Sunday, August 31, 2008


When I first let R know what this month's Daring Bakers challenge was, we were both excited. I was excited to make them, because amazingly, I have never made eclairs, or cream puffs, or a pate choux of any time. R was excited to eat the eclairs, because apparently she is something of an eclair fan.

This month's challenge was hosted by Tony Tahhan and MeetaK and featured a recipe from Pierre Hermé, from a cookbook written by Dorie Greenspan: Chocolate Desserts By Pierre Hermé.

I put this off, because that is what I do - procrastinate. As I read other comments from DBers throughout the month I gleaned that there were a few points in the recipe that threw some people off and that this was not going to take nearly as long as last months challenge. When I finally did get around to making these, it was true what other DBers had said: the whole thing can be done in a little over two hours and it dirties about every pot, pan, rack etc. that you own. It was definitely a fun challenge since I have not made this before, once again, invoking the true spirit of the Daring Bakers - get out there and try something new, take on that recipe you wouldn't have tried on your own you lazy bastard.

My thoughts: I made the recipe as written (except I don't have a good scale, so some of my chocolate ratios may have been a tad off - I tend to lean to the more is more approach) and although the dough was a bit eggy, I think it held up well to the chocolate pastry cream and chocolate glaze. The pastry cream was also a bit too puddingesque for me. Overall, I think the recipe was a good one and it came together easily, but I just don't think I really like eclairs that much. Everyone else enjoyed them and they didn't last long, so it seems it's just me who is weird. I've decided that the next time I make a choux, it will be in a savory setting, and I will continue to search for the perfect pastry cream.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs

Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

(makes 20-24 Éclairs)
  • Cream Puff Dough (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
  2. Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.
    Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.
    Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.
    The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
  3. Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. My notes: after reading comments from other DBers, I passed on the opening of the oven door and had nice and puffy eclairs. Others complained that opening the oven caused their eclairs to deflate and flatten.


  1. The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

  • Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
  • Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)
  1. 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.
  2. The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
  3. Pipe or spoon 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.


  1. If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
  2. The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Cream Puff Dough
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

  • ½ cup (125g) whole milk
  • ½ cup (125g) water
  • 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  1. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

  4. The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.


  1. Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
  2. You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Chocolate Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups (500g) whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
  • 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, melted
  • 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  1. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.
  2. Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
  3. Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
  4. Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
  5. Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.


  1. The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
  2. In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
  3. Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
(makes 1 cup or 300g)

  • 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
  • 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
  • 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature
  1. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  2. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.


  1. If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
  2. It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

  • 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (250 g) water
  • ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
  1. Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
  2. It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.


  1. You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
  2. This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bagels Revisited

Bagels are a big deal to me. Way way back (back before Blogger and a gagillion personal food blogs), freshman year in college, the first time I had access to "fast" internet connections and free domain space I even createded a website (or "web page" as we called it back then - I'm talking back in the dancing baby days) "Ethan's Don't Forget to Boil the Bagel Page". I was also fairly convinced that egg bagels were going to take over the world - and I wasn't totally convinced that was a bad idea. Maybe that's why I am now on a journey...Baking Bread to Save the World.

Enough. Point is, I like bagels. I hate crappy round rolls with holes that you get at the grocery store. Since the closest, good bagels are about a 2.5 hour drive from home, it's high time we nail down this bagel baking business.

I made a batch of bagels from my NY Grandpa's recipe a while back, and while I will make a few changes the next time I make them, they were very good, real bagels...chewy with a bit of a crust and great flavor (from the bagel itself, not some ridiculous blueberry flavor).

I am interested in coming up with the perfect bagel recipe so I have been pouring through recipes online. I came across the same recipe on two great food blogs (Eating out Loud, and Cafe Fernando). They both had used Peter Reinhart’s recipe from his classic book "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" which is actually a book I have, but had largely been intimidated by - all these levains, and poolishes, and breads that take three days to make, assuming you've spent the last 23 years tenderly seeing to the needs of your precious sourdough starter. Now that I found it in "quick and easy" comfort of the internet, I was ready to take it on.

