the one and only éclair

eclairsAfter the recent mini meringue burgers aka macarons, it seems we have a theme going here with this week’s mini vanilla creme corn dogs. I never thought I would compare delicate French pastries to American fast food favorites, but the resemblance really is uncanny. And while this humble attempt at imitating the timeless French classic surely doesn’t do justice to the real deal, I was yet again surprised at how relatively simple it was to recreate my favorite French pâte. That said, it was much easier working as a duo — special thanks to my bold baking warrior buddy Tim V! — and I highly recommend trying this recipe with a friend. I also highly recommend springing for a pastry bag. We rigged a DIY situation with a plastic baggie, which seemed like a great idea till it erupted vanilla creme filling everywhere.

The moral of this week’s baking fable is that there is something really empowering about baking a favorite dessert that you always figured required really complex baking ninja skills, especially when it’s a French dessert. The end product may not be as pristine and photogenic as the dainty, doily’d delicacies behind the counters of Parisien pâtisseries, but that doesn’t take away from the satisfaction of accomplishing such a daring feat.

Ah the sweet, sweet taste of a kitchen victory.

chocolate glaze

Eclairs with Vanilla Creme and Chocolate Glaze

Makes about a dozen 4-5 inch eclairs. Special tools: pastry bag.

For the pastry creme:
One whole vanilla bean
2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar3 Tbsp corn starch
6 egg yolks
3 Tbsp (1 1/2 oz, or 50g) butter

For the chocolate glaze:
200g bittersweet chocolate
25 g vegetable shortening
25 g grapeseed oil

For the pastry dough:1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
3 medium eggs
1 egg, lightly beaten (for glaze)

Vanilla Pastry Creme
Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.
Add milk to a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds into the saucepan. Add the vanilla bean. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar  and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add the egg yolks. Whisk just until the sugar dissolves; do not let the mixture become pale. Return the milk to the heat and bring to a boil. Whisk one-third of the milk into the egg yolk-cornstarch-sugar mixture. Whisk in the remaining milk. Return the mixture to the saucepan, straining it through a fine sieve, and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. As soon as the pastry begins to thicken, remove it from the heat. Whisk in the butter until smooth. Scrape the pastry cream onto the prepared baking sheet and wrap it in the plastic, pressing out all the air. Place in the fridge to chill completely.

Chocolate Glaze
Chop the chocolate and put in a glass or metal bowl with the shortening and oil. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water and heat until the chocolate has melted (if you have a thermometer, heat to 94-104º F). Remove from heat and set aside.

Pastry Dough
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Lightly butter a baking sheet and dust it with flour.

Combine the water, sugar, salt, and butter in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. When the butter melts, remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in all the flour at once. Continue whisking until the dough pulls away from the pan to form a ball. Return the pan to medium heat and beat for 30 seconds to dry out the dough. Remove the pan from the heat and break in two of the eggs, one by one, whisking after each addition until smooth. In a small bowl, lightly beat the remaining egg. Whisk in as much as needed to make a dough that is very shiny and just falls from the spoon.

Spoon the dough into the pastry bag and pipe into logs 4 to 5 inches long on the prepared baking sheet, spacing at least 1 1/2 inches apart. Lightly brush with the egg glaze.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. Transfer the eclairs to a rack and let cool completely. Rinse the pastry bag.

Remove the pastry creme and whisk until smooth. Gently cut the eclairs lengthwise almost all the way through. Fill the pastry bag with the creme and pipe into the eclairs.

Heat the chocolate glaze until warm and spreadable but not runny. Gently dip the tops of the eclairs into the chocolate and quickly turn upright to dry on the cooling rack.

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the mighty macaron

Thanks to chef de cuisine  Timothy Vollmer for being so adventurous with baking and for allowing me into your cozy kitchen as your sous chef for this expedition and to ogle your impressive selection of cookbooks.
photo 4 editedFirst, just to get something straight – there is in fact a difference between a macaron and a macaroon, and it’s not just a matter of whether you are feeling snooty and want to use the French pronunciation of the word. Macaroons are yummy little coconut cluster thingys and macarons are these delightful tiny meringue burgers (more eloquent explanation here). Glad that’s sorted out. Continue reading

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cranberry sage pie

cranberry sage pieI’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. Probably because I can never manage to keep a resolution that I make in January, despite my good intentions. Resolutions made throughout the rest of the year seem to fare better. But the closer I get to the 1st of the year, the more doomed my resolve seems to be. In 2012 I declared on this very blog that I would publish a post a week throughout the year. I did pretty well the first half, then I decided to move to Kenya and there went that. If I made any resolutions last year, they are long forgotten by now. So I think this year my resolution — declared on this, the 31st of January — is to make resolutions whenever I darn well please, break them whenever I feel so inclined, and forget about this silly fascination with setting them each January 1st. So I suppose it’s fitting for the recipe that accompanies my rebellious resolution to be for a cranberry pie baked in a rectangular dish. Who says it has to be Thanksgiving to eat cranberries? And who says that pies always have to be round? If it’s got a double crust and something tasty and gooey in the middle, it’s a pie as far as I’m concerned. Continue reading

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chocolate chip pumpkin loaf

chocolate chip pumpkin loafTwo weeks ago I was a very unsuspecting Californian caught up in a Polar Vortex in Ohio. This week I am a very concerned Californian caught up in the effects of the driest year on record since records first became a thing in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. These are confusing, alarming times. And during confusing, alarming times I find baking to be more necessary than ever. It can serve as a reminder that whether we like it or not, and whether we feel human beings are responsible for the damage or not (and I think we are), we need our environment. We need it to be healthy and thriving because when it is not, we are not. The more we can remind ourselves of this simple truth, then the sooner, I hope, we can get our act together and start protecting and conserving and respecting that environment in a way that will actually make our children and all of the children to come proud. Continue reading

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persimmon walnut bread

vegan persimmon bread

A few years ago I found out the hard way that certain varieties of persimmon can leave your mouth temporarily numb if eaten before they’re completely ripe. These are the hachiya and gyombo varieties and I will never make the same mistake again. Although, it might not be a bad idea to eat one before a trip to the dentist. Continue reading

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silky pumpkin pie from scratch

Silky pumpkin pie from scratch

This pie may not be quite as rare a treat as Thanksgiving coinciding with the first day of Hanukkah, but that’s probably a good thing since it means you won’t have to wait till the year 79811 to enjoy it. You can bake it as often as you like this holiday season, what with all the gourds and tubers that abound during these chilly fall and winter climes. And though it may sound like a lot of work, I can assure you that there is nothing so satisfying as roasting a pumpkin and then smashing it into a pie – as if to prove to the world that, hark, pumpkin pie does not in fact come from a can! Triple bonus points if you serve it up between today and Thursday on some dreidel plates. Continue reading

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oatmeal cherry chocolate chip cookies

oatmeal cherry chocolate chip cookiesBaking, I have thankfully discovered, is like riding a bicycle. Even after a too-long hiatus it is possible, and actually quite easy, to slip right back into the old momentum. And just like any reunion, it is oh so sweet. Especially when that reunion involves a KitchenAid mixer that has been waiting patiently – totally unused – in its box for nearly a year, eagerly awaiting that magical moment when it would be brought into the light and put to good baking use. Continue reading

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