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This month’s Daring Bakers Challenge was hosted by MeetaK and Tony and I was excited to discover they had chosen chocolate éclairs.  Custards and pastry creams are a weakness of mine, and I still giggle when I recall a Christmas over a decade ago when I attempted a croquembouche as my pièce de résistance.  Suffice it to say the tower was more of a molehill and I was still finding sugar filaments days later.

The Challenge required I keep one chocolate element, so I kept the glaze and simply omitted the chocolate from the pastry cream and kept all the other ingredients.

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes about 15 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. Score the top lightly with a fork.  The dough should give you enough to pipe 15 éclairs.

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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. (I ended up baking the éclairs about 30 minutes and I discovered I should never have opened the oven door).

Notes:
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.

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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.

Notes:
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.

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
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.

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Notes:
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.

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I simply omitted the melted chocolate from the recipe.

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.

Notes:
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.

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I used melted white chocolate and a toothpick to create the tulip designs.  While I had some problems with  the éclairs deflating (they simply weren’t cooked enough), I enjoyed this month’s challenge.  And my husband’s officemates did too.

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When you have a seemingly endless supply of figs, one tries a variety of methods of prepare this distinctly sweet and rich fruit.  I had decided to make a fig ice cream and came upon this recipe from Epicurious with the irresistible title “Isabella’s Aphrodisiac Ice Cream.”  Despite the probability that this ice cream would have about as much sexual-enhancing properties as oysters or rhinoceros horns, I gave it the old college try. 

It had a nice crunch and rich creamy taste, although the fig taste wasn’t as strong as I would have liked.  And inasmuch as it was awfully good, this ice cream, I am sad to report, isn’t going to give horny goat weed and Spanish fly any competition. 

Isabella’s Aphrodisiac Ice Cream (adapted from Epicurious)

1/2 C. sliced almonds
1 1/2 C. whole milk
4 egg yolks
3/4 C. of sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
2 C. heavy cream, chilled
1 C. peeled and mashed rich ripe figs
1 tsp. vanilla

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Preheat oven to 350° F.  Place almonds on a cookie sheet and roast for 3-5 minutes until just golden.  Set aside.

In a stainless steel bowl, or double boiler, whisk the yolks with the sugar and salt for 3 minutes, or until pale yellow. Add hot milk slowly while whisking. Place the stainless steel bowl over a pan of simmer water and cook whisking constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the custard from the water and stir in the chilled cream, mashed figs, and vanilla.   Pour into an ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions.  In the last couple of minutes of churning, add almonds.  Freeze until hardened.

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I’ve mentioned my personal fruit farm next door (my kind-hearted neighbors) in past entries and I have been waiting all summer for their figs to come in season in late August.  The sweet black skinned fruit is simply delicious eaten fresh off the bush, and we all get a little bellyache from eating so many that way.  I also love to make various desserts with figs, and I will be presenting three different fig dishes in the next week. 

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Fig Galette

Pâte Brisée recipe (see below)
4 C. fresh figs, stemmed and quartered
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 egg, lightly beaten

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Preheat oven to 400º F.  Roll out chilled pate brisee into a large circle 1/4″ thick.  Place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Refrigerate for 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, lightly toss figs, sugar and zest with your fingers.  Place figs in concentric circles, leaving a 1 1/2″ edge.  Fold over the edge, crimping when necessary.  Brush top crust with egg wash.  Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

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Pâte Brisée

2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds. With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.  Flatten  into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour.

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I’ll admit it – I grew up eating spaghetti sauce from a jar.  This is to be expected from a first generation immigrant like my mother who thought Ragu was how spaghetti was supposed to be prepared (well, that along with kimchi.  Can I get a witness from my Korean-American peeps?)  I was set straight by my husband, who grew up eating macaroni and gravy prepared by his Italian family from the Bronx (that would be pasta and marinara sauce).

I’ve been making turkey meatballs even since I my son was born, trying to shed those baby pounds.  While low-cal substitutions usually mean a less tasty result, I truly feel these meatballs are just as tasty as ground beef meatballs.

Turkey Meatballs
(yields about 18 1½” meatballs)

1 1/3 lb. ground turkey
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 C. breadcrumbs
1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
fresh ground pepper

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Puree onion and garlic in a mini-chopper or food processor.  Combine pureed onion, garlic, ground turkey, breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, egg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl until well combined. 

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Roll mixture into 1½” balls.  Heat mium skillet on medium high and brown meatballs on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. 

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Add to pot of hot marinara sauce (see below) and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with pasta of your choice with grated parmesan cheese.

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Marinara Sauce

28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
2-3 tsp. dried basil

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on medium high.  Add minced garlic and saute until golden.  Add can of crushed tomatoes, sugar and basil.  Mix and cook on medium low for 15-20 minutes. 

