Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Daring Bakers Do Éclairs

You know you belong to a hardcore baking group when you're assigned to bake éclairs and everyone sighs with relief and gushes about how easy the challenge will be this month. As soon as this month's challenge was announced, there was a sigh heard 'round the world, and I could almost hear the hundreds of relieved whispers, "At least we won't have to make another genoise or Swiss buttercream this month!"

No, this month was all about éclairs. And not just any éclairs, but a recipe from the Papa of Patisserie himself, Pierre Hermé!

Usually éclairs fall into the "munchable" category of desserts for me, which means that I'll happily eat them if they're around, but I would never go out of my way to make them on their own. However, I was excited to try this recipe because, 1. Hermé is a pastry rock star and 2. We got to fill them with chocolate pastry cream, which anyone with tastebuds can tell you is soooo much better than regular pastry cream.
Actually, this pastry cream was pretty amazing. I'm usually not the biggest fan (it's a texture thing, much like my dislike of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie) but this pastry cream was silky smooth, not at all gummy or gluey, and it had a deep, rich chocolate taste. It would make a fabulous cake filling, maybe with some fresh raspberries and whipped cream...nom nom nom.

Now about my éclairs themselves. I had the brilliant (or should I say "brilliant") idea to jazz them up by making them heart-shaped and adding fresh strawberries as garnish. I don't know, éclairs just seem like a romantic dessert, so even though Valentine's Day is half a year away, I went all cutesy and lovey-dovey. Or tried to, anyway. Because although the pate a choux looked neat and tidy when piped before baking...
Post-baked choux was a whole different beast. Now I knew it would grow, I just hoped that it would grow into an adorable, oversized, but perfectly proportioned heart. Alas, it was not to be. Next time I will try and pipe them smaller (but with a larger pastry tip, to avoid too many lines) and do only one layer instead of two. However, with a leetle help from my friend chocolate glaze, the end result was still fairly presentable.

So yes, let's talk about the ridiculously complicated glaze for a moment, shall we? WHAT was going on with that recipe? WHY did it call for us to first make two cups of chocolate sauce, and then use less than half a cup of that in the resulting "chocolate glaze," which was really just a glorified ganache? Now I love me some chocolate sauce, but I thought the whole process was a little unnecessary. I was really expecting the glaze to taste phenomenal after all that work (and all that chocolate I used!) but it basically tasted like...ganache. That I could have made myself, using half the chocolate, in a quarter of the time. Live and learn, ladies.

I made some traditionally shaped éclairs and profiteroles as well, and I have to say I think I liked the profiteroles the best. It's just such a perfect size. A large éclair requires commitment. It requires a stalwart stomach and the ability to persevere in eating, despite satiety. Profiteroles don't ask for anything and they don't make me too full, which has the puzzling side effect of enabling me to eat them by the dozen. (The Profiterole Paradox: coming soon to a Mathematics of Eating class near you.)

To my fellow Daring Bakers, what did you think? Love 'em or leave 'em? Were you, like me, angered all out of proportion by the silly glaze recipe?

Phenomenally long recipe after the cut!

Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
(makes 20-24 Éclairs)

Cream Puff Dough

• ½ cup (125g) whole milk
• ½ cup (125g) water
• 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
• ¼ teaspoon sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
• 5 large eggs, at room temperature

1) In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the

2) Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.

3) Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.

4) The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the eclairs.

Baking the Eclairs
1) Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by
positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with
waxed or parchment paper.

2) Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough.
Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers.
Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff.
The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.

3) Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the
handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the
oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue
baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking
time should be approximately 20 minutes.

1) The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Assembling the éclairs:

• Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
• Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)

1) Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the
bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.

2) The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40
degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of
the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the
bottoms with the pastry cream.

3) Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms
with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream
and wriggle gently to settle them.

1) If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water,
stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create

2) The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.

Chocolate Pastry Cream

• 2 cups (500g) whole milk
• 4 large egg yolks
• 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
• 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
• 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Velrhona Guanaja, melted
• 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1) In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy‐bottomed saucepan.

2) Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture.Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.

3) Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat).Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.

4) Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice‐water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.

5) Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice‐water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice‐water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.

Chocolate Glaze

[NOTE: I recommend a simple ganache glaze instead of going to the trouble of making this glaze and the accompanying sauce. Really, they taste very similar.]

• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

1)In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.

2) Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.

1) If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly
 in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.

2) It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.

Chocolate Sauce
(makes 1½ cups or 525 g)

• 4½ oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 1 cup (250 g) water
• ½ cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
• 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar

1) Place all the ingredients into a heavy‐bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.

2) It may take 10‐15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.

1) You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
2) This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.


  1. YES, I had the same issue with the glaze/sauce. I thought the recipe was way more complicated and time-consuming than necessary. What are you going to do with the leftovers?

  2. oh my those are so darn cute, love the heart idea, good thinking!

  3. Sigh of relief? I was thinking "oh no!"

    I sigh relieved when faced with a 5 kilo brisket and think ... ahhh, 16 hours of smoking will make you fantastic.

    Anyway, speaking of fantastic, yours look amazing!

  4. And, yes, I thought the glaze/sauce thing was ridiculous.

  5. Your eclairs look awesome!!

  6. I heart your hearts! Beautiful little things!

  7. Absolutely love your heart shape eclairs. They turned out beautiful. I also agree about the sauce. It made way too much.

  8. STUNNING. great job. As for the glaze, I had halfed it so I had exactly 7 tbs for the topping.

  9. I was going to say STUNNING as well. These look fantastic.

  10. OOHHH strawberries. A tower of yummy goodness. Maybe the challenge was to learn to live with the recipe. Your profiteroles do look great!

  11. I love the hearts and strawberries!! and yes the glaze just seemed like a way to complicate ganache.

  12. The glaze recipe seemed a bit of a head scratcher it having a subrecipe and all but I'm glad I learned it. Love the pictures of your results!

  13. Your eclairs look absolutely wonderfull, must try this recipe one time!

  14. I love the little hearts! They are adorable!

  15. Elizabeth, your heart-shaped pastries are lovely! I also find the chocolate glaze unnecessary complicated :)

  16. Your Eclairs and heart-shaped Cream Puffs are ever so pretty! You are really creative! Great job!



  17. WOW! your strawberry addition was a great (and beautiful) idea :)