Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers: Eclairs

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This month's challenge was a lot of fun and so delicious that I didn't need any help finishing them.. I practically ate all of them myself! It was amazing how something that was beaten, mixed and smeared around the pot so much would result in such a delicate pastry. If only this was the case for layer cakes, then I would never have to worry about toughness or chewiness. After piping out four eclairs, I realized that there just wouldn't be enough so I decided make the rest as puffs. Many daring bakers were complaining about their choux pastry deflating so I cranked up the oven temperature to 425 hoping that they would puff up like popovers. Well.. let's just say that it worked, but only for one. The rest deflated as soon as they were removed from the oven so I ate them as is while they were still warm. Suprisingly, they were really addicting plain and the eggy taste didn't bother me one bit. In fact, I loved it! My sole surviving choux pastry was left to cool while the second batch of puffs were in the oven.


Luckily, none of the puffs deflated (probably due to their smaller size).. although I kind of wished some of them did so I could snack on a few more. I was almost tempted to skip the pastry cream and glaze all together and eat them warm. Then again, it would be such a shame not to enjoy them properly filled and glazed.

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For the pastry cream, I omitted the chocolate and added vanilla extract. I was a little worried it would turn into vanilla flavoured scrambled eggs, which happens every time I made vanilla pudding. Something must have gone right because the pastry cream was so good. I could have eaten that on its own too.

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Here is my only surviving eclair in it's complete form.. there weren't too many of those! Since I ate so many puffs, I thought I had way too much pastry cream so I started to eat some of that. I must have eaten way too much because some of my puffs couldn't be filled and were only glazed.

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3 eclair shells, 4 filled and glazed puffs and a whole lot of pastry cream later, I was starting to feel a little sick. I love how each component on its own is so good and how tempting it is not to wait for all the shells to cool, pastry cream to cook and chocolate sauce. If I didn't have a little more self control, I probably would have eaten this as I completed each component, but it was definitely worth the wait. Thanks to Meeta and Tony for choosing such a fun and delicious recipe that will be made again!

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.

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

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(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

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
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by PierreHermé

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona 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
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(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
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

TWD: Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte


For this week's TWD we didn't have to make our own ice cream, but I just couldn't resist after Carla from Chocolate Moosey introduced me to the idea of making ice cream without a maker. Despite being extremely time consuming from the regular stirring required every half hour, it was a lot of fun. I guess it was totally worth seeing the custard slowly and I stress, slowly transform into luscious ice cream.


I got quite the workout from vigourously whisking the mixture to ensure creaminess and preventing ice crystals from forming. At least I was able to make the most of the limited exercise I do though... right Adam? With such a soft ice cream, I decided to form them in muffin cups to avoid having to deal with the mess of cutting up slices. Although it was a lot of fun, I can't wait to get an ice cream maker... not that I didn't love doing it the old fashioned way!

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Thanks to Amy of Food, Family, and Fun for choosing this recipe, which can be found on her blog and in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my Home to Yours. Don't forget to checkout the TWD Blogroll!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Light Banana Blueberry Bread


Our bananas ripened to the point where they just couldn't be eaten, but perfect for banana bread. This time, I decided to make light banana bread even though it involves taking out the KA. If anybody would have a tried and tested light recipe, it would be from Christopher Kimball and gang so I got the recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

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I'm not usually too adventurous with the addins, mostly because I'm afraid of screwing up a perfectly good tasting recipe by adding in weird flavours or textures. My biggest fear though is from folding in anything extra and create a tough and chewy product. Every time nuts or chocolate is involved I always dump it into the flour first and then mix wet and dry. I could never risk folding it in gently after the wet and dry have been combined. In the beginning, I used to just poke blueberries in my muffins and chocolate chips in my cookies. I wasn't in the mood for chocolate or nuts so I added one cup of blueberries instead. Since there was so much fruit going in, I reduced the amount of bananas to 1 cup mashed and the sugar to 1/2 cup. As usual, I couldn't give up the opportunity to use my bundt pan!

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I love blueberries and bananas together! The juicy blueberries squirt in your mouth and both fruits add a lot of moisture. I almost left my banana blueberry bread in the oven for too long, but luckily the irresistable scent of banana blueberry bread caught my attention before it was too late.

Light Banana Bread

Makes 1 9-inch loaf, serves 10

Nonstick baking spray with flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar -- divided (I used 1/2 cup)
3 very ripe bananas (about 1 1/4 pounds), mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups) (I used 1 cup)
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional) (I used 1 cup blueberries)

Heat oven to 350. Spray loaf pan with baking spray. Mix flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 1/4 cup of the sugar in medium bowl. Set aside.

