A couple of days ago I was having coffee with a friend, as you do, and I found myself tempted by a chocolate eclair. I don’t know why I bought it, I guess I am just an optimist, drowning in hope because I have never bought an eclair that wasn’t disappointing.
And this one didn’t change that record – it was soggy, you might even say flaccid if you were prone to such a turn of phrase! The cream inside was over-whipped and underflavoured and the topping, despite being labelled “Belgian Chocolate”, tasted only of sugar. Bleurgh.
Three days later I was still lamenting the sad demise of the eclair so I decided to make some. I’ve made choux pastry before and it is not as difficult as you think, it just needs better PR.
So I made these, 12 little, sweet, crisp, flavoursome eclairs – half were traditional chocolate and half were coffee, just for a change.
The key to a good eclair is in the flavours you add. The choux pastry itself doesn’t taste of much, it’s just a carrier for the filling/topping but it does add texture. Pack as much flavour as you can into the cream and the topping and don’t fill them until you are ready to eat them so that they stay crisp. (There’s a few extra flavour ideas at the bottom of the page).
Funnily enough, I made these yesterday and then watched Professional Masterchef last night where a number of trained, professional chefs failed to make a decent choux pastry. Obviously it’s a trend.
Try them, honestly, it’s not rocket science or brain surgery, it’s just baking – and you get to eat the results.
Makes 12 small éclairs
For the choux pastry
65g / 2½ oz Plain Flour
50g / 2oz Butter
For the filling
200ml / 7fl oz Double Cream
1 – 2 tbsp Icing Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste or Vanilla Extract
For the icing
1 tsp Instant Coffee
2 tbsp Icing Sugar
4 or 5 squares of Plain Chocolate
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. If your piping skills are a bit rusty you could use a ruler to draw 12 evenly spaced 4” lines on the underside of the parchment as a guide.
To make the choux pastry
Sift the flour onto a separate sheet of greaseproof paper and set aside.
Put 120ml / 4fl oz water into a medium-sized pan with the butter and heat gently until the butter has completely melted. Bring the mixture to the boil and remove from the heat, immediately tip in all the flour. Beat the mixture thoroughly and energetically with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a smooth dough.
Return the pan to a low heat and continue to beat the dough for a minute or two longer to dry the mixture out, it should form a smooth, glossy ball.
Tip the dough into a mixing bowl and leave to cool.
Beat the eggs in a small dish and add them, a bit at a time, into the dough, beating well with the wooden spoon. Stop when the dough forms a shiny paste and falls easily from the spoon. You may not need all of the egg.
Spoon the pastry into a piping bag with a ½ inch plain nozzle and pipe twelve 4 inch lengths onto the baking parchment, following the lines if you made them.
Pour a little water into separate baking tray and place in the bottom of the oven. Bake the choux pastry in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes until golden-brown and crisp. Remove the eclairs from the oven and turn it off. Remove the tray of water.
Make a small hole in the side of each éclair to allow any steam to escape.
Return the tray to the still warm oven and bake for a further five minutes, or until the pastry is completely crisp. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
For the filling
Whip the cream until it just holds but is not stiff. Add the vanilla paste/extract and one table spoon of the icing sugar, whisk in lightly and taste. Add more sugar if you would like it to be sweeter. Put the cream in a piping bag and snip off the end.
For the coffee topping
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water) and then remove the pan from the heat.
Dissolve the coffee granules in one tablespoon of boiling water. Add the icing sugar 1tsp at a time and stir until smooth. Stop adding the sugar when you have a smooth icing which is soft enough to stick but not runny enough to slide off.
Slice each of the cooled éclairs down one side. Pipe a generous amount of cream into each one then dip it in the coffee icing. Set back on the cooling rack.
Drizzle the melted chocolate over the finished éclairs.
Chocolate: To make a traditional chocolate éclair forget about the coffee icing and melt more chocolate (good quality milk or plain) and dunk the filled éclairs in the melted chocolate.
Orange: Flavour the cream with grated orange zest instead of vanilla and top with an orange icing made using orange juice and icing sugar. Sprinkle a little extra zest on top.
Raspberry and white chocolate: Once you have piped in the cream poke in some fresh raspberries and top the éclairs with melted white chocolate.
If you have the time and inclination you could fill them with Creme Patissiere instead of cream.
You can also make savoury éclairs but more of that in a future post.