Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Story of Classic French Pastry, and of Unexpected Disappointments


When I encountered this month's Daring Bakers Challenge, hosted by Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey, and Tony of Tony Tahhan, I was both excited and disappointed. Excited because they have chosen something from pastry demi-god Pierre Herme's book, Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, and disappointed because that something turns out to be chocolate eclairs. I've made these at least three times in the past year, and although they are undoubtedly delicious, I don't find them particularly challenging to make.

However, in the spirit of the Daring Bakers, I decided to play along. I had initially thought of tweaking and playing with the components and to add a bit of my flair to the whole challenge, but I decided that I should give Pierre Herme's recipe a good go, just because, like many other pastry chefs and bakers out there, I worship the man.

So I set out to make the pate a choux, full of hope and expectations with what the recipe invented by the world's most renowned pastry chef would bring to my humble home kitchen. I read through the instructions and sure enough, they were very close to the recipe I had used in the past. Save for the instructions on baking temperature and times. Monsieur Herme's instructions indicated a baking time of 7 minutes at the temperature of 190 degree Celsius, then it spiralled off into propping the oven door open with a wooden spoon and continue baking for the next 13 minutes.

I have 3 problems with this. One: In my past experience, 7 minutes is not enough time to sufficiently brown the choux pastry and make it puff up to its fullest potential. Two: There is no need to prop open the oven door. All you have to do is reduce your oven temperature down to 170 degree Celcius and continue baking for...Three: a further 20-25 minutes to completely dry out the choux pastry, plus an extra 5-10 minutes sitting in the switched off hot oven.

So in total, Monsieur Herme's baking time is short by a bit too many minutes. But I gave the man the benefit of the doubt and proceeded on as per instruction with the first batch. And, just as I had expected, my choux puffs deflated into miserable little slumps a few minutes out of the oven. So unfortunately, Monsieur Herme, this girl is not impressed. I then proceeded to make the consecutive batches using the baking times stated above...and voila!! Perfectly puffed choux pastry!!


A few more things that the recipe failed to mention in relation to the pate a choux:

1. You can check the readiness of the choux pastry by either cutting one open, or by tapping the bottom with your fingers and listening for the hollow sound. I personally prefer the latter.

2. You should spray or sprinkle your oven tray with water. This action helps to create steam in the oven, aiding your choux puffs to turn out as puffy as gravitationally possible.

If you think that marks the end of my rant, you are wrong. There are few things worse than embarking on a journey ill-equipped with a bad recipe. So even at the risk of receiving threats and hate mails in my inbox from ardent Pierre Herme worshippers, I am willing to brave the odds to continue. So, first I would have to agree that the pastry cream recipe is fabulous. Other than the fact that it seems that the man enjoys making his fans go round in circles the long way about making it. For example, you do not need to put the mixture in the ice bath and continue stirring it with your tired arms. You can simply put the creme patissiere in a stand mixer and let your paddle do its job of smoothing out lumps and cooling down the cream. And then you can add the butter in chunks. Too easy.

By this time I was rightly disillusioned, but the worst was not over for me. The most disappointing part of this challenge is the chocolate glaze. I contemplated using my own chocolate ganache recipe which is 10 times simpler and had never disappoint. I again gave Monsieur Herme the benefit of the doubt and went along with his version.

Sigh. Either the stars are not aligned for me to make any of Herme's creations right, or his recipes are just not what I had expected them to be. To end in a sort of anti-climax, I find the chocolate glaze very difficult to handle. The glaze is too thin at its shiniest stage, and turned dull when cooled. Totally not what I expected. By this time I had completely lost faith and gave up. I did not even bother to decorate it or even to take proper photographs.

Don't get me wrong, I still think that Pierre Herme is one of the greatest pastry chefs in the world, and I would definitely not miss the chance to visit his famous patisserie the next time I'm in Paris. But I don't think that the recipes in his books are a true testament of the man's ability to create the exquisite pastries, cakes and desserts that he is renowned for, and thus I have struck Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme off my to-buy list. At least for the moment, or until someone could convince me that it is actually a worthwhile purchase. So here's my second Daring Bakers Challenge, and may the third one be more of a success for me.


PS. Meeta and Tony, thank you both so much for your effort in putting together this challenge. I hope I did not offend you by saying what I said in this post. It is purely my opinion of the recipe, and not at all to put blame on the lovely hosts that have taken the trouble to make this challenge come together for the month of August.

48 comments:

Aran said...

yes christy, i have to admit i didn't follow those instructions either. pate a choux should start baking at 400F and left untouched for almost 15 minutes or so. It all depends on te ven, but that's what happened in my case. i wasn't too excited either about this challenge but the result was tasty!!

*fanny* said...

christy, seems like I didn't exactly follow the baking instructions as well.

your eclairs look perfect.

xx fanny

Passionate About Baking said...

Spot on about the timing Christy...& I like the hints about tapping the bottom for doneness. Have also lapped up your other instructions about the steam etc. The glaze was a prob with many...I just stuck to my ganache coz I was weeping in the hot/humid climate in any case! The challenge was quite yummy in the end...& i wll definite try the pastry again in cooler days! Love all the pics!!

