Choux Pastry has a bit of a reputation. Depending on who you ask it’ll either be presented as an absolute doddle or a complete nightmare. I have to say that I thought I was in the latter group for many years, well at least I was until I made these Chocolate Eclairs. I’d convinced myself that making choux just wasn’t worth the trouble, so kept well away.**
Like most pastry choux starts life as a combination of water, fat and flour, which is then enriched with the addition of eggs. There are a few different recipes out there, but a fairly common thread sees them all closely follow the 2:1:1:2 method. In that you have two parts water to one part butter to one part flour to two parts egg. From my research it seems that this should work well for choux buns and profiteroles, but when making éclairs a little more flour may be desirable to help them hold their shape. My recipe shown below does just that – by adding in 20% more flour – and the finished éclairs from the batches I’ve made have turned out rather well. I’ve not tried them with less flour yet, but as this has worked well I don’t really see any need. If it ain’t broke, and all that…
One other note I should add is that I think it’s worth weighing the eggs when you start making choux pastry. This allows you to tweak the quantities of the other ingredients, if needed, to maintain that same modified 2:1:1:2 ratio. A lot of recipes state that “you might not need all of the egg”, but I think it’s better to avoid waste and use the right amount of all the ingredients to start with!
Apart from the high egg content, another thing that makes choux different to many other pastry recipes is that cooking it is a two step process. The first stage happens in a saucepan, which is where the majority of the cooking really takes place. The flour is pretty much cooked out as it gets mixed with the boiling water/butter mixture. There’s enough residual heat to mostly cook the eggs too.
But the second stage in the oven is where the magic really happens. The high moisture content of the pastry comes into play here. As the choux heats up the water turns to steam, causing the pastry to puff up and take on its final shape. As the pastry browns and sets it should leave a slightly crisp outside with a softer, hollow inside. A perfect éclair will have a flat bottom, a domed top and plenty of room for a sweet filling.
What you fill your éclairs with is entirely up to you. But the most important thing is to only add the filling just before serving them. Otherwise there’s a risk that the pastry will get a bit too soft a bit too quickly! If you don’t want to fill the baked éclairs straight away then they will store well for a couple of days in the fridge. Just make sure they’re kept in an airtight container.
If you want a simple filling then you could do a lot worse than piping them full of whipped cream, sweetened with some icing sugar and a dash of vanilla. However, as I can’t help but be a bit of a show-off from time to time I couldn’t help myself and whipped up a batch of Crème Pâtissière. If you watch the Great British Bake Off you’ll hear “creme pat” being mentioned quite a lot. It can be a bit of a faff but if you’ve got to the extent of making your own choux then you might as well go the whole hog, right? For me it ensures that the finished éclairs have a proper patisserie feel to them.
It’s also a perfect foil to the rich, dark chocolate ganache across the top of each éclair. Again, you could just drizzle over some melted chocolate for ease, but if you can be extra then you should be extra. These aren’t a low calorie treat, let’s face it!
** Note: When I said I’ve steered clear of choux for some time I’m really not kidding! I’m 40 this year and I don’t think I’ve made choux pastry since I left school. It was only because I’d foolishly promised my husband, Michael, that I’d bake anything he requested over the Christmas break that I even made these. However, now I realise that choux is actually quite straightforward I’m a little worried that my sweet tooth will take over. It certainly won’t be a 25 year gap until the next batch is made!
For the Crème Pâtissière
- 250 ml Milk
- 3 large Egg Yolks
- 50 g Caster Sugar
- 10 g Plain Flour
- 10 g Cornflour
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
For the Choux Pastry (see notes)
- 2 large Eggs
- 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
- 75 g Strong White Flour
- 120 ml Cold Water
- 60 g Butter cut or broken into pieces
- 1 tbsp Caster Sugar
For the Chocolate Ganache
- 150 ml Double Cream
- 1 tsp Golden Caster Sugar
- 100 g Good Quality Dark Chocolate chopped
Make the Crème Pâtissière
- The crème pâtissière needs to be made at least an hour in advance of the éclairs, as it will need time to cool in the fridge. It can be made a day or two in advance if needed, as long as it’s kept refrigerated and covered.
