Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010...3:03 pm

Pistachio Eclairs

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It all started when I was last in London, and I had a scoop of the most perfect Pistachio ice cream at the Fortnum & Mason cafe. Wanting desperately to replicate it, I trawled through the internet looking for pistachio ice cream/gelato recipes, but each and every single one of them called for this elusive ingredient – pistachio cream/paste. (All the online stores selling it only either shipped it in industrial-sized tubs, or wouldn’t ship to Asia due to customs regulations.) After a couple of weeks, I started looking to try and make this darned paste on my own, only to be shot down again – you need some specialized heated rollers to extract the oils out of pistachios and mash them into such a smooth paste. And as much as I love pistachios, I wasn’t about to go that far, so I all but gave up the hope of ever getting my hands on any, especially when I couldn’t even find it last December in New York.

Fast forward to last month, where you’ll find the bunny and I trundling around Tokyo on a quick weekend trip. We were staying at the Ritz, which is conveniently located just off Roppongi, above Tokyo Midtown, aka home to patisserie Sadaharu Aoki (where you’ll find the best eclairs in Tokyo), and a Dean & Deluca store. While nosing around D&D one morning, I happened across an entire shelf of these petite clear bottles, each containing 5oz of a pale green paste. I swept as many bottles off the shelf and into my basket as the bunny would allow, and – grinning to everyone I skipped past – exultantly made my way to the cashier.

Once I got back to HK, I started digging around my bookmarks for all the recipes I’d found, and came across a rather recent addition – just one month prior, a recipe for Pistachio Eclairs had been posted over on Cafe Fernando. The bunny not being a fan of chocolate, I made a few tweaks, subbing a salted caramel sauce for the chocolate glaze, and reducing the sugar slightly in the pastry cream.

All I can say is, I regret not buying more pistachio paste. But all’s well – a bunch of friends are headed to Tokyo in July, and a few thoughtfully proffered eclairs have ensured that they’ll be saving some space in their luggage for my next stash of pistachio cream. :)

Pistachio Eclairs

Pistachio Pastry Cream (adapted from cafe fernando):

280ml whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2.5 tbsp cornflour, sifted
30g caster sugar (2 heaped tbsp)
140g (5oz) pistachio cream

Prepare an ice bath in a baking dish about 2-4 inches deep. In a heavy-based saucepan, scald the milk, then set aside. While the milk is boiling, whisk together the egg yolks, cornflour, and sugar until pale.

Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture to temper it. Once all the milk has been added, transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking vigorously, and bring it to the boil. Boil for 1-2 minutes, still whisking, then remove from the heat, and whisk in the pistachio cream. Place the entire saucepan into the prepared ice bath, and – stirring frequently – cool the mixture to 60C.

Scrape all the mixture out into a piping bag, clipping the mouth and tip as close to the pastry cream as possible, creating an airtight seal, and refrigerate until cold. The pastry cream will keep for 2 days, refrigerated.

Yield: About 2 cups

Salted Caramel Butter Sauce (from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop):

40g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
125ml heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp coarse sea salt (fleur de sel)

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has liquefied, add all the sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar turns a deep golden brown and just starts to smoke.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in half the cream (be careful – it will splatter!) until smooth. Whisk in the rest of the cream, then add the vanilla extract and salt. If there are any lumps, whisk the sauce over a very low heat until it has all dissolved. The sauce keeps for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, and can be rewarmed over a low heat on the stove, or in the microwave.

Yield: Makes about 3/4 cup, which is much more than you’ll need, but it’s excellent drizzled on pancakes, ice cream, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Pâte à Choux (from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking):

1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup whole milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2-3 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 220C with the rack in the centre of the oven and place a heatproof baking dish or pan on the floor of the oven. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper (you can glue each corner of the parchment to the sheet with a dab of choux paste to keep the paper in place). Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Bring the water, milk and butter to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. At the boil, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour mixture all at once. Using a wooden spoon, beat vigorously to combine.

Return the mixture to medium heat and stir constantly in figure eights. Cook for about 4 minutes, or until the mixture has a smooth, mashed-potato-like appearance. This helps to break down starch and develop gluten. Remove it from the heat, and continue to beat for 2-5 minutes, to cool the mixture down to about 80C. Add 2 of the eggs, one at a time, mixing until thoroughly incorporated before adding the next. Pinch off 1 teaspoon of the dough between your thumb and index finger, then pull your fingers apart – the dough should stretch rather than break. If it breaks, add the last egg. (I didn’t need to add the last egg.)

Fit a large plain tip into a large piping bag and fill the bag halfway with pâte à choux dough, pushing the contents towards the tip. Pipe 2″ strips, leaving 1″ of space between each strip. If desired, before baking, score each eclair with the tines of a fork or a sharp knife to aid the expansion.

Place the puffs in the oven and pour a cup of hot water into the pan on the oven floor. Quickly close the door to keep all the steam in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the puffs begin to rise, then turn the oven down to 175C and rotate the baking sheet. Prop the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes, or until the puffs turn nutty brown.

Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack, about 15-20 minutes, before filling and serving.

To fill: either cut the eclair shells open horizontally, or use a piping nozzle with a long tip to pierce the side and fill with the pistachio pastry cream. Spoon or brush a little salted caramel sauce onto the tops, allowing it to drip down the sidest.

Yield: about 25 mini eclairs.

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