Every single time I mention Parisian patisserie-boulangerie to a non French person, they immediately scream “ÉCLAIR”!
Overtime, I got to realise that éclair is indeed one of these iconic French patisseries that most people get very disappointed about when purchased in the UK.
Why is that? I asked myself. One of my friends asked me where I would get mine from if I fancied one. I heard myself replying that if it didn’t come from La patisserie des Reves (Philippe Conticcini’s, in Marylebone) it wasn’t welcome in my house, or in my mouth for that matter. “I make them myself” I said “this way, I’m not disappointed”.
This was a very long time ago. Then, a few of weeks ago, I put my very own version of the chocolate éclair on the menu at my work. The sales were so huge that the pastry had turned into an éclair factory! Most of my colleagues were totally crazy about it, and many of them asked me for my recipe.
That’s when I thought “Hey! I have been keeping my secret for too long!”
Today is the day, my sweet bunnies!
As usual, here’s a quick Wikipedia pitch about the eclair:
The éclair originated during the nineteenth century in France where it was called “pain à la duchesse” or “petite duchesse” until 1850. It is a popular member of the pie family served all over the world. The word is first attested both in English and in French in the 1860s. Some food historians speculate that éclairs were first made by Antonin Carême (1784–1833), the famous French chef. The first known English-language recipe for éclairs appears in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, published in 1884.
Also, the name eclair (= lightning bolt, as fast as a lightning bolt) comes from the fact that it is so good it gets eaten at the speed of an… Eclair!
Now, as you may or may not know, the éclair is essentially a 14cm long choux pastry roll, filled and glazed.
Usually, in France, éclairs would be filled with pastry cream. Much as I love them this way, I find them sometimes very heavy, and if they are not uber fresh the pastry cream can taste a little funny.
So I fill mines with a diplomate cream, which consists of pastry cream mixed with whipped cream. It makes the eclairs so light and divine, you could eat a whole batch of them that your hips wouldn’t know about it!
Ok, enough blah blah for now, let’s get to the real purpose of this post: How to make those eclairs!
First, the Diplomate:
!!!!The pastry cream needs to be cold when mixed with the whipped cream, otherwise, “Hello disaster!!”!!!!
To make your pastry cream you will need to boil 1l of whole milk with the seeds of 2 vanilla pods.
While the milk is heating up, mix 230g of sugar with 60g of corn flour. Add to it 4 whole eggs.
As soon as the milk has reached the boil, pour it onto the sugar-egg mixture and mix well with a whisk.
Transfer back to the pan and cook on medium to low heat, whilst whisking continuously.
When it starts bubbling, the pastry cream is done. It should be quite thick.
Place it in a bowl where 300g of dark chocolate are waiting. Let it sit there for a minute or two, to allow the chocolate to soften. Then whisk until the chocolate has completely melted and is fully combined with the pastry cream. Cover with cling film to contact. Allow to cool down completely.
I usually make my pastry cream the day before.
When cold, combine with 1l of whipped double cream using a whisk.
Next, Choux pastry:
Bring 250g butter, 250ml milk and 250ml water to boil in a medium sized pan.
Add 400g of plain flour at once. Turn off the heat and mix the flour with the liquid until it forms a thick paste that comes off the sides of the pan. Turn the heat back on medium, and dehydrate the paste for a couple of minutes while stirring continuously.
When a light film forms at the bottom of the pan, your pastry is ready to be transferred to a mixing bowl.
Stir it for a couple of minutes in the bowl (with paddle attachment if using an electric mixer) to bring the temperature below 75 degrees Celsius (cooking point of an egg).
Now, get 12 eggs ready, and crack them one by one into the pastry, and combine properly before adding the next.
When all your eggs have been added and the pastry has a lovely shine, Place you bowl in the fridge for an hour or two.
The key to a nice looking éclair is the piping; any irregularities in the piping will translate x10 when baked.
Whatever pressure you apply on the piping bag that pushes the mix out of it, is the right pressure. So keep it steady, and pipe 14cm (more or less) straight lines. With this recipe you can make around 20 éclair shells.
Bake your éclairs on 180C for 25-30 minutes, without interruption (no peeking!). If you own a fan assisted oven, turn the fan down, or your éclairs will fly around the oven like crazy!
When your éclairs are done, leave them to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
Now, the glaze:
Start by making a “fondant patissier”: combine 300g icing sugar, 30g glucose and 100ml water, until smooth and uniform.
Heat it up on a bain marie, add another 30g of glucose and 70g of dark chocolate, mix well. Don’t over heat, as it would possibly lead to tragic consequences (glaze cracking on the eclairs). Basically, the fondant should never too hot that you can’t touch it. If your fondant overheats a touch, add a wee bit of glucose and a few drops of cold water to bring it back to life.
Building the eclairs:
Make three holes on the bottom of the eclairs, using the tip of a pencil covered in cling film (or dipped twice in clear nail varnish)
Using a piping back and a small nozzle, pipe the diplomate into the outermost holes until the mix “pops” out the middle hole. Hold the eclairs firmly in one hand when filling them, this will help you feel when they are full and prevent them from cracking or breaking.
Then dip the top third of each éclair into the fondant. Scrape the excess with your index finger bended inwards to follow the round shape of the eclairs, and wipe the edges clean with the rest of your available fingers.
Leave them to rest for at least 15 minutes in the fridge (this will “re-moisturise” the glaze and prevent it from cracking). But be careful not to leave them in the fridge for too long, as it may cause a fondant glaze drip.
Eat those babies with no moderation!!!
I like to serve mine as a dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream