Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers - chocolate eclairs

Chocolate eclairs are one of my favourite cakes. Recently recipes seem to be appearing everywhere for choux pastry, which is the foundation of chocolate eclairs and its more glamorous cousin, profiteroles. I was getting ready to make a batch of eclairs when the August challenge for Daring Bakers was posted - and it was for chocolate eclairs! Excellent timing.

Hosts Tony Tahhan and MeetaK chose their recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. This recipe departed from traditional eclairs in that the eclairs were filled with chocolate pastry cream and iced with a rich chocolate glaze. We were allowed to modify the original recipe as long as we maintained one chocolate element, so I chose to fill my eclairs with whipped vanilla-flavoured cream and iced with the chocolate glaze, as this is the more traditional eclair that I like. However, I will make this recipe again and next time I will go all out and make the full chocolate version!

Choux pastry is an easy and forgiving pastry to make, with no kneading or resting time required. Butter, water and milk is brought to a boil in a saucepan, then a cup of plain flour is added all at once and the mixture stirred until it is soft and smooth. This dough is removed from the heat and several eggs beaten in until the dough is silky and shiny and can be piped into eclair shapes and baked. I don't have a very good piping bag set (it's on my list of kitchen gadgets to buy), so this limited my eclairs a little. The recipe called for a 20mm plain nozzle but I had one that was much smaller than that, so I piped three strips together to make the required size. This was not hugely successful, as the pastry did not rise as much as it should have, but I thought it was better than trying to spoon it on the tray. I noticed that this recipe, unlike my other choux pastry recipes, did not call for a slit to be made in the side of the eclairs once they were baked and removed from the oven. I think this is a step that I will include next time, as my gorgeously golden, puffed eclairs deflated not long after coming out of the oven. I've found that slitting the side helps the air inside the eclair to escape and prevents the deflating.

Although the eclairs did not look the best, the pastry had a nice flavour and I was able to puff up my eclairs with lots of whipped cream, finished off by the chocolate glaze on top. The eclairs were well received by my tasting group and this is a recipe I would definitely make again. Well done to this month's hosts for an easy but fun recipe that did not take half a day to put together!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lemon heaven

The days are lengthening and there is a hint in the air of a turn in the season. Soon it will be time to say goodbye to the stews, soups and puddings that have fortified us through the long winter days. But there are still cool days ahead, so plenty of time to whip up a few more winter favourites before the stockpot and casserole dish are packed away.

Much as I love chocolate pudding, I think lemon delicious is one of my favourite desserts. An old-fashioned classic, this dessert is aptly named: a deliciously light, cakey sponge top hides a creamy, custardy lemon sauce underneath. This dish satisfies you without leaving you feeling too full or that you've over-indulged, which can happen with some rich chocolate puddings.

I must have at least half-a-dozen recipes for lemon delicious, all variations on the same theme, but the one I keep returning to is from Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. Stephanie writes that lemon delicious belongs to the era when a roast was followed by a hot pudding, as making two dishes rather than one was a sensible way of utilising the oven's heat.

Lemon delicious is extremely easy to make but does use a few separate dishes in the preparation. However, this is a small price to pay for such a delicious dessert.


2 lemons
60g butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3 eggs, separated
3 Tb self-raising flour
1 1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and butter a 1-litre ovenproof dish. Zest one of the lemons and juice both. Blend the butter with zest and sugar in a food processor, then add egg yolks. Add flour and milk alternately to make a smooth batter. Scrape mixture from the sides of the processor bowl and blend in lemon juice. Transfer to a clean basin. Whisk egg whites until creamy and firm and fold gently into the batter. Pour batter into prepared dish. Stand in a baking dish and pour in hot water to come halfway up the sides of the basin. Bake for one hour (keep an eye on it to make sure the top doesn't brown too much). Allow to cool a little before serving and serve with cream.

Recipe from The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander

Thursday, August 7, 2008

From the larder...

We will soon be moving house and I'm finding that packing up can be a great inspiration for cooking, as well as a good chance to rationalise kitchen equipment. As I go through cupboards, I'm revealing all sorts of pots, pans, dishes and platters, some of which have been pushed to the back of the cupboard and forgotten about. Who knew I had so many white platters? Most of them have been gifts but do I really need so many? I'm also finding bowls of varying sizes and casserole dishes and hope that more of these can be put to good use once I have decent storage space in our new home.

