Being the lovely daughter that I am, I thought what better than to make my Mum her very own dark chocolate dipped éclairs with piped crème patissière for her birthday.
I tried making a batch last week and nearly cried when I took them out the oven to see that some were burnt some were raw, some were short and some were fat and all of them – ALL of them – were flat as a pancake. The choux pastry mixture was too wet when I piped it and it almost dribbled out from the piping bag. DRIBBLY PASTRY IS BAD.
So, for attempt number two I used a recipe from an old chocolate dessert book of mine. Whilst this book has some superb recipes, the step by step pictures are sparse and I think with something as delicate as choux pastry everything has to be really clear and precise. It was looking much better for this batch except again the pastry was far too wet and I didn’t want to make the pastry too heavy by adding more flour…so I took a chance and left it wet…and had slightly less flat than before biscuits.
For the third time I definitely had to get it right and not waste anymore ingredients (and my Mum’s birthday was the next day). Fortunately, I stumbled across a video of a Frenchman who showed me everything I needed to do. I love him. Unlike the other recipes, the lovely Frenchman told me to keep the choux mix in the hot pan and keep stirring to dry it out. It worked!
I used –
100g plain flour
A big pinch of salt
75g of unsalted butter divided into cubes
About 175ml of water
3 beaten eggs, preferably with no shell…
And turn the oven on to about 200c (180c if its fan assisted)
To make the choux pastry I gently melted the water, salt and the butter in a good sized pan. Keep the water temperature steady and not boiling whilst the butter melts down.
Once the butter is completely melted take the pan off the hob and tip in all of the flour. Stir like a mad man until the flour is combined with the butter mixture. Place the pan back on the hob and a medium heat, stirring continuously to partially cook the soon to be choux pastry. When all of the mixture is holding itself in a nice little, glossy ball making the pan look quite clean it’s nearly ready.
*THIS IS THE IMPORTANT PART* The glossy ball of dough needs to stay in the pan a little longer even when recipe books convince you that it’s ready! The lovely Frenchman told me that it needs to dry out with an additional 4 or 5 minutes in the pan after you’ve reached the glossy ball stage. If it doesn’t dry out enough the dough will become almost liquid when you beat in the eggs and completely useless to make éclairs with (as I learnt).
Place the dough into a clean bowl and leave to cool down for about 15 minutes or so. Once the dough has cooled, it’s preferable to use an electric mixer to combine with the eggs. Add only two of the beaten eggs to begin and use your judgements as to whether it’s yet to reach a shiny dough that will gently blob from a spoon when turned over. I used about 2 and a half eggs to get a good consistency.
Don’t hang around, use the dough straight away. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag that has the nozzle screw cap in place but with no need for a nozzle attachment. The éclairs want to be about 1.5cm to 2cm thick and about 12cm in length. Pipe onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and flicked with water droplets. Bake for about 15 minutes, open the oven door once and close again – this releases the steam (apparently) and bake for a further 15 minutes until beautifully golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool…and make yourself a cup of tea.
Now for the easy part – the crème patissière. You need –
500ml of full fat milk – there’s not much point in trying to be good with semi skimmed at this point
100g caster sugar, 50g in one bowl and 50g in another
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthways with the yummy seeds scraped out
6 egg yolks – recipes always say leave the egg white to make something else, a meringue maybe??
4 tablespoons of plain flour, the one in the red bag
60g unsalted butter
A little pinch of salt
Pop a pan on the hob at a medium heat and warm the milk with one of the bowls of sugar (50g) and the vanilla seeds. Leave this to warm and slowly begin to gently boil.
Whilst the milk does its thing, take a bowl and whisk together the remaining sugar and egg yolks until pale and creamy looking. To this, add the flour and salt and blend together. Using a ladle or pouring slowly from a jug, add the milk to the flour mixture a spoonful/dribble from the jug, at a time. Return the milky flour mix to the pan and whisk whilst warming up to just boiling. By this point, it should look a lot like crème patissière in the pan. When it’s hot right the way through and fully combined, take off the heat and leave to cool. If it looks a bit lumpy, push the cream through a sieve.
When both the éclairs and cream have cooled, you can use a very small nozzle on the piping bag and fill the éclairs from their underside. With the nozzle I made three small holes along the bottom, one either side and one in the middle, filling with the cream each time. Once they’re all filled, you can melt a bar of dark cooking chocolate in a bowl over boiling water and dip the éclairs in one at a time when the chocolate is melted and smooth over with the back of a teaspoon (or your finger). Voila!!