Anyway, Mr. Ricky is just as nice as can be and he recently stopped by with a gorgeously decorated cake from Gambino's bakery. He'd just come into town, having taken a trip to New Orleans. He stopped by the bakery to "get a little somethin' for ya'll."
My first thought was: Holy Cow! Gambino's! I hadn't had anything from there since the first year we were living in the Midwest (about 7 years ago) and my sister-in-law couldn't stand the thought of us going through Mardi Gras season without King Cake. She paid a fortune to have one shipped to us.
Then I saw that Mr. Ricky 's cake was chocolate with chocolate frosting and my second thought was: Mr. Ricky, I love you. But I said that only in my head because I don't know him that well.
But we are talking about chocolate on chocolate, so maybe I should've said it out loud.
So I started thinking about Gambino's and all the other New Orleans area bakeries I used to frequent. One of my aunts (my nanny, or Godmother) loves to "stop by the bakery" and I spent many, many Saturday mornings tagging along. Gambino's, Haydel's, Randazzo's, McKenzie's (out of business for several years)...we hit the big ones. But she also took me around to smaller bakeries too, but I can't remember any of their names and don't feel like trying to find out. The answer would probably be one I hear way too much: oh, they never came back after The Storm.
My aunt almost always got bakalava...she introduced me to this creation. I usually asked for a Bavarian creme filled doughnut or an éclair. I love that éclairs are a mix of delicate pastry and decadent creamy filling. Love the contrast...dainty exterior and in-your-face fat attack interior. Oh and then the chocolate on top. Oh yeah!
I've always wanted to try my hand at making éclairs, but I figured it would be hard or I'd need special tools for working with the pâte à choux, or choux paste. But it wasn't hard and I didn't need to use any weird gadgetry. A pastry bag would have helped for forming the pastries, but I managed to get by without that.
Pâte à choux can be turned into éclairs, creme puffs, porfiteroles, gougeres, croquembouche (a tower of creme puffs), and who knows what else. I'm glad I sucked it up and tried this. The romance of my childhood bakery trips has been somewhat lessened knowing that a large portion of what was on display was made from the same recipe...just filled with different things. But, the éclairs were good. And more importantly, I learned how to make something versatile.
I don't remember where I found this éclair recipe. It is handwritten on a scrap of paper, which likely means it is from one of my mom's cookbooks. It seems like a pretty standard éclair recipe. These éclairs are easy to make, especially since the recipe utilizes instant pudding. Would it be better with homemade pudding? I can't comment on that since homemade pudding weirds me out something bad (it's an egg thing).
Éclairsfrom Ms. enPlace
for the pâte à choux:
1 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs
Preheat oven to 450. Boil the water in a heavy pot. Add the butter and stir until it has melted. Add the flour (all at once) and salt. Cook and stir until the mixture forms a soft ball of dough. Remove from the heat and cool for about 10 minutes. Make the pudding while you wait. After 10 minutes, add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The dough should tighten up after adding the third egg.
Form dough into about a dozen oval shapes on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes. Lower oven to 325 and bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Make the chocolate icing while they cool.
for the filling:
1 small box (4 servings) instant vanilla pudding
2 c cold milk
Follow the package directions. Chill until ready to use.
for the icing:
2 squares (1 oz each) semisweet chocolate
3 Tbsp butter
1-1 1/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-3 Tbsp milk
Melt chocolate along with butter. Stir until smooth. Add 1 c powdered sugar, vanilla, and 2 tbsp milk. Stir until smooth. Add additonal tablespoon of milk if needed to thin. If too thin, add more powdered sugar.
Now that the three components are ready, start assembling your éclairs. Fill the bottoms with about 2 tablespoons of pudding then replace the tops. Ice with chocolate. Store in the refrigerator loosely covered to avoid moisture build-up.
Mise enplace for all three components. Nothing unusual and no weird gadgets required.
Boil the water. Add butter and stir until it has melted. Add all of the flour and salt.
Left: after the first 15 minutes at 450. Right: after 20-25 minutes at 325.
My topless pastries. (Giggle. Imagine the hits I'll get on that one.)