the wrong blog.

One of the first food blogs I ever started following was Love and Olive Oil. Blogger Lindsay Landis does a monthly "Kitchen Challenge", which I think is a brilliant idea. She has covered everything from bagels to the finicky french macarons. This month her cooking challenge is éclair.

Éclairs have been on my cooking bucket list for sometime and this post on the subject gave me that extra little push to go for it. Nothing like someone describing the challenges of a particular dish to make me want to try it.

From reading Love and Olive Oil, I know Lindsay loves cookie dough (She did author "The Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook" after all.) So I thought hmmm, "What if you filled the éclair with a brown sugar, vanilla pastry cream studded with little cookie dough bites?!?!" And that's exactly what I did.

While there are a lot of steps in this recipe, I don't think it is particularly difficult. Frankly, it was more difficult for me to write the recipe than to actually cook it. Don't skip the sifting steps for the flour and the powdered sugar. It really helps produce a smooth dough and glaze, respectively.

Also, people tend to discuss pastry creams, and the like, as if a great big scrambled egg monster is going to rear up out of your saucepan at any moment. I have never once scrambled the eggs in a pastry cream, lemon curd, or crème anglaise. That is not because I have some cooking super-power--I am just not intimidated by it and there is no reason you should be either. The key is to simply warm the eggs up slowly, also known as "tempering".

I have a few tips that may help:

1) Use a heavy bottomed sauce pan. (Mine is an all-clad stainless steel one.)

Image available at: http://tinyurl.com/nql9fp5
2) Place a towel, rolled up like a doughnut, under the bowl you are going to be mixing into. This way it won't slide all over the counter while one hand is whisking and the other is slowly pouring in the hot liquid.
Image available at: http://tinyurl.com/qgacwq2
3) Use a ladle or small measuring cup to transfer the hot liquid. Controlling a small measuring cup is a lot easier than trying to drizzle slowly from a heavy pot.

4) After the eggs have been warmed and poured back into the pot, stir constantly. Really, don't stop gently stirring all around the bottom of the pan.

5) Lastly, don't worry about making a mess. I always drip all over the counter and stove, but hey, that's what sponges are for.

Incidentally, the pâte à choux in this recipe can be used to make profiteroles, beignets, or gougères.
Thank you for the inspiration Lindsay. I can't wait to see what the May Kitchen Challenge is ...

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