Finally! That’s right, I finally got a chance to pipe out some éclairs to inject with that crème patissière I whooped up recently. Pâte à choux, the medium of éclairs, cream puffs (mmm, religieuses), gougères (check out Austin food blogger Fête & Feast’s clever Caprese sliders), Paris-Brest and gâteau St.-Honoré, is actually easy to prepare and sublimes quickly from assembled ingredients to oven-ready forms. For bakers subject to interruption, however, an untimely break in the process can wreak stalemate, so I postponed production until I could wrangle a reliable block of kitchen time.
There is room for a recess after the initial paste is cooked on the stove top, as it must cool for about 10 minutes before adding the eggs, and the formed dough can even rest overnight if necessary before baking. But once you boil your liquid you must add all the flour and continuously stir the mixture for a minute or so to cook the starch. And once you have added your eggs you should move right on to piping (Although Rose Levy Beranbaum affirms that you can store the dough airtight overnight and rebeat before using the next day, it’s sticky stuff. I prefer to proceed in one pass). The actual baking takes a while because the dough needs time to dry sufficiently to provide a soft crunch. So, when watching a little one (or two), you need to know that you can reach certain points in the procedure and complete the operation before the sun goes down. Hence the delay here at my house.
Enrobed with a simple chocolate glaze, these cream-filled ingots transport me back to the City by the Bay, remembering my favorite bakery there, the bustling Tartine.
PATE A CHOUX makes one dozen 4″ éclairs
- 2 ½ ounces (¾ cup) organic whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 1/8 ounces (½ cup) bread flour, preferably organic
- 1 cup water
- 4 ounces (1 stick) organic butter. I love Organic Valley. Click for a coupon.
- ½ teaspoon organic sugar. Central Market’s brand in the 2-pound bag sells for $2.99.
- ¼ teaspoon salt. I like Real Salt. I buy this in bulk at Whole Foods and bring my own container.
- ¾ cup local eggs. I like to use only one or two whole eggs and the rest egg whites. A high ratio of whites yields a crispier pastry.
Whisk together the flours and set aside. Combine the water, butter, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan (a 2½ to 3-quart size suffices and I like a nonstick or enameled interior) and bring to a full boil over high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Return the pan to the stovetop and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously for about a minute. Remove the pan from the heat, give the dough a few more stirs and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes, until it is no longer hot enough to scramble your eggs (no hotter than 140º if you’re employing a thermometer— but I don’t bother).
You can now mix the dough in your saucepan if you wish, I prefer my stand mixer. Beranbaum swears by the food processor, but I have yet to try that out. Gradually add the eggs and beat them in very well. Eventually the mixture will become fluffy. You may not need every last drop of your eggs, so hold back on the last couple of tablespoons and add only enough to yield a smooth and shiny, soft (pipeable) dough, thick enough to hold its shape.
Secure a sheet of parchment paper (I like If You Care brand, available at Central Market and Whole Foods) onto a baking sheet (my 13″ X 16½” REMA brand thrift store score, insulated, is perfect) with small dabs of dough on the corners. Use a pencil and a ruler to mark two 4″ wide rows lengthwise along the paper, leaving a 2″ parting in the middle and about 1″ borders along the top and bottom.
Fill a medium-sized pastry bag, fitted with a ¾” tube (I love to use a star-cut tip, Ateco # 829—technically measuring in at 11/16″) with the pâte à choux and pipe out 12 4-inch lengths, six per row. You can fashion any excess dough into a couple or more 1¼” or so cream puff shapes in the middle of the lineup for lagniappes. With a wet fingertip, smooth down any kewpie tails at attention.
Place the baking sheet into a preheated 300º oven. Raise the heat to 450º and bake for about 15 minutes, until the pastry has puffed and browned. Reduce the heat back down to 300º and continue to bake for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and using a very sharp paring knife, quickly slice a slit in the side of each éclair to allow steam to escape and further dry and crisp the pastry. Return the panful of puffs to the turned-off oven, prop the door ajar and let them continue drying for another half hour, or longer if convenient.
Filled pastries soften, so I prefer to inject only as many éclairs as we will eat right away. For this size batch make double the recipe of Crème Patissière. Fit a pastry bag with a ¼” diameter round tip, preferably the Bismarck tip. Poke the tip into the pastry in three spots, through the side slits or into the bottoms, and pipe in the pastry cream.
Glaze the filled éclairs with this simple chocolate icing:
EASY CHOCOLATE GLAZE
- ¼ cup organic or local heavy cream. Organic Valley and Promised Land are available in our grocery stores and Way Back When brings their dairy-doings to the farmers markets.
- 1 ½ teaspoons organic agave nectar. Central Market’s own brand is usually the best buy.
- 3 ounces organic semisweet/bittersweet chocolate, chopped. I love Green & Black’s brand.
Heat the cream and agave nectar to a simmer—you can do this nearly effortlessly in the microwave—and stir in the chocolate until smooth. Cool at room temperature until you have a spreadable glaze. Cool it just a shade more, stirring well, and you can thicken the icing to a pipeable consistency and use a pastry bag and basketweave tip to apply the glaze. Wilton tip #1D will cloak the ‘clairs in two strokes.
Don’t be discouraged by lack of pastry bags and tips. You can use spoons to form the dough and also to fill the éclairs. Just cut off the top third of the baked pastry and spoon in the cream. Replace the “lid” and spread the chocolate glaze on top with a butter knife or small icing spatula.
Eat ’em up while they’re fresh. You can store unfilled pastries well-wrapped in the freezer, to fill later. Refresh the choux in the toaster oven at 350º until heated through and crisped. Cool before filling and glazing.