Chocolate Éclairs

12 March 2014

Post image for Chocolate Éclairs

You may or may not have noticed from my photos on Facebook and Instagram that I have a weakness for éclairs. Being able to indulge in éclairs from the wonderful pâtisseries in Zurich, it never occurred to me that I should make my own éclairs at home. But when I was recently asked to have a look at Ruth Clemens’ new book, Creative Éclairs, I was instantly inspired to create a batch of my own. After all, I’m no stranger to choux pastry; I often make profiteroles and chouquettes at home, and éclairs can generally be described as profiteroles in a different shape.

Ruth Clemens was a finalist on the Great British Bake Off and writes a wonderful baking blog at The Pink Whisk. Creative Éclairs is her latest cookbook and which has some wonderful decorating ideas, as well as different flavour suggestions, for the humble choux. Despite the many exotic and eclectic variations of éclairs in the book, I am ever aware of my limitations on cake decorating and wanted to keep my first attempt simple and straightforward by making my favourite combination – chocolate éclairs filled with a chocolate crème patissière.

Making éclairs might sound fiddly but each component is rather straightforward. You should start by making the crème patissière for the filling which needs time to cool down and chill, and you can get a head start by making this the day before. The choux pastry can also be made ahead of time as you need to let it chill in the fridge for at least an hour so that it is easier to pipe. And the chocolate ganache for the coating takes mere minutes to make once you are ready to assemble the éclairs.

Choux pastry is generally quite easy to make, and even easier if you use a food processor or standmixer to do the hard work for you. However, and rather regretfully, I must confess that Ruth Clemens’ recipe for choux pastry was not successful for me on the first try. And unfortunately, nor was it successful on the second. Having agreed to review a recipe from her book on my blog, I was not expecting to report on a failed recipe. But as is the case with any cookbook, some recipes work out fantastically for some, whilst the same recipe may be a baffling flop for others.

chocolate eclairs 9

If you are not familiar with choux pastry, Harold McGee offers the following description:

“Choux paste … is prepared in a very distinctive way. It’s a cross between a batter and a dough, and is cooked twice: once to prepare the paste itself, and once to transform the paste into hollow puffs. A large amount of water and some fat are brought to the boil in a pan, the flour is added, and the mixture stirred and cooked over low heat until it forms a cohesive ball of dough. Several eggs are then beaten sequentially into the dough until it becomes very soft, almost a batter. This paste is then formed into balls or other shapes and baked in a hot oven or deep-fried.”

On my first attempt, I proceeded as per Ruth’s recipe but my resulting choux pastry was a sloppy, runny liquid. I chilled it for an hour in the hope that it would magically firm up, but it remained too liquid to even pipe. I wrote off my first attempt on the grounds that my eggs were perhaps too large. On my second attempt, I added only three eggs instead of four, but my choux pastry was still too liquid in texture.

It’s unclear to me why Ruth’s choux pastry recipe would not work for me as others have reported much success in recreating her recipes. So the error is perhaps on my part somewhere, possibly in my failure to cook the pastry for long enough on the stove to draw out the excess moisture and thereby allow it to better absorb the eggs later. Ruth’s recipe gives instructions to cook the pastry for 3 minutes over low heat, which is a rather long time compared to most other recipes which tell you to simply cook the pastry until it comes away from the sides of the pan into a ball – a process which, in my experience, usually takes less than a minute. But even though I followed Ruth’s timings on both occasions, my pastry was still too runny to work with.

chocolate eclairs 8

Determined to get my éclair fix by the end of the day, I resorted to my tried and trusted recipe for choux pastry from Nigella Lawson (sorry Ruth!), as well as having to ask the neighbours for some extra eggs. A dozen eggs and several sticks of butter later, and with much gratitude to a 15 month old who patiently played at my heels while I spent the good part of a day in the kitchen making a big mess, I was relieved to finally assemble the éclairs before collapsing into an armchair with a cup of tea nearby. The best part of making your own éclairs at home is being able to eat as many as you want, especially to reward yourself after an unplanned, and day-long, kitchen experiment.

In the end, I am happy to have finally tried making my own éclairs at home. Sometimes when a recipe goes wrong, it helps you to better understand the food science behind the recipe which, in turn, makes you a better cook.

Chocolate Crème Patissière
Recipe adapted from Creative Éclairs by Ruth Clemens

chocolate-creme-patissiere-recipe

Chocolate Éclairs
Choux pastry recipe adapted from How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
Makes about 20 small éclairs

choux-pastry-recipe

chocolate-eclairs-recipe-2

Cook’s Notes

To make a vanilla crème patissière, simply add a teaspoon of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste to the milk, and omit the cocoa powder and dark chocolate.

If you don’t have a standmixer, you can, of course, make the choux pastry by hand if you don’t mind an upper-body workout. Simply use a wooden spoon to beat the egg into the mixture, one at a time, until the egg is fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth before adding the next egg. As you add each egg, the mixture will look like it has curdled, but keep beating the mixture until it comes together.

You can make the éclairs as big or as small as you wish, but adjust the baking time accordingly. Make sure you bake them for long enough until they are golden and crispy, otherwise they may be uncooked on the inside and deflate if you take them out of the oven too soon.

If the chocolate ganache splits, try to quickly whisk the mixture to emulsify it again. If this does not work, heat a small amount of double cream in a small saucepan, and whisk this into the chocolate ganache.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Vickie 12 March 2014 at 2:40 am

yum – I’m yet to attempt making choux pastry, but looking at these makes me feel like I should :)

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Eat, Little Bird 12 March 2014 at 9:32 am

Making choux pastry can sound daunting but it should be fairly straightforward. Hopefully Nigella’s recipe will work perfectly for you as it has always done for me :-)

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Jennifer @ Delicious Everyday 12 March 2014 at 3:06 am

How frustrating at having so many failed attempts. It’s disappointed when that happens, not only because of the time, but also the wasted ingredients. You’re eclairs are perfect though Thanh :D I clearly need to work on my piping skills as mine look very “rustic” in comparison. I also never chill mine before piping. I’ll have to try that.

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Eat, Little Bird 12 March 2014 at 9:47 am

Your éclairs look lovely!! I actually prefer the more rustic look when homemade. Chilling the choux pastry makes it firmer and easier to pipe, so the end result should look quite like how you had piped it. Perhaps this was something useful for me to take away from Ruth Clemens’ recipe :-)

But yes, many eggs were sacrificed in this kitchen experiment! Not all recipes work out perfectly for me and I also always think of the wasted ingredients. But I guess you never know until you try.

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Paula 12 March 2014 at 10:16 am

I love it!! And I love homemade choux. Because at restaurants, even in good ones, they serve sometimes horrible profitroles.

And ook, I’m clumsy, however, even if you don’t believe me, I’m great with choux. It’s easy, but even with that, I felt in heaven when I checked I could prepare something so… delicate? You thing is delicate before you make.
The truth is that, as I’m bad with pastry bag, I only can make profiteroles with an ice cream spoon, but if my boyf it’s at home, he can form éclairs, that I love on a Sunday afternoon (remember childhood!!).

I love so glossy ganache, love the photos. I’m hungry now!! :P

PD: Now you’ll say, and why are you telling me this? But I die if I don’t say you that we have found a lovely home in Interlaken area. If it’s half of what seems, I will recommend tu you, can you imagine??
PPD: I’m not anything beside that book, but, you allow me some advice? Choux pastry made with cocoa powder, and then a passion fruit curd filling. And lavender pastry cream with white chocolate and orange ganache it’s also great.
PPPD: I’m sorry, I’m boring you (again) and there are millions of combinations to die, so I’m not telling you anything new.

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Eat, Little Bird 12 March 2014 at 11:05 am

My husband loves to make gougères (also made from choux pastry) and he usually just uses a spoon to make big dollops of dough on the baking tray. But after watching an episode of Top Chef some time ago, I suggested that he use a piping bag to make mini gougères, which he did and everyone is always impressed by them!

