Sunday, May 31, 2009

The pressure’s heating up with the choux

Coffee eclairs

The greatest lessons in life are usually (95% of the time) from failure.
Failures faced are engraved so deeply in minds, even more so than successes.

I remember my failure with my coffee éclair when I attempted it last year. Everything was wrong from the consistency of the fondant icing, to the crème patisserie to the choux(‘shoo’) itself.

Incidentally, this happens to be one of the items that will be graded on during our practical assessment at the end of this term.

The éclair, seemingly and deceiving simple. After all, it is just made up of three components. Never underestimate it for it may be easy to make one, it is definitely not easy to make a great one. There are just too many cafes and patisseries out there serving lousy éclairs. The choux is often the problem resulting in poor texture. And the crème patisserie may be horrid as they try to cut cost by using inferior ingredients.

I’m no big fan of the choux pastry nor the éclairs. For me, the texture and taste just don’t cut it. However, despite my dislike for the éclair, I still have to master it to pass my assessment.

Chef M*ichael was prepping us for class and reinforcing how important this lesson was and how we had to take it seriously. That kind of set the tone and atmosphere of the class for the rest of the day. During practical class, everyone was so serious and tensed up that Chef M*ichael had to tell us to loosen up.

His attempts did little to ease the tension in the kitchen.

I was stressed out and so were my classmates.

Since we had our go at the choux pastry on Thursday already (just some profiteroles with chantilly cream piped in them), most of us did not have that huge a problem in making the choux pastry. The difficulty lies with precision and uniformity.

You see, we had to pipe éclairs that are twelve cm long, of a certain width. And we had to do it the same for every single one of our twenty éclairs, not just one. “Too skinny Chef,” exclaimed Chef M*ichael as he walked passed my bench. Apparently my éclairs were too thin and if I did them that way, there wouldn’t be space to pipe any filling. So I had to re-pipe my tray of éclairs.

As for the crème patisserie, we had our go at it during the fruit flan class. However, the crème patisserie is a tricky thing. Many things can go wrong and you can just fix it but throwing in some ingredients.

Perhaps this is one of the fundamental difference between patisserie and cuisine. If a soup stock is not salty enough, you can always add in more seasoning at a later stage but if you get a lumpy crème, you can only start all over again.

Back to the possible problems with the crème patisserie: If you don’t watch over it, you may end up with burnt milk. If you didn’t whisk it enough, you’ll get a lumpy mixture. And if you didn’t boil it long enough, it will become too runny. The list goes on. Many people ended up with bad crème patisserie (either too thick, too runny that you can’t pipe it). Thankfully, mine was alright.

The coffee fondant icing was another tricky thing. The fondant icing is just made of 2 part sugar to 1 part water, 5% glucose and coffee extract. That’s no doubt easy to make. To achieve the fondant with the right consistency to coat your éclair as well as to get the glossy shine so it makes your éclair look attractive is something that comes with experience. Just a note on the fondant: you should use it at body temperature (Which means about 37 degrees celcius). If it’s still too thick at that temperature, you do not continue heating it, hoping that it will melt somemore, you should add water to dilute it. So much theory and precision on just the fondant alone!

After making all the components of my éclairs, I didn’t have time to finish assembling it! So I brought everything home to complete it. I left the class feeling totally wiped out; I was exhausted, the day didn’t go too well and all I wanted to do was to go home and sleep. I’m glad that I went home and was motivated enough to finish everything up in the tiny kitchen of mine.

I’m pleased to say that the finished éclair was way better than my attempt at it last year. (See, we all learn from our failures)

Everything was right- choux pastry texture checked, choux pastry colour checked, crème patissiere consistency checked, shine on the fondant checked, overall look checked…well, maybe more colour to the coffee laced crème patisserie “It should be like a flat white/latte colour,” says Chef. Apparently my flat white and his differs. Ah well…

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