Monday, October 22, 2012

Spiced apple mini eclairs - a little bite of seasonal joy

I love this time of year. The changing colour of the leaves, the chill in the air, everyone wearing hats and scarves and getting to wear wool tights. It's an exciting season! There are also so many wonderful culinary delights to explore; freshly picked apples, pumpkins, squash and big beautiful sweet potatoes. That said however, it can also be quite a hectic time. The start of school and college, sports clubs and societies getting into full swing, protecting your house/car/health/kids for the winter and of course the many wonderful holidays to prepare for. It can feel like you are running from one thing to the next and it's wholly possible to miss many of the beauties that are on offer as you go. 

I think it is important to take a day or at least a few hours to yourself and immerse yourself in all that the season has to offer. It was in this very spirit that I embarked on my latest baking project. Following a brisk and energetic walk in the park where I admired the many colours of the leaves and inhaled the wonderful scent of cold air, I was inspired to capture some of the tastes of the season in a tiny sweet bite and eclairs are something I haven't made for a while. They also require some time and concentration which is perfect when one is determined to experience me time. The outcome was even better than I had expected. The sharp apple contrasts perfectly with the creme patissiere and the salted caramel rounds out the experience. Needless to say it is ill-advised to eat too many but if I'm honest that didn't stop me. Ah well, guess I'll just have to take another walk.

Just one won't hurt!

Spiced Apple mini- Eclairs

Choux pastry
 300ml water
115g unsalted butter
130g  plain flour
pinch of salt
4 eggs

Apple filling
4 cooking apples
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

Creme Patissiere
3 egg yolks
50g white caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp plain flour
300 ml whole milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
75ml double cream

175g White Sugar
175g water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 200'/400'/Gas mark 6. To make the eclairs put the water and butter into a saucepan and heat until the butter has melted. Bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and mix in the flour and salt. When the mixture has formed a dough, return to the heat and continue to mix for a minute of so to dry out the dough. Remove from the heat and gradually add one egg at a time, mixing thoroughly and quickly to ensure that the egg doesn't have a chance to cook before it is mixed in. Your arms will hurt doing this but persevere - it is worth it. Once all the eggs are in, scoop your mixture into a piping bag and pipe little 2" lines of dough onto a lined baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes and do not open the oven until they are done as this will affect the rise.

To make the apple filling, peel and chop your apples and mix the pieces in the lemon juice as you go to preserve the colour. Put your apple slices into a dry saucepan and put the spice on top. Do Not Mix yet. Let the apples start to stew and release juices for a minute, then mix. Continue to mix and heat until the apples have achieved the appearance of apple sauce. Remove the cloves and blitz with a hand-held blender to ensure all the lumps are gone.
  • You will notice there is no sugar in the apple filling. There will be enough sugar in the rest of the recipe and the tart taste works well so trust me.

To make the creme patissiere, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until light and fluffy. Bring the milk and nutmeg to a boil in a pan. Mix the corn and plain flours into the eggs and beat thoroughly. Once the milk has boiled, carefully pour about 1/4 of it onto the eggs and beat thoroughly. You can then pour this egg and milk mixture onto the rest of the milk. Continue to whisk and heat for another few minutes until the consistency is thick but smooth. Place in a clean bowl covered in cling-film which you push onto the surface of the creme. Once cooled, whip the cream and fold into the creme patissiere.

Start the caramel as your piping your eclairs, it will help you to avoid the tempting mix. Using two piping bags fill one with apple and one with creme patissiere. For the apple bag top it with a small injection piping nozzle and use a wide nozzle for the creme. Inject the nozzle of the apple bag into the end of the eclair and pipe along the bottom on the eclair, repeat this with the creme and you will feel the eclair fill up and become heavier. Keep an eye on the caramel and swirl if necessary. Repeat this process with all the eclairs and leave to stand.

When the sugar has turned a golden brown add the butter and salt and stir until incorporated. Spoon over the eclairs just before serving. Enjoy

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