Meyer Lemon Éclairs


Lemon curd is a delightful thing. Spoon it atop a scone next to a cup of tea with milk. Tuck it between layers of vanilla cake. Dollop it on buttermilk pancakes. Or you could do something far more sensible: just eat it with a spoon. Which, let's face it, I did. For breakfast. On New Year's Day. There may have been some toast involved.  However, mostly it was a spoon.

So officially, I can say that the first thing I ate in 2015 was lemon curd. And I can also say it was the last thing I ate in 2014. However, in 2014, I was far more refined in that I ate it in its éclair form.

The éclair is a favorite of mine. A choux dough filled with cream (and lemon curd in this case) and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar or a slather of shiny icing is the perfect and deceitfully light ending to any meal or the start to any day. The story goes that this little pastry is thus named the éclair, which means "lightning" in French, as a nod either to the sparkle it gives off when coated in confectioners' glaze or to how fast one can eat it. 

The stovetop-cooked dough (the choux) is the same that one used for profiteroles or cream puffs, and it could not be simpler. In a saucepan, you cook the flour with water, butter, and a pinch of sugar until it pulls away from the pan; then away from the heat, you add the eggs, one at a time and with a mixer to keep them from scrambling in the hot dough. From there, you are ready to pipe it from a pastry bag into any shape or length your little éclair-eating heart desires. Once baked, the exterior is light and crisp and toasty, while the interior is hollow and ready to be filled with cream or chocolate (or lemon curd!) either by piping your filling of choice into a hole on one side or by splitting the pasty in two lengthwise and filling the bottom layer before topping it with the other.

This lovely curd is made with Meyer rather than regular lemons, and in a delightful coincidence, David Lebovitz recently posted his own Meyer lemon curd recipe. It is undoubtedly that time of year. Lebovitz was himself once a chef at Chez Panisse, from where the recipe below originates. I have a fondness for both Chez Panisse and Lebovitz, so I was naturally delighted. His recipe calls for 1/2 cup more of Meyer lemon juice, an intriguing proposition, one that I will need to investigate given that I am completely out of curd now (see: eating with spoon on New Year's Day). (He also adds an additional egg and an additional egg yolk). However, I don't want to go a-testing until I acquire a glass bowl. Sometimes lemon curd can get that slightly metallic taste, and rumor has it that such a taste is acquired when the lemon is bubbling away stovetop in your pot or pan if it is the slightest bit reactive. Some recommend double-boiling the lemon in a glass bowl in an attempt to eradicate that tinny taste. (This recipe doesn't call for the double boiling, and our curd had only a hint of the metallic taste, but I like science, so I want to try this another time.)

Don't worry if you're Meyer lemon-less. While the Meyer lemon is slightly different from the regular lemon, simply use regular lemon juice and be ready for a more acidic lemony taste. Indeed, the Meyer lemon is a bit more subtle and far sweeter than the regular lemon, but all in all, they can almost always be easily substituted one for the other. You might find you want to add just a tad more sugar to a regular lemon base to offset the tartness, but either way, you'll be just fine. Remember, you're stuffing a fabulous pastry and covering it with whipped cream. Nothing can truly go wrong here. We mustn't put so much pressure on ourselves.

Around these here parts, Meyer lemon trees grow like madness, and many (not us, sadly) boast mature lemon trees in their backyards (so, if you do have one, please--I beg of you--send some lemons my way. I am happy to take at least 20 pounds off your hands). Right now it's full harvest mode, and it should be like this until March. Thus, we need to get cracking on making more curd, for our time, sweet friends, is limited. And I have a spoon waiting.

Meyer Lemon éclairs
Adapted from  Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook

35-40 finger-sized, mini éclairs

For Lemon Curd
1/2 cup Meyer lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 tbsp. tart lemon juice (from 1 regular lemon)
Grated zest from 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces 
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks 

For Pâte à Choux

1 cup water
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt 
1 tsp sugar
1 cup flour
4 large eggs

For Whipped cream filling

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Confectioner's (Powdered) sugar for dusting

Lemon curd:
1.  To make the lemon curd, combine the lemon juice, zest, sugar, butter, and salt in heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan.  Stir gently over low heat until the butter is melted.  

2.  Put the eggs and yolks in a bowl and whisk briefly. 

3.  Whisk 1/4 of the hot lemon mixture into the eggs, stirring continuously. Then slowly whisk the remainder to the lemon mixture into the eggs, continuing to stir as you add the lemon mixture. (You are tempering the eggs, trying to ensure that they do not scramble.) 

4. Return the egg and lemon mixture to the pan. Cook over low heat, scraping the bottom constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spatula, about 2-5 minutes.  The thickening happens quickly, so watch it carefully.  Do not allow to boil.  Remove from the heat once it thickens.

4.  Strain the curd through a fine mesh strainer, using a spatula to press it through and then to scrape the bottom of the strainer.  Refrigerate until cold and firm.

Pâte à choux:
5.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

6.  In a large saucepan combine the water, butter, salt, and sugar and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.

7.  Add the flour all at once, and quickly stir the flour with a wooden spoon and cook until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 30 seconds. Continue to cook and stir the mixture to remove excess moisture, about 1-2 minutes more.

8.  Remove the pan from heat and transfer the dough to a medium-sized bowl to cool for a couple of minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, using an electric mixer (be sure that each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next egg).

9.  Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round pastry tip (or gallon-size zip-top bag with the corner clipped off). Pipe the eclairs onto the parchment-lined baking sheet into finger-width, 3-inch long strips.

10.  Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes more, until the eclairs are lightly golden and dry. Cool on wire racks before filling.
(This would be a great stopping point before a party.)

Whipped cream filling:
11.  Add the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract to a large bowl. Whip the cream using an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Transfer the whipped cream to a pastry bag fitted with a large star-shaped pastry tip (or gallon-size zip-top bag with the corner clipped off).

12:  Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise using a serrated knife and separate the tops and bottoms. Fill the bottom half with Meyer lemon curd and then pipe a layer of whipped cream over the curd. 

13.  Gently place on the tops of the éclairs and dust with confectioner's sugar. Serve immediately.   


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