This baking focused challenge was made for me. I thought that if I could make it this far, I would be on the home stretch. Well, I have made it this far and I couldn’t be more thrilled. But I’ve gotten to know my competition, I’ve seen what they’ve done, and I’m amazed by their talent. Suddenly I am not quite as confident as I once was, suddenly I feel inadequate.
Still, I am determined.
After all, I am a baker. Baking is my thing! What could possibly stand in my way? Except, maybe the secret ingredient…pumpkin.
I hate pumpkin, despise it, am grossed out by it. Until now I have never baked with pumpkin, cooked with pumpkin, never even touched a pumpkin except to carve it up and put it on the front porch.
Still, I am determined.
I began thinking of a different use for pumpkin, something outside of the box. I’ve sampled many pies, cookies, cakes, and breads and never have been very impressed. Maybe a new take on the seasonal squash was all I needed to be persuaded to embrace the ingredient that everyone else goes nuts for.
Once I dreamed up this concoction there was no going back. It’s hard to beat a pastry filled with cream and topped with chocolate. To me, the eclair has always been the epitome of baked goods and pastries. As a kid I thought there was no treat more special or beautiful. When you took your first bite and the cream came spilling out all over your hands and cheeks, it was almost magical. As an adult, I love them even more.
But would it work to throw pumpkin into the mix? Only one way to find out!
So I purchased a pumpkin and got down to business. I chopped it up, put it on a sheet pan, and let it roast in the oven. Once it was soft and golden I pureed it in the food processor with just a tiny bit of water. The pumpkin puree was ready to be turned into something fabulous.
Next I prepared the pate a choux, the dough used to make eclairs, and spiked it with cinnamon. I piped it out and let the pastries bake. Then I cooked the eggs and milk together with more spices to create a pastry cream, folding it together with the pumpkin puree and whipped cream. When I had to fight the urge to devour the whole bowl of the pumpkin cream, I knew I was on to something.
I filled the eclairs with the pumpkin cream with the help of a squeeze bottle. The dark chocolate glaze came together over the stove in a manner of minutes and each eclair got a dip. A sprinkling of pecans was the finishing touch.
What was the end result? Beautifully perfect eclairs. They really were quite stunning. And the flavor was spot on. The pumpkin was present, but not at all overwhelming. It was exactly what I had hoped it would be— a tried and true favorite with a new and seasonal twist.
One of the things that has made this competition so rewarding is how I am continually pushed to be better. Even though this challenge fit right into my comfort zone as a baker, and I thought I would be able to sail right through it, it still managed to stretch and test me.
Who knows if these eclairs will help me advance to the next round, but they certainly are a nice reminder that there will always be something new and exciting for me to explore in the kitchen. My baking adventures are far from over.
Update: Voting is now open until Thursday December 2!
8 ounces whole milk
8 ounces water
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 to 7 eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the whole milk, water, butter, salt, sugar, and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add the flour, stirring to combine. Return the pan to the heat and continue to stir. Cook until the dough leaves a film on the bottom of the pan.
Put dough in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on low until cooled to 280 degrees F, or until the bowl is no longer hot to the touch. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition and scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add enough eggs to make the dough come away from the sides of the bowl in ribbons (but the dough will not clear the bowl), and the dough looks shiny but not too wet. Use immediately, piping onto the prepared baking sheet with a pastry bag fitted with a round tip.
Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees for another 10 minutes (do not open the oven during this time). Then bake for an additional 15 minutes, reducing the heat every few minutes until it reaches 200 degrees. The higher temperatures cause the dough to puff, the lower temperatures dries it out and finishes the baking. After 35 minutes, cut into one eclair. If the inside is still moist, return it to the oven for a few additional minutes.
To make the pumpkin cream:
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
Combine 3/4 cup milk, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat it until bubbles begin appearing around the edges, but do not let it come to a boil.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1/4 cup milk and cornstarch. Whisk together the egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch mixture. When the milk and sugar are heated, add it in a steady stream into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Return to the saucepan and turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened. Add the butter and vanilla extract.
Spoon into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, placing the plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill completely.
Whip the whipping cream until stiff. Fold the pumpkin puree into the chilled pastry cream, then fold in the whipping cream. Chill until ready to assemble the eclairs.
To make the dark chocolate glaze:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup pecans, if desired
Combine the butter, milk, corn syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon together in a saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is combined. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Stir until chocolate is melted. Add the sugar and stir until smooth.
To assemble the eclairs:
Poke a hole in the side of each eclair with the tip of a squeeze bottle, the tip of a pastry bag tip, or with another sharp tool, such as a skewer. Pipe the pumpkin cream into the eclairs with either a pastry bag fitted with a small tip or a squeeze bottle.
Dip the tops of each eclair into the warm chocolate glaze and put on a wire rack. Let set for a few minutes, then sprinkle with pecans, if using. Let set completely, about 15 minutes.
The eclairs are best served within a few hours of filling, as the pumpkin cream will make the pastry soggy.