Pssst. Let me give you a little inside pastry info: éclair are the hot new thing. Cupcakes? How two years ago. Macaron? Pshh 2009 called and wants its pastry fad back. Nope, it’s all about the éclair now. Not that they’re new or anything, but you know how it goes, old becomes new, and so on. Now it’s the time of the éclair. So you better go ahead and learn how to make them right or else you can kiss your dreams as a pastry trendsetter goodbye. Oh and don’t worry, I’ll show you how to make your eclairs look purdy too, because an ugly éclair is a lonely éclair. That trendsetter title is as good as yours!
Right off the bat, there are two ingredients in this recipe that aren’t especially common. I’ll tell you right now they’re both expensive, but they’ll last you a long, long time. The first is decorative gold leaf. This isn’t necessary of course, but I like adding gold leaf to just about anything. The second is compound chocolate or pate a glacer. Adding compound chocolate to your glaze recipe really helps to give it body and hold, just like hair gel. Again, no, you don’t technically have to add compound chocolate to the glaze but if you choose not to then increase the quantity of regular chocolate to make up for the loss in solid content.
There’s no point in awesome pate a choux if what you fill it with sucks. The sky’s the limit really, but pastry cream is a common choice. There’s nothing wrong with pastry cream as your filling, but it has a few drawbacks that keep me from using it in my eclair at the hotel. The biggest issue is it has a pretty short shelf life in the fridge – just a couple days. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except that you can’t freeze pastry cream so for a professional kitchen this can pose some logistics challenges.
Instead, I use another pastry basic; cremeux. Cremeux (say “crem-uh,” not “crem-ooh”) is essentially pastry cream with gelatin. It has all of the creamy quality that pastry cream has, but because of the added water stabilization in from the gelatin you can freeze it which means it can be made way in advance or saved if you make more than you need.
Not that there’s anything wrong with good ol’ pastry cream. In fact, pastry cream (or crème patissiere if you cook with your pinkie up) is another one of those foundation recipes you should definitely know how to make. So that’s what we’re going to make today. And just because I like you, we’ll make some chocolate pastry cream too.
pate a choux
160g whole milk
145g butter unsalted
180g bread flour
320g whole eggs
Sift your flour before getting started. Combine the water, whole milk, salt, sugar and butter together in a sauce pot.
Bring the mix up to a boil (but not before all the butter is melted!) and turn off the heat.
Add the flour all at once. I use a whisk to begin to incorporate the flour, whisking from the center out until the mixture thickens. Then, switch to a spatula to finish incorporating all of the flour.
Turn the heat back on high and stir the dough until a thin film of cooked flour forms on the bottom of the pot, about 2min.
Transfer the dough to a stand mixer and mix with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, allowing them to fully incorporate into the dough and scraping the bowl before adding more.
The dough is ready when it is smooth and shiny with slight elasticity.
Prepare a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat. Pipe the dough in long even strips from one end of the sheet pan to the other.
I generally use a French star tip (12mm) if I’m going to bake the éclair without a topping, and I use a round tip if I plan to add a topping like a croustillant.
Brush the piped dough with egg wash and freeze. Once frozen, gather the strips of choux and cut them to your desired length. I’m cutting these in approx. 5”/12.7cm lengths.
Arrange the choux onto a sheet pan lined with a non-stick baking mat. If you plan to add it, place croustillant on the choux at this point.
Let the choux defrost before placing in the oven.
Bake: Preheat the oven to 400F/204C. Place an empty sheet pan on a lower rack in the oven to preheat as well. Place the choux in the oven and throw 2T of water onto the preheated sheet pan to create steam. Quickly close the oven door and drop the temperature to 320F/160C. Bake for 25min or until golden brown with a firm, dry shell.
chocolate pastry cream
250g whole milk
60g egg yolks
110g chocolate, 63%
Combine the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch and mix well to combine.
Bring the whole milk to a simmer.
Temper the egg mixture into the hot milk. There are two general ways to do this. 1. Add small additions of the milk into the egg mixture, whisking well with each addition to heat the eggs before returning everything to the saucepot with the milk. 2. Pour the egg mixture in a thin, steady stream directly into the saucepot with the milk, whisking like you mean it the whole time to keep the eggs from coagulating too quickly.
Whisk the mixture constantly until the liquid begins to thicken. Once I see the mix start to thicken I generally remove it from the heat briefly, approx. 30 seconds to a minute, still whisking, to allow heat remaining in the saucepot to cook the pastry cream.
Return the pastry cream back to the stove and keep whisking. The extra cooking will remove starchy texture or flavor from the pastry cream. If you stop whisking briefly and see a bubble form and pop on the surface of the pastry cream, it means you’re done!
Remove the pastry cream from the heat and continue to whisk for another 45 seconds to a minute. I like to transfer the pastry cream from the sauce pot to a mixing bowl as soon as I take it off of the stove to help shock cool it. This whisking will cool the pastry cream and keep it from curdling. A common mistake is to cook your pastry cream to perfection on the stove and then let it curdle sitting in the sauce pot.
Add the chocolate and whisk until emulsified.
To quickly cool the pastry cream, I line a sheet pan with plastic wrap, just like I do for ganache, and spread the pastry cream over the sheet pan.
Place a second piece of plastic wrap over the pastry cream, contacting the surface.
Chill the pastry cream in the freezer if possible for 5min. (don’t let it freeze!) and then store in the cooler until ready to use.
127g whole milk
40g glucose light corn syrup
140g 64% chocolate
140g dark compound chocolate pate a glacer
Bloom the gelatin in cold water for a minimum of 5min. and reserve.
Combine the whole milk and glucose in a sauce pot and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the chocolate, compound chocolate and gelatin and whisk or hand blend the mixture until it’s emulsified and glossy.
Using a paring knife, poke two holes in the bottom of each éclair. Lightly twist the knife and allow the blade to bore a hole into the shell. Applying too much pressure can split it, so be gentle.
Using a small, round piping tip (I’d say around a 7 – 8mm) fill a pastry bag with the chocolate pastry cream and fill the éclair.
To be sure that the shell is filled, continue to add pastry cream until it comes out of the opposite hole.
Let the glaze cool to 77F/25C and dip the tops of the eclairs into it evenly. Hold the éclair upside down over the glaze for about 10 seconds to let excess glaze fall off.
Place the éclair in the fridge for about 5min. to let the first layer of glaze set. If you wanted, you could finish and serve them at this point. I like a second layer.
After chilling for 5min. give the éclair a second dip. If you need to, let them chill a second time around or store them in the cooler for serving later (the pastry cream will last for two days, I like to fill the shells no more than a few hours before serving, since they should be kept refrigerated.)
I like to decorate the éclair with a little gold leaf. Because I believe gold leaf makes just about everything better. Using a paring knife, gently scrape and lift some of the leaf to apply it to the eclair.
And there you have it. Deliciously simple, great texture contrast, deep chocolate flavor. There’s a reason eclair are such a classic and making such a come back!