Meeta said...

Christy, you have not offended me (us) in any way. That is the thing about baking/cooking sometimes the same recipe will work for some and for others it won't. My first go it did not work for me either. After all the tips I did it slightly differently and baked longer. It worked! But I am glad you still gave this a go. Thank you!

MaryMary said...

Beautiful eclairs Christy. I have to make baking adjustments to all recipes since I'm a mile above sea level so I hear you on that one. They look so perfectly delicious I kind of what to go make some chocolate pastry cream because I feel I missed out a bit. :)

PS--love your scones in the post below!

Tartelette said...

Baking instructions? Ahahaha I guess I did not follow them either! I can't help it's like second nature: start at 400F for 10-15 minutes then lower done to 350F or so. The ones you made look gorgeous! The glaze was weirdly involved compared to similar good ones but tasty. As you said...it's always good to try something else to see what we like best right?!
Lovely pictures dear!

Vera said...

Christy, I totally agree with you. the baking time and oven temperature are inadequate! I haven't even tried the original method of baking; used a different glaze too, never-failing-me one. Pierre's glaze seems unnecessary
complicated to me.
Well, the good thing is the pastry cream was delicious.

Antonio Tahhan said...

Christy, I'm glad you managed to make the recipe work. I also left mine in the oven for a bit longer in order to get that complete puff. Your new ├Ęclairs look great!
Thanks for baking with us :)

Claire said...

I think you must be completely right about the cooking time...mine were most definitely NOT cooked at time to pull them out. I should have cooked them a lot longer but only did a few extra minutes for fear of overcooking. Yours do look wonderful.

Angela said...

I also ignored the baking temp/times and went with my gut instincts. I had issues with the glaze as well, but mine did thicken nicely and stayed shiny in the end.

Still! Great-looking eclairs!

Lynn said...

I am impressed. I do not like eclairs and moaned about it for a month. You did good. Love your site.

Lisa magicsprinkles said...

Wow. Your ecliars look great - the feedback and insights on how to really make these fab are so worth saving. Thanks for the tips.

Mallory Elise said...

miss pastry chef your polka dot plates are very cute, especially with smeared chocolate. i have never made an eclair. there are lots of things i have never made. but i will. maybe when i get some money. aiiia. and there are FOUR blogs now, the only FOUR culinary blogs i read that all have detailed instructions to help me. i'm gunna make a gluten free eclair...that will show all you fancy pants competition bloggers. hehehe.

Camille said...

I didn't bake mine at the temperatures or the time according to the recipe. I used the recipe, but baked them the way I always do. I figured the time was not long enough either.

Sherri said...

Thank you! Very good information. I didn't find this challenge to be as challenging as past challenges, but I sure don't mind eating the result!
Yours are beautiful!

SweetDesigns said...

teehee...you are so very right! I did the recipe as is and knew the times of baking and instructions were off based on my past know how, but benefit of the doubt per recipe.I use the tapping for hollowness everytime I make my cream puffs, I just let them bake until I got what I needed lol. I was only excited that after my small break I got to come back to a hectic month with something I knew how to do with out stress haha.. yours were lovely and such very good points in your blog!!

takethecannoli said...

Great tips about the choux. The recipe worked fine for me, but I know a lot of people had problems with it. Your eclairs look great!

www.takethecannoli.us

linda said...

Your eclairs look wonderful despite all the setbacks.
I wasn't impressed either. I had to bake the choux longer with his method. And the glaze is a lot of work and it didn't dry up shine like it said it would. Also it sort of curdled when I reheated it. Next time I'll just use a simple ganache.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I understand your frustration! I was a little disappointed by the recipe which I thought would give better results... Anyway, your Eclairs still look gorgeous and delicious!

Cheers,

Rosa

Dee said...

I appreciate the honestly Christy. It really helps to get the low-down before attempting a new recipe.

By the way, the pictures are stunning. I find myself analysing every photograph hoping to learn something.

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

This is such a helpful post. I will follow it for future choux baking times - I have to try the steaming technique. I agree about the timing of Piere Herme's recipe; tried it and got flat choux so did it again with much longer baking time.

Lesley said...

Those look really good! Well done, even if you didn't follow the exact directions!

Elra said...

Oh dear,
You sounded so disappointed, mine was not that bad because I accidently forgot to follow the instruction corectly (didn't prop the oven). By the time I remember, my pastry was already puff ups. I took them out and they looked pretty good.

I'm totally agree with you that this month challenge was too EASY!

Do you have ALice Medrich book? her books are very good and I have 3 of her books. Tried so many of her recipe and never failed!

For the chocolate glaze, I never use any other source other then from her books.
Good luck and hopefully next month challenge will be better!

Oh almost forget, Your eclairs look pretty good by the way. Though (judging from the photos) I agree with you that the glaze look not too shiny!

Eat4Fun said...

