Chocolate eclairs

I made chocolate eclairs!  I've been wanting to make eclairs for a long time and these were one of my baking projects during the holiday break.  It was an interesting experience and I was happy that they ultimately turned out (quite deliciously, but it took two attempts) and we were able to enjoy them with my sister and her family during a relaxing little after-Christmas dinner at our place.
Eclairs filled with chocolate pastry cream and topped with ganache
Here's the story: Over a year ago, I made pate a choux and used it to make cream puffs and profiteroles.  They turned out nicely and I was pretty proud of myself.  I wanted to make eclairs next; after all, it's the same dough and all I'd have to do is make pastry cream and either a ganache or chocolate glaze for the topping - things I've done before.  But there was something about the idea of making eclairs (and even making cream puffs and profiteroles again) that seemed daunting and I put it off, and off.  I was reluctant for some reason...and I may now know why.
Maybe we sometimes have a gut feeling about these things.  I was worried about something - I thought maybe it was the steps involved or about wielding that piping bag with my naturally shaky hands.  Turns out...it was the dough!  The dough that should be simplicity to make and involving just a few ingredients.  

I made the pate a choux dough following the same recipe I used successfully last time and it turned out...watery!  I just stared at it, a little shocked because this kind of fail doesn't happen very often.  That's not because I'm "good" but because I'm a bit of a control-freak; I know what I like, and I research and pick reliable recipe sources.
Well, there was absolutely no way I could pipe the dough that sat in front of me; it was almost as thin as the consistency of soup and ran right through the pastry tip. What did I do?  I tried to fix it by placing it in the fridge and giving it some serious whipping with my wooden spoon every so often to see if it would stiffen up.  
I then remembered that the last time I made the dough for those cream puffs, I'd noted that the dough was thinner than I expected!  Looks like I was lucky last time! So while I was awaiting the fate of that watery dough, I started thinking maybe I should use less eggs.  But then I looked around some more...and consulted Dorie's latest cookbook (Jo's chouquettes recipe instructions helped me, too) and realized that I needed to cook the dough longer on the stove, on the heat, to remove the liquid from the dough to dry it out!  Not doing that was what made the pate a choux runny! I love David Lebovitz, the source for the recipe I used, but the instructions did not cite that.  
I decided to abandon that first attempt (the dough had thickened some but no where near enough and I didn't hold much hope for it) and make another batch.  By cooking the dough on the heat a couple of extra minutes, I had a wonderfully thick dough that was a world of difference from my first attempt!  It's a good thing I only sacrificed half a stick of butter and a couple of eggs for the re-do! 

So that was the little drama behind my eclair-making experience.  I feel really good about it after the fact because I learned something!  I also no longer feel a weird reluctance at the thought of making eclairs or pate a choux!
Dark chocolate pastry cream
After all that back story, we can finally talk about these actual eclairs!  They were worth the drama because these little eclairs were not only fun to look at but also so easy - and delicious - to eat!  

As you've clearly seen from all the pictures I threw in as backdrop to my story, I was true to form and went with a chocolate pastry cream for my eclairs.  While a vanilla pastry cream would be very good (I might try that), I can never get enough chocolate and that's just a plain fact for me.
Topped with chocolate ganache, I decided to sprinkle some of the eclairs with pistachios after Nigella reminded me that any cake becomes instantly more beautiful garnished with it.  I think she's right and the same goes for eclairs.  Interestingly enough, I think the eclairs tasted all the better with that bit of crunch and flavor!

My little batch of chocolate eclairs disappeared quickly at the dinner table that night I served them...and there is no better feeling!


