Classic Éclairs & Variations

There are some things that just make you feel like a baking badass. Éclairs are one of them, and with the right recipe, "whipping up a batch" can really be as effortless as it sounds. 

Traditional french éclairs aren't just an amazing addition to your classic recipe repertoire, but also a exceptional building block for more non-traditional desserts than you can imagine. The truth is, I rarely gather the strength to master a "classic" unless I can promptly demolish it afterwards – I just find inventing new recipes more creatively fulfilling than following old ones – so if that sounds like you too, LEARN HOW TO PROPERLY MAKE ÉCLAIRS. The creative possibilities for working with Pâte a Choux are literally endless, and you will never run out of sweet or savory things to stuff inside these delicious puffs.

Also, I know diet-consciousness isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of French pastry, but using Pâte a Choux is also a lux way to cut some calories out of your life, as the resulting puffs are relatively low in carbs and high in protein (they're basically all crust, filled with air). So yeah, do what you want with that little bit of info, like filling your puffs with a savory chicken salad. Or just screw it all and fill them with cream. Like we're about to do. Okay, let's get started!

Classic éclairs consist of three parts: Pâte a Choux, cream and a chocolate fondant topping. Here we use a simple variation on pastry cream and a classic ganache topping, to keep it simple, but we're staying true to French Pâte a Choux, because there really is only one variation in the world of American Pâte a Choux, and it involves NOT using a kitchen scale. This isn't a deal breaker (and we'll share both types of measurements), but really, it will make a world of difference in the final product. I use this cheap little Escali scale ($24.99) in my kitchen, which comes in a whole rainbow of colors, and you really should just buy one and have your world rocked. Plus, it will make famous French pastry chef Jacquy Pfeiffer, whose recipe this is adapted from, proud of you and America in general - so do your part for our great rouge, blanc et bleu.

Lastly, a few ideas for variations, to help get the juices flowing once you've mastered the foundation:

  • Fill with Two-Step Banana Pudding and drizzle with Salted Caramel for banoffee eclairs 
  • Purée berries of your choosing, strain to remove seeds, then fold into cream mixture for an incredible fruit filling
  • Pipe Pâte a Choux in small rounds instead of éclairs. After baking, cut in half, fill with a scoop of ice cream, and drizzle with hot fudge

Classic French Éclairs 

For the Pâte a Choux

125 grams (½ cup) whole milk

125 grams (½ cup plus 2½ teaspoons) water

110 grams (7 ½ tablespoons) French butter, such as Président

5 grams (1 teaspoon) granulated coconut flower nectar

2 grams (¼ teaspoon) sea salt

140 grams (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) pastry flour, sifted

220 grams whole eggs (about 4-5 extra large), plus more as needed

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon milk for egg wash

 

1. Preheat oven to 400 F and line a sheet pan with parchment (or use a Silpat). 

2. Combine milk, water, butter, granulated coconut flower nectar and salt in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, whisk ingredients until fully combined and mixture has come to a boil.

3. Remove from heat, then in one addition, add the pastry flour and whisk vigorously until fully combined.

4. Return to medium heat, and with a wooden spoon or spatula, stir until mixture pulls away from sides and forms a ball.

5. Remove from heat and carefully deposit dough in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn speed to medium, then gradually add egg yolks, one by one, until each is fully incorporated. Stop the mixer, scape down the sides, then give it one last mixing to make sure every last bit of egg is blended in.

6. Spoon about half of the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip (kitchen hack: a heavy duty plastic freezer bag with about 1/4 inch snipped from the corner can work in a pinch). Pipe about 10-12 5-inch éclairs onto the sheet, leaving at least an inch between each one. Lightly Brush with egg wash. 

7. Bake at 400 F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 F and bake for another 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and cool completely. Repeat with remaining Pâte a Choux, or pop in the fridge or freezer for later.

 

For the filling

1/3 cup cream

1 cup milk  

1/2 cup granulated coconut flower nectar

2 tbsp cornstarch

3 egg yolks

3 tbsp butter

Pinch of salt

 

1. Combine all ingredients except butter in a blender, and blend until very smooth.

2. Pour blender contents into a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, cook, whisking constantly until mixture has thickened (it will be lumpy at first, then cohesive).

3. Remove from heat, add butter, and whisk constantly until butter is fully melted and mixture is smooth and shiny. Cream should be as thick as pudding, but not as thick as greek yogurt, so if it needs thinning add some more milk or cream, a few tablespoons at a time.

 

For the ganache

One 2.5oz chocolate bar (your choice!)

1/3 cup cream

 

1. Chop chocolate into small chunks and place in medium, heatproof bowl.

2. Heat cream until steaming, over the stove or in the microwave.

3. Pour cream over chocolate. Allow to sit, undisturbed, for about 10 minutes, to allow chocolate to melt. 

4. Whisk milk and chocolate until fully combined.

 

To assemble:

The easiest way to fill an eclair is to cut in half, spoon in filling and drizzle with ganache. But if you want to try the more advanced (and less messy) version, fit a pastry bag with a narrow circular tip then fill bag with cream. On one side of each éclair, poke a small hole, then insert pastry tip and squeeze in cream until full. Dip filled éclairs halfway into warm ganache, face down, then tilt upwards so extra ganache drizzles back into the bowl. Place éclair on baking sheet and allow ganache to cool and set. Enjoy!