Cake Batter Éclairs

There is a bakery a few towns away that I absolutely love called Sook Pastry. In a way I’m glad it’s not too nearby because I would frequent it more than necessary. There are many great baked goods that they offer, but my favorite is the awesome chocolate èclairs.  They are not too sweet or rich but are satisfyingly chocolaty with the perfect shell.I don’t know at what point I became such a pastry snob. I remember eating boxes of Entenmann’s chocolate èclairs and being satisfied as a kid. But when I picked up a box for the nostalgia factor, it was horrifically disappointing. The too-squishy bland base, the lack of custard filling and the low quality chocolate topping made me wonder, “WHY?!” I guess I can argue that the costs of ingredients are higher and manufacturers have to cut down on quality in order to keep the costs low. Remember when they changed the recipe for the chewy chips ahoy? That was another sad day. Anyways, the point is, I guess I’d rather eat just one great éclair than a whole box full of them.
Turns out, baking a great éclair is not as easy as it looks. The hurdle is the choux dough base. I’ve made cream puffs (which are also made out of choux dough) many times before. Remember the croquembouche? I had trays and trays of cream puffs that time. The problem was it was not sturdy enough for an éclair. They would flatten and look sad, no matter what technique I tried (using the tines of a fork, using a star tipped frosting tip to pipe out the batter, letting the base cook in the oven longer to ensure dry interiors…). So I went to google and did some research.
Luckily Ilan from the ironwhisk already did the research and created a great choux paste tutorial for èclairs. My only gripe with recipe was that it produced a shell that was too salty. Even when I waived the salt in the filling, the saltiness was overpowering. I suggest cutting the salt in half to ensure a better balanced éclair.
I originally baked this for my third blog anniversary, and that’s why there are so many decorative sprinkles that scream “celebration!” hahaha I know, I’m approaching the fourth anniversary around the corner and I’m posting this now. Smh. Please, feel free to use any type of sprinkle, sanding sugar, sugar pearls, and nonpareils that you might have. My sprinkles container is over capacity and I am now resorting to ziplock freezer bags to hold the rest of them. I may have a hoarding problem with them, but they were perfect for this post in particular.
To go with the “celebration” theme, I also made the filling cake batter flavored because what better way to celebrate than with cake? A few spoonful of cake mix gives it that flavor. I rarely use boxed cake mix and only use it to give it a “cake batter” flavor to something. So I usually have a ton of it leftover. I always feel bad tossing it out. There must be a better way out there hahaha But I figure, if you do bake boxed cake often, then this should be a staple in your pantry.

Cake Batter Éclairs

For the Choux Base:

Ingredients:

75 g. water
75 g. milk
75 g. butter
5 g. sugar
2.5 g. salt (about ½ tsp. best to use the tsp for such small measurements)
100 g. bread flour, sifted
150 g. eggs (about 3 large eggs), room temperature and lightly beaten
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Instructions:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir water, milk, butter, sugar and salt and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove the pot from the heat once the mixture reaches a boil, and add all the flour at once.
  3. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a film on the bottom of the pan forms, about two minutes. The dough should be 170˚F (75 ˚C). Do not scrape the film into the dough.
  4. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the dough and mix on low for about a minute and thirty seconds or until the dough cools down to 140˚F (60˚C).
  5. Add half the eggs on low, until combined. Then add the remaining eggs slowly until combined and a smooth dough forms.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚F) and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. You can dab a bit of the dough onto the bottom corners of the parchment paper to keep it in place while you pipe out the éclairs.
  7. Prepare a pastry bag (or a gallon sized freezer zip lock bag) with a ½ in. star tip with as many small teeth as possible.
  8. Pipe the èclairs about 5 inches long, 1 inch wide and  2 inches apart.
  9. Dust with powdered sugar.
  10. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the pastry is dark golden brown.
  11. Remove the tray from the oven and carefully slit the bottom of each choux with a paring knife to let the steam escape.
  12. Cool completely.