Alas, the venerable Peter Reinhart has let me down. After mixing, and kneading, and kneading, and kneading, an overnight retard, a quick dip in the boiling pot, and baking at such ridiculously high heats considering the weather around here (when will it drop below 100 again?) what did we get to have for breakfast? Round rolls with a hole in the middle. Decent rolls (especially when covered with Rosemary and Grey Sea Salt, or Pecorino and Crushed Black Pepper), but certainly not bagels, certainly not Grandpa's bagels.

So it is decided...Grandpa was not messing around. I think a tweak or two and Grandpa's recipe will produce as fine a bagel as you can get this side of NYC.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

3 Reasons Why I Should At Least Pretend to Diet

We usually break out the ice cream maker in the summer months, but the bug hit a bit late this year. I finally started making a few batches and once again I'm hooked on the ability to create all types of fun and new flavors of fatty frozen fabulousness. We are on our third flavor experiment so far and I already have lots of ideas and recipes waiting in the wings.

The first batch was a horchata ice cream that apparently was so good it did not last long enough to photograph. It actually was quite good. This was however the total cheater ice cream. I had, on a lark, purchased a horchata mix to easily make some of the yummy almond, cinnamon, rice milk drink for H's bday. I wanted to keep the horchata theme going since I had made horchata cupcakes with mini churros for her 1st birthday - including grinding rice, soaking overnight etc. Since we were having nearly 50 people over this year (yes, we broke down and got the giant inflatable cage, I mean bounce house, too) I wanted to streamline things, hence the mix. Of course, by the time things got rolling, I forgot to make horchata. So here we are with an empty fridge save for a half gallon of horchata concentrate and we want ice cream. The obvious solution was to mix the concentrate with some half and half (also left over from the party, because really, who was going to drink coffee when it was nearly 100 degrees outside?) some cinnamon, almond extract and some chopped mexican chocolate. Mix it up, chill it, throw it in the ice cream maker and boom, super-duper easy horchata ice cream that ended up quite the crowd pleaser.

After being such a cheat I decided I should redeem myself by making up my own recipe. Of course, this ended up not tasting as good, but it was healthy ice cream man, so you know, it had that going for it. I tried to keep it very easy so it would be replicable, which in turn had the effect of making it not taste good enough to want to replicate. That's not entirely true, it wasn't so bad that we didn't devour it in a day or two - in fact, R really liked it and would order it again. That's our test, we will often rate food we make by deciding if we were served this at a restaurant, a) would we go back to that restaurant? b) would you order the same dish? and c) would you recommend that dish (the highest compliment)?

Health Food Pina Colada Ice Cream
really, it's healthy, eat as much as you want, there's no cream

1 can coconut milk
1 can pineapple (I had a can of rings, so I used that, crushed would work, whatever)
1 individual size container of vanilla yogurt. (Plain would work, or I suppose even Pina Colada yogurt, but that's just getting silly)
approx. 1/4 C. honey
1/4 C. packed brown sugar
Zest from one lime
Juice from said lime

Chop the pineapple if you are using rings or chunks, mix it all together in a bowl and put it in the fridge to chill for a few hours, or overnight.

Put it in your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturers directions.

Wow, now that I write it out, this looks like cheater ice cream too, but at least it's my cheater ice cream.

