Eclairs are back in fashion and that’s good news! If you stroll by Fauchon in Paris, you will see that they are all about eclairs and they treat these lovely pastries like a piece of art. You don’t have a Fauchon in your neighbourhood? Nevermind, I don;t either, but I found this picture on their website to give you an idea of their creations. Not your typical chocolate or vanilla custard treat!
I always loved eclairs but was never really brave or ambitious enough to try and bake my own. At the Cake and Bake Show I attended a class about Eclairs. I gathered lots of tips to make the perfect ones and a few creative ideas such as the lemon meringue eclair you can see above. It was great to understand some of the science behind eclairs!
The science behind eclairs (or what I understood of it)
Pâte à choux (cream puff pastry from which you make eclairs) relies upon the high water content in eggs as leavening to steam open the paste. It also relies on the gluten in the flour and the protein in the egg to coagulate and make the crust. During baking, the crust traps steam inside, generated from the moisture in its ingredients and hot air from the oven, plus leavening from the beaten eggs. That is how eclairs become inflated, hollow and stay puffy.
As the moisture in the egg and the starch in the four are the 2 key ingredients, it is a good idea to use strong bread flower rather than your usual fine flour for these pastries. Another tip would be to use duck eggs rather than chicken eggs. Duck eggs contain more water than chicken eggs, which will help in getting nice puffy choux or eclairs. You can substitute 2 medium chicken eggs with 2 duck eggs as they are bigger.
To make sure your eclairs don’t collapse, you should really wait for the crust to become a nice golden brown and cook the eclairs for at least 20 minutes 9without ever opening the oven door) If they are removed from the oven too soon, the structure of the shell has not solidified which causes the eclair will collapse.
A few fancy eclairs ideas from the class:
You can freeze cooked eclair shells. So when you are making choux pastry, why not double the quantities so you have the shells ready for next time. Freeze the shells and when you take them out, just pop them 5 mn in oven at 200C to reheat and dry them. It can make a quick dessert if you fill them with good quality ice cream and top with melted chocolate for example. Or you can fill them with fruit compote, chocolate dessert cream, whipped cream etc…
Use nougatine as a bottom : it has a nice crunchy feeling and you can hide the hole you used to pipe in he cream under the nougatine.
Be creative with fillings and toppings! A few ideas:
– strawberry and cream eclairs, with pieces of strawberries in whipped cream as a filling
– duclce de leche filling, topped with white chocolate icing and hredded coconut
– pistacchio cream filling with mocha icing on top
– s’mores eclair with roasted marshmallows inside and milk chocolate icing on top
– raspberry compote filling and passionfruit icing (or lemon icing)
But you can also make savoury eclairs with fillings like cream cheese and fresh herbs, goat cheese and honey, bacon and guacamole…
This is all very exciting, but even though I am fantasizing on the craziest topping/filling combinations for my imaginary eclairs, I still have not made one! So I will start noe and will show you my first eclairs next week: a classic chocolate cream eclair!