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The simple dough used to create these pastries — called pâte à choux — takes less than 15 minutes to make, and can be refrigerated and used a little at a time for up to a week. It is the basis of a number of other French pastries, including cheese puffs and cream puffs. Unfilled éclair shells can be frozen for up to a week, and thawed in the refrigerator before use. Makes about 10 large eclairs or 20 small eclairs.
For the pâte à choux (choux paste):
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup flour
4 eggs at room temperature
Combine milk, butter and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a boil and quickly stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring vigorously until the paste does not cling to the spoon. Immediately remove it from the heat and let is cool a little, for about 5 minutes. Stir in 4 eggs, one at a time, making sure to mix each egg in thoroughly before adding another. Your dough will be thick, sticky and shiny. You can use it immediately or refrigerate for a few hours before use. You do not need to bring it to room temperature before baking, but you’ll need to add a couple of minutes of baking time if you start with cold dough.
For the chocolate éclairs:
2 1/2 cups cream (See Note below)
2 tbsp powdered sugar or other sweetener (optional)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
To bake the éclair shells: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Scoop the choux paste into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 to 1 inch tip, depending on whether you want mini or large eclairs. Squeeze the paste onto a baking sheet in either 2 inch-long (mini) or 4-inch-long (large) portions. Spritz with water just before baking. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees for about another 25 minutes, or until puffed, golden and firm. Cool the shells completely on a rack.
To make the chocolate ganache topping:Bring 1/2 cup cream to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until it’s all melted. Let the mixture cool slightly, until it’s warm to the touch but not so hot that you can’t hold a finger in it. The ganache will keep for a week in the refrigerator. Just warm it up slowly before use.
To make the whipped cream filling:As the frosting cools, whip 2 cups of cream with the optional sugar until the mixture reaches the consistency of fluffy whipped cream.
To build the éclairs: Poke a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch tip into one end of the éclair, and fill with the cream. Alternately, you can cut the shells in half, fill with cream, and replace the tops. Dip the top of each shell in the ganache, or let it cool slightly, then pipe it onto the shell with the pastry bag. Refrigerate the eclairs for at least 3 hours before serving.
Note: This éclair recipe calls for a whipped cream filling, which is easy to make. An alternative would be to use rich pastry cream for the filling, which takes longer to make but will help you use up even more eggs. You can find classic recipes for pastry cream (crème patisserie) in The Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.
See Also: Check out our June/July issue for more egg recipes, including the Gruyère Gougère (cheese puff) pictured above, which uses the same Choux Paste featured here.
Photo by Tim Nauman Photography