Thursday, February 3, 2011

Party pastries

It's Lauren's hen's party on Saturday night, and I've offered to bring a few nibbles. It's a good excuse to knock off a few more recipes of the kind I can't really make just for myself. I've selected a couple out of the 'party finger food' chapter, but the first thing I've actually made is a batch of chocolate eclairs (p81).

Chocolate eclairs are made from choux pastry, something I've made before, so I was reasonably confident they'd come out ok. Perhaps I was even a little too confident: despite the fact that I'd been feeling fuzzy-headed and absentminded all day, and that the first thing I did on arriving home was knock a water glass off the kitchen bench, shattering it everywhere, I still felt that tonight was a good night to be making pastries.

At first, things were going quite well. The choux pastry itself is not difficult to make: simply bring water and butter to a rolling boil, then take it off the heat and beat in flour. Let it cool slightly, then beat in three eggs one by one until you have a nice glossy mixture. I got to this point without having any problems. It was the piping that got me into trouble.

I'd intended to get a box of disposable piping bags with my groceries, but as a result of the aforementioned absentmindedness, I'd neglected to buy any during an unnecessarily long grocery mission spent going back and forth and around the supermarket in circles as I remembered various items I wanted. This meant I had to use my ordinary piping bag.

My piping bag works perfectly well for whipped cream, which is what I mainly use it for anyway. But the moment you try piping a denser mixture with it, the mixture (in this case, choux pastry mix) oozes out the seam rather than the nozzle and makes your hands all gooey, meaning it's much more difficult to keep a decent grip on the piping bag.

I'd decided to try and make the eclairs quite small, since they're supposed to be finger food. Even so, I didn't intend to pipe the pastry in such skinny little lines, but that's the best I could do with the dodgy piping bag. I filled a couple of trays with piped lines of pastry, put them in the oven and hoped for the best.

They didn't rise - well, they did, but not nearly enough. When the cooking time was over, I had a number hard little turd-shaped lumps of eggy pastry. Well, I couldn't use those! I'd have to do a second batch. But first, it was time for a walk: I grabbed my jacket and wandered to a local supermarket for some piping bags.

Returning to the kitchen, I mixed up another batch of pastry, and this time I was able to pipe it into reasonable eclair shapes. They still weren't perfect, but they were a heap better than the first lot, and far quicker and easier to pipe with a non-oozing piping bag! After about 20 minutes (less than the half hour in the recipe) at 200 degrees for the eclairs to puff up and go golden, I turned the oven down to 120 and left them in there for another 20 minutes or so to dry out.

After all this, I now have 28 decent-looking eclairs. I still have to ice them and fill them with cream, but that can wait until Saturday. Meanwhile, I've got more finger food to make!

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