Monday 2 March 2009

Icing eclairs

EDIT: I just re-read this post and it seems it is monumentally boring and not even of any use... those who know know, and those who don't won't find enough info to be able to ice an eclair. Bother. I'll leave it up, though, just so I don't have an empty day...

There are many different methods for icing eclairs but the Armitage Shanks way is to use a base of fondant. Fondant is an extremely thick sugar made by heating a syrup to c.135°C, cooling it on a worksurface and then working it until it crystallises and turns white. The result is an extremely viscous, opaque sugar mass. Most patissiers buy this in huge buckets.

To use, a few knobs are placed in a saucepan and slowly melted. This has to be done gently. If overheated, the fondant will be dull and liable to crack when it cools (see photos below). This is because overheating, rather like overheating chocolate, provokes incorrect crystallization. The fondant should melt at around body temperature (never heat beyond 40°C) so I find it easiest to take the pan on and off a low flame. This can take some time. The best way to test the temperature of fondant is with your tongue. This is no longer allowed (but might still be done by a golden oldie in a patisserie shop near you...) so best just to dunk in a finger. No need for a thermometer.

Coffee flavour/colour courtesy of coffee extract.
Chocolate flavour/colour courtesy of melted pure cacao.
Any other colour courtesy of food colourings.

Once the fondant has melted and is at the right temperature, you can regulate the consistency by adding water. It seems everyone has their preferred consistency. Too runny and it will drip off whatever you are icing, too thick and it becomes difficult to ice neatly and may not leave the smoothest finish. 

Techniques for applying fondant to eclairs are hard to put into words... but the dunk technique is simple, effective and pretty guessable. You can also use a palette knife, your finger or, the hardest, let the fondant flow off a spatula in a ribbon and drip a perfect strip onto the top of the eclair.

Here are some examples of fondant which has been overheated leaving an extremely matte finish with cracks. One of the Asian contingent was very flattered when I asked to take a photo of her choux. Little did she know...

And here is an eclair heading in the right direction. I added a spot too much cacao - it did wonders for the taste but maybe prohibited the final notch of shine.

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