I’ve been seeing some gorgeous photos for chocolate éclairs lately and got jealous. I haven’t eaten one in a really, really long time and don’t actually know where to buy one around here. The idea of making a pâte à choux and pastry cream seriously freaked me out, but I somehow found the courage to try them both out.
I also wanted to make myself something special for Mother’s Day since it was coming up, and éclairs just sounded really tempting. I had a few hours to spare, so why not give it a try?
You know, I’ve got to say that this is one of my proudest baking moments. It takes courage to accomplish something you’ve been afraid of, and éclairs was definitely intimidating. I guess any type of French desserts just sounds difficult. But in reality, these weren’t hard to make at all!
I made the pastry cream first and split it in half so I could have both a vanilla one and a chocolate one (I’m greedy like that). And then I wanted to have both éclairs and profiteroles (told you I was greedy), so I made both – I’ll post about the profiteroles soon. I didn’t have any heavy cream so I used a different chocolate glaze topping that I am familiar with.
These are one of my absolute favorite desserts to date, but probably because I am partial to pastry cream and chocolate. I’m usually not one to brag, but these really do taste like they came straight from a professional bakery. The pastry was light and airy, and the pastry cream was smooth, rich and flavorful. And the chocolate glaze on top? Well, that was the perfect topping to a delicate French pastry. And this was the perfect dessert for Mother’s Day!
Vanilla pastry cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup cornstarch sifted
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter cut into bits, at room temperature
Cream puff dough
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar if you're using the puffs for something sweet
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Make the vanilla pastry cream
- Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan or in a microwave oven.
- Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Whisking without stop, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the hot milk - this will temper the yolks - then, still whisking, add the remainder of the milk in a steady stream. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly, and thoroughly (make sure to get into the edges of the pan), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil -still whisking - for 1 to 2 minutes, then pull the pan from the heat.
- Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until the butter is fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold.
- I divided my pastry cream into two halves so I could have both vanilla and chocolate pastry cream. To make chocolate pastry cream, I simply added 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate after I added the butter.
Make the cream puffs
- Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar (if you're using it), and salt to a rapid boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium low, and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk. The dough will come together, and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring--with vigor-- for another minute or two to dry the dough. The dough should be very smooth.
- Turn the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (you can use an electric hand mixer or mix by hand if needed). Let the dough sit a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don't be concerned if the dough falls apart. By the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Once the dough is made, it should be used immediately.
Assemble the éclairs
- Preheat an oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper. Fit a large pastry bag with a large (2/3-inch diameter) plain tip.
- Fill the pastry bag with half of the dough and pipe out strips of dough that are 4" to 4.5" long onto the first baking sheet; keep the strips about 2 inches apart so the eclairs will have room to puff. Pipe the other half of the dough onto the second baking sheet (the eclairs can be frozen for up to 2 months.).
- Bake the éclairs for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Continue baking another 7 minutes, then wedge the handle of a wooden spoon into the door so it stays slightly ajar, and bake for about 3 minutes more, or until the éclairs are golden, firm, and puffed. Transfer the éclairs to a rack and cool to room temperature.
- To fill the éclairs, cut them horizontally in half using a serrated knife. Whisk the pastry cream lightly to loosen it a bit, spoon it into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, and pipe enough into each éclair base to fill it. Put the filled bases on a baking sheet, cover them lightly, and refrigerate while you make the glaze.
- To make the glaze, heat 4 ounces of bittersweet chocolate with 4 tablespoons of butter. Whisk until combined and let cool slightly. (Dorie heats up 3/4 cup of heavy cream to a boil and adds 3/4 pound of bittersweet chocolate and stirs gently to blend. Chill the mixture slightly.) If you want your glaze less runny, use more chocolate and less butter.
- Using a small icing spatula or a butter knife, glaze the tops of the éclairs (since my glaze was runny, I simply dunked the tops into the chocolate), then settle the tops gently over the filled bases. Refrigerate the éclairs for at least 1 hour (up to 8 hours) before serving.