Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chocolate Éclairs - a 'First Class' Pastry !

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'First Class' pastries...

For years I thought ‘excursion’ was a euphemism for “let’s take the kids out and see if we can’t all catch pneumonia”. You see, I often visited my Gran for summer holidays in Cork, and she would mastermind 'excursions' to the charming seaside town of Cobh for me and my million-or-so cousins.
This was always a recipe for great excitement – cousins you hadn’t seen in a year, a train journey through beautiful countryside, the anticipation of a picnic, the seaside. What more could a bunch of kids want!
No matter how blue the sky started out, it always, always, always lashed rain before we got home. I think Cobh has a special soak-you-to-the-skin kind of rain - although we Irish seem peculiarly unable to dress for the prevailing weather so maybe that has something to do with it too.
I returned to Cobh recently to meet my beloved’s Californian relatives whose cruise liner had docked for the day. As we waved goodbye, it struck me that almost a hundred years ago, Titanic had been waved off from the same dock.
Apart from the Titanic anniversary, I have a special reason for mentioning Cork this week. I am delighted to be running a food blogging workshop next Saturday for Cork City Libraries as part of their World Book Fest Constant Reader programme. If you are in the area, drop in. Free tickets for the event can be booked here.
In keeping with the Cork/Titanic theme, Chocolate Éclairs were on the First Class menu that fateful night of 14th April, 1912. If I’d been on board Titanic and somehow managed to sneak into First Class, these are what I would have pinched off the dessert trolley.
For 8 – 10 éclairs you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 180°C
Choux Pastry
150mls water
50g butter, cut into cubes
70g strong white flour/plain flour
a pinch of fine table salt
2 large eggs beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

300mls of fresh cream, whipped
1 tablespoon of icing sugar (sifted)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Simply mix these three ingredients together to make the filling.

100g good quality dark chocolate, melted

1                    Heat the water and butter together in a medium saucepan until the butter has melted and the liquid is simmering
2                    Remove from the heat, then carefully tip the flour and salt into the liquid in one go. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together in a soft smooth ball of paste and no dry flour remains. Spread the ball of paste over the bottom of the saucepan and leave to cool to room temperature.
3                    When the paste has cooled, add the vanilla extract to the beaten egg, then add the egg to the paste a little at a time, whisking well between additions. An electric whisk is best for this job. You want a smooth glossy soft paste that will hold its shape so check the mixture as you go along as you may not need to add all the egg.
4                    Transfer the mixture to a piping bag with a 1.5cm plain nozzle and pipe lines approximately 10cm long onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment, leaving approximately 6cm between pastries. Transfer to the oven. Bake for approximately 20-25 minutes or until evenly golden brown. Remove from the oven and poke a small horizontal slit in the side of each pastry to release some steam. Return to the oven for a further 2 minutes before removing to cool on a wire rack.
5                    Assemble the éclairs just before serving: slice them in half horizontally and fill with the flavoured whipped cream. Drizzle a little melted chocolate over each.  

Tip: Pop a roasting tray with a handful of ice cubes into the bottom of the oven a few minutes before putting the pastries in to bake. This helps create a steamy atmosphere and helps the pastry to puff up beautifully.
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