You eclairs look great! The choux recipe was very frustrating for me, being a first-time eclair maker. Thanks for the tips! I'll be prepared for next time. :-)

Bonbon Oiseau said...

these look amazing! good work and seems you were very astute!

Shandy said...

Thank you, thank you for the added tips when baking the choux pastry! I had trouble with my eclairs deflating after they came out of the oven too. Your eclairs in the picture look perfect. =D

Heather and Reese said...

This was my first DB challenge and the first time I had made eclairs and I had to throw the pate a choux out after I followed the baking instructions perfectly and they weren't done. I didn't prop the door open the second time and I watched them closely, taking them out after they were nice and golden and very puffed. It was much better that second time.

Cheers!

~~Reese

Lisa Michelle said...

I couldn't agree more that the pate a choux wasn't as foolproof without extra care like many others I have tried . The chocolate sauce, although tasty, was a little too involved than it needed to be. However, the 'thin' problem you had is easily remedied with a stick mixer. I didn't like the consistency of the sauce, while still warm, prior to dipping the tops, so I took a stick mixer to it (helps to make a perfectly smooth and shiny ganache too) and kept it going until the consistency was right around where I wanted it to be. I still prefer a simple ganache with butter and a little corn syrup to top a basic eclair.

Even though you were disappointed with the recipe, I think your eclairs came out great, as did the photos :)

Y said...

Despite your disappointment, I think your eclairs actually look very lovely, and I also love the photos - there's a great rich quality to the colour.

Ruth said...

Despite your frustrations your eclairs look great. I also had to change the baking time and I think I should have baked it longer. Thanks for your tips the next time I make these I will be following your tips

Anita said...

Christy, love your analysis of the recipe. I used to follow the recipes in my cookbooks religiously until I realized I had baked enough to make my own judgements about when a cake is done, etc. Obviously you're talented enough to know what works for you and what doesn't! I agree about the glaze as well, I prefer my simpler glazes that are thinner and shinier. DB challenges are always an interesting learning experience!

Mrs.French said...

sadly, I do not bake...however, I live vicariously through you and these look amazing...I would even be willing to sample the first batch...I need to have an eclair right now!

Chez Denise et Laudalino said...

These look fantastic! My glaze did not turn out too great so I did make a couple little adjustments .... more chocolate!

marion-il en faut peu pour ... said...

I'm completely riht with you, for the time of baking (4attempts !!!) and for the glaze (which was delicious but i don't know why it wasn't smooth)
Meanwhile , your eclairs look gorgeous :)

Mallory Elise said...

ahhhhhhhhhhhhh don't say that, already freaking out about the loans i won't be able to pay....but the question is what do i do? where do i go? ahhhh!

Sherry Trifle - Lovely Cats said...

Me again - I did a bit of research - turns out that the "Eclair" baking pan is actually a "Ladyfinger Pan," - I don't think there is really any such thing as an eclair pan. The one I bought was in New York but I think a web search might reveal quite a few of these pans. They are made of tin so should not be expensive. For the curly wurly eclairs - yes, I used a star tip. Next time I'll use a wider one. Heather

Gattina said...

I also threw in ice cube into oven... yes, the door shuts all the way. Simple!

silverrock said...

I agree that this recipe was not the greatest show of Pierre's amazing pastry works, but it was still delicious. I love your eclairs, they look so beautiful and filled to the brim with chocolatey goodness.

Oakley Rhodes said...

yum! Good job fixin what you saw as mistakes - that shows real baking skill!

silverrock said...

Ooo, lucky duck! I can't believe you're going back to Singapore in a month's time. I haven't been back in... hmm, how long has it been? 10years!!! I know, shame on me :( I should really hustle up and get over there to see my friends and family.

majorpaynes said...

So, I'm not part of TDB, but I did make eclairs just two or three days before DB's posts and had issues with them deflating-I'll have to try your tips out this next time... and on this herme guy- apparently this shows my lack of REAL culinary passion cause I am not familiar with him- but maybe his tactics? People who request a recipe and I'm not particularly fond of them(eh hem, in laws of some sort) I ALWAYS-ALWAYS-ALWAYS switch something around in the recipe that will yield somewhat similar results, but just not be quite the same... maybe he's really a bitter old guy who doesnt want people to replicate his perfection!

Marcello Valentino said...

sono davvero squisiti questi dolcetti...
Complimenti...

Ash said...

love you're pics! they are so fresh!

Mallory Elise said...

yeah MIA, but i should be too... i have so much homework that has not been done yet, but i let friday have my blog! bar or blog? bar or blog? easy choice. :)

Snooky doodle said...

well if you re a master baker surely these are not challenging. The eclairs look delicious. yummy

Snooky doodle said...

I just discovered your blog and you re really talented. Great photos and great recipes

Andrew Abraham said...

Your eclairs recipe looks interesting.. I hope I can make the recipe

thanks

andy
www.recipebuddys.com

Sheri said...

Christy, may I have your ganache recipe?
Thanks!

Sheri