Sunday, February 16, 2014

Whipped Cream Éclairs with Strawberries

Last year I wanted to make my Valentine something special. It had to be wonderful and decadent...but light and airy and not too heavy. I wanted to make something beautiful and memorable. Something he might even want to take a picture of before eating he does with his birthday cakes I make each year. So I made this special dessert for him and the first thing he said was, "Baby girl that thing is too pretty to eat. Let's take a picture!" The dessert and it's picture went to that special man in my Dad.

Whipped Cream Éclairs with Strawberries

1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
Pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
5 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon water
3 oz. bitter sweet chocolate
honey and nuts optional
powdered sugar for dusting

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan set over high heat, bring water, butter, and salt just to boil. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, stirring vigorously with wooden spoon until mixture comes away from sides of pan, making a smooth ball.

Reduce heat to medium-low and cook flour mixture, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or until coating begins to form on bottom of pan. Turn into large bowl; stir for 30 seconds. Make well in middle of dough and, using electric mixer, beat in 4 of the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and shiny and holds its shape when lifted.

Place dough into piping bag fitted with 3/4-inch wide tip. On parchment-lined baking sheets, pipe fingers of dough about 4 inches long and 1 wide. In bowl beat together remaining egg and 1 tbsp water; brush each bun lightly, being careful not to drip down sides.

Bake in 425 degree oven for 12 minutes; reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for 5 minutes longer or until golden brown. With sharp knife, pierce side of each éclair twice. Turn oven off and let éclairs stand for 5 minutes, then remove and cool on rack.

Slice the éclairs lengthwise. Brush tops lightly with honey and sprinkle with nuts if desired. Add filling and dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

Pastry Cream

2 cups half-and-half (half whole milk/half cream)
½ cup sugar
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks (save whites for another day)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy. Next whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick.

When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 2 hours.

For the Whipped Cream

1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

Chill your mixing bowl and beaters by placing them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before using. When ready, remove the bowl and beaters and pour in the cream and sugar. Using a mixer, begin by beating the cream on low speed for about 30 seconds and then increase speed to high, continuing to beat until soft peaks form. Add your vanilla and beat until blended. Serve right away or refrigerate.

Once the éclairs have cooled completely, slice them in half with a serrated knife, making sure to leave the tops and bottoms of each éclair together so that they match up. Fill the bottom half of each éclair with a layer of pastry cream. Then line your strawberries on top. Then top off with a layer of the whipped cream. Place the top of each éclair back on, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

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