How to Make Éclairs –
You don’t need to have a tall white hat in your closet to be qualified to make éclairs. I admit, the pastry always seemed out of reach for me as a home baker. I figured I can barely pronounce Pâte à Choux, let alone make a pastry dough.
Then I realized I was allowing the fear of failure to prevent me from trying. That’s not how I want to react to challenges in the kitchen or in any part of my life. After all, what did I have to lose, a few cups of ingredients?
When I finally made my own éclairs, I couldn’t believe I allowed myself to wait so long! The dough came together more easily than most cake recipes. If you have mastered basic baking skills, you can make your own éclairs. Below you will find a step-by-step photo tutorial of my éclair recipe.
I make the cream first because it has to chill for several hours.
In a medium bowl, whisk together five egg yolks, 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt.
Heat two cups of half and half and 1/4 cup of sugar over medium heat until it starts to simmer. Slowly whisk the cream into the egg yolk mixture. Take your time. If you do this too quickly, you will cook the eggs and then you’ll have to start over.
Pour the mixture back into the pot.
Whisk constantly until large bubbles start to burst. You want to keep the cream moving so lumps don’t form.
Strain the cream into a medium bowl. The strainer will catch any lumps to make sure your cream turns out silky smooth.
Stir in four tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of vanilla extract. You can replace the extract with the seeds of one vanilla bean for a richer, more intense vanilla flavor. You can also experiment with other extracts and flavorings like almond or coffee. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the cream and refrigerate until cold. The plastic wrap will prevent a skin from forming on top. When I was a kid, I loved pudding with skin on it. But that doesn’t work so well for éclair filling.
Ganache glaze is a fancy-sounding topping that is surprisingly simple to make.
Place 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat 1/2 cup heavy cream over medium heat until it just simmers. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate.
Let the mixture sit for about five minutes. Then stir until smooth.
Pâte à Choux
Here’s the part that I used to think you had to have some secret pastry chef knowledge to make, the dough. It’s pronounced pot-ah-SHOO. In French, Pâte is paste. Choux means cabbage. When you pipe this dough into a circle, it bakes into a shape that resembles a cabbage. This is the same dough you would use to make cream puffs, crullers, profiteroles, beignets, and croquembouches. If you leave out the sugar and vanilla, you can use it as the basis for cheese puffs called gougères.
Most Pâte à Choux recipes don’t have vanilla, but I put it in mine. I love vanilla the way Paula Dean loves butter. It brings out the best in other flavors.
Heat 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup unsalted butter, and 2 tablespoons of sugar over medium heat in a medium saucepan.
As soon as the mixture reaches a boil, add one cup of flour all at once.
Stir constantly until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat. Cool for three minutes.
Stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla extra. Beat in three large eggs and two large egg whites one at a time. You want to have one cup of eggs total. Depending on the size of your eggs, you may have to use a little more or a little less egg. Some Pâte à Choux recipes are made with all whole eggs. I include egg whites because they help to dry out the final product. No one wants to eat soggy éclairs. You can beat in the eggs by hand with a wooden spoon or you can use a mixer.
Use a large round tip or a pastry bag without a tip to pipe lines of dough onto parchment paper covered baking sheets. These are mini éclairs so they are about two inches long. For large éclairs, pipe four inch lines. In the photo you can see peaks of dough on each line. If you leave them that way they could burn. Dip your finger in some water and gently flatten them before you bake.
Bake your pastry in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes. The high heat will help create a burst of steam that makes the dough puff. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees then bake for 30 more minutes until the outside is crisp and golden brown.
Pierce one end of each pastry with a knife. This allows steam to escape and prevents the puffs from getting soggy. Cool completely. If you really want to make sure they dry out, you can place them back inside the warm oven after you turn it off. You can store the empty shells in an airtight container for one day.
Use an open star tip to pipe pastry cream into cooled shells.
Dip the top of each pastry into ganache. You can add white chocolate drizzle as a garnish if you’d like. These are best served on the day they are filled.
Now it’s time to show off your delicious creations to your friends and family. After you complete your first éclairs, you will approach baking with a new level of confidence and will feel ready to tackle even more projects.
Once you’re comfortable making basic éclairs, you can have some fun experimenting. Try piping your dough into egg shapes to make Easter Egg-clairs.
- 5 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup sugar, divided
- pinch of salt
- 2 cups half and half
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 cup melted white chocolate or candy melts
- In medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, ¼ cup sugar, and salt.
- In medium saucepan, combine half and half and ¼ cup sugar. Heat until milk simmers. Slowly whisk hot milk into egg yolk mixture. If you do this too quickly you will cook the eggs. Strain mixture back into saucepan. Stir constantly until mixture bubbles. Strain into a clean bowl. Stir in butter and vanilla. Press plastic wrap onto top of cream and refrigerate until cold, at least two hours.
- Place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat just until bubbles start to form. Pour hot cream over chocolate. Let sit five minutes. Add vanilla. Stir until smooth. Let cool while you prepare pastry dough.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In medium saucepan, combine milk, water, butter, and sugar. Cook over medium heat until the mixture simmers. Add flour all at once. Stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from heat. Let cool for three minutes. Add vanilla. Add eggs and egg whites one at a time. Thoroughly mix between each addition. Use a large round tip or a pastry bag without a tip to pipe two to three inch lines onto parchment-covered baking sheets.
- Bake in 425 degree oven for ten minutes. Decrease heat to 350 degrees. Do not open the oven door. Bake for thirty minutes. Remove pastries from oven. Pierce one end of each shell with a knife to allow steam to escape. Cool. Fill with pastry cream. Dip tops in ganache. Let set.
- Decorate with melted chocolate. Let chocolate set. Serve.
- These are best served the day they are prepared.