I woke up on this lovely spring morning (so happy I can finallllyyyy say that), with a plan. I had planned out the night before to wake up early, run to the library, and sit myself down to do work for three hours on my independent study project. Then after that, I was going to get lunch, grab a coffee, and go to class. During my time at the library, I was supposed to write this blog post about strawberries and cream eclairs, and learn a thing or two about prefabrication. Note that I used the word "supposed." I use that word because, of course, my plan didn't actually work out. I did wake up early, and I did get to the library right when it opened, but then that's where the plan fell apart. After I did my fifteen minutes of online procrastination (you know, Reddit, Foodgawker, etc), I kinda just lost it.
I kinda lost all the motivation I had to do work and be productive. My productive spark just died, and I could feel it. I developed a splitting headache while sitting at the library, and no matter what I did, I just couldn't focus on anything or read the several books that were sitting in front of me. My body just wouldn't let me, as much as I was trying to force myself to do work. So then, I decided that the only thing to do was to try to sleep this headache off. Rather than walk back to my room and sleep in a bed like a normal person, my laziness (and also my desire to eventually get some work done) got the best of me, and I decided to just take a nap right where I was, right at my desk in the library. Yep. I was the girl who was passed out in the library, and it was only 9:30 AM. #senioritis
Eventually, though, I woke up from my library nap and actually got some reading done, which was great. I didn't get my blog post written, which was a bummer, but obviously, it got written eventually. So I guess, even though there was a hiccup in my morning plan, everything that needed to get done, got done. I don't even remember what I had been planning on writing about originally, but I guess it doesn't matter now. What matters is the content of these photos: mini eclairs filled with strawberries and cream. I can't imagine a dessert more perfect for this time of year.
I love traditional eclairs, filled with pastry cream and covered in chocolate, but when I was making the choux pastry, I had a change of heart. I wanted something that didn't feel as heavy, and I don't know, just had more of a fresh, spring vibe. Swapping out the pastry cream in favor of some lightly whipped cream seemed like a good place to start, and for the first time ever, I decided that chocolate had no place in this dessert (at least this time, anyway). I wanted something light and simple, so I went ahead without making a chocolate sauce, although I think that next time, adding a coating of chocolate would work very nicely with the combination of the strawberries and whipped cream. But for now, chocolate-less eclairs are what's happenin'.
The recipe for the choux pastry is from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery cookbook. If you read my post on Hot Cross Buns, you'll know that I'm pretty obsessed with this book. His version of choux pastry is different than the one I've always used to make cream puffs with, but the technique is essentially the same. Don't be intimidated about preparing choux, as it's actually very simple to prepare, once you get past the weird stovetop cooking part. I followed all of his instructions completely, but reduced the baking times in half, because I chose to make my eclairs half as big as he recommends (6 inches). I absolutely loved the way these eclairs came out, and I had to stop myself several times from eating the plain eclair shells, as I thought they were perfectly delicious on their own. The addition of sweet whipped cream and juicy strawberries only made those plain eclair shells even more delicious. Enjoy!
Mini Strawberries and Cream Eclairs
pate a choux recipe from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook
For the Pate a Choux
175 grams ( 1 1/4 cups) al purpose flour
33 grams (2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) sugar
240 grams (1 cup) water
120 grams (4.2 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2.5 grams (3/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) kosher salt
250 grams (1 cup) lightly beaten eggs
For the Whipped Cream
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
For the Strawberries
2 1/2 cups finely diced strawberries
sugar (amount will depend on sweetness of the strawberries)
To prepare the choux, begin by combining the flour and sugar in a small bowl. In a saucepan, combine the water, butter, and salt, and set the saucepan over medium heat, stirring as the butter begins to melt.
Once the butter has melted, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat. Immediately stir in all the flour with a wooden spoon, stirring for about two minutes, until all the flour has been absorbed and the mixture has a paste-like consistency. Place the dough back on medium heat, and continue to stir rapidly for another minute or two, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the saucepan, and the bottom os the pan is clean.
Immediately transfer the dough to the bowl of a standard electric mixer, and begin to mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, just to release some of the moisture from the dough. Slowly begin to add the eggs, about 50 grams/3 tablespoons at a time, beating until each addition has been completely absorbed before adding the next. Continue to add more egg, just until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl when pulled with the paddle. Increase the speed slightly, and mix for about 15 seconds, just to make sure that all the eggs have been fully incorporated. Transfer the dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip (I used a large Ateco tip, but you can also use a large French star tip if you prefer), and refrigerate the dough until it has chilled and firmed up.
While the dough is chilling in the fridge, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and prepare the template for the eclairs. Line baking sheets with silicone liners (I used Silpats). On a piece of wax paper that's the size of your sheet pan, draw out two rows of six 3-inch lines. Place the sheet of wax paper underneath the silicone liner. Once the dough has chilled, begin to pipe out 3-inch eclairs, using the lines that are visible beneath the silicone liner as your guide. Once you have piped out all the eclairs, carefully slide out the sheet of wax paper, and repeat the process on a second baking sheet.
Right before placing the eclairs into the oven, lightly spray them with water from a spray bottle. Place two sheet pans in the oven, and immediately lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake the eclairs for 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F, and bake the eclairs for an additional 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature again to 300 degrees F, and bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the eclairs feel light and hollow (the inside of the eclair should be completely cooked if you were to break one open). Remove the eclairs from the oven, and set aside on wire racks to cool completely. Repeat the baking process with the remaining sheet pans of eclairs.
While the eclairs are baking, prepare the whipped cream and macerated strawberries. Combine the strawberries and sugar in a small bowl, and stir them together, evenly coating the strawberries. Place the bowl in the refrigerator so that the strawberries wil release some of their own juice. In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and sugar, and whip on medium-high speed until peaks form (do not overwhip; you'll end up with sweet butter if you do!).
Once the eclairs have cooled completely, slice them in half with a serrated knife, making sure to leave the tops and bottoms of each eclair together so that they match up. Fill the bottom half of each eclair with whipped cream (I used a pastry bag fitted with a star tip), and then top off the whipped cream with some of the macerated strawberries. Place the top of each eclair back on, and dust with powdered sugar. Serve immediately, and enjoy!
Makes 4 dozen 3-inch eclairs