For the Cake Batter Pastry Cream

Ingredients:

2 c. whole milk
½ c. sugar, divided
2 egg yolks
1 large egg
¼ c. cornstarch
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. vanilla cake mix
sprinkles (optional)

Instructions:

  1. In a pot, heat whole milk and ¼ c. sugar and bring to a simmer.
  2. While the milk heats, mix egg yolks, egg, cornstarch and ¼ c. sugar in a medium bowl.
  3. When the milk is hot, use a ladle to slowly drizzle hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking to prevent curdling.
  4. Once all of the milk is introduced into the egg mixture, return all of it back into the pot.
    Bring the mixture in the pot to a boil while whisking. When it is thick, remove the pot off the heat.
  5. Add in the butter and vanilla. Once the butter is completely mixed in, add the cake mix. Move mixture to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly against the pastry cream (to prevent a skin from forming). Chill completely, about 2-3 hours, before using.
  6. If adding sprinkles, add to the pastry cream after fully chilled.

Vanilla Glaze

Ingredients:
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
2 ½ tbsp. milk
⅛ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. butter

Instructions:

  1. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the butter.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.

Assemble the Éclairs:

  1. Flip the cooled choux pastry upside down and fill with cake batter pastry cream using a pastry bag fitted with a small round tip.
  2. Dip the éclairs in the glaze using your fingers to wipe away the excess on the sides to ensure a neat presentation.
  3. Sprinkle with whatever decoration you want, or go simple and forgo the decoration.

Choux pastry recipe adapted from Iron Whisk.
Pastry cream and glaze recipe adapted from All Recipes.

Crème Brûlée Cake

Happy New Year! I say this knowing that it already passed 3 weeks since the beginning of 2018. What better way to start a new year than with cake? Admittedly, I made this cake last year, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious!One of my favorite things to do with dessert is trying different versions of an already established dessert. This time it was crème brulee. Did you guys see this video of a dessert shop that specializes in crème brulees? I just want to dip my spoon into every crispy crackly shell that they advertise. I think that’s one of the great things about it, you can add your spin to just about whatever you want.
As usual, I went out of my way to get the best crème brulee cake that I could make. It is filled with crisp sugar shards, caramelized white chocolate ganache and pastry cream. But the one thing I didn’t prepare for was the pastry cream being absorbed by the cake. I highly recommend you eat this cake sooner than later to fully enjoy all the components.Most of the parts of the cake are things I’ve made before, but the caramelized white chocolate was a new technique for me. You essentially bake very good white chocolate on low heat while stirring to transform it into a complex caramel flavor. I first read about it on David Lebovitz’s blog years ago, but never had the chance to make it. Why did it take so long? Well, one of the biggest factors was the cost of the chocolate. Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate is very pricey! I would be extremely sad if it failed. Luckily, I still had some in stock from baking the ultimate mocha cake.So what does caramelized white chocolate taste like? Kind of like dulce de leche but less sweet and a little more milky. Is it worth the trouble? I’m 50/50 on it. I don’t know if I want to use my precious Valrhona on it again. The answer would be definitely if I had a cheaper option to use. (David says not to use the cheap supermarket chocolate.)Aesthetically, there are two parts that love about the cake. The first being the amazing cake topper made by my friend, Carmiña of Sohnmade. Just look at the details on it! The tiny fork and spoon and the cupcake just kill me. I know cake toppers are super popular these days because they jazz up any cake, but I’ve rarely seen one that has so many details. And of course, because she is multi-talented, she also throws wonderful events and does a whole assortment of custom décor. I highly recommend her. The other part that I love is the sugar shards of the cake. I love the stained glass effect it gives off and I can imagine  making different colored ones and doing actual, edible stained glass work. The ones in the recipe have a similar flavor of the crisp sugar shell of crème brulee because you cook sugar until it gets that toasty taste. Win-win.

