I remember it like it was yesterday. I had been on hold for almost twenty minutes with a certain shipping company who will remain nameless. At the exact moment the agent came on the line, my two year old stood up and started the show that only occurs when I talk on the phone. He started shaking the maraca, jumping up and down singing Jingle Bells at the top of his lungs. I didn’t even know he had heard the song, let alone memorized it.
A couple days later, he informed me it was Christmas day. It was still November, and it occurred to me that if he was already anticipating the holidays at two years old, then he was certainly old enough to get in on a bit of holiday cooking action. So in the hustle and bustle, pull the kids into the kitchen. Give them an apron, a hand wash, and one more reason to love the holidays. Depending on the age of the kids in your life, some might need more help than others, so I’ll leave that up to you.
for the dough
1 c. water
1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz)
pinch of salt
1 T. sugar
1 c. bread flour (AP flour works also)
for the chocolate glaze
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 stick of unsalted butter (4 oz. at room temp.)
for the whipped cream
1 c. heavy cream (cold)
2 T. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make the glaze: melt chocolate and butter in the microwave or over a double boiler to melt. Let cool at room temperature until you are ready to glaze.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium saucepan bring water, butter, and salt to a boil over medium heat.
Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until dough comes away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds.
Take the pan off of heat and add eggs one at a time, stirring until each egg is completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. This is when you will notice the dough will appear to “break”. Just keep stirring and before you know it, all will be well again and you will be ready to add the next egg.
Use a spatula to transfer the dough to a piping bag and let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
Once the dough is rested, snip off the tip of your pastry bag (You are looking for about a ½” tip or opening).
Ok, let’s have a quick pep talk: Next is piping the dough onto the parchment parchment paper (or silpat) lined baking sheet. It’s just one of those things that you have to believe you can do (with gusto!) before you do it for the first time (kind of like much of life, huh?). It’s actually very straightforward (wow, no pun intended I swear!). Sure, the finished product looks like you’ve just been to a Parisian pastry shop, but there is no doubt in my mind that with a small amount of practice, these will soon be a snap for you to make.
For Eclairs, you are looking to pipe a straight line of dough (about 5″x 1″). Take a minute to visualize how many rows you want to make. A typical baking sheet will usually be big enough to make 3 rows of 4 (12). Take a few deep breaths and rest the tip of your piping bag on the sheet tray where you want to start. Piping from the back of the bag and your palm, squeeze the dough out relatively slowly and as you see a 1″ thickness form, keep piping and pull your hand back until you’ve reached around 5″ long. The key is to not be afraid of the moving dough and piping bag. You are in control of the dough, the speed and the movement!
For profiteroles, you are looking to pipe tablespoon size rounds (think 1”x 1”) onto the sheet tray about 2 inches apart. Check out the photo’s in the gourgeres post to get an idea for size.
For both the eclairs and profiteroles, there comes a time when you want to end the piping and move on to the next one. There is a little bit of technique to do it and I have a few tips for this:
keep your pastry bag still when piping out the dough and keep the tip almost touching the sheet tray for each one.
to make a clean break between the pastry bag and your piped eclair or profiterole, instead of pulling up, make a quick and confident swipe to the side. This will leave a little mountain looking peak.
After you’ve piped the entire tray, dip your finger in a little water and gently pat down the peak of each one.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until they are a deep golden brown and nicely puffed up. Remove from the oven, and make a tiny slit in the side with the tip of a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. This is how they will stay crispy. Let cool completely.
Make the whipped cream and use a spatula to transfer to a piping bag.
Wait to fill the eclairs until you are ready to serve them. The last thing you want is a soggy eclair. The same is true for cannolis (I wish I could scream that from a mountain top but that’s for a different time). Oh, it should also be said that classically eclairs are filled with pastry cream, I just love the light texture of fresh whipped cream with the pastry and glaze. Snip the tip (1/4″) and fill the pastry in the side where you slit the side for the steam to escape.
Once the eclairs are filled, dip the top half into the glaze which by now should be nice and cool. Place chocolate side up on a baking sheet and you are ready to serve.
**If you want to really dig into the depths of eclair making, I would highly recommend checking out Ironwhisks’ tutorial on the subject. Talk about a labor of eclair love!
Component in Action
fill with pastry cream, whipped cream or combinations of both.
incorporate various flavors/fruits into the filling (raspberries, strawberries, chocolate, spices)
play around with the glaze incorporating liquor or spices like cinnamon.
you could get wild and top the glaze with something crunch like candied nuts.
In the world of desserts there is whipped cream, and then there is whipped cream. Sure, there are lots of tubs of “whipped” “topping” out there, but why??? I’m not trying to be a whipped cream snob about this, but whenever I see tubs of said topping in the store, my brain…how do I describe this…kind of takes over and starts shooting red flag alerts into the sky like I am all of a sudden R2D2 malfunctioning and in need of a reboot.
I do want to say this, if you totally love the taste of cool whip and that could be totally possible because I know taste memories are powerful, then that’s cool. (ha! pun unintended). I have a similar affinity for store bought pie dough as it brings back vivid memories of my grandma’s Easter Pie. But for the rest of us, the entire world of fake whipped cream can literally be turned upside down with a few ingredients and five minutes, resulting in one of the most amazing treats ever from our very generous friend the dairy cow.
In our house, whipped cream usually marks special occasions like birthday treats, peak of the summer fruit tarts, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, winter nights that call for hot cocoa and cozy pj’s, or when friends come for dinner. Now that I think of it, it kind of feels like we are always looking for a reason to whip up a batch, or maybe we are always looking for a reason to celebrate. Either way, it’s always a sign of good times ahead.
This may seem like a itty bitty recipe to devote an entire post to, but here’s the thing. Learn how to make this once, allowing your mind to compartmentalize the recipe and technique on its own, and you will have this up your sleeve for life. It really is as simple and beautiful as that. So let’s do a pretend cheers (imagine two bubbling glasses of champagne), and I’ll go first–Here’s to you, your table, and may you have many reasons to celebrate with whipped cream in the year ahead.
Ingredients 1 c. heavy cream (cold)
2 T. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Put a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer and let it hang out for about a half hour. You can use a glass or ceramic bowl as well, stainless steel just retains the cold temperature better. You want the bowl to be really cold because room temp cream does not aerate.
Remove the bowl from the freezer and add the cold heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract to the bowl.
With a large balloon style whisk, whisk the cream until soft peaks, semi-soft, or stiff peaks form. Choose the level of stiffness you want for whatever you are using it for. When you whisk, make sure you are not just stirring. You want to make sure the whisk is picking up air, incorporating it into the cream.
I like to take turns between my left hand and right hand to take advantage of this sweet bicep workout. But you could also use a mixer with the whisk attachment and achieve the same results in half the time.
Soft peaks are awesome for dolloping and stiff peaks are better for using as a filling. If you over whip the cream you will be well on your way to making butter. If this happens, take a look at the grainy, separated cream and don’t fret. You will realize how much whisking it took to get you there, and chances are it will never happen again.