Our wedding was a book-themed affair, because I’m an English major and my husband is very bookish. We hung heart-shaped garland made of book pages in the reception area, adorned the guest tables with stacks of kraft-paper covered books wrapped in ribbon and twine, and posed for photographs with beautiful Penguin hardcover classics.
I held Little Women because it’s been a favorite of mine since I was a girl. Phillip held Oliver Twist because there are pocket watches on the cover, and our best man, Ben, had just gifted him an engraved pocket watch. Also because he is a dirty thief and a vagabond.
When it came to the bar at our wedding, I wanted to have two signature cocktails for our guests. The first we called The Hemingway: lemonade and Absolut citron. The second was The Virginia Woolf, and it was made with gin, crème de violette, and lemon juice.
Can we talk about how naming a drink at your wedding after someone who killed herself by filling her pockets with stones and walking into a river is a little off-putting? She did write a nice suicide note to her husband, though. “I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been,” and all that? That’s sweet.
Anyway, the bartender was making those Woolfs pretty strong. I had three of them on an empty stomach because a drink was the only thing I could carry when talking to guests, while the mini quiches I had greedily and naively piled onto my plate languished at the head table.
By the end of the evening, I was “getting low” on the dance floor, my cheeks glowing red, my legs bending ever closer to the ground into a compressed mass of tulle. The photographer had left by that point because thankgod. Many guests were not so lucky.
And that is how I discovered creme de violette. This liqueur has only been stateside since 2007, so you may or may not be able to find it in your area. (Crème de cassis is more widely available, so you may be able to substitute that, though I haven’t tried it.) It’s a unique flavor, all purple and floral. Yeah, purple’s a flavor. Deal.
And blueberries. Blueberries are just gorgeous, aren’t they? There will be leftover blueberry violet sauce at the end of this recipe. I recommend putting it on vanilla ice cream. It will make you want to get low.
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ vanilla bean, split
- 2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- 5 large egg yolks (90 grams)
- 5 tablespoons (40 grams) cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
- ¼ cup crème de violette liqueur
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg white
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup (65 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (160 grams) fresh blueberries
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¼ cup crème de violette liqueur
- 2 cups (240 grams) confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- edible flowers (optional)
- Make the pastry cream: Wipe a sheet pan with a clean, damp rag. Cover the bottom and sides of the pan with plastic wrap (the water will help the plastic wrap stick). Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, combine milk, vanilla bean, and 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks together in a medium mixing bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar and cornstarch with a fork. Add to egg yolks and whisk together until smooth.
- When milk is boiling, slowly pour ½ cup (or a ladle full) of hot milk into egg yolk mixture in a steady stream with one hand, while whisking with your other hand. Whisk until smooth, then pour back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Whisk until the cream thickens and sputters like the Bog of Eternal Stench. Whisk for another 2 minutes after the first bubble. Remove from heat and fold in butter cubes until melted. Pour in crème de violette and whisk until combined.
- Pour pastry cream onto prepared sheet pan and spread edge to edge with a rubber spatula. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pastry cream so it doesn't form a skin, then let cool to room temperature. When at room temperature, transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours.
- While pastry cream is chilling, make the éclair paste: Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats.
- In a measuring cup, whisk together eggs and egg white. Set aside. Combine butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add flour all at once, mixing until dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. Return to low heat, smearing the dough around the bottom of the pan for 3-4 minutes, until the temperature of the paste reaches 175-180°F and looks like wet sand.
- Transfer hot dough to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process for 10 seconds to cool a little, then stream eggs in through the feed tube with the processor still running. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process for an additional 30 seconds until smooth. Spoon warm paste into a piping bag fitted with a wide plain tip. Pipe nine 3-inch long lines of paste onto each lined baking sheet, spacing each line about 1 inch apart.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 400°F, then rotate pans from top to bottom. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F, and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and use a skewer or chopstick to poke a hole lengthwise through the center of each puff, being careful not to poke through the other side. Return pans to oven and turn off the oven. Prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon and allow puffs to dry in there for 45 minutes. The outsides will be firm, and the insides will be moist, but not wet.
- While puffs are drying, make the blueberry violet sauce for the glaze: In a small saucepan, combine blueberries, granulated sugar, and crème de violette and place over medium-high heat. Crush blueberries with the back of a fork, then cook for 5-6 minutes, until sauce has thickened and darkened in color. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Now you can assemble everything: When puffs are done drying, cool them on a wire rack. Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and scrape it into the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 1 minute.
- Using a skewer or chopstick, go back through the holes in the puffs that you poked earlier and gently wiggle the skewer around to clear a path for the pastry cream. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a long plain tip (I used Wilton #230) with pastry cream. Insert piping tip into hole at the end of each puff and lightly squeeze pastry cream into the puffs until filled. You will feel them plump up in your hand and pastry cream will come out of the starter hole when it is full. Don't squeeze too hard or you may break the puff.
- When all éclairs are filled, whip up the glaze: Combine 4 tablespoons of blueberry violet sauce with sifted confectioners' sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Slowly add milk and beat until smooth. Glaze should be somewhat thick, but should drip off the whisk a bit. If too thick, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time. Transfer glaze to a smaller bowl and dip the tops of each éclair into the glaze, wiggling to get coverage. Touch up any missed spots with the back of a spoon. If desired, place edible flowers on top of the glaze. Allow to dry for 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately; éclairs are best when eaten within 4-5 hours after they've been filled, then they start to get soggy.
- This recipe has several parts which can be made ahead and assembled right before the éclairs are to be served. The pastry cream can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator. The éclair puffs can be kept at room temperature for up to 24 hours and crisped in a 300°F oven for 5 minutes, then cooled before filling. Make the blueberry sauce ahead of time, cover, and refrigerate, but wait to whip it into a glaze until after you have filled all of the éclairs with the pastry cream.