Monday, April 26, 2010

Chocolate Eclairs

Sorry it's been a little while since my last post; I had an Incident a little over a week ago in which a particle of something attacked my eye and managed to scratch my cornea. And yes, it was about as pleasant as it sounds. Did I mention I was halfway through a wedding when this happened? A wedding for one of Dan's friends, so I was meeting lots of people for the first time? Wearing one contact lens? With an angry, red eye that I couldn't really open fully?

As you can imagine, my beauty was outdone only by the bride.

But I'm all better now so it's time for my first foray into pastry (for this cookbook anyway), Chocolate Eclairs!

There were really three elements that went into making these eclairs: the fondant icing, the choux pastry, and the chocolate pastry cream. My plan was to make the icing and pastry cream one day, and make the pastry and finish the eclairs the next. 

The first thing I made was the icing:

confectioners sugar, water, corn syrup, dark chocolate

I put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a small saucepan, stirred to combine, and then put it over a medium heat. 

Stirring constantly, I heated the mixture to about 92 degrees (or as best I could estimate since the lowest temperature on my thermometer is 100).

This only took a couple of minutes and the mixture thickened quickly. 

I poured this into a bowl, covered the surface with plastic wrap, and left it to cool to room temperature.

I was all set to start on the pastry cream, until I realized that what I thought was corn starch was actually baking soda, and sadly none of our little neighborhood markets carried it.  Masa, yes. But corn starch, no; too foreign.

The next day, after I had procured the corn starch from the regular grocery store, I made the chocolate pastry cream. It's possible to substitute this pastry cream with simple whipped cream, but as a chocolate lover, I was pretty excited about making it. Plus, I don't really think homemade whipped cream has much flavor, at least not when I make it. It's not sweet or flavorful enough for me, but maybe I'm not using enough sugar or vanilla. I actually think adding some vanilla bean to whipped cream would be delicious...but I digress. 

Ingredients for the chocolate pastry cream:

flour, corn starch, egg yolks, caster sugar, whole milk, dark chocolate

Into a bowl, I sifted the flour, and then added the corn starch, sugar, and egg yolks. 

I started to mix this by hand, but it wasn't forming the paste I needed it to, so I switched to my stand mixer, hoping that would move things along more quickly. At first, the mixture was still grainy and I worried it would never smooth out, but I managed to be patient, and finally it formed a nice, smooth paste.

While this was mixing, I put the milk in a small saucepan and brought it to a boil. I added the hot milk slowly to the paste with the mixer on low and then poured the whole thing into a clean pan.

This pan went over a medium heat and I whisked constantly until it thickened and came back to a boil, which didn't take long. I lowered the heat and it "simmered" for another minute or two. I say "simmered" because with such a thick mixture, I only got a few big bubbles at a time, but I didn't want to make the mistake of cooking it for too long.

I removed the pan from the heat and added the dark chocolate, which I had broken into small pieces. I stirred this to incorporate the chocolate as it melted, and then poured the mixture into a bowl to cool to room temperature. By this point, the pastry cream had the consistency of a very thick chocolate pudding.

I also made sure the surface of this was covered in plastic wrap so it didn't form a skin. Appetizing, right?

While the pastry cream was cooling, I started on the choux pastry for the actual eclairs. This is the same kind of dough used to make creme puffs or profiteroles, as it puffs while it cooks, forming a hollow structure perfect for filling (theoretically).

flour, sugar, water, butter, salt, eggs

I combined the flour and sugar in a small bowl and put it aside. In a separate bowl, I beat two eggs together lightly. I put the water, butter, and salt in a small pan and brought it to a boil over high heat. 

As soon as it boiled, I added the flour and sugar all at once and stirred constantly until it formed a ball in the center of the pan. Once I got to this stage, I lowered the heat to medium and stirred for another minute to dry out the dough slightly. I'm sorry I don't have more photos of these steps, but everything had to be done pretty quickly, and I only have two hands.

I transferred the dough to a bowl and stirred it just slightly to let some of the heat escape. I started adding the beaten eggs a little at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon after each addition. I mixed until the dough became a smooth, thick paste.

right out of the pan

After adding all the egg

I transferred the finished dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch plain tip and piped it onto prepared baking sheets (I brushed the baking sheets with melted butter before starting and chilled them in the fridge to harden). I piped the dough into lines 5 inches long and about 1 1/2 inches apart.

I planned to pipe 12 on each onto two baking sheets since the recipe made 24, but only had enough dough for 17. I worried I had made them too big, but I had measured the pastry tip when I bought it, and used a tape measure to be sure I made each eclair the right length. (Sidenote: I don't have much experience using piping bags, but I really enjoyed doing this. Using such a large, plain tip made the process nice and simple, and the dough was very easy to work with.) I considered making more dough since I still had all the ingredients, but then thought that if I had made them too large, and then made more, I might not have enough pastry cream for all of them. Oh, how wrong I was.

