I was the first to pull my camera out at the Atelier de Patisserie this week, but the Japanese students weren’t far behind! After ten minutes we were neck and neck on the photo stakes, and by the middle of the class they were actually helping me out with my own camera, and I came home with 124 photos and no excuses for forgetting how to make Eclairs!
Arnaud also had his work cut out. This class was made up entirely of ‘foreigners’, with the Japanese students aided by their own Japanese translator Miki, who herself had moved to France only a year ago, and whose mastery of the French language was incredible, already having mastered Chinese and with a good command of English.
This post is decicated to my sister-in -law in Canada, who years ago asked me for a profiterole recipe, and to my Australian in-laws for giving me this atelier for my Christmas present. I’ve been making profiteroles for a few years now, but I’ve realised by now that there will always be something Arnaud can teach us, and as with all things, he has that attention to the final detail that turns a 1€ eclair into a 2€ work of art.
Having got the introductions over; and I was amused to see that for once Arnaud was struggling with the names, Japanese is certainly not an easy language for either the French or English tongue; We picked up our pans and scales and set to work.
Arnaud talked us through all the different uses for Choux Pastry; the sugary ones of course encompassing Eclairs and Profiteroles, Chouquettes and Chaussons Napolitan; the savory including Gougères, and with a 50/50 mix of pureed potato, Pommes Dauphines and Gnocci.
Arnaud told us that Choux pastry freezes well both in its raw and its cooked state. Salt is add to all Choux pastry for flavour, and sugar to encourage them to colour golden during cooking. The length of cooking time, and the ability to assess their colour prevents the Choux pastry from collapsing by the oven door being opened too early during the cooking process.
We poured the water, butter salt and sugar into a large casserole pan and placed on the flame to bring to the boil.
We extinguished the flame, added the flour to the pan and with a wooden spoon mixed well. Once mixed, we re-lit the flame and for a minute began the process of stirring the pâte to dry it. Once the pâte fell easily from the upturned wooden spoon, the pâte was ready for the next stage.
We added the lightly beaten eggs bit by bit until the pâte was smooth and came cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.
We took a few minutes to discuss the various sizes of ‘douille’ or nozzles. An eclair took an 18 and Chouquettes a 12. We made up a piping bag, remembering to put a ‘bouchon’, literally translated as a cork, made up of scrunching part of the piping bag and pushing it into the douille or nozzle. We filled with the piping back with the pâte.
Holding the piping bag at an angle of 45° we ran the eclairs in 80mm lengths, pressing down at the ends and flicking back.
For the Chouquettes we used the smaller douille and made round balls piping from a vertical position. Now I have attempted to make the Chouquettes before. What always frustrated me was that after having cooked some fairly good profiterole shapes, I never succeeded in getting the sugar crystals to stay on the top of the Choux pastry. As ever with Arnaud , there is of course a secret.
Firstly we glazed with beaten egg the uncooked Choux Eclairs and Chouquettes; The Eclairs with a soft bristle glazing brush, pressing down perpendicularly to the length of the pâte; The Chouquettes by pressing down the tail left during the piping process. We then very liberaly sprinkled the Chouquettes with sugar crystals. Contrary to what one would believe, the majority of sugar crystals survive their stay in the oven.
We continue to use up the last of the pâte in the piping bag to make long thin strips called Mikados.
Once the Choux pastry is in the oven we start to make the Crème Pâtissière. The Choux will cook for 25-30 minutes.
We add the milk to the pan and incorporate a small proportion of sugar. Arnaud explains that that by adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as we bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.
It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.
By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.
The flame of the hob is switched off. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.
The pan is removed from the flame. We divide the Crème Pâtissier into two bowls. We add 30g cocoa powder to one, and strong liquid coffee to the other and mix thoroughly.
We pour the Crème Pâtissier over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool.
It is time to check the Eclaires and Chouquettes. Arnaud explains that if the Choux pastry still has areas of white or very pale pastry, it must be left to cook for a while longer until all the surface is golden. If they are removed from the oven too soon they are likely to collapse or be too soft once filled with the Crème Pâtissier.
Our Eclairs and Chouquettes are ready. We place them on a cooling rack and turn the Eclairs upside down to cool.
We melt some chocolate and dip each Mikado into it.
With a very fine douille or nozzle we make three small holes in the base of the choux Eclairs.
We beat the cooled rubbery textured Crème Pâtissiere until smooth and fill a piping bag remembering to make a ‘bouchon’ or cork as before using the very fine douille (3-4mm). Using the holes we have already punctured in the Choux, we fill with the crème.
We mix some icing sugar with syrop de glucose, flavouring one portion with chocolate and the other with coffee. Choosing a flat nosed douille (nozzle) and another piping bag we apply the ‘nappage’ or topping to the finished eclairs.
Yet again Arnaud shows us techniques for decorating the eclairs, turning our 1€ Eclair into a 2€ Eclair.
and shows us a pot of Violet for jazzing up the nappage of a vanilla flavour Eclair.
We fill our cake boxes with our bounty and head home.
Barely have I got through the door than the Eclairs are all gone…..
With lightening speed!
translation: eclair = lightening