After a not so relaxing summer break, I couldn’t wait to come back to blogging again. In fact, I never left, you just didn’t hear from me for a while. I’ve actually been preparing the blog migration to a new server. ‘Ah, yes, I knew there was something different around here!’ some of you are surely thinking. Despite a few esthetic changes, I’ve sought to keep the same essence, so that you may still recognize the same old Pemberley Cup & Cakes easily. However, the most thrilling challenge has had a more technical connotation. The main reason for this emancipation just seemed a natural step forward as, since its creation, the blog has been progressively developing and growing up. I truly hope you still like it around here as much as you did before (or even more!), but above all, I hope you don’t miss these éclairs, which has been the recipe I’ve chosen to start this new stage with.
You surely have come across these all-time-great pastries more than once. Oblong shaped and made with pastry choux, generally filled with cream and topped with some lush frosting. There’s a wide range of options when assembling our éclairs. Pastry cream seems a favourite among many possible fillings (the one chosen in this recipe), such as, chocolate or coffee flavoured custard, whipped cream, chantilly, chiboust cream, etc. As for the frosting, the alternatives are equally assorted/varied, from a plain sugar glaze to chocolate ganache and liquid fondant, etc. When topped with caramel, they are often called bâton de Jacob. On top of that, there’s color. And design. Let your imagination do the job.
Éclairs originated in France some time in the 19th century (some food historians accredit the famous French chef Marie-Antonine Carême (1784-1833) with the creation of the first éclairs). Their name, meaning ‘lightning’ in French, hasn’t always being such; in their origins they were commonly known as pain à la duchesse or petite duchesse. The word ‘éclair‘ was coined in English, as well as in French, in the 1860’s. The first known recipe for éclairs written in English appeared in Boston Cooking School Cook Book, by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, 1884.
Choux pastry is a very light pastry dough, very commonly used in French baking recipes since 16th century, a true classic that continues bringing joy to our taste buds at the most special occasions. Aside from éclairs, this choux pastry is also used in many other recipes, such as profiteroles, croquembouches, French crullers, beignets, Saint-Honoré cake, gougères, churros, Marillenknödel (Austria), kue sus (Indonesia)… It consists of very basic ingredients —flour, butter, milk and eggs, mainly—, and instead of rising agents, it employs high moisture content to create steam during cooking to puff the pastry. Even so, it is not an excessively complicated dough, but we do need to understand how the ingredients behave throughout the process to finally succeed. We should aim for a dry and hollow consistency on the inside, lightly crispy, on the outside. And soft. And very, very light.
PLEASE NOTE: As one can never be 100% sure that everything’s going to work out smoothly as one initially planned, it is quite possible that, despite all the efforts, there may be some loose ends and/or unexpected outcomes (although I hope there are few or none!). So I ask for your patience and, in case you discover any bugs, please do not hesitate to let me know, I would really appreciate it. But I won’t keep you any longer and I leave you with the recipe now. I hope you enjoy the visit around here wherever you are these summery days.
- 1 cup + 2 teaspoons (250 ml) whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (65 g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons (20 g) cornstarch
- 2 egg yolks (L)
- ¼ cup (55 g) unsalted butter, diced
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) whole milk
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 g) all purpose flour
- 2-3 eggs (M)
- ¾ cup (85 g) icing or confectioner’s sugar
- 2-3 teaspoons water
- Pink food coloring paste
- 2⅔ oz (75 g) dark chocolate
- ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (75 ml) whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) unsalted butter
- Start by flavouring the milk; split the bean lengthwise into two halves with a sharp knife and put it in a medium size saucepan together with the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, stir and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk vigorously egg yolks together with the sugar for a few minutes until they foam and thicken.
- Add cornstarch and keep on whisking until totally combined.
- Gradually, pour half of the flavoured milk while whisking constantly.
- Once everything is totally combined, pour over the rest of the milk and heat over low heat stirring constantly just until it thickens and a few bubbles appear on the surface (please note that the mixture will thicken a bit more once it’s cold).
- Pour into a heatproof bowl and cover with a piece of plastic wrap pressed right up against the surface of the cream; this will prevent a skin from forming on the surface, as well as keep condensation from dripping. Set aside and chill completely. After cooling, keep in the refrigerator when not in use.
- Preheat oven (electric) to 430º F / 220ºC. In case we are using a special éclair pan, place oven rack in the middle position of the oven; if not, line the bottom of a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a boil butter, milk, water, sugar and salt, stirring constantly.
- As soon as it starts boiling, add flour and continue stirring until it’s completely incorporated (we will get a uniform dense dough). The mixture will come together and will pull away from the sides of the saucepan easily (ignore the film formed on the bottom of the pan). Reduce to medium heat and keep on stirring for 2 more minutes until mixture dries a little.
- Transfer the mixture to the bowl of our stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or you can use a large bowl and a wooden spoon) and beat on medium speed for 3 minutes until it cools slightly and steam disappears. Now we will have a bunch crumbs.
- Reduce to medium-low speed and add eggs, one at a time, beating until completely incorporated before adding the next one. Before adding the last and 3rd egg, we will need to check the dough consistency: it has to be smooth and uniform and, above all, thick enough so that éclairs keep their shape later during baking: dough should stick to the spatula and, when holding it upright, it shouldn’t drip or, if so, it should do it very slowly. Then, we wouldn’t add the 3rd egg. But if dough were a bit too thick —either it’s hard to handle or barely brought together), then we will add another egg.
- Now fill a pastry bag, fitted with a large round tip (something between ½-¾-inch / 1,2-1,8 cm Ø approx.) with dough. Make sure there are no air bubbles hidden inside the dough. Using an even pressure as you go along, and with tip at a 45º angle over the surface (whether it’s a baking sheet or the éclair pan), pipe 4-inch straight lines, 2-inch apart, until no more dough is left. If necessary, smooth the surface of the éclairs with your moistened fingers; irregularities won’t disappear during baking, but they will accentuate.
- Bake for 15 minutes initially until dark brown and puffed. Then, reduce oven temp to 350º F / 175ºC and, bake for 15-20 more minutes until dry without opening the oven door. A few cracks may occur, do not panic yet. Turn off the oven but leave éclairs inside for another 10 minutes with a closed door.
- Remove from oven and let cool on a cooling rack inside the pan/sheet.
- Once completely cold, open a hole at both ends of each éclair with a skewer or something similar, rotating it gently inside to make space for the pastry cream. Be careful not to pierce the éclairs or cream will overflow.
- Now we can use either a pastry bag fitted with a special filling tip or a squeeze application bottle. Whichever you choose, spoon the cream into it and gently fill the éclairs from both ends. Do not overfill.
- Pink sugar glaze: In a medium size bowl, mix icing sugar and 2 teaspoons of water until totally combined with a thick consistency (similar to that of toothpaste). If necessary, add another teaspoon of water. Finally, add colouring paste (first just a few drops until desired color is obtained). Mix until a uniform color.
- Chocolate ganache: Chop chocolate and place into a medium size, heatproof bowl. Set aside. Bring whipping cream to a boil and immediately pour over chopped chocolate. Let it sit for 1 minute. Then, stir until everything is completely combined and add butter. Stir again to integrate. Set aside and let cool.
- Spoon glaze/ganache over your éclairs and spread to coat the surface. And there you are!
Éclairs are best if consumed in the same day or two, but will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for 2-3 days.
- National chocolate éclair day: June 22nd.
Recipe adapted from Tartine, EM Prueitt & C Roberton