Classic French Éclairs

If I ever make a list of desserts I find irresistible it will be noticeably short, but a classic French Éclair will undeniably be high on the scoreboard. An éclair is an oblong choux pastry traditionally filled with vanilla flavoured pastry cream and topped with a chocolate ganache. Like every other dessert éclair also have their fair share of variations but for me the classic seem just perfect.

Eclairs are made with a special dough called ‘Choux Pastry’ also used to make profiteroles or cream puffs. Eclairs are pipped in long strips and hollow out as they bake. The cavity is then filled with delicious finger licking good vanilla cream. The word éclair means flash of lightning and aptly so once these are served, they disappear as fast as lightning

Making the choux pastry is simple but you must pay attention, or you might end up with a dough that is too runny or too dry. To make the perfect Choux Pastry each time make sure you pay attention to all the steps, use exact quantities and measuring tools for ingredients and follow all the tips given below.

It took me several attempts to get eclairs right. I ended up with one batch with soggy centres because I did not allow them to dry out and took them out once they were golden. Eclairs need to be cooked longer at a lower temperature so they can be perfectly hollow and dry from the inside.

My second batch of eclairs doubled in size beautifully, but I made the mistake of opening the oven door a few minutes too early which led all the steam to escape and as a result, deflated eclairs. If you do end up with some not so perfect batches do not throw them away. I cut the soggy deflated eclairs into half, filled them with pastry cream and then layered them in a Pyrex dish with ganache and voila you have an éclair casserole.

How to Make Classic Eclairs

Make the Choux Pastry: To make the choux pastry heat together butter, sugar, salt, and water in a stainless-steel pot. Remove the pot from heat, add all the flour at once and mix vigorously till flour is well combined. Return pot on heat to dry off extra moisture until a thin film of dough is visible at the bottom of the pot. Allow the dough to cool before adding eggs one by one. The end result will be a soft glossy pipeable dough.

NOTES:

  • Make sure sugar, salt and butter are fully dissolved before adding flour.
  • Allow the dough to cool down before adding eggs or they will curdle.
  • Do not add all eggs at once, do it 1 by 1 until you reach perfect consistency. You might not need all the egg quantity listed.
  • To check if the consistency of dough is right mix dough with a spatula and lift it up. The dough should make a v shape as shown in the picture above.
  • If you add all the egg whites at once and the dough is too runny you cannot fix it by adding raw flour. You will need to make half a batch of the cooked flour mixture and use it to adjust consistency.
  • This recipe requires large egg. If you are using medium or small sized eggs you may need 1 to ½ an egg more. Do the spatula test to determine if you need more egg mixture.

Pipe Eclairs: Transfer the dough into a piping bag with a ½ inch round or star nozzle. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pipe 4-inch-long éclairs 2 inches apart. Dust eclairs with icing sugar.

Notes:

  • Wet your fingers to smooth any jagged ends on the eclairs.
  • Dusting eclairs with icing sugar gives them a slightly crisp exterior and sweetness.

Bake Eclairs: Bake eclairs in a preheated oven at 180 ℃ for 25 to 30 minutes WITHOUT opening the oven door. When the eclairs have doubled in size and turned a golden-brown colour open the door and prick each éclair to release steam. Close the oven door and reduce temperature to 150℃ and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the eclairs are a nice dark brown colour. Remove eclairs from the oven, prick bottoms with a skewer to allow any trapped steam to be released and transfer eclairs onto a wire rack until they have cooled down completely.

Notes:

  • Do not open the oven door before the eclairs have browned or they will collapse.
  • Pricking eclairs with a skewer helps release trapped steam. If you do not do this the insides will be soggy.
  • Baking the eclairs for longer at a low temperature allows them to dry completely from the inside so this way you end up with nice hollow eclairs.
  • If you feel piping eclairs is too challenging, you can make profiteroles by piping the dough into 1 & ½ inch circles.

Fill Eclairs: Once the eclairs have cooled down make 2-3 holes at the bottom of each éclair using a small tip nozzle. Fill the pastry cream into a piping bag with the same nozzle attached and fill eclairs. Allow the eclairs to chill for 30 minutes before topping with chocolate ganache.