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I entertain with some regularity and one constant dish I serve regardless of the type of party is spicy almonds.   I usually place dishes of the spicy nuts throughout the house during a party and inevitably, I find the near-empty (or completely empty) dishes at the end along with numerous compliments and requests for the recipe.  I made a batch today for my husband who is going on a canoe trip with some buddies.  I guess spicy almonds aren’t just for parties anymore.

I use a variation of Martha Stewart’s recipe which calls for blanched almonds.  I use dry roasted unsalted almonds since blanched almonds just look so naked.  The sugar will caramelizes into little bunches of sugar, which is such a perfect complement to the spicy crushed red hot peppers and cumin. 

Spicy Almonds (adapted from Martha Stewart)

1/4 C. peanut oil
4 C. whole dry roasted unsalted almonds
1 C. sugar + 1 Tbs. for sprinkling
3 tsp. kosher salt
3 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. red pepper flakes

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In a large, heavy-bottomed saute pan, warm the oil over medium-high heat. Add the almonds, and stir with a wooden spoon, coating each thoroughly with oil. Sprinkle with 1 cup sugar, and continue to stir until the almonds become golden brown and the sugar caramelizes, about 4 minutes.

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Remove the pan from heat, and pour almonds into a medium mixing bowl. Sprinkle the remaining sugar, salt, cumin, and red pepper flakes over the nuts, and toss well. Pour the spiced nuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet, and separate with a wooden spoon. Allow nuts to cool for about 30 minutes. Spiced nuts can be stored up to two weeks in an airtight container.

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Despite their openness to try all types of food, my children are quite happy to eat certain kids’ fare, most notably mac and cheese. What’s not to like? It’s got pasta, milk, butter and cheese in it.  I’ve made many variations of it over the years, but this is the one I’ve settled on.  The kids love it and frankly, the adults love it too.

Macaroni and Cheese

16 oz. elbow pasta
5 Tbs. + 3 Tbs. of butter (1 stick total)
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 C. flour
5 C. milk
4 C. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3/4 – 1 C. panko bread crumbs
1/2 C. grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Cook pasta according to directions to the longest recommended time for the softest pasta.  Meanwhile, melt the 5 Tbs. of butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven.  Cook onions until soft (about 4 minutes).  Add flour and cook for about 4 more minutes.  Add milk and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium high and cook for a few minutes until mixture thickens, stirring frequently.  Turn off heat, add cheese and mix well.  Add cooked macaroni to cheese mixture and incorporate well.   Add ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer mac and cheese to a large casserole dish or keep in a dutch oven.  Melt the 3 Tbs. of butter and mix with panko breadcrumbs.  Sprinkle buttered panko and parmesan cheese on top and bake for 25-30 until bubbly and brown on top.  (If using a tall dutch oven, you may have to broil for a few minutes to brown the breadcrumbs.)

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Brownie Points

August 13, 2008

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Alice Medrich’s best cocoa brownies

I recently had one of my fundamental beliefs shaken to its core.  The sun rises in the east, puppies are cute, and home-made is better than a mix.  After attending yet another Dove Chocolate at Home party,  I ordered and baked a brownie mix.  Planets tilted and crashed, up was down, bad was good.  I had just eaten the best brownies ever – out of a box.  Chewy, dense (but not overly so), rich with a wonderful crust – how can this be?

My son had been asking for brownies ever since I made some on our vacation a couple of weeks ago.  (Yes, it was from a red box purchased at the over-priced beach town grocery store.  I am probably the only person who actually even attempted to use the oven while renting a house at the beach.  Needless to say, I did not attempt to bake from scratch while on vacation.  My Martha Stewartness has its limits.)  Fortuitously, my friend delivered my Dove at Home brownie mix the day I returned. 

I was now on a mission:  to recreate these delicious brownies on my own.  I made this recipe I found on Epicurious, with just a few modifications.  I actually made them twice since the brownies would not pour into the pan and was certain I was making it wrong.  I’m not sure what I did, but the mixture was just too thick to pour – I had to pat it into the pan, thereby precluding that smooth, shiny light crust that you see in picture-perfect brownies.

The verdict?  These brownies are rich, chewy and has a wonderful crispy crust (just no gleaming smooth top).  They are still not the same as the Dove brownies – those rose higher and dare I say, tasted slightly better.  I’ll keep trying.

In case you’re wondering why I just don’t buy more of the mix, it cost $18.  Yeah. 

 

Cocoa Brownies (adapted from Alice Medrich)

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
1 C. sugar
3/4 C. plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2  large eggs at room temperature
2/3 C. all-purpose flour
1/2 C. chocolate chips (optional)

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter 13″ square pan.  Combine the butter in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted, then add the  sugar, cocoa, and salt  and mix until smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.

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Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the chocolate chips, if using. Spread evenly in the pan.

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Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.