Recipe by Sarah Phillips; Food styling and photos by Kelly Hong © 2012 Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com
We decided to make mini éclairs, but you can always make regular sized ones from this recipe tutorial; just pipe them larger. A variant from the donut type dough used in many American versions of this French favorite, éclairs are a long, thin pastry made from choux pastry and is filled with cream and topped with icing (usually chocolate). We use our foolproof recipe, and incorporate all of our baking tips and techniques to ensure success. In France, éclairs are made by baking the oblong choux until crisp and hollow and then filling it with coffee or chocolate flavored pastry cream. Other favorite fillings are custard or freshly whipped cream, rum-flavored custard (my favorite), almond or chestnut puree or fruit fillings. Éclairs will vary from patisserie to patisserie, but are almost always delicious.
PASTRY RECIPE HELP
Recipe used with the:
Pate a Choux Dough and Filled Cream Puffs Recipe
Many recipes for Pâte à choux dough vary, but this is the one I use because it is no fail! Always pay attention to what the choux pastry dough looks like - it should be creamy and smooth so it can be piped and hold it's shape. It is important to make sure it is not dry when you cook it; after all the eggs are incorporated, the dough should be stiff enough to hold a peak when a spoon is lifted out of it, but still be somewhat moist. It should not be leaching oil from the butter.
INGREDIENTS AND INSTRUCTIONS
STEP I: MAKE THE PASTRY CREAM IN ADVANCE AND CHILL IT
Make the pastry cream in advance and chill it for 1/2 day (4 hours) before using, so it can be nice and cold when you are ready to fill your baked puffs.
PASTRY CREAM by Sarah Phillips / Recipe alone
Makes 2 cups
cornstarch: 1/4 cup / 1.05 ounces / 30 grams
sugar: 3/4 cup / 5.25 ounces / 150 grams
whole or 2% milk: 2 liquid cups / 17 ounces / 484 ounces
egg yolks, lightly beaten: 4 large / 2.6 ounces / 74.4 grams
salt: 1/4 teaspoon / 1.5 grams
vanilla extract: 2 teaspoons / 8 grams or any flavored extract or 1/4 teaspoon flavored oil or 2 teaspoons citrus peel
unsalted butter: 2 tablespoons / 1 ounce / 28.38 grams
1. Prepare an ice-water bath by filling a roasting pan or large mixing bowl half full with water and ice; reserve for later use.
2. In a large size bowl, combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup of the sugar in a mixing bowl.
3. Stir in 1/2 cup of the milk. Then, with a wire whisk, blend the yolks into the cornstarch mixture, until smooth.
4. In a medium size heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the remaining 1 1/2 cups milk with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and the salt. Cook over medium heat and bring to a boil while stirring to prevent the mixture from burning. Remove pan from heat and let it cool slightly.
5. Temper the egg mixture so the eggs won't cook or curdle:
First dribble a small amount of hot milk in a steady stream into the eggs while quickly whisking the two together. This raises the temperature of the egg gradually and cools the milk slightly.
Continue to dribble about 1/3 of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture in the mixing bowl, whisking constantly.
Add the remaining milk mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly.
Return the mixture back to the saucepan.
6. Turn on the heat to medium and continue cooking, vigorously stirring with a whisk, until the mixture comes to a boil and the whisk leaves a trail in the pastry cream, taking about 5 to 7 minutes.
7. Remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Then, stir in vanilla extract and butter.
Transfer the pan to the ice water bath, stirring occasionally, until the pastry cream is cool, about 30 minutes. Between stirring, cover surface of pastry cream with plastic wrap, to keep a skin from forming.
8. When cool, transfer pastry cream to a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until needed.
Transfer the pastry cream to a covered storage container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Pour off excess liquid that forms on top and then stir before using. Does not freeze.
STEP II: MAKE THE ECLAIRS FROM PATE A CHOUX DOUGH
PATE A CHOUX DOUGH by Sarah Phillips
Yields 3 cups. Makes enough pastry for 10 to 15 large or 30 mini éclair shells
Pate a Choux Dough:
3/4 cup cold water
8 tablespoons butter, 4 ounces; can be cold from the refrigerator
2 tablespoons sugar
SARAH SAYS: Salt will help keep the Pâte à choux from cracking so do not leave it out!
1 cup (about 5 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour; spoon into measuring cup and level to rim; or more if needed
4 large eggs, must be close to room temperature; or more if needed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold water
SAVORY VARIATION - Omit sugar, decrease the butter to 6 tablespoons (3 ounces)
Preheat the oven and prepare the pans:
1. Position an oven shelf in the upper and lower-middle levels of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
SARAH SAYS: A convection oven is ideal for choux pastry, yielding a more uniform color and puffiness. If using, bake at 50 degrees lower than the temperatures stated above.
2. Cover two baking sheets, preferably rimmed, with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper. Do NOT grease the pans; the grease will cause the dough to flatten.
NOTE: Rimmed baking sheets are best to use so the baked puff pastry balls do not fall from the pans when you remove them from the oven. You will need four pans.
Make the Pâte à choux dough:
1. Combine water, butter, sugar and salt in a 2-quart heavy bottomed saucepan. Place it over medium heat.
Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the butter melts and the liquid is brought to a rapid boil. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat
2. Immediately sift in the flour all at once.
Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Return the saucepan to medium heat and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, beating constantly with a spoon. This is to evaporate all excess moisture from the mixture.
While you cook the paste, flatten and turn the dough against the sides of the pan, drying the paste as much as possible.
The dough will form a cohesive ball in the center of the pan even after a few strokes. Note that the bottom of the pan will be lightly filmed with the paste which you shouldn't scrap while cooking..