Crème Brulee Cake
Makes one 6-inch cake

You will need:
1 batch caramelized white chocolate ganache (recipe below)
1 batch vanilla pastry cream (recipe below)
1 batch vanilla buttermilk cake (recipe below)
1 batch vanilla swiss meringue frosting (recipe below)
1 batch sugar shards (recipe below)

Instructions:

  • On a cake board, place one layer of vanilla cake and using an offset spatula, spread a layer of ganache. (picture #1 in photo above)
  • In a piping bag fitted with a plain tip, fill it with some vanilla frosting. Pipe a dam around the outer edge of the cake. This will keep the cream from spilling out of the sides. (picture #2 in photo above)
  • Use an offset spatula to fill with pastry cream. (picture #3 in photo above)
  • Top with small sugar shards. Note: The sugar shards will dissolve over time. It is best to eat sooner than later to experience the full textural effect. (picture #4 in photo above)
  • Repeat the sequence twice, ending with a layer of cake.
  • Cover the cake with a thin layer of vanilla frosting and freeze to firm.
  • Cover the cake fully with vanilla frosting, smoothing out the sides and top as well as you can.
  • Decorate the top and sides with sugar shards.

Caramelized White Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:
12 oz. highest quality white chocolate you can get your hands on
Pinch of kosher salt
6 – 8 oz. heavy cream

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Chop the white chocolate into pieces and evenly distribute over baking sheet.
  3. Place in oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove and stir with a spatula. (The mixture will look lumpy and chalky for a while. Picture #1, #2, #3 in photo above)
  5. Place it back into the oven in 10 minute intervals until chocolate is smooth and caramelized. (picture #4 in photo above)
  6. At this point, if there are small lumps in the chocolate, use a fine mesh strainer and strain. (It will be messy, but worth it.)
  7. Heat the chocolate with 6 oz. heavy cream in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and stir. Let cool.
  8. If the mixture is too thick, add the other 1-2 oz. of heavy cream to thin out. The mixture should be thick enough to spread onto cake but not flow off of it, like nutella.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

Ingredients:

2 c. whole milk
½ c. sugar, divided
2 egg yolks
1 large egg
¼ c. cornstarch
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract (or if you really want to go fancy, vanilla paste)

Instructions:

  1. In a pot, heat whole milk and ¼ c. sugar and bring to a simmer.
  2. While the milk heats, mix egg yolks, egg, cornstarch and ¼ c. sugar in a medium bowl.
  3. When the milk is hot, use a ladle to slowly drizzle hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking to prevent curdling.
  4. Once all of the milk is introduced into the egg mixture, return all of it back into the pot.
  5. Bring the mixture in the pot to a boil while whisking. When it is thick, remove the pot off the heat.
  6. Add in the butter and vanilla. Once the butter is completely mixed in, move to a bowl and place a piece of plastic wrap directly against the pastry cream (to prevent a skin from forming). Chill completely, about 2-3 hours, before using.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake

3 c. cake flour
2 c. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1¼ c. buttermilk, divided
8 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
4 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F and grease and line four 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, add flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Mix until combined.
  3. On low speed, add 1 c. buttermilk and butter and mix until combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, egg yolks, ¼ c. buttermilk, and vanilla extract until homogenous.
  5. On low speed, slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture.
  6. Increase speed to medium, and mix until combined.
  7. Evenly divide cake batter into the four cake pans.
  8. Bake about 20-25 minutes until cake is done or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then move onto a cooling rack until completely cool.

Sugar Shards

Ingredients:
3 c. sugar
½ c. water

Instructions:

  1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a small pot over medium heat, stir water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring.
  3. Let the sugar cook until it turns into a caramel color.
  4. Pour out the sugar onto the prepared pans.
  5. Tilt the pans to spread the liquid sugar.
  6. Once the sugar is cooled, break them into shards for decorative use and smaller pieces for the inside of the cake.

Caramelized white chocolate recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.
Pastry cream recipe adapted from All Recipes.
Vanilla buttermilk cake recipe adapted from Sky High Cakes.
Sugar shard recipe and cake inspired by The Cake Blog.
Cake topper by Sohnmade.