One of the items on our high tea menu was chocolate éclairs, and making them for 70 people (oddly) made me want to make them again. I thought I'd treat my workmates so made them to take in to the office on Monday - what better way to start the working week?
I use the Edmonds recipe for choux pastry - I had a Pierre Herme recipe but obviously my pastry skills don't quite match his and my most recent attempt at that failed, and in desperation I fell back on that backbone of NZ cooking; it is Sure to Rise, after all! I went with Pierre Herme's chocolate glaze, though, which is pretty good, although doesn't set hard so if you're wanting a less messy treat you may want a different recipe! ;-)
I find the choux pastry pretty straightforward - just read the recipe through first and get everything ready so it all flows smoothly and you'll be fine! The trickiest part is figuring out when the pastry is cooked - it shouldn't look wet at all, so if it still shows visible moisture when the cooking time is up turn the oven down a bit and let it dry out properly. Remember that it is served with both filling and icing, so will soften up a bit with those anyway.
I'm not a big fan of cream as an éclair filling - crème pâtissière (i.e. pastry cream/custard) is really the only option as far as I'm concerned. However, I noticed on serving these (both at the high teas and at work) that many people were surprised to discover the filling wasn't whipped cream (I don't think anyone was disappointed, they just didn't expect it). Do you like a cream-filled éclair or does it have to be a custard filling to please your palate?
The custard is straightforward - you do need to temper the eggs, by carefully and slowly adding the warm mixture to the yolk mix, then transferring it back onto the heat to cook. It pays to be cautious if you aren't familiar with the stages of custard, but I found this takes longer to thicken that I am used to, and that I could get away with a higher temperature without splitting it. Please do take it slowly if you're not sure, though - I have split many custards and it's so annoying, I'd hate to encourage anyone to ruin theirs through impatience as I am wont to do!
I like to avoid cutting the éclairs open, rather filling them by piping the filling in through a hole. I make a small hole with a sharp knife in one end and use a piping bag with a plain, mid-sized tip, and careful but firm pressure to fill the pastry. You shouldn't fill it more than a couple of hours ahead of serving, as the pastry will get progressively soggier, and be sure to chill after filling them.
The glaze is a bit fiddly, as you first need to make a chocolate sauce, then use some of that (what is with these recipes which require you to make a sub-component and then don't use it all?) to make the final glaze. Both the chocolate sauce and the glaze work well with ice-cream - which is fortunate because try as I might I couldn't use it all! This was a double batch of eclairs (to make sure it made it round the office) but I only made a single batch of the chocolate sauce, which was fine, and had some glaze left over, which I mixed with the small amount of leftover chocolate sauce and is now in a jar in my fridge for next time I want a rich, decadent ice-cream topping.
Chocolate Éclairs with Crème Pâtissière (makes about 12, depending on size)
1 cup water
2 tsp caster sugar
Preheat oven to 190 degrees C. Position racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
Bring butter and water to the boil, add flour at once and beat until the mixture leaves the sides of the pot. Remove from the heat, add sugar and vanilla, then beat in eggs one at a time.
Immediately scoop dough into a piping bag (or plastic storage bag with a corner snipped off) and pipe thick fingers about 11cm long onto the baking trays. Leave about 5cm between each strip. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but check regularly. Halfway through cooking rotate the trays to ensure even cooking. They are done when they are golden brown, look dry and feel crisp (not soft).
2 egg yolks
55g caster sugar
1 drop vanilla extract
2 tbsp cornflour
½ tsp butter
Whisk together egg yolks, 60ml milk, sugar and vanilla. Mix in cornflour. Bring the remaining milk to a scald (just below boiling point) in a saucepan. Pour the hot milk in small stream into the egg mixture, whisking constantly with a balloon whisk as you pour (very important). Once incorporated, pour everything back into the saucepan.
Whisk the mixture over medium heat until it thickens and firms up. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Pour the hot custard into a bowl and plunge the bottom of the bowl into another larger bowl of iced-water to cool, give it a whisk occasionally. Once it reaches room temperature, scoop the crème pâtissière into a piping bag. Chill until ready to use.
75g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
½ cup water
¼ cup (65g) cream
Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens. This should take 10-15 minutes.
80g heavy cream
100g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
20g butter, at room temperature
110g Chocolate Sauce (recipe above), warm
In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce. Allow to cool to just feel warm to the touch, then use.
Option 1: Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper. 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. Pipe or spoon the crème pâtissière into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops on top of the éclairs.
Option 2: Make a small hole in the end of each éclair with a sharp knife. Fit a mid-sized plain piping tip to the end of a piping bag and fill with crème pâtissière. Insert tip into the hole and hold the éclair while firmly piping the filling in. Continue until completely full - so you can see the filling comes to the hole. Dip each éclair into the warm glaze.