I’ve never quite grasped how people leave a lucrative job and follow their passion, be it travelling, cooking or any hobby. Meeting chef Raj Sirha made me understand a lot about passion and the price it takes to get there.
Raj tells me that he was formally trained in medical sciences, and despite the fact that he loved medicine, he ditched his books and lab coat for the warmth of his kitchen and a chef’s jacket. Before quitting, he lived and worked in England for 15 years, 10 of which were in restaurant and event management, which sharpened his catering and fine food skills.
He also loved to travel a lot and all that made a perfect combo for the launch of his culinary backpacker business. He says that all he wants to do is capture food moments that will linger for a long time in people’s minds.
Backpacking has enabled him to be in various unique destinations, and showcasing his flair with mostly local ingredients of the region is something he thoroughly enjoys.
Like all of us, Raj loves the pleasure of indulging in some sweet treats, and he shows me how to make some mouth-watering éclairs, something one can prepare during a weekend or a special occasion such as Christmas, Easter or even Valentine’s.
Using dough as a canvas, the chef tells me, one can fill in a variety of flavours and turn a classic pastry into something special. “Creativity is easy. You just learn to look at things in a different way,” he says.
For the choux pastry
170g lightly salted butter, chopped into small cubes
200g plain flour
4 eggs beaten
450ml cold water
For the crème pâtissière
150ml double cream
3 egg yolks
50g white caster sugar
3 Tbsp corn flour
200ml double cream
2 Tbsp icing sugar
You’ll also need
Disposable piping bags
1½ cm round piping nozzle
Ruler and pen
First, make the choux pastry. Put the butter in a saucepan with 450ml water. Sieve the flour into a large bowl and set aside. Bring the butter and water to a fast boil, simmer until the butter has melted, then tip in the flour and beat intensely with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and is lump-free. Tip into the bowl and spread the thick paste up the sides a little to help it cool quickly, for 10 minutes.
Heat oven to 200C/180C fan assisted/gas 6 and cut two pieces of baking parchment to fit two baking sheets.
Using a ruler and pen, mark 10 lines about 12cm long over each piece, leaving plenty of space between the lines, then flip the parchment over. Fit a piping bag with a large round piping nozzle, about 1.5cm wide.
When the flour paste has cooled, but is not cold, start adding the beaten eggs, bit by bit, beating well between each addition until you have a smooth batter, which will reluctantly drop off the end of your spoon (you can do this in a freestanding mixer if you have one). You may not need to use all the egg, so add it slowly. Transfer to your piping bag and use a little of the mixture to stick the parchment to your trays.
Pipe the choux onto the baking sheet, using the lines as a guide. Pipe slowly so the eclairs aren’t too skinny – each one should be about 2.5cm wide by 12cm long. Bake for 35-40 minutes, swapping the trays around for the final 10 minutes.
The choux should be puffed, golden and sound hollow when tapped. You may wish to sacrifice one eclair to make sure the inside is completely dried out – if it’s still moist, the eclair will sink when cooling. Once baked, leave to cool completely. Split each eclair through the middle with a serrated knife.
Now, make the crème pâtissière. Pour the milk and 150ml cream into a saucepan. Heat until just simmering, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, tip the egg yolks into a bowl and add the caster sugar and corn flour, whisking together until smooth.
Pour over the milk mixture, mix, then pour back into the saucepan. Cook over a medium heat for 5-8 minutes until the crème pâtissière congeals to a thick custard consistency. Sieve into a jug, cover the surface with cling film and chill for at least 3 hours.
To fill your eclairs, whip up the 200ml double cream and add half to the crème pâtissière and mix, then fold in the rest of the cream and pipe in the halved shells. Cover and sprinkle icing sugar. Enjoy with your favourite hot drink.