This is all my parents’ fault.
My parents made me fall in love with pastry cream at a very early age. Legend has it that in the hospital room where I was born, there was a box of pastries that my Dad bought from a charming little bakery in Hato Rey, the Swiss Cake. From there on, we would make at minimum a monthly pilgrimage to the Swiss Cake and us kids would get to pick our sweets. My brother’s order was always the same: ‘mousse y piña“, shorthand for a chocolate mousse and a chocolate covered vanilla layered cake slice topped with a slice of pineapple and a cherry. I would always get pastry creamed anything – Napoleons (my favorite to this day), small tarts with fruit, tornillos (puff pastry horns). My sister would vary her order, but would always get an éclair. Éclairs sold in Puerto Rico are made with pastry cream and the baked choux pastry, but instead of a chocolate ganache, they usually have a hardened candied sugar topping – the sugary crunch paired with the airy dough and the dense pastry cream makes quite a satisfying bite. The eclairs are usually filled from one of the ends with a pastry bag tip, so the presentation varies slightly from the ‘sandwich’ éclairs that showcase the filling.
This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe had me in a tizzy from the minute I read it would be in schedule. I had never made cream puff dough before, and my pastry bag skills are/were a little limited. I set off to the neighborhood baking supplies store and bought the largest pastry bag they had and the largest tip available (1/2″). Having these new toys on hand somehow helped me feel more confident about piping out the pastry tubes.
The new pastry bag, however, did not stop me from being a little confused as to how to go about baking the éclairs. On one hand, in the directions for the cream puff pastry recipe, the baking times varied and the baking pans were rotated to ensure even baking. I followed those instructions, but my pastry came out underbaked. I made an extra half batch of choux dough, and baked one tray with the éclairs’ recipe instructions to a T. They came out perfect! Instead of making the glace or ganache, I prepared a bit of stovetop caramel with sugar and a few drops of water and lemon juice. I drizzled it on top of the éclairs filled with the vanilla pastry cream. The caramel hardened, and the crunchy browned sugar made a great contrast to the intense vanilla flavor of the cream.
I also squeezed a couple of mini puffs to have fun with. I think those were my favorite! I made two half batches of pastry cream the night before, one vanilla and one chocolate.
It was only natural for me to ask my parents to come over for dessert after lunch on Sunday, when I made the éclairs. They were impressed, and I couldn’t have been happier. This is probably the FFwD recipe that has given me the biggest sense of accomplishment to date. After baking the second batch of pastry dough, I can say this was a WIN! Thanks, Dorie! My copy of Around My French Table has now a smudge – its first battle scar. If you get any part of your book wet, do not rub the paper! Gently blot it dry.
Now what can I do with the slightly underbaked, not as puffy pastry tubes stored in a plastic bag in my freezer?