Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Chocolate Eclairs

OK, I joined the Daring Bakers. What a great name! And, they did cool things.

Honestly, though, they need to change their name. Something more like Humble Bakers. Or, Let's-Make-You-Cry Bakers. Maybe the second suggestion is a bit far, as I didn't cry while making the chocolate eclairs. I did, however, want to bend one of my baking sheets around my stove.

Yeah, this cooking experience didn't go so well. Coming off of a concussion and a flu that required antibiotics to eradicate ... not the best time to make three separate items which you've never done before and assemble them.

Still, they're the Daring Bakers! And, I wanted to join ... wait, I did join. So, carry on, James! Brace up and try!

te de Goo

These eclairs were really four recipes in one. First is the pâte de chaux. This is the dough makes up the crust. I didn't have any trouble making this. Very straight-forward. Kind of an odd paste-like dough.

After making it, I was looking forward to piping it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. How hard could it be to use a piping bag? Oh, how naïve I am! Turns out, just loading the Bag From Hell is hard enough. The slippery little devil kept wanting to slide out of my hand and onto the floor ... filled with the goo (dough).

Several false starts later, I have the dough in the piping bag. OK, all is well, right? Wrong! Like a total fool, I loaded the bag too full. So, when I went to squeeze, the goo came out the top (yes, simple physics ... path of least resistance ... and to think of all those physics courses I took in college ... the shame of it!).

So, I unloaded part of the bag, twisted the top, and was now ready to go again. Amazing, holding the top closed meant that the goo was forced to go out the tip. Fantastic! I was able to lay down appropriate sized lines of the goo.

Unfortunately, this being my first time with a piping bag, my little lines of goo looked more like Hellish Abominations than future eclairs. Still, I wasn't daunted. These things were going in the oven!

375F (190C) for 20 minutes. The recipe called for cracking the oven at 7 minutes and turning the pan around at 12 minutes. So, I followed the recipe carefully.

When my little abominations came out of the oven, they looked good! Oh my! The goo was forgiving! I was happy ... until a few seconds later when I watched my puffy little future eclairs fall like punctured balloons.

Not to be outdone by a piping bag filled with goo, I piped out a second sheet. These actually looked acceptable before going in the oven. Maybe things will get better. This time, I put them in at 375F (190C) for 20 minutes and just left the oven closed the whole time. This resulted in a better set for me.

I was a bit disappointed when I cut one open. It wasn't the gaping empty chamber that I expected. I was close, but not quite close. Still, good enough!

OK, shells down ...

Pastry Cream Filling Blues

While I like chocolate, I'm not a total chocolate nut. So, I decided to fill the eclairs with vanilla cream rather than the chocolate cream that the recipe wanted. I found a good recipe on the Internet and set about making it.

Things were going well, I was boiling, stirring, whisking away. Things were back on track and I was happy. The vanilla pasty cream looked like pastry cream, had the texture it was supposed to have. Yes, this was coming along nicely!

Finally, we're at the stage where I'm going to add some vanilla, let the mixture cool, then fold in some whipping cream. I decide to taste it. Normally I taste everything ... on this one, I didn't taste until late into the process.

The recipe called for 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Somehow, through the Magic of Stupidity, I managed to put in 1/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 cup of salt. I don't have words for the taste. Somehow "disgusting and vile" just doesn't seem to go far enough.

At this point, my Ego is starting to write a suicide note ...

Pastry Cream Redux

Given that my vanilla cream was ruined and parts of my psyche were retreating into bunkers for safety, I decided to make the chocolate pastry cream that the recipe originally wanted. Much to my surprise, this went together well. Quickly and easily. I even managed to temper the egg yolks without creating chocolate scrambled eggs.

For those keeping score here, I'm now one win, one loss, and one tie. I have one more chance to redeem myself here.

Glaze Gone Thin

I made the glaze as directed. First, you make a chocolate sauce. Then, using that sauce, you make the glaze. Both called for heavy cream. Oh, sure. That's going to happen around here! (for those who haven't read here before, the only way I manage to get milk is through powdered milk ... dairy is not well represented here in the rural Philippines)

So, I made the recipe using whole milk instead. I knew it wasn't going to go well. But, I was curious if I could even get it close.

Short answer: no. The glaze was way too thin. You can see in the picture above that the coverage was nowhere near what it should have been.

So ... one win, two losses, and a tie. Not my best evening of cooking.

