Daring Bakers: éclairs

Another month has flown by and it’s time for the August Daring Bakers Challenge. Pierre Hermé’s chocolate éclairs were flavour of the month (from his Chocolate Desserts book with Dorie Greenspan). Recipe and initiator of this challenge can be found at What’s for lunch, Honey? and Tony Tahhan (their posts might appear a little later than mine, as they’re in different timezones).

Choux pastry (pâte à choux) isn’t something I do often. In fact, when my sister heard I’d made éclairs her first reaction was ‘that’s not very you’. And indeed, it’s probably 15 years since I last made choux pastry! It’s not so hard, though the process certainly seems daunting when you read recipes. The tricky bit is getting the puffed-up shapes to stay puffed up, rather than causing deflation traumas (see Thanh’s recent adventure).

Choux pastry is soft and pipeable. It’s made by adding flour to boiling liquid and butter, stirring vigorously, and then adding egg yolks (and/or whole eggs) gradually (ok, that’s just a summary). In the oven, the piped shapes swell and rise, but lose their shape easily except when very small. So profiteroles (1, 2) are usually fairly safe, but larger shapes deflate easily. You have to find a way to let the cooked dough firm up without all the steam inside causing it to go soggy and collapse. Typically you either leave the cooked shapes in the residual heat of an oven, or you puncture the shapes to let the steam out (of the side or bottom).

I was being a little impatient, so suffered about 50% deflation in the batch. (And we won’t talk about the effect of impatience on the chocolate glaze either!) But it was then that I discovered how well collapsed éclairs function as a churros substitute! Marginally healthier too;)

Choux pastry needs to be used promptly or frozen in its final shape. Cooked shapes can be frozen or refrigerated, but can be a little soft or leathery as the dough absorbs moisture from its environment. Often you would ‘refresh’ the stored shapes in the oven before use, just to bring back a touch of crispness.

I decided to make the éclairs for my parents, who had both been down with the flu all week. Mum event leant me her much-neglected éclair tin! Dad can’t eat richly chocolatey things, so I replaced the chocolate pastry cream with mandarin/vanilla whipped cream. A chocolate glaze was still used.

Hermé’s choux pastry contains more egg yolks than many typical recipes. It tasted strongly eggy and this was commented on in the Daring Bakers forums. I certainly wouldn’t use this recipe in the future, as such strong egginess needs a rich foil (such as his chocolate pastry cream) to balance it. Nonetheless, a tasty and interesting challenge!

16 thoughts on “Daring Bakers: éclairs”

  1. These sound delicious! I think mandarin-vanila is one of the most tempting flavor variations I’ve heard yet.

    My Yummy Life

  2. Duncan,
    That was so sweet of you made the eclairs for you mom and dad. Do you cook a lot for them? Our son sometimes cook for us, oh that just something special

    By the way, I have no idea there is special tin for eclair.

  3. Sorry to hear about your parents. I hope your delicious eclairs perked them right up!

    I had never even heard of a pate a choux tin! It looks snazzy! (The VERY first time I made eclairs, though, I overestimated my nonstick sheets, and the bottoms stuck. Disaster.)

  4. Impatience is caused by stress & cured with chocolate! I like the look of your pâte à choux & Rosa’s chocolate glaze sprinkled with red sugar.

  5. I wish I had a pan like that for mine. I liked the idea of mandarin.
    I guess I got lucky ‘cos I ended up piping pretty small eclairs.

  6. Great looking eclairs Duncan. The mandarin/vanilla combo sounds really interesting. I was just thinking about how mandarins would work in any recipes as I had picked three big bag fulls from my aunties house.

    The worse thing that can happen to choux pastry is premature deflation. 🙂

  7. Thanks everyone! The tin is very cute. One of my recipes says not to worry about greasing and flouring a tray if you’re making small éclairs. Uhuh. No. Very glad I had greased and floured, Manggy!

    Mandarin is such a lovely, underutilised flavour. Works marvellously in cream, custard and macaron shells!

    Elra, my parents often get the ‘over-run’ from my baking, cos there’s only so much I can eat;)

  8. Your eclairs look wonderful, Duncan. I never knew that there was such a thing as an eclair pan!

    Great choice of filling flavour, too!

  9. Yum yum yummy yumyum. I just wish I was brave enough to attempt the choux pastry. As it is I can’t even pronounce it 🙂

  10. Nice eclairs!! I love the eclair tin, I don’t think I have ever seen one before. I hope some one makes me eclairs next time I am feeling sick..who wants chicken soup if you could have an eclair 😉


  11. How nice of you to make them for your parents! Mine aren’t sweet-tooth people at all (what happened to me, eh!?). Love that eclair tin by the way – I’ve never seen one before. Do you think they made a difference to the end product?

  12. Nice one Duncan! Love the vanilla/madarin combo. Gee that flu is doing the dirty around Melbourne this winter. Nasty stuff. I hope your folks have pulled through OK.

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