Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ratio Rally: Chocolate Eclairs

When I was a senior in high school, my AP Calculus teacher would call on me to answer a question in front of the class.  "Do you know the answer, E-Claire?"  He chuckled to himself every time as if it were the first time he'd said it.  The rest of us would roll our eyes and offer half smiles.  (He was a nice man and an excellent teacher, but never seemed to tire of that joke!)

I don't think this created an aversion to eclairs specifically, but it certainly didn't fuel any desire in me to seek them out, either.  To this day, every time I hear the word, my thoughts go back immediately to that classroom.  Before I know it, other long-forgotten calculus vocabulary words like "derivative" and "integral" begin to creep back into my consciousness.

You know, it's a bit unsettling for a baked good to have such a strong association with high school math.

This month's Ratio Rally assignment was a true departure for me.  So far, we've been exploring ratios behind baked goods that are at least familiar to me - muffins, scones, pancakes, etc.  But Pate a Choux?  I can't even pronounce that. I don't have a keyboard that will type it correctly with the accents in the right places.  It makes me start to sweat a little.  
But you know what?  But even though it sounds super fancy, Pate a Choux is probably something you have eaten before. (Funnel cake, anyone?) And it is not nearly as scary as it sounds (or looks).  It's an incredibly versatile batter, and I thought for a long time about what specifically I'd like to make.  Cream puffs?  Gnocchi?  Beignets?  Fried Doughnuts?  Funnel cake?  The more I researched, the more possibilities there seemed to be.  I started to sweat a little again at the overwhelming number of options.

But in the end, I saw this month's Ratio Rally as a chance to redefine what eclairs are to me.  To let them out of the confines of calculus memories.  To deshroud them.  To bring them back to life.

And I am so glad I did.  And I'm glad that the Ratio Rally has branched out into this lesser-attempted feat of baking.  I will say that this is probably the strangest batter I've ever worked with, so if you find the same thing, you are not alone.  The ratio for Pate a Choux is 2 parts water: 1 part fat : 1 part flour : 2 parts egg. You start by boiling the water, salt, and butter together, then you add the flour to make a strangely shiny paste.  After it cools for a minute or two, you add the eggs in, which causes it to separate into a rather unappealing mess of lumpy dough and runny eggs.  It looks horribly wrong for a few minutes.  Be patient.  Somehow, after you mix it for another few minutes, it starts to shrink and come together (albeit reluctantly).  And then, before your eyes, it turns into batter.

A few lessons I learned from the trial and error this month.  Whatever you do, do NOT open the oven door while these are baking or you'll be watching them sadly deflate before your eyes.  Make the custard the day before you make the eclairs so it has enough time to set.  Try to make larger eclairs so there will be enough room in them to hold the custard. 

And the final lesson?  Enjoy.  Definitely enjoy.

For a list of all of the other fantastic Pate a Choux creations, visit The Sensitive Epicure, our host for the Ratio Rally this month.

Chocolate Eclairs with Vanilla (or Maple) Custard
Makes 8 medium eclairs

For the eclairs:
2/3 oz. white rice flour
2/3 oz. tapioca starch
2/3 oz. corn starch
2 tbsp. white sugar
4 oz. water
2 oz. (4 tbsp.) Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs

For the custard filling:

I followed a recipe I found on the Brown Eyed Baker's blog, but halved it for the number of eclairs this recipe made.  The only changes I made were to substitute So Delicious Original Unsweetened Coconut Milk for the half and half and Earth Balance Butter Sticks for the regular butter.  I also made half of mine maple-flavored by adding another 1 1/2 tsp. maple extract. Prepare the custard a day ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Cover with a sheet of saran wrap if possible to avoid it forming a pudding skin on top.

For the ganache topping:

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or dark chocolate
2 - 4 tbsp.So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer

Note:  Because many of you may be new to pate a choux batter, I highly recommend taking a look at The Brown Eyed Baker blog, which has a fantastic set of pictures that take you through each of these steps.

Directions for Eclairs:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Measure and mix the rice flour, tapioca starch, and cornstarch together in a small bowl.  In a saucepan (preferably a copper-bottom or one that distributes heat evenly), bring the water, Earth Balance, salt, and sugar to a low boil.  Turn off heat and add the flour; stir rapidly to mix together.  When it is all incorporated, return the pan to low heat and continue to stir, kind of smushing it around the pan, for another 2 - 4 minutes. It will look kind of glossy and shiny and may still have a few lumps in it. When the butter starts to separate out (it will start to coat the bottom of the pan in little beads), remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool for a few minutes.  Not too much, though, as you want it to be warm-hot, but not so hot that it scrambles the eggs. Using an electric mixer, beat the flour mixture on its own for about 1 minute, then add the eggs slowly to the mixture.

You will probably think something has gone horribly wrong at this stage. But it hasn't. The batter will look like it won't accept the eggs, and lumps of flour may remain. Keep mixing for another 3 - 5 minutes, and it should turn into a real batter.

