Homemade Chocolate Eclairs | French Pastry Recipes.
This Chocolate Eclair Dessert Recipe makes it easy to create one of the most delicious French pastries in the world any time you like.
In my humble opinion…
The Chocolate Eclair is one of the most delicious French pastries ever created.
Tender pastry filled with lucious pastry cream and covered in chocolate… Seriously. What’s not to love about that? Actually…. I’ll tell you what’s not to love about that: Making the pastry, that’s what.
I have a bit of a love hate relationship with choux pastry (A.K.A, cream puff dough, or pâte à choux). My attitude is simple to explain: I love it when it works and hate it when it doesn’t. When choux pastry works, you are rewarded with buttery pastry that is crisp on the outside, soft and custardy on the inside, and absolutely begging to be filled with pastry cream and covered in chocolate.
Unfortunately, in my experience, there are many ways to mess up this lovely French pastry dough. Such as when it spreads out in the oven into a large, buttery mess. Or, flattens into dense hockey pucks – either while the pastries are baking or after I’ve removed them from the oven. Watching them deflate after removing them from the oven is particularly cruel because you think your moments away from enjoying a delicious chocolate eclair only to discover that you either have to start again or just resign yourself to eating pastry cream directly from the bowl (not that I’m opposed to that).
This week, I decided enough is enough. I was on a mission to master choux pastry once and for all. I would not fail. Chocolate eclair victory was mine! I could taste it. (Literally…. I was licking the pastry cream spoon.)
I did some experimenting to discover exactly what works and what doesn’t, and here’s what I’ve learned about…
Making the perfect pastry for Chocolate Eclairs (choux pastry):
The dough for chocolate eclairs is essentially an emulsion – which means the ingredients must be thoroughly combined in the right order and at the right temperatures. It’s very important that the milk, water, butter, salt, and sugar come to a very rapid boil before adding the flour. Once the four has been added, it’s also important to cook it for at least 5-8 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring vigorously in order for the flour and butter to thoroughly combine. You want to see a thin floury film begin to form on the bottom of the pan, signaling that the dough has dried out a bit and that the ingredients have come together.
Choux pastry dough requires a high proportion of protein. You’ll notice I’ve added some vital wheat gluten to the all purpose flour in this recipe. Vital wheat gluten increases the protein content of the dough, giving it more structure, which helps the pastry from collapsing on itself when removed from the oven.
Your making chocolate eclairs – not scrambled eggs. Before incorporating the eggs, it’s important to allow the pastry dough to cool a bit to prevent the eggs from scrambling instead of incorporating into the dough. Dump the dough into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and let it mix for 5 minutes. At this point, the dough should be warm to the touch – not hot or cold. Too hot, and the eggs will scramble. Too cold, and the dough will not absorb the eggs completely.
The amount of eggs required for the right consistency varies. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, paying attention to the consistency. You’re looking to create dough that is soft, but will still hold it’s shape. If you lift the beater from the dough it should form a peak that slowly folds over itself. This recipe calls for 4 eggs – but you might only need to add 3. Or, you might only need to add half of the 4th egg.
To get that perfect chocolate eclair puff, air and moisture are fickle friends. Choux pastry doesn’t use any chemical raising agent (like baking powder) to rise. Rather, the pastry relies on air and moisture trapped in the dough to give it that perfect gentle puff. In this way moisture is your friend. However, too much moisture and the pastries will not puff as they bake. This is why it’s important to cook the dough long enough to dry it out slightly and why it’s important not to add too many eggs. Trapped steam inside the pastries after they are done baking, can also be a problem, causing the pastry to fall as it cools. To prevent this, when the pastries are done baking, use a paring knife to cut a small slit in the side of the pastries to allow stem to escape. Turn the oven off and return the pastries to the oven for 5 minutes. Immediately remove the pastries from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack so that moisture doesn’t build up underneath the pastries.
Every component of a Chocolate Eclair should add flavor.
