A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Itty Bitty Coffee Eclairs

I've had coffee éclairs on the brain for some time, and today I finally made them. I was taking them to a party, so I made them really small. Eclairs can be messy if they're more than one bite--not a good thing when you're standing on an expensive carpet, wearing nice clothes and trying to balance your snacks and glass of wine in a crowded roomful of possibly-tipsy people. For the party, I alternated them on a tray with equally-tiny cream puffs. That's a demitasse cup in the photo, if you want to get an idea of the scale.

The shells for éclairs and cream puffs are made from exactly the same dough, a simple pâte à choux (that's French for "cabbage paste"). The recipe is simple and foolproof: bring a cup of water and six tablespoons of butter to a boil in a heavy saucepan, then take off the heat, add a cup of flour and stir it up. Next add four egg yolks, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir the whole thing a minute or two more over a medium flame to evaporate excess moisture. Then you just pipe the pâte onto a buttered baking sheet in whatever shapes you want. My éclairs were less than two inches long, and my cream puffs were an inch or so in diameter. (They do grow a bit in the oven.) To get that size, I used a pastry bag with no tip on it. You could also make cream puffs by just dropping blobs of dough onto the sheets with a spoon. This recipe made 75 little baked shells.

I baked these at 425 degrees until they were light brown and crisp--about 20 minutes perhaps. Then I filled them with pastry cream (made from scratch the proper way, with a double boiler and four more eggs, but you could use vanilla pudding if you didn't want to bother or were afraid; do it wrong and you end up with runny sauce or else scrambled eggs).

I frosted the cream puffs with icing made from melted Ghiradelli dark chocolate thinned with a bit of cream, and the éclairs with an icing made from confectioner's sugar, cream, and a bit of espresso powder. If you want them totally authentic and a little smoother and prettier, make your own fondant instead. It's a lot more work and tastes exactly the same.

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