- Pour the milk into a saucepan, then place it over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring regularly to ensure it doesn’t catch. Keep an eye on the pan as milk can come to the boil quickly and make a mess if you’re not careful.
- Meanwhile, put the egg yolks into a heat-proof bowl then whisk in the flour, cornflour, sugar and vanilla extract. Continue to beat until you have a smooth paste.
- As soon as the milk reaches boiling point remove it from the heat. Whilst whisking the egg mixture carefully pour in around one-third of the milk. Continue to beat until smooth and fully incorporated.
- Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk, then return it to a medium heat. Continue to whisk until the mixture thickens and becomes smooth and glossy. It may appear a bit lumpy as it thickens, but continue to whisk it until the smooth texture returns.
- Transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with cling film, making sure it’s resting on the surface of the custard to help avoid it forming a skin. Allow to cool, then transfer to the fridge until needed.
Make the Choux Pastry
- Making choux pastry is a pretty quick process. As such, it’s best to be prepared before you start by having all of your ingredients and equipment laid out and ready to use.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C, without the fan mode selected. I find it’s best to not use the fan oven mode when making choux pastry, as I find it browns the outside too quickly and doesn’t yield the look or texture I’m after. If you want to use the fan then reduce the heat accordingly.
- Break the eggs into a bowl, add the vanilla extract and then beat well. Put to one side until needed.
- Fold a piece of baking paper or foil, to form a crease down the middle, then sift the flour onto it. This will allow you to “shoot” the flour quickly into the pan when needed – you can pick up this piece of paper with one hand whilst continuing to stir the mixture with the other.
- Put the cold water, butter and sugar into a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir frequently until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil.
- When boiling, turn down the heat and then quickly add all of the flour whilst continuing to stir the mixture. Once the flour has been added stir vigorously until everything comes together as a smooth dough. This will happen quickly and after approximately 30-60 seconds you’ll find that it’s formed a smooth dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan.
- Keep the pan over a very low heat as you start to add the beaten eggs a small amount at a time. Beat the egg into the dough before adding more. Once all of the egg has been added continue to beat until it becomes a soft, smooth dough.
- There are a few ways of testing the dough at this stage. The most popular seems to be v-test, whereby a spatula is stirred through the dough and lifted out again. The dough should slide off of the spatula forming a v-shape as it falls back into the pan. However, I prefer to use the finger test… for this you move a clean finger through the top of the dough to create a deep channel. If the dough feels soft and the sides of the channel stay well-defined without collapsing then the dough is about right.
- Spoon the dough into piping bag with a large star-shaped nozzle. Pipe the dough onto lined baking sheets to form your éclairs. This recipe should make 10-12 éclairs each around 10cm in length. As you get to the end of each éclair twist the piping bag slightly to help give a tidier end. You can always use a finger dipped in cold water to smooth over any rough edges too.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown and well risen. Don’t be tempted to open the oven door during the first 20-25 minutes, as this may stop the pastry from rising properly. Around 5 minutes before the end of cooking carefully prick the top of each éclair with a clean toothpick to allow any trapped steam to escape.
- When cooked, transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.
Make the Chocolate Ganache
- Pour the cream and sugar into a saucepan, then put over a medium heat. Bring to just below a boil, stirring occasionally to ensure the sugar dissolves into the cream.
- Put the chocolate chunks into a heat-proof bowl. When the cream is just below boiling remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Stir slowly but continuously until the chocolate has melted into the cream, with no lumps remaining.
- Finish the Eclairs
- Spoon the crème pâtissière into a piping bag fitted with a narrow nozzle, around 0.5cm in diameter. Make 3 or 4 holes along the bottom of each éclair with the nozzle, squeezing some of the crème pâtissière into each as you go.
- Once filled dip the top of each éclair into the chocolate ganache, making sure they get a thick coating. Transfer to a wire rack to allow the chocolate to set slightly before serving.
- Once the éclairs are filled they should be served straight away. If you want to make them a little ahead of time then keep the baked pastry shells in an airtight container in the fridge until needed. Then fill and coat them as close to serving time as possible.
|Estimated Values per Serving|
|of which Saturates||11||g|
|of which Sugars||11||g|
|Note: Nutritional information shown is per serving of the above recipe. Any side dishes or garnishes shown in photos are not included in these values, unless they are specifically listed as part of the recipe.|