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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Eclairs!

Well, I finally gave in and signed up to be one of The Daring Bakers. Now I have an excuse to bake! (Like I really need one...at least the challenges are just that - recipes that I wouldn't normally bake. Goodbye comfort zone!)

My first challenge was, I must admit, a little disappointing because of the amount of chocolate in the recipe(s). However, I was signed up to bring the snack for Sunday School, so I had a willing panel of tasters. I think I adhered to the spirit of the challenge...following the base recipe (pâte à choux) and taking some culinary liberties where allowed (had to keep a chocolate element).

Overall, I think they turned out well, at least for my first foray into making pate a choux. The tasters' feedback was quite positive, so they must not have been too bad. :) I was going to make another batch, but alas, home improvements have taken up more of my time than baking in the last few weeks. But I have lots of ideas for future pastries, so stay tuned!


Pierre Herme's Cream Puff Dough (pâte à choux)
Chocolate Sauce
Chocolate Glaze
Pastry Cream

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (makes 20-24 Éclairs)

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil. 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.

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. After you have added the first egg, the dough will separate; but, don't worry! As you keep working the dough, it will come back together again. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for piping éclairs (or cream puffs, which would also be yummy). (Note: Shape the dough immediately. It can be frozen up to a month once piped and then baked as needed.)

For the Pastry Cream, I admit, I cheated. I added some vanilla bean seeds to some instant vanilla pudding and then mixed it with about 1/2 a tub of whipped topping. Not too bad, actually. However, next time I'll add a touch of vanilla extract instead.

Pastry Cream
a la Pam

1 package vanilla instant pudding
2 cups cold milk
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
~4 oz. whipped topping

Stir together the milk and vanilla. Add the pudding mix to the milk and allow the pudding to set up in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Then, gently fold in the whipped topping. Chill for at least an hour; overnight is better. Pipe onto/into éclairs as desired. (I didn't cut mine in half as directed since I had a filling tip for my pastry bag.)

The Chocolate Sauce was supposed to be part of the glaze for the tops of the eclairs, but I improvised (it was early Sunday morning, after all) and used it to make a kind of super-chocolate ganache with chocolate chips. I had also forgotten to get heavy cream at the grocery store, so I had to modify (read: butcher) Pierre Hermé's recipe to get the sauce done.

Chocolate Sauce
adapted from Pierre Hermé

1 cup half and half
1/2 cup whole milk
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup sugar

Place all ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring until the sauce thickens (i.e., when it coats the back of the spoon...it may take a while to get thick).

Chocolate Glaze
also a la Pam

1/2 cup Chocolate Sauce
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat both ingredients slowly in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Spread on the tops of the eclairs with an offset spatula. If made ahead of time, simply reheat in a double boiler until spreadable.

Assembling the Éclairs

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. (Or, just fill them with a filling tip on a pastry bag like I did.)

The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 F). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using an offset icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream by piping or spooning 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.

The éclairs are best served as soon as they have been filled.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Red Velvet Cake

I guess since I've made Red Velvet Truffles, I should share my recipe for Red Velvet Cake. I love this cake; it's probably my favorite cake, especially with the cream cheese frosting, and it's really easy to make. Mmmmm.

Red Velvet Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp. red food coloring
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter & flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Beat the butter & sugar & vanilla in large bowl until creamy (at medium speed). Add eggs one at a time until just blended after each addition. Gradually add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk, food coloring, & vinegar. Pour half the batter in each pan. Bake for 23-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool cakes in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Graudally add sifted confectioner's sugar and beat until fluffy. Frost cakes as desired.

Recipe from Cakes! 1,001 Classic Recipes from Around the World

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Red Velvet Truffles

These Red Velvet Truffles are so simple to make! True, they're a bit laborious (any kind of truffle is, right?), but they're definitely worth it. Plus, the recipe yielded quite a few truffles. Originally titled "Red Velvet Cake Balls" on Bakerella's blog, I just can't bring myself to call them that. It just sounds...well... too blunt. Mine certainly aren't fancy, but they're really tasty and not as sweet as you'd expect. I made the mistake of putting mine into the fridge to firm up and taking their picture too soon - hence the condensation you can see on the chocolate ones. Of course, I preferred the ones dipped in the white chocolate, but that's okay. My husband said he'd take care of the rest of the chocolate ones. :)

Red Velvet Truffles

1 box red velvet cake mix (bake in a 9x13 cake pan)
1 16 oz. can cream cheese frosting
1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)

1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. I found it easier to fold and mash it together instead of stirring alone. Either way, it's messy.
3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls or use a mini ice-cream scoop like I did and lay on cookie sheet.
4. Chill for several hours in the fridge or put into the freezer for about an hour.
5. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.
6. Using a toothpick, dip the balls in chocolate, tap off extra, and lay on wax paper until firm.