Johnny IuzziniThe Sugar King: Johnny Iuzzini
Galavante had the pleasure to sit down with James Beard award-winning pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini, the creator of hotel group Le Meridien's global eclair concept. Expect to see Johnny riding around on his Ducati, in search of inspiration.
Galavante: We've had the cupcake craze, the macarons – and you may just very well have started the éclair craze. What inspired you with the éclair?
Johnny: I find the éclair to be like a blank canvas for a painter. There are very few limitations. It is a great carrier for many different flavors and texture combinations and can be manipulated to not only be salty or sweet, but represent any region of the world. I am a classically French-trained pastry chef and also half French by heritage, although I am American through and through and not chained to any particular traditions or rules. My approach for the éclair is like a plated dessert – I think about unique and sometimes contrasting flavor combinations as well as interesting textures that add to the overall experience while consuming it.
Galavante: What are your favorite ingredients you've integrated into the éclair?
Johnny: So far, as a part of my collaboration with Le Meridien, we have only launched the San Francisco-inspired éclair. I really love this one; I feel it really envelops the region. I used corn, blueberries, raw honey and fennel, all of which I found in the local market. I delivered the corn in the form of a pastry cream, the blueberries as a jam as well as fresh for garnish. The honey was used to make the glaze and honeycomb delivered something beautiful as well as a textural nuance. I used both dried fennel pollen and fresh fennel fronds to impart flavor, texture and a naturally fresh element.
Galavante: What's the secret to creating the shells, and also the harder-than-it-looks technique to fill the éclairs?
Johnny: There are a few steps to creating a great shell. Cooking the paste long enough to partially dry, but not cooking it too long in the pot so that the fat comes out. The quantity of eggs added to the semi-cooled paste gives you the proper texture. I prefer to lightly spray the piped shells with a vegetable spray and bake at different temperatures, initially high to puff the shells, then lower to dry them out. When it comes to filling, in my opinion there is nothing more disappointing then biting into an empty éclair. I like to poke three holes across the bottom of the shell and fill each third to its capacity to be sure there are no air pockets.
Galavante: What do your travel plans look like this fall?
Johnny: I will be running away from Brooklyn to Mexico for my 40th birthday. It’s a big one and I’m honestly just not ready for it. Then I will be doing the Hawaii food and wine festival. I am really excited for this as I have never been. Then I’m off to do an event for the Three Wishes charity foundation in Florida. On September 30, my new book Sugar Rush launches and I will be doing promotions for that all over the place. Our next stop on the Éclair Diaries for Le Meridien is still unconfirmed but some potential destinations include India, Monaco, Thailand and Germany.
Galavante: Now that sounds like an amazing trip. One last question; Favorite place in the world that inspires your cuisine.
Johnny: Wow - this is a tough one. I pride myself in being globally well-traveled and I am always looking to go somewhere new for both the cultural experience as well as for the food. I would have to say I use a lot of French and Spanish technique, with American flavor profiles plated with an Asian aesthetic. I love tasting new flavors and learning new techniques an applications. As a chef, we are always students of the cuisines of the world. I have the best job ever. I love eating my way through Italy, Spain, Nordic regions, China, Japan and Thailand. I learned so much in Oaxaca last year and look forward to visiting India and South East Asia soon.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. For shells, in a large saucepan, slowly bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat, add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until combined and evenly moistened.
Return the pan to medium-low heat and stir continuously for 3 to 4 minutes to dry out the mixture. The dough should pull away from the sides of the pan, and a skin should begin to form in the base of the pan. Transfer the dough to a standing mixer bowl and use the spoon to spread the dough out in a thin layer against the sides of the bowl. Let stand for at least 15 minutes, until cool.
