Now that I have access to all of my cooking equipment again, and the kitchen is slowly starting to take shape, I’m not giving myself any more excuses to not challenge myself, cooking-wise. I mean, I’ve been bragging about all the awesome ingredients I have surrounding me, so it’s time to show them off. So when I was looking for desserts to make with strawberries and this eclair recipe popped up, I immediately dismissed it as too hard. And because that was my initial reaction, I realized I would have to do it. So eclairs it was.
Eclairs actually aren’t always my favourite thing. I find the pastry to occasionally be too dense, or hard, or something. But I would give this a go. I found the recipe on Martha Stewart’s website – a literal goldmine for amazing fruit-based desserts. And as intimidating as eclairs are – to me anyway – they’re not really that difficult. You just have to break it down into it’s parts. In this case, a basic choux pastry, made ahead of time and refrigerated until needed; a vanilla-bean whipped cream; and macerated strawberries with mint. Work-intensive, but not actually hard.
I started with the choux pastry. It came together easy, especially since I bought myself a new hand-mixer that actually works in Europe – with a dough hook attachment as well, which makes me irrationally happy. Anyway, here’s how things went:
Mini Eclairs with Strawberries and Cream
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 stick unsalted butter*
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
Okay, I had to look up this whole “stick of butter” thing, and I have to say it kind of pisses me off. What is a stick of butter? Is it a cup of butter? 250 g? Give me a measurement that’s actually measurable. When I first looked into this on the internet, I got a lot of snotty comments saying: use 1/2 of a STICK OF BUTTER, not the tub stuff. Well, thanks genius. I had figured that out. But I’ve found that in general in Alberta a stick of butter is 2 cups. In Geneva here it’s 1 cup. I have no fucking clue what it is where Martha Stewart is, but the general consensus that the internet came to was 1 stick of butter = 1/2 cup of butter. Which means that 1/2 a stick is 1/4 of a cup. But I still maintain that people should not get all up in arms about the question because I maintain that doesn’t make any sense.
Moving on. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, unless you’re making them ahead of time, like me. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Bring milk, water, butter, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, and stir in flour. Return to heat, and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from sides of pan. Transfer to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed to cool slightly, about 1 minute. With machine running, add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip.
Pipe twenty 2 1/2-inch-long eclairs onto each sheet. Bake until eclairs rise and are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
When I first piped the eclair batter onto my baking sheet, it was with great dismay. These things did not look anything remotely like the delicious eclairs you can find in the patisseries around town. I figured that if it all turned to shit, at the very least I would have strawberries and cream. After thawing and getting these guys ready for the oven, my sense of misgiving rose. There was no way they were going to turn out.
But they did! Or rather, I should say they kind of did. They puffed up like crazy, as did my pride. Then, after I took them out of the oven, they deflated a little bit, as did I. But still, they look way more like an eclair than I thought they would. The deflating thing isn’t going to get me down. I had an additional problem in that the bottom of the eclairs stuck to the paper. Next time, I’ll definitely grease the paper before hand. But as it was, I had to saw the eclairs off of the paper. At that point, they were too flat to be able to cut in half to fill, so I just flipped them all over and filled them in a row. It turned out okay. I’ve decided to rename my version of eclairs half-moon eclairs and just go with it.
The one thing that was undeniable: they were delicious. And none of this too-dense business. They were moist and a little spongy and chewy, and so good. I can see how they work well either savoury or sweet. I could just eat the base all day.
But the whole point was to make these sweet, and to use strawberries, so there was still work to do. The next step was the vanilla cream.
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
This was the first time I got to use my very exciting vanilla beans! I’m sure this makes a lot of people laugh, but I have never actually baked anything with actual vanilla beans before. Boy, was I in for a treat.
I love the smell of vanilla, and the bean is so incredibly potent. It was all I could do to stop myself from just sucking on it (I did that after it had marinated in cream for several hours). It’s sticky and sweet and makes for a cream that is worthy of the best Haagan Dazs you can find. The recipe is easy: combine cream, vanilla beans and pod, and sugar. Refrigerate for at least one hour, then discard pods. Whisk cream mixture until soft peaks form – and this is so much easier when you have a mixer! The result is insanely good. My son, who eats absolutely nothing, tried to dive into this bowl it was so good.
Look at those delicious beans. I’m trying to find a way to get vanilla beans into everything now.
Finally are the macerated strawberries. There’s not much to this recipe either: combine two cups of fresh hulled strawberries, finely chopped, one tbsp sugar and a tsp of shredded mint. I use less sugar than called for because I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m not actually sure the mint is necessary either. Z liked it, I was kind of meh on it. Next time, I think I’ll just squish up the strawberries; I don’t think they need any help.
Umm, strawberries. The rest is history. Just pipe the cream onto the half eclairs, then drip the strawberries over it. Points for being messy. And enjoy.