Éclairs, éclairs, éclairs- you much maligned things. It's not your fault you're sometimes deemed as boring or passé. It's really not, and I know those hurtful words are untrue. I hope one day you become as popular as the macaron and there's a global trend to make you in all different flavours and wacky shapes. You deserve it. I wish my rendition of you would start this trend but alas, I have broken no new ground today.
Regardless, these éclairs are all round delicious and incredibly easy. A few months ago I was shocked to discover just how simple choux pastry was. I thought "wow, this couldn't be easier, why was I so afraid?" Little did know an easier recipe does exist because this recipe uses a stand mixer. A stand mixer! You don't even have to bet the eggs into the cooked dough yourself, seriously. It's that simple.
That being said, I actually like the other recipe better but maybe that's because I made it in a better kitchen, with better things, and a better oven. So it just seems better. Or maybe it was just a better recipe - I'm leaning towards the latter.
Spiced éclairs with milk chocolate glaze
(adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking)
Vanilla crème pâtissière
375ml (1 1/2 cups) milk
1 vanilla bean
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
85g (6 tablespoons) sugar
35g (1/4 cup) plain flour
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Use the tip of a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean lengthwise. Turn the knife over and use the dull side to scrape the seeds into the saucepan, then add the pod. Heat the mixture until it just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for 30 minutes.
Heat the milk to just below boiling point and remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, and sugar until well blended. Add the flour and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very smooth. Pour 125ml (1/2 cup) of the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Slowly pour the yolk mixture into the remaining hot milk, whisking all the while.
Heat the mixture, whisking constantly to prevent it from lumping, until it reaches a boil. Continue to cook and whisk for another minute, until the pastry cream is very thick. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Strain the cream through a fine strainer set over a medium bowl to remove any lumps.
Press a piece of cling wrap directly on to the surface of the pastry cream, then set aside to cool to room temperature. Once the pastry cream as completely cooled, transfer it to the refrigerator until required.
Pâte à choux
115g (4 oz) unsalted butter, chopping into 1cm (1/2") pieces
250ml (1 cup) water
1/4 teaspoon salt
140g (1 cup) plain flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
4 large eggs, plus one egg extra
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and position two racks in the top and lower thirds of the oven. Line two trays with baking paper.
Cook the butter, water, and salt in a medium saucepan, stirring from time to time to ensure the butter melts evenly. When the butter as melted, increase the heat and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and add the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar all at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a mass around it. Place the pan back over medium heat and continue to cook, beating it until the dough has dried out slightly and a thin film forms on the bottom of the pan, about a minute.
Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute to slightly cool the dough. In a medium bowl, beat the 4 eggs together until you can't distinguish the yellow from the white. With the mixer on medium, add the eggs a couple of tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to blend completely before continuing. When the eggs are incorporated, the mixer should be shiny and elastic.
Spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a 1.25cm (1/2 inch) plain round tip. Pipe the dough into 12cm (4") by 2.5cm (1") rectangles. To disconnect the flow of dough slice a lightly oiled knife across the opening of the tip.
Lightly beat the remaining egg to blend thoroughly. Brush a light coating over the top of the piped dough, being careful that the egg does not drip down the sides as it will glue the eclairs to the baking paper. Bake both trays of eclairs for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180°C (350°F) and switch the trays between the racks. Bake for a further 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature again, to 150°C (300°F) and bake for 10-15 minutes longer to dry out the insides. The éclairs should be deep brown. Remove from the oven and transfer the eclairs to a rack to cool.
When completely cool, spoon the crème pâtissière into a clean and dry pastry bag fitted with a bismarck or plain 0.5cm (1/4") plain tip. If using a bismarck tip, make a small hole in one of the short ends of the éclair. Then, insert the end of the bismarck as far as it will go. Squeeze firmly as you slowly pull the tip out of the pastry. If using a plain tip, make two evenly spaced holes in the bottom of an éclair with the tip of a paring knife. Insert the plain tip into each one, squeezing firmly to fill the centre. Repeat to fill remaining éclairs.
Milk chocolate glaze
115g (4 oz) milk chocolate, finely chopped
125ml (1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream
Place the chocolate in a small bowl that is wide enough to accommodate an éclair. Bring the cream to the boil in a small saucepan. Immediately pour over the chocolate and let the mixture sit for 1 minute. Whisk the mixture until it is completely smooth and blended. Cool for 10 minutes before using.
Turn the éclairs upside down, dip the top of each one halfway into the chocolate glaze, then lift it and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Set the éclair right side up on a serving platter or lined baking tray and allow to set for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until required.