Monday, April 26, 2010

Chocolate Eclairs

Sorry it's been a little while since my last post; I had an Incident a little over a week ago in which a particle of something attacked my eye and managed to scratch my cornea. And yes, it was about as pleasant as it sounds. Did I mention I was halfway through a wedding when this happened? A wedding for one of Dan's friends, so I was meeting lots of people for the first time? Wearing one contact lens? With an angry, red eye that I couldn't really open fully?

As you can imagine, my beauty was outdone only by the bride.

But I'm all better now so it's time for my first foray into pastry (for this cookbook anyway), Chocolate Eclairs!

There were really three elements that went into making these eclairs: the fondant icing, the choux pastry, and the chocolate pastry cream. My plan was to make the icing and pastry cream one day, and make the pastry and finish the eclairs the next. 

The first thing I made was the icing:

confectioners sugar, water, corn syrup, dark chocolate

I put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a small saucepan, stirred to combine, and then put it over a medium heat. 

Stirring constantly, I heated the mixture to about 92 degrees (or as best I could estimate since the lowest temperature on my thermometer is 100).

This only took a couple of minutes and the mixture thickened quickly. 

I poured this into a bowl, covered the surface with plastic wrap, and left it to cool to room temperature.

I was all set to start on the pastry cream, until I realized that what I thought was corn starch was actually baking soda, and sadly none of our little neighborhood markets carried it.  Masa, yes. But corn starch, no; too foreign.

The next day, after I had procured the corn starch from the regular grocery store, I made the chocolate pastry cream. It's possible to substitute this pastry cream with simple whipped cream, but as a chocolate lover, I was pretty excited about making it. Plus, I don't really think homemade whipped cream has much flavor, at least not when I make it. It's not sweet or flavorful enough for me, but maybe I'm not using enough sugar or vanilla. I actually think adding some vanilla bean to whipped cream would be delicious...but I digress. 

Ingredients for the chocolate pastry cream:

flour, corn starch, egg yolks, caster sugar, whole milk, dark chocolate

Into a bowl, I sifted the flour, and then added the corn starch, sugar, and egg yolks. 

I started to mix this by hand, but it wasn't forming the paste I needed it to, so I switched to my stand mixer, hoping that would move things along more quickly. At first, the mixture was still grainy and I worried it would never smooth out, but I managed to be patient, and finally it formed a nice, smooth paste.

While this was mixing, I put the milk in a small saucepan and brought it to a boil. I added the hot milk slowly to the paste with the mixer on low and then poured the whole thing into a clean pan.

This pan went over a medium heat and I whisked constantly until it thickened and came back to a boil, which didn't take long. I lowered the heat and it "simmered" for another minute or two. I say "simmered" because with such a thick mixture, I only got a few big bubbles at a time, but I didn't want to make the mistake of cooking it for too long.

I removed the pan from the heat and added the dark chocolate, which I had broken into small pieces. I stirred this to incorporate the chocolate as it melted, and then poured the mixture into a bowl to cool to room temperature. By this point, the pastry cream had the consistency of a very thick chocolate pudding.

I also made sure the surface of this was covered in plastic wrap so it didn't form a skin. Appetizing, right?

While the pastry cream was cooling, I started on the choux pastry for the actual eclairs. This is the same kind of dough used to make creme puffs or profiteroles, as it puffs while it cooks, forming a hollow structure perfect for filling (theoretically).

flour, sugar, water, butter, salt, eggs

I combined the flour and sugar in a small bowl and put it aside. In a separate bowl, I beat two eggs together lightly. I put the water, butter, and salt in a small pan and brought it to a boil over high heat. 

As soon as it boiled, I added the flour and sugar all at once and stirred constantly until it formed a ball in the center of the pan. Once I got to this stage, I lowered the heat to medium and stirred for another minute to dry out the dough slightly. I'm sorry I don't have more photos of these steps, but everything had to be done pretty quickly, and I only have two hands.

I transferred the dough to a bowl and stirred it just slightly to let some of the heat escape. I started adding the beaten eggs a little at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon after each addition. I mixed until the dough became a smooth, thick paste.

right out of the pan

After adding all the egg

I transferred the finished dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip and piped it onto prepared baking sheets (I brushed the baking sheets with melted butter before starting and chilled them in the fridge to harden). I piped the dough into lines 5 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches apart.

