Life List: Make Eclairs – Check!
Woah. Seriously good.
Nicole from Caketease took a look at my Life List and offered to come over and help with making eclairs. This is one of the original list items from when I was 15. My wanting to make them began when my grandmother’s sister-in-law Eleanor brought homemade eclairs to my aunt’s baby shower. I was 12 then, and completely fascinated by the concept of Aunt Eleanor making them in her own kitchen. Like ice cream and bread, eclairs are things I had only thought of as to be gotten from the store. When I realized they could be made by a home chef, I made a note to make them myself one day, too. High five, 12 year old me!
I was delighted to find out that they are not super complicated. It’s a multi-step process, sure, especially if you are making your own filling from scratch and not using instant vanilla pudding (which I am so doing next time) but the steps aren’t difficult.
First we made the dough (called Pâte à choux)…
… and used a pastry bag to make shapes on the cookie sheet.
We made most of them tiny and round, but I did make two in the traditional oblong shape.
Normally the round swirls would be for cream puffs (which also use Pâte à choux, but usually have a denser, firmer, sweeter cream filling and no ganache on) however I’m watching my weight here, and also HOW CHARMING are these little guys? Will someone please get married or have a baby so I can take these to your shower?
Here are the swirled ones fresh out of the oven. Look at their wonderful, poofy fluffness! I never understood how you’d get the eclairs hollow in the center, but it turns out they do that to themselves in the oven with some wonderful kitchen magic. I didn’t believe it until I saw it. They’re filled with air, like little balloons of bread.
We baked the shells and whipped up the crème pâtissière (filling) on Friday night but waited until Saturday to fill them and put the ganache on. We delayed so they’d be as fresh as possible for Saturday’s party. A bit of sogginess is inevitable, but waiting to fill and ganache them helped stave it off reasonably well. To keep the shells at their best crispiness, I waited until they cooled and then covered them, not too tightly (or they’d trap moisture and go limp) and left them on a shelf overnight. In the morning I used a pastry bag fitted with a medium tip to fill them with cream.
Ganache. Let’s talk about ganache.
It’s seductive. It’s downright sexy. It made me quiver. Saturday morning after I filled them, I laid the pastries out on the tin foil and began to teaspoon the chocolate on neatly. I quickly realized, however, that one does not go neatly with ganache. One goes dolloping it on with zest and abandon. And so I did.
Then they went in the fridge for a bit so they could firm up, although I ate my oblong “test” eclair still warm, and, my gosh.
Rob liked his, too.
The recipe is simple and fairly ubiquitous. We cobbled together a few different ones to make one slightly mish-mashed version, I’ve included it here with a few notes.
Pâte à choux
1 cup water
one stick (half a cup, or 4 oz.) of butter
1 cup flour
Preheat oven to hot (400 degrees). Bring 1 cup water, 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and 1 teaspoon sugar to a full rolling boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon and cook about 1 minute, or until mixture forms a thick smooth ball that leaves sides of saucepan clean. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
Add 4 large eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition, until paste is shiny and smooth and breaks away in strands. (Paste will separate as you add each egg, but with continued beating, it will smooth out, become stiff and hold its shape.)
Spoon this into a pastry bag fitted with an extra large tip or just cut the end off a normal bag. You can also just spoon a shape onto the cookie sheet free-hand, but they might not be as pretty. Bake until lightly golden.
Crème Pâtissière (cream filling)
Ok, seriously? Something went wrong here. We were cooking it and cooking it and it wasn’t thickening. Maybe it was because we used 1% milk instead of whole. We ended up throwing some confectioners sugar in there (which is powdered sugar and cornstarch mixed) and it worked. The filling was also a bit on the bland side, so the sugar gave it a nice, fuller sweetness as an added bonus. When we finished by adding the vanilla, our filling was walking this fine line of too sweet and too bland so perfectly I fear I will never, ever repeat it. So make of that what you will. You can also skip this part and whip up some vanilla My*T*Fine instead.
Combine 3/4 cup sifted all purpose flour and 1 cup sugar in a medium size saucepan; stir in 3 cups milk. Bring to boiling, stirring constantly over low heat, until mixture bubbles. Cook, stirring 3-4 minutes, until mixture is thick (do not boil). Remove from heat and let cool. (This is important; if you don’t wait until it’s cool, the eggs will cook the instant they hit the milk mixture, and that’s just gross. No one wants scrambled eggs in their eclairs. Also? This rambling explanation is why I will never get to write a cookbook.) Beat 4 large eggs lightly in a medium size bowl. Add the egg in small bits, stirring vigorously after each bit with a wooden spoon.
Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon vanilla; pour into a bowl. Refrigerate with wax paper directly on surface for 2 hours or until cold. We whisked ours and left it overnight in the fridge.
Use a pastry bag and pastry tip to fill the eclairs. If you are making oblong ones, you might want to slice them open with a sharp knife, but I was able to fill both the tiny round ones and my 5 inch oblongs without cutting them.
1 cup heavy cream
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
Heat the cream in a bitty sauce pan until it’s not quite boiled. You have to watch it carefully. Pour the cream over the chocolate in a small bowl, let it sit and get the chocolate all melty, and then whisk it. You should make this and then immediately spoon over the filled pastries. With abandon, of course.
If you make them, let me know how they come out!