Eclairs seem like such a special treat to me. When I was younger, I thought of them as exotic, and would treat them like a treasured pearl when I happened upon one.
First let’s make the pastry cream:
- Get that milk heating on high heat in a medium sized pot. (You’ll need the room later when we dump everything back in.)
- While waiting for it to come to a boil, pour the sugar into the egg yolks, which happen to be all cracked and ready in a large bowl. Whisk it all up, and add the vanilla. (Still keeping an eye on that milk?) Whisk that in, and sprinkle in the corn starch. Get that all smooth. It will look thick and ribbony.
- Grab the pot with the boiled milk, and slowly, in a steady stream, pour it over the egg yolk mixture, all while whisking. This “tempering” process will keep our yolks from cooking too fast and scrambling.
- Pour everything back into the pot and get it back over medium high-heat. Whisk the whole time, and be lively about it. Whisk, whisk, especially scraping the bottom and the corners of the pot, so nothing gets a chance to stick and burn.
- In about 3 minutes, you’ll see a magical thickening transformation. All the cornstarch granules will swell from the combo of heat and liquid and we’ll have a nice, creamy texture. Take the pot off the heat, and whisk in the butter lumps.
- This next step I like to do just in case any stray bits of scrambled egg ended up in my mix. It’s a good refining step, but you can skip it if you don’t have a fine mesh seive. Or you just don’t want refined results! It seems a little too thick to push through at first, but a little pressing and elbow grease gets it through just fine.
- Lastly, put a piece of plastic directly on the surface of the cream. This will keep it from forming a skin that it’s dying to do. Refrigerate the cream for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
Let’s make the pate a choux:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Throw the salt, sugar and flour into a bowl, and stir it up with a fork.
- Bring the milk, water and butter to a boil.
- All at once and quickly, dump the flour right into the milk, and start stirring immediately. A sturdy wooden or metal spoon works best, since this is about to get pretty stiff. Stir quickly and with muscle, pressing the mix against the sides of the pot to work out the floury pockets. In about a minute, (yes it all goes very quick), it will look like a mass of a ball. I stir and mash for another 15 seconds to make sure there are no more flour bits caught inside, and then dump it right into the mixer’s bowl. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can do it with a hand mixer, or manually with your wooden spoon. Just dump it into a large bowl, and follow along using elbow grease.)
- Now, ONE AT A TIME, add the eggs. Do not add another egg until the first egg is fully incorporated. You can mix it in on medium high speed. You really can’t overmix this dough, so don’t worry about how long it’s mixing, or speed. As each egg is added, the mixture will look like dumplings. But in a few seconds the eggs will work themselves in and you’ll have a smoother result. That’s when it’s time to add another egg. The whole addition of the eggs should take about 2 minutes. Once all the eggs are added you’ll have a gluey, stretchy batter. It holds it’s shape, but is pretty loose and pasty.
- One way I know it’s the texture I want is to grab some and pull it between my fingers. If it stretches like gum, I know I’m in the right zone. If it seems too dry to stretch, you’ll need to add another egg.
- Scoop that stuff into a pastry bag. I apologize in advance about having to clean this pastry bag. It’s a task. By the way, I used a large, plain pastry tip, something like a PLAIN SIZE # 9.
- Pipe out jumbo hot dog-sized logs. Be as neat as you can but they don’t have to be perfect. The dough will puff up to twice the size in the oven, and end up having a mind of it’s own anyway. Bake in the preheated 400 degree F oven for about 30 minutes, until the shells are well browned. Let them cool to room temperature.
While we wait for them to cool, let’s do the chocolate glaze:
- Pour the heavy cream, sugar and oil into a microwave-proof cup and nuke until almost boiling (you might be able to see it gurgling in the cup), about 45 seconds. It will look curdled but pay it no mind. Stir it up to blend.
- Pour over the chocolate and allow to sit undisturbed for a minute for it to melt through the shards.
- Then whisk everything until completely smooth. Yup, it’s that easy. When it’s cold, it’s firm yet soft. When it’s warm, it’s liquid. Very versatile. (You can store this in the fridge for up to a week, but it will firm up. To bring it back to its liquid splendor, microwave it in 30-second intervals and stir between each nuking until it’s saucy.)
The best part: assembly:
- Using a plain pastry tip, something like a #7 size, load up a clean pastry bag with pastry cream. (If it’s too stiff and cold from sitting in the fridge, give it a good stir first.)
- Take a smallish pastry tip, with teeth or without, and poke a hole through the butt of the eclair shell. Avoid pressing too deep or the end might crack apart. Stick that pastry cream bag in there and pipe until you feel resistance. If it seems like it’s not allowing you to fill the shell all the way through, you’ll want to poke a hole in the other side and fill it from that end too. If the cream gets away from you ends up dribbled on the outer shell, just wipe it off.
- Dip the tops into the chocolate glaze, about 1/3 of the way. Wait for the excess to drip off, then place on a rack or sheet pan to set up. This will take about 45 minutes.
Recipe and Photo: Pastry Pal