Table of Contents
- Your step-by-step guide to making choux buns
- 5. Bring it all together
- Four more first-rate classes to try….
- River Cottage Cooking Diploma
- Sourdough with Aidan Monks
- Beef Wellington with The Grand
- Cook. Shoot. Eat.
- How to get your Metro newspaper fix
These eclairs are a step up from banana bread
With restaurants closed, many chefs have turned their hands to teaching their skills online, helping home foodies learn how to cook, too.
But surely, even in Lockdown 3.0, some things are a bit too hard to learn in a couple of hours at your own kitchen table?
Somewhere near the top of that list is choux pastry – we’d need to be in Tier 3 until Paul Hollywood gets his bus pass to brave having a go at that most challenging of baked goods on our own. Many chefs will tell you it looks harder than it is. But then, they’re experts.
It’s the kind of delicate operation that one might think it unwise to attempt by simply following a recipe from a website.
There are plenty of stops along the way at which to think ‘this isn’t looking like it’s working’ and throw it in the bin. So it’s much better to have an expert to hand – or at least on the other end of a Zoom call.
Thankfully, Glaswegian pastry chef Helen Vass is an international expert (in choux pastry, and not too bad at Zoom, either) who has worked with some of the best pastry chefs in the world. She was also part of the winning team of the BBC’s Bake Off Creme De La Creme in 2016.
Even better, Helen is also equipped with a good sense of humour and the knack of knowing how to rescue a dish just before it starts careering off down a one-way street to disaster, which is particularly useful when teaching novices how to make something that goes against all of an amateur’s instincts about baking.
After all, you’re not likely to trust just anyone who’s telling you there’s a stage in a dough-making process that involves putting it in a saucepan on the hob, are you?
Helen normally teaches chefs how to bake, but during lockdown is sharing some of her vast experience in a series of fun online workshops for all food lovers, hosted by food writer Rachel McCormack. Classes are family-friendly, and although really suitable for children aged eight and over, our four-year-old joined me and my husband and was very much the star baker in our house.
You can cook-along with expert Helen on Zoom
The class started bang on 6pm with a whistle-stop introduction to patisserie. This was followed by a frantic half hour weighing, measuring and getting everything up and running, while trying to whisk and stir at the same time.
A word to the wise – have your ingredients and equipment ready before logging on. There’s no time to pause for breath, let alone try to weigh out and separate five egg yolks and look in the cupboard for an oven tray, while following how to mix and roll out craquelin, a wafer thin topping for the choux buns.
But it certainly gave a flavour – whether intentional or otherwise – of the high-octane experience of working in a professional kitchen.
Thankfully, bookings come with a full list of what’s needed and useful advice to have a bit extra of everything in case of complete disasters/dropping things on the floor.
In an action-packed session, scheduled for two hours, we made creme patissiere, the thick delicious custard Helen uses as a base for many cakes, creme diplomat, the delicious filling for buns and eclairs, plus chocolate sauce and savoury fillings.
But the star of the show was the choux pastry itself – used in eclairs, profiteroles and Paris-Brest.
After an involved process involving heating the pastry dough in a saucepan and cooling it with a stand mixer, we came to the really tricky bit – the piping.
Helen will teach you how to make fluffy choux buns topped with delicious craquelin
This definitely falls into the ‘looks much easier when the expert does it’ category. The idea is to pipe a variety of shapes onto greaseproof paper, but all our shapes looked like blobs or sausages.
Helen, however, was undeterred, guiding us into shaping them and talking us through the baking process.
Despite every sign that they would emerge flat as pancakes from our windowless oven, they were – to our surprise – fabulously light and airy, with crisp shells so wafer thin that they almost melted on the tongue.
Nothing like their heavy, soggy supermarket cousins, they were heaven filled with rich creme diplomat and served with Helen’s secret recipe bittersweet chocolate sauce.
After a frantic start, the session ended with a relaxed chat and a chance to compare our bakes, going well past three hours.
Our pastries, while no works of art, were far better than we’d expected, and something we’d definitely try again – which is more than I can say for banana bread.
Your step-by-step guide to making choux buns
You can create your own choux buns with Helen’s recipe (Picture: Helen Vass)
Chocolate eclairs, or choux buns (makes three or four trays)
For the creme patissiere
- 100g egg yolk (4-5 egg yolks – keep the whites to make meringues)
- 400g whole milk
- 100g double cream
- 90g caster sugar
- 45g cornflour
- 70g unsalted butter
- vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
For the choux pastry
- 250ml water
- 100g butter
- 125g strong white flour (sieved)
- 3-4 eggs
- Pinch of salt
For the chocolate sauce
- 75g dark chocolate (broken into small pieces), 40g caster sugar
- 25g cocoa powder, 85g water
For the creme diplomat
- 250g double or whipping cream
- Medium pan
- Wooden spoon
- Cloth piping bag or disposable piping bags
- Clip or clothes peg
- Measuring jug
- Scales, mixing bowls (various sizes)
- Cling film
- Hand whisk
- Sharp knife
- Chopping board
- Seep rectangular tray for creme patissiere (so that it cools quicker)
- Greaseproof paper
- Two baking trays
1. Make the creme patissiere
- Put the milk and cream in a pan on the hob and heat gently, then turn off once it steams.
