Daring Bakers' Challenge: Chocolate Éclairs

Yes, it's that time again. Another Daring attempt at something I think I already know. I do not intend to imply that I'm an expert of sorts, but I do tend to approach these things with the old hat mentality - will I ever learn? But, I was thrilled to see this month's Daring Bakers' Challenge, selected by Meeta of What's for Lunch, Honey? (with a little help from Tony of Olive Juice): Chocolate Éclairs from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé.

Éclairs, mmmm...oh, and profiteroles, cream puffs and gougères. Whatever your pleasure, they all have a common thread: choux pastry, or pâte à choux. I love this stuff; it's a buttery, floury paste that bakes (and poaches, and fries) up into a big puffy vessel for myriad filling choices, and in this case, a rich chocolate pastry cream.

One side of me (I don't know which) is a traditionalist, and really felt that only a vanilla pastry cream would do. But the other side convinced me that just sticking with the provided recipe was the way to go on this particular occasion. And so I did...and it turned out the most decadent chocolate pastry cream, I think ever. Not only that, but this recipe provided little fuss, which is great because the real fuss came later.

But let's go back to the choux pastry. I have made it before. I don't remember when, or how, or why, but I also don't remember having problems with it. And I didn't at first, this time around, until they were done, or should I say, until I thought they were done. They puffed up beautifully, I was so proud. When I took them out of the oven to admire them (and let them cool), they sank rapidly; their domed tops caving into deep crevices. What did I do? Well, with hindsight, I'm certain I didn't cook them long enough; though I did cook them longer than the recipe called for, they were still slightly doughy inside. After consulting various other recipes for choux pastry, I found that the requisite times and temperatures vary greatly; apparently, I'm just supposed to know. And I thought I did, which once again, is my Achille's heel. Okay, okay, next time I'll know everything.

And then (always a then) the chocolate glaze; I won't bore you with the details, save a few. To start, the chocolate glaze that tops the éclairs called for a chocolate sauce in the recipe. Seriously? I have to make a chocolate sauce, just so I can use a tiny bit of it in the glaze? Now, now, I'm following the recipe, remember? So I did it; I made the chocolate sauce to go in the chocolate glaze. And then the glaze turned into this mucky, broken, buttery mess. I ended up using the chocolate sauce alone to glaze the éclairs. See? Good thing I followed the recipe, or I wouldn't have had anything to fall back on.

How did they turn out, you ask? Aside from having only a small handful of éclairs that actually turned out to be attractive specimens (the profiterole-style puffs turned out much better), they tasted just as they should. They make for messy eating (as I think all éclairs do, see below), and would give any chocolate fiend their fix. Though in my case, as someone who eats her mistakes, it's safe to say I've completely OD'd.

For the recipe, take a look at What's for Lunch, Honey? To see more Daring Bakers in action, check out the Daring Bakers' Blogroll. Until next time...!

How not to eat an éclair...
A coworker with whom I shared an affinity for pure, unadulterated evil (baked goods) once brought me an éclair from a local bakery she had been raving about. Now, I did not work a desk job, but I did have work at a desk from time to time. So after the rush of the day had passed, I retired to said desk, closed the door to my shared office, and sat down to enjoy this, some might say gargantuan, éclair.

I raised it to my lips and bit into just the very tip; at once the entire contents of the pastry shot out of the other end and onto the lapel of my suit. While another might take pause to clean the offending filling from their clothing, I did not. The damage had already been done, I thought. So I changed position, leaning further out of my chair to take a second bite. Still, more (How can there be more?) pastry cream shot out of the back end, falling through my outstretched fingers and onto my shoe. I will not be done in by an éclair, I thought. And with the third, showstopping bite, I had pastry cream on both hands, my face, suit, shoes, desk, and computer. Attempting to clean oneself and their surroundings when covered entirely in stickiness is quite a feat. Oh, I am so thankful I was working alone that day.