Cook and stir until the mixture holds together and begins to leave the sides of the pan clean, leaves the spoon clean, and leaves a thin film on the bottom of the pan.
SARAH SAYS: Avoid overcooking the paste and letting the fat separate out from the butter.
4. Transfer the paste, without scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, to a 2- to 3-quart bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer.
Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on the lowest speed for 1 minute or until it cools slightly before you add the eggs.
5. The eggs should be close to room temperature.
With the mixer on low, add them to the one at a time, beating well after each addition, to prevent the mixture from breaking and separating.
The dough will appear slippery at first but will become sticky and then smooth again as you continue to mix. The dough will be warm.
6. After all the eggs are incorporated, stop the mixer, and the dough should hold its shape and be stiff enough to hold a peak when a spoon is lifted out of it.
It will also still be somewhat sticky from the eggs.
When you have added the last egg, pinch off a small bit of dough with your thumb and index finger, and pull it apart. If it stretches between your thumb and finger, it is at a good consistency.
If it breaks apart right away, add another egg and beat to incorporate. If the dough is too soft, it will spread out when formed; add a teaspoon of flour at a time to the mixture and beat on low to stiffen.
To make the éclairs:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Scrape the dough into a piping bag fitted with a Wilton #12 round tip.
Proceed as quickly as possible so the Pâte à choux dough is still warm when it enters the oven. Cold choux pastry will also be stiff and harder to pipe.
3. Line a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper, using dabs of choux dough at each corner to glue the paper down. If you want a guide while piping your éclairs, draw lines on the underside of parchment paper before you put it down, about 3 1/2 inches long, and about an inch apart.
4. Pipe out the dough into 3 1/2-long strips, trying to keep them of even thickness along the length. Keep them about 1-inch apart.
5. Brush the tops lightly with a egg wash made of an egg beaten with a teaspoon of water.
6. Take a fork and draw the tines lightly down the length of each éclair, scoring the top. This will help the éclairs expand evenly in the oven.
5. For best results, bake the dough immediately after it's formed in a well-preheated oven. This will ensure the greatest expansion and lightness.
If you have more dough than you need, form and bake all of it and freeze the excess finished eclairs. Baked and cooled shapes may be frozen. Wrap them tightly after they have cooled.
Bake the formed choux dough:
1. Place the filled baking sheets in the upper and lower-middle levels of the preheated 425 degrees F oven.
Bake until the eclairs are beginning to puff up and take on color, about 10 minutes.
2. Rotate the pan. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees F, and prop the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon.
Bake for about 15 minutes more or until the éclairs have turned golden brown. To check, a wooden skewer inserted into the center from its bottom should come out dry.
SARAH SAYS: A properly baked eclair retains its puffy shape, with a hollow interior with an outside that is crisp and fairly dry, with an all over golden color. When broken apart, it should have a slightly moist crumb on the inside. However, if they are removed from the oven too soon, the structure of it has not solidified, and it will collapse. However, when you think they are done take one out of the oven and check it by breaking open and checking the interior walls. If wet and eggy, return to the oven as necessary. Remove when done and cool on a wire rack.
3. Let the éclairs cool completely on a wire rack while you make the Chocolate Glaze Recipe in the next step.
IMPORTANT: After removing the pastries from the oven, immediately puncture them on the bottom with the tip of a sharp knife to allow steam to escape.
This will prevent sogginess. Place them on a wire cake rack to cool.
At this point you can fill them, or store them in the freezer for up to 2 weeks before using. Wrap the baked shells tightly after they have cooled. Let them defrost completely before using.
STEP III: MAKE THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE
Makes about 1 cup
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1. Chop the chocolate up into 1/4-inch evenly sized pieces and place into a heat proof bowl.
2. Combine the cream and corn syrup together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil on medium heat over the stove.
NOTE: You may also heat the mixture in the microwave.
3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, and let the mixture sit for a minute or so to let the chocolate start melting.
4. Using a rubber spatula, carefully stir the mixture until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth, trying not to incorporate too much air into it.
The glaze is now ready to be used. If it starts to cool and become too thick, heat it gently over a pot of simmering water until it becomes liquid again.
STEP V: ASSEMBLE THE ECLAIRS
Work quickly; once filled with pastry cream, the baked eclairs will absorb some of the moisture from it, becoming very soft if they're allowed to sit too long before using. You do not have to cut the éclairs in half to fill them with pastry cream, instead you can fill by piping pastry cream into the eclair shells.
1. Take the chilled pastry cream from the refrigerator and stir it a few times.
Or, just put chilled pastry cream in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix, with the paddle attachment, on low speed, to loosen.
2. Then put the pastry cream in a pastry bag, fitted with a Wilton #230 tip, or a Kaiser #30-5, which is a long tapered piping tip.
3. Just use a flower nail, or a long metal skewer to pierce the ends of each éclair, then move the nail/skewer from side to side to make room for the pastry cream.
4. Pipe some pastry cream into one end of the éclair, then do the same on the other side. Stop piping when the cream starts coming out of the hole, then switch to the other side.
Filled éclairs will feel heavy for their size.
5. Dip the top side of the filled éclairs into the chocolate glaze.
6. Pull the éclair up and let the excess glaze drip off.
7. Place the topped éclair onto a rack, placed over a baking sheet. Let the glaze set up for about 30 minutes before serving.
If filled with pastry cream refrigerate immediately and serve within two hours. If stored longer, the eclair shell gets soggy. Refrigerate: Up to 1 to 2 days, at the VERY most.