I didn’t used to like éclairs. While my husband loves them, I just didn’t understand the appeal. Most of the éclairs I had sampled were stale on the outside, soggy on the inside, and covered with bland chocolate glaze on the top.
One summer, I set out to try to create a homemade version of my husband’s beloved éclairs as a surprise for him. They came together easily and looked like the éclairs he always admired in the bakery counter. I didn’t expect to take the first bite and happily think to myself, “Is this what an éclair is supposed to taste like?”
Fast forward a few years and food allergies became part of our family life. With multiple allergies to eat around, making homemade versions of bakery treats became a necessity. This éclair recipe became one of my staples, a decadent treat that I could make and safely serve at our family table.
As a chicken keeper, a batch of éclairs allows me to showcase the fresh eggs our chickens and ducks leave in the nest box. During the spring, batches of these éclairs and the accompanying pastry cream are a great way to celebrate surviving another winter’s molting season and having egg baskets full of beautiful homegrown eggs to bake with.
Once you’ve mastered these éclairs, you can add three foundational recipes to your collection: pâte à choux dough, pastry cream, and chocolate ganache. Foundational recipes like a flaky pie crust, great chocolate cake, or rich vanilla ice cream base allow you to invent new ways to flavor them and put them to use in new combinations. By having those recipes at the ready, you can make something delicious to highlight what’s in season or what is in your garden, pantry, refrigerator, or freezer.
The pâte à choux pastry dough can be used to create cream puffs or the savory gougères that are always a part of our holiday celebrations here at the farmhouse. The pastry cream can be used in so many ways, my favorite being as the filling for a homemade Boston Cream Pie. The chocolate ganache is a delicious way to top a cake, tart, cupcakes, or any dessert that could benefit from its delicious fudgy texture and deep chocolate flavor. You’ll be amazed at how versatile these recipes are and at how many different delicious desserts you’ll be able to make with them. But first, make a few éclairs and enjoy every last bite!
If you’d like to learn more about the tools I use when making this recipe, you can find them right here:
For the Pâte à Choux Dough
- 4 ounces 8 Tablespoons butter
- 8 ounces 1 cup whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 c 120 grams All-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs
For the Pastry Cream
- 12 ounces 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 2 large eggs
- 6 Tablespoons 72 grams granulated sugar
- ¼ cup 30 grams All-purpose flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Chocolate Ganache
- 3 ounces heavy cream
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped
For the Pâte à Choux Dough:
Position oven racks in the top and bottom third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper.
Measure the flour into a small bowl. Crack all of the eggs into another bowl and set aside until they are needed.
Combine the milk, butter, and salt in a medium sized pot over medium high heat. Monitor the mixture closely, stirring often, to avoid scorching. As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and add the flour in one addition. Stir rapidly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together to form a ball. Continue to stir continuously for two minutes until the dough is completely smooth and leaves a film on the bottom of the pot. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the mixture to cool for five minutes.
Once the five minutes have elapsed, add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. With the addition of each egg, the dough will break. This is normal; rest assured that the dough will be perfectly smooth by the time the fourth egg is incorporated.
Using a pastry bag with a large round tip (or a plastic food storage bag prepared as described above), pipe the dough onto the prepared sheets in strips that measure approximately 1 1/2 inches wide by 4 inches long.
Transfer the baking sheets to the preheated oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Rotate the baking sheets and bake for another 5-10 minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom.
Remove the baking sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Pierce each éclair with a toothpick or skewer to allow steam to escape while cooling. This will allow the pastry to cool without deflating.
For the Pastry Cream:
Place the whole milk in a medium saucepan. Heat the milk over medium heat until small bubbles appear.
As the milk is warming, combine the eggs with the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. The resulting batter should be thick and smooth.
Move the pan of milk from the burner. Slowly add the egg mixture, whisking to incorporate the thick batter into the warm milk.
Return the pan to medium low heat and bring to a simmer, whisking continuously until the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the pastry cream from the pan (straining if necessary to remove lumps) to a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and whisk to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing it firmly against the mixture to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. Refrigerate until the éclairs are ready to be assembled.
For the Ganache:
Warm the heavy cream in a small pan over low heat or in the microwave in 30 second increments. Add the chocolate and allow to rest for two minutes. Whisk to incorporate. When the cream and chocolate have become a satiny glaze, set aside to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. The mixture will thicken as it cools to room temperature.
Assemble the Éclairs:
Add the chilled pastry cream to a pastry bag with a large round tip or a plastic food storage bag. Place the tip into the end of an éclair and squeeze gently to fill. The éclair can also be split horizontally using a sharp knife before spooning the pastry cream over the surface of the bottom half and covering with the top half. Dress the filled éclair with the ganache, spreading it to cover the top surface of the éclair. Serve immediately or refrigerate briefly before serving.