Baking eclairs at home with the CIA

I admit that when it comes to baking, I do tend to lean towards old favourites and simple recipes. As much as I enjoy the practice of baking, spending hours in the kitchen isn’t always feasible, and as an expectant mum, being on my feet for long periods of time is darn near impossible.

However, when I have a strong urge to tackle a new recipe, sometimes hours seem like minutes. That’s what happened last Sunday when I tried the Culinary Institute of America’s (@CIACulinary) chocolate éclair recipe in their Baking at Home with the CIA cookbook. It was a belated birthday gift from my sister, who has the privilege of visiting the CIA whenever she pleases because she lives in New York.

A perfect birthday gift for a baker – Thanks Tine.

 So why did I choose éclairs? In all honesty, when I was flipping through the book it just happened to be one of the first recipes I came across, and I was probably hungry at the time (eating for two means I am always kind of hungry), and finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s one of @theActualCraig’s favourites.

I experienced a lot of baking firsts with this recipe. For starters, I made diplomat cream, which is a combination of pastry cream and whipping cream. Most of my taste testers, @theActualCraig included, agreed it was a really tasty filling. Diplomat cream in some respects is a lot of work, because pastry cream requires careful timing and continuous stirring. This recipe also required an ice bath, so there was a lot of balancing acts in the kitchen moving hot pans around, shrieking as my prepared bowl in the ice bath suddenly filled with water as I was about to transfer the cream. Don’t worry, I managed to figure it all out.

I also learned how to strategically and practically fill the pastry from both ends using a chopstick to clear a canal and one of those handy disposable plastic piping bags I picked up from a local baking supply store. No more washing greasy piping bags EVER again.

Okay, so they weren’t perfect éclairs. The pastry didn’t rise as much as I expected. This meant that diplomat cream distribution wasn’t perfect either, sometimes being more concentrated in the ends with little to none in the middle, or oozing out of the sides when I used too much pressure to fill the éclair. I also mistakenly picked up unsweetened chocolate instead of bittersweet chocolate, so I had to do some last minute Googling to convert unsweetened to bittersweet, which turns out is just ½ oz of unsweetened chocolate plus a tablespoon of sugar for every 1 oz of bittersweet chocolate. It worked and some of my co-workers exclaimed how good the chocolate was!

The finished product did look somewhat professional, and @theActualCraig loved them. The fallen pastry meant a chewier texture, but I liked it, and the reduced diplomat cream meant I could confidently tell my co-workers (who got the leftovers) that my éclairs were in fact much better for their waistline than typical bakery/store-bought éclairs.

I’d like to say I’ll try them again but they do take a lot of time. I need to first ask the CIA for some advice around why the éclair pastry didn’t puff as much as I expected (did I over-stir, was it because I didn’t use a wooden spoon but instead a plastic spatula, should I have not rotated the pans…). It’s a lengthy baking feat, taking close to 4 hours when all is said and done, and you need to time your diplomat cream to when you plan on filling your éclairs, because you can’t let the cream sit idly by.

For now, I’ll just bask in the glory of successfully baking my first batch of éclairs.

Eclairs waiting to be consumed.

Baking at Home with the CIA which includes the complete éclair recipe is available on Amazon and I’m sure wherever else fine recipe books are sold.





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