After all that talk about the dough, here's how the second, successful, pate a choux turned out . It's thick and a little resistant but not overly stiff.  This is a world different from my first runny batter (it couldn't be called "dough").
Piping makes me nervous, partly because my hands are shaky and I tend to make things uneven and too large!  Well, I managed decently on size - as far as keeping them about 2 1/2 to 3 inch eclairs the way I intended - but failed on consistency and neatness.
Do you see the two snowman looking ones I piped in the picture above?  That was my attempt to make "bubble eclairs" - something I saw in Dorie Greenspan's latest cookbook.  Mine did not bake up evenly enough to look the way they were supposed to so I'll spare you the trauma of looking at it!  It was worth a try though.
And my eclairs sort of flared and expanded at will during baking.  I've been taking those perfectly narrow, straight eclairs at the pastry shops for granted, it seems!  I read that you can run a wet fork over the dough before baking so they'll rise evenly but since I didn't try it, I'm not sure if that works.
I decided not to be a hero and just sliced my eclairs in half for filling.  It's easier than trying to make incisions and piping the pastry cream at either ends.
I made the pastry cream the day before so it has plenty of time to chill and firm up. Just stir it together gently before using.  I was afraid the pastry cream was too stiff but it was perfectly creamy, almost pudding-like.
All's well that ends well and this was a good experience.
Finally eating the eclairs was a nice reward after everything!  Most of us actually preferred the eclairs slightly chilled.  The slightly cold filling against the pastry just has a nice sensation to it.


Recipe:

Chocolate Eclairs 
Pate a choux recipe adapted from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan and from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (see this post); chocolate pastry cream recipe from Baking Chez Moi

- For approximately twelve to fourteen 2 1/2 - 3 inch eclairs - 

Chocolate pastry cream (makes about 1 1/4 cups; if you run a little short on pastry cream, you can fill the last 2 or 3 eclairs with ice cream like I did.  Alternatively, double the recipe but be prepared for leftovers):
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small chunks

Pate a choux:
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons (half a stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 egg and a teaspoon water (or milk), for egg wash

Ganache coating:
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon light corn syrup 

Optional topping: Finely chopped pistachios (or other nuts) 

Make chocolate pastry cream: Bring milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.  In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt together. Temper the egg mixture by streaming in some of the hot milk while whisking constantly.  Continue whisking while adding the remainder of the milk.  Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and, whisking constantly and vigorously, bring to a boil over medium heat.  Keep at a boil - continuing to whisk - for 1 to 2 more minutes. Then press the thickened cream through a sieve into a clean bowl.

Whisk in the melted chocolate.  Leave sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the butter, stirring to fully incorporate.  The pastry cream should be silky and smooth.  

Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.  (If you need to rush this process, you can set the bowl on top of an ice bath and stir the mixture occasionally until cold.)

Make pate a choux: Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Place water, sugar, salt, and butter into a saucepan.  Bring to a rapid boil over high heat.  Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low and quickly start stirring the mixture together energetically with a wooden spoon.  The dough will come together and a light film will form at the bottom of the pan.  Keep stirring vigorously for another minute or two.  [This step of cooking the dough is very important; it dries out the dough so that the pate a choux will not be too watery.]

Turn the dough out into a mixing bowl and stir for a few minutes until dough cools down to lukewarm (to avoid cooking the eggs to come).  Add one egg into the bowl and stir it briskly into the dough using a wooden spoon.  At first, the mixture will separate but keep beating and it will come together.  Repeat with second egg until mixture is smooth and shiny.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip about 1/2" wide. Pipe dough into about 2 1/2 to 3 inch (or size you prefer) logs onto the baking sheet, spaced about 1-2 inches apart.  

Lightly beat the egg and water together to make an egg wash.  Gently brush the top of each eclair with some of the egg wash.  Use the brush (or wet fingers) to smooth down any pointy ends.  

Place baking sheet into the oven and immediately turn oven temperature down to 375 degrees.  Bake for 20 minutes without opening the oven door, then rotate pan and continue to bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until eclairs are golden brown on top and bottom, and feel firm to the touch.  Transfer eclairs to a rack to cool to room temperature.  

Make ganache:  Place chocolate and instant espresso powder (if using) into a heatproof bowl.  Heat cream with corn syrup until just to the boil and immediately pour over the chocolate.  Let sit 1 minute, then gently whisk until incorporated and smooth. Let sit at room temperature just enough for the ganache to thicken slightly.

Assemble eclairs:  Slice eclairs in half lengthwise.  Take the top halves and dip into ganache and set on a cooling rack.  If topping with nuts, sprinkle it on now before ganache sets.  Fill the bottom halves by piping or spooning the chocolate pastry cream (stir together before using) into the hallow pockets.  Carefully place the tops back on each.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  The eclairs are best eaten the same day they're made.  




