Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, February 9, 2009

February Supper Club - "Stuffed" - Eclairs

More than once on Sunday I found myself thinking, Bloody French and their bloody batteries de cuisine.

Of course, I am given to understand that most normal French people, with a patisserie on every block, would not dream of making eclairs at home. Leave that to those who are equipped for it, and lunatic foreigners.

But supper club time had rolled around again, and with a theme of "stuffed," my imagination leaped straight to eclairs and refused to move. Maybe because they were a much-loved treat when I was small (though heaven knows what sort of provenance those had--a grocery store, Dunkin Donuts?), or because I was sick of bringing bread to every group meeting, or because I wanted to really stretch myself the way I'm always blathering on about here.

Kahlico from the Cooking Light forum answered my plea for advice with her own blogged experience. Check her out for the recipe I used.

I decided to work backwards through the recipe, since the chocolate glaze I could make while keeping an eye on JJ, but I didn't want to be messing around with water baths and stuff with him underfoot; that would have to happen after everyone else got back from church.

So this was my Sunday:

5:00 Get up, check mail, noodle around online doing everything but writing. Lock me in a room somewhere without internet access and I'd finish the damn novel in a week.
7:00 Go to grocery strore for milk, which I forgot on Saturday. It's a gorgeous warm morning, the kind that makes me wish I still jogged.
7:30 Make pancakes for family.
8:30 Start sandwich bread.
9:00 Start chocolate sauce for the eclair glaze.
9:30 Pack baby into stroller and head back to grocery store for the rest of the groceries.
10:00 Make and bake meatballs for later this week.
10:30 Give baby bath.
11:00 Put bread in the oven. Feed self. Feed baby. Make chocolate glaze (utilizing chocolate sauce).
12:00 Make lunch for L (scrambled egg and toast, by request; she actually ate some of the egg this time).
12:30 Make pastry cream for eclairs. I have a deep fear of custards. I don't know why. This one appears to have come off perfectly, looking somehow both demure and luscious in its water bath, but I have my doubts.
1:00 Make notes for this post while pastry cream cools, D gets JJ to sleep, and leaves for BJs with L. Drink half a Diet Coke.
1:30 Preheat oven.

Somewhere in there I also did some laundry and washed every pan and prep bowl I own--twice. (See bloody French, above.) I also realized that I couldn't find my camera. Of all days!!

And then it was time to make the dough. Which meant facing up to the whole piping business. My store did not have any pastry bags, and my cake decorating kit does not have a big enough tip. I have seen plenty of people on Food Network making pastry bags out of parchment paper. I am an intelligent, well-educated woman, and surely I can do the same. I rolled and taped. Prepared my pans. Reread the recipe six or seven times. Measured everything out.

Made the dough. It looked right, even down to taking three eggs to come together. I got out a spoon, and plopped some of it it into my makeshift bag.

I had been warned about the difficulty of working with the dough, but even quite toastily warm it was tough stuff. My bag stuck to itself with the first spoonful, making a second impossible. Of course, I thought, those people on Food Network have been to chef school, where they probably spend an entire week improving pastry bags, just in case they end up in Worcester, MA, and want to make eclairs. Time to stop putting off that King Arthur Flour order, eh? Plan B was a Ziplock bag with the corner cut off, which worked okay. I didn't get 20 eclairs, but I may have been a bit generous with their proportions. For experimentation, I rounded up a few stray spoonfuls and plopped them on the sheet as if they were cookies.

I did more dishes while they baked. I did the propping the oven door thing, felt sick, and wondered what I would do if these bombed, since I was now out of eggs, not to mention time. Why didn't I do a dry run? (As if I would have had the time.) I checked the oven four or five times; were they puffing, or not? Switched the pans around; a couple of them were already starting to look brown in spots. Was that okay?

It was just about 2:30 when I took them out of the oven. They looked just right--puffy and golden.

And they sank almost immediately.

I try not to make a personal thing out of cooking--sometimes things don't turn out, sometimes people don't like your best efforts, and it's not that big a deal. It's just a meal. But I still felt kind of depressed. The good thing is that a) I'm pretty sure what I did wrong and b) the mistake was not due to me being distracted by doing too many things at once, which is where I normally screw things up. I think I made them a tad too large, and should have let them cook a couple of extra minutes (see, if I had done that dry run, I would have known that).

At 3 I started assembly of those I could salvage, which was about half of them, and did some dishes just for a change of pace. I still had the pastry cream, which was pretty darn good all by itself. This is why you should always have a pound cake in the freezer, I told myself.

In the event, due to a nasty bout of pneumonia for P, only three of us came to dinner, so my few straggly eclairs and the leftover cream were a plentiful dessert. K's bread didn't turn out, either, so I guess it was just one of those nights that will occasionally befall any group. We had lasagna rolls and salad at D's house, chatted for a few hours, and called it a night.

Next month we're probably going to do a sort of Irish thing again. Hoping that all of the bad luck got out this time around!

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