Chocolate Gelato

Now this one is worth repeating. I found this recipe at a favorite food blog Cafe Fernando. It's a starch based (not custard) gelato/ice cream. Again, quite easy, but amazingly delicious. Very rich, great texture (H said it was "chewy"). We will certainly be making this one again. I've now got a couple of David Lebovitz's recipes I am itching to try. Who's up for some Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream? Man that sounds good. We'll let you know.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The last harvest

The last of the tomatoes, onions, and peppers. We still have a half dozen watermelon and a few cantelope and honeydew on the vine. We are looking forward to redesigning the garden and getting ready for fall plantings.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This Weekend - I Baked

I have been wanting to do a lot more baking and cooking lately. It has just been too busy with kids, work, event like American Idol, etc. But this weekend, the stars aligned and I was able to spend some time in the kitchen. Actually, it is mostly due to my beautiful wife who was kind enough to stay on top of the weekend chores and the kids so I could get some yummy things from the oven to our bellies. And, speaking of stars...they were gorgeous last night. R and I stepped outside after the kids went to bed and the sky was brilliant with glowing stars, we hung out outside long enough to see a shooting star together, which has always been a thing for us.

Back to the baking. This weekend, I made...

a brotform loaf of semolina bread,

a classic diner style layer cake with homemade peach jam and spiced whipped cream,

and bagels from Grandpa S's recipe

I also made some zuchinni pickles from the Zuni Cafe cookbook to put on hamburgers at my mom's house tomorrow.

So first off, the brotform. This was basically because I needed space in the fridge. I had some semolina dough from ABi5MaD and I let it rise in the brotform I got from D and M. This was a much smaller loaf than the last one, but it worked just fine. We had it as an appetizer with some rosemary oil and balsamic last night.

The cake was also for last night - we celebrated my Dad's birthday.

They had just dropped off some fresh peaches for us the day or two before so I thought it would be fun to incorporate them into the cake.

I have been looking for a go-to cake recipe lately and have been playing with one from Dorie Greenspan that was used in a past DB challenge. I made it a few nights ago as mini lavender bundt cakes, but I forgot the vanilla extract and they were obviously a bit flat (sorry Cat and Heath). I am liking the cake, it's got a great texture and a hint of lemon from the zest that is blended with sugar and then creamed with the butter.

This time I used vanilla and walnut extract and used the homemade peach jam (which was just cooked fresh peaches with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove) and covered the whole cake with whipped cream (whipped with powdered sugar for added stability) flavored with a hint of the walnut extract. It ended up looking like a classic diner cake. I really liked using the whipped cream - I really really like whipped cream, so covering a cake (I really really like cake too) in whipped cream is definitely the way to go. I can do without buttercream for a while.

I have also been wanting to bake more bread lately and I thought trying out Grandpa's bagel recipe would be perfect. My grandpa was a New York fireman way back, and used to tell me cool stories about growing up playing stickball in the streets. Now some people swear that you can't make a good bagel outside of New York because there is something special in the water, but Grandpa and I gave that theory a run for its money today.

To make bagels, you make a basic bread dough with salt and a bit of sugar, and knead the heck out of it
let it rise,
reknead, then shape into the the classic bagel "oh".

After a brief rise, they are boiled in salted, malted, water. I used sugar, because I didn't have any malt in the house. Boiling is key. You can't make bagels without boiling, so don't even try, unless you are a huge fan of round rolls. Steaming bagels doesn't work either, they don't get that perfect crust and chewy inside without being boiled.

They boil for about three minutes then you take them out and put them on a greased cookie sheet and you can add your favorite toppings at this point. That is of course assuming to don't think blueberries, or sundried tomatoes are the perfecting topping. Chocolate chip and blueberry are muffin flavors, not bagels. Today I went with sesame seeds, caraway seeds, and some gray salt.

They'll sit again for a few minutes and then head into a preheated (425) oven for about 25-30 minutes. I did add extra steam when I first put them in and I left my baking stone in the oven to regulate temp since I knew I would have to open the oven to rotate the two trays.

After an agonizing wait to let them cool, R and I finally tried some. They're fantastic. I will keep playing with the recipe, but I won't buy bagels in the Valley ever again. They are delicious, dense, chewy with a crust. I can't wait to toast one up in the morning with a schmear of cream cheese.