Yesterday, for the first time in about 25 years, I made chocolate éclairs. My love for éclairs began with my paternal grandmother, a rotund and (mostly) jolly woman who loved her cakes. Whenever we'd visit her house she'd always provide a large spread. Usually the main course would be a simple but satisfying salad--a rolled slice of home-baked ham, a few leaves of butterhead lettuce (from her city garden), some sliced beetroot and onion, half a tomato and half a hard-boiled egg topped with a dollop of mayonnaise. This would be accompanied by copious quantities of thickly sliced batch loaf, country butter and more mayonnaise. But the pièce de résistance, and the part of the meal (and probably the visit) that my sister and I most looked forward to, was the plate of cream cakes that awaited for dessert.
My grandmother would buy a selection of cakes--cream doughnuts, jam doughnuts, coffee slices, vanilla slices and, of course, éclairs. No matter how broad the selection my sister and I would invariably want the same cake and a row would ensue. My father would eventually resolve the matter by suggesting that we share the éclair and one other cake. To ensure absolute parity the deal was that one of us would cut the cakes in half and the other would get to choose their halves. Thus, much valuable eating time was wasted with meticulous measurement to ensure half actually meant half.
Somehow the half éclair never seemed to fulfill my needs and so I took to baking my own éclairs at home. They were actually easier than they looked and soon I could rattle out a tray with little thought or effort. But when I hit college and my tiny apartment didn’t have an oven, I stopped baking completely. Not having that much of a sweet tooth (apart from the éclairs), I didn’t miss baking and never really came back to it. Until, that is, I arrived in the land of the sweet-toothed, Lithuania.
I read recently that Lithuanians don’t really eat sweet things and I snorted audibly. When I repeated the statement to my husband he made a similar sound. Lithuanians LOVE sweet things. Pop round to a friend for coffee and a bowl stuffed full of chocolate and biscuits will invariably be presented. To be fair, a bowl of fruit will also be produced, but there is no lack of sweet goodies.
Now that I have a little more time available for cooking I am trying to reawaken my love of baking. However, as I approach middle age (gasp!) and need to keep an eye on my middle, I generally like to pawn my creations off on others. So when I was invited over to my friend’s house for coffee yesterday, I jumped at the opportunity to bake. The text came through at 9 am and coffee wasn’t until 5 pm--plenty of time to create something beautiful. I decided on éclairs, remembering their simplicity, and set to work.
My goodness, what a palaver. First, just as I was about to start, I discovered a flood in the bathroom that needed immediate attention. Audibly cursing the culprit (who wasn’t in the house, so I was wasting my breath), I set to work with the mop. Eventually I got my pastry made and piped and practically threw the tray into the oven. I had elected to make puffs rather than long éclairs as our oven only takes one tray and I could fit more puffs than éclairs on the tray. I set the timer for 15 minutes. The back of our oven browns food better than the front so everything needs to be rotated midway through cooking. After 15 minutes I opened the oven to find the puffs looking exactly as they had when they went in. The gas was gone. Thankfully we had a spare bottle and after a quick scramble and some further cursing we were back in action. Inexplicably, the pastry puffed up to perfection and the éclairs came out golden and crispy. The cooking gods were with me.
When my friend rang at 4:30 to say she was behind schedule and coffee would now be at 5:30 I was delighted. With chocolate everywhere, from my nose to my clothes, I needed the extra time. How on earth a simple plate of éclairs could have taken so long I cannot fathom. On the plus side, they went down an absolute treat and have been requested again as soon as possible.
Floods and fuel shortages aside, I reckon these would still take about 2 hours as they take 35 minutes to bake and need to cool before being filled and iced. That said, they really are quite straightforward. The icing and filling would be good fun for kids, although do accept that your kitchen, and probably the child, will be covered in chocolate.
Adapted very slightly from here.
For the choux pastry:
150 g (5 oz) plain flour
Pinch of salt
225 ml (8 fl oz) water
110 g (4 oz) butter
For the chocolate icing:
100 g (4 oz) dark chocolate (50% or better), broken into pieces
70 g (2 1/2 oz) butter
For the Chantilly cream:
300 ml (1/2 pint) single cream
3 tsp icing sugar
For the full method please see www.myfoododyssey.com.
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