- In a bowl, mix the sugar, cornflour, vanilla extract, salt and egg yolk. Pour the warm milk over the yolk mixture and mix together.
- Return to the pan and cook over a low heat until thick and the cornflour has been cooked out. Add the butter in small pieces and emulsify.
- Pour in a tray and put cling film on contact – this will help prevent a skin forming – and leave to cool completely, preferably in the fridge.
Live your Bake Off dreams with a creamy vanilla custard (Picture: Jade Wright)
2. Make the choux pastry
Pre-heat your oven on to 200 degrees C.
- Now start on the pastry. Put the water and butter in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then take off the heat. Add the sieved flour and salt and mix with a wooden spoon.
- Beat the eggs and then add them slowly to the mixture, while stirring with a wooden spoon until the paste is smooth, silky and drops off the spoon.
- Seal the bottom of a piping bag with a clip or clothes peg and put the bag into a jug, then put the paste into the bag.
- Cover two baking trays with silcone or baking paper and pipe the pastry with the pastry bag 1cm away from the tray into eclair (long and thin, like sausages), profiterole (blobs), buns (bigger blobs) or Paris-Brest (doughnut) shapes.
Give them space to expand and make sure they are of similar size so that they need the same time in the oven, as you will not be able to open the oven part-way through cooking.
Little blobs will turn into yummy profiteroles (Picture: Jade Wright)
v. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for around five minutes at 200 degrees C and then reduce the heat to 160 degrees C for around 15 minutes until baked.
They will take at least 20 minutes but could be up to 30 – you’ll know they’re done when they are a golden colour – if you take them out too early they’ll deflate. They should come away easily from the greaseproof paper and you can pick them up with your fingers or gently with tongs and cool them on a rack or tray.
3. Make the chocolate sauce
- Put the water and sugar into a pan and bring to the boil.
- Add chocolate pieces and stir until melted, add cocoa powder and mix thoroughly, then pass mixture through a strainer and put in a tub or a bowl to cool.
Gooey chocolate sauce is the best bit of an eclair (Picture: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
4. Make the Creme Diplomat
Take the creme patissiere out of the fridge. It will be the most delicious cold thick custard you’ve ever tasted. Add 150g of it to the 250g of cream and whip together until stiff. You are now ready for the final step!
Whip up a real treat (Picture: Stacy Zarin Goldberg /Getty Images)
5. Bring it all together
All ready to assemble (Picture: Jade Wright)
When everything is cooled, it’s time to create your finished product. Cut the choux buns/eclairs in half, and fill with a combination of creme diplomat, or creme patissiere, using another piping bag and pour the chocolate sauce on the top. Leave to cool and then EAT!
Four more first-rate classes to try….
River Cottage Cooking Diploma
Learn to cook more sustainably via Learning With Experts
Join Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the River Cottage team in a course all about sourcing and cooking food in a sustainable, ethical way.
Whether you’re looking to learn the art of fish filleting, to make vegetables the hero ingredient of your dishes or combine exotic spices with delicious home-grown ingredients, there’s a wide choice, with 48 online modules.
Launched by online learning platform, Learning With Experts, sessions include feedback by the River Cottage team, guiding students in real time with tailored comments.
Sourdough with Aidan Monks
Are you bready to learn sourdough king Aidan’s secrets?
Multi-award-winner Aidan Monks was crowned Britain’s Best Baker 2019 at the National Bakery Awards, with shops in Manchester and the Lake District.
He shares the secrets of his sourdough success with live interactive workshops on how to make a mother starter dough. He’ll also look at how to choose flour, demonstrate the different autolyse methods and explore the importance of proving your dough. Sessions will include tuition, ingredients and a bakery tool kit.
Beef Wellington with The Grand
It doesn’t get much grander than this (Picture: Will Stanley)
York’s five-star hotel The Grand is opening up its kitchen for Zoom masterclasses with head chef-turned-tutor Andrew Dixon.
Its virtual Beef Wellington class is a two hour step-by-step guide to how to create the perfect beef and black pudding Wellington, plus ultimate baked potatoes, buttered green beans, and a port wine gravy.
The meal will serve two, perfect for a Valentine’s Day night in, and classes are also priced per device, so participants can join alone, as a pair, or with the whole family. We’re hungry just thinking about it.
Cook. Shoot. Eat.
Your food blogger story starts here
Pimp your Instagram feed and learn some great new recipes with this multi-disciplinary class by Cheshire food stylist and photographer Jane Burkinshaw, and her baker husband Nic.
Each session starts with a cook-along demo, looking at a new seasonal recipe each time. Then, while it’s cooking, there’s a photography workshop, showing how to style the finished dish, and even some professional editing tips.
Sessions are suitable for everyone from beginners to professionals, and end with a tasting session.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected].
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