54 comments:

  1. What a lovely surprise to sit down and see these beauties! (And a mention too, thank you kindly!) I am so pleased you gave these are try Monica you should be very proud of them. Nothing more satisfying than learning something whilst baking and producing something as wonderful as these. The pistachios are glorious and classy and I think the eclairs definitely need a crunch!! What a great way to start the weekend.😃 Lovely pics too...

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    1. Hi Jo! Thank you and your recipe helped me a lot...I saw the pattern for needing to cook that dough out longer. I will eventually get my hands on some pearl sugar and make some delectable chouquettes! Thanks again and have a wonderful weekend. It's snowing here...

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  2. Eclairs are one of top favourite desserts. I don't make them often because we usually end up eating way too much. These look so very tempting!

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    1. You're right. The eclairs just sort of vanished in thin air. Just goes down easy. A great occasional project/treat. : )

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  3. Monica - It never ceases to amaze me how alike we are (hope that does not offend you). I research recipes forever and think about making "bucket list" pastries and breads for years! These are also my list, but unfortunately I've never made them. The meringue layer cake you've posted is another one of those on my list - so many recipes so little time. And chocolate - well I completely understand about chocolate! Bravo Monica! They turned out beautiful! You conquered and overcame - congrats on trying again. I just hate it when recipes flop! Hope you have a wonderful weekend - good for you!

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    1. Offend me?! You might offend yourself more likely but I would be flattered to be considered like you. I think you are far more of a perfectionist (in a good way!) than I am. I'm glad you know where I'm coming from though. A "bad" recipe or one that isn't totally loved doesn't feel anywhere as good as a winner that everyone ooh's over. I'm glad I stuck it out and now I can make them without fear. And they are truly delicious! Thanks for the kind words, as always! xo

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  4. Eclairs are something I've been wanting to try but just haven't gotten around to it. You have inspired me! They look perfect.

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    1. Thank you, Ashley! I have so many things on that list...and keep adding to it, too. : )

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  5. Your eclairs look gorgeous, Monica! My husband is a huge chocolate eclair lover and would be over the moon if I made some for him. I've never attempted to make them but you have totally inspired me too. Love that you topped them with pistachios too. I am honestly craving for some right now from your beautiful pictures, they do look perfect!

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    1. I love how we inspire each other and as a result, we all eat better, right?! ; ) They do go down way too easy. If you make some, make a big batch. Enjoy the weekend!

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  6. I tried to make pate a choux ONLY ONCE - and used a ziploc as my "piping" bag... which promptly split in half and exploded my dough ALL OVER. I momentarily debated scooping it into a new back but ultimately just threw it into the garbage in defeat.... I'm so happy that YOU (unlike me) DIDN'T GIVE UP! Because THESE. LOOK. FANTASTIC. I might just have to give that stupid dough another shot...

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    1. Oh Natalie! ha! I can't tell you how happy your comment made me. Sorry I'm laughing over your experience but goodness, I can totally see that happening to me! I don't think I'd have the guts to pipe these babies out with just a bag. I somehow feel more secure with the pastry bag though my hand still shakes and I just hope for the best. I know I would've totally scooped it back up to do in another bag! Sounds bad but I hate to waste. haha. Thanks for this. I needed that. And yes - give it another go because if you're like me, it'll just nag at you...

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  7. Happy new year Monica! I admit it's been a while since I've visited your site, it looks great! And so do these eclairs. Glad you were able to salvage the dough, nice job. And great tip on sprinkling the pistachios on top. I haven't made pate a choux in a long time, but now I'm inspired.

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    1. Hi Tiffany - no worries. Thanks for stopping by and I'm happy to inspire you in any little way. Have a great year!

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  8. Very tempting chocolate eclairs. My kiddo will love it. It is my favourite too. I never tried making at home though. Very nice and well described recipe. I am gonna give it a try soon. :)

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    1. Nice of you to say that, Ritu. It is definitely easier to pick a few up at the bakery but once in a while, if you feel like a project, this is a tasty one.

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  9. What gorgeous, perfect little beauties these are! Amazing!!!

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    1. Nothing like your cakes...good thing I find anything chocolate to be perfect! haha

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  10. Not sure if you saw on Twitter a few days ago but I posted love about eclairs, and how much I love them, and how much I needed them. Now I see these beautiful pastries. I cannot wait to try your recipe, it's my favorite of the week!

