A lovely thing to do when friends get together is to make something that can be shared around and enjoyed by all. And last Friday I had the occasion as the practice where I work had a communal Birthday lunch so that we could all celebrate (or not) our Birthdays on one day. More like a ‘unbirthday party’, for you who remember Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The weather wasn’t too bad so we had a BBQ outside in the garden and I made something sweet for after. I love a fresh pastry and rarely eat cream so these pastries were a real treat.
I made chocolate eclairs, some meringue nests filled with cream and fruit and strawberry tarts. OK, I cheated a little; the pastry tartlet cases are bought not homemade but all the rest was made by my fair hand. This was only the second time I had made choux pastry and I have to say, it really isn’t too hard. In fact, I only just got over my phobia of making shortcrust pastry last year and I think that choux pastry is actually easier! Well, that’s done it. I am sure next time it will be a complete failure! I will share the recipes for meringue nests and crème patissière on a future post. If the weather is good this Bank Holiday weekend, why not treat your loved ones to some home made pastries as part of an afternoon tea. A lovely way to celebrate together.
Makes 18-20 mini eclairs or 12 full sized ones.
For the choux pastry
50g unsalted butter
65ml water and 65ml milk
Pinch of salt
100g plain flour, sifted
3-4 medium free-range eggs, beaten
For the filling
300ml whipping cream, whipped to firm peaks
Or 450g crème patissière
50g plain chocolate
2 tablespoons of water
75g icing sugar, sifted
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan 180°C. Lightly greasy 2 baking trays or line with silicone paper.
- For the choux pastry, place the water, milk, butter and salt in a medium non-stick saucepan over a medium heat. Heat gently until the butter has melted then bring to the boil.
- Quickly take the pan off the heat, add all the flour at once and beat furiously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is completely smooth and comes together in a ball.
- Continue to beat on a low heat for a minute so the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Allow to cool slightly then beat in the eggs, one spoonful at a time into the dough. This is very hard work and you need to keep going until the pastry has a smooth shiny consistency and is paste like. You may not need all the eggs to reach the correct consistency as it must not be too soft as it needs to be piped.
- Transfer this pastry to a piping bag fitted with a 1cm (1/2 inch) plain nozzle and allow it to sit for 5 minutes to firm slightly. Now pipe the pastry in 3 inch (7.5cm) straight lengths (or full size eclairs are 6 “), leaving room between to spread. Apparently for a professional finish you can pipe into long lengths then freeze the pastry. Then cut the frozen lengths into uniform lengths and defrost before cooking.
- Bake the pastry at this temperature for 10 minutes then turn the temperature down to 190 °C/fan 170°C and cook for another 20 minutes.
- Remove the pastries from the oven and while still hot and pierce or cut to release the steam and if they feel damp on the inside, place back in the oven for 5 minutes.
- Allow to cool fully on a wire rack before filling. If not filling immediately, place in an air-tight container and use within a couple of days. If they are slightly soggy when you take them out, give them another 5 minutes in the oven.
- Pipe in the whipped cream or cream patisserie (use a star nozzle for the cream, plain nozzle for cream pat).
- For the icing, melt the chocolate slowly in a bain mairé with the water and butter. Remove from the heat and beat in the sugar until smooth. Pipe or spread over the top of each eclair.
One last thing. The icing recipe didn’t work too great (I found it in Mary Berry’s book) but that may have been because it set firm before I was ready for it so I had to rewarm it and that is when it went grainy. Just to warn you if it looks like it is not going to work, perhaps just go with melted chocolate.