I planned to pipe 12 on each onto two baking sheets since the recipe made 24, but only had enough dough for 17. I worried I had made them too big, but I had measured the pastry tip when I bought it, and used a tape measure to be sure I made each eclair the right length. (Sidenote: I don't have much experience using piping bags, but I really enjoyed doing this. Using such a large, plain tip made the process nice and simple, and the dough was very easy to work with.) I considered making more dough since I still had all the ingredients, but then thought that if I had made them too large, and then made more, I might not have enough pastry cream for all of them. Oh, how wrong I was.

I put the pans at the top of a preheated oven. They baked at a high temperature for about 23 minutes, and then at a lowered temperature for another 5. The recipe only gives the baking time for the higher temperature, and then after instructing you to lower the oven, just says to bake them until firm and dry on the inside. The only way to check this was to break one open, which I was sort of sad about since I only had 17 to begin with. This would prove to be not such a big deal in the end though, especially since breaking one open also let me see that the eclairs were not quite as hollow as I wanted them to be.

I took the baked eclairs out of the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.

I was pretty wary when I saw how thin the baked pastries were, but still hoped they had been successful and were hollow inside (a rare and misguided moment of optimism). Once they were completely cool, I needed to make two holes at either end of the base of each one. I hoped I would be able to do this with the tip of a 1/4 inch plain piping nozzle, but when I tried, the tip seemed too big and the eclairs were too fragile. Things were not looking up.

Using the sharp point of a (clean) meat thermometer, I started by poking small holes in the bottom of each eclair, widening them slowly and carefully, so as not to break the ends. I used the pastry tip as a guide so I would know how big to make each hole. This actually seemed to work pretty well.
Not a great picture, but you can sort of see the holes at either end, that is, if my freakishly pale hand hasn't blinded you

Once all the pastries had holes at either end, I reached for the pastry cream, but it was still a little too warm. I put it in the fridge for about 3o minutes, until it was closer to room temperature. I stirred it some to smooth it out and then filled a piping bag, fitted with a 1/4 inch plain tip. I started to pipe the cream into the holes I had made, but quickly realized there was just no way it was going to work. I followed the directions and started piping the cream in one hole, hoping to see it come out the second, meaning the eclair was full. Instead, cream had no where to go and just backed out of the hole onto my hand. I tried to use the meat thermometer and work it gently into each hole and down into the pastry to hollow it out slightly, while trying not to break the pastries. This sort of worked, but really didn't solve the problem. I attempted more piping and got 9 or 10 filled most of the way.

They may look filled, but really I just piped some cream in each hole

See? Empty.

At this point, I really felt like giving up and chocking this up to my first failure, which was particularly disheartening since this was my first attempt at one of the pastry recipes, and I had really been looking forward to bragging at work that yes, I made every part of these from scratch. Perhaps my hubris was my downfall. 

Once I accepted that these just weren't going to be successful enough to give to other people, I decided to work with what I had. After all, more for me! Nothing dulls the sting of failure quite like chocolate-filled, chocolate-dipped pastry. Really, you should try it some time.

I checked each one and those that hadn't been filled completely, I broke in half, filling each half with the pastry cream.

I had a ton of pastry cream left over, at least half, maybe more. Clearly, I should have had more eclairs to fill or the eclairs should have been bigger to accommodate more cream (A LOT bigger. There was so much pastry cream left over, I saved it so Dan could eat it as pudding)

One of the reasons I wanted to find some way to finish the eclairs was because I really wanted to finish the fondant icing I had started the day before. To do that, I poured what I had into a small pot and warmed it slightly, to about 90 degrees. Once warm, I added chopped dark chocolate a little at a time until I had the right consistency and flavor I wanted.

I dipped the top of each filled eclair into the icing, and then tipped it downward so the excess could drip off. There's a note in the recipe that if the icing is too much work, you can dip the eclairs into melted chocolate and then let them harden in the fridge, but the icing was one of the easiest parts of this dish. Everything went in one pan, it only heated a little, and only used a few ingredients. I also thought it was very successful in both flavor and texture. I put the finished eclairs onto a piece of waxed paper so the icing could harden.

Look! They look like real eclairs! Except small and...broken. And yes, they are on wax paper, not just the counter.

I tasted each element as I went along, and each was good on its own, but when I tasted them all together at the end, they were sinfully good. Sweet, crunchy, creamy, and chocolaty. Even though they weren't the right size, they really tasted just like an eclair should. I really wish the dough had been more successful because these tasted so so good and I would have loved to show them off at work. Oh well, guess I'll just have to make cookies instead.

