Dragonfly
I thought perhaps my laborious kitchen experience – on Labor Day, no less – would serve as a good post for this month’s Blogging 4 Books. So, from the Land of the Dizzy, I bring you… *drum roll* … the great éclair drama (or how I got spanked by the French, sans the pretty little maid outfit, which might have made it fun).

I would not hesitate to call myself a cook. Or even a good cook. At times, I dare say I’ve reached the pinnacle of greatness. You give me a handful of ingredients and I’ll make something scrumptious at least ninety-five percent of the time. Heck, just yesterday, I learned my Chicken Tortilla soup has been elected for a repeat performance on the night before Thanksgiving. Folks, that’s greatness in my family.

I have to digress a moment to give a shout-out to Cousin Bubbles: Umm, glad you let me in on that little tidbit about the soup being voted on! -- One of the downfalls of a big family is everyone assumes word will get back to you ahead of time. Trust me, this is one of the few times that rationale actually worked. If it hadn’t been for C-Bubbles, I might have found out the night before we left. -Digression over

So. We’ve established that I’m competent in the kitchen. Cooking. One would then figure, logically, that BAKING would not be much harder to accomplish. Right?

Right.

BabySis arrived last night so we could get an early start on our baking adventure this morning. We woke at the butt crack o’dawn... okay, fine, some point after morning had ended, and stared at the kitchen until I admitted the idea of baking éclairs was a tad bit intimidating. Then, I chugged a second cold coffee in an attempt to bolster my nerves.

Beyond the odd cake, brownies, or cupcakes… I’ve never attempted actual PASTRY. There’s nothing like a first time, though.

I skimmed the recipes I’d cobbled together (never one to follow something established) and decided we’d work on the pastry cream first. I’ve done a custard before… yes, ONE, so I thought it’d be the easiest. Plus, it needed to chill a while. We busted out the slightly frozen Maker’s Mark bourbon soaked cherries, mixed with a little cherry pie filling, and BabySis gave them a whirl in the blender. Thankfully, I leapt across the kitchen and put the top on in time. Wheee! Cherry purée, in the blender rather than on the ceiling!

While BabySis enjoyed her blender whizzing, I mixed together the ingredients for the custardy part of the cream. And then realized I’d doubled everything but the egg yolks (one of the first ingredients to be worked in). Thankfully, I’d not yet added the boiling milk so was able to fix that little snafu.

Pastry cream completed and chilling in the fridge? Check.

Mr. Clean chose this point to come in and look around. He raised an eyebrow and then swiveled the old stink-eye stare at me. I flashed him the most sinfully irresistible smile I could come up with… in the hopes it’d blind him from the kitchen massacre behind me. I won’t claim it worked. Rather, I think the sheer amount of destruction scared him into running away. He didn’t say a word but he did take the bottle of bourbon with him.

Next up: Choux paste. Now, I ask you… Choux?? The French really have a way with words. If I’m pronouncing it correctly (and there’s a very distinct probability I’m not), then I have to say creating something pronounced like the end of a sneeze and adding ‘paste’ to the end… Eww.

We renamed it. It’s much more fun to say, “Hey, pass me the Fleggergoo.” Plus, every time I asked her to pass the Choux paste, BabySis would answer, “Gesundheit.”

After the Fleggergoo was complete in all its gooey, glossy yumminess (okay, perhaps we hadn’t hit the yummy part yet), we loaded it into a makeshift pastry bag and squeezed out lines of goo on parchment-lined pans. Three cheers for Hefty One Zips!

My spawnlings, deciding it was a good time to investigate, displayed shock and outrage. BabySis and I looked at each other in confusion and then asked what the problem was.

Shaggy (sounding extremely accusatory): Why are you making them like that?
Me (confused & checking the recipe): Umm, like what? This is what they’re supposed to look like.
Shaggy: *harrumph*
BabySis (annoyed and aiming the bag of Fleggergoo at his face): What is your problem?
Shaggy (indignant): Girls. Y’all have to make everything look like penises!
Doodlebug: Yeah, Mom. It does look a lot like noodles, ya know.


After we baked the spawnlings and ate them with a little cherry pastry cream (Tasty!), we finished fashioning our goo noodles (although, seriously folks… they were a little, ahem, Small).

Then, we began to fight the mighty battle with my oven.

My oven runs a little hot, but never the same amount of hot. This means I’m forced to figure out how to adjust every recipe to deal with the temperature issues. It’s never the same conversion as it all depends on what you’re cooking. The recipe I had called for 450 degrees for 15 minutes and then 350 degrees for 20 minutes. We finally got it settled, on the second batch, at 425 degrees for 10 ½ minutes and then 300 degrees for 15 minutes – and it only took an hour of fiddling.

A container full of naked éclairs? Check!

Browned bits of parchment paper all over my kitchen floor? Check. Check! (Who knew it’d just fall apart like that on the way to the trash?)

Now came the fun. Loading a real pastry bag with pink glop? LOADS of fun - if you’re the one watching instead of the one loading. I got to watch. Heh.

We poked holes in the end of our pastries and then filled them with cherry pastry cream, cracking at least half a dozen anatomy jokes in the process. It couldn’t be helped – some of them were overloaded and, ahem, leaking out on the baking sheet.

Thoroughly exhausted by this point, the temptation to give in and say, “Done!” was calling our names but we rallied on.

Melting chocolate? Easy. Well, okay, easy… if it decides it likes you. My chocolate hated me. It did things I’ve never seen chocolate do before. It didn’t want to mix it up with the pretty powdered sugar. It wanted to seize and work itself into a little ball. I attacked it with my whisk and a little heat, thanks to the flames of irritation spewing from my mouth (along with a few F-bombs). It surrendered. Nothing beats a little tenacity.

A few flicks of the whisk, a shower of almonds, and we had pretty éclairs! Okay, well they’re not TOO pretty but they are éclairs and they taste pretty damn good if I say so myself. We’ll see if anyone dies after eating them before declaring a success. The spawnlings are the first to try.

That being said… Me and pastry? I don’t know if there will be a re-match. Who could possibly do this over and over every day for a living? Obviously, the French, as they invented the little buggers. Four hours in the kitchen was a lot more work than I’d counted on, though. It kicked my American cooking butt all over the place.

Pastry chef, I am not. I think I’ll go back to the cupcakes.

5 Responses
  1. Deb R Says:

    Well they look Yummy!

    I had no idea the pastry part was made out of something called "choux paste." Go figure!


  2. dragonfly Says:

    Choux paste - Neither did I. Still think it sounds like a sneeze. *grin*

    I'm told they are VERY good so I'm proud but still reluctant to try again (though I have a million ideas for different pastry creams).


  3. They look just fantastic if that gives you any hope. I'm just dying to taste.
    You're much braver than I when it comes to baking. Cookies, fudge, pie, cake, trifles, tarts, muffins...I can do. Pastry...I cannot.

    If you're up to sharing that soup recipe, I'd be interested, too. :-)

    ~RC~
    Good luck B4B :-)


  4. J Says:

    Note to self, learn from your lesson and don't even try! Look fabulous though.


  5. Deb R Says:

    Me again coming back to congratulate you on WINNING B4B!!! YAY you!!