Whenever I am discussing French pastries, which is often, the first thing that comes to mind is the iconic eclair. Paté à choux (pronounced shoe), the delicate shell of the eclair, was the first kind of pastry dough I learned to make at the Tante Marie Cooking School pastry course I took many years ago. The results look dramatic, but in fact it is a very easy dough to master.
With both Addison and Maddie on summer break they begged for some eclairs to welcome the beginning of a much needed vacation. Traditional eclairs are simply a choux pastry vessel filled with vanilla pastry cream and glazed with chocolate fondant. I kept to the basic variety, but used an easy chocolate glaze in place of the more temperamental chocolate fondant. I think the results are just as delicious.
Melt the butter with the water and bring it to a boil. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a paste and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer the dough to a standing mixer and add the eggs one at a time mixing well. Alternately, you can whisk the eggs in by hand with a wire whisk for a great arm work-out.
Pipe rows of eclairs keeping the length and width as uniform as possible to allow for even baking. Leave enough room between each to allow the eclairs to puff. They will double in size. Just for fun and a little texture I used a french tip instead of the traditional plain tip.
Vanilla Eclairs with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from a recipe from Tante Marie Cooking School
Paté à Choux
1/2 cup (4 ounces/115 g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (9 g) granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
Preheat oven to 425℉ (220℃). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain or french tip (#7 or #6). (Don't be concerned if you do not have the exact size tip listed, any tip will work. You will just have larger or smaller eclairs.) Stir together the flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan bring the water and butter to a boil. When the butter is melted remove from the heat and add the flour mixture all at once. Then return to high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated and the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Put dough in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed. Add eggs one at a time beating well between each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. (Alternately, transfer the dough to a bowl, using a wire whisk beat in the eggs one at a time.) The dough is ready when it is smooth and holds a crease.
Put the dough in the pastry bag and pipe eclairs of uniform size and width leaving enough space for them to double in size. At the end of each eclair stop squeezing the pastry bag and pull up and over the dough just piped. You can use a pastry brush moistened with water to smooth out the tail if desired.
Bake one tray at a time in the center of the oven. Turn the oven down to 400℉ (200℃) when the eclairs have doubled in size. Bake until golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. Transfer to a rack. Pierce the bottom of each shell with a knife to allow steam to release. Cool completely before filling with pastry cream.
The shells can remain at room temperature for several hours. The texture of the fresh shell is best, but extra eclair shells can be frozen in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks. If frozen, allow to come to room temperature then re-crisp in a warm oven. Allow to cool before filling with with pastry cream.
Vanilla Pastry Cream
3 cups (750 ml) whole milk
1/2 of a vanilla bean pod
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (30 g) all-purpose flour
6 teaspoons (15 g) cornstarch
9 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces/130 g) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrap out the seeds. Put the seeds and the vanilla bean pod in a small saucepan with the milk, bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and let sit while preparing the next step.
In a glass bowl stir together the sugar, flour, and cornstarch. Add the eggs and beat until light. Slowly add half the hot milk to the egg mixture stirring to incorporate. Return the mixture to the saucepan and whisk over medium-high heat until the center bubbles and the mixture is very thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter a little at a time until completely incorporated. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Pour into a clean, glass bowl. Place plastic wrap on the surface to prevent a skin. Chill until very cold at least 2 hours. Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated until ready to fill eclairs.
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (100 g) unsifted cocoa powder
2 tablespoons (1 ounce/30 g) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
Combine cream and corn syrup in a saucepan. Sift sugar and cocoa together and add to the cream mixture. Stir to combine. Add the butter warm over low heat until the butter melts. Stir until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in vanilla extract. Set mixture aside until ready to use or refrigerate in a covered glass container for up to 2 weeks.
To assemble the Eclairs - Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain #5 tip with chilled pastry cream. Use a smaller plain #3 tip to poke a hole in the bottom in the center of each eclair. Gently fill each eclair with pastry cream. Aim the pastry bag toward one end of the eclair and then rotate to the other side to make sure the pastry cream gets to both ends of the eclair. The eclair will feel heavy when it is full. Alternately, you can poke a hole in one end and fill.
Warm the chocolate glaze slightly over low heat until it is thin enough to coat the eclair. Dip the top of the eclair in the glaze. Finished eclairs are best eaten within a few hours of assembly. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.