I am not a pastry chef. If anything, what I aim to be is a decent cook and a good artisan home-baker. But fine patisserie and cake decoration is definitely not my thing. So when I read that the monthly challenge for the Daring Bakers was to make pate a choux, and possibly shape it in artistic ways, I was totally out of my comfort zone.
Then I realized that pate a choux is the base to make one of my favorite childhood treats… chocolate eclairs, or pastarelle al cioccolato as we used to call them in Rome. And since I was totally unprepared to do fine patisserie, I ended up getting some piping bags (which I truly did not know how to use) and armed myself with patience and perseveration: just could not resist the desire of tasting pastarelle again.
For the filling, I chose to use the original Italian recipe for crema pasticcera al cioccolato that my mom has been using since forever (taken from an old -and extremely heavy- book I brought with me to Sweden, “il talismano della felicita'”), and for the pate a choux I used the amazingly good recipe posted by Kat from The Bobwhites, who was our creative monthly challenge hostess (scroll down for recipes and step-by-step pictures).
PASTARELLE AL CIOCCOLATO – CHOCOLATE-FILLED ECLAIRS
Crema pasticcera al cioccolato (Italian chocolate custard): 180 g (1 and 1/2 cups) confectioners’ sugar, 150 g (1 and 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, 6 egg yolks, pinch od salt, 1 liter (2.2 lbs) milk, peel of half lemon, 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar, 1 tablespoon butter, 100 g (3.5 oz) bitter-sweet chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa), 2 tablespoon cocoa powder.
Pate a Choux (for the eclairs shells): 115 g (1/2 cup) butter, 240 g (1 cup) water, 1/4 teaspoon (1½ g) salt, 140 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour, 4 large eggs.
Chocolate glaze: 125 g (4.4 oz) butter, 150 g (5.3 oz) bittersweet chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa).
Crema pasticcera al cioccolato (Italian chocolate custard): Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the flour and continue whisking. Meanwhile bring the milk close to a boil, with the lemon peel in it. Remove the milk from heat and add, little by little, to the eggs mixture, continuing to whisk energically. Cook the batter stirring frequently until it becomes dense (but not gluey!). Use a standard mixer with a whisking device if you have it, it helps! Remove the lemon peel. When the crema seems almost done, add the melted chocolate, the cocoa powder and the vanilla. Add the butter while the crema is cooling down and stir occasionally.
Pate a Choux (for the eclairs shells): Line at least two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper, or grease pans well. Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F/190°C . In a small saucepot, combine butter, water, and salt. Heat over until butter melts, then remove from stove. Add flour all at once and beat, beat, beat the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot. Add one egg, and beat until well combined. Add remaining eggs individually, beating vigorously after each addition.
Resulting mixture should be somewhat glossy, very smooth, and somewhat thick. Fill a piping bag with the batter and form long or round shapes on the baking sheet lined with baking paper (see picture below). Make sure to leave enough space… they rise amazingly much!
The most difficult thing for me was the baking time, which was not specified. I found that 35 minutes works great for me. After the first 18 minutes, I lowered the temperature from the initial 375°F/190°C to 320°F/160°C. It is fundamental to give the shells the time to stabilize. If they are taken out from the oven too early they will deflate (that’s what happened to my first batch – pictures are from the second, successful, batch).
Always disturbing my baking
Filling: when the shells are cool, fill them with the crema al cioccolato by inserting gently the tip of the piping bag in each shell, sideways.
For the chocolate glaze, just melt and combine the butter and the chocolate. Let rest a little while and then dipp the filled shells, upside down, in the glaze. Now let it solidify.
Isn’t baked pate a choux a true baking miracle?
Le pastarelle al cioccolato sono pronte! Chocolate eclairs ready to be served. Yum!
CONSIDERATIONS: Well, did I say I am not a pastry chef? Making these pastarelle was so empowering that I almost feel like one now. And the most amazing thing is that they truly tasted like those we used to buy at our favorite bakery when I was a child. Always on a Sunday afternoon and always enclosed in golden wrapping paper to bring to relatives’ and friends’ and share together over a cup of milk (for me) or good espresso (for the adults). More and more I realize how incredible baking (as well as cooking) really is. It can make you experience totally new flavors. Or bring back, surprisingly unspoiled, old flavors which we thought were gone forever. Like these pastarelle. And the pleasure of sharing them with family and friends. Always on a Sunday afternoon.
A friend said that my pictures look like some type of food porn…
Precisely, was my answer