Several years ago, for the family 4th of July picnic, I made several desserts. The cousins are still talking about the Pavlova. During the U.S. Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, the cousins start asking what dessert am I going to make for the 4th of July this year. Since the Pavlova, my dessert contribution is now expected to be dramatic and tasty.
For 4th of July, 2011, I prepared Lawrence Karol’s Peaches ‘N’ Cream Éclairs with Bourbon Caramel Sauce from Gourmet, July 2007. Because this is my mother’s party, she has always volunteered to buy ingredients. The nice thing about this recipe, and the author states this in his brief write-up, is that most ingredients can be found in a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. The only ingredients my parents purchased for this recipe were the white peaches ($3.80) and heavy cream ($3.59). One nice thing about cooking at my parents’ house is they have every kitchen gadget you could want to play with.
Following the directions of the recipe, the choux pastry quickly came together with no fuss. After mixing the flour mixture of margarine, water, salt and flour in the sauce pan, I transferred the dough to a metal mixing bowl. It took longer than the recommended five minutes to cool the dough to the point I felt comfortable adding the eggs. I wonder if this isn’t because I was using a metal bowl and not a glass bowl. When I make éclairs at my house, I use glass mixing bowls. Perhaps the metal holds the heat longer than glass.
The recipe only made seven pastries instead of the recipe-listed eight. Before this recipe, I have not used a pastry bag to make éclairs. Usually, I evenly divide the dough into desired number of pieces, use a large spoon to place on the baking sheet and shape (Unorthodox?). The pastry bag was a two person operation: I held the pastry bag and my mother spooned the dough out of the mixing bowl.
Baking was easy. Placing the pastries in a preheated oven at 425° F for 15 minutes and then lowering the temperature to 400° F for 15 minutes (30 minutes total baking) produced lightly golden pastries (Fig. 1). Using my father’s silicon-lined baking sheet produced pastries that were the same color on the bottom as well as the top. When using a buttered baking sheet or a sheet lined with parchment paper, I often have trouble obtaining a uniform color on the top and bottom of the pastry.
One disappointment is the pastries were not as puffy as other éclair recipes I like to make (Fig. 1). The pastry tasted rich, but crumbled when sliced. That said, the photograph of the finished dessert on page 20 of Gourmet, July 2007 looks rather not puffy. So, maybe the pastries were like they were supposed to be. The whipped cream seemed to glue the pastries together (Fig. 2).
I found it difficult to keep the sauce at a constant temperature; the sauce was either to hot or to cool (Fig. 3). However, making the sauce was easy. I would suggest constant stirring. Once the sugar has melted, you need to take care when adding the water and other ingredients. The steam coming off the skillet could be dangerous. I lightly scalded the tip of my right index finger. The hot material splattered until the sauce calmed down.
The finished éclair with the bourbon caramel sauce was amazing (Fig. 4). I was not prepared for the “Oh my God! This is good.” experience. The cousins, aunts and uncles loved it. My mother declared the recipe “a keeper”. Because this was a family pot-luck there was lots of food so only making seven pastries was not a problem like I feared. There were no left overs, yet everyone who wanted was able to have half an éclair.
I felt like I spent more time fretting over the bourbon caramel sauce than any other task involved with this recipe. There was much more sauce than pastries. The bourbon caramel sauce went wonderfully over my brother’s home-made vanilla ice cream.
If you have not made éclairs before, this would be a good introduction. Éclairs are extremely simple and quick to make. For such little effort, you can look good.
Now, the question is what am I going to do 4th of July, 2012?