In separate bowl, mix mashed banans, yogurt and vanilla. Set aside.

Beat remaining 1/2 cup sugar and butter with an electric mixer on medium high until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Reduce mixer speed to low. Beat in half of flour mixture, then one-third of banana mixture. Add half of the remaining flour, then one-third of banana mixture. Repeat once more, being careful not to overmix -- batter will be thick and chunky. Fold in add ins, if using.

Scrape batter into pan and sprinkle with walnuts, if using. Bake about 55 minutes, until toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then remove and transfer loaf to wire rack.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Beautiful Site Award

Thanks Carla for giving me the Beautiful Site Award!! I would like to pass it over to Dee at choos and chews for her always gorgeous photography and hilarious posts!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies #2


Out of everything I bake, chocolate chip cookies are always the most requested. Even though I think Cook's Illustrated has the best CCC recipe, I'm always thinking of doing things differently to make them better ie. how long should I be whipping the egg/sugar/butter mixture (even though it's all liquid), should I let refrigerated dough come to room temperature, how high should I shape the dough, brand of all purpose flour, type of pan.. yep.. I'm starting to sound crazy. If I could eat an unlimited amount of cookies, I would have already tested all these variables by now!

When I first started baking, I used jelly roll pans from Baker's Secret.. you know.. the kind that sells for 2 dollars at the supermarket? I would end up with the hardest, driest cookies, although it's probably not fair to blame those hockey puck like cookies solely on the cookie sheet especially since I had just started baking then. During Christmas, I got my first insulated cookie sheet and voila! it was the beginning of the best CCC's ever, but I also switched to the CI recipe and began to line my sheets with parchment. Ever since those insulated sheets, I've never baked any cookies on jelly rolls for fear of failure.. seriously! If it works, why change it? Well, I just couldn't help wondering what the CI recipe would be like baked on a jelly roll so I baked half on an insulated pan and the other on a jelly roll.


On the left, the cookies were baked on an insulated sheet and on the right, the cookies were baked on a jelly roll. The insulated sheet led to more spreading, which I actually prefer even though they are slightly paler. The jelly roll produced cookies that were thicker, drier and slightly more cake like. Even though I've read that insulated sheets are not actually the best for cookies and to use the lipless baking sheets, I'm just glad they end up working for me.

Next, I would really to to try baking with dare I say... margarine and shortening. I can't eat shortening frostings yet when embedded in a cookie I'm thinking it won't gross me out as much. Nothing beats the flavour of homemade cookies, but I'm still after the thin yet chewy texture that is not a result of oversoftness with a crunch on the outside. I'm not sure if anyone knows what I mean, but for those who have had a Tim Horton's or a Mark's and Spencer's bakery cookie that is the texture I would like.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

By the way, I always reduce the white sugar from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup to cut down on the sweetness. And as always, these were refrigerated before baking.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TWD: Granola Grabbers


My first TWD since coming back and boy, was I excited it didn't involve pastry crust or fruit! Fun and all, pastry dough can be a little annoying to make when the food processor has to be lugged out and cleaned. I didn't have granola or peanuts so I subbed old fashioned oatmeal and pecans instead. Compared to what I'm usually make, this was one loaded cookie with nuts, raisins, cocunt and wheat germ. When it comes to add-ins I'm definitely not the 'adventurous' type... I've never even mixed nuts and chocolate together. Anyway, that's why I love TWD because I get to try things I would've never done on my own. Overall, it was a good cookie, but not something I would go crazy over. It could have been my fault for using regular oats and ending up with an oaty cookie rather than one with actual oat chunks. This may be my shortest post, but the olympics are on... Go Canada!

Thanks to Michelle of Bad Girl Baking for choosing this recipe, which can be found on her site and in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From my Home to Yours. Don't forget to checkout the TWD Blogroll!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Part 2: Germany

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After England, we flew to Munich. Luckily we were able to change our tickets last minute to extend our stay to 2 days. I couldn't wait to try traditional German food so for dinner, I ordered the roasted pork loin in a beer sauce, potato dumplings with a side of apple cabbage. It was the best meal I had during my entire trip. Even though I was stuffed and could barely sit straight, I just had to finish my meal because it was so good! The pork had amazing flavour and moistness, the potato dumpling had a really nice chewy and springy texture and the apple cabbage tasted almost candy-like. Normally, I'm the kind of eater that eats each part separately, which can be annoying for the waiter and waitress with all my 'on the side' dishes. This time, I actually mixed everything up in one bite and it was great.

