30 March 2010

The Perfect Chocolate Éclair

If there's one thing my sister and I have a weakness for, it's cream.  Thick, luxurious, sweet heavy cream.  We've each been guilty of pouring straight heavy cream onto our morning cereal (why waste your time with milk?).  Growing up, a bowl of sliced bananas or strawberries with cream and a sprinkling of sugar was (and still is) comfort food for us both.  Whipped cream was served with so many desserts in our house that it was first 'recipe' I ever learned to make.  I have no idea how old I was at the time, but I have very distinct memories of standing on a chair pulled up to the counter and holding onto that hand mixer to make puffy clouds of sweetness from chilled cream and sugar.  Some of my favourite dessert memories are at least 50% whipped cream in fact: Pavlova - that simple but delicious Australian dessert of meringue covered in whipped cream and fruit; and that chocolate wafer icebox cake consisting of nothing more than chocolate wafers held together with whipped cream, and allowed to chill until the wafers get all soft like cookies dipped in milk.  Yep, my addiction to real cream started early, and I fear the day I should ever become lactose intolerant like our dear mom now is.

Well, if you happen to share our love of cream, then chances are you also have a weakness for all the wonderful things you can make with it - such as ice cream, crème brulée or one of my favourites,  pastry cream;  that glorious eggy, custardy filling that you find inside the Perfect Chocolate Éclair... (I can hear angels singing - do you hear it too?)

Since I first tried this recipe several years ago, I have learned a few things: 1) Pâte à Choux has about a billion uses - all of them delicious, 2) the average guy working for an oilfield services company can polish off about 6 chocolate éclairs without feeling so much as an ounce of guilt, and 3) almost all of the éclairs I had eaten in my life up to that point, were clearly made with crappy vanilla pudding mix.  That's right, the powdered foods I create food from these days are flour, sugar, cocoa and the like.  (which is why I have proudly joined the ranks of fellow bakers and bloggers on Baked From Scratch - a great little list headed up by Sugadeaux Cupcakes from Australia, who also happens to have the snazziest profile pic I think I have ever seen).  That's also why you see the cool new badge on your left.

So I'm sharing my recipe with you all... I hope that you will give it a try at least once, just to see what you are really missing when you take the easy route and use a powdered mix.  I don't know a person on this planet who's mouth starts watering when they read this sign.

The Perfect Chocolate Éclair (I hear angels again!)

REAL Pastry Cream
300 ml heavy cream
180 ml milk
5 egg yolks
100g sugar 
1/4 tsp salt
30g cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla
60g cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Pâte à Choux
125 ml milk
125 ml water
125g unsalted butter
4g salt
140g all-purpose flour
4 large eggs (at room temperature)

Chocolate Ganache
(instead of making a super sweet glaze, I just use ganache.  Sure it may be a little bit messier to eat the finished product, but I have never heard anyone complain about it - they're too busy licking their fingers)
280 ml heavy cream
300g dark chocolate, chopped
1 tsp vanilla


REAL Pastry Cream
In a large saucepan, heat the cream, milk, salt and 85g of the sugar over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture just begins to simmer and remove from heat
In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix the egg yolks, cornstarch and remaining 15g of sugar, and whisk on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow.
With the mixer on low speed pour 1/2 of the cream into the yolk mixture in a slow, steady stream.  Be careful not to add the cream too quickly or you'll end up with scrambled eggs - not exactly the desired effect.  Once the eggs are tempered, pour the mixture back into the saucepan, and place over medium low heat.  Gently but continuously whisk the mixture until it thickens and begins to bubble.  If using an instant-read thermometer, the temperature should read between 175˚ and 180˚F.  Remove the pan from heat and whisk the butter into the custard, one piece at a time.  Finally, whisk in the vanilla and sieve the mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium bowl.  Cover the pastry cream by pressing a sheet of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal.  Place in the refrigerator to cool.

Chocolate Ganache
Heat the cream in a medium bowl in the microwave for about 1 minute, but take care not to allow it to boil.  Add the chopped chocolate and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.  Slowly and gently stir the chocolate and cream until the mixture becomes thick and glossy.  Stir in the vanilla and set aside to col to room temperature.

Pâte à Choux
Preheat the oven to 425˚ and adjust the racks to divide the oven into thirds.  Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Spray a bit of non-stick spray under the parchment to keep it in place.
Place the milk, water and butter into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat.  Once the butter has completely melted, add in the flour and stir vigorously, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the dough is well mixed and resembles the texture of wet sand.  Place the dough into the bowl of a food processor (or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment).  Turn the food processor on to cool the mixture  for a couple of minutes.  With the processor running, add the eggs, one at a time, through the feed tube.  Scrape down the bowl if necessary, and continue to process until the dough becomes thick and glossy.  Scrape the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe into evenly-sized large dots or long lines, spacing about 1 1/2 inches of space apart.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the choux are puffed and golden brown.   Remove from oven and, using a sharp knife, skewer or toothpick, quickly pierce each pastry and return them to the oven.  With the oven turned off and the door propped ajar, allow the choux to dry for 30-40 minutes.

Once dry, fill a medium pastry bag, fitted with a small round tip, with the pastry cream.  Gently pierce the choux pastry to create a small hole.   Insert the pastry bag tip into the hole and gently squeeze to fill the choux with pastry cream.  Careful not to over-fill the choux, or it will ooze back out.  Once all the choux have been filled, dip one side of the pastry into the luke-warm ganache and place on a tray or baking sheet.  The éclairs can be chilled for about an hour in the fridge, or served immediately at room temperature.

I would advise on how to store the éclairs, but I've never had the chance to.  All I've ever had to do is wash some chocolate streaks off the serving plate.


Karen4Design said...

You're KILLING me here... those look absolutely amazing!!!

Christina @ AGA said...

Julia, your blog is truly fabulous! You're going to completely derail my healthy living plan...

I normally find that eclairs end up feeling oily in the mouth, but not so with this recipe. The cream was a pain to make, I think that's where the difference came from though. Kudos!

putra said...

thanks for share your recipe, i like it.

egy moyo said...

Nice Info, I like your blog.
thx 4 your recipe..
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