I was happy about Tony and Meeta’s choice of Chocolate Eclairs for this month’s Daring Baker recipe because I actually have some experience making éclairs, but I haven’t found a recipe that’s convinced me to use it faithfully. And because I’m somewhat confident in my éclair-making ability, I was comfortable tweaking the recipe.
When I was in college, there was a dessert shop nearby that made the best mini-cream puffs. My friends and I went there at least once per week, and sometimes I would bypass all of the beautiful and tempting cakes and pies so that I could have just a pile of little cream puffs. But usually I would get a wonderful slice of chocolate layer cake with a cream puff on the side. I could never resist those cream puffs. Those mini-cream puffs are what I strived to recreate with this recipe.
I used the chocolate glaze recipe suggested by Tony and Meeta. The glaze was very good, although the recipe is perhaps unnecessarily complicated, requiring a chocolate sauce to be made first, which is then used as an ingredient in the chocolate glaze. I’m assuming this is only because Pierre Herme assumes that anyone who owns his book Chocolate Desserts will keep a supply of the chocolate sauce around. It was a good glaze, and I may use it in the future, but I’ll condense the steps to bypass the separate sauce-making process.
I used a raspberry pastry cream filling instead of the chocolate pastry cream that Herme suggests. While I suppose that all’s well that ends well, it’s not a recipe that I would recommend to others. I simply took my favorite vanilla pastry cream recipe and mixed in raspberry puree at the end. Unfortunately, there was too much puree and the pastry cream never set. I tried some other stuff, but ultimately I had to dissolve some gelatin in half-and-half and mix that in to stabilize the cream enough to be piped.
One thing I’ve never liked about regular-sized cream puffs and éclairs is how they have to be cut in half, filled, and stuck back together. I wanted to fill my miniature cream puffs without cutting them open, so I put my pastry cream into a bag with a simple round tip and squeezed pastry cream into the cream puffs through a small hole in the bottom. It wasn’t completely successful – the inside of the cream puffs were often split into two or more large portions, and only one portion got filled with this method. I think I could also squirt pastry cream into the cream puff from a hole in the top, which will then be covered with glaze.
These were the best cream puffs I’ve ever made. I do want to tweak the dough recipe, and obviously the pastry cream was kind of a bust, but they were the perfect size and so easy to eat. Every time I’ve made éclairs I’ve gotten better at it, and I hope next time it’ll be just perfect.
Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs (adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé, except for the pastry cream, which is adapted from Cooks Illustrated)
The pastry cream didn’t work out. But I already had the recipe written down and don’t want redo it.
Makes 20-24 eclairs
Cream Puff Dough:
½ cup (125g) whole milk
½ cup (125g) water
1 stick (4 ounces; 115 g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup (140 g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
Raspberry Pastry Cream:
6 ounces raspberries
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup granulated sugar
pinch table salt
5 large egg yolks,
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 4 pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
0.9 oz (26 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons (50 g) water
5 teaspoons (25 g) crème fraîche or heavy cream
1 tablespoon (14 g) sugar
⅓ cup (80 g) heavy cream
3½ ounce (100 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 teaspoon (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
7 tablespoon (110 g) Chocolate Sauce, warm or at room temperature
For the éclairs:
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.
2. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil.
3. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
4. Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your hand mixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. (Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately. Or, you can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.
5. Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3-inch (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 4½ inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
6. Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep it ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. (The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.)
For the pastry cream:
7. While the éclairs are baking, set a mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the raspberries to the strainer and use a spoon to mash them and press them through the strainer to create a seedless raspberry puree.
8. Heat half-and-half, 6 tablespoons sugar, and salt in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.
9. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until sugar has begun to dissolve and mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in cornstarch until combined and mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.
10. When half-and-half mixture reaches full simmer, gradually whisk simmering half-and-half into yolk mixture to temper. Return mixture to saucepan, scraping bowl with rubber spatula; return to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on surface and mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off heat, whisk in butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Stir in the raspberry puree. Press plastic wrap directly on surface, and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 48 hours.
For the chocolate sauce:
11. Place all the ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
12. It may take 10-15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon. (You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.)
For the chocolate glaze:
13. In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
14. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece, followed by the chocolate sauce. (If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly in the microwave or over a double boiler.)
For the assembly:
15. Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
16. The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
17. Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.
18. The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.