Pear and Chocolate Éclairs (Poire Belle Hélène)
It was one of those days that sudden cravings would hit you in the middle of the night. And all I wanted were some goddamn éclairs. To date, I’ve not eaten any éclair in this tiny island worth traveling a distance for. (Now, if you’re talking about the luscious chocolate éclairs from La Maison du Chocolat – that’s a whole new story altogether. I’d travel to Hong Kong for a day for those babies.)
Éclairs are a classic French pastry and traditionally flavoured with chocolate, coffee or white-glazed fondant. In the recent years, they have been given a makeover from different glazes, exotic flavours and extensive decorations (there are even savoury ones!). At times, you’re just eating half a pastry with tons of cream, puree, candy and what not’s. It doesn’t even look like an éclair anymore but nail art. One can just peer at the windows of Christophe Adam and Fauchon to see collections of extravagant and vibrant little ‘flashes’.
Move over, le macaron, it’s time for l’éclair to shine.
For our own attempt in a fashionable éclair, we wanted to incorporate the flavours of the classic dessert Poire belle Hélène – made with pears served with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and crystallised violets. We had a dilemma on the violets on whether to get fresh ones or the ready candied flowers. No one seemed to sell candied violets and buying them online meant we had to wait for shipping. At long last, we decided to candy our own violets and managed to get fresh edible violet flowers from the market – only to find out that we bought violas instead. No sweat, we’ll just have to make do.
Candying the tiny petals proved to be a challenge especially in this heat and humidity. The moment the flowers were exposed to the open air, their petals curl and shrink in size. And it doesn’t help that they are so fragile. Delicate sturdy hands and a very cold dry room are needed for this operation. The beautiful blue-purple violas don’t really taste of anything but at least they are a sight to behold. A pity though. (Guys, make sure you get the right flowers. Or better still, use the already candied ones.)
The pears (we used Williams in this recipe) were poached in sugar syrup infused with Mexican vanilla pods. The fruits were then cubed into tiny pieces and mixed into the crème pâtissière for piping after. While little rows of choux pastry were baking in the oven, a rich glossy dark chocolate glaze was prepared. I loved the combination of smells coming from the kitchen – chocolate, vanilla and custard. After the éclairs were piped and dipped, the final touches of flowers were pressed into the chocolate top. And voilà, an éclair au Poire belle Hélène was born.
Poire Belle Hélène Éclairs
Makes 15 fifteen-cm éclairs
Pâte à Choux for Eclairs
Poached Pears with Vanilla
For the Candied Flowers
By Miche Bacher (Cooking with Flowers)
225g caster sugar
1 egg white, whisked until foamy
25 large / 50 small flowers
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pulse sugar in a food processor until superfine and powdery. With a small, clean paintbrush, brush the petals of each flower gently but thoroughly with egg white. Sprinkle with sugar to coat, shaking off excess. Place on the prepared baking sheet and let dry for at least 10 hours and up to overnight. Store in a single layer in an airtight container for up to 1 year.
It is best to use refined white sugar as you will not achieve the same results with organic unrefined sugar
For the Crème Pâtissière
By Pierre Hermé (Best of Pierre Hermé)
500g whole milk
5g vanilla, split lengthwise and scraped
80g whole milk
140g egg yolks
150g caster sugar
45g custard powder
15g plain flour
60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Place vanilla seeds, pod, 500g of milk in a saucepan, then heat until it starts to boil. Take the saucepan off the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod from the infused milk. Sift the flour and custard powder together. Add 1/3 of the sugar with the infused milk and heat until it starts to boil.
While heating up the milk, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until pale yellow. Add the custard powder and flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stir the 80g milk into the egg mixture. Then slowly pour the infused milk into the egg mixture, to temper it. Place the egg mixture into a saucepan and set over medium heat, whisking around vigorously. Make sure to scrape the bottom to keep the cream from scorching. Once you see bubbles breaking the surface, cook for 5 minutes, whisking constantly.
Take the saucepan off the heat immediately and transfer the cream into a mixing bowl. Whisk it to cool it down, and when it reaches 50°C, whisk in the butter in 2 additions. Whisk it until it reaches 30°C, then press cling wrap against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The cream can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
To use the crème pâtissière, transfer to a bowl and stir gently until it has a creamy consistency.
You can wash then dry the vanilla pod and keep it in a jar of sugar, which will give you vanilla-flavoured sugar to use in all your baking.
Before the milk starts to boil, turn off the heat as the milk will froth and overflow.
When pouring the infused milk into the egg mixture, pour it in slow stream to prevent the eggs from scrambling due to the hot milk.
When cooking the crème pâtissière, it is best to cook it on medium heat. If it is on medium-high heat, it might scramble and create lumps. Cook it for 5 minutes on medium heat to cook off the taste of flour.
For the Pâte à Choux for Éclairs
By Dr. Tim Kinnaird (Perfecting Patisserie)
100g unsalted butter
125ml whole milk
2 pinches of salt
15g caster sugar
150g plain flour, sifted
200g eggs (4 medium eggs)
Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. Warm the butter in a saucepan with the milk, water, salt and sugar. Ensure the liquid doesn’t boil until the butter is melted. Once all the butter is melted, bring to the boil for 10 seconds.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the sifted flour in one go. Stir slowly to start with to ensure the flour doesn’t spill, then as the paste comes together, return to a medium heat and cook, stirring all the time. The paste needs to come together as one ball, but it also needs to develop a slight shine or gloss to its surface. This takes 30 to 60 seconds of beating on the heat.
