I've made eclairs once before, but I certainly don't mind tips from a master. And it was fun to learn all the hows and whys behind the recipe and the science involved in creating the pâte à choux pastry and the pastry cream. The class was taught by Chef Peter Baldino, one of the faculty members at the French Culinary Institute. He was a gracious and patient teacher and with the permission of the FCI I'm reprinting the recipe from his lesson which is taken from The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts
PÂTE À CHOUX CREAM PUFF DOUGH
473 milliliters water 250 grams butter, cubed 3/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar 350 grams bread flour, sifted 10 to 12 eggs
Procedure 1. Put the water, butter, salt, and sugar in a saucepan and place over high heat. 2. When the mixture boils, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. 3. Place the pan back on the heat and cook the paste to dry it out (dessécher); a thin film will form on the bottom of the pan and the paste will begin to come away from the sides of the pan.
4. Pour the paste into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat; it will release steam. Allow the mixture to cool for several minutes. 5. Add the eggs one at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. The paste has absorbed enough eggs when: the spatula lifted out of the bowl forms a ribbon connecting the spatula to the batter, a spoon run through the batter leaves a channel that fills in slowly, or a dollop of batter lifted on a spatula curls over on itself and forms a hook.
6. Pipe the batter in the desired shape and size onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Brush the choux with egg wash.
7. Place the sheet pan in a preheated 500°F oven, turn the oven off, and bake the choux for 15 minutes. Turn the oven back on to 350°F and continue to bake the choux until well browned and baked through. Check the bottoms and look into the cracks to make sure they are thoroughly baked.
Special Instructions * Cutting the butter into small pieces ensures that it will be melted by the time the water boils. * Sifting the bread flour before adding it ensures that there will be no lumps. * Stir the flour in with a wooden or heatproof plastic spoon. * Do not overcook the mixture, or the fat may separate and the final product may take on a reddish tinge. * Cooling the mixture in the mixing bowl prevents the eggs from instantly cooking when they are added. * If the mixture needs only a bit more egg, beat an egg and add only part of it. * When piping, the choux paste should be firm enough to keep its shape. * Too much egg wash will inhibit the rise of the choux.
Evaluating the Finished Product * The choux paste should be smooth. * The piping should be even and consistent. * The egg wash should just cover the top and not drip down the sides. * The choux should be even in height and width. * The choux should be brown, even in the cracks. * The inside of the choux should be soft and hollow. * The center should not be wet or gooey. * The cracks in the choux should be along the base, not across the top.
Ingredients (for forty-five to fifty 4-inch éclairs)
Pâte à choux 300 milliliters heavy cream Crème patissière (946 milliliters/1 full recipe) Fondant, pâte à glacer, caramel, or powdered sugar, for finishing
Procedure 1. Preheat the oven to 500°F. 2. Prepare the pâte à choux. 3. Using a pastry bag fitted with a plain pastry tube, pipe out the choux paste into éclairs onto parchment-lined sheet pans. Pipe the éclairs evenly in straight lines, 4 inches long, leaving ample space between them; they will double or triple in size when baked.
4. Gently brush the tops of the éclairs with egg wash. Place the sheet pans in a preheated 500°F oven, turn the oven off, and bake the éclairs for 15 minutes. Turn the oven back on to 350°F and continue to bake until well browned and baked through. Check the bottoms and look into the cracks to make sure they are thoroughly baked. 5. Cool the éclairs. 6. Poke two holes in the bottom of each éclair. 7. Prepare a crème fouettée with the heavy cream. Lighten the crème patissière with the crème fouettée to make a crème légère. 8. Pipe the cream légère into the éclairs, completely filling the inside and leaving no gaps or air spaces.
Glaze the tops of the éclairs with fondant, pâte à glacer, caramel, or dust with powdered sugar.
Special Instructions * Éclairs can be piped into different sizes depending on the use intended. The standard size for a pastry shop item is an éclair about 4 inches long, which is piped using a #5 plain tube. * Miniature éclairs, to be used as petits fours, should be piped about 2½ inches long with a #3 plain tube. * When piping éclairs, be careful to keep them even in size and shape, or the éclairs will rise and bake unevenly. * When applying egg wash to the tops, be careful not to destroy the piped shapes. * Thoroughly bake the éclairs, or they will collapse when they cool. * It is important to allow the éclairs to cool completely before filling to avoid melting the crème légère. * The crème patissière can be flavored with vanilla, liquors, other extracts, chocolate, or nut pastes. * Unfilled éclairs can be frozen well wrapped. * Filled and glazed éclairs should be served the day they are made.
Evaluating the Finished Product o The éclairs should be even and consistent in length and width. o The egg wash should have been applied neatly on the tops and not dripped down the sides. o The éclairs should be brown, even in the cracks. o The éclairs should not be soggy. o The inside should be soft and hollow. o The crème légère should be smooth and well flavored. o The crème should completely fill the éclair. o The glaze should be shiny, firm, and just cover the top. o Looking straight down at the éclair, a small amount of unglazed choux should be visible. o The glaze should not drip down the sides of the pastry.
Voila! You now have mastered eclairs. I had a great time at the class and visiting FCI. At the post class book launch party everyone took home copies of The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts and man, oh, man it is a gorgeous book. The instructions seem clear and easy to follow and I like the little section on evaluating your success at the end of each recipe. This is a book that I can definitely see myself using again and again. The book's list price is $75, but you can get it for less online. As of writing this, I was seeing the book new on Amazon for $47.25. If you're looking for a holiday gift for the seasoned or beginning baker in your life, this is guaranteed to be well received.