I have been doing a lot of reading. A. Lot. And I have been on a Marie Benedict streak recently. I first read one of her books back in 2020 when I made Sarma (Serbian Cabbage Rolls) after reading The Other Einstein. Benedict writes historical fiction that shines the spotlight on women whose stories you may not know. Honestly, you might not even know their names!
Obviously I knew who Winston Churchill was. But I had never heard the name Clementine Churchill nor did I know the role she played in her husband's career and government. Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict is her story.
I already admitted that I didn’t know anything about Clementine Churchill. Benedict portrays her as strong, independent, and fiercely intelligent woman who serves as confidant and advisor to her husband. While she bolsters him in private and in public, she is also required to play the traditional role of wife and mother. Churchill demands that of her and minimizes her influence to others much to her dismay.
This novel reads like a memoir, but it is still a work of fiction, so I did ponder who much is an imagined character and how much is the real person. That was a little bit distracting, still, this book was captivating and compelling. And I was grateful to learn about a strong woman in history.
Because Clementine attends many state dinners, food does play a minor role in this book. "Servants immediately appear to ladle watercress soup into our bowls, and as they do, the men lining the table give me sidelong glances. I know they find my presence among them distasteful; after all, they wouldn’t dream of bringing their wives. But I am not here for their approval or their pleasure. I am here because I have a role to fulfill."
She is also in charge of entertaining foreign dignitaries. "Savory soups, tender beef, fresh green salads, fine cheeses, sponges, rich coffee, and rare wines from Winston’s own stores made regular appearances at lunch and dinner until the American glowed with health, an impossibility in the White House, I’d heard, with its notoriously poor cuisine, and I vowed that this would be his fare the entirety of his six-week visit."
But it was Winston's preferred food items that inspired this post. "I coordinate with the cook to create menus with the hearty English fare that Winston prefers, even though I dislike it, including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, clear soup and dover sole with chocolate éclairs, pheasant, and dressed crab."
I never need much of an excuse to make éclairs. I filled these with a vanilla pastry cream.
Ingredients makes two dozen
Pâte à Choux
- 12 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 2 cups flour
- 9 eggs
- 500 ml whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise with seeds scraped
- 3 eggs
- 100 grams organic granulated sugar
- 30 grams corn starch
- 25 grams butter
- semisweet chocolate, tempered for dipping
- Also needed: pastry bag (optional)
Place the milk and the vanilla bean and scraped seeds in a medium sauce pan and let stand for 20 minutes. Then scald the milk and let the vanilla steep in the milk for 10 minutes. In the meantime, in mixing bowl, blend the sugar and eggs until the mixture becomes fluffy and pale. Add the corn starch and whisk to combine.
Slowly pour the warmed milk into the egg mixture, whisking as you pour. Place the saucepan back on the stove and bring to a boil. Whisking vigorously the whole time. Once the mixture has thickened and just started to boil, remove from the heat. Keep whisking to keep it smooth. Spread the pastry cream into a dish and cover with plastic wrap, touching the top to keep the cream from developing a film. Refrigerate until cool. Place cooled filling into a pastry bag or other decorating tool
Pâte à Choux
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bring butter and water to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove pan from heat and add flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a thick dough and pulls away from sides of pan, approximately 3 minutes. Return pan to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until dough is lightly dried, about 2 minutes more.
Transfer dough to a bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes; using a wooden spoon, beat in 9 eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next. Dough will come together and be thick, shiny, and smooth.
Place the dough in a piping bag with a side, circular tip. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, setting pieces 1 inch apart, pipe out cylinders approximately 2 inches long.
Bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit until puffed and light brown, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit , and continue to bake until well browned, approximately 15 minutes. Let cool.
Place the pastry on a wire rack and pierce the top with a sharp knife to let out the steam.
Pipe the buttercream into the hole that that you pierced to let out the steam, making sure that you don't have too much coming out of the pastry. If you have excess filling, gently wipe the pastry as clean as you can.
Dip the pastries in the tempered chocolate, covering up the filling hole. Let chocolate set before serving.
I am adding this to the September #FoodieReads link-up.