It's also a good chance to go through the pantry and refresh stocks of spices and other baking items, and use up half-used jars and bags. I discovered half-empty packets of walnuts and chocolate chips in the pantry this week and they provided the inspiration to make some chocolate espresso biscuits, the perfect dense, fudgy snack to have in the house when you feel like a chocolate treat. I used what I had on hand and what I felt like eating so feel free to play around with this recipe and omit the coffee and walnuts, or substitute other nuts, so that the biscuits suit your tastes.


250 butter, softened
1 Tb instant coffee powder, dissolved in 2 Tb boiling water
1 cup (tightly packed) brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa, preferably Dutch-process
250g chocolate chips
100g walnuts, chopped roughly

Beat the butter until as white as possible. Add the coffee mixture, then mix in the brown sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa and add to the butter mixture. Stir through the choc chips and walnuts. Roll dessertspoonfuls of mixture together and place onto baking paper-lined trays, flattening slightly with a fork. Bake at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes. You want the biscuits to still be a little soft and fudgy, as they will firm up while cooling. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 36.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Daring Bakers challenge - Filbert gateau with praline buttercream

Elaborate cakes were back on the agenda this month for the Daring Bakers. Host Mele Cotte chose the filbert gateau with praline buttercream from Great Cakes by Carol Walter. Filbert appears to be an American name for hazelnuts. I think hazelnuts and chocolate make a great combination so was looking forward to this cake. It was a detailed cake, not difficult, but one that involved numerous preparation steps for each part before it could all be assembled. The good thing was that each part could be prepared in advance and then the cake assembled on the day you wanted to serve it, so that saved a lot of pressure and angst.

The individual parts of this cake were the filbert gateau, sugar syrup, praline buttercream (which involved making praline and buttercream separately), whipped cream, apricot glaze and ganache glaze. As I mentioned, when broken down into parts, this cake was not difficult to make but it involved time, large quantities of eggs and sugar and many dishes!

The filbert gateau involved processing toasted and skinned hazelnuts with flour and cornflour to make a fine, powdery mixture. Seven egg yolks were whisked with sugar until ribbony and they were then added to beaten egg whites before the hazelnut mixture was folded in. The result was a lovely, dense nutty cake. This was split into three and each individual piece moistened with sugar syrup before being joined together with the praline buttercream.

I ran into some problems with the praline buttercream. I have a lot of recipes for praline but have never actually made it, so I was glad to have the opportunity to try. It was quite easy - melting sugar, stirring in hazelnuts to coat with caramel and tipping onto a baking tray to let cool. I think I left the sugar a fraction too long, as it was quite dark and had a slightly burnt taste but this is a process that will be refined with practice.

So the praline was not the problem but the buttercream was. I used the measurements given, which were US measurements and may not have strictly translated to Australian measurements. To make, egg whites were whisked until foamy and thick and then whisked over boiling water until the whites were warm and the sugar dissolved. Nearly 400g of butter was separately beaten until smooth and creamy and the meringue was then blended in separately to make a thick and creamy buttercream. So far, so good. Then I added the 1-2 tablespoons of liqueur and the mixture split. Despite following the emergency instructions on how to make the buttercream come back together, it didn't work and became a gluggy, buttery mess. Although it looked awful, I couldn't justify throwing such a large amount of butter out, so I added icing sugar and a little cocoa and this saved the icing, making it stick together and taste like icing rather than butter. I've tried a similar buttercream recipe in a previous DB challenge and haven't been happy with the results, so I think I'll stick with my trusty Australian Women's Weekly vienna buttercream in future. I also ran the recipe past a chef friend to see if he could give me some advice on where I went wrong but he thought the method sounded odd and said that he would normally make a butter icing or a meringue icing but not combine the both. Perhaps this shows the difference in Australian and American recipes, methods and palates. Any advice from American cooks will be gratefully received!

Once the buttercream was saved, I sandwiched the gateau portions together with the buttercream, with some whipped cream on top and then made the chocolate ganache, which is my favourite part. Cream and a tablespoon of corn syrup are heated and poured over grated dark chocolate to make a luscious thick glaze to dribble over the cake.

I took the finished cake along to share as dessert with my table at a fundraising trivia night. Everyone thought it looked like tiramisu but it didn't taste at all like tiramisu. It was a very nice cake and was quickly devoured but we all thought it was too sweet for our tastebuds. Only small pieces are needed and I thought that sandwiching the cake together with buttercream and whipped cream was too much - one or the other would have been enough. With the amount of effort that went into making this cake, and the fact that it really was far too sweet, I don't think that I will make it again. But I enjoyed the process and could see adaptations for this cake to adjust it to my palate - moistening the gateau slices with coffee syrup and sandwiching with a small amount of whipped cream before icing with ganache is an alternative I'd like to try.