Attach the paddle to the bowl and turn the mixer on to low speed. Add 2 of the eggs and mix until completely incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. Turn the mixer back on to low and add another egg; mix until incorporated. After 3 eggs, the dough should hold a peak when you pull the paddle out of the dough but should immediately fold over onto itself. If too firm, add the fourth egg and mix well. The dough should now be smooth, elastic and firm enough to pipe and hold its shape but not runny . You can test it by putting a heaping tablespoon on a plate. The dough should collapse slightly but still hold a rounded shape. If the dough is still too firm, beat another egg in a small bowl until combined and add about half of it to the dough; mix on low speed until incorporated and check the consistency. If the dough is still too firm, add the remaining egg and mix well; if it seems runny, refrigerate the dough for 15 to 20 minutes before piping.
For éclairs, use a 7⁄16-inch star tip (Ateco #825).
To pipe éclairs, hold the piping bag at a 45-degree angle away from you and start squeezing the bag. When the dough starts to flow, pull the bag up and over the point where you started (as if creating an “S”) toward you and pipe 3 1/2 - to 4-inch long cylinders. When long enough, stop squeezing and lift the bag straight up and over the dough, which will leave a point at the closest end.
With a wet finger, press the points into the dough where you stopped piping; the éclairs should have rounded ends with no point. Use a wet finger to mold any misshapen éclairs. Spray a light coating of cooking spray over the surface of the éclairs. Put the pans in the oven; immediately reduce the temperature to 325°F, and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pans and continue baking for 25 to 30 minutes, until deep golden brown and the éclairs feel hollow. Cool the éclairs completely on the pans before filling or freezing them.
Caramelized corn pastry cream
Cut the corn kernels off the cob. Put the butter and sugar in a skillet over medium high heat. When the butter is melted add the corn and salt. Cook, stirring often until the corn is completely tender and slightly browned. Scrape the corn into a blender, add the milk and puree until fine. If the puree is very thick add a bit more milk until it moves freely in the blender. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into another medium saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape out the seeds and add both the pods and seeds to the milk and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes, until the milk is very hot and steaming but not boiling.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until well mixed and homogenous. Whisk the sugar mixture into the eggs until lightened and fluffy.
While whisking, temper the egg yolks by pouring about a third of the hot milk over the yolk mixture and whisk very well until combined. Add another third of the hot corn milk and whisk well. Whisk in the remaining milk and pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Return the pan to medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture begins to boil. Whisk the mixture vigorously at a boil for 2 full minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter, a little at a time. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a small baking sheet or cake pan, pressing the cream in the strainer to remove any cooked egg bits. Discard the vanilla bean or reserve for another use. Spread the pastry cream into a thin layer on the sheet; lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Cool the pastry cream to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight. When ready to use, transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and stir with a rubber spatula to loosen it. Pastry cream should be used within 3 days.
Gently crush the blueberries, do not puree. Combine the fruit, lemon juice and sugar in a pot and bring to a rolling boil while stirring constantly. Add the liquid pectin and return to a rolling boil and cook while stirring for 2 minutes. Pour into a container and allow to cool at room temp for 20 minutes and then chill in the refrigerator until set.
Combine the syrup, rose water and orange flower water in a bowl, add almonds and toss to moisten. Place the sugar in a separate bowl and, a little at a time, drain and dredge the almonds in the sugar. Scatter the almonds across a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 200º F until sugar is crystallized. Cool and reserve.
Over a double boiler combine the fondant and honey and warm up to 95º–98ºF. Add the lemon juice, zest and color and stir well to combine.
Honeycomb, broken up into small pieces
Poke 4 holes across the bottom of the baked shells. Attach a small plain tip to a pastry bag, fill it with corn pastry cream. Using another pastry bag fitted with a small plain tip, fill with the blueberry jam.
Pipe a small amount of blueberry jam in each hole, then fill the éclairs using the same holes with the corn pastry cream. Dip the shells into the prepared fondant and allow to set. Sprinkle with fennel pollen, place small pieces of honeycomb and candied sliced almonds across the top. Serve as soon as possible.
Reprinted from SUGAR RUSH. Copyright © 2014 by Johnny Iuzzini. Photographs copyright © 2014 by Johnny Iuzzini and Michael Spain-Smith. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC.