For those of you who read my blog last month, you might remember that I joined a group called The Daring Bakers. This is on on-line group, who each month all bake a challenging recipe chosen by one of the members. They give you the recipe, and then state what modifications can be made. I thought this month might be a savory choice, but no, it was CHOCOLATE ECLAIRS. I have made pate a choux dough before (I made small puffs filled with shrimp salad and curried chicken salad as an appetizer once), but had never made eclairs. When they posted the recipe, they noted that it was from the cookbook Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme. I thought that sounded familiar, and after begining to look through all of the chocolate cookbooks I have, there it was! I had only made one thing from the book, and that was the Apricot and Ginger Chocolate Loaf Cake. I remember it being very good, but that was probably 5 years ago. So I was only happy to try the eclairs. This recipe has the regular pate a choux dough, a chocolate pastry cream filling, and a chocolate glaze on top. You were allowed to change either the cream filling or the glaze, but one had to stay the same. I decided to honor Pierre and make the recipe exactly as stated.
I began with the chocolate pastry cream. This consisted of bringing milk to a boil, then whisking in a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. This is cooked for several minutes at a boil, then melted chocolate is stirred in. This mixture is then cooled in a ice bath. Once the mixture is cooled to a specific temperature, butter is stirred in. That completes the pastry cream. And let me tell you, it was delicious. It was hard to not keep sneaking spoonfuls out of the bowl.
Here is a photo of the pastry cream being made:
And here is a photo of the completed chocolate pastry cream:
Next, I made a chocolate sauce, which was one of the components in the chocolate glaze. This was made by heating bittersweet chocolate, water, heavy cream, and sugar together, bringing to a boil, then reducing the heat and cooking until thickened.
The next component was the pate a choux. When I made this in the past, every part of the mixing was done by hand, so I was glad to see a mixer played a part in this. You bring milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil, and then all at once you add flour, and stir, stir, and stir. The dough comes together, and you continue stirring, cooking over medium heat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Your arm feels like it will fall off (at least mine did-maybe I need to lift more weights). Then you get to move it to a mixer (yea!) and mix in 5 eggs, one at a time, until all is incorporated.
Here's a photo of the dough before the eggs are added:
And here's what it looks like after the eggs have been added:
While the dough is still warm, you put it in a pastry bag, and pipe out "chubby fingers" to make the eclair shape. Some I made 4" long, as called for, and some I made more miniature. Then they bake for about 20 minutes. I somehow mistakenly turned the oven off when setting my timer, so while these were supposed to be baking at 375 degrees, I noticed my oven temperature was down to 270. I was afraid they wouldn't turn out, but I left them in the oven while I turned it back up, and cooked for the called for 20 mintues, then I reduced the heat to 350 degrees, and continued to bake until they seemed done. I did have problems with some of them deflating upon cooling, but it sounds like many who made this recipe had the same issue, and it didn't really affect the outcome.
Here's what they look like after being piped out (I didn't remember to take a photo until they were in the oven, so not the best photo):
And here's what they looked like after baking:
After they were baked, I made the Chocolate Glaze. For this, you bring cream to a boil, then slowly stir in chocolate until melted. Then when it has reached a specific temperature, you stir in butter, and the chocolate sauce that was made earlier. When this is at 95-104 degrees, the glaze is at its best for pourability and has a beautiful sheen.
I then cut the pastry dough in half, and filled then with the chocolate pastry cream:
The tops were then spread with the chocolate glaze, and then placed on the filled bottoms.
Here's another finished photo, this time of the mini eclairs:
These eclairs were very good. Both the pastry cream and the glaze used bittersweet chocolate, so they weren't overly sweet. Eclairs are not my favorite sweet, so I probably wouldn't make them again unless someone requested them, but I now know another pastry I can add to my repertoire. And the leftover chocolate sauce makes a great hot chocolate (I'm having a cup as I type!)