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In Munich, we took a 6 hour bus tour to see the famous castles built for King Ludwig II, the Linderhof and Neuschwanstein. The Linderhof was much smaller, but it was beautiful inside. Considering the types of tools available to these people at the time, the craftmanships and detailing is incredible. Somehow on our way back to the bus, I actually got lost. It was so embarassing because the tour guide was yelling at my family for losing me.. haha.. a 21 year old.


Neuschwanstein on the other hand was huge! We had to hike up an upward trail to reach the castle, which was apparently supposed to take 25 minutes. For us, I'm pretty sure it took double that time. Our group actually started without us and we had to ask the woman working at admissions to let us through. I can't imagine if we had to wait for the next time slot to enter.. our tour guide would kill us for being late!

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Next, we left for Nuremburg and stayed with some friends, Barbara and Karl. It was really nice because we had our first homecooked meal in 1.5 weeks. Prior to staying with them, I never noticed how quickly I eat my meals. I think over the years, I stopped chewing my food properly and was just swallowing it partially whole. It is so much more pleasurable when you're not scarfing down your food in front of the TV, but actually enjoying it. Even though we didn't visit that many attractions in Germany, we had a great time with friends at beer gardens. The lifestyle in Europe is definitely different than North America and the cost of living is a lot higher. They are definitely more conservative when it comes to food, water and electricity. I was suprised at how small the quantity of food that is sold at grocery stores, especially flour, eggs and sugar... definitely no supersized costco style products.

By the way, I didn't get completely away from making desserts during my trip. When I told Karl how much I love to bake, he offered to make a simple cake with me. It didn't involve the oven, but it was still a lot of fun. I was a little freaked out with the amount of solid palm fat it called for, but I'm on vacation and it tasted great. The rum and coffee pair well together along with the butter cookies in between to give it a nice crunch. When I get the English translation of the recipe, I will post it.

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As I mentioned in my England post, our flight was delayed until the evening so we were able to make one last run to the stores. Despite already buying a whole 1/4 suitcase load of Milka chocolates, I couldn't help going back to Karstadt for some more.

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I actually bought more than this, but these are just the different flavours I got. Too bad we were so rushed because there are so many different varieties of kitchen gadgets and brands in Germany it is hard to decide what to get. I'm so glad I finally bought a good balloon and twirl whisk. These items are so difficult to find in Toronto and Amazon does not ship to Canada. It was so sad and a little emotional when we had to leave because we had such a great time. I'm really going to miss the nice breakfasts and dinners Barbara and Karl prepared for us, the amazing food (especially sausages, pretzels, bread) and all our memorable conversations.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Part 1: England


Going to England and Germany was amazing! There really is no better way of de-stressing than going on vacation. Luckily our flight was delayed from early morning to the evening so we were able to make one last run to the stores for more shopping!. It was such a great experience staying at a bed and breakfast in Bournesmouth for 2 days and enjoying the calmness of the beach and town. B&B's are pretty popular and the street we lived on was literally a long strip of them. It was actually similar to living at home with the exception of waking up to a huge English breakfast consisting of 2 rashers of bacon, sausage, tomatos, mushrooms, toast, egg/omlette (2 or 3 eggs), hash brown and baked beans. We were so stuffed that we ended up skipping lunch and went straight to dinner. Our first meal was none other than fish and chips!

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The coolest part was actually watching them made right in front of our eyes.. fresh fish dipped in batter and then deep fried. In just a few moments, I had the best fish and chips ever.. very moist, fresh and not fishy at all. Next we arrived in London and stayed at a hotel close to the London Eye.

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At our first dinner in London, we went to Locale, a really nice Italian restaurant and the waiter offered me a kids' menu... how embarassing! I just took that opportunity to get free icecream, which by the way was amazing. I wanted a smaller portion anyway after the huge English breakfast at the B&B.

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During the rest of our stay in London, we took a bus and boat tour, visited Stonehenge, the art museum, Buckingham Palace for the changing of guards, London eye, London Tower, St. Paul's cathedral and saw Pygmalian at the Old Vic. It was tough work climbing the 500 or so steps at St Paul's, but I sure needed it after having meal after meal of food that was either deep fried, loaded with butter and or cheese. I don't think I'll be having another potato for a long time! Anyway, the view at the top of the cathedral was breath taking. Too bad my battery died on me and I only captured 2 pictures.

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We also went to Harrods, the most beautiful department store I've ever been to. They have such an amazing selection and display of their products. I did not want to leave and could not help snapping a million pictures of chocolate, candy and other types of food.

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I'm sure you get the idea...

Even though the weather is kind of crazy, I would love to visit England again!


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