I can say it over and over again. It just sounds so pretty, so elegant, so delicate.
Pâte à choux is a special dough that is cooked twice. The dough is first created by boiling flour, milk (or water), and butter together. Eggs are added and beaten in until you get a smooth and thick paste. The batter is then piped and baked until the pastry puffs into hollow vehicles to carry custards, whipped cream or other sweet fillings. The same dough and technique is used to make profiteroles, gougères, and cream puffs.
I remember the first time I had a chocolate glazed éclair as a kid. I loved tagging along with my mom while she ran errands and went shopping. Any excuse to leave the house and spend some one-on-one time with my mom (and not having to battle with my little brother for her undivided attention) was heaven for me.
Every other week or so, I’d accompany my mom to a neighborhood Filipino bakery where she’d buy the usual: pandesal (sweet, bread/dinner rolls) and chicken empanadas. There in the bakery display case, I saw my first éclair. At that age, I was probably three feet tall, so I was face to face with the pastry.
I didn’t even have to ask my mom for one. She must have seen how my eyes lit up when I saw it. She bought one for me (and I think she got a sugar cookie for my brother). When she handed it to me, I was expecting this heavy monster of sweet goodness; but in my little hands, the eclair felt so light, so magical, so perfect.
My mom let me snack on my éclair on the ride home. I remember the way the chocolate glaze melted at my touch (and how I ended up with chocolate remnants all over my mouth) and how the sweet pastry cream reminded me of vanilla ice cream. It was delicious and I loved it.
Start by placing the milk, sugar, salt, and butter into a medium sized saucepot. Its best to put it in that order. If you put the sugar first, there is a possibility that it might burn on the bottom. Cut the butter into tablespoons so they melt faster. Bring mixture to a boil on high heat. Stir often to ensure milk or sugar does not burn on the bottom or along the sides of the pot.
Add all of the sifted bread flour into the pot. Stir with a wooden spoon, quickly and constantly. Also, make sure you get the corners of the pot. It will look lumpy at first, but don’t worry, just keep stirring. Bring mixture to a boil, as you stir.
Keep on stirring. Eventually the dough will get smooth. Continue to heat and stir the dough until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot. Once dough is a smooth, cohesive ball, remove from heat and transfer dough to the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
Beat the dough on medium speed until dough is a little warmer than room temperature. The dough will start off quite hot, so do not be alarmed when the dough steams as you beat it. It may take a while for the dough to cool down. Once the dough is ready, add the whole eggs one at a time. Make sure each egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Once all the whole eggs are mixed in, add the egg white and beat until mixed in. The dough will separate a little bit because of the addition of all the fats from the yolks. Continue to beat the mixture until it comes together.
Transfer batter to a pipping bag fitted with a 16mm plain round tip (or you can use a larger tip). I piped half of the batter on a parchment line baking sheet and the other half on a silpat lined baking sheet. Both produced the same results. Eclairs from both sides, slid right off the pan. It is a little easier piping on the silpat mat because it is firmly in place on the baking sheet. The parchment paper may slide around as you pipe. To alleviate this problem, dab a little batter on the corners of the baking sheet to stick the parchment onto the tray. I prefer to make small 3-inch éclairs, but you can pipe your logs longer if you’d like. You can also pipe round mounds if you’d like to make profiteroles.
Eclairs, adapted from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
makes 20- 3 inch éclairs
1 cup whole milk
8 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
3/4 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup bread flour, sifted
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
2 cups pastry cream filling, recipe follows
2 cups chocolate glaze, recipe follows
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mat.
2. In a medium saucepan, add milk, butter, sugar, and salt. Over medium heat, bring to a bowl. Add the sifted flour and stir to combine using a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil as you stir. Continue to stir constantly until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the saucepan.
3. Once dough is a smooth, cohesive ball, transfer to the bowl of stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat a medium speed until the dough has cooled to just a little warmer than room temperature. Do not be alarmed, the dough will steam as you beat it. Once dough is ready, add the whole eggs one at time. Make sure the egg is incorporated before adding the next one. Scrape down the bowl as needed. Once all the whole eggs are in, add the egg white and mix to combine. Continue to beat mixture until smooth.
4. Transfer batter to a pipping bag fitted with a 16mm plain round tip (you can use a larger/smaller tip if you prefer). Pipe 3 inch long cylinders on the lined baking sheet, at least 1 inch apart.
5. Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for another 20-30 minutes until eclairs are dry and feel very light in weight. Transfer to wire rack to let cool.
6. Once cooled, pierce a hole on both ends of the the eclair. Using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/8 inch plain round tip, pipe pastry cream into the eclair. Alternatively, you can slice the 1/3 top half of the eclair lengthwise. Fill the bottom 2/3 with the pastry cream and replace the cut top. Let filled eclairs chill in the fridge for 10-15 minutes before dipping warm chocolate glaze.
7. Dip the tops of each eclair into the warm chocolate glaze. Transfer to a wire rack set over a parchment sheet lined baking sheet to catch any drippings. Chill in the fridge to set the chocolate glaze, then enjoy.
Pastry Cream Filling
makes 2 cups
2 1/4 tsp powdered unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup heavy cream, cold
1. Make pastry cream. Chill in fridge until ready to use.
2. Place cold water in small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin powder on top. Stir to moisturize powder. Let sit for about 3-5 minutes to soften gelatin. Microwave gelatin in the microwave on low power at 10 second intervals until mixture is a clear liquid.
3. Place chilled pastry cream in a large bowl. Stir liquid gelatin into pastry cream until incorporated.
4. In another bowl, whisk cold heavy cream to soft peaks. Fold the whipped cream into pastry cream in 3 additions. Fold until well blended. Transfer to pastry bag and use immediately.
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz semisweet or dark chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp corn syrup
1. Bring heavy cream to a boil. Pour over chopped chocolate and corn syrup. Let sit for a minute before stirring. Stir until chocolate is melted and glaze is smooth. Let cool slightly to thicken before using.