With a heatwave ongoing, it is finally feeling like summer in Britain, complete with all its hot, humid glory. As a Marylander, I'm accustomed to sweltering summers, but when it starts to reach 35C (95°F) and I sit here with windows cracked open desperate to catch any minor breeze, I start to miss A/C and ceiling fans! Maryland summers also brought with them certain foods, which went a little way towards compensating for the miserable weather. One of the main ones I've been thinking about recently has been steamed crabs, covered in seasoning - an entire food experience that just can't be replicated here in England! For the past few weeks, I have been on a bit of an éclair-making kick - in the haze of the heat and with the thought of steamed crabs ever in my mind, I had a moment of weakness while whipping up some crème pâtissière and started to wonder what it would be like to use Old Bay seasoning in the recipe. The following is the result of this very experimental bake.
In planning out how to incorporate the Old Bay into a baked good, I drew inspiration from Milk Chocolate Crab Potato Chip Clusters, made by the Baltimore chocolatier Wockenfuss. My parents send us boxes of Wockenfuss chocolate for holidays and throughout the year - in my opinion, it is very simply the best (especially coconut creams!). About a year ago, we were sent a pack of Crab Potato Chip Clusters to try and we fell in love with the salty/spicy yet sweet crunch of these chocolate cups filled with crushed crab-flavoured potato chips. Unsurprisingly, neither these chocolates nor UTZ Crab Chips are readily available in Britain. But, when the mood strikes, sometimes you have to improvise!
The base recipes for crème pâtissière and the choux are essentially the same as I used for my Candied Maple Pecan Éclairs, with the obvious exception of Old Bay spice, that I have added to both. As noted, this was a complete experiment to see if there could be a place for Old Bay in an éclair - the verdict from me and my husband is yes! We did find that tastes were somewhat contingent on our attachment to the flavour and familiarity with pairing it with chocolate. He took some to work to test them on unsuspecting colleagues - I'm not sure that the general British populace is quite ready for the flavour combo...but if you like Old Bay and can get behind its place with chocolate in a dessert, these may be for you.
Begin with making your crème pâtissière by heating your milk and vanilla in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, whisk your egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour in a large heatproof jug until smooth. Once your milk and vanilla have boiled, pour this slowly into your egg mixture, whisking continuously to temper your eggs. Immediately then pour this back into your saucepan and continue to cook, whisking constantly until thickened. When the custard is thickened, take this off the heat and add in your flavourings. I initially went a bit light on the Old Bay for fear that it would be overpowering, however, as with spicy foods, milk and cream cut the heat considerably. I'd say add about one teaspoon of Old Bay to the crème pâtissière to start, but add more to taste. I'll be trying this recipe again with more added to highlight the flavour further.
Pour your crème pâtissière into a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap, directly onto the surface of the custard, to prevent a skin forming. Place this in the fridge to chill for a couple of hours. It will keep for a couple of days if you want to make this in stages.
For your choux, you will first want to preheat your oven to 180C/165C Fan (350°F) and prepare your baking trays with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Drawing guiding lines for your piping will be helpful in providing consistently sized éclairs. I have a silicone mat with a pre-printed template for éclairs, which has been extremely handy during my éclair-making craze! My husband bought this set from Amazon as a gift a couple of months ago and it has made for much easier baking during the lockdown.
When your tray is prepared, measure out your flours and add a teaspoon of Old Bay to this. Set aside for the time being, as you melt your butter, with salt, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Once this comes to a boil, tip in your seasoned flours and beat fiercely with a wooden spoon. Keep beating until a dough begins to form and continue to beat for a couple of minutes to cook out the flour. Transfer to a clean bowl and beat until the dough stops steaming. At this point, add your eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly to incorporate each after the addition. You may only need two eggs - you are looking for a particular consistency for your dough that will hold shape, but slowly and smoothly drop off of the spoon.
Once the dough is ready, transfer this to a piping bag fitted with a .5" (1.5cm) nozzle and steadily pipe out your éclairs onto your prepared tray. These will puff up, but will not spread significantly, so they can be fairly close together.
Once you have piped, brush lightly with an egg wash and bake for 30 minutes, until golden. Then, turn off the oven and leave the pastries in the oven for a further 30 minutes as the oven begins to cool - this will help them to dry out and improve your ability to fill them with your crème pâtissière. Remove from the oven and finish cooling on a wire rack before decorating.
