If the French word “éclair” means lightning, is it because these pastry cream-filled choux pastries (slathered with chocolate icing no less) fly off the shelves at lightning speed? Or is that the speed with which they are often devoured? Either way, this pastry (the same used for profiteroles or cream puffs) is baked until it is crisp and hollow inside then stuffed with yummy things and glazed with chocolate. Really, that’s good enough for me!
Pastry Cream Filling / Ambassador Cream Filling
2 cups (488 g) whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean split lengthwise and scraped, or 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
6 large egg yolks (100 g)
2/3 cup (132 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (28 g) cornstarch
1 T (14 g) cold, unsalted butter
3/4 cup (179 g) heavy whipping cream (optional)
I like to make the pastry cream first as it needs to chill at least two hours before being piped into the choux pastry. (It can also be made up to 24 hours in advance, just take it out of the fridge one hour before using).
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the saucepan.
Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan.
Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. It will start to get a little glossy.
Let it cool slightly and then cover with a circle of parchment paper, lightly pressing it against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for at least two hours, up to 24 hours.
Once cooled, load the pastry or ambassador cream (see below) into a pastry bag with a 1/4” plain piping tip. (See Assembly notes below)
A Lighter Version: Ambassador Cream
Whip the heavy cream up and fold it into the chilled custard if you prefer a lighter texture.
Pâte à Choux (Pastry Shells)
1 cup (237 g) water
8 T (one stick) (113 g) unsalted butter
1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup (120 g) all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
Important: This is one recipe where weighing your ingredients accurately (rather than using cups or volume measurements) pays off. They will come out beautifully without any cracks at all!
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30-60 seconds. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds.
Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a hand mixer). Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, add the three eggs, one egg at a time, stopping to mix after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add an additional egg and mix until incorporated.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe fat lengths of dough (about the size and shape of a jumbo hot dog) onto the lined baking sheet, leaving two inches of space between them. You can also make golf ball size dots if you want to make cream puffs instead. You should have 8 to 10 eclairs.
1-1/2 tsp water
In a bowl, whisk the egg and water together. Brush the surface of each éclair with the egg wash. Use your fingers to smooth out any bumps or points of dough that remain on the surface.
Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 375°F*. Bake until puffed up and light golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Right after they come out of the oven, poke three evenly spaced holes in the bottoms with a toothpick so the steam can be released and prevent them from getting soggy. Leave them on the baking sheet to cool completely.
*Important: hold yourself back from opening the oven door or you’ll let the steam out which will cause your delicious éclairs to fall flat.
The shells can be frozen and kept for two months before being thawed and filled. If making just a few days ahead, you can store unfilled shells in a sealed container at room temperature. To crisp them up again, heat in a 350°F oven for five minutes. (And cool before filling).
1/2 cup (120 g) heavy cream
4 oz (113 g) semisweet couverture chocolate, finely chopped (you can also use couverture callets, which are chocolate chips formulated for melting rather than baking)
Chop the chocolate and place in a medium bowl. (Callets don’t need to be further chopped).
In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it boils. Immediately turn off the heat. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, let it sit and get melty for 30 seconds and stir until fully melted and smooth.
This glaze can be made up to 48 hours in advance. If making ahead of time, cover and refrigerate it until ready to use then rewarm in a microwave for 20 seconds or set the bowl over hot tap water to gradually soften again).
Spoon the Ambassador Cream (called Pastry Cream if you omit the whipping cream) into a piping bag with a 1/4” plain piping tip. Using a knife tip, make three holes (or widen the steam holes) just big enough to fit the piping tip. Gently pipe the custard into the eclairs, using only enough to fill the inside (don’t stuff them too full).
Spoon the warm chocolate glaze over the filled eclairs and set on a sheet pan. Chill, uncovered, at least one hour to set the glaze.
Eclairs are best when served within a few hours of assembly. Having said that though, they are still delicious the next day, just make sure you refrigerate them in a sealed or covered container if you do.
Unique flavors to try
You might try pistachio, raspberry, rum, or fruit flavored fillings like passion fruit and mango, and then try dark chocolate glazes or even a maple or caramel glaze if you’re in the mood. Or if you want to go sweeter, there’s milk or white chocolate and orange with extra sweet peel sprinkled on top. The flavor varieties are endless!
Many thanks to preppykitchen.com for thorough directions, the best recipe I’ve tried of these beauties!