How it went:
Today I set out to bake the ultimate éclair, a humble goal given that it is also my first éclair. I spent the week perusing how-to videos and meticulously reading my “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I made sure I had all my ingredients and even did a test run of the paté choux to make some delicious little cheese puffs.
The first step seemed to be ok. I carefully followed Julia’s recipe for Crème Saint-Honoré (p. 591), the recommended variant of crème pâtissière for éclairs and creme puffs. All seemed to go well as I whipped my yolks and sugar to ribbon-stage (I think), I delicately (dangerously) sliced my vanilla bean to scoop out the seeds to add to my boiling milk. Feeling confident, I even added a touch of kahlua for flavor… but I should mention now that I’ve really never made custards before. So when my custard failed to custardize, I didn’t notice. I happily continued onto the next step and folded in my carefully whipped whites and put the whole (beautifully scented) mess into the fridge to … I assumed … congeal into the right consistency.
Of course, what had gone wrong is that I hadn’t properly boiled my mixture after adding the hot milk, so the custard never thickened, and fell right out of the eggs, leaving me with a gorgeous smelling waste of a lot of eggs and a gorgeous vanilla bean.
But I persevere! My éclair shells, which I’d made while waiting for my custard to cool, came out beautifully (see picture). My ganache reheated well (except for the bits I burned while trying to figure out what was wrong with my custard …). So I made a second custard, using an emergency recipe I found here, which was much more succesful. The end result was pretty good, if a little sweet.
What would I change if I did it again?
I’d really like to try leaving the sugar out of the pate choux, and adding some boozy flavour to the custard. The bitterness of the chocolate was nice, but not nearly enough to combat all the sweetness of the custard. I might even crumble some crystalized ginger on top as garnish for a bit of a kick. Next time…
- 6 egg yolks
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 vanilla bean’s innards + 2/3 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 tbsp FLAVOR – untested: but if I was doing this over, I’d ad a bit more flavor to the custard, like kahlua or baileys
Pàte Choux (Makes 10 eclair shells + 6 puff pastries – they freeze well!)
Recipe modified from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking“
- 1 cup water
- 3 oz butter cut into pieces
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch pepper (don’t know why but it works!)
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (scooped and leveled with a flat knife)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 tsp sugar – untested: but if I was doing this over, I’d leave out the flour to combat the crazy sweetness
- 1/2 c Heavy Cream
- 3 1/2 oz Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
If you’re trying to do this all in one go, start with the custard as it needs to chill. If you want to do it a bit at a time, the custard will also keep nicely in your fridge for a few days so you can make ahead.
Start heating your milk on the stove. You’re trying to bring it to a boil, but ideally not get a skin on it. If you’re using a vanilla bean, slit it open and scrape the beans out with a knife. While your milk is gently heating, in a bowl beat egg yolks with sugar (save your egg whites, they make awesome meringues!). Beat together until the egg whites are pale yellow and “at ribbon stage” (meaning if you pull your beaters out and let some of the batter droop back in a stripe across the batter, the “ribbon” stays visible above the batter for a bit). Then beat in your flour. At this point your milk should be nice and hot. I put my boiling milk into a measuring cup with a spout for easy dribbling here. Drip your boiling milk into the egg mixture while beating, this tempers the eggs. Then move the mixture back into a saucepan (the one from the milk is fine) and move to the stovetop. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil while constantly scraping the bottom in a zig zag shape with a rubber spatula. Once it’s begun to boil, keep it over the heat for 2-3 minutes (keep stirring) until it’s nice and thick. Move the pan off of the heat, drop in the butter, vanilla and any additional flavor and stir until smooth. Then pop it in the fridge to cool.
If you’re making the recipe all at once, this is your ideal second step. While the shells are in the oven you can be making your ganache.
Preheat oven to 425 F and Start by boiling your water in a medium saucepan, then add the cut up butter, salt and pepper (and sugar if using). Once the butter is melted, take the pot off the heat and dump in all your flour at once and get ready to stir! Stir quickly using a wooden spoon until the flour is all incorporated, then move the saucepan back onto medium high heat. Keep stirring and heating your dough until it all sticks together in more or less one ball, and starts to leave a film of cooked dough on the pan bottom (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat and keep stirring vigorously until the dough feels coolish to the touch (touch with the back of your hand or fingers). Then drop in your eggs, one at a time (best to have them pre-cracked and pour them in one yolk at a time), beating until they’re fully mixed in. Continue mixing until smooth. Congratulations! You’ve made Pàte Choux! Now you can scoop it into a pastry bag and pipe onto parchment lined cookie sheets in 1×4″ lines (cream puffs should be about 2″ wide). Make sure there’s 2″ of space between each shell. Place in the top and bottom 1/3 of the oven and bake at 425 for 20 minutes. At 20 minutes, lower the oven temp to 375 and bake for 15 minutes. Take the shells out and stab them with a knife making 1″ slits in the cream puffs. For the eclairs, if you poke the holes in either end, you can later use those holes to pipe in your custard. Turn off the oven and put the shells back in for 10 minutes, leaving the door open (a wonderful treat for cold winter days!). Let them cool and they’re ready to fill!
You can make your ganache while your shells are baking or you can make it in advance and reheat it by placing a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water and stirring.
Boil your heavy cream, then pour it over the bittersweet chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes. Add butter and mix until smooth.
Put your custard into a piping bag and fill your eclairs through the end holes. Then take the filled shells and dip them upside-down into the ganache – then put them on a serving tray and violá! You are a genius!