Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Éclairs

Along with Tuesdays with Dorie, I have become a member of another online baking group called The Daring Bakers. The Daring Bakers was started in November 2006 by Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice. They began by making pretzels from scratch, using the same recipe, then blogging about it. Next month they made biscotti, and they were joined by a few more bloggers. Month by month the list of participants grew, and each month there is a new challenge. This month is Chocloate Éclairs. This recipe was chosen by Tony Tahhan of Olive Juice and Meeta K of What's for Lunch Honey?. I love chocolate éclairs, but never made them. They always seemed so complicated, but that is what the Daring Bakers Challenge is for! Be sure to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll to see the other baker's recipes.

Chocolate Éclairs
(makes 20-24 éclairs)

This recipe is derived from a cookbook written by Dorie Greenspan: Chocolate Desserts By Pierre Hermé

Éclairs consist of 3 elements:
- Cream Puff Dough, aka Pâte à Choux or Choux Pastry
- Pastry Cream
- Chocolate glaze

Cream Puff Dough

-½ cup whole milk
-½ cup water
-1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
-¼ teaspoon sugar
-¼ teaspoon salt
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-5 large eggs, at room temperature

-Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.

-In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

-Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your hand mixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

-Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.
Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs. (I just used a pastry bag with no tip on it, and it achieved the same effect)

-Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the
handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.

-Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.

-You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.

Pastry Cream

- 2 cups whole milk
-4 large egg yolks
-6 tbsp sugar
-3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
-2½ tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

-In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

-Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

- Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).

-Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth. (I divided the pastry cream into two bowls. To one bowl I added 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste to make a vanilla pastry cream, and to the other bowl I added a teaspoon of instant coffee that had been dissolved in 1 tablespoon heavy cream to make a coffee pastry cream.)

-Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.


-The pastry cream can be made 2‐3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

-In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.

-Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.

Chocolate Glaze
(makes 1 cup)

-1/3 cup heavy cream
-3½ oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
-4 tsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
-7 tbsp Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

-In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

-Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

-If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

-It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
(makes 1½ cups)

-4½ oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
-1 cup water
-½ cup crème fraîche, or heavy cream
-1/3 cup sugar

-Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

-It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

-You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.

-This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.

Assembling the éclairs:

-Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

-The glaze should be barely warm to the touch. Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.

-Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

-If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.

-The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Final Thoughts:
-I thought that these éclairs were good, but not great. Both the pastry dough and the pastry cream both seemed a bit too eggy. The pastry dough didn't seem dry or crispy enough for my liking, perhaps I should have baked the éclairs longer. I also had a few problems with some of my éclairs falling once I took them out of the oven, only a few, so no big deal. However, even though the recipe is quite long, it was not to complicated. I look forward to next month's challenge!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pasta with Kalamata Olives, Capers, and Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce

I adapted this recipe from Bon Appetit magazine. I scaled down the recipe and added a few extra ingredients that I had on hand. The original recipe calls for some toasted pine nuts. They would work really well in this dish, I just didn't have any at the time. This is a very flavorful dish that goes great with a glass of crisp white wine.

Serves 3-4

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped
8 oz, short pasta (such as farfalle, rotini, gemelli, etc.)
3 Tablespoons pitted Katamala olives, halved
2 Tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

-Preheat the oven to 375 degress F
-Combine the tomatoes, oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and crushed red pepper in an 8x8 glass baking dish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast until tomatoes are tender, about 45 minutes total. About about halfway through the roasting time, add the zucchini to the tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Once the mixture is removed from the oven stir in oregano and parsley. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)
-Cook pasta in a pot of salted water according to package directions. Drain and return to pot. Add tomato-zucchini mixture, olives, and capers. Stir over medium heat until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the feta cheese and stir until creamy, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Notes: This is a very simple, flavorful pasta dish. Make sure not to over season the tomato-zucchini mixture because all of the other ingredients (olives, capers, and feta) are quite salty.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Summer Vegetable Medley

I am going to apologize in advance, but over the next three or four weeks, the majority of my recipes are most likely going to include either zucchini or tomatoes, or both. It is that time of year, and my garden is overflowing with both. I don't mind, but it's all I have been cooking (and freezing) lately. Pretty soon my peppers, eggplants, and cabbages will all be ready for picking, but until then, it is zucchini and tomato recipes.

