I love éclairs.
I don’t have them often. In fact, I think I’ve probably only had a few since leaving France/Belgium/Switzerland, and most of those in the last three days!
When watching The Great British Bake Off last week, I was quite taken by the éclair challenge, and decided to give it a go.
Now, I had tried to make éclairs once before, soon after my French mother bought me a madeleine pan and an éclair one for Christmas. The madeleine one has been used many times, to much success. The eclair one, not so much, mostly because I got scared off after my first couple of attempts went
terribly not so well.
But the whole point of my cooking my way through the Bake Off technical challenges is to improve my technical skills in baking, so I decided it was probably a good time to try again.
And I’m glad I did.
The second proved a little trickier. I finally settled on coffee and Amaretto, but unfortunately, the cost of coffee extract was too much for me and I didn’t have time to make my own (if you do though, look how easy it is!). As a result, I ended up flavouring my fondant with regular coffee, and while the éclairs tasted yummy, the coffee flavour was nowhere near strong enough!
Still, although the two recipes could do with a little tweaking, I am quite happy with how they worked out. When doing the coffee and Amaretto ones, I made the same mistake I had the first time I tried to make my own éclairs, which was not adding enough egg to the choux pastry. As a result, they didn’t rise, and I had to start again! Fortunately, the second batch turned out much better (much to my relief as I had run out of eggs by that point!).
Anyway, I loved the flavour combinations, and will happily attempt éclairs again now that I know they can be done! I hope you will try them too – and why not try out your own flavours – as it turns out once you’ve got the hang of them, they start becoming much easier than you expect them to be.
Chocolate & Cardamom Eclairs
Based on recipe from Secrets of Eclairs
For the choux pastry:
80ml full-fat milk
10g caster sugar
pinch of salt
For the crème pâtissière:
250g full-fat milk
25g caster sugar
3 egg yolks
another 25g caster sugar
10g plain flour
10-12 cardamom pods
For the ganache topping:
120ml double cream
100g dark chocolate
cardamom seeds from 4-6 pods, crushed slightly (optional)
1. Make the choux pastry: Place the milk, water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan and heat (on high), stirring, until butter has melted. Then bring to the boil and let it boil for a few seconds before removing from the heat and adding all the flour. Mix the flour in, then place back on high heat and stir until the dough no longer sticks to the pan (or spatula or your hands). Remove from heat (I usually place my dough into a cold bowl to help it cool a little before adding eggs).
2. Break 2 eggs into a mixing jug, then pour about half the egg into the dough and mix, testing at this point to see if there is enough egg (it is unlikely!). The way to tell if it’s done is if the dough sticks to your spatula and then some of it breaks off cleanly back into the bowl. If all the dough on the spatula comes off without leaving a trace, you need to add more egg. If the dough sticks but comes off quickly, you may have added too much and need to start the dough again!
3. Add the remaining egg, a little bit at a time, checking the dough each time. If your pastry needs more egg, then break another one into the measuring jug, beat, and add a little at a time until you have the right consistency.
4. Pipe the pastry into long strips, brush with egg or water to smooth the surface, then bake in an oven preheated to 170C/150C fan for 45-55 mins. They should rise, puffing up and going golden. Cool.
5. While they are cooking/cooling, make the crème pâtissière: Place milk, cardamom pods and first 25g sugar in a pan, but do not heat until you’ve got the egg yolk mixture ready.
6. Mix egg yolks in a bowl with remaining 25g sugar, flour and cornflour to form a paste, then bring the milk and sugar to just below the boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Take the pan off the heat, pour a couple of tbsp of the milk into the egg yolk mixture and stir to help combine. Pour this back into the pan of remaining milk, then place back over the heat and bring to the boil, whisking/stirring constantly until the mixture thickens suddenly. Turn off the heat, whisk until smooth, then put the crème pâtissière on a plate and cover with cling film, making sure that the cling film touches the crème. Place in the fridge to cool once it’s lukewarm. (I remove the cardamom pods once cooled to allow the flavour to become more intense, but you can remove them before this if you wish.)
7. Once everything is cool, slice the éclairs in half lengthways and pipe the crème pâtissière onto the bottom half before placing the top half back on. Alternatively, you can create a hidden filling by creating three small holes in the bottom of the éclairs and piping the crème pâtissière straight into the éclairs.
8. Make the ganache: Break chocolate into pieces in a heatproof bowl. Heat double cream in a pan to just below boiling point, then pour the cream over the chocolate and mix until all the chocolate is melted. If the cream cools before it’s all melted, simply place the bowl over a pan of a little simmering water and stir until melted.
9. Spread a layer of the ganache on each éclair, then top with a tiny amount of crushed cardamom seeds, if using (it creates a pretty intense flavour, but I personally love it!).
Coffee & Amaretto Eclairs
1. Make choux pastry as above.
2. Make crème pâtissière without cardamoms and add 1/2 – 1 tsp Amaretto (or almond extract) after it has cooled.
3. For the topping, use fondant (ready-made or homemade) flavoured with 1/2 – 1 tsp coffee extract (depending on how intense you want the flavour).