[Edited to Add: I brought one of these to work to eat after lunch, and of course after writing about them and publishing this, I really wanted it. And it was SO FREAKING GOOD. SO GOOD. I'm sort of happy now that they didn't turn out perfectly because MORE FOR ME. Family: now would be the time to start talking to an Interventionist.]

Next Indulgence: Red Berry Meringue Heart to Share

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Carrot Cake

On Sunday, Dan got up at 5:30 in the morning. 

Was he on rescue or fire duty at the station? No. 
Did he have a flight to catch? No. 
Was he slaving away over the stove to make me a fabulous breakfast consisting of pancakes, crispy bacon, and freshly squeezed orange juice? Sadly, no.

He got up that early in the morning for MEAT

That, dear readers, is 14 pounds of pork shoulder, being slow smoked to a delicious, tender, juicy crisp, which Dan lovingly looked after for about 11 hours, literally on his hands and knees. We enjoyed it in the backyard, along with homemade barbeque sauce, perfect spring weather, and a group of his friends from college.

so proud

And you know what's better a close second to fresh, homemade barbeque? Using the leftover barbeque for nachoes. Because there's cheese. Mmmmm.

Now, let's talk about Carrot Cake. I know I've professed my love affair with chocolate to you all before, but I'm also a big fan of Carrot Cake. And Red Velvet Cake. Ok fine, most cake. But Carrot Cake is certainly up there. So, to continue my celebration that Passover had ended, I chose to make this next. 


whole wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut, muscovado (aka brown) sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, raisins

I started by sifting the wheat flour with the baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a small bowl. Once done, I stirred in the coconut a little a time to mitigate clumpage. 

Using my electric mixer, I beat the eggs, brown sugar, and oil until pale and doubled in volume.

I combined the dry and wet ingredients by slowly folding them together, so as not to lose volume.

At this point, it was time to add the grated carrots and raisins. 

If you haven't read my mom's comment on my last post, (or on any of my other posts) you should (look for the longest post by Anonymous). She's witty, and funny, and, I'll warn you, is a tough act to follow. But her last comment was particularly ironic, specifically this part:

"Let me begin my noting that several of the photos depict tools that I have given Morgan over time, the sifter, kitchen Aid mixer (you may remember from a previous blog how we went through the "I did give you the whisk attachment, I can't find it (typical)and then finally I found it (also typical). It is only right that I shared these tools with her as she and I made her 1st batch of chocolate chip cookies when she was probably 2 using the Nestle Tollhouse bag recipe."

Not mentioned in that list of hand-me-downs are the two 30-year-old cuisinart food processors my mom gave me when she got her fancy schmancy new one this year. She gave me her mini one and also a larger one, which came with all kinds of accessories for grating and slicing, and which was perfect for making pie dough. The reason we've kept them all these years is because they've never let us down; they're reliable, useful, simple to use, and still get the job done every single time.

The larger processor has survived decades of use, hundreds of washes in the dishwasher, and numerous moves...

only to be felled by a single baby carrot.

Let me back up a little. When I shopped for these ingredients, I bought the full-sized carrots pictured above, knowing that if they weren't quite enough, I also had some already shredded carrot at home. Of course, all of these carrots combined still weren't enough for this recipe, which led to me rooting through the fridge looking for more. All I found were 4 baby carrots. 

(I may or may not have announced to Dan as I was rooting through the fridge, "We have orange juice!" as if that could help in someway. His response: "Uh..we're looking for carrots." Right, the coincidence that both are orange must have confused me....)

We were about 50 grams short, but there wasn't much we could do, so I tasked Dan with grating the whole carrots. Given my trusty cuisinart, complete with handy grating blade, this wasn't that difficult of a task.

You see where this is going right?

I hear a hard *snap* and the soft whir of a motor that's obviously not doing any work and turn around to find this

RIP Cuisinart

You'll notice that not just the end of the grating attachment is broken off, but also the center piece of the bowl, an integral part of the whole machine, rendering it useless. And of course, since the machine is so old, I'm not sure how easy it's going to be to find a replacement. 

You may be wondering how far along we were in the grating process when this happened. One baby carrot. One. Leaving the 5 full sized carrots and 3 other baby carrots still whole. Sadly, we then had to switch to this:

See how tiny those holes are? And sadly, it was not the sharpest tool in the shed drawer.