Now, it's time to assemble and bring the Old Bay Éclair to life! First, you will want to cut small holes in the base of your pastries. Using a sharp knife, make two insertions - one towards each end. This will help you to fill the éclairs evenly with your crème pâtissière. Next, remove the custard from the fridge and beat a bit to loosen - bringing it back to a smooth pipeable consistency. Put this into a piping bag fitted with a nozzle slightly smaller than the one you previously used for the pastry piping (I used a 1cm fluted one to help in inserting this into the cuts). Pipe into each side of the pastries until you have a good amount of filling in the éclairs.
For the topping and decoration, start by crushing your potato crisps (chips). I gave mine an initial crush in the bag before pouring into a bowl and then I used a pestle to grind a little more - you're not aiming to make these into a powder, but you will need fairly small flakes to sprinkle over your éclairs. Add Old Bay to the crushed crisps and stir to coat them in the seasoning. The amount here is really dependent on taste - I used a bit more than a teaspoon. Set this aside, while you prepare your chocolate.
Put your chocolate into a small heatproof bowl sat over a pot of simmering water. Take care that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl as this will impact the tempering process. Stir the chocolate with a spatula until melted and smooth. Then dip your pastries into the melted chocolate to coat the tops and sprinkle with your crushed potato crisps.
Voilà, the Old Bay Éclair! If you like the melding of salty, spicy and sweet, and particularly if you are already a fan of Old Bay, I would highly recommend trying this out.
Old Bay and Chocolate Eclairs
Ingredients for Crème Pâtissière
- 1 cup whole milk (250mL)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 whole egg
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup caster sugar (100g)
- 2½ tablespoon cornflour
- 2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
Ingredients for Choux
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (60g)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- ⅓ cup plain flour (45g)
- ⅓ cup strong bread flour (45g)
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 3 medium eggs (+ 1 egg for glazing before baking)
Ingredients for Decoration/Assembly
- 4 oz milk chocolate (100g)
- 1 snack pack sized bag ready salted crisps (25g)
- Old Bay seasoning to taste
Directions for Crème Pâtissière
- Start with your milk and vanilla bean paste in a medium sized saucepan, Bring this to a boil over a medium-high heat, stirring regularly. Meanwhile, in a separate heat proof bowl, whisk together egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour.
- Once your milk has boiled, pour this slowly into the egg mixture tempering your eggs. Once whisked together, pour this back into the pan over medium heat and whisk until thickened (about 5 minutes).
- Take off the heat and add any flavourings - in this case, 2 teaspoon of Old Bay (or less/more to taste). Pour this into a separate bowl and cover with cling film (the film should be placed directly on the surface of the custard to help prevent a skin forming). Refrigerate for about 2 hours before using (and up to three days).
Directions for Choux
- For your choux pastry, pre-heat the oven to 180C/165C Fan (350°F) and line a baking tray with parchment or a silicone baking mat. For consistency in your finished product, you can pre-draw guiding lines onto the underside of the parchment for your eclairs - mine were about 3.5" (8cm) long, spaced 1.5" (3cm) apart.
- Begin by measuring out your flours and adding Old Bay seasoning to this. Set aside.
- Place the butter, salt and sugar in a medium saucepan. Add ½ cup (120mL) water to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, tip in your seasoned flours and quickly beat with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Continue mixing over the heat for a couple of minutes to help cook the flour out, then tip the mixture into a medium bowl and continue beating until it finishes steaming.
- Once the dough has stopped steaming, you should add your eggs one at a time, mixing with the wooden spoon until incorporated after each addition. You may not need all three eggs, but you are looking for a smooth, dropping consistency of batter. Once this has been reached, put your batter into a piping bag, fitted with a nozzle about .5" (1.5cm) wide.
- Pipe out steadily in lines on your parchment paper. Brush with some beaten egg to help develop a golden colour and place in the oven to bake. Once risen and lightly golden (about 30 minutes), turn off the oven and leave inside for another 30 minutes to help dry out. Then remove and leave to cool on a baking rack.
Directions for Assembly
- Now that all of your elements are ready, you are set to assemble the éclairs. Begin by using a sharp knife to cut two holes in the bottom of each éclair near either end. These will help you to fill the pastries more evenly.
- Next, revive your crème pâtissière - beating this for a couple of minutes to loosen it and then prepare a piping bag with a slightly smaller nozzle than the one you used for piping the choux (I used a 1cm).
- Take each éclair and pipe some of the crème pâtissière into each of the two holes in the bottom - aiming to fill the hollow within the pastry.
- In a small bowl, crumble up your crisps and mix in Old Bay seasoning to taste. Alternatively you could use a bag of UTZ Crab Chips if you have these available to you, but I'm pretty sure they're only sold in the near vicinity of Maryland. Set aside.
- Place your chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water (or a double boiler if you have one). Melt this down, stirring until smooth. Coat the tops of each with the chocolate and sprinkle over a good layer of the crisps.