Test Results

Primary Test Group: Delicious ... gone in less than 15 seconds upon contact with the testers. So, while I struggled with these, at least the final result was good tasting.


In the end, I learned a lot from these. I learned about what I didn't know about baking (that being: a lot). Up until now, I've been more of a cook than a baker. Maybe I'm splitting hairs here.

I have a feeling that there's going to be a lot more frustration ahead baking with the Daring Bakers. Oh well, nobody said cooking well was supposed to be easy.

To prove what a masochist I am, I've saved the remaining chocolate pastry cream so that I can make these again. I'm going to have to find a different glaze recipe. The one, as written, just won't work for the ingredients I have available.

Overall, I'm happy. Things could have gone far worse. And, people loved them.


Barbara Bakes said...

Thanks for sharing your adventure. It made me laugh! My experience wasn't much better.

A said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers! Loved the story haha. Once I mixed up salt and sugar and served some guests some salty Milo. Not good.

Your eclairs look quite crispy. Better luck next time ;D

Cristine said...

I loved reading this! You're a great writer. Good job on the eclairs!

James said...

Barbara: Thanks! I'll take a little solace knowing that I was not alone in the challenge!

Ahmad: Actually, they weren't crispy really at all. In fact, I think they should have been _more_ so. Thanks for the good wish!

Cristine: Thank you very much!

Patti said...

This was funny. I think they look GOOD. :)

Eat4Fun said...

Congratulations on completing your first challenge!

I thought the choux would be something easy to do. Choux enough it was a pain. I know how you feel about the "daring" should be "Demeted(?)" Bakers? lol!

James said...

Patti: Thanks!

Eat4Fun: Thanks, too! The choux was easy enough to make. It was the handling where things started to go wrong for me. Demented Bakers? I'm sure I belong to that group!

Angela said...

Welcome to the Daring Bakers! I did have to laugh when reading your tale of woe--especially the salty pastry cream bit! But you really turned things around. Good on you for not giving up!

(And if you can't get hold of cream, you could try using a little bit of evaporated milk to make the glaze. Or, just melt chocolate with a little bit of shortening. It's not going to be the same, but it'll still be good! I'm really intrigued to learn that getting hold of cream is hard in the Philippines. Any particular reason why?)

Lauren said...

your post made me laugh! the old sugar and salt switchup-ouch! in the end it sounds like they were tasty which means you succeeded! welcome to the group!

James said...

Lauren: Thanks!

Angela: Thank you!

Getting my hands on real cream is hard because I live in the _rural_ Philippines. It's hot here and refrigeration is relatively expensive. I live on Leyte, an island. Only way here is by boat or plane. There's UHT cream ... but, that stuff just isn't cream as we know it.

Cream is readily available in the big cities such as Manila, Cebu, and Davao.

Evap is a good idea. Next time, I'll use a recipe that uses that rather than pressing on with something I figure won't work in the first place.

Lunch Buckets said...

I'm thinking of starting a new group called Inadequate Bakers - want to be a charter member? Oh, just kidding! You dared - so you win :)

silverrock said...

Yeah for Daring Bakers... and congrats on completing your first challenge! The eclairs look deliciously chocolatey and I'm sure they taste even better :P

Liz said...

Oh man, I know it's a sad story but I admit I giggled when I read about your first pastry cream attempt. I once made a huge batch of pie dough using salt instead of sugar (the containers looked identical!) so I feel your pain. But at least the eclairs were tasty, in the end!

Two suggestions:
1. You can put the pastry bag in a tall glass and fold the top down over the sides and fill it that way. It's much easier and less likely to slip!

2. Maybe make a poured chocolate fondant for the glaze instead of a ganache-based glaze? Something like this recipe:

James said...

Silverrock: Thanks! Yeah, the eclairs were quite good. A little bit eggy, quite a few folks mentioned that. I want to try making eclairs again ... now that I've gone through the suffering.

Liz: Salt/sugar ... so easy and there's just no rescue!

Thanks for the tips on how to improve. I've watched over an hour of videos on YouTube now about how to properly use a pastry bag. Maybe I should have done that before I tried using one.

Lunch Buckets: Are you sure that I qualify? I might have to join Pathetic Bakers first ....

Jacque said...

Congratulations on your first challenge... sorry it was so *challenging*, LOL. I'm so glad it was well liked.

James said...

Jacque: Thanks!