Life List: #24, Check!
Well, I didn’t cross #24 (“Learn to make fancy little French pastries. Perhaps while in France.”) off my life list while in France, but the rewards were still pretty sweet. I love baking, but I’ve never tried making French pastries. I’m not sure whether it seemed too difficult or I simply didn’t want to know about the fat content, but it seemed high time that I try.
In December I decided to tackle French pastries when my brother-in-law came for a visit from the West Coast. Josh loves treats and he also enjoys baking so I knew he’d appreciate the effort. I opted for a classic croissant recipe from Baking Illustrated (one of my favorite cookbooks ever). I made one recipe’s worth but varied the shape (classic horn and rectangular) and the insides (almond, chocolate, and plain). And shockingly, the process was very do-able. You need to plan ahead with the timing because there's a lot of wait time between steps, but the actual process is not difficult. And man, croissants fresh out of the oven? Spectacular. The only knock on this endeavor was that the croissants didn’t quite rise as much as they should have, probably because it was dead of winter in Boston. (Also, in case you were wondering, yes, there is a crapload of butter involved.)
The experience of making croissants was awesome, but admittedly, at that point I didn’t feel that I could cross the item off my life list because: a) I referred to pastries (i.e., plural) on my life list; and b) the croissants didn’t come out perfect. I know, so Type A of me.
So, I had my mind set on trying another French pastry over the December holidays. But it just got too crazy (for some reason, I thought it was a great idea to host Christmas, an open house the following day, and a half-sleepover with 11 of Laurel’s friends all within the span of one week). So French pastries got put on the back burner. Until I started dreaming about éclairs over the last few weeks. Jon, Laurel, and I love them and the other day at Whole Foods I almost bought Jon one from the special pastry case but found myself thinking, “Ugh, it probably was filled this morning and is a little soggy. I should make some fresh.” So I did.
And oh. my. God.
Once again, I used a recipe from Baking Illustrated and once again, it helped to review the timing on the three steps (pastry cream, puff pastry, baking and assembly) first thing in the morning to figure out how the process would fit into my day (assuming, you know, that I didn’t go into labor). I made the pastry cream first thing since it required at least 3 hours to settle in the fridge. Laurel and I then made the puff pastry right before I headed out to lunch with a girlfriend because I knew the pastry needed to sit for up to two hours. And then after I got home from lunch, Laurel and I piped the puff pastry, baked it, and made the chocolate topping. You have to pay attention to the recipe steps, but ultimately the process is not difficult (and FYI, is easier than making croissants).
These éclairs are so not good for you but they are divine. The pastry cream was perfect (not light in calories but light in taste), the puff pastry was a beautiful miracle (before baking it resembles the pastry cream in consistency but then puffs up amazingly), and after I cut off the tops of the éclairs, Laurel loved the process of dipping the tops in chocolate, filling the shells with pastry cream, and putting the tops back on. The éclairs were perfection.
And I love that we made the first two fresh and brought them to our friends at our local Mexican restaurant. After enjoying an awesome dinner, we came home and Laurel and I assembled some fresh for dessert.
It couldn’t have been a more perfect day.