Last week after watching the Great Comic Relief Bake Off, I set myself the challenge of attempting the four technical challenges at home. My unwritten rule to myself was to use the recipe from the show (either Paul or Mary's) and follow it to the letter, rather than falling into my usual habit of substituting ingredients.
So... the four challenges are;
Episode Two: Bakewell Tart - Mary Berry's Recipe
Episode Three: Chocolate Éclairs - Paul Hollywood's Recipe
Episode Four: Lemon Meringue Pie - Mary Berry's Recipe
I'm not tackling these in order, but over the next few weeks I will test and publish each recipe and my comments.
So, this is the recipe that has the most riding on it, as they are Gary's absolute favourites. I have never made choux pastry before in my life, it has always appeared to be one of those witch-crafty type things that no normal person could ever achieve. After watching the celebrity bakers tackle it on GBBO however I was determined to give it a go.
As per my unwritten rule for this challenge, I used the recipe from the programme. I followed this one to the absolute letter, as I had a feeling if I deviated at all, something would go horribly wrong.
Making the actual pastry was surprisingly simple. Because I was a little afraid of this recipe, I weighed out all the ingredients beforehand, so that everything was ready to go, and I would definitely say this is the key to the pastry, as everything came together very fast. There are two points, firstly when you add the flour to the water and butter mix, and secondly when you combine the eggs with the dough, that it all looks like it's going wrong, and the mixture separates and goes lumpy, however power through, and it all comes back together perfectly just as the recipe states.
When cooking the choux pastry shells, again I followed the recipe method to the letter, even going so far as to set the stopwatch on my phone to time the intervals at each temperature. The next time I make them I am going to trust my instinct a little more, as if I am being over-critical the shells were about 1 minute over-cooked. When I cut the shells to make the slit for the cream to fill, a couple cracked as I eased them open. Filling with the cream was simple and straight-forward, however I would emit the vanilla extract from the recipe, as Gary and I both found the taste a little over-powering and unnecessary.
My only hiccough with the whole process was that I tried to short-cut on the chocolate and microwaved it to melt it down. I slightly burnt it at the edge, and the little crystallised bits of chocolate clogged up my piping nozzle making it really difficult to pipe evenly. Overall though, really pleased with my first attempt, and would definitely recommend this recipe to anyone wanting to give éclairs a go!
The Recipe (from Paul Hollywood - BBC Food)
For the choux pastry
- 65g/2½oz plain flour, sifted
- pinch salt
- 50g/2oz unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
- 2 free-range eggs, beaten
For the filling
- 200ml/7fl oz whipping cream
- 5 tsp icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the icing
- 100g/3½oz milk chocolate, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Generously grease a baking tray with butter.
- Sift the flour onto a sheet of greaseproof paper.
- Put 120ml/4fl oz water into a medium-sized pan with the salt and butter and heat gently until the butter has completely melted – don’t let the water boil and begin to evaporate. Quickly bring the mixture to the boil and tip in all the flour in one go. Remove the pan from the heat and beat furiously with a wooden spoon – don’t worry, the mixture will look messy at first but will soon come together to make a smooth heavy dough.
- Put the pan back on a low heat and beat the dough for about a minute to slightly cook the dough – it should come away from the sides of the pan to make a smooth, glossy ball. Tip the dough into a large mixing bowl and leave to cool until tepid.
- Beat the eggs in a bowl until combined, then gradually beat them into the dough with an electric whisk or mixer, or a wooden spoon, beating well after each addition. (You may not need all the egg.) The dough should be very shiny and paste-like, and fall from a spoon when lightly shaken.
- Spoon the pastry into a piping bag fitted with a 1.25cm/½in plain nozzle and pipe 12 x 10cm/4in lengths onto the greased baking tray.
- Sprinkle the tray, not the pastry, with a few drops of water, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Then, without opening the door, reduce the oven temperature to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp.
- Remove the tray from the oven and carefully make a small hole in the side of each éclair to allow steam to escape. Return to the oven and bake for a further five minutes, or until the pastry is completely crisp. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- For the filling, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl until just stiff.
- Once the éclairs have cooled, cut down the length of one side of each éclair and pipe in the whipped cream.
- Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water) and allow it to cool slightly. Dip the tops of the éclairs in the chocolate and let the chocolate set before serving.