The Stylist Cake Off Competition Week Eight: Éclairs

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Katie O'Malley
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After last week’s exquisite array of Victoria Sponges, the Stylist Cake Off returned for yet another week of baking disasters and triumphs

Following the success of last week’s Victoria Sponge challenge, the Stylist Cake Off team dusted off their aprons and readied their mixing bowls for yet another heart-racing, sugar-inducing coma-filled week of baking drama.

However the excitement didn’t last long when the dreaded technical challenge was announced. Who knew that one word could strike so much fear in the hearts of a group of amateur bakers? That word is eclairs. 

Now, if like us you’re more use to eating éclairs rather than baking them, fear not as you’re not alone. Helpless cries of “I’ve never made an éclair before!” to “How on earth do you make a choux pastry?” echoed around the office while bakers frantically Googled tips on piping the perfect choux.

Armed with a Paul Hollywood classic chocolate éclair recipe, the team set off on Monday night to attempt to make identically piped, crème patissiere-filled, chocolate-coated eclairs. A piece of cake, right? 

Up at the crack of dawn on Tuesday morning, the bakers made their final touches to their éclairs (“I was up at 6am this morning piping the stupid things,” grumbled one baker) before placing them in the judging room.

This week, the Stylist Cake Off team were delighted to welcome Joakim Prat, head pastry chef at South Kensington’s chic patisserie, Maître Choux. If you don’t know of Joakim, let’s just put his work into context: by the age of 29, this patisserie connoisseur had already racked up nine Michelin stars and has gone onto receive a gold medal for the Best Dessert UK 2014. If anyone knows anything about a good éclair, Joakim is your man.

After a tough deliberation assessing the presentation, dough and filling of each éclair (what a tough job), Joakim was ready to deliver the results to the team.

“What I was looking for when judging the bakes were good, regular formed eclairs with a good chocolatey glaze and consistency,” explained the pastry chef.

In last place came last week’s Victoria Sponge cake winner Tom Gormer whose gigantic éclairs failed to impress the patisserie chef. According to Joakim, Tom’s bakes lacked filling, texture and were slightly undercooked but this didn’t stop the rest of the team scoffing down his éclairs 10 minutes later. What can I say, we like to eat!

Art director Natasha Tomalin was awarded fourth place with her crispy bakes which were said to have been left in the oven a bit too long. Meanwhile, sub-editor Jenny Tregoning’s creamy filling and scrumptious chocolate glaze stole third place, despite her lack of sugar and overly-whipped cream that resembled “butter more than cream”, according to Joakim.

Deputy production editor Amy Adams claimed second place with her adorable little eclairs, filled with a soft whipped cream, perfect chocolate coating and impressive piping skills. 

However, the undoubtable winner had to be features director Lucy Foster. “These are the cutest of the bunch. The cream isn’t overly whipped, it has a lovely dark chocolate glaze that cuts into the sweetness of the dough and it has a great crunch as you eat it," complimented Joakim. 

With a table full of éclairs gleaming in the sunshine streaming in from outside, the team swiftly scooped up their handfuls of chocolatey treats and ran back to their desks to devour them before they melted. Meanwhile, the rest of the Stylist Cake Off bakers breathed a sigh of relief after passing yet another baking challenge. That was until they heard what next week’s challenge will bring.

Your ninth Stylist Cake Off challenge: chocolate tarts. Whether you fancy a chocolate and raspberry tart or trying your hand at a triple chocolate marbled bake, the choice is yours. 

On you marks, get set…bake!

Remember to keep posting your weekly bakes to the Stylist Cake Off Instagram account tagging @stylistcakeoff and using the hashtag #stylistcakeoff.

Guest judge for Stylist Cake Off’s Éclairs Week, Joakim Prat from Maître Choux shares his éclair knowledge and top tips for novice bakers

How many éclairs do you eat a day?

“Probably a minimum of eight élairs. I have to taste new flavours, dough and crème patissieres constantly.”

What do you look for in a well-baked éclair?

"We eat with our eyes so presentation is always key to a successful éclair. A good éclair should have a soft texture, consistency in size and shape, a good balance of cream and chocolate and a well-cooked dough. If you over-whip the cream it will be like butter so you have to be careful.”

What are your top tips to making an éclair?

“First of all you need to have consistency in the length and shape of your éclairs — they must all be cut to the same length. They you want a well whipped pipe cream that is piped into the éclair. The best tip I can give it to pop the éclairs in the freezer to set the shape and cream before placing them in the oven for 45-50mins depending on the recipe. I personally like to use a crème patissiere which is far denser than usual cream and adds a great consistency to the bake. Then I add a tiny bit of whipping cream on top.”

What is your favourite dessert other than an éclair?

“That’s so hard! I’d have to say a crème brulée. My mother used to make a perfect crème brulée and they’re not too hard to make.” 

Check out the delicious éclairs, choux and chouquettes on offer at Maitre Choux here

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Katie O'Malley

Katie O’Malley is the editorial assistant at Stylist magazine. When she’s not writing features about everything, from Suffragettes to fashion designers’ desks, she writes the Elsewhere page and contributes to Scoop and 5 Minute Philosopher. She also has a weakness for cheese, monochrome everything and films…all films.