Summer Vegetable Medley

serves 4

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small red onion, diced
1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced into half moons
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen (no need to thaw)
2 Tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons chives, snipped
salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons mild goat cheese

-Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat
-Add the red onion and saute until soft, about 3-4 minutes
-Add the zucchini, tomatoes, and corn to the skillet and cook until the zucchini and tomatoes are soft and the corn is heated through, about 6-8 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper
-Remove from heat and stir in the fresh parsley and chives
-Transfer to a serving bowl and crumble the goat cheese on top of the vegetables, serve immediately

Notes: This is a delicious side dish. It is so quick and easy, and the goat cheese adds a nice flavor to the vegetables. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TWD: Granola Grabbers

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection is from Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. She chose for us to bake these chewy little cookies called Granola Grabbers from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan.. These cookies are a mix of granola, dried fruit and nuts. I made numerous substitutions because I had a lot of similar ingredients at home, therefore I wanted to those ingredients up before buying new ones, and besides, granola, dried fruit, and nuts can be quite expensive. I have listed the substitutions below, but I encourage you to check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll to see what other bloggers did with their cookies.

I made the following substitutions to my cookies

-I omitted the coconut because, well...I hate coconut
-I substituted dried tart cherries for the raisins and cashews for the peanuts because I had these ingredients on hand.
-I reduced the sugar in the recipe to 1/2 cup brown sugar and 3 Tablespoons white sugar because the granola I used was initially quite sweet.
-I also added 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract to the cookie mix.

Notes: The cookies are cruchy and chewy at the same time. They go great with a glass of milk, and I would definitely make them again. I liked the substitutions I made, but I am sure they would be great with raisins and peanuts as well. I am glad that I reduced the amount of sugar that was called for in the original recipe because the cookies were just sweet enough.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce

Everyday I am picking handfuls of tomatoes from my garden. I have been quite busy lately, so I wanted to find a way to preserve all of these tomatoes and not let them go to waste. This, I am sure, is the first in a long line of tomato dishes. I adapted this recipe for Homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce from Cuisine at Home magazine. The have a collection of Pasta recipes available. I really love this magazine, nearly every recipe in every issue looks delicious.

Yield: About 3 1/2 cups

-8 cups fresh tomatoes, quartered (I used a mixture from my garden of cherry, Roma, and beefsteak tomatoes)
-1 cup onion, chopped
-4 garlic cloves, smashed
-1/3 cup olive oil
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-2 Tablespoons fresh basil, thinly sliced
-1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
-1/2 Tablespoon Italian seasoning

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
-Combine all ingredients (except the basil, oregano, and Italian seasoning) in a large baking dish. Roast 45 minutes, mix in the fresh herbs, then pulse in a food processor to desired consistency. (Using a slotted spoon, I transferred the roasted tomato/onion/garlic mixture to a bowl with high sides, added the herbs, and blended using my immersion blender.)
-Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. (I found that I didn't need any other seasoning, it was perfect the way it was)

Notes: This is really good. The roasting of the tomatoes really brings out their natural flavor. I used less olive oil than the recipe originally called for (1/2 cup). It just seemed like too much to me. The tomatoes I used generated a large amount of juice. I didn't want to blend the mixture like that because I was afraid that it would be too runny. Therefore, I used a slotted spoon and transferred the mixture to a bowl in order to eliminate most of that juice. The consistency was just right for me this way. I will be making this recipe again. I want to be able to freeze some of this sauce so I will be able to enjoy it all winter long.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Fettuccine with Zucchini Ribbons

Due to my novice gardening skills, I planted way to many zucchini seeds, so now I am looking for unique recipes to use up all the zucchini that I am picking on a daily basis. I have already frozen about 30 cups of shredded zucchini for making bread, and I want to eat as much as I can of it while it is fresh. I found this recipe for Fettucine with Squash Ribbons while listening to an NPR podcast. It seemed like an interesting way to try zucchini, and I always love pasta dishes.