Tip the paste into a clean bowl and beat for 30 seconds. This cools the paste a little and releases steam. Continue to beat the paste and add the eggs a little at a time. Ensure the paste is smooth and well combined before adding the next amount of egg.
Preheat the oven to 190°C and place an empty metal baking tray on the bottom of the oven.
Draw up a template for the éclairs. Use a fine-tip marker and draw six 6-inch lines 2-inches apart on an A4 sized paper. Place parchment paper over the template.
Fit a piping bag with a french fluted nozzle approximately 1.5cm in diameter (we used Wilton 8B). Holding the nozzle slightly above the parchment paper and at a 45° angle, pipe 15cm lengths of pastry. It helps to stop squeezing the piping bag 1-2.5cm from the end of each éclair and gently flick the end of the nozzle in the opposite direction, cleanly finishing each éclair. Pipe 5 more éclairs on the parchment paper. Wet your finger with water and press down the tip of each éclair. Carefully slide out the template and repeat with the remaining choux pastry.
Pour two cups of warm water into the baking tray on the bottom of the oven. Place the éclairs in the oven and immediately lower the oven temperature to 176°C. Bake for 40 minutes, until the éclairs are beginning to brown; rotate the pans halfway through. Lower the heat to 160°C and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Lower the temperature to 150°C and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the éclairs are light and feel hollow. If you break one open, the center should be completely cooked. Set on a cooling rack and cool completely before filling or freezing.
Pâte à choux dough for éclairs has to be a little stiffer than the dough for cream puffs as the éclair dough is piped onto sheet pans thus it needs extra body to hold up.
Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. Melting cold butter into the water and milk will take significantly longer, thereby increasing the moisture loss from the mix while the butter melts. This will affect how well the choux pastry rises.
The exact amount of egg required will vary. The final pastry needs to be smooth, glossy and easily piped, but it also needs to be thick enough to support itself. If too much egg is added, the choux pastry will spread after piping, producing flattened and poorly risen choux.
A good way to judge if you have added enough egg is to lift the choux pastry from the bowl on a large spoon or spatula. The choux pastry should adhere well to the spatula but then fall back into the bowl with a clean snap. If too little egg is added, the choux pastry won’t adhere to the spatula at all. If too much egg is added, the choux pastry will adhere but will quickly run back into the bowl, dripping off the spatula.
Choux pastry is prone to cracking during baking. Fluted nozzles gives a greater surface area to the unbaked eclair, allowing more room for the pastry beneath to rise evenly without cracking.
The shape of the unbaked éclair is magnified during baking. Piping choux pastry is about confidence, preparation and speed. A confident, quick and smooth piping action is much more likely to produce exact and identical results. Baking the choux pastry with a disc or strip of sable pastry on top will also help to even out the rise.
For the Poached Pear with Vanilla
By David Lebovitz
110g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and scraped
2 Williams pears, peeled, cored and quartered
In a saucepan, heat the water and sugar on low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla seeds and pod into the sugar syrup. Place in the pears and cover with a round of parchment paper, with a small hole cut in the center. Bring the liquid to a low boil and simmer the pears until cooked through, 10 to 25 minutes, depending on the variety of the pear. You will still want some bite from the pear. Remove pears from the syrup and chop them up in small cubes. Make sure the cubes are small enough to be piped.
To Fill The Éclairs
Remove the crème pâtissière from the refrigerator and place half of it into a mixing bowl. Add the cubed pears and mix together.
With a 1/4 inch plain tip, poke 2 holes, 1 1/2 inches in from each end, into the bottom of each éclair. Fill the pastry bag with the pear crème pâtissière. Place the tip of the pastry bag into hole and apple gently pressure to begin filling the éclair. Pipe cream as needed into the second hole until the éclair feels heavy. Repeat with the remaining éclairs and pear crème pâtissière.
For the Chocolate Glaze
By Sébastien Boudet
130g caster sugar
220g coarsely chopped 70% dark chocolate
In a saucepan, place the water and sugar on low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and bring the sugar syrup to a boil. Remove from heat and allow it to cool.
Melt the chocolate over a bain marie until it reaches 40°C to 50°C. Add the sugar syrup to the melted chocolate, a little at a time, while stirring vigorously with a spatula. Continue until all of the sugar mixture has blended into the chocolate.
To Glaze The Éclairs
Pour the glaze into a deep bowl that is about 7 inches wide.
Hold an éclair parallel to the surface of the laze and dip it into the glaze to coat the top. Pull it out of the glaze, turn the éclair the right way up but held at 45° angle over the bowl of frosting. Gently run your finger along the top, pushing off any excess. Clean your finger on a cloth then run it along both sides of the glaze to give a clean, even line along the side of the éclair. Set on a serving platter and repeat with the remaining éclairs.
The éclairs are best eaten as soon as they are completed, but they can be refrigerated for up to 1 hour.