Sunday, August 31, 2008

L'ECLAIR CE N'EST PAS MOI; OR, MY FIRST DARING BAKERS' CHALLENGE

Shortly after I began blogging, I noticed a great many references to the Daring Bakers. In fact, many of the food blogs that I visited had their darling logo on them. After a bit of research I discovered that the Daring Bakers was a group of food bloggers who each month baked the same dessert from the same recipe and revealed their results on an agreed-upon day. Anyone could join, so after thinking about it for a few weeks, I contacted Lisa from http://www.lacucinamia/ and Ivonne from http://creampuffsinvenice/ and asked to be included. I was then permitted access to the special forums for Daring Bakers only. (Anyone can participate in the public forums; do check out http://www.daringbakers/ ).

I waited anxiously for the August challenge to be posted; I was stoked! When the day came and I discovered my first challenge would be eclairs, I felt somewhat smug. Why, I'd been making pate a choux since grade school. I made cream puffs at my mother's knee. We may not have used a pastry bag and we may have filled them with chocolate and vanilla pudding, but I'd made enough of them and plenty of gougeres to know that my skills with pate a choux had already been tested. As for a chocolate glaze, I've made enough ganache to feel pretty cocky about that, too. Bain Marie's don't scare me nor do custards and pastry creams. Yeah, this was going to be a piece of cake, forgive the pun.

I did decide to buy a new pastry bag and took a lovely field trip to the local restaurant supply store. The clerk was busy unloading a truck, but the accountant was very helpful. Between us, we figured out which tip was the 2 cm one and I left with my bag and 3 tips. I bought a couple of items that I didn't have on hand (heavy cream and chocolate) and told Larry that he and his co-workers could expect some yummy eclairs sometime in August.

I finally chose a reasonably cool--not humid--day and set about making the eclairs. The recipe was from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. I printed out the recipe (hmmm, 4 pages for 2 dozen eclairs) and read it over a few times. I set my eggs out to come to room temperature, assembled the necessary pots and pans and measuring tools, and did my mise en place. A little cakewalk here: a few weeks ago I went to the Le Creuset factory store and bought the most darling silicone prep bowls. I felt almost haughty using these for my mise en place. Pierre, je suis une DARING BAKER.
I made the chocolate sauce first. A few of the other participants had mentioned that making the sauce for the glaze seemed a bit of overkill. I have to agree. I now have a rather copious amount of sauce in the freezer since the recipe for the glaze called for a mere 7 tablespoons.

Next, I made the pate a choux. Mom and I always beat it by hand. Never mind that I have a perfectly wonderful KitchenAid mixer on my counter. I'm no wimp and I beat that dough into a glossy mass. Heavens knows, the way the pots and pans and spoons and cups were piling up in the sink, I didn't need a paddle to clean, too.

Taking my big, new pastry bag in hand, I proceeded to fill it with the warm dough. Using my template, I tried to squeeze uniform "chubby" fingers, as the recipe decreed. I was sweating now! The recipe said to expect 20-24; others had written that they didn't get that many. With tremendous exertion, I was able to eke out 17 eclairs. At this point, I was suspecting that the 2 on the tip didn't refer to centimenters, but to millimeters. These puppies looked small!!!



I had read others' experiences and placed a small bowl of water in the oven to produce steam (to help the eclairs rise). I was also prepared to leave them in the oven to prevent their deflating. As the eclairs began to bake, I finished the chocolate glaze and began the chocolate pastry cream. I kept glancing nervously through the glass oven doors. When would these babies start to rise? At the end of 20 minutes I had my answer. The horror! the horror! My eclairs--my first Daring Bakers challenge--were scrawny, parsimonious little digits, not the puffy, airy, chubby little darlings mom and I used to bake.

With sweat streaming down my face--and over other parts of my body as well--I set myself the task of cleaning up the kitchen while my--what to call them?--cooled. At this point Larry came home from work. No dummy, he! He could smell it in the air: defeat and a general air of displeasure. Then he looked in the oven. "What're these?" he asked, with barely suppressed laughter. There was no joy in Mudville, nor would there be any eclairs for the guys at work.

I went ahead and split the cooled eclairs, glazed their teeny tops, and filled them.
Larry is not as big a fan of bittersweet chocolate as I am, but he gamely tried a few of the eclairs there and then...and again that night.

At first I thought I might use mom's recipe to whip up another batch and use up all the leftover glaze and pastry cream. Then I thought not. Instead, I baked a simple yellow layer cake and used the cream as filling and the glaze as frosting. I'm sure the guys will like this just fine.
As for me, I'm humbled, but not defeated. Bring on that September Challenge. After all, I AM a Daring Baker!

P.S. I am not gracious in defeat and this failure bugged me for days. I kept going over the recipe and what I'd done. And then I had my epiphany, my "ah ha" moment. The directions for the pate a choux called for propping the oven door open with a spoon after the eclairs have cooked for a bit. I did so, and...I have a convection oven. It shuts off when you open the door. DUH!!!!!!!

