Daring Bakers Challenge: Chocolate Éclairs


When I was much younger, a family tradition of mine was to get Winchell’s donuts on the weekends. It was something I looked forward to week after week, and the one donut that I had to get was the chocolate éclair. It may not have been the fanciest pastry, but it was my favorite. So you can image how excited I was when I found out that this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge was to make homemade Chocolate Éclairs. Oddly enough, I came to the stunning discovery that store bought was better than homemade (at least for me). I just wasn’t wowed by this recipe.  The Pâte à Choux, or cream puff dough, tasted really eggy, the Bavarian Cream was so-so, and the Chocolate Glaze didn’t have anything on the ganache from last month’s challenge.

One thing I really enjoyed about this challenge were the perimeters given. You were required to use the Pâte à Choux, and could choose your own filling or topping, but one had to be from the original recipe. I got lazy on this one and just made a Bavarian cream, but some other DB-ers really pushed the envelope and came up with some truly inspired fillings. Click here to check out other DB Chocolate Éclairs.

Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé

Éclairs consist of three elements:
• Pâte à Choux, also known as Choux Pastry or Cream Puff Dough
• Pastry Cream (I’ll be using Bavarian Cream)
• Chocolate glaze

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

Makes 20-24 Éclairs

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 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.

In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil. 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. Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. The dough should be still warm.

Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2 cm) plain-tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 4 1/2 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.

Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for seven minutes. After the seven 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 eight minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes. The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.

Bavarian Cream Filling

2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream

In a small bowl, stir together the gelatin and cold water. Set aside to soften. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and salt until smooth.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. Stir a small amount into the egg yolk mixture, then stir the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk until well blended. Whisk in the softened gelatin and vanilla. Run through a strainer, and allow to cool.

When the mixture has cooled almost to room temperature, whip the heavy cream to medium stiffness and fold into it. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Chocolate Glaze
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

1/3 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
 7 tablespoons Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature

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

Chocolate Sauce
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup  water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar

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

Assembling the éclairs:

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. 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.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Marie | Aug 31, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Well done! Your eclairs look yummy.

  • Angela | Sep 2, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Sorry to hear that you weren’t wowed by the éclair recipe, but they do look fantastic!

  • Chocolate Angie | Sep 8, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Looks tasty…you said it easy to make right? Maybe i’ll give it a shot over the weekend.