I put the pans at the top of a preheated oven. They baked at a high temperature for about 23 minutes, and then at a lowered temperature for another 5. The recipe only gives the baking time for the higher temperature, and then after instructing you to lower the oven, just says to bake them until firm and dry on the inside. The only way to check this was to break one open, which I was sort of sad about since I only had 17 to begin with. This would prove to be not such a big deal in the end though, especially since breaking one open also let me see that the eclairs were not quite as hollow as I wanted them to be.

I took the baked eclairs out of the oven and let them cool on a wire rack.

I was pretty wary when I saw how thin the baked pastries were, but still hoped they had been successful and were hollow inside (a rare and misguided moment of optimism). Once they were completely cool, I needed to make two holes at either end of the base of each one. I hoped I would be able to do this with the tip of a 1/4 inch plain piping nozzle, but when I tried, the tip seemed too big and the eclairs were too fragile. Things were not looking up.

Using the sharp point of a (clean) meat thermometer, I started by poking small holes in the bottom of each eclair, widening them slowly and carefully, so as not to break the ends. I used the pastry tip as a guide so I would know how big to make each hole. This actually seemed to work pretty well.
Not a great picture, but you can sort of see the holes at either end, that is, if my freakishly pale hand hasn't blinded you

Once all the pastries had holes at either end, I reached for the pastry cream, but it was still a little too warm. I put it in the fridge for about 3o minutes, until it was closer to room temperature. I stirred it some to smooth it out and then filled a piping bag, fitted with a 1/4 inch plain tip. I started to pipe the cream into the holes I had made, but quickly realized there was just no way it was going to work. I followed the directions and started piping the cream in one hole, hoping to see it come out the second, meaning the eclair was full. Instead, cream had no where to go and just backed out of the hole onto my hand. I tried to use the meat thermometer and work it gently into each hole and down into the pastry to hollow it out slightly, while trying not to break the pastries. This sort of worked, but really didn't solve the problem. I attempted more piping and got 9 or 10 filled most of the way.

They may look filled, but really I just piped some cream in each hole

See? Empty.

At this point, I really felt like giving up and chocking this up to my first failure, which was particularly disheartening since this was my first attempt at one of the pastry recipes, and I had really been looking forward to bragging at work that yes, I made every part of these from scratch. Perhaps my hubris was my downfall. 

Once I accepted that these just weren't going to be successful enough to give to other people, I decided to work with what I had. After all, more for me! Nothing dulls the sting of failure quite like chocolate-filled, chocolate-dipped pastry. Really, you should try it some time.

I checked each one and those that hadn't been filled completely, I broke in half, filling each half with the pastry cream.

I had a ton of pastry cream left over, at least half, maybe more. Clearly, I should have had more eclairs to fill or the eclairs should have been bigger to accommodate more cream (A LOT bigger. There was so much pastry cream left over, I saved it so Dan could eat it as pudding)

One of the reasons I wanted to find some way to finish the eclairs was because I really wanted to finish the fondant icing I had started the day before. To do that, I poured what I had into a small pot and warmed it slightly, to about 90 degrees. Once warm, I added chopped dark chocolate a little at a time until I had the right consistency and flavor I wanted.

I dipped the top of each filled eclair into the icing, and then tipped it downward so the excess could drip off. There's a note in the recipe that if the icing is too much work, you can dip the eclairs into melted chocolate and then let them harden in the fridge, but the icing was one of the easiest parts of this dish. Everything went in one pan, it only heated a little, and only used a few ingredients. I also thought it was very successful in both flavor and texture. I put the finished eclairs onto a piece of waxed paper so the icing could harden.

Look! They look like real eclairs! Except small and...broken. And yes, they are on wax paper, not just the counter.

I tasted each element as I went along, and each was good on its own, but when I tasted them all together at the end, they were sinfully good. Sweet, crunchy, creamy, and chocolaty. Even though they weren't the right size, they really tasted just like an eclair should. I really wish the dough had been more successful because these tasted so so good and I would have loved to show them off at work. Oh well, guess I'll just have to make cookies instead.

[Edited to Add: I brought one of these to work to eat after lunch, and of course after writing about them and publishing this, I really wanted it. And it was SO FREAKING GOOD. SO GOOD. I'm sort of happy now that they didn't turn out perfectly because MORE FOR ME. Family: now would be the time to start talking to an Interventionist.]

Next Indulgence: Red Berry Meringue Heart to Share


  1. These may surpass the Lemon Meringue Pie choice that Bob makes every Father's Day as eclairs are also a favorite and never before contemplated or for that matter offered. And the fact that they did't turn out "as pretty" as they should be wouldn't deter him in the least. Let's please remember even before the thought of applying for a large loan to attend culinary school and becoming a pastry chef was your dream you were 5 when you made your 1st batch of cookies solo. They were so bad that we all agreed to toss them. Step-father Bob upon seeing your tears took them out of the garbage and pronounced them delicious as your sister and I looked on in horror. So, however those eclairs look bring them on.

  2. I know you said these didn't come out great bc they were small. but small is cute. like you and me. :)


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