Some people just can't get enough of crème patissière. Thomas is one of them and I've seen some of my friends eat it by the spoonful. Me? Not so much. I can really enjoy one or two spoons, but I quickly turn from "mmm, this is delicious" to "pff, I've had enough." This is why I don't get excited about éclairs the way other people do. Petits choux, yes; éclairs, no. It's a difficult balance.
Of course, it's different when the éclairs in question happen to be ones that I made myself. In that case, I can get very excited!
This week in baking class, we tackled the choux pastry classic and set out to make two different variations. We used the same choux pastry recipe as last week, but now piped it into small logs rather than rounds.
The first version we made was a classic éclair. We made two small holes in the baked choux pastry and used a piping bag to fill it with crème patissière, turned it around and topped the whole thing with a line of chocolate fondant glaze. (You can also use chocolate ganache.) Pro tip: make the holes in the top of your éclair and then turn it upside down. This will give you a clean, straight top. We also dipped the sides into a bowl of chocolate sprinkles to add just a little bit of extra appeal.
The second variation was something our teacher refers to as "a picnic basket." This involves cutting off the top of your éclair (you can keep it right way up this time), piping a thin layer of crème patissière in the bottom and adding an extra layer of pineapple pulp. You top this with whipped cream on both ends of the éclair, add a small piece of fruit on top of the whipped cream and then add the top bit again. You finish this picnic basket with some extra whipped cream, fruit and a sprinkle of icing sugar on top. Decadence.
Now, to make these babies, you'll need some crème patissière...
I remember being totally confused when I first wanted to make crème patissière. I had recipes from multiple cookbooks, I called my mom to ask for hers and I did a google search to confirm. This did not help. There are recipes with cornstarch, with pudding powder or even with plain flour; some use whole eggs, others only the yolks and the proportions are different in all of them. Even in baking class, we get different recipes from different teachers. How do you make sense of this?
The answer is simple. Just pick a recipe. In the end, most of them do work and it's simply a matter of preference or what you have in your cupboards. But please, please, please, whatever you do, do not make a cold crème patissière...there's this pudding powder that allows you to make it with just cold milk, but the result is grainy and bland. Nowhere near what it should taste like.
Anyway, these are the recipes I use most.
recipe from baking class (syntra west)
makes 1 liter
1 vanilla bean
1 liter whole milk
250 gr granulated sugar
100 gr cornstarch
4 egg yolks
1. Cut your vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. In a large enough saucepan, combine the milk with the vanilla (seeds and bean!) and about half of the sugar. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the sugar will keep the milk from burning. Heat the milk on the stove top.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the rest of the sugar with the cornstarch. Once your milk is lukewarm, pour some of it over the sugar and cornstarch and mix. This will make it easier to incorporate the egg yolks and, at the same time, helps temper the mixture. Whisk the egg yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Meanwhile, put your saucepan back on the stove and wait for the milk to come to the boil.
3. Once the milk reaches boiling point, add the cornstarch mixture to the pan and stir vigorously to incorporate. Allow the mixture to thicken and to come back up to boiling point (be careful not to burn the bottom!), stir again and allow to come up to boiling point one last time. You should have a smooth, thick crème patissière.
4. Transfer to another container and cover with cling film. Let cool completely.
recipe from baking class (syntra west)
makes 2 liters
1 liter heavy cream
100 gr granulated sugar
crème patissière, made with 1 liter of milk, cooled (see above)
1. Beat the heavy cream and sugar until soft peaks start to form.
2. Stir the cooled crème patissière to loosen it up a bit and fold in the whipped cream until incorporated. Congratulations, you now have a delicious alternative filling for all your choux pastry!
PS - Thank you all for the kind words and enthusiasm about Les Filles de Madeleine. It feels really good! Also, it's nice to know that I now have people trying to make the perfect photograph of an éclair for me (thanks, Ruth!) while I simply sit back and stuff one into my mouth...