Every year Brian and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Over the years it has become a somewhat of a tradition that I try to make him a special treat, meal, or dessert; this year I contemplated over what that thing should be. When you are with someone as long as we have been (twenty two years) this never gets easier. I always want it to be new…or different than the item I made in the years past.
This year I was off my game. I will admit that from the start. I knew I wanted to make him a dessert. I systematically debated in my head what and how it should be. I tossed around ideas on flavor combos. Thought of how I could play around with the texture of a few more traditional desserts. I even contemplated what and how these items will be eaten and served. My mind may never be at rest when it comes to food, but that is just me. Finally, to end the rambling consideration in my head I turned to Brian and I asked: “What do you really look for when it comes to a dessert? What favor do you hear and say, Yes That is what I want to eat!!!” He responded with he usual: dark chocolate, creaminess, and I like things tart too! There it was, he said it and it struck a cord: creamy and tart.
I instantly envisioned an eclair cut length wise, with a layer of lemony tartness and topped with another layer of thick vanilla bean pastry cream. I would brush the tops of them with a light lemon sugar glaze. But these eclairs would be made miniature. Any dessert you can make is more fun and exciting to eat when it is made in miniature. It makes for more interaction and conversation to take place too.
So the other day when I came home from work I whipped up some mini eclairs, about 4 dozen to be exact. While the pate choux (eclair batter) baked I stood over the stove and stirred my lemon curd and pastry cream, I patiently waited for them to thicken, before I strained and chilled them both. I had them both in the refrigerator chilling when Brian came home and saw the eclair shells on the dinning table. He asked what they were, and I could tell he was trying to resist popping one in his mouth. When I explained it was a surprise for after dinner he grinned. We sat and ate our dinner and cleaned up the kitchen. When we were done we sat down with cups of tea and I started to fill the little eclairs and glaze them. He observed and asked why the special treat? As always I told him as many years we have been together - you and we deserve a special treat. And we feasted! Popping the little eclairs in our mouths in between sips of tea. We chatted about our day, our jobs, our dogs, and the planning of a future vacation. These little eclairs were zesty with tartness, and the vanilla bean pastry cream mellowed it out just a tad. Having made these in miniature it was a perfect balance of flavor and texture because you got a little bit of everything about this dessert in each bite.
As for twenty two years with Brian? It has been an adventure so far. We have lived together and separately in four different states - in two big cities - lived in separate states for months at a time - numerous apartments - owned a home - owned and ran two businesses - traveled abroad - taken road trips - and yes we are still together! We have taken many roads to get where we are, but that suits us just fine. Twenty two years is a long time, time well spent. We have just done it thus far with especially tasty food and desserts to accompany it all. Personally I think the layers of flavors in this dessert are much like the life we have experiences thus far. They are different but blend well for a delicious outcome.
Zesty Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs (yields 3 - 4 dozen)
***NOTE - the recipe for the Pate Choux make 3 - 4 dozen. The lemon curd and the pastry cream make way more then is needed in this recipe. You can cut those recipes in half if you like, but I like to do the full amount and store the remainder in my refrigerator and find other uses for them in the next couple of days. I always store the extra in air tight sealed containers.
Pate Choux (Eclair Dough)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup of water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup flour
4 eggs, plus one egg white
First, bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat. Using a spoon or spatula, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes. It will make a sizzling noise, that is expected. But you are looking for the mixture to be all hydrated and in the form of ball or blob of dough.
Next, transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes or until you no longer see steam rising from the bowl and the bowl itself is cool to the touch. Raise speed to medium; add your whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.
Finally, have a pastry bag fitted with a tip no bigger than 1/2 in in diameter. Have three baking sheets lined with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Fill the bag with the batter and pipe batter in strait lines no bigger than 2 - 2 1/2 inches long. Space them at least 2 inches apart. Place them in the oven and bake roughly 20 - 25 minutes depending on your oven. Your pate choux should have expanded and at least doubled or more in hight. Once it is golden brown and feels crisp it is ready to be pulled form the oven and cooled.
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (Makes about 1 quart)
2 1/4 cup whole milk
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup corn starch
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
First, In medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.
Next, in a 4 quart pot place the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk along with the scraped seeds from vanilla bean; as well as the pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Place the pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.
Then, once the milk and vanilla bean mixture is at a simmer remove from the burner. Temper some of the hot milk mixture gradually into your yolk mixture - whisking it. Combine it all to your hot milk in the pot, and place over moderate heat. Cook it; whisking or stirring it (always to be sure you are touching the bottom of the pot with your whisk or spoon) constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute.
Finally, remove you pot from heat, and strain into a bowl though a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of you pastry cream and refrigerate until chilled completely cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 5 days.)
Lemon Curd (about 1 quart)
1 1/4 fresh lemon juice
12 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
8 oz unsalted butter, cold and cut up into 1 inch pieces
zest of 3 lemons
2 tbsp heavy cream
First, in a saute pan place your egg yolks and sugar and wis together. Add in the lemon juice and salt and whisk again. Place the butter in the pan and place the pan over medium low heat.
Next, while constantly stirring your mixture with a silicone spatula you will notice your butter begin to melt and mix into your lemon curd. It should begin to thicken not long after the butter melts.
Then, once your mixture is thick and coats the back of your spatula it is done cooking. It should be quite thick and no longer liquid like. Remove the pan from the heat pour the mixture and though a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the heavy cream.
Finally, place plastic wrap directly over the curd and refrigerate until completely chilled (about 2 hours). Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
1 1/2 cup powder sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
In a bowl place your powdered sugar, and with a fork stir in a little bit of lemon juice at a time. It will start out really thick and as you add more lemon juice it will losses up.
You are looking for the glaze to be thick enough that you can spread it on the eclair without dripping off. If you feel it is too thick and you used all the lemon juice you can sub in a teaspoon of water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
Once the desired consistency is reached you can stir in the lemon zest. It is best to use this mixture immediately as it thickens as it sits.
1. With a sharp knife, slice your eclair shells (Pate Choux) in half length wise, be sure you still have a flat bottom on one half.
2. Fill some of your lemon curd and your pastry cream in separate pastry bags and set aside.
3. Line your bottom half of your eclair shells on a tray. With your lemon curd, pipe a bit of curd to fill the bottom half.
4. Repeat this with your pastry cream, piping it over the top of the lemon curd. You are looking for both the curd and the pastry cream to be in two even layers.
5. Spread the tops of each eclair shell with the lemon glaze and rest the tops over the filled bottom halves. Chill until ready to eat, and best is made no longer than 6 - 4 hours before serving…they will get soggy the longer they sit prepared. Best to keep chilled until ready to eat!