I was visiting my family in Massachusetts the week before summer vacation ended, and I just had to bake them something delightful that could be enjoyed in the sweltering heat that captured our town during that time. I didn't have a whole lot of ingredients on hand, so I turned to something I've done before in cream puff form… the eclair. I adore eclairs! They are so wonderful to bite into when fresh… the delicate crunch of a pastry shell filled with cold and creamy custard, and sweetened with just enough chocolate. Perfection. Luckily for me, elcairs use the same dough as cream puffs, which needs only basic ingredients found in every kitchen. The same goes for the pastry cream filling as well.
This was my first time trying the cream puff recipe from JoyofBaking, which sounded like it was going to bake for a really long time. The eclair shells actually turned out quite well, with just a slight problem, which was that the bottoms were so thin and delicate that when I tried to peel them off the wax paper I lined them with, the bottoms broke right through, leaving me with a gaping hole on the bottoms of my eclairs! Thus I decided to simply turn them upside down and fill them with pastry cream as is, since the work to make a hole had already been done for me, clearly. I used the pastry cream recipe for the fruit tart from the same website. I've made the filling once before for mini fruit tarts, and they were delicious. Drizzled with melted chocolate on top, these eclairs were just wonderful, even though they looked funny. I wish I knew of a good way to make cream puffs or eclairs without always having to worry about the bottoms breaking. Does parchment paper really make that much of a difference? I thought wax paper or foil would do it, but those have not saved me from the breaking bottoms. The trial and error continues! And deliciously so :)
Eclairs Filled with Vanilla Pastry Cream (makes 12) recipe adapted from JoyofBaking.com
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp (half stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
1 egg white, beaten
Pastry Cream Filling (adapted from JoyofBaking.com)
1 1/4 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water (more as needed)
handful of semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp vegetable oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rack in center of oven. Line baking sheet with parchment paper (I used wax paper).
2. Stir together flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Combine butter and water for the eclair shells into a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in the flour mixture all at once, stirring until a ball of dough forms in the pot. This should happen pretty quickly.
4. Let the dough cool slightly (you can stir it up to release the heat), then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each addition until the egg is well-blended to form a smooth batter.
5. Spoon the dough into a ziplock bag and snip off the tip to about 1 inch in diameter. Pipe the dough into 3-4 inch long stripes onto the lined baking sheet, spacing the eclairs 2 inches apart.
6. Gently brush the surface of the piped eclairs with the beaten egg white.
7. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn down oven temperature to 350 degrees F to continue baking for another 30 minutes. The shells should be a nice golden-brown color. Turn off the oven and leave door ajar, with the eclairs sitting inside for another 10-15 minutes to let them dry fully. Remove from the oven to cool on a wire rack, peeling eclairs off carefully (this is where all of my eclair bottoms broke off). They will have a wonderful cracked appearance on top.
1. In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix together sugar and egg yolks.
2. Combine flour and cornstarch in a separate bowl, then add to egg mixture and stir until a smooth paste forms. Add vanilla.
3. In a saucepan (preferrably stainless steel, I find non-stick pans to be awful for making custards), heat milk on medium until just boiling. Remove from heat and slowly whisk into egg mixture, careful not to let egg curdle.
4. When fully incorporated, place egg and milk mixture back onto the stove to cook on medium heat, whisking constantly until it starts to boil. Keep stirring and it should thicken up very quickly. When it has reached a desired thickness (I prefer mine to be pretty thick), remove from heat immediately and whisk in the water. You can add more water if your pastry cream is too thick.
5. Chill pastry cream in fridge for several hours, covered with a layer of plastic wrap touching the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.
Normally you would slice the eclairs open by cutting horitzonally on each one to cut off the tops. Since mine had holes in the bottom I just pried the holes open until they were the same size as the eclair and piped in the pastry cream (using the same ziplock bag trick that I used for piping the elcair dough). Fill each eclair with enough pastry cream to fill out the shell, but not so much that it bursts. If using cut open shells, replace the tops once the filling has been added.
Finally, melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, and stir in the vegetable oil to thin out the consistency enough to drizzle. I just eyeballed this, so you can adjust the chocolate icing how you like. Take a fork and dip it into the chocolate to drizzle it over the eclairs. Serve immediately for the best taste and texture. If not serving right away, I suggest you not fill the shells so that they don't get soggy. Fill them just before serving and you will wow your guests with how fresh they taste, nothing like the pre-filled ones you buy at stores!