28 comments:

  1. Congrats on your first challenge! I must agree the dishes always pile up on Daring Bakers baking day haha! Its insane. Its all worth it in the end though and yours look great :D

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  2. Great job! And way to be creative with the leftovers!

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  3. What an effort. You learn more by your mistakes then your successes as they say. I'm a first timer also to DBs and yes I had so many dishes it looked like an army had eaten. I could only get 12 ├ęclairs from the recipe and I had to bake them for 30 mins at 220C for them to rise and go crisp consistently. So I understand totally. Great work.

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  4. I too had difficulty with this recipe and I don't even have a convection oven to blame. They looked tasty though!

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  5. The same thing happened to my first batch too!! But my second batch came out great.

    I want some of that cake!

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  6. My first batch was really small and scranty, too. So, I know how frustrating that is! I actually read this original post on the Daring Bakers website and what you said about not being defeated but being humble and how your a Daring Baker darn it...inspired me to try again. So, thank for your words of wisdom! Great job with using the left overs by the way. I can't wait to see how things work out for you next month! :-)

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  7. Ouch - that must of hurt! Welcome to the group :)

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  8. oh my, I´m sorry the puffs didn´t rise. I found that part of the recipe lacking (even without incidents in the oven). But it´s definitely a matter of living and learning, so next time, I´m sure we´ll all use a different choux recipe, and take some of the elements we enjoyed from this recipe (in my case, the chocolate sauce, the glaze, not too special).

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  9. Congrats on completing your first DB Challenge! Although they didn't turn out as expected the eclairs seemed to be a hit!

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  10. Congrats my dear for your first successful challenge!! Cant wait to see your upcoming challenges!! Hope you enjoy being a DBer :-) see you around

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  11. Looooooooool! That was funny! Welcome to the Daring Bakers! Next time keep your oven door close, lol! Good job!

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  12. Congrats! It was my first challenge too. They turned out great despite the challenges. Great use of leftovers!

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  13. Thank you so much, Arlene! Your eclairs look amazing, and I love that you used the leftovers for a cake. I have a ton of chocolate sauce left, so I guess it'll be sundaes for the next YEAR or so..LOL

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  14. You poor thing. I'm sorry pastry didn't work for you but.....omg I'm laughing so hard right now. You are a great story teller, my dear. This was also my first DB challenge and my first batch of choux pastry came out flat also. Fortunately I had enough ingredients to give it another try and they worked out better.

    I think your eclairs look adorable. I love how you used the leftover chocolate cream and glaze. YUM!

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  15. Arlene, I loved reading your Daring Baker story. It reminded me of all the times I read papers for the Florida Writes state writing test. I promise you your story would have earned a six for sure and I never read a six paper from a "real" student. Did Larry eat the results???
    BFug

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  16. I don't think they look too small at all. I do agree though that the cooking time needed to be about 5 minutes longer. I'm noticing A LOT of people had shrunken eclairs.

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  17. Oh, Barb, a "6." Thank you so much. My eclairs may have been a
    2, but at least my writing is intact.
    Hugs,
    Arlene

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  18. I think everybody had problems with the choux not being baked enough after the designated time.
    Congratulations on your first challenge, the eclairs look delicious!

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  19. I didn't open the ove door even though the recipe suggested it. My eclairs turned our great, and within the specified time.
    If you give them another go just leave the door closed. There are loads of recipes that don't need the door open.
    I love the way you used up your filling and glaze. ;)
    Let them eat cake!

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  20. oh you poor thing I think yours look great I wouldnt even attempt making them Send them my way.. let them eat cake...No wonder I have to walk. all the pasteries
    Love your sink full of dishes.
    hugs
    Susan

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  21. I am LMAO!!! I'm sorry you had so much trouble with the eclairs. I've made cream puffs a few time, also using pudding. I've never attempted the "REAL THING". I apologize for laughing. Your level of frustration must have been terrible.

    Love, Peg

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  22. d'oh indeed! Ah well.. at least you managed to discover what the mistake was. If it were me, it would've bugged me for days too!

    Welcome to the DB group! :)

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  23. Awww, don't be so hard on yourself, the eclairs sure look tasty. At least you've discovered what the culprit of the problem was... oh, convection ovens... Anywho, Congrats on your first challenge. You truly are a daring baker :)

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  24. Great first challenge! From what I'm seeing, quite a few of us had trouble with deflated eclairs. Yours still look great, though, and so does your cake! Welcome to the Daring Bakers!

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  25. Well I'm sorry they didn't turn out for you, but isn't it rewarding to figure out why? I hate when something fails and I never figure out what caused it. Better luck next time!

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  26. The a-ha moment is hilarious! That is so something I would have done! Congrats on that first challenge though! You did a great job!

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  27. Welcome to the Daring Bakers! You are too hard on yourself, the eclairs look delicious!

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  28. You get an A+ as far as I am concerned. I personally would have been intimidated by such a first DB challenge. Thank you for your kind welcoming words on my blog. I really appreciate it.

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