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Friday, April 25, 2014

Chocolate Eclairs and Cream Puffs


I started making Cream Puffs and Eclairs when I was a teenager.  I was intrigued by this French confection after listening to my Aunt and Uncle talk of eating them while they lived in Paris.  My Aunt would go to a little bakery near their apartment and practice her French by ordering "deux éclairs au chocolat" for herself and my Uncle.  How nice that must have been, eating those fresh eclairs, from a real French pastry shop (une pâtisserie).  

I don't suppose I'll ever have that opportunity of ordering an eclair in France but I can certainly have a fresh eclair from "une pâtisserie" if you consider my kitchen an authentic home bakery.  I have made hundreds, maybe thousands of eclairs over the years.  When I was teaching, the school would have special education days and one of those days was French Day.  The children would dress in the colours of the French flag and participate in several French linguistic and cultural activities during the day and would have the opportunity of purchasing a miniature chocolate eclair at recess.  (We made sure every child who wanted one, had an eclair whether or not they had the money to buy one.)  One year we could not buy the eclairs because of some problem with the supplier so I volunteered to make them.  Oh, my, over 400 miniature eclairs came out of my kitchen each year for the next 3 or 4 years.  The week of French Day I was eating, sleeping and dreaming eclairs.  (I felt obligated to eat any failures.)

Cream Puffs and Eclairs are made from the same dough or "pâte à choux" which is an eggy tasting pastry risen with the steam that is emitted during the baking stage.  The Cream Puff is a rounded blob of pastry and the Eclair is a long hotdog-like shape.  They usually have the same or similar fillings but Cream Puffs have a sprinkle of icing sugar or confectioner's sugar on top while the top of the Eclair is dipped in a chocolate glaze.  Both are mouth-wateringly good and one can almost be forced to have more than one.   

If you'd like to have both Eclairs and Cream Puffs, make half the shells each way.


Chocolate Eclairs and Cream Puffs

Pâte à Choux (Pastry)
1 cup water
½ cup butter
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

Bring the water and butter to a boil in a medium-size saucepan. While it is heating mix together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the boiling water all at once, stirring quickly and constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball around the spoon. Remove from the heat.

Transfer hot batter into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer or you may continue beating by hand.  

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, to form a smooth, pliable, glossy dough.

Bring the water and butter to a boil.  Add the flour all at once and cook until the dough forms a ball.  Add the eggs one at a time.  After the addition of each egg the dough will break and look like curds of cheese but keep on mixing and it will come together.  The dough should be smooth and pliable.  The mixing of the eggs is much easier if you use a mixer. 


Cream Puffs (choux à la crème)
Use a piping bag or drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake in a preheated 375°oven until light golden brown and firm, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool thoroughly. (If the puffs seem as if they are browning too fast, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and continue baking for the full amount of time. Under-baked puffs will collapse when cool.) 

Cut the puffs in half horizontally and fill the bottoms with desired filling. Replace the tops. Dust with confectioner's sugar or drizzle with glaze, if desired. Makes about
12/18 large/medium cream puffs or 24-36 miniature cream puffs.


Chocolate Eclairs (éclairs au chocolat)
Using a pastry bag with a large, plain tip, form the dough into 3" long rectangles on parchment-lined baking sheets.   Bake in a preheated 375°oven until light golden brown and firm, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool thoroughly. (If the eclair shells seem as if they are browning too fast, turn the oven down to 350 degrees and continue baking for the full amount of time. Under-baked eclair shells will collapse when cool.) 

Place filling in a pastry bag fitted with a filling tip and force the filling through the ends of the thoroughly cool eclair shells.  You may make a small hole at each end of the eclair to assist in filling.  Dip the tops in Chocolate Ganache Glaze.  Makes about 12/18 large/medium eclairs or 24-36 miniature eclairs.  


Before piping the eclair shapes, I like to draw a guide with a pencil and ruler on the parchment paper.  Turn the paper over so the pencil markings will not come in contact with the dough.  Pipe out the dough following the guide and you will have uniform sized eclairs. You may make the eclair shells any size you want.  Bake the eclairs until they are golden brown and dried in the middle.  



I made really small puffs and eclairs for a party where finger food was to be served.  You can get an idea of how much smaller the miniature puffs and eclairs are compared to a medium sized ones.


Fill the eclairs with a pastry bag fitted with filling tip or even a star tip will do.


Dip the eclairs in the Chocolate Ganache Glaze.  Set the eclairs out to dry.

Cut the tops off the Cream Puffs and fill with your choice of filling.  
Finish them with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.


Fillings 
Whipped cream added to the pastry cream.
The types of fillings for eclairs and cream puffs are endless.  It's up to you but the classic fillings are Pastry Cream or Sweetened Whipped Cream.  Ice Cream is also a favourite filling but the pastries must be kept frozen if not served immediately.  Pastry Cream can be lightened with the addition of a little whipped cream folded in the custard just before filling the shells


Pastry Cream/Vanilla Custard
Pastry cream is best made the day before so it has plenty of time to chill 

2 cups whole (3%) milk
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Place milk in a medium saucepan and place over medium high heat.  Bring milk to just boiling.  While milk is coming to a boil mix egg and yolks, sugar and cornstarch together until smooth.  When milk comes to a boil, pour about half of it into the cornstarch mixture stirring constantly.  (This will temper the eggs so they will not cook into little lumps of scrambled egg.) 

Return the milk and cornstarch mixture to saucepan with the remaining milk and bring back to a simmer.  Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil.  Remove from heat and add the vanilla and butter.  Strain the custard through a metal strainer.  This removes any little lumps that may have formed while cooking.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.   

Separate the eggs and mix the yolks and whole eggs with the sugar and cornstarch.  When the milk comes to a simmer pour about half into the egg mixture stirring constantly so the eggs will not scramble.  Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and bring back to a boil until the mixture cooks and thickens.  Strain cooked mixture to remove any lumps or little bits of egg that may have cooked.  Place hot mixture in a flat container and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until cold and ready to use.  I used both vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste it the pastry cream.  I like the little black specks in the finished product. 


Whipped Cream 
You may use sweetened whipped cream as a filling but stabilized cream is a much better filling than plain whipped cream as it will not separate or weep and will hold for several days.  Click on the link for the recipe.


Vanilla, Chocolate or Lemon Pudding 
Any favourite flavour boxed instant or cooked pudding or pie filling can be used to fill your eclairs or cream puffs.  Follow the directions on the pudding box.

 
You may only need half a recipe for the glaze so I've included the ingredients for half the recipe in brackets.

Chocolate Ganache Glaze
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (½ cup)
¾ cup whipping cream (¼ cup + 2tablespoons)
1 tablespoon corn syrup, optional (1½ teaspoons)

Place the chocolate in a medium-sized bowl.  In a small saucepan bring the cream just to a simmer.  Remove cream from heat and pour over the chocolate.  Let the cream sit on the chocolate for several minutes until the chocolate melts.  Add the corn syrup if using and stir together until a creamy mixture is formed.   This is now ready to be used as a chocolate glaze for the eclairs. If mixture is too thick add 1 or 2 tablespoons hot cream.  

Heat the cream and pour over the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate.  Let the heat of the cream melt the chocolate. When chocolate is melted stir both together until a creamy chocolate mixture is formed. 




What a treat.   
"Ma cheri choux à la crème! Je t'aime éclairs au chocolat!*

*Roughly translated:  My darling Cream Puffs!  I love Chocolate Eclairs!

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