“Lightning!” That’s the literal translation from French I got when I put éclair into google translate. I’ve read a couple of explanations for this name, but only one makes any sense to me. “They disappear in a flash, quicker than a bolt of lightning.” This is the absolute truth. Éclairs are a formula for deliciousness…Starting with delicate pâte à choux (which has a rather indelicate translation of “paste of cabbage.” Representative of the cabbage shape, when piped into a profiterole (cream puff) and baked, not at all indicative of its lovely, buttery, rich flavor and light texture). The choux is piped into the shape of a small log. Once baked and cooled the log is filled with Crème pâtissière, “pastry cream,” which is simply custard that is thickened with both eggs and a starch, usually corn starch and flavored in this case with vanilla and white chocolate. The custard filled pastry is traditionally decorated with fondant, the shiny poured variety, not the rolled one we use for cakes. I find poured fondant, which translates as “melting,” (probably because it melts in your mouth or melts away your teeth with its sugary cloying-ness), much too sweet, so I use ganache. Ganache is a smooth mixture of chocolate and something else (cream, butter, coffee, water, booze, crème fraîche and/or anything else you can think of). There is no translation for ganache, but it stems from the word “jowl,” which I can’t even begin to ponder. I hope you all know that despite my very French name, Zoë François, meaning “Life Frenchman,” I don’t speak the language at all and therefore I will most likely be corrected by my French-speaking readers. Please, correct me if I’m wrong. Despite the odd names of all these things, they are quite sensational and will be consumed at lightning speed.
Éclairs with White Chocolate Pastry Cream and Dark Chocolate Ganache:
Makes about 36 three-inch éclairs
pâte à choux (cream puff dough)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, room temperature
Crème pâtissière (white chocolate pastry cream)
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or a vanilla bean, split and scraped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons rum, optional
6 ounces white chocolate, chopped finely
8 ounces heavy whipping cream
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
To make the pâte à choux:
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silpat.
Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a rapid simmer.
Dump the flour in all at once.
Stir with a wooden spoon over low heat.
The dough will come together as a smooth ball and the bottom will have a skim of dough stuck to it.
Remove dough from the pot and place in bowl of stand mixer, fitted with paddle attachment. I love these beaterblade paddles with the rubber sides, so you don’t have to scrape down the bowl. If you don’t have one, then scrape down the bowl after each egg.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each, until it comes together in a smooth paste.
It will be thick enough to hold its shape, but thin enough to pipe easily.
Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip and pipe the dough into 2 1/2-inch logs. If there are points sticking up on the ends just wet your finger and smooth them out. Place the sheets into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, until they are puffy, but have little color. Quickly rotate the trays from top to bottom and back to front. They may deflate a touch, but don’t worry, they will puff again as they continue to bake. Bake for an additional 7 to 10 minutes or just until they start to turn golden.
Prop the door open with a wooden spoon and continue to bake for about 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before filling. They can be made ahead and frozen for up to a couple of weeks.
To make the Crème pâtissière:
In a pan, heat the milk and 1/4 cup sugar over medium heat until simmering. In a bowl combine the yolks, remaining sugar, cornstarch and salt.
Once the milk has come to a simmer, ladle a small amount out and whisk it into the egg mixture to warm it up. This is called tempering and it prevents the eggs from cooking too quickly.
Once the egg mixture is warm to the touch, whisk it into the pot of milk.
Cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil, whisk it vigorously for about 3 minutes so that you are sure to cook the cornstarch. Whisk in the vanilla, rum and butter until it is smooth.
Place in a large bowl and immediately whisk in the chopped white chocolate.
Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until well chilled.
Once you are ready to assemble the éclairs cut the pastry open along the sides with a sharp knife.
Gently stir the pastry cream and pipe it into the pastry shells. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
To make the ganache:
Heat the cream to a simmer. Add the chocolate, swirl the pan to cover the chocolate with the cream and allow to sit for 2 minutes.
Gently stir the cream and chocolate together. You don’t want to whip too much air into it or it won’t be smooth and shiny.
Dip the chilled éclairs into the ganache.
Refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 8 hours) and then watch them disappear like….lightning!
You have got to check out the Choux Puffs with Pastry Cream from Jamie Schler at Life’s a Feast. She is an exquiste writer and baker, living a most enviable life in France (she is also much too kind to tell me I got all the French wrong in this post). Her pastry puffs are so light and delicate, they may just float away.
Thanks for your patience as I launched my latest bread book The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Jeff and I also finished another manuscript, for a book that will come out this October. I hate to leave Zoe Bakes without any fresh content for so long, but until the days get longer and more of them are added to the year, I just can’t seem to get it all done sometimes. I’m back in the kitchen and I hope you’ll forgive me if I left some of your questions unanswered in the past couple of months.