One final thing – many choux pastry recipes call for just a pinch of salt and no sugar. The idea is that the pastry itself is simply a carrier for the filling. When it comes to my idea of the perfect chocolate eclair, this is only true to a point. You wouldn’t necessarily want to eat the eclair pastry shell all on it’s own. It’s meant to be filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate. However, I think the pastry should still contain some flavor all on it’s own. I’ve found the the best recipes rely on layerings of flavor, each ingredient contributing something of value to the dish. That’s why this recipe includes a bit more salt than most choux pastry recipes and a tablespoon of sugar. The salt and sugar add subtle flavor without making the pastry salty or sweet and without detracting from the star ingredient – the pastry cream.
The pastry cream used here is the same recipe I use to make Napoleon Dessert (Mille Feuille Cream Pastry). It’s the bomb diggity. I can’t really imagine it not making anything delicious. So – if for some reason you follow these directions and your lovely eclair pastry shells do not come out so lovely, just cover them in pastry cream and a drizzle of chocolate glaze and eat them anyway. Call them chocolate eclair tarts or something. No one will complain.
- 1½ tsp unflavored gelatin
- 2 tsp cold water
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup water
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 stick (1/2 cup or 4 oz) butter
- 1 tbsp granulated sugar
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¾ cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
- 4 large eggs
- In a small dish, stir the gelatin and water together to combine. There should be just enough water to moisten the gelatin, creating a thick paste. Set aside.
- Add milk, sugar, salt, egg yolks and cornstarch to a 4-quart or larger heavy bottomed saucepan and whisk vigorously to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, at which point the mixture will have thickened to the point that the whisk will leave tracks as you stir. Boil for 30 seconds then remove from the heat and whisk for 30 seconds longer. Pour into a bowl.
- Whisk in vanilla. Break the gelatin into small pieces, dropping them into the hot pastry cream. Whisk until the gelatin is completely incorporated, about 20 seconds. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap over the surface of the pastry cream, and punch a few holes in the surface of the wrap with a sharp knife. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and fit a pastry bag with a 1-inch round or star tip - or simply cut hole that's approximately 1-inch in diameter in the tip of a pastry bag. Set the bag, tip side down, inside a tall drinking glass, fold the top down a couple of inches, and set aside.
- Add the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to a medium size, heavy bottom saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a rolling boil with bubbles covering the entire surface. Boil rapidly for 1 minute.
- Turn the heat to medium-low and add the flour and vital wheat gluten all at once to the boiling liquid. Stir the flour and liquid vigorously with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to form a dough. Cook - continuing to sir vigorously - for 5-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and a thin floury film has formed across the bottom of the pan.
- Dump the dough into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and stir on low speed for 5 minutes to allow the dough to cool before adding the eggs. Turn the mixer to medium-high and add the eggs one at a time, scrapping down the sides of the bowl after beating in each egg. After each egg is added, beat at medium-high speed until completely incorporated before adding the next. After three eggs, check the consistency of the dough: Stop the mixer and lift the beater from the dough. The dough should form a peak that slowly folds in on itself. If the dough seems too stiff, go on and add the 4th egg - or half of the 4th egg.
- Spoon the dough into the pastry bag and pipe 8 bratwurst size "logs" (approximately 5-6 inches long and 2 - 2½ inches wide) onto the parchment covered baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart.
- Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and, using a sharp paring knife, cut a small slit in the sides of the pastry shells to release steam. Turn the oven off and return the pastry shells to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pastry from the oven and place the shells directly on a wire rack to cool completely.
- Add the semi-sweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, butter, salt, and corn syrup to a medium size saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the butter and chocolate are melted and the glaze is smooth. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
- Using a sharp paring knife, widen the incision in the sides of the pastry shells to stretch the length of the pastry.
- Fill a pastry bag with pastry cream, cut off the tip of the bag and fill each pastry shell with pastry cream.
- Using a knife or spoon, gently spread the tops with chocolate glaze. Decorate with a dollop of pastry cream, if desired.
- Place the chocolate eclairs in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to set the chocolate glaze. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.