When we were considering who best to review recipes from a practical point of view, we naturally thought of Dish Food Editor, Claire Aldous. Claire has been known to work out 8 out of 10 missing steps in esoterically written recipes, but it was precisely this ability that made us think twice. We needed an enthusiastic amateur baker, with experience - but not years' worth - who could test recipe books from the home cook's perspective.
Enter 26 year old David Parker. Audio Engineer by day, gingerbread house construction worker by night, macaron extraordinaire by weekend. David loves to cook, bake and try delicious food in his spare time, and quickly accepted the challenge. Over the past month he's been trying out recipes from the first Cook the Books candidate, Scandinavian Baking: Loving Baking at Home by Trine Hahnemann from his kitchen in Oratia. First up, Raspberry Eclairs.
What we said in the magazine:
This is such a gorgeous book, it’s a shame it’s destined to become splattered with cake batter. The latest cookbook by Danish chef Trine Hahnemann will make you long for a winter in Copenhagen, holed up in a cosy kitchen eating cream-filled layer cakes and thick slices of buttered rye bread. Hahnemann covers a wide range of traditional Scandinavian recipes, including cakes, pastries and a huge number of breads, all of which are shot beautifully in Stockholm. There’s a selection of sophisticated savouries – a highlight is Norwegian Potato Pancakes with Salmon and Spinach – but the sweets are the real drawcard. Who wouldn’t want to eat a sugar-dusted choux ring filled with plum compote and cream? Many of the recipes are deceptively simple, ideal for seasoned bakers looking for fresh ideas or those just learning to fill the tins. Alice Galletly.
David Cooks the Book: Raspberry Eclairs
Flipping through the pages of Scandinavian Baking it's very hard to pass the Raspberry Eclairs, pictured above. The glossy melted chocolate, the pink cream filling with dots of vanilla seeds. I needed to eat these. I've never made choux pastry before, but my grandmother - who seldom otherwise baked - was famous for her towers of profiteroles and it's something I've always wanted to try. The choux recipe is used a few times in the book in different variations: a ring cake with cream and plums, some interesting 'potatoes' and more. To avoid double-ups, Scandinavian Baking asks you to refer back to the first recipe involving choux pastry for the basic method.
For the Raspberry Eclairs (surprisingly) I needed to buy raspberries. I sheepishly broached the topic at a few supermarkets that I thought I could rely on to stock out of season fruit to no avail. Eventually when I did find them they were (as out of season fruit should be) very expensive... But it's all in the name of journalism right? Plus by the time you're reading this raspberries will be closer to being in season. I shamefully clutched my red gold and exited the shop head held low, ready to begin my foray into eclairs.
Butter melted in hot water, simple enough. Next I took the pan off the heat and mixed in the dry ingredients. Going well so far.
As per the instructions, the dough gradually came away from the sides after a bit of beating. Great!
This is where I had a bit of a panic. The recipe asks you to remove the pan from the heat again. I re-read a few times. Was I supposed to put it back on the heat? I hadn't done that but it seemed to be okay. Was it okay? I checked with other choux recipes and it seems that I should have, but the dough seemed to be doing what it should so I continued onwards.
Now to add the egg. The recipe suggested I didn't need to use all the egg. I was a little confused as to how I would know when I didn't need any more egg. Scandinavian Baking says “until the mixture is smooth and glossy”. At one point I thought it was smooth and glossy, but if I added more egg would it be smoother and glossier?
Again in fear of ruining the delicious eclairs that I had my heart set on I reached for advice from other books. Apparently the dough should “unwillingly drop from the spoon” when the correct amount of egg has been incorporated. I quite liked this phrase and I felt like my dough was lacking the correct amount of willing so I proceeded!
I loaded a piping bag with the dough and pretty easily eclair-y things are formed.
And then I baked. I may have had the oven up slightly too high as they cooked quite quickly and were a little more brown than I'd liked on the outside. But I was using a fan oven and should have thought to turn the temperature down a little. At this point I still wasn't sure of how I was doing. Had it worked? I had expected them to expand a lot more. Maybe I hadn't used enough egg? I knew the dough could have been smoother and glossier! I decided to proceed, assuming that the the reason for their lackluster size was the lack of filling at this point.
The raspberry cream is the real hero here. Who knew cream, raspberries, vanilla and icing sugar could be so good? I may have eaten a spoonful or two. I was very sceptical about the subtle pink colouring of the cream from the book and thought there must be some sort of trickery involved but the cream really does turn that gentle pink. When cutting the eclairs to receive the heavenly cream I found it was easier to use a fine serated knife as the delicate pastry is easily crushed.
Now with the chocolate melted the assembly was easy. It's amazing how the chocolate transforms the weird looking shells to “oh those look like eclairs!” so suddenly.
I thought about pretending that I waited for the chocolate to harden before eating one, but I didn't. I'd been dreaming of these eclairs for days now and they didn't disappoint. They're very light, the pastry is just crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The raspberry cream has just a hint of sweetness and occasional bursts of sour bits of fruit and the vanilla is very subtle. If like me you have more of a sweet tooth you may be tempted for a third tablespoon of icing sugar or perhaps even milk chocolate to top the Eclairs, but these are already so delicious.
Choux pastry is a new skill for me and considering this recipe is used a few times in the book I think I would have liked a little more detail. It's also a little confusing with the "on the heat/off the heat" section, but having made it once I feel pretty confident about making it again. As for the rest, this a is a great twist on a classic. I will definitely be making again when I want to impress.
Scandinavian Baking - Loving Baking at Home by Trine Hahnemann is available now from all good book stores. It is published by Hardie Grant Books, $RRP49.95 (hb).