Last weekend, I crossed my first item off my 30 Before 30 list. It felt like a true accomplishment. The recipe for eclairs looked deceptively simple but required much more effort than expected. It’s not just the time needed for each component of the recipe (the dough, the filling, the icing) but also the mental exhaustion from thinking and overthinking about each step. Is my pâte à choux going to rise and puff? Is my crème pâtissière sweet enough, too sweet? Am I putting enough chocolate in the glaçage?
Ever since I started this whole baking experience, my respect for bakers and pastry chefs has been growing by leaps and bounds. With savory cooking you can usually taste and adjust as you go along but with baking and pâtisserie you can’t exactly always do that. I suppose experienced bakers have a feel for what things are meant to look like, and for proportions of sugar to flour to eggs. But as a less experienced baker, there’s only so much you can control and sometimes you just have to trust the recipe, your instincts, your oven.
And sometimes you’ll fail. Like I did with my first batch of eclairs which didn’t rise as expected. Perhaps I didn’t dry out the dough enough before adding the eggs, perhaps I opened the oven door too quickly after they were cooked, or perhaps my oven was too humid to start with. At this point, I don’t really know. But if that happens, persevere. Start over, make a second batch. And even if that second batch still does not look perfect, fill the eclairs with chocolate crème pâtissière, and cover them with a layer of dark chocolate icing, and trust that the tastes will sing together in a melodious harmony of chocolate on chocolate. And then hope that the audience will ask for an encore.
Luckily, they didn’t disappoint.They might not compare to the ones in the best French bakeries but will hold their own in any home kitchen. Each component was adapted from a different recipe, so feel free to experiment based on your tastes (I like my desserts not too sweet) although I would stick to the recipe for the pâte à choux. Next time I might try a Mexican chocolate version, with the addition of some chili powder and other spices (I am not a big fan of cinnamon but nutmeg might do).
I shared these with friends and coworkers and one of them told me she’d never had chocolate eclairs with a chocolate filling. This surprised me as all eclairs au chocolat in France are filled with chocolate (you’ll usually find both chocolate and coffee eclairs at bakeries), but I guess American bakeries use vanilla custard more frequently. So if you’ve never eaten this kind of chocolate eclair either, try this and tell me what you think.
Pâte à choux (the dough):
- 125 ml | 1/2 cup milk
- 125 ml | 1/2 cup water
- 100 g | 7 tbsp butter
- 8 g | 2 tsp sugar
- 3 g | 1 tsp salt
- 150 g | 1 1/4 cup flour
- 250 g | 4 extra-large or 5 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp water for egg wash
Preheat the oven to 480 degrees Farenheit (250 Celcius) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium pot, boil the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt. Take off the stove and pour the flour into the pot all at once. Mix vigorously with a wooden spatula for a minute or so. Return to the stove set on low heat. Continue mixing until the dough comes together and there is a thin layer stuck to the bottom of the pot. The dough should form a soft ball. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the eggs and mix vigorously. The dough will break at first, continue mixing and it will come together. Mix until smooth. The dough should form soft peaks as you pull the wooden spatula up.
Transfer dough to a pastry bag fitted with a one-inch wide round tip and pipe the dough into 4 to 5 inch long strips. Brush with egg wash. Transfer to oven, lower the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (170 Celcius). Make sure you do not open the oven door during the first 10 minutes. Bake for about 25 min until golden and puffy. Turn off heat and let cool in the oven, door closed.
- 6 egg yolks, room temperature
- 25 g | 3 tbsp flour
- 25 g | 3 tbsp corn starch
- 600 ml | 2 1/5 cups whole milk
- 160 g | 3/4 cup sugar
- 28 g | 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 200 g | 7 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped into small pieces
- 1 tbsp instant espresso powder, optional
- Heavy cream, optional
Sift together the flour and corn starch. Warm the milk until just before boiling.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until whitish then add the flour/corn starch mixture. Whisk to blend. Add the warm milk gradually while whisking until all the milk is incorporated.
Return the mixture to the stove and continue whisking on medium high. The mixture will thicken, reduce the heat to medium. Continue whisking until smooth. Take off heat.
Now mix in butter and vanilla extract. Mix until melted and combined. Add chocolate, and continue mixing until all the chocolate has melted and the custard becomes medium brown. If using, mix in espresso powder.
Place in a shallow pan to cool a bit, then cover with plastic film. Make sure to press the plastic film onto the custard so that it does not come into contact with air, then chill. When ready to use, stir again to obtain a smooth texture. At this point, add heavy cream, a little at a time, to obtain the desired consistency.
- 25 g | 2-3 tbsp sugar
- 50 g | 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 50 g | 2 oz dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
Melt sugar in a small pot on low heat until it turns into a nice caramel (medium brown). Add the heavy cream. Don’t worry if the caramel hardens. Continue heating the heavy cream until it dissolves back into the liquid. Take pot off heat and add the chocolate. Stir until melted and mixture becomes dark brown.
[Top left: I got twins!; top right: ready to be baked; bottom left: drilling holes; bottom right: piping the chocolate filling]
Putting it all together:
With a small knife, make two holes at the bottom of the eclair. Transfer filling into a pastry bag fitted with a small tip and pipe the filling into the eclair. You’ll feel the dough puff up. Dip the top of the eclair in the dark chocolate icing. Repeat with all the eclairs, then chill for at least one hour.
- Note that I use metric measurements whenever possible as it’s more precise. I’ve also provided US measurements in case you don’t have a scale but depending on how you pack your ingredients, results may vary.
- As I said, I failed my first batch of eclairs. They were flat and lifeless. I’m not sure what happened since I’ve made cream puffs very successfully before. I have seen recipes that advised to slightly open the oven door after the first 10 minutes to let steam out but I didn’t try it. Instead, for the second batch, I made sure to *never* open the oven door and to let them cool inside the oven. It’s very helpful to watch a video if you’ve never made pâte à choux, you can find tons on Youtube.
- If you’re a geek like me, you can trace lines on your parchment paper to make sure all your eclairs are the same length.
- I suggest making the filling the day before as it needs to chill. You can also make the icing ahead of time. But pâte à choux is better used right after making it.
- If your icing hardens because it’s cooled down too much, put it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it up.
- If you want your icing to be more “shiny”, my friend Harri suggests adding 20g of butter and/or one egg yolk for every 100g of chocolate.
- I drilled two holes in my eclairs because they were short. If you make longer ones, you can drill another hole in the middle. The holes can also be on either end of the eclair instead of at the bottom.
- If you don’t have a pastry bag to pipe the eclairs, fill a ziploc bag with the dough and cut one of the corners, it will work just as well. On the other hand, it’ll be hard to pipe your filling without a pastry bag. In that case, I would just cut the eclairs lengthwise and fill them like sandwiches. Different presentation, same great taste.
- Chilling makes them taste even better, even the next day. But they won’t keep too well after that.