Recently I had my first encounter with a Twitter troll over a small, ring shaped snack that began a debate over the term ‘food’. According to said troll, doughnuts cannot be classified as food because they are sugary, fatty and all round bad for you. Oh dear.
My doughnut troll had me fuming for a few hours, but then I straightened myself out and wondered how I could channel his thoughts into a post. I thought about my blog, its message and how I consider baking to be a social thing; solitary momentarily as you are lost in the butter and sugar but then full of life as you bring a beautiful cake, tart or loaf to the table to be enjoyed by friends and family. It’s a discursive thing baking, and I could talk all day about flavours and textures, but if some people out there write off patisserie, baking and bread making because of the high calorie content, I will begin to despair.
I am lucky that I have never had any issues with food. My relationships with fruit and vegetables are the same with butter and sugar. I appreciate both and understand what my body needs and what my body craves. A morning smoothie with three fruits will kick start my day and make me feel great, yet a mid morning doughnut with a strong black coffee is a sweet little pick me up when the morning drags. Getting the balance right is crucial to having a good relationship with food and not denying yourself is also key to happy mind. Why torture yourself with celery sticks when you really fancy a creamy éclair? By making a few simple changes, it is possible to enjoy the things you love without feeling down about cheating on a diet.
Harry Eastwood shares my feelings about our relationship with food and if you have any interest in slimline French cooking, I urge you to seek out a copy of her book The Skinny French Kitchen. A beautiful tome of pretty macarons, classic Coq au Vin and beautiful but light profiteroles, it is the perfect book that illustrates how flavour and calories don’t always go hand in hand. To illustrate my feelings about patisserie and the art that goes into creating something so beautiful, I decided to adapt a few of her recipes into a stunning treat of light and crispy choux pastry, silken crème patisserie studded with fresh raspberries and a soft icing hat to adorn a simple baby éclair.
The point Eastwood argues with her book, is to enjoy food properly and through baking these little treats I completely understand what she means. As well as tasting gorgeous and looking pretty (with a few calories taken off with some simple adjustments), there is real skill and a little effort that goes into one little éclair. The appreciation from start to finish of your ingredients will show you it’s possible to enjoy delicious food without feeling awful after you’ve finished.
So I would like to say this to my troll; sweets and cakes may be a little unhealthy, but to deny yourself is even unhealthier. Please take a moment to think about the skill and dedication it takes to make a perfect éclair, macaron or doughnut – only then will you appreciate it on your plate.
Adapted from The Skinny French Kitchen by Harry Eastwood
Makes around 20 baby éclairs
You Will Need
For the Crème Patisserie
300ml semi skimmed milk
½ teaspoon vanilla paste
2 egg yolks
20g caster sugar
20g plain flour
A small handful of fresh raspberries, chopped
For the Choux Pastry
1 teaspoon caster sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
20g butter, cubed
70g plain flour, sieved
For the Glaze
100g icing sugar
1 drop red food colouring
A little hot water
The crème patisserie will need to be made first to allow time to chill in the fridge. Whisk together the milk and vanilla paste in a saucepan then bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Remove from the heat and set aside. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the flour and whisk again until smooth. Carefully pour the warm milk into the egg mix, whisking all the time. Once smooth, return the custard to the pan and bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Once thickened, remove from the heat and transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with clingfilm over the surface to prevent a skin forming then cool to room temperature then place in the fridge.
To make the choux pastry, preheat the oven to 200oc/180oc fan/ Gas Mark 6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment or a baking mat and set aside. In a saucepan, add the water, sugar, salt and butter and place over a high heat. Bring to the boil then add the flour all at once and turn down the heat. Whisk until you have a smooth ball of paste in the pan then remove from the heat. Leave to cool for a couple of minute to avoid scrambling the eggs in the hot pan. Once cooled slightly, add the eggs one at a time and whisk hard. This will take a little time and patience as at first the pastry will look thick and porridge like. Keep working it until a smooth elastic looking dough appears. Spoon into a piping bag (I like the disposable ones) and snip off the bottom to the thickness of your thumb. Pipe lines on the baking sheet about 6cm long spaced well apart. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, and then wedge the door open slightly with a wooden spoon and bake for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Remove the crème patisserie from the fridge and loosen up with a balloon whisk. Fold in the chopped raspberries carefully, taking care to have a slightly marbled crème, rather than a pink one. Spoon into a piping bag and cut a small hole at the end. Make up the glaze by adding a little hot water at a time to the icing sugar and food colouring until a thick but spreadable icing is formed.
Carefully slice each éclair lengthways and pipe a little line of crème inside then sandwich the top back on. Carefully spread a little glaze on top with a round bladed knife then set each éclair back on the cooling rack to set. Serve with a couple of fresh raspberries and a cup of tea.