Please note that I in no way blame Dan for the cuisinart Incident. He was using it correctly and I'm sure 30 years of wear and tear had the most to do with it. That, and the baby carrot from hell. Plus, he then grated, by hand, almost all of the rest of the carrots, leaving just one for me to do, and that one was a bitch, so I can't even imagine what it would have been like to do all 5. 

Once all the carrot was finally grated, and I had stopped weeping over my lost appliance (ok, not really. I may cry over sandwiches, but appliances are where I draw the line. I make no promises though should my kitchenaid mixer suddenly bite the dust DEAR GOD NO), I added the carrot and raisin to the batter and folded them in as well.

Is it just me, or does it sort of look like somebody already ate this? Oh, I'm sorry, were you eating just now...

I scooped the batter into lined cupcake tins and put them in the oven for 15 minutes.

Please note the very prominent, rather too large, pre-shredded carrot I poorly chose to use

I made this recipe into cupcakes due to resources, or lack thereof. I don't have the correctly sized springform pan needed to make a full cake, but Clark only provides a modification for mini cakes, which yields about 30. I do have a mini muffin tin, but only 1 with the capacity to make only 12 cakes at a time. Full-sized cupcakes were really my only option, so I had to improvise on the timing. The full cake bakes for 40 minutes, and the mini cupcakes bake for 10-12, so I timed mine for 15 minutes at first. They weren't quite done so I checked them at 2 minute intervals after that until a toothpick tested in a few of the cakes came out clean, about 20-22 minutes.

While the cakes were baking, I made the frosting.

 cream cheese, butter, vanilla, confectioners sugar

This was very simple. I just put all the ingredients in my mixer and beat until creamy.

There is no "before" picture, because all you would have seen is a big pile of powdered sugar. And that would have been boring.

One of the nice things about making these into cupcakes is the size. They didn't rise too high, so that even with a good helping of icing, you could still take the perfect bite that included a good ratio of cake and icing, without getting any frosting on your nose. The recipe made 23 cupcakes, but some were a little too small. I made the full batch of icing, although I suspected I wouldn't need all of it, and only used about 2/3.

These were very moist thanks to all the coconut and carrot, and were nicely spiced from the cinnamon and nutmeg. The icing was particularly good; not your typical cream cheese variety, but sweeter, which paired much more nicely with the carrot cake, I thought. They were also very filling, so they didn't leave you wanting to eat another one. Or two. At least not right away.

I brought most of these to work (saving the saddest littlest ones for Dan and me), and they were very well received. I didn't get quite the response I did with the Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, but those have become that which we measure everything else against. If they were a 10 out of 10, this Carrot Cake was probably a 7 or 7.5. Very respectable. And very satisfying.

Next Indulgence: Chocolate Eclairs

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

If someone knows a better way to break a week-long carb fast than with a huge bowl of creamy, cheesy, carby homemade macaroni and cheese, followed by a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie chaser, I'd love to hear it. I couldn't think of anything better than that, so last Tuesday night, that's exactly what Dan and I made. After my second helping of this:

I heaved myself off the couch and out of my cheese coma and got the ingredients together for the cookies

flour, baking soda, salt, butter, dark brown sugar, vanilla, eggs, chocolate

I started by sifting together the flour, baking soda, and salt twice.

 photo courtesy of Dan

I creamed the butter and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy, and then added the vanilla.

After beating the egg into submission lightly, I added it a little at a time, beating between each addition so as not to overwhelm the batter. I added the dry ingredients last, mixing on the lowest speed just until the dough came together.

Last, it was time to add the dark chocolate. Dan's mom had given me a few squares in my Easter basket (aw), and I foolishly thought this would be enough to fulfill the 225g requirement.

91g. Fail.

Luckily, Dan's mom also included a sweet milk chocolate bunny in my basket, which I hadn't eaten yet, and which got us a lot closer to our chocolate quota (although not quite all the way). So...

Bye Bye Bunny. Edited to Add: Dan is not this creepy (or sociopathic) in real life.

Once Dan had surgically disassembled Peter Cottontail, we added all the chocolate to the batter and mixed to incorporate.
The kitchen was quite warm after having the oven on for so long, so I put the batter in the fridge for about 20 minutes so that it was less soft and sticky. When it was ready, I used a small ice cream scoop and scooped 20 cookies onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and put them into the oven.

