If I ever wrote a baking memoir, there would be a whole 50-page chapter devoted to my roller coaster-like ride in learning the pate a choux. I had thought that the hard-fought success after my first gazillion trials would help me nail the eclair rather easily. Turns out there is more to it than knowing technique and what the batter should look like at certain points. I mean, these are the things I have already truly learned after all my previous failures. No, this time I really have to chalk up the “rough” appearance of my eclairs to my lack of proper equipment. I now realise I do not have the piping tip appropriate enough to squeeze out the eclair shape of my dreams.
Fortunately these eclairs baked as they should into beautiful golden shells. And the better part? They tasted divine. Bouchon’s pate a choux are by far the best-tasting ones I’ve ever had. And as a whole, the Pierre Herme recipe for chocolate pastry cream definitely played a large part in the glorious taste of these eclairs. I guess you could say whatever my eclairs lacked in finesse appearance-wise they more than made up for in taste.
Truth be told I haven’t thought about making choux pastry for quite some time, but after seeing this challenge posted by Love & Olive Oil I was encouraged to once again test myself on what seems to be my baking Achilles’ heel. I am happy to report that I can now recognise the pate a choux batter when it is in its right consistency, and so for the most part, my attempt this time around was a resounding success!
I have made eclairs before but the recipe isn’t one of my favourites as the baking instructions didn’t work for me. (I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that I used to bake with a very old oven.) Even following the instructions word-per-word, I ended up over-baking that batch to a brown crisp. The silver lining to that experiment (thankfully, there was one!) was the discovery of a scrumptious Coffee-flavoured pastry cream. Oh that was soooo good.
This time around I used Bouchon’s choux pastry recipe, and while the making of the batter was rather easy for me, I was rather put off by the lengthy baking period. Having to bake it using gradually decreasing temperatures is understandable as choux pastries typically need to be dried out in the oven until they turn into crisp hollow shells. Still this isn’t what I would venture to call a “quick” recipe. It simply took too long for me. The rest of it was fairly easy though.
The most important part to remember in making the pate a choux is to control the amount of eggs in the batter. You can’t put too much or the batter will be runny, and you can’t put too little or it will be stiff. I did not end up using all my eggs. I must’ve used around 4 eggs to make the 1 cup required in the recipe, but I only ended up using around 3 eggs for my batter.
Now the process of making pastry cream is so similar to that of ice cream-making I reckon I can do it in my sleep. (That seems to be stretching it too far…) But making custards isn’t at all difficult for me so I breezed through the Chocolate Pastry Cream rather easily. The most important part to remember when it comes to custards really is to NEVER STOP WHISKING when you’re tempering your eggs. The moment you pour in hot cream or milk to your egg yolks, the mixture needs to be in motion constantly so that you don’t end up with cooked eggs. The eggs should become incorporated into the liquid mixture so that it may act as a thickener once you return the mixture to the heat. It’s the magic that gives custard its lovely silky texture. I think it’s rather cool what you can create with a bunch of common ingredients like milk and eggs.
Despite my praises for these eclairs, I would no doubt continue my search for an eclair recipe that tastes just as good but takes a lot less time. Still, I have a feeling I just might drift back to this particular recipe– or combination of recipes, I should say– every once in a while.
Makes 785 grams of pate a choux batter
- 1 1/4 (175 grams) cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 ounces butter, room temperature
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup (250 grams) eggs
- 2 cups (500 grams) whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tbsp (75 grams) sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 7 oz (200 grams) bittersweet chocolate, melted
- 2½ tbsp (40 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1. Combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside close to the stove. Prepare the stand mixer with the paddle attachment for use a little later.
- 2. In a medium saucepan, heat the butter, water, and salt over medium heat. Stir as the butter melts, and avoid turning the heat up too high as this will evaporate some of the water before the butter has fully melted. Once all the butter has melted, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer.
- 3. Remove saucepan from heat and using a wooden spoon, stir in all the flour and sugar mixture. Continue to stir for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture has a paste-like consistency. Place over medium heat again and stir rapidly for about 1 minute, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean. The dough should be glossy and smooth but not dry.
- 4. Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl and mix on low for about 30 seconds to release some steam and moisture. Then slowly add in the eggs, about 3 Tablespoons at a time, beating until each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next one. Continue adding the eggs, stopping when the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl when pulled with the paddle but grabs back again. You most likely will not use all the egg. To test if ready, the dough should form a bird's beak when the paddle is lifted-- it should hold its shape and turn down over itself but not break off. Mix 15 seconds more to be sure all of the eggs are incorporated.
- 5. Let mixture cool in the fridge until ready to use.
- 6. Prepare an ice bath by putting ice and water in a roasting pan and setting a bowl on top. Set a strainer on top of the bowl.
- 7. In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed bowl.
- 8. Once the milk has reached a boil, remove from heat. While whisking the egg yolks constantly, pour in about a cup's worth of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pouring in the rest of the milk.
- 9. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk vigorously without stop until the mixture returns to a boil. It will begin to thicken. Whisk about 1 minute more.
- 10. Scrape the pastry cream onto the strainer and into the bowl set in the ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth. Stir in the melted chocolate.
- 11. Stir in the butter in three or four installments and let cool in the ice-water bath, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge. In order to avoid a skin forming on the surface of the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
- 12. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the cooled choux pastry batter to a pastry bag with a star tip, preferably Ateco 867 French Star Tip.
- 13. Pipe out about 6 inches of batter, lessening the pressure near the end of the eclair in order to bring the dough up to a half-inch curl. Wet your finger and press down on the curled tip at the end of each eclair so it doesn't stick out.
- 14. Place the sheet pans in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350°F (180°C). Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
- 15. Lower the temperature to 325°F (165°C) and bake for another 20 minutes, until golden brown. Then lower to 300°F (150°C) and bake for 10 more minutes or until the eclairs feel light and hollow. You may break one open and check the inside--it should be completely cooked.
- 16. Set on a cooling rack to ;et cool completely before filling or freezing.
- 17. To assemble, you can slice the eclairs in half and pipe in the pastry cream before setting the other half on top, like a sandwich. Or you can poke 2 holes on each side of the eclair, then fill the eclairs with pastry cream from both ends. You will end up using about 1/4 cup of cream for each eclair. Repeat until all eclairs are filled. Dip in chocolate glaze, if using. Or simply shower with powdered sugar.
- 18. Add chocolate chips to a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, add heavy cream and heat until just bubbling hot. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk until smooth.
- Storage: Eclairs are best eaten as soon as they are assembled, but they may be refrigerated for up to 1 hour. The pastry cream can be made 2 to 3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Baked eclairs can also be frozen for up to 2 weeks, but make sure they are wrapped individually and placed in a covered container. To refresh, place frozen eclairs on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake at 325°F (165°C) for about 5 minutes.
I reckon I’ll be back with another edition of Pate A Choux Diaries pretty soon. But first, the hunt for the perfect piping tip begins!