We’ve also eaten some bad profiteroles in restaurants, and I now only order them in restaurants where I know they will make them fresh. I think the best were at Bouchon in Las Vegas …

I’ve heard about making chocolate choux pastry but I’ve never tried it. Maybe that will be my next choux experiment? I really should try more flavour combinations but sometimes I can be really boring ;-)

P.S. I love the Interlaken region! As you may have seen, we like to travel to Grindelwald in winter and Interlaken is not far away. There is a lovely hotel in Interlaken called The Grand Restaurant Café Schuh which is a really nice place to go for coffee and cake. And the odd thing is that the wife of the chef is Thai so the restaurant also serves really delicious Thai food! Quite unexpected for Interlaken but a nice change from the usual mountain food :-) They also serve Peking Duck! I’m definitely ordering that the next time we visit.

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Paula 13 March 2014 at 10:29 am

I take a note with that place!!! In this moment I’m going to visit the web, if you recommend, only with this sounds good! :P And we’ll be five nights in that area, so we can try even a little of Thai food :P

Thank you!!!! Of course, I have save also some adresses in Zurich, but we only stay there for a day ;)

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Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar 12 March 2014 at 1:36 pm

These are my freaking DREAM! Love the look of these!

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Nelmarie Rennison 12 March 2014 at 5:49 pm

Oh no what a shame. I have her book and mine comes out beautifully. Even have a standing order for them at my little man’s school now. Hope you find a recipe that works for you!

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Sue Harris 12 March 2014 at 6:19 pm

I have Ruths books, and each and every recipe I have tried has worked out perfectly, and very delicious too..She is a brilliant cook, Ruth also took the time and trouble to help me out with a lovely recipe for her Maderia Cake..which was perfection..I don’t understand your review because her éclair recipe worked brilliantly for me!!!

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Eat, Little Bird 12 March 2014 at 8:49 pm

That’s reassuring to know that Ruth’s recipes have always been reliable for you. Sometimes a recipe can work perfectly for one person but not for another – such is the nature of baking, I suppose. Hopefully I will have more luck with Ruth’s other recipes.

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Sinéad Kennedy 12 March 2014 at 6:31 pm

I am actually amazed at this review as I have all of Ruth’s books and haven’t had a failure yet. If ever I am having a special occasion, I go straight for Ruth’s books as I am GUARANTEED of a fail proof delicious bake. Sounds like you were having an off day.

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Eat, Little Bird 12 March 2014 at 8:53 pm

Yes, maybe we can put it down to an off day :-) Hopefully I will have better luck next time!

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Sinéad Kennedy 12 March 2014 at 11:46 pm

Fingers crossed!

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Tat 12 March 2014 at 7:45 pm

What is there not to understand? Well she is stating what happened to her when she made it. I do find it odd that just after being asked by the team of Ruth to review the book and you say a negative thing that two posts within minutes are devoted to saying that you are wrong. I have never seen that before and I hope it is not the marketing team. It sounds like a hard sell to me. I don’t think any recipe is ever completly GUARANTEED. Yes marketing companies get paid top dollar to make sure that they write good reviews and posts no matter what. Maybe I am on the wrong track and if so I apologise to Sinead and Sue however no cook or person (Yes even Ruth) is 100% all the time and not to mention it was made twice and still failed, is hardly an off day.

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Eat, Little Bird 12 March 2014 at 9:00 pm

I agree with you that no recipe is ever guaranteed – what works for one person may not work for another. There’s a reason why there are many recipes for choux pastry out there. And even though a recipe may not work out, it does not necessarily mean that the recipe, or the recipe author, is wrong. Hopefully others can understand that too :-)

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Sinéad Kennedy 12 March 2014 at 11:45 pm

Blimey Tat, noooo I’m not in marketing!! I am a stay at home Mum who just loves to bake. :D I was just giving my honest opinion on Ruth’s recipes. I love them and not once have they failed me. Delia Smith has never failed me either, and no, I don’t work for her either :D

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Hannah 13 March 2014 at 1:15 pm

A fabulous blog post as usually Thanh. You were asked to review a recipe, and that request clearly comes with the knowledge that it might not be favourable one. You have been very diplomatic in writing up the results, clearly you cannot lie but you have been very kind in your review, even suggesting the poor results may have been your own fault, which I think is very kind of you. I hope this didn’t go unappreciated by the person requesting the review, although obviously it went over the heads of some followers which is a shame.

