I think I’ve said before how strenuous my relationship with French pastries can be, and it’s a real issue. I’m kidding. It’s not a real issue at all. It’s absolutely nothing in the scheme of things, but hey, it’s makes for a good first sentence. Yet, there is some truth to the sentence – I don’t say I have a “strenuous relationship” with just anyone: patisserie is a separate, somewhat unique facet of my life (thank goodness).
Patisserie is indeed a delightful thing to look at, and even more exquisite to sample. Yet, the making of it…that’s the clincher. It’s no mean feat to make something (from scratch) that looks and tastes as good as French pastries do. I mean, there’s a reason they have trained pastry chefs – and yes, their job is so specific that they’re not just a chef, but a pastry chef. Literally all they do is make pastries – nothing else. And it’s such a protected title that in France you can only call something a patisserie if they actually employ a master pastry chef there (yes, it’s a real job title) – otherwise it’s just a bakery. It’s obviously a big deal. Even I think it’s a big deal. You know how much I love my British chefs, but when it comes to patisserie, I skip the Brits and go straight to the master, Raymond Blanc (he’s not British, in case you were wondering. He’s French. Very French). And this is his recipe!
But as I was saying, patisserie is a complex, finnicky thing. It takes precision, skill and patience (all of which I lack…). And yet, here I am again, making éclairs. I don’t know why I do it to myself! But if I’m honest, as much as I love to hate patisserie (and French cooking in general), there’s something so incredibly wonderful about it that I can’t ignore it; at least not completely.
Makes 12 standard eclairs or 18 mini eclairs | Allow 1.5-2 hours
For the pastry
4 tbs water
4 tbs milk
50g unsalted butter
1 tsp caster sugar
100g plain flour
4 eggs, lightly beaten
For the filling
20g dark chocolate
450g crème patissière, at room temperature (see here for a recipe)
1 tbsp strong cocoa powder, sifted
For the glaze
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup icing sugar
1-2 tsp water
Preheat oven to 170C fan-forced. Line two trays with baking paper, set aside.
For the choux pastry, place the water, milk, butter, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Turn off the heat and remove the saucepan from the stove.
Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, quickly beat in the flour until the mixture is completely smooth.
Return the pan to the stove and cook for about one minute on medium heat, stirring all the time until the mixture starts to come away from the edge of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and gradually beat in the eggs until you have a smooth consistency – the mixture should just drop from the spoon, not run off it (you may not need all of the egg).
Scoop the pastry into a large piping bag with a 1.5cm round nozzle and let the mixture to cool for a few minutes before you begin piping.
On the lined trays pipe the éclairs, each about 10-15cm long (5-7cm for mini ones).
Bake the éclairs in the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes (20-25 minutes for the mini ones) or until golden-brown and hollow-sounding, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
For the filling, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or over a pan of water simmering on the stove. If using the stove method, make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water or the chocolate will burn.
Pour the melted chocolate into the crème patissière, add the cocoa powder and whisk together to a smooth consistency.
Only fill the eclairs right before serving otherwise they will be soggy by the time you serve them. So, when you’re ready to fill them, scoop the filling into a piping bag fitted with a 0.5cm round nozzle. Pierce the underside of each éclair 2-4 times with the tip of the nozzle, gently squirting a little of the filling into the éclair as you do so. Alternatively, slice the éclairs length-ways and pipe the filling into one side of the eclair and top with the glazed lid of the éclair.
For the glaze, combine the cocoa powder, icing sugar and enough of the water to make a smooth paste.
Dip the top of each éclair into the glaze to coat and leave to set for a few minutes before serving. Serve immediately.
- Eclairs can be stored in the fridge for about 24 hours but they pastry will become soggy quickly after filling the eclairs, so they’re best eaten immediately!
- If you’re short on time or don’t want to make crème patissière, you can substitute whipped cream for the filling.
- If you have a lot of time on your hands, why not make different flavoured fillings and glazes? Some ideas: strawberry, raspberry, peanut butter, salted caramel, rhubarb, honey, pistachio, orange, coconut.
- To make a flavoured filling, replace the chocolate and cocoa with the flavour eg., crushed fresh strawberries. Likewise for the glaze, replace the cocoa with crushed strawberries and add more icing sugar if it’s too watery.
- Choux pastry is tricky, notoriously so – so don’t feel too sad if the eclairs aren’t perfect the first time you make them! It takes precision to make amazing French pastries – that’s partly what makes them so amazing in the first place!