I remember the first time I made Eclairs – back in 1992 during an intensive pastry course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. The classes were in French, of course, but they were kind enough to provide an interpreter, which I appreciated since I was pretty much broke after saving to go in the first place. Still, I was a bit lost, and intimidated by the very serious French Chef Instructors. By the end of the week-long course, we were all friends and I was much more confident, hoping to make them as soon as I got home. However, once I got home, I was terrified to try them on my own…the recipes were all in French and I could not read my own notes! I think it took me two years to get the courage to make them! Just the name “Pâte à Choux” also sounded intimidating to me. My first attempt turned out okay. Good-ish, but not great. Years later, I found this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s “Baking Illustrated"; it was the best pastry cream I ever had! Give these a try…they are worth the time. And please don’t tell the French, but we’ve done a little twist on these iconic pastries; we’re making ours with a tie dye pastry cream! I still remember the first time I taught my daughter Lily to make Pâte à Choux…she was 4 1/2 years old…I am so glad I have these two videos (below) of that day. In one she is insistent that she sells the eclairs to buy a "ragdoll" kitty (I was giving them away to neighbors :) In the other, she is piping like a pro -- proud mama :)
Bake with us Live this Sunday on our Talkshop.live show!
You’ll love this recipe so much you may want to double it!
Servings 24 cream puffs or 8 eclairs
For the Pastry Cream:
For the Pâte à Choux:
1. Make the Pastry Cream: Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 20 seconds.
3. When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days. If making the tie-dye surprise, divide between 5 bowls & use a small amount of each food coloring to each bowl. Fit a piping bag with a Wilton 2d tip; put a spoonful of each icing in a pastry bag (or Ziploc bag). I went around the side with 3 colors & put the last 2 in the center; pipe to your hearts content!
Make the Pâte à Choux: Beat the eggs and egg white in a measuring cup or small bowl; you should have 1/2 cup (save the excess in case your pate a choux is too firm). Set aside
1. Bring the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring once or twice. When the mixture reaches a full boil (the butter should be fully melted), immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the flour with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until combined and the mixture clears the sides of the pan. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, using a smearing motion, until the mixture is slightly shiny, looks like wet sand, and tiny beads of fat appear on the bottom of the saucepan, about 3 minutes (the paste should register 175 to 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).
2. Immediately transfer the mixture to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and mix on stir for 10 seconds to cool slightly and release the steam. With the mixer running, gradually add the eggs in a steady stream so you do not scramble the eggs. When all the eggs have been added, 1/2 cup, scrape down the sides of the bowl. (If not using immediately in one of the following recipes, transfer the paste to a medium bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap that has been sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray directly on the surface, and store at room temperature for up to 2 hours.)
3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line an 18 by 12-inch baking sheet with parchment paper; set the aside
4. Fold down the top 3 or 4 inches of a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip to form a cuff. Hold the bag open with one hand in the cuff and fill the bag with the paste. Unfold the cuff, lay the bag on the work surface, and, using your hands or a bench scraper, push the paste toward the tip of the pastry bag.
For Cream Puffs: Twist the top of the bag and pipe the paste into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch mounds on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 to 1 1/4 inches apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped mounds.
For Éclair: Twist the top of the bag and pipe the paste into eight 5 by 1-inch strips, spaced about 1 inch apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped strips.
5. Bake 15 minutes (do not open the oven door), then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until golden brown and fairly firm (the puffs and éclairs should not be soft and squishy), 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. With a paring knife, cut a 3/4-inch slit into the side of each puff and on the top of each éclair to release steam; return the puffs to the oven, turn off the oven, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Dry the puffs and éclairs in the turned-off oven until the centers are just moist
6. When ready to serve:
For Cream Puffs: Use the tip of a paring knife to make a small X in the side of each puff, about halfway between the top and bottom. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip with the pastry cream and then pip some pastry cream through the X in the side of each puff. (Fill each puff until the pastry cream starts to ooze out the side.) Top with chocolate glaze or sifted powdered sugar.
For Éclair: With a paring knife, cut around the sides of each éclair to remove the top third. Dip the top of each éclair into the glaze, shaking off any excess, and transfer the tops to a wire rack to dry. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of pastry cream in the bottom of each éclair. Once the glaze has set, set the tops on the éclairs and press gently to secure.
Dark Chocolate Caramel “Glaze") (Optional,
In a heavy saucepan, stir the sugar and water together over medium high heat, until the sugar has dissolved and it's clear. Do not let the mixture boil yet.
Once it's clear and the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to high, cover and allow to heat to boil for 2 minutes (begin counting when you put the lid on, not when it boils).
After the 2 minutes, uncover the saucepan and allow to boil, swirling the pan around occasionally, you see the mixture get dark around the edges.
As it begins to darken, begin swirling the pan continuously until the syrup is a deep amber color and just begins to smoke.
Add the butter, and mix until melted and mixed in.
Next, stir in the heavy cream.
When adding in the heavy cream, if the sauce starts becoming lumpy, place back over very LOW heat while stirring until smooth. One smooth remove immediately from heat.
Now it's time to add the finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and stir until it is fully melted.
Stir in the vanilla and the fleur de sel (or Maldon sea salt flakes).
Pour finished chocolate sauce into mason jars, seal. Use in place of the chocolate glaze on some eclairs.
Store extra in refrigerator for up to two weeks.