It's always hard to gauge cooking time with this book because usually I have to tack on a few (or 20) more minutes. When I checked after the prescribed 11 minutes, this is what the cookies looked like:

 Hot, melted dough anyone?

I know they're supposed to stay gooey in the center, but these were no where near finished. I checked them again after another 5 minutes, and then another 2, which is when I finally took them out. 

In retrospect, I wish I had taken the cookies out after about 14-15 minutes. They weren't overbaked, but they weren't nice and gooey in the center either, like they should have been, but were more on the cakey side. Although I didn't use the full amount of chocolate, I don't think I would have liked any more. The combination of milk and dark chocolate was kind of nice, as I'm a much bigger fan of the former, and the milk chocolate added a nice touch of sweetness. These were good, especially when dipped in milk, but I have to say, the best Chocolate Chip Cookie award still goes to the Toll House recipe on the back of a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. They're buttery, sweet, with just a hint of salt and just the right amount of chocolate. These were very similar, but I missed the intense butteryness I really like in a chocolate chip cookie.

And now we break from your regularly scheduled program to bring you Embarrassing Story Time:
Wednesday night I let Dexter outside in the back yard and started making my lunch for Thursday. I also usually pack an english muffin for breakfast, so I can save the extra 7 minutes it takes to eat it and sleep in instead, but when I opened my container of muffins, I saw a tiny little flying bug inside. Ugh, I thought. How incredibly gross. I absolutely hate bugs with such an intense passion, it is rivaled only by my intense fear of them. I'm so terrified of bugs, I can't even kill the smallest little spider (mosquitoes are the one exception because they LOVE me and I HATE them enough to kill them and ENJOY it). And once I finally gather the courage to squish a fly by throwing a massive magazine on it from about 10 feet away, I then can't stand to get close enough to it to clean it up. My sister can attest to this as she has seen me many times, completely freaking out, standing on my bed, refusing to get close to the remains of the squashed bug I made her kill for me, but which she then refuses to clean up.

Anyway, I saw the little bug in my english muffins and reluctantly threw them in the trash. Sadly, I hadn't gotten any cereal at the store that night, because helloo I have english muffins! Right. Instead I packed a yogurt and just figured I would eat an early lunch.

It was then that I saw the evil shadow of something ominous flying in a tight little circle right over the counter. It was a small light green bug which had obviously flown in when I opened the door for Dexter and was seriously regretting that decision as it flew in hysterical little circles waaayy too close for comfort. I kept my eye on it for as long as I could (because even worse than spotting an unwelcome flying visitor is losing sight of it because now you know it's lurking somewhere, you just don't know where), but eventually had to turn to the fridge to get turkey for my sandwich. Of course, when I turned around, it was gone, and part of me was a little optimistic that it had just relocated to a different part of the house and there was nothing to worry about (ha! yeah right). I removed just one piece of bread and kept the rest of the bag closed, just in case, and started assembling my sandwich. I was almost done and just had to add the turkey, which I had kept hermetically sealed in plastic up to this point. I unfolded the plastic and peeled off a piece of turkey when DEAR GOD WHAT IS THAT?!?! It was back! and heading right for my food. I swatted it away with my left hand while I held the turkey in my right, my eyes darting back and forth crazily, trying to keep it in my sight. Suddenly it was heading right for me and as I flailed hysterically, the turkey sailed from my hand and landed with a dull SPLAT onto the kitchen floor.

I stood there for a moment looking helplessly at all that lost food, and for a second thought that maybe just maybe there were a few pieces that hadn't touched the floor. The turkey was essentially brand new and there was so much of it left that I couldn't bare the thought that it was all ruined. But as I picked it up, I realized it was all in vain. I guess I could have rinsed it off, but have you seen pictures of my kitchen before? If that's what the sink looks like, you can just imagine how the floor looks, and is that something you would you eat off of? Not unless you think contracting ebola would be a good way to spend a couple of days. I angrily threw the turkey and my partially made sandwich into the trash, where they joined my ruined english muffins, and stomped up the stairs where I had myself a humiliating little cry on Dan's shoulder.

Looking back on it, I probably overreacted just a tad. I mean, I was crying. Over a sandwich. But after being deprived the luxury of having anything between two slices of bread for 8 days, I really wanted that sandwich.

Next Indulgence: Carrot Cake (I know, I know, I was supposed to write about this with the Chocolate Chip Cookies, but I promise, it's coming soon. No really, like tomorrow)
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