I love eclairs and profiteroles and all things choux but have still not been brave enough to try it. I must rectify that! Simon Hopkinson does a lovely looking recipe for Cheese Gougeres which I might start with then progress from there.

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Eat, Little Bird 13 March 2014 at 4:38 pm

Thank you, Hannah :-) It seems many have had good success with Ruth’s éclair recipe but I guess the stars were not aligned for me on this one. It’s a little unsettling that some people can’t understand why a recipe which works for them might not work for someone else, but c’est la vie :-)

I also love all things choux and, before this experience, I would have said that it was easy-peasy to make. Now I would have to qualify that statement! When my husband offers to cook, he often rustles up cheese gougères with his faithful recipe from Marmiton. They are incredibly moreish and I would definitely recommend that you try savoury choux :-) xx

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Caroline 15 March 2014 at 12:06 pm

Incredibly tempting photos those Thanh! Could reach into the screen and just grab one!

I loved the fact that you were honest in your post, and that too, on two counts – honest enough to give the Ruth Clemen’s recipe a second go after the first failure, and secondly to say so, acknowledging that it may have been a fault on your side too. Generous on all fronts.

We are home bakers not professional. Our blogs are an extension of our kitchens and consequently, will and *should* express the honesty of what happens in there – great success, difficult failures and everything in between. Sure, it’s always disappointing if someone has found a recipe I absolutely, zealously love to be a dismal, unappealing product but there are certainly more worrisome things to dwell on.

As others said, it’s difficult for one recipe to have a consistent outcome in every single kitchen, since everyone cooks differently and ingredients, especially finicky ones like flour, vary greatly. To assume that one recipe, will work every single time someone, anyone, in the world tries it, is rather far fetched. Case in point : you find great success with Rachel Allen’s recipes and I constantly fight them. We’ve debated that, but am glad to say are still friends after ;-)

Blog on :D

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Eat, Little Bird 16 March 2014 at 9:52 pm

I’m so relieved that there are fair-minded people like you in the world :-) Phew!

The reaction from some fans of Ruth Clemens to this post was, to say the least, a mild shock for me, but maybe they’ve never had the misfortune of a recipe going wrong for them. Ruth Clemens has since taken down the reader comments from her Facebook page as they were a touch unpleasant, but I suppose some people are not used to reading honest reviews. But I should stress that an honest review is not necessarily a negative review.

Even though things can go pear-shaped for me in the kitchen, I will still continue to blog about my experiences, and I hope to do so in the fairest manner possible. Just because a recipe fails, it is not necessarily a reflection on the author of the recipe. As you say, there are so many variables to take into consideration.

And I’m glad our differences over Rachel Allen’s recipes never became a pie-throwing match … we’ve always been too busy finding new and different recipes to share :-) xx

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Rushi 17 March 2014 at 8:55 am

Thanh, I love the fact that you’re so honest about the failures and successes in your kitchen. We’ve all had those days where some recipes simply don’t turn up the way they’re supposed to. I know it’s disppointing and you keep wondering what went wrong but you just pick up your cake bowls and move on :)
Well, I love love éclairs, the ones you get in the French bakeries are simply outstanding. I’ve never made ‘em at home though. My mom on the other hand makes beautiful choux pastry and they turn out so light. Anyway I’m happy that Nigella’s recipe worked for you and that you were able to have your sweet fix :)
xxx

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Eat, Little Bird 20 March 2014 at 12:47 pm

Thanks, Rushi :-) There are some amazing shops in Paris which sell really gorgeous éclairs – it would be rather dangerous for my waistline if I lived there! Although, I love treating myself to a chocolate éclair from Sprüngli in Zurich and seem to do so at least once a week :-)

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dina 22 March 2014 at 12:33 am

these look hard to make. they look great!

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