easy desserts & recipes: the titanic's 100th anniversary paying tribute with the classic éclair
The 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is upon us, along with the release of a 3D version of “Titanic”, the movie. The cast of the movie is quiet impressive and I am awed by the talent of Kate Winslet, Francis Fisher, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kathy Bates, however watching the movie “Titanic” was tediously boring (gasp). However, the history of the Titanic is intriguing.
I am, like many, captivated because of the magnitude of the tragedy as well as the reasons the “unsinkable” sank. But, I am also extremely interested in the lives of those who survived. As the character Rose DeWitt Bukater Calvert from the movie “Titanic” was “instructed” by the character Jack Dawson, she lived her life to the fullest.
At this point I’ll digress on a trivial tangent because, again, I find everything but the actual movie interesting and it is the inspiration for the fictional character of Rose that catches my attention.
According to a few articles James Cameron, the producer of “Titanic” found inspiration for Rose Dewitt Bukater Calvert when he learned of American artist Beatrice Wood. Cameron read about Wood in her autobiography called “I Shock Myself”. He discovered that “the first chapter describes almost literally the character I was already writing for ‘Old Rose’”.
While Beatrice Wood was not a passenger on the Titanic, she embodied the feistiness of ‘Old Rose’, a quality that allowed the character to not only survive, but thrive (fictionally, of course) the sinking of the Titanic.
It is ironic that Beatrice Wood, accomplished American artist became the inspiration for a fictional character as she had this to say about acting:
“I was interested in the theatre as an art and, after a few years in it, gave it up,” Beatrice later said of leaving the theatre. “You know, acting is very fascinating. But being an actress is not, because you become so concentrated on yourself. And your smile and the way you move your head and the way you look. And really, it’s a pain in the ass.”
Beatrice Wood was born in 1893 and died, at the age of 105 in 1998. She led a remarkable life and I recommend taking a look at the website: Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts
I thought that was a worthy tangent, but let us get back onto the subject of the Titanic and a feisty woman who truly did survive the sinking of the Titanic. I am speaking of the one and only Margaret Brown, otherwise known as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”.
Margaret Brown was born Margaret Tobin on July 18, 1867 in Hannibal, Missouri. She was called Maggie by her friends and family, only being called Molly after the sinking of the Titanic. She was the daughter of Irish immigrants and at age 18 she moved to Leadville, Colorado where she met and married James Joseph Brown.
JJ Brown, as he was known, became wealthy working for the Ibex Mining Company. Margaret became involved in a variety of philanthropic activities and was a supporter in the fight for woman’s suffrage. In 1909 Margaret Brown ran for the U.S. Senate. This was a bold move for the time, but not surprising for the outspoken Brown. Also out of character for the time, after 23 years of marriage in 1909, Margaret Brown separated from her husband and was financially well off due to the settlement. (Although separated, Margaret and JJ remained amiable throughout their lives)
Despite her active and public life as a philanthropist, suffragette and socialite, it was her survival of the sinking of the Titanic that made Margaret Brown famous. She was traveling abroad when she became friendly with the Astors, who were due to return to the United States aboard the Titanic. Margaret Brown was not scheduled to return, but when she received word that a grandson had become ill she decided to return to the United States early. She purchased a ticket and joined the Astors as a first class passenger on the Titanic.
Margaret Brown survived the sinking of the Titanic when she boarded life boat #6, under the direction of Robert Hichens, who refused to direct the life boat towards other survivors. True to her nature, Margaret Brown was quite outspoken about Hichens cowardice, trying to urge him to pick up other passengers. It became well known that Hichens swore furiously at Brown, who would not be silenced.
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” used her fame as a Titanic survivor to promote her philanthropic causes such as the rights of workers and women, education and historic preservation. She passed away in 1932 at the age of 65.
It didn’t take the tragedy of the Titanic to compel Margaret Brown to live a full, purposeful life as she did that on her own, but because she survived she became a legend and has found a place in history which allows us to learn about (and from) a woman who lived life to its fullest.
The first class passengers on the Titanic dined on a ten (yes, ten!) course meal on April 14, 1912. It was the last meal that was served for the unsinkable Titanic sunk in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.
Since the very outspoken, unconventional Margaret Brown was the subject of this post, it is only appropriate that dessert will be served first! (Look for more recipes from the Titanic’s last meal in future posts.) There were four desserts offered for the tenth course of the meal. One of these is the classic éclair.
Eclairs (Martha Stewart)
(I have used this exact recipe for many years and it has proven reliable over and over again. You can use a wide varied of flavoring for the pastry cream and choose many flavors for the glaze, but, of course, the original is just oh, so good!)
Pate a Choux (see below)
Pastry Cream for Eclairs (see below)
Vegetable oil, for plastic wrap
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place a rack in the center. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip with pate a choux batter; pipe out oblong shapes, about 3 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide, onto prepared baking sheets at 2-inch intervals. Gently run a fork dipped in water along each top, making straight lines to ensure even rising.
3. Cover one baking sheet with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator. Transfer the second sheet to the oven. Bake 10 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes more. Turn off oven; prop door open slightly to let steam escape.
4. Allow eclairs to dry in oven until centers are damp but no wet dough remain (test by cutting into the center of one), about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Raise heat back to 425 degrees and repeat process with remaining batch. If serving immediately, fill eclairs while still warm so they can take more cream; if filling at a later time, insert a skewer into one end, and move it around to expand opening for cream; set aside.
5. Transfer pastry cream to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until smooth and softened. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and filling tip with pastry cream. Insert tip into one end of each eclair; fill.
6. For easier “filling” cut the eclair in half, lengthwise and “fill” the bottom half. Replace the top half, making a sandwich. Your pastry cream must be thick and chilled for this method.
7. To make the glaze, heat cream in a small saucepan. Pour over chocolate in a small bowl. Let stand until chocolate is melted, stir until smooth. Dip top of each eclair into glaze; let excess drip off before turning over. Transfer to a wire rack to allow glaze to set. Serve, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 day.
Pate a Choux
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, plus 1 large egg white
1. Bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Using a wooden spoon, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes.
2. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 1 minute. Raise speed to medium; add whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.
Top of Form
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1. Prepare an ice bath; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks, egg, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Add cornstarch and flour; whisk until smooth and pale yellow. Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine milk and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Stir over medium-high heat until milk begins to steam. Whisking constantly, add half the hot milk to the egg-yolk mixture. Stir until smooth; add combined mixture back to remaining hot milk in the pan. Bring mixture to a boil, whisking rapidly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Strain through a fine sieve into a medium bowl.
3. Place over ice bath and let stand, stirring frequently, until cool. Remove from ice bath, and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface until ready to use. If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.