I made these éclairs, and much like everything else that I make, with the intention of sharing it with my family so that they may enjoy it. Even though I make things for them all the time, there was a special occasion to be celebrated for one of the most important people in my life. In the end I decided it called for a slightly more special treat. Unfortunately, these didn’t turn out the way that I would have wanted. Bluntly put, I burnt my éclairs to a tragic crisp. But thank goodness the mocha pastry cream was there to salvage it. (Boy, that pastry cream is the bomb!) Because I actually didn’t feel bad about “failing” for once when I had a taste of this.
As per my usual practice, I put an éclair on a nice plate and brought it to my Papa. Before I handed it to him, I warned him and apologized about the outcome of the éclairs. Crunchy éclairs, I called it. And as per his usual practice, he eats the thing without a word of complaint. “It’s still good,” he says as he finishes off the last bite. (Guess he’s used to this sort of thing already, since being a regular taste-tester to my “creations” is an occupational hazard that comes with being my Dad. Heehee.)
I guess he wasn’t lying, because the éclairs didn’t stick around for even an hour over here. Everybody in the house grabbed a piece (some of my brothers had a couple), and suddenly they were all gone. Choux pastry seems to be my Achilles’ Heel. Remember the
pain time and trials it took me before I could actually make cream puffs? Those are my Dad’s favourites so I stubbornly pursued them, but thankfully relentlessness can be fruitful more often than not. This time I wanted to make éclairs for a change.
Even though I technically failed here, the important thing is that these were so good. I wouldn’t hesitate to attempt this exact recipe again until I get it right. I think it would be a good alternate recipe for my go-to choux pastry recipe. Special mention to the pastry cream, which was marvelous and absolutely drool-worthy. I’m probably going a bit more gaga than is proper over it because coffee is one of my favourite things in the whole wide world. You’d have to taste to believe!
The pastry cream was the easiest thing to make for me, and I made it two days ahead without problems. My problem lies in the fact that I completely zoned out and forgot to check my éclairs in the oven. I left them in there for too long and they basically dried out completely, removing any moisture that is supposed to remain inside to make the éclairs puffy and fill-able. They became crunchy, although once sandwiched and the pastry cream seeped into the éclairs, they were somehow softened, albeit still a little harder than is proper for an éclair. If you don’t make the same mistake as I did, you shouldn’t have any problems, I think.
- 1 1/2 cups half cream
- 6 tablespoons sugar, PLUS 2 teaspoons, divided
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg white
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons half cream
- 2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
- 1. Heat the half cream, 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of the sugar, and the salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture is warm, whisk in the espresso powder.
- 2. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and remaining 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 30 seconds.
- 3. When the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly add it to the egg yolk mixture to temper, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- 4. Return the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds.
- 5. Turn off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press the plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.
- 6. Whisk the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup. You should have 1/2 cup. Discard the excess and set aside.
- 7. Combine the butter, milk, water, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring once or twice. When it reaches a full boil and the butter is fully melted, remove from the heat and stir in the flour until incorporated and the mixture clears the sides of the pan.
- 8. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, using a smearing motion, until the mixture is slightly shiny, looks like wet sand and tiny beads of fat appear on the bottom of the pan (about 175° to 180°F on an instant-read thermometer).
- 9. Immediately transfer the mixture to a food processor and process with the feed tube open to cool slightly, 10 seconds. You may also use a stand mixer, turning on the machine to let out some steam from the paste for about 10 seconds. With the machine running, gradually add the reserved eggs in a steady stream. When they have been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process or mix 30 seconds more until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms.
- 10. Place an oven rack in the centre and preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip.
- 11. Fill the pastry bag with the pâte à choux. Pipe the paste into eight 5 x 1-inch strips, spaced about 1 inch apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in water to even out the shape and smooth the surface.
- 12. Bake for 15 minutes without opening the oven door, then lower the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C) and continue to bake until golden brown and fairly firm, about 25 minutes longer. Keep checking your éclairs about 5 to 10 minutes after the 20 minute mark to prevent burning.* The éclairs will be ready once they are puffed and look dried out.
- 13. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cut a 3/4-inch slit into the side of each éclair to release steam. Return the pan to the oven, turn off the oven, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Dry the éclairs in the turned-off oven until the centers are just moist and crisp, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- 14. Place the half cream and chocolate in a medium microwave-safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 20 seconds at a time, until the mixture just begins to steam. Whisk together thoroughly, add the confectioners’ sugar and whisk until completely smooth. **
- 15. Add the pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip. Pipe the pastry cream through the slit in the side of each éclair to fill it completely.*** Dip the top of each éclair in the chocolate glaze, then transfer to a wire rack and allow the glaze to set, if using. If not, top with confectioner's sugar. Serve within several hours.
- * The reason why mine burnt to a crisp is because I left them in the oven for too long. When I checked back on them, it was already too late. It also caused them to really dry up inside and become completely crunchy, leaving no moisture to help them stay soft.
- ** I omitted the glaze and instead showered my eclairs with a little bit of confectioner's sugar.
- *** I couldn't fill my overly dried, crunchy eclairs, so I decided to cut them in half and pipe the pastry cream on the bottom half. The pastry cream managed to seep into the eclair halves, softening them up and making them a treat to munch on!
Oh and Happy Father’s Day to all the great Dads in the world!