If you want to be fancy, you can scoop all of the batter into a pastry bag or even a plain baggie and squeeze it into the shape of long eclairs. Or, you can just use a spoon to shape them.  Either way, spray a sheet of parchment paper with cooking spray and shape the dough into 8 - 10 eclairs.  Place them in the oven at 425 F and set the timer for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temp to 350 F and continue to bake for another 20 minutes. Whatever you do, do NOT open the oven during this time!!

Remove from oven and pierce them with a knife.  Allow to cool completely.  When they are cool, fill another baggie or pastry bag with the custard you made ahead of time.  Cut a small hole in one end of the eclairs (they should have puffed enough to have created a little enclave on the inside for the custard).  Pump each one full of custard.  I filled half of these with vanilla custard, and half with maple, and they were both wonderful.  Go with your gut on that one.

To make ganache topping:

For the ganache, melt together the chocolate chips and So Delicious Coconut Milk Cream in a small saucepan or even in the microwave.  Spread evenly over the top of each cream puff.  If desired, dust with powered sugar.

These are best eaten within a day or so of being made, but will survive for up to 3 days in the fridge.

Want to see what the other creative folks in the Ratio Rally came up with? Check them out below or visit Erin at The Sensitive Epicure, who was our host for this month's wonderful Ratio Rally challenge!

Amie of The Healthy Apple | Pate Choux with Creamy Macadamia Icing
Britt of GF in the City | 
  Pâte à Choux
Caleigh of Gluten Free[k] | Savoury Paris-Brest
Caneel of Mama Me Gluten Free | Key Lime Cream Puffs
Erin of The Sensitive Epicure (our host for this month's Rally!) |  Gluten-free Gougeres filled with Herbed Goat Cheese Mousse  and Churros y chocolate sin gluten
Jenn of Jenn Cuisine | Gruyère & Herbed Gougères
Lisa of Gluten Free Canteen | Cracked Pepper & Cheese Gougères
Meredith of Gluten Free Betty | Gluten Free Churros
Meaghan of The Wicked Good Vegan | Cardamom and Rose Water Cream Puffs (with Rad Whip!)
Meg of Gluten-Free Boulangerie | Chouquettes    
Pete & Kelli of No Gluten, No Problem | Almond Choux Florentines
Rachel of The Crispy Cook | Cream Puffs Filled with Coffee Cream
Robyn of Chocswirl | Gruyere & Parmesan Gougeres with Sage & Thyme    
Silvana of Silvana's Kitchen | Gluten-Free Spinach Gnocchi Parm
T.R.of No One Likes Crumbley Cookies | Beignets


Rachel said...

Awesome job, E-Claire! I want to reach through my computer screen and take a bite.

charissa (zest bakery) said...

What a cute story about the name.

Chocolate eclairs are a classic for a reason, and I think you've done them justice.

Jenn said...

Great job, the eclairs look amazing!! And that maple custard, wow!

Karyn said...

Dairy-free eclairs? That sounds crazy good! Especially made with So Delicious coconut milk creamer. That stuff has been such a lifesaver for me.

Caneel said...

These look delicious! My daughter's name is Clair (w/o e) and my FIL called her "Eclair" when she was a baby. :)

Britt said...

What a delicious way to take your name back! Great job making them dairy free too--I had no clue until I started reading.

Tara Barker said...

I love the calculus story, although I'd be a bit unsettled too if a classic pastry made me relive high school math! Your eclairs look wonderful, and maple pastry cream sounds divine. Glad you've got a delicious new eclair association!

Claire Berman said...

Rachel - Thank you! I wish I could share one with you, too.

Charissa - I agree, they are classic, and I thought they'd be a good entrance into the pate a choux world :)

Jenn - The maple custard was so good! I almost ate all of it before I used it for the eclairs!

Karyn - Oh, me too - nothing that I've used has come close to the thick texture of So Delicious. I'm glad we've both discovered it as a dairy sub!

Caneel - Oh, how funny - maybe your Eclair will discover these treats at an earlier age than I did :)

Britt - Thank you so much! I'm glad the dairy-free version worked out for those who are avoiding both like me.

Tara - I'm glad there is a new association there, too, thanks to the Rally :)

Erin Swing said...

You did not acknowledge me as the hostess for this month nor my work. I hope you are not mad at me for picking pate a choux for the challenge. :(

Please note that this challenge was a group effort in the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally with an acknowledgment to the host and link to host blog &/or rest of participants to share the other incredible gluten-free creations for this & every month's challenge.
-Erin of The Sensitive Epicure, hostess for the pate a choux challenge

Claire Berman said...

Hi Erin, thanks for the comment. I did actually acknowledge you as the host within my I'm not sure if you wanted it to look different than it did? But you're totally right that you were left off the list, and I am so sorry for that oversight. My computer broke so I had just copied and pasted the list from your blog until i could access the spreadsheet and then forgot to add you back in. Feel free to email me personally if you have any other concerns instead of posting a comment. Thanks for all your work on the rally this month!


Liz said...

Ohh my gosh.
Those eclairs look SO tasty.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, that top photo had my mouth watering from the get go! Awesome job!