Over the weekend, I decided it was finally time to crack open The Art of the Dessert by Ann Amernick. I've had this book for over a year (Ann was kind enough to sign my copy during my cake decorating lesson last year) but I've never tried any of the recipes. That's because this book is no joke. Many of the recipes are complicated and extremely labor intensive; I would recommend the book for advanced home bakers only. I picked one of the easier recipes to try, "Coffee Éclairs after Robert." Amernick explains that the recipe is named after bread baker Robert de Lapeyrouse, who grew up eating coffee éclairs in France and lamented never being able to find them in the United States.
The pâte a choux pastry is pretty standard: heat up water, butter, sugar, and salt on the stove, and then beat in flour and eggs. I piped out the éclair paste into strips on a parchment-lined baking pan using a pastry bag with a large plain tip. Amernick directs you to pipe out the paste into 5-inch strips, but I wanted to make my éclairs bite sized, so I made short strips and ended up with adorable little 3-inch long éclairs.
After I cut the tops off of the éclairs and pulled out any soft dough filaments inside, I filled them with coffee pastry cream. The pastry cream is made from sugar, cake flour, milk, eggs yolks, butter and coffee extract. Amernick includes a recipe for coffee extract that is 2 parts instant espresso powder to one part dark rum by volume, but I took a shortcut and just bought some Nielsen-Massey coffee extract from Sur La Table. It's not that it would be difficult to make my own extract; it's just that we didn't have any dark rum on hand and buying it wasn't much more expensive than making my own. Coffee extract isn't exactly cheap (I paid $5.95 for 2 fl. oz.), but either is instant espresso powder (around here, about $6 for a cup).
As the recipe is written, the éclairs are supposed to be topped with homemade coffee-flavored fondant, but I took another shortcut and used a bittersweet chocolate glaze (heavy cream, sugar, corn syrup, bittersweet chocolate, and vanilla) that is a component of Amernick's recipe for Chocolate Viennese Cake. The glaze set up nicely, especially after a little time in the refrigerator.
The coffee pastry cream was unusual and delicious (even though the dirty-looking latte color wasn't terribly appealing); it also went well with the chocolate glaze. I was a big fan of the small éclairs, which were incredibly cute. Besides the several hours that were required to make and assemble all of the éclair components, the other downside to making these is that I really felt that I needed my own chicken. I made a double batch of choux paste and a batch and a half of the pastry cream, and I needed 28 eggs total (well, 9 whole eggs and 19 yolks). I don't think I've ever used that many eggs at once before. Then again, I got 60 small éclairs out of it, so the egg-to-éclair ratio was less than 1 to 2, which seems perfectly reasonable.
While I enjoyed the coffee pastry cream, these éclairs would be equally good -- and just as cute! -- with any other flavored filling or glaze.
Recipe: "Coffee Éclairs after Robert" from The Art of the Dessert by Ann Amernick.