Serves 4

-12 oz whole-wheat or regular fettuccine
-1 package (4 links) fully cooked chicken sausage (I used sun-dried tomato chicken sausage), sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch slices
-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
-3 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved crosswise
-3 medium zucchini, trimmed, skins removed, and peeled into thin strips (I just used a vegetable peeler to do this, I peeled around the zucchini until I reached the seeds, there is a video in the NPR article that demonstrates how to do this)
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
-Salt and pepper to taste
-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
-Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

-Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add fettuccine and cook according to the package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water and drain.
-Meanwhile, add one tablespoon of olive oil to a non-stick skillet and heat to medium. Add the chicken sausage and cook, until golden brown on each side. Remove from skillet and transfer sausage to a plate to rest.
-Add the other table of olive oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook 3 minutes, or until the skin has softened, season with salt and pepper to taste. Add crushed red pepper if desired. Deglaze skillet with about 1/4 cup of reserved pasta-cooking water, loosening any bits from the bottom of the skillet. Remove from heat.
-Off the stove, add the zucchini ribbons to the empty pasta pot, followed by the tomato mixture, the drained pasta, the sliced chicken sausage, and one tablespoon each of basil, parsley, and oregano. Toss well to combine. If the pasta appears dry, add enough of the reserved cooking water to coat the pasta so it looks moist, but not wet.
-Divide among 4 bowls or transfer to one large serving bowl. Using a vegetable peeler shave thin strips of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the pasta. Sprinkle with the remaining basil and parsley, and serve immediately.


This is a very light pasta dish, and a great summer meal. The zucchini ribbons blend well with the pasta, and add a nice contrast in texture. There is hardly any sauce so make sure to season the dish well. Also, this dish is perfect with some crusty bread to soak up the tomato broth that is created by the addition of the reserved pasta water.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

TWD: Black-and-White Banana Loaf

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection is from Ashlee of A Year in the Kitchen. She chose for us to bake the Black-and-White Banana Loaf from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. You can find the complete recipe here. The changes I made were omitting the lemon juice, lemon zest, and dark rum, as well as using 2 ripe bananas instead of 1 1/2 bananas called for in the original recipe . Ashlee used 2 oz. of chocolate in her recipe. The original recipe calls for 3 oz. of chocolate, which is what I used.

Notes: This was a good selection for me this week because I always have extra ripe bananas on hand for making bread. If I have extra bananas that I don't eat before they become overripe, I simply pop them in the freezer and thaw just before I am about to use them. I baked my bread for about 1 hour and 30 minutes. I had to cover the bread with foil about an hour and ten minutes into baking because it was starting to turn too brown. This bread was very dense and moist and the chocolate and banana flavor wasn't one I expected to like, but it is really good. I used 70% cacao Godiva chocolate, and it works well. This is definitely one I will make again. It goes perfectly with a cup of coffee, so I know what I am having for breakfast tomorrow!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Individual Pineapple Upside Down Cakes

My dad is a huge Pineapple Upside-Down Cake fan, and ever since I mentioned that I saw this recipe at, he has been requesting that I make them for him. It is a very simple recipe using a boxed cake mix, that can be whipped up very quickly.

Serves 12
Adapted from

-2/3 cup packed brown sugar
-1/3 cup butter, melted
-2 (20 ounce) cans sliced pineapple (in 100% pineapple juice), juice reserved
-1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
-3 large eggs
-1/3 cup vegetable oil
-12 maraschino cherries, halved (if desired)


-In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter. Spoon into 24 muffin cups that have been lightly sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. (I used about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons per muffin cup.)
-Drain pineapple, reserving the juice. Trim pineapple to fit the muffin cups; place one ring in each cup. (I cut about 1/4 of the pineapple ring out and reshaped the pineapple slice into a ring and placed them into the muffin cups. Each can of pineapple only had 10 slices in them, so for the extra muffin cups I placed 2-3 pieces in each muffin cup of the pineapple that I had cut out of the other rings.)
-In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix, eggs, oil and 1-1/4 cups of the reserved pineapple juice; beat with a mixer until thoroughly combined. Spoon over pineapple, filling each cup 3/4 full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in to middle of the cake comes out clean.
-Immediately invert onto wire racks to cool. Place a cherry in the center of each pineapple ring. (I used a wire rack set over a baking sheet because some of the sugar mixture will drip through the rack onto the counter otherwise.)

Notes: These are very cute, and a good idea for a party. Be careful because the sugar and pineapple mixture is very hot, therefore you must make sure that the cakes separate from the muffin tins when you invert them. It would be a good idea to run a knife around the muffin cups before turning them out onto your wire rack. I say this because one of them stuck in there for me, and when I lifted the pan it fell onto my foot and burned it pretty bad (That's what I get for baking barefoot). No permanent damage, but I wouldn't want that to happen to anyone else. Also, I had some extra cake batter left over, so I just placed in a mini bundt cake pan and baked it along side the muffin tins.