Ingredients:

for Choux Pastry:
  • All Purpose Flour 1 cup (125g)
  • Water 200 ml
  • Sugar 1 tbsp.
  • Salt ½ tsp.
  • Unsalted Butter 5 tbsp. (80g)
  • Eggs 4 large
for vanilla pastry cream
  • Milk 2 cups
  • Vanilla bean ½ piece or Vanilla Extract 2 tsp.
  • Egg Yolks 4
  • Sugar ¾ cup
  • Corn Starch ¼ cup
  • Butter 1 tbsp.
for chocolate ganache
  • Chocolate Chips ½ cup
  • Whipping Cream 2 tbsp.

Instructions:

making the choux pastry:
  1. Preheat oven to 180 ℃.
  2. In a small saucepan heat water, salt, sugar, and butter until it starts to boil. Make sure the salt and sugar are fully dissolved and butter melted.
  3. Remove saucepan from heat and add all the flour in one go. Using a wooden spoon or spatula mix vigorously until flour is well combined and there are no lumps.
  4. Return saucepan to heat to dry off extra moisture. You will know the dough is done once a thin film forms at the bottom of the pan as shown in the picture above.
  5. Transfer the dough into a glass bowl and allow it to cool slightly. You can spread it around with a spoon to allow the steam to escape.
  6. Whisk all the eggs in a separate bowl or jug.
  7. Once the dough is a bit cooler add egg mixture at intervals. Use an electric beater or wooden/spatula and mix to incorporate eggs into the dough.
  8. The result is a glossy soft dough. To test the consistency of dough mix dough with a spatula and lift it up. The dough should make a v shape as shown in the picture above.
  9. Fill the dough in a piping bag with a ½ inch round or star shaped nozzle (1 cm).
  10. Pipe 4-inch-long eclairs on a tray lined with butter paper. Keep at least 2 inch distance between each éclair to allow room for expansion.
  11. Dust eclairs with icing sugar and transfer into oven to bake.
  12. Allow eclairs to bake for 25 minutes without opening the door. Only open the door when you are sure eclairs are golden brown and baked enough to hold their shape.
  13. Open the oven door after 25 minutes and prick each éclair using a toothpick quickly before closing the oven again.
  14. Reduce temperature to 150 ℃ and bake for another 20 minutes until eclairs are dark golden brown and dry out from inside.
  15. Prick eclairs from the bottom with a toothpick and transfer them to a wire rack until they cool down completely.
  16. Once cool fill eclairs with chilled pastry cream filled in a piping bag with a sharp thin nozzle.
  17. Refrigerate filled eclairs for at least 30 minutes before topping with chocolate ganache.
  18. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes after ganache topping and serve chilled.
making the pastry cream
  1. Heat milk in a saucepan with half a vanilla bean split in half lengthwise and scraped. If you are using vanilla essence it will be added towards the end. The milk should be at a simmer but not boiling hot.
  2. In a separate bowl mix egg yolk with sugar until pale and creamy.
  3. Add corn starch and keep mixing until yolks are a pale-yellow colour.
  4. Very gradually add 1/3 of hot milk into yolks while whisking continuously. You will have a smooth sauce. If you put hot milk at once yolks may curdle so remember to do it slowly bit by bit.
  5. Transfer yolk mixture along with remaining milk back into saucepan and cook on medium heat stirring continuously.
  6. Once the pastry cream begins to thicken add vanilla essence if using. Remove from heat and transfer cream to a glass bowl. Mix in butter and stir to combine.
  7. Cover pastry cream surface with a plastic wrap to avoid it forming a skin.
  8. Allow the pastry cream to cool at room temperature before transferring it to the fridge to cool.
  9. Keep chilled until needed.
making the chocolate ganache
  1. To make the chocolate ganache heat cream and chocolate chips together in a heatproof bowl for 30 seconds in a microwave.
  2. Remove from oven and mix until chocolate chips are fully dissolved, and the sauce looks dark and shiny.
  3. Use the warm ganache to top eclairs. Dip the top of each éclair into the chocolate ganache halfway.
  4. Allow excess chocolate to drip away before returning to the refrigerator to chill.

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