How inviting is this sweet little puff of a dessert? Ever been intimidated to make eclairs? Think they are too advanced or have too many steps? Well guess what? These creamy, crispy, chocolately pastries are actually one of the easiest desserts I've ever made, and I have made a LOT of desserts!
Yeah, I know this is my second "French" themed post in a week....but here's the thing, I'm technically French now (by marriage of course) and have pretty much loved the culture, food, eiffel tower for like at least half my life. Plus my last name has a silent "t", so that pretty much seals it.
Let's start with the Choux (pronounced like shoe) pastry or as it is referred to in many French cookbooks, Pâte à choux. This pastry is a simple, easy to make dough that is the basis for many desserts. It's light and airy because it is mostly made of egg and it can be filled with any number of yummy things.
|Choux pastry coming together|
Classically though, the Eclair is filled with Crème Patisserie, which is just Pastry Cream, a thick, vanilla laden pudding-like treat. Oh my god I love homemade vanilla pudding. The cream can actually be changed slightly to be flavored how you like it....chocolate or coffee anyone??
|Out of the oven|
This is a fantastic book that was gifted to me by a great friend at Christmas. It's basically the French Bible, so you should get to know it. This is a great resource for all things French and baked. This book has recipes for both the pastry cream and the choux pastry, but I did some extra research and adapting, as I found the directions for the pastry to be slightly vague in the book.
The chocolate ganache is a basic recipe that anyone who loves chocolate should learn because it can literally top anything and is sooooo easy to make, like it takes 2 minutes, I'm not even kidding.
|1 minute down, 1 minute to go|
adapted from The Art of French Baking, by Ginette Mathiot
1 Cup water
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
2 tsp-1 T white sugar
1 Cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, at room temperature
adapted from Dessert Circus, by Jacques Torres
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 Cup plus 2 T white sugar
2 T cake flour
1 T all purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
2 Cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
3 T unsalted butter
4 oz (one thin bar) of good semi sweet chocolate, broken into chunks
1/2 Cup heavy cream
1-2 T unsalted butter
For the Dough:
Preheat the oven to 425
In a medium saucepan, heat the stick of butter, sugar and salt in the water over med-high heat until boiling. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour quickly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. The dough should start to come away from the sides of the pan with the consistency similar to playdough. Switch to either a standing mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer. Add each egg in one at a time, mixing constantly to avoid cooking the eggs in the warm dough. The dough should be smooth and sticky and able to fall slightly from the beaters. Place the dough in a large ziploc baggy or a piping bag. If using a baggy, cut about a half inch diagonally of the corner to create an opening the size of a silver dollar. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pipe 9-11 logs of dough. They should be about 1 inch wide and 3-4 inches long, depending on how much dough you have. You can dip your finger in a small amount of water to smooth out any bumps or points form piping. Place the pastries in the oven and bake for 15 minutes at 425. Turn the oven down to 375 and continue to cook for 10-20 minutes. Watch them closely after 10 minutes, they are done when they are golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Turn the heat off when done and allow the eclairs to 'dry out' for another 5-10 minutes in the oven. When you remove them, they may deflate slightly, but that's okay, because they will puff up again when you fill them. Allow them to cool before filling.
For the Pastry Cream:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, both flours and cornstarch until well combined. If all you have is all purpose flour, it will work fine, the cake flour is lighter which makes it easier to combine in the cream. Just be sure to sift the a.p. flour if thats all you use. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium high heat. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the side of a knife. Add both the seeds and the bean to the milk and bring to a boil. Carefully pour some of the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly to temper the eggs. Then poor everything back into the pan and whisk quickly, lowering the heat slightly so the cream does not burn. The mixture will begin to thicken and resemble pudding. Continue to whisk until it comes to a slight boil and coats the back of a spoon without moving. Remove the pan from the heat, and add the butter, stirring until completely melted and combined. Place the pastry cream in a bowl or tupperware and lay plastic wrap directly on the top of the cream to avoid developing a 'skin'. Allow it to cool and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, or until ready to fill your eclairs.
For the Ganache:
Break up the chocolate into a small bowl. Heat the heavy cream over medium heat until simmering, being careful not to burn it. Poor the heavy cream directly over the chocolate and stir to melt it. Add the butter and continue to mix. It will start to become glossy and smooth as you stir it. When it looks like chocolate sauce, you're done! Place it in a jar or tupperware to store. You can refrigerate this as well and just microwave it for 20-30 seconds or place the jar in hot water to warm it up.
To Put the Eclairs Together:
Place the pastry cream in a ziploc baggy or piping bag. Slice the ends of the eclairs about an inch (you can also just slice the entire eclair down the side if its easier). Pipe the cream into each eclair, filling as much as you desire (I like a LOT!), or just spoon it in if you sliced the eclair down the side. Place all of the filled eclairs on a tray and spoon the warm ganache over the top of each one. Allow the chocolate to dry, or if you don't mind a little mess, eat them right away!