Last year, in a fit of pre-holiday insanity/enthusiasm, I decided that I was a Daring Baker. Turns out I wasn’t. At least not the organized kind. I think I made one or two recipes and then dropped out when they decided to bake Buche de Noels. All I can say is…marzipan mushrooms. ICK. Plus it looked like waaaaay more work than I was willing to do in between the rest of my holiday baking.
Still the notion of pushing my baking skills beyond their current levels was compelling. Enough so that I purchased a copy of Tartine and (quietly) vowed to make at least 3/4 of the recipes in it. If you’re not familiar with this book, pastry experts have lauded it as an instant classic both for its use of age-old, artisan techniques and its modern twists on French standards. And the recipes are so detailed and easy to follow any dolt can make the treats (though this dolt had a hard time making them look pretty).
My head-long dive into this book started with the notion of making croissants–probably the hardest recipe in the book. After reading and re-reading the recipe, I discovered that I should probably build up my repertoire a bit before tackling this difficult bread. So I opted for the eclairs instead. In their fried form, they are my most favoritest donut ever (aside from a warm glazed Krispy Kreme). But I’ve seen and tasted the more traditional varieties enough to have a good idea of what my final product should look like. (The one flaw of Tartine is the lack of pictures. I’d say less than half of the recipes have photos to accompany them.)
So when I ended up with this, I was a little disappointed:
Looking back I think my two fatal flaws were:
1. Not using the right pastry tip. The book called for a #6 or #7 (~ 1/2″) tip. I went by the tip numbers, rather than the size guestimation. And in the words of the wise knight in the Last Crusade: “You chose…poorly.” I think this may be a misprint in the book, because #6 and 7 tips are only about 1/4″. Maybe they meant 16 or 17? I dunno. Regardless, they did not give me the 1″ wide dough blobs (working on my culinary vocab is also a goal) that the recipe said I should end up with. My solution was to work back and forth in an elongated and sideways “S” till I got my 1″ in width. Yeah, not such a good idea. While the choux paste is (as the book says) very forgiving, you still need a seamless blob of dough to create the hollow shell needed to hold the filling. Which brings me to #2.
2. The pastry cream. First this stuff is deeeeeeeeeeevine. You might be tempted to forget the rest of the recipe and eat this stuff with a spoon, but keep at it. The end result is worth it. Anyway, the recipe says you can store it in the fridge for up to five days. Which I did. But the kink in my plan came when I discovered that the cream hadn’t completely cooled before I put it in the fridge. So when I unwrapped it later, there was a bit of water standing on the top. Like a complete moron I just mixed that right into the cream, creating pastry soup. I’m not kidding. This stuff was so runny that it ran out the end of my pastry bag. The Hubby kept asking if everything was okay as I shouted obscenities from the kitchen.
All in all, my first attempt at a Tartine recipe wasn’t a complete disaster. I mean they were edible. But they were u-g-l-y, and the centers didn’t have filling (because of the lack of hollow-ness and a strong enough cream to push through the dough). Lessons were definitely learned–namely that anything with pastry cream is worth eating, no matter how shameful its presentation.
1/2 c. nonfat milk
1/2 c. water
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsley chopped
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/4 c. pastry cream, cold (recipe below)
Preheat oven to 425F. Butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk, water, salt, sugar, and butter and place over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Keep stirring until the mixture has formed a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan and some of the moisture has evaporated. This will take about 3 minutes.
Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or to a heatproof mixing bowl. If using a mixer, add the eggs one at a time and mix on medium-high speed, incorporating each egg before adding the next. When all the eggs have been added, the mixture will be thick, smooth and shiny. If making by hand, add the eggs one at a time and mix with a wooden spoon, incorporating each egg before adding the next.
Transfer the contents of the bowl to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip, adding only as much to the bag as is comfortable to work with. Pipe out fingers about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide, spacing them about 2 inches apart. If you end up with a bulge or “tail” at the end of the piping, you can smooth it over with a damp fingertip.
Bake until puffed and starting to show some color, about 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F and continue to bake until the shells feel light for their size and are hollow inside, about 12 minutes longer. They should be nicely browned all over. Remove from the oven and, using a metal skewer, poke a small hole n the end of each shell to allow steam to escape. This keeps the shells from collapsing. Let cool on wire racks. They should be used as soon as they are cool enough to fill. You can also wrap them airtight and freeze them for up to 3 weeks. When you are ready to fill them, recrisp them directly from the freezer in a 450F oven for about 10 minutes and then let cool before filling.
(See how pretty they looked in the oven? Also, check out the reflection of my awesome apron that Melanie made me. ) )
To make the glaze, combine the chocolate and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to just under a boil in a small sauce pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for about 2 minutes without stirring until the chocolate melts, and then stir gently with a rubber spatula (so as to incorporate as little air as possible) until smooth and shiny. Let cool until just warm.
To fill and glaze the eclaires, stir the pastry cream (it must be very cold) until smooth and then spoon the cream into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip with a very small opening. It is easiest to start with a hole in each end of the shell and to fill from both ends if necessary. Sometimes pockets inside the shell prevent the pastry cream from filling the entire shell from a single hole. Fill the shells until they feel heavy. To glaze the eclaires, dip the top of each filled eclair into the glaze, shaking gently to allow the excess to drip off, and then place upwright on a wire rack and allow the glaze to set.
You can alternately fill the shells by splitting them in half with a serrated knife. Dip the top half in glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and then place upright on a wire rack and allow the glaze to set. Spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the shells and replace the glazed tops.
Serve the pastries at once, or refrigerate for up to 6 hours before serving. They should be eaten the same day they are filled.
(This stuff is really worth all the effort and then some. It would be a supurb addition to fresh berries…ooh or even peaches. Mmmm…)
2 c. whole milk
1/2 of a vanilla bean
1/4 tsp. salt
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 c. + 1 tbsp sugar
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter
Have a bowl ready for cooling the pastry cream with a fine mesh sieve resting in the rim.
(Or if you’re ghetto fabulous like me, use your sifter. Though I think the sieve would’ve worked MUCH better.)
Pour the milk into a heavy sauce pan. Split the vanilla bean half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the milk. Add the salt, place over medium-high heat, and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally and making sure that the milk solids are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. The larger the batch, the more careful you’ll have to be.
Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth.
When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is as thick as lightly whipped cream, about 2 minutes. In order for the cornstarch to cook and thicken fully, the mixture must come just to the boiling point. You want to see a few slow bubbles. However, if the cream is allowed to boil vigorously, you will curdle the pastry cream. Remove from heat and immediately pour through the sieve into the bowl. (If the custard stays in the hot pot, it will continue to cook.) Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to release the heat and prevent a skin from forming on top.
Cut the butter into 1-tablespoon pieces. When the pastry cream is ready (it should be about 140F), whisk the butter into the pastry cream 1 tablespoon at a time, always whisking until smooth before adding the next table spoon.
To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the top of the cream (the plastic wrap prevents a skin from forming on the surface). To cool it very quickly, place it in a shallow dish and press plastic wrap directly on top. Be careful whisking the cream once it is cold. Overmixing will break down the starch and thin the cream. Pastry cream will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.