Few pastries delight me like biting into a French eclair, which to me couldn’t be a more pleasurable way to savour a slice of Parisian patisserie perfection. It makes me want to listen to La Vie En Rose and daintily mock-waltz around the kitchen in my frilly apron balancing a tray of oblong-shaped choux pastry shells, pretending I’m a retro housewife trying to master the art of Julia Child’s baking recipes. Until the day I did master how to make a foolproof choux pastry eclair shell at home, I was blessed to have been able to get my frequent fix for colourful rainbow macarons, brioche, flaky almond croissants and other french pastries from my favourite bakery, Le Bon Choix in Paddington. While I still do pop by after the Powerhouse markets on some Saturdays, it’s so great to have the option to bake our own eclairs and profiteroles right from home. Marie Antoinette would’ve been proud.
Baby Chocolate & Candy Cane Éclairs
Makes about 8 -10 éclairs
1/3 C milk
1/3 C water
pinch of salt
1 TB sugar
100g plain all purpose flour
Crème Pâtissière Filling:
1 C full cream milk
2 TB sugar
Egg Yolk Mixture:
3 egg yolks
2 TB sugar
pinch of salt
10g all purpose flour
Directions for Choux Pastry:
Add milk and water into a saucepan. Add butter, salt and sugar.
On high heat, stir till the butter has melted. Bring mixture to a boil and let it boil on for a few seconds till you see large bubbles forming. Remove immediately from the heat, add all the flour at once and stir, mixing gently and as the mixture starts coming off from its sides—keep on mixing till there is no more dry flour visible.
Turn on the heat again on low and ‘dry’ the choux mixture by stirring constantly to ensure nothing sticks to the saucepan or your spatula. On touch, it should not stick to your fingers either. You have just made a ‘panade’.
Now for the critical stage of adding the eggs which will make or break this recipe!
Your aim is to prepare a mixture ready for piping that adheres well to the spatula and drop off cleanly. The more dried out your mixture was, the more egg will be needed to compensate for any loss of moisture. Adjust according to your panade. The right batter will hold its shape well when it has been piped onto your parchment or non-stick baking mat.
Turn out the panade into a stand mixer bowl. Beat the eggs into the bowl one by one gradually on slow then medium. Once your pastry batter passes the ‘hold it’s shape’ test, it’s ready to be piped into eclairs!
Fill a piping bag fitted with a half inch circle nozzle. Position your bag at a45 degree angle. You may want to estimate the right length to pipe for each eclair to get even shells. I prefer smaller eclairs and usually pipe a length of batter about 8cm long for my eclair shells. To make larger eclairs, a 5 1/2” length is a good estimate. Space them out about 3 inches apart to let hot air circulate between each shell.
After piping your batter onto a non-stick surface like parchment paper or a non-stick mat laid on a baking tray, bake the choux pastry batter on 170 degrees (fan forced) for 30-35 minutes. When done, leave the door of your oven ajar for a good 10 minutes. You could use a wooden spoon to prop the entrance of the oven door open to allow the warm draught to escape. This is to let your shells be puffed fully and get as firm and dry as possible before you start to pipe its creme filling.
Directions for Crème Pâtissière Filling:
Add milk into a saucepan with the sugar. Do not turn on the heat until you have prepared your egg mixture. Separate the egg white from the yolks. You only need the yolks for this—add the yolks into a bowl to be whisked with sugar and salt. Add the dry ingredients of flour and cornstarch.
Heat the milk in the saucepan and remove just before it reaches boiling point (small bubbles are starting to form). Ladle over the yolk mixture with some of the heated milk and whisk the yolk mixture to temper it. Now pour the entire yolk mixture into the milk in the saucepan and keep whisking it as it heats up to a thicker texture (1-2 minutes). Once you notice the thickening, stop heating and remove. Transfer the crème pâtissière into a deep plate and cover immediately with a cling wrap ensuring that the cling film contacts the top surface of the crème pâtissière—you need to do this to ensure that no ‘skin’ or condensation forms. Once it is cooled to a lukewarm temperature, transfer the plate to the fridge to be cooled.
I’ve used two filling flavours for my eclairs: regular plain crème pâtissière and a chocolate crème pâtissière (with the addition of some chocolate ganache). For the topping, melt some milk chocolate and add vegetable oil to mix. Pour over the tops of the eclairs and refrigerate to set. For the candy cane topped eclairs, I melted some ‘candy cane’ flavoured candy melts made of white chocolate and red speckles of mint candy the same way.