Baking extravaganza on a rainy weekend
I don’t know if this is one of those amazing moments, or if it’s something that I’m going to regret sharing later. This is probably just one of those spiritual moments that only feels special because I’m stoned, but I’m sitting on the cushy brown suede couch in our bay window. Double-decker buses pass through the intersection down below and I make silly faces at the Russian tourists wearing disposable yellow ponchos with their digital point-and-shoots in hope that I’ll randomly end up in one of their photo albums back home. I can see the sun flickering through the redwood trees in Alamo Square Park. It really is a beautiful day considering it rained constantly for the past four days and the gray clouds are now gone. Finally the sun!
Then Jonathan changes the TV channel and it’s Forrest Gump. Forrest just found out from Jenny that Haley Joel Osment (when he was cute) is his son and the floodgates open. I’m crying like a little bitch and getting that tingle sensation in back of my throat. “This moment is really intense,” I think to myself. And then Tom Hanks who is so f-ing cute at this point in his life asks Jenny if their son is smart or challenged. And I’m like “it’s Haley Joel, he’s totally smart…which doesn’t matter, because kids still aren’t going to sit next to him on the bus.” Amazing!
And then bam, they’re about to get married and Lieutenant Dan walks up to Forrest on titanium legs. Gary Sinise (who still looks like a lizard man in a Tommy Bahama shirt) introduces his Asian American wife who’s pretty. Her only flaw being the fact that she’s a little fat, which doesn’t matter, because he’s an amputee. So it must be real love….which makes me want cry some more.
Ugh! I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve seen this movie.
The commercial break came on and the munchies kicked in. Lucky for me, I’d slaved away the night and morning before making apricot éclairs with candied pecans and they were finally ready!
Blenheim Apricot Éclairs
Notes: The pate a choux and candied pecans recipes are directly from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook. The apricot pastry cream was inspired by the book’s recipe for plain pastry cream, but I adjusted the ingredient amounts to account for the additional liquid and sweetness of the Blenheim Apricot preserves I used to make it (thanks for those Katelin and Sarah).
We’d just gotten back from a trip to Paris a week before and I guess I’d been inspired by the amazing éclairs we had (pistachio from Laduree and caramel from La Maison du Chocolate). Both had this awesome flavored glaze across the top and I knew I needed something to use as an adhesive for the candied pecans. So I made my own apricot glaze, using the preserves I had, some powdered sugar and heavy whipping cream.
Since I was following some of the methods and techniques from the Bouchon book, it goes without saying that each of the éclair components took a lot of time and patience, and eventually required a lot of dishwashing. But that bite at the end made it worth it.
Pate a Choux for éclairs
- 175 grams of flour (1 ¼ cups)
- 33 grams of granulated sugar (2 tblsp + 2 tsp)
- 240 grams of water (1 cup)
- 120 grams of unsalted butter at room temp. (4.2 ounces)
- 2.5 grams of kosher salt (3/4 + 1/8 tsp)
- 250 grams of eggs (1 cup)
Combine the flour and sugar in bowl and set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat add the water, butter and salt. Once the butter is melted turn the heat up to medium-high until it simmers and then take it off the heat. Then stir in the flour mixture with a heatproof wooden spoon for about 2 minutes until it’s a thick paste consistency. Then put it back on medium heat and rapidly stir continuously while some of the moister evaporates and the mixture pulls away from the side of the pot and the bottom is clean. The dough should be glossy and smooth but not dry.
Immediately drop the dough into the bowl of a standing mixer affixed with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 30 seconds to let out some more steam. Slowly add the eggs about 3 tblsp at a time making sure the eggs are completely incorporated before adding more. Stop adding eggs when the mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl and when pulled with the paddle but then grabs back on again (this was hard to understand and you might just need to make this a few times before you know what your looking for). Then increase the speed to high for 15 seconds and make sure all the eggs are incorporated.
Transfer the dough to a pastry back and let cool completely in the fridge.
Piping the éclairs
Preheat the oven to 375 ° F
Using a Sharpie marker, mark guidelines for the desired length of your eclairs on parchment paper. Bouchon suggests 6 inch lines placed 2 inches apart. Then put the parchment paper under the silpat and you can follow the lines while you pipe out the dough.
Starting furthest away from you, pipe out a 6 inch strip of dough and stop applying pressure to the pastry bag when you get to the end, lift up the bag tip and fold the dough back on itself (sort of like a Marshmallow Peep).
With a fork, rake down the length of the dough and then spray them with water form a spray bottle.
Immediately place the éclairs in the oven and drop the temperature to 350 ° F. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through. Lower the temperature to 325 ° F and bake for another 20 minutes until golden brown. Lower the temperature again to 300 ° F and bake for up to another 10 minutes until the éclairs feel light and hollow and then let them cool on a rack.
Apricot Pastry Cream
- 135 grams of egg yolks
- ½ vanilla bean, sliced with the seeds scraped out
- 90 grams of granulated sugar
- 90 grams of flour
- 26 grams of unsalted butter at room temp.
- 450 grams of whole milk
- 225 grams of Blenheim Apricot preserves or puree
Place a smaller mixing bowl in a larger mixing bowl filled with ice and some water. You’re going to use this later when you need to quickly cool the pastry cream once it comes off the heat.
In the bowl of a standing mixer whisk the yolks and the scraped vanilla bean seeds on medium-low speed for 30 seconds. Lower the speed and add the sugar and whisk for about 90 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl and then continue to whisk at medium-high speed for about 3 minutes. Stop when the mixture is pale yellow, increased in bulk, is thick and creates ribbons that fold on itself when lifted with the whisk.
Reduce the speed to low and add the flour until combined. Then add the milk slowly and scrape down the sides along the way. Turn up the speed and mix for a full minute to make sure everything is combined. The liquid will be loose like heave cream.
Pour the liquid into a pot on the stove and turn to medium heat. Gently stir as it warms until it starts to thicken and bubbles appear on the surface. Then switch to a whisk and whisk constantly for about 5 minutes while the yolks cook slowly and the mixture gets much thicker. You need to scrape all parts of the bottom of the pot to make sure none of the egg mixture burns, browns and forms solid bits. If it’s getting too hot, you can temporarily take it off the heat and stir it and then put it back. You’ll want to continue until the mixture thickens and some a lot of moisture has evaporated. It should be like thick custard. Then strain it into the small bowl in ice through a fine mesh sieve to remove any solid bits.
Whisk the mixture briefly, allowing it the cool, and then stir in the room temperature butter. This will add a gloss and shine to the mixture and loosen it a little. Once combined, add the apricots until well combined.
Pour the apricot pastry cream into a bowl or container and cover with plastic wrap, pushing the plastic to the cream’s surface, eliminating the formation of a “skin” while it cools. Let it cool for at least 1 hour.
- 450 grams of whole or half pecans
- 107 grams of sugar (I used organic sugar from Trader Joes)
- 30 grams of water
Preheat the oven to 325° F
Warm the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet for five to six minutes. Meanwhile heat the sugar and water in a large sauté pan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When it starts to rapidly bubble and boil, take the pecans out of the oven and add them to the pan. Constantly stir and coat the pecans in the sugar/water mixture until they dry and light white sugar crystals coat the pecans.
Let them cool on a plate.
Blenheim Apricot Glaze
- 100 grams of powdered sugar
- 47 grams of apricot puree strained through a fine wire mesh
- 30 grams of heavy whipping cream
Whisk the puree and the sugar until combined and then whisk in the cream until it’s all combined. Set aside until you’re ready to drizzle over the éclairs or dip them in it.