Cooking sweet things is something I’ve recently started to explore more often. It is quite fun, and pastry same as baking is interesting in a scientific way. All those reactions that make puff pastry puff, or choux paste expand yet be hollow inside. Why gluten formation will make butter-rich doughs tough, how temperature and humidity affect everything. It is very interesting and if you haven’t tried doing pastry, this is definitely a good recipe to start with. The choux paste is a straight forward process. The pastry cream couldn’t be simpler… and there’s the chocolate ganache which isn’t more than fat, some sugar, water and melted chocolate. Of course, there are degrees of self imposed difficulty when making pastry… or anything else really. How picky are we regarding the size and shape of the eclairs. Is the chocolate glaze shiny? does it have any lumps? are we happy with it going a little matte when chilled… This is my first time making eclairs, and I was happy to walk away with a few decent looking ones. They tasted like they did in my childhood memories (as cheesy as this sounds) when buying them at the “panaderia” near my grandparent’s house. Absolutely delicious. Two of the most respected authorities in the pastry arena helped. Thomas Keller provided the awesome pâte à choux recipe/method while Stephanie from the joy of baking, guided the making of the pastry cream. The chocolate ganache was improvised and it turned out great, although I wish I had used coconut oil instead of butter for a harder shell. Ok, let’s get this eclairs going then!
For the eclair pâte à choux I followed Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel’s directions form their book Bouchon Bakery. The eclair choux paste described here is slightly thicker than the regular choux. I will list the ingredients of both in grams to compare and maybe learn something! I’m not a big fan of working with cups although I sometimes do, but I suggest switching to units by weight and not by volume, It will have a positive effect on your baking /cooking and will make recipe conversions very simple. It also shows you in a more readable manner the ratios of ingredients which helps in understanding and remembering ingredients. Plus is a lot cleaner. You measure ingredients straight into the cooking or mixing vessel. No more cleaning cups and bowls and measuring spoons.
Classic cream puff pâte à choux ingredients:
138g AP flour
125g unsalted butter
2.5g kosher salt
In baker’s percentages:
55% AP flour
50% unsalted butter
1% kosher salt
Eclair pâte à choux ingredients:
175g AP flour
120 unsalted butter
33g granulated Sugar
2.5g kosher salt
In baker’s percentages:
96% water (4% less water to make it thicker)
70% AP flour (15% more flour as well)
40% unsalted butter
13.2 granulated sugar (and even more solids)
1% kosher salt
We’re going with the eclair pâte à choux.
Boil the water in a saucepan, add the sugar and salt until dissolved, add the butter, and dissolve while whisking to keep it emulsified. Add the flour, and stir using a silicon spatula or wooden spoon until it becomes a uniform paste. that separate from the surface of the saucepan. Remove from heat. And allow to cool for a few minutes.
Beat the eggs slightly and straining them to remove the chalaza… which is that membrane in the egg white with a denser structure. Removing it will make for a more uniform paste once added to the cooked flour, although the difference is minimal. Skip this step and you should still end up with delicious eclairs. I would still suggest beating the eggs in stead of dropping the eggs one by one. You have absolute control on the amount of eggs your paste needs. If you add more eggs than needed, the paste will not have the consistency necessary and the eclairs won’t hold their shape on the baking sheet. Allow choux paste to reach room temperature before piping. Too hot and it will not have the right consistency. Too cold and it will be hard to drive it out of the piping bag. Room temperature works really well.
Mix in the eggs slowly, allowing yourself time to incorporate them. Whisk a little more aggressively now. At fist, the mixture is slimy and difficult to work with, but the flour will absorb the eggs and soon enough, a beautiful paste is formed. Keep adding more beaten eggs into the saucepan and continue whisking. You don’t have to add all the eggs if you’ve reached a nice consistency. Remember, you want this paste to be able to hold its shape but not be too dense either. The eclairs need to be airy and light and have the ability to expand enough so you can inject the yummy pastry cream in them .
Line a baking pan with parchment paper. You could draw lines on it evenly spaced and of the desired length of the eclair. About 3-4 inches each. It’s a nice visual guide when piping the pate a choux. I used a plastic bag as my piping bag cutting one of the corners. I had enough dough to make about 10 eclairs after I halved the recipe.
Preheat oven to 350F (make sure you preheat your oven for at least 30 minutes before you start baking, the oven preheating cycle isn’t long enough to get the oven ready) Bake for about 40 minutes or until the eclairs half doubled in size and start to brown. Lower the temperature to 325F and bake for an extra 20 minutes. Lower temperature to 300F and cook for another 10 minutes. They should feel hollow if you tap them. They should be of a nice golden hue. The whole point of this is to get them to puff first, and then allow the interior which is really moist, to cook and dehydrate a bit without over browning the outside. You can sacrifice one eclair to check how the interior is doing and adjust your baking approach.
To make the pastry cream I adjusted the method but kept the ingredients from Stephanie’s post on thejoyofbaking.com
Add the vanilla seeds, sugar and the eggs to a saucepan and whisk until the mixture is pale and the consistency of the mix forms ribbons when letting some of it drip off the tip of your whisk. It takes about 3-4 minutes of rapid whisking. But you could use a hand mixer or stand mixer if you have one. Mix in the flour and cornstarch. I used only flour, so I double the amount. Add the milk and keep mixing it until you end up with a smooth liquid batter. It is time to thicken it up. Place the saucepan on the stove over medium low heat, and using a whisk stir gently and constantly until the mixture thickens. Whisk a little faster now to ensure that the mixture closer to the bottom of the saucepan doesn’t burn. It also helps creating a uniform cream. Remove from the stove. You could transfer the pastry cream to a cool container (maybe a bowl sitting on an ice bath) Basically you want to stop the cream from thickening too much or even curdling and also losing too much moisture. Remember that the saucepan will remain hot enough for long enough to keep cooking the cream. If the cream becomes too thick, you could add a little milk to bring it back to the right consistency.
For the chocolate glaze. I measured 125g of 60% chocolate and 125g of butter. Melted and combined both in a double boiler. Added the 30g of confectioners sugar and mixed well using a whisk. I didn’t strain the ganache but should have, to get rid of any lumpy bits. Then chill in the fridge for about 1 hour. It should be ready.
To dress the eclairs. Allow them to rest till they reach room temperature or you can place them in the fridge. Working with them while cold makes it easier to coat with the ganache. Pierce 2 holes on both ends of each eclair. I used the tip of my probe thermometer. Using a large syringe (or piping bag with a small round tip which I don’t have), pipe the cream into them through one of the holes, keeping the eclair standing up to ensure a uniform filling. When a little cream shows up through the opposite hole, stop. Then dip the top side in the chocolate glaze and place on a pan. Once they’re all ready. Transfer them to the fridge and allow to chill. They’re done, it’s all done!
If you like you could check out my post on gougers, the cheesy savory puffs made using Gruyere cheese and the classic pate a choux! Hope you enjoyed this post! if you need more friends in your life, walk around a mall holding a tray full of eclairs, true story. Cheers!
Oh, one last thing. I read this really neat article about the science of baking a pie, on the NYtimes, thought I’d mention it, it is really cool. Bye!