SALTED CARAMEL ECLAIRS
I'm repainting my bakery. The color that's calling me is a soft green a la Ladurée. While searching for just the right shade, flipping through color swatches and comparing them to the little green box carted from Paris, Ruthie lay on the sofa, staring off in the distance wondering when I'd start baking again.
At one point, the light hit her just so and suddenly that perfect shade of green no longer mattered. All I could think about was caramel. Miss Ruthie just happens to be the perfect shade of burnt sugar.
With that sweet imagery in swirling around in my head, I whipped up some caramel pastry cream. As that was cooling, I piped some choux. While that cooled, I made chocolate pouring fondant. Ruthie sat at a respectable distance in the kitchen, indicating that had I need of her, she was ready and willing to dispose of any unwanted bits of baking product. I gave her a piece of choux with a tiny dollop of caramel. She was, afterall, the architect of all this yumminess.
(makes 10 eclairs)
For the caramel pastry cream
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
splash lemon juice or vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (can substitute vanilla extract)
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water and lemon juice or vinegar. Stir over low heat until the sugar has melted. Increase the heat to medium and allow to cook until the sugar turns a dark amber (the color of Miss Ruthie).
Take the caramel from the heat and add the milk. The mixture will bubble up furiously, so step back. Once the mixture has calmed down, return the mixture to the stove and stir over low heat until the caramel has melted into the milk.
In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks, cornstarch and salt. Whisk until smooth. While constantly whisking, add a small ladle of the hot caramel/milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture to temper the two. Continue adding the hot mixture to the egg yolks until they are completely combined and then transfer this mixture to another, larger, saucepan and whisk over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mayonnaise. Take from the heat and add the butter. Continue stirring until the butter has melted and has been completely incorporated.
For the choux
1 cup flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper. Fit a large pastry bag with a large open tip. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, combine the water, milk, sugar, butter and salt. Stir over medium heat until the butter has melted. Add the flour all at once and, using a wooden spoon, stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan. The mixture, when it's ready, should be a thick paste.
Transfer the paste to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the paste on medium speed for a minute or two to dissipate some of the heat.
Add the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture becomes a smooth, pipable paste.
Transfer the choux paste to the prepared pastry bag. Pipe 4" long strips about 1-2 inches apart onto the parchment. Put the sheet pans in the freezer until the piped choux is firm, about 15 minutes.
Trim the ends of each choux strip eradicate any unevenness. Dip a fork in water and run it along the top of each eclair to create a slight ridge along the top. Spray the tops of the choux with a light mist of non-stick cooking spray. Bake the choux in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350ºF and bake for 1/2 hour more. Allow to cool completely.
Fill the eclairs
Using a wooden skewer, poke 3 holes into the bottom of each eclair.
Transfer the pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a medium-small open tip. Pipe the pastry cream into the eclair via those holes (I could have phrased this differently but every time I did, it sounded NSFW).
For the chocolate pouring fondant
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Lindt 100%), finely chopped
1 tablespoons coarse sea salt
In a large saucepan, combine the confectioner's sugar, water, unsalted butter, milk, corn syrup and salt. Stir over low heat until the butter has melted. Add the chocolate and continue stirring until the chocolate has melted. Take from the heat and immediately start dipping the tops of the eclairs into the pouring fondant. Sprinkle the tops with the coarse sea salt
If the fondant starts to crust over in the pot, stir over low heat just until it smooths out again.
Allow the tops of the eclairs to set, about 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for 1 day (keep them too long in fridge and the choux becomes soggy).