This Daring Bakers entry, Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé, is my first, and it was almost my last. All because of choux pastry, that vexing yet tantalizing dough first concocted in my country of historical origin, France. I say historical because I'm half-French Canadian, which means I had ancestors in France about, oh, 400+ years ago? Can't I still call myself half-French?
Anyway, let me explain. Choux pastry is supposed to be smooth, glossy, and pipeable, forming "ribbons" when falling off a wooden spoon back into your mixing bowl.
That is to say, choux pastry is not supposed to look like this:
Curdled and goopy. No, thank you. It's very rare these days that I fail completely in the kitchen. I think the last time I screwed up so badly was when I tried to make meringues as a 10 year old. They formed pools of sugary egg whites and baked in one wide, thin layer. My first adventure in choux pastry felt sort of like that. I think I was most upset about wasting the ingredients.
So, what happened? I forgot to add the butter to the original mixture. The biggest problem? I should have just thrown out the butterless dough which was an inexpensive mixture of flour and water. Instead, I thought I'd try adding the butter to the wrecked dough after it already came together. Even as I dumped half a stick of butter in, I thought, "Oh, this isn't a good idea." So instead of wasting flour and water, I wasted half a stick of butter and two eggs! Oh, well. I scrubbed my badly-burnt pan clean and tried again.
And here is what I came up with:
Compared to making the dough, baking it was a snap. It did seem to brown a lot faster than I had expected, but I slid a sheet of aluminum foil on the rack above (I didn't want to accidentally deflate the choux) and that worked nicely to keep my eclairs and cream puffs from burning.
Now, I should mention that I recently bought a real pastry bag, but neglected to buy a wide plain tip. I have a star tip and a very tiny plain tip (about 2 mm), but 2/3 of a centimetre wide? Nope. Sorry. So my eclairs were not the prettiest, but I think the mounds of dough I piped into cream puff shapes turned out quite well.
I made a basic vanilla pastry cream and a chocolate glaze for the top. If I make this recipe again, I'd like to experiment a little more. Maple pastry cream? Cinnamon pastry cream? So many options. For my first Daring Bakers attempt, I just wanted to keep things simple.
Now that I know how not to make choux pastry, I realize how easy it really is to make. I'm excited to have expanded my baking repertoire just a bit further into French territory. Why not try choux pastry sometime? C'est bon.