Pastries are my first love. When I lived in Montreal, the scents of butter and yeast swirled out onto the sidewalks, luring me into the small pâtisseries. I could rarely resist. Naturally, baking became my second love, which developed from a desire to create that which I first loved.
In partnership with King Arthur Flour, each month I want to challenge you with a new recipe to help you grow and develop as a baker. This month we're taking on coffee éclairs—a classic French pastry merged with the American love of caffeine. Eclairs feature a pastry shell filled with custard and glazed with chocolate. The name éclair comes from the French for "flash of lightning," an apt name because the pastries are often eaten "in a flash."
The pastry shell of an éclair is pâte à choux or choux pastry. Choux pastry forms the base of many popular desserts, including cream puffs, profiteroles, crullers, and gougères. The pastry consists of butter, water, flour, salt, sugar, and eggs, but the technique in which they are combined makes all the difference.
Unlike most pastries, choux is cooked on the stove before it is baked. Choux starts by bringing the butter and water to a boil. The flour is added and stirred until uniform, as shown in the top left photo. It has a resemblance to dry mashed potatoes. The choux is placed back on the stove and stirred constantly for 2-3 minutes. As the pastry loses moisture, it will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and form a ball. The dough will also form a film on the bottom of the pan, a starchy layer from the flour—this is a good sign. When the dough looks like the image in the top right, it is done.
The batter should cool for several minutes before the eggs are mixed in to prevent scrambling them. When the eggs are added one at a time, the dough and egg will look like they will never combine, but after enough mixing, the batter will become smooth. While you can use a mixer to do this step, I prefer to do it by hand. Using the same pot creates fewer dirty dishes and a little elbow grease never hurt anyone.
The batter is the correct consistency when it forms a V-shape on the end of a spatula. It should drip off very slowly. If the batter is not dripping, add water, a tablespoon at a time, until it reaches the right consistency.
Place the choux in a piping bag with a large tip. The éclairs can be piped with a star or round tip (I used a 1 M). I prefer the star tip because the ridges make the éclairs easier to hold when filling and glazing. Eclairs are typically piped so they are 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. In order to make the eclairs uniform, I create a guide by using a ruler to draw 4-inch lines on parchment paper. Keep the lines at least 2 inches apart and make sure to flip the parchment upside down so the ink does not bleed onto the pastry.
When piping, keep the bag at a 45 degree angle to the surface, but do not touch the surface. When you reach the end, stop the pressure and bring the tip back over the pastry, folding the remainder over onto itself (as shown above). Don't worry about having a perfect shape here. The choux loses much of its shape when it puffs in the oven.
You will know the choux has finished baking when it has a uniform dark brown color. This is often a shade darker than you think it should be. If it’s too light in color, the pastry will have a gummy interior, which you definitely do not want. When finished, the oven is turned off, the door is cracked, and the choux is left for another 15 minutes to dry.
Pastry cream is made in a similar method to pudding (in fact, pastry cream is actually just a rich pudding). Sugar plays an interesting role in the creation. Whole milk and half of the sugar are brought to a boil over medium-high heat. The sugar increases the boiling point of the milk which makes it less likely to burn when heating. In a separate bowl, the remaining ingredients are whisked together. The remaining sugar helps prevent the flour from clumping when mixed with the milk.
Once the milk has boiled, pour a small amount into the egg mixture and whisk to bring up the temperature of the egg mixture. This process tempers the eggs and prevents them from scrambling when added back to the hot milk. The pastry cream should be cooked at a full boil for at least one minute in order to thicken. When it is the consistency of pudding, it should be removed from the heat and run through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. The pastry cream should be refrigerated before using. While this pastry cream is coffee flavored, you can leave out the espresso powder for a vanilla flavor.
The pastry cream can be made several days in advance as long as it is kept airtight in the refrigerator.
The éclairs are coated in a glaze of chocolate ganache. The ganache is made by pouring near boiling cream over chopped chocolate. The mixture is allowed to set for at least 5 minutes before stirring to encourage even melting. Espresso powder is added to enhance the flavor of the chocolate. This recipe makes more than you'll need for the eclairs, but I prefer to have extra when dipping to make the process easier. The leftover ganache can be rolled into truffles, drizzled over baked goods, or eaten by the spoonful.
The chocolate ganache can also be made several days in advance. Warm the chocolate before using.
To assemble the éclairs, use a sharp knife to poke a hole into both ends of the pastry shell. With a pastry bag filled with the chilled pastry cream, pipe the filling into both ends. You'll be tempted to overfill the pastries, but you don't want to do it. When overfilled, the pastry cream will leak out every time the pastry is handled, causing a mess everywhere (I speak from experience). If you hold the pastry up to the light while filling, you can see the cream fill the pastry and it makes it easier to get the right amount.
The tops of the éclairs are then dipped into the melted chocolate. Make sure you use a bowl that's at least 5-6 inches in diameter to make dipping easier. Let the chocolate set before serving; it happens faster in the refrigerator.
These éclairs are a classic French pastry with a coffee twist. The pastry shell is made from choux pastry, which puffs and hollows in the oven. The interior is filled with a rich coffee pastry cream and glazed with dark chocolate. Most of the work for the éclairs can be done several days in advance, making the assembly a quick maneuver. Serve to friends and family and celebrate your own love of pastry.
One Year Ago: Chocolate Raspberry Tarts
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Almond Biscotti
Three Years Ago: Pomegranate White Wine Panna Cotta, Toasted Almond Cookies, and Coconut Raisin Granola
Four Years Ago: Beer Bread, Baked Tortilla Chips, Roasted Pepper Feta Scones, and Chocolate Rum Cake (GF)
Five Years Ago: Banana Bread Oatmeal and Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream
Yields 2 dozen
1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter
1 cup (250 mL) water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (120 grams) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 large eggs
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup (40 grams) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon espresso powder
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (415 mL) whole milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
For the dough, combine the butter, water, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove pan from heat, add the flour, and stir until uniform. Return to heat and continue stirring. In 2-3 minutes, when the dough visibly pulls away from the sides of the pan, forms into a ball, and forms a film on the bottom of the pan, remove from heat. Let dough cool in pan for 4-5 minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, using a spatula to beat them in, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all the eggs have been incorporated and the mixture is smooth, put the dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star or round tip. Pipe the dough into 4-inch long, 1-inch wide tubular shapes on parchment-lined sheet pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until uniformly brown in color. Turn oven off and crack open the door, drying out the shells for an additional 15 minutes.
For the filling, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, flour, espresso powder, eggs, egg yolks, vanilla extract, and salt. Set aside.
Place the milk and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat. Temper the egg mixture with the milk and return back to the saucepan. Bring back to a boil, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens into a pudding consistency. Remove from heat and refrigerate until needed.
For the glaze, bring the heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Immediately remove from heat and pour over chopped chocolate, allowing the chocolate to melt for 5 minutes before stirring until smooth and uniform. Stir in espresso powder. Set aside.
To assemble, place pastry cream in a pastry bag with a small round tip. Using a sharp knife, puncture a small hole at both ends of the eclairs. Pipe pastry cream into both ends; take care not to overfill. Dip tops of éclairs in chocolate glaze and allow to set until chocolate firms. Keep refrigerated.
This post is sponsored through a partnership with King Arthur Flour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.