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    1. I'm not on twitter, Pamela, but glad to hear that I was so timely with your cravings! I get specific cravings all the time, too. Hope you have satisfied your eclair craving by now!

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  11. I am in love with pastries and these are gorgeous! I can only imagine how delicious they are, please save one for me!

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    1. haha - thank you, BAM! It's nice to sit down to a cup (or two) of tea and to have a small pastry alongside, isn't it...

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  12. OMG! They are just gorgeous! I love them!

    PS. I'm organizing a chocolate contest on my blog. I'd be happy if you take a glance :)

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    1. Thanks so much...and have fun with your chocolate contest! It sounds like a lot of fun and I'm sure you will have lots of delicious entries.

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  13. OMGosh Monica, if I made eclairs, I would eat every.single.one. They are so rich and decadent. I am seriously swooning over here! And drooling! :-)

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    1. haha - you need to make sure there is a group there so that it's impossible to eat more than one (or two). They really do go down a little bit too easy but I try to enjoy every bite.

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  14. Eclairs are one of those things that slightly intimidate me to make at home! Gah, but man these look absolutely delicious! And I know where to come if I ever decide to give them a go! :)

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    1. Tell me about it - definitely intimidating and looks like I had a good reason to be afraid in this case. Happily, I fear no more even if there are never guarantees. haha

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  15. Wow these look amazing! I've always been intimidated to make these but you make it look easy :)

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    1. Unfortunately, this particular experience wasn't as easy as I hoped...but all's well that ends well! : )

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  16. Monica, they are perfect. You know, l love making these but quite a process, so I get it from my local bakery. Seriously, I am considering making after I saw your post. It's soooooo delicious looking.

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    1. I understand...there are a few steps involved. I don't see myself making these often but I would definitely do it again. Thanks for the sweet words.

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  17. That first pic Monica! It looks like a peek into a pastry shop..terrific! I've had my share of failed attempts in the initial stages too. I loved choux pastry so much that I wasn't willing to give up and watched quite a bit of videos to understand the science behind this. I am still not perfect but you know what, somehow it tastes great even though it may not look that way initially.

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    1. Awww...that is very kind of you and I appreciate the encouragement. I sometimes go a little nuts looking at recipes and trying to figure something out. Like you said, it's good to get an understanding behind why things are and how they work. And imperfection usually tastes pretty good. I'm glad I learned from my mistake here and they worked out with the 2nd attempt. It was worth it...otherwise, I would've been eating that chocolate pastry cream from a spoon! : )

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  18. Your eclairs look wonderful. I'm so impressed that you made them! I think the ones with the pistachios on top look particularly great.

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    1. Nigella (Lawson) was spot on about decorating with pistachios. : ) Thank you, Beth.

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  19. Yum! Love the chocolate version of eclairs! I agree, can never get enough of chocolate! (:

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  20. Happy New year Monica! These look delightful! Love eclairs and still have to try making them. Great, now I can just follow your post!!

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    1. Love that - thank you, Asmita. Have a great year!

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  21. I won't be able to stop at just one, they look so yummy!

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    1. They're small so you can have a few. ; )

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    1. I could too...good thing my willpower has gotten a tad stronger in recent year. ; )

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  23. Oh I am making that for my daughter's birthday next weekend!

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    1. Happy upcoming birthday to your daughter!

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  24. You made whaaaaaaat! OMG, you are so professional! I wish I could eat "homemade" eclairs! They look perfect, Monica. Too pretty to eat (but I'd eat all of them. haha).

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    1. Not at all. If you saw me with that first disastrous "dough", you would know. I usually just plow on and hope for the best. In this case, I had to restart but it turned out well enough. And they are definitely made for eating!

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  25. Wow! They look perfect. I am drooling just looking at them..

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    1. I tend to drool over eclairs, too. ; )

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  26. Ah those look so cute! I've made cream puffs before, never in eclair shape though. Maybe soon!

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    1. Hope you try it one day when you get a chance. Thanks.

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  27. These are stunning looking! Great work, Monica! Send me some, please....

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    1. Thank you! Wish I could share. : )

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