Classic French Eclair Recipe

This classic French eclair recipe is so delicious and beautiful. The eclair shells are light and airy, and the pastry cream is the perfect contrast in both flavor and texture. Dip the eclairs in chocolate ganache for the ultimate finish, and you’ll have a classic dessert everyone loves.

5 classic French eclairs on a white, oval, speckled platter

French Patisserie 101: Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of French Patisserie 101. Have you been practicing your choux pastry skills? I highly recommend going back through parts 1 and 2 for an in-depth understanding of choux pastries. You can also learn more about choux in my baking program.

If you are just here for the eclairs, then jump right on into this recipe and read through this post so that your eclairs turn out beautifully the very first time. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if you made eclairs that were delicious and beautiful? It’s definitely a good feeling when a recipe turns out right!

Click on the links below for Parts 1 and 2:

What is a Classic French Eclair?

An eclair is a French pastry with three elements: eclair paste (aka pâte à choux), pastry cream, and chocolate ganache. These pastries seem so simple, but it’s the little details that make the difference between an average eclair and a great one.

As a side note, if you ever visit Paris, it’s an absolute must to stop at some of the many pastry shops. Several shops serve classic and modern eclairs, which come in various flavor combinations with beautiful colors, nuts, creams, fruits, etc. Learn more about where to find them here.

What is Eclair Paste Made Of?

Eclair paste is made with flour, water, milk, salt, sugar, butter, and eggs. When choux paste bakes properly, the insides hollow out, leaving room for all sorts of delicious fillings. This dough is also known as pâte à choux, choux pastry, or choux paste.

Once you know how to make choux pastry shells, you can easily make other French choux pastry recipes. In culinary school, every pastry chef learns how to make choux since it is a foundational recipe and building block of pastry training.

Troubleshooting Eclairs

Making an eclair recipe that produces pâtisserie-quality pastries requires some skills and practice. While eclairs are simple in nature, many little nuances can make the difference between average and great pastries.

Let’s examine some of the common problems with eclairs so you know how to fix them if they occur along your journey.

Eclairs are too Soft

This is a common problem for beginners. Most desserts are baked until light and golden. Eclairs, however, are too soft and will collapse if they are just lightly golden brown.

Eclair shells are generally too soft because they don’t bake long enough. While eclair shells will naturally soften the day after baking, this is not the same as being underbaked. This naturally happens to most pastries, so they are best eaten the first day after being filled.

The Solution

Bake the eclairs until they are dark golden brown without any light spots showing. The shells should be firm to the touch and crisp. They shouldn’t have areas that are soft or white/yellow in color otherwise they will buckle and deflate.

If you are working with day-old eclair shells, put them back in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 275 degrees to crisp them. This is an easy way to bring them back to life a day or two after making them. And no one will know the difference!

Eclairs Split or Burst on Top or Sides

Oh, the dreaded eclair splits. Eclairs split or burst if they are baked at too high of a temperature. The steam rises too quickly and needs to escape from the eclair paste.

The problem is that the outside of the choux needs to stay moist while baking so that the dough can stretch and puff up without splitting. Too high a temperature will dry out the exterior too quickly while the inside expands rapidly, thereby causing split shells.

Also, eclair paste with too much flour or not enough moisture can burst due to the imbalanced ratio fo ingredients. So please weigh out your ingredients as indicated in the recipe.

The Solution

Bake at a lower temperature. Even if a recipe says to bake at a high heat to start, it might not be right for your oven or recipe. You may find that you need to drop the temperature 15-25 degrees F so that the eclairs don’t burst.

In addition, make sure the ingredients are measured out correctly to be balanced properly.

close up of french eclairs for this recipe to show details of chocolate and choux pastries

Eclairs are Doughy Inside

This often happens when you take the pâte à choux shells out before they are fully baked. If the outsides of the eclairs are really crisp and firm, the insides should be done as well.

The other problem is that if the oven temperature is too high, the outsides will brown and bake quickly, but the insides will still be doughy. So the eclairs will appear to be done, but the insides aren’t baked through yet.

The Solution

Bake the eclairs until brown and crisp and no light spots show on the pastries. And be sure that the oven temperature isn’t too high. This can take a little trial and error with your oven, so be patient as you make your first few pans of eclairs.

Eclairs are Flat or Deflated

Again, baking them long enough is a huge proponent of success.

In addition, eclairs may be flat if the oven temperature is too low. Low heat doesn’t allow the steam to build up enough to expand the shells, so the eclairs will be smaller and tighter in structure.

In addition, using flour with a lower protein percentage can result in deflated eclairs. If you use only cake flour, for example, the protein structure won’t be strong enough to keep the eclair structure hollow and round.

Why do eclairs need a higher protein content? Their strong protein structure helps them hold their shape during and after baking.

You can use bread flour for this eclair recipe if you want an extra strong structure, but for the best results, make the recipe as it is written with all-purpose flour and cake flour.

The Solution

Bake at the right temperature and use the correct flour types for structurally sound eclairs.

What is Eclair Filling Made of?

Traditionally, eclairs are filled with pastry cream (you can learn all about pastry cream here), a French custard filling flavored with vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract.

Other fillings include caramel pastry cream, praline, mousseline, mousse, curd, and more. For this recipe, we will stick with the classic filling so that you can master the basics.

How to Make French Eclairs

This is a basic overview, so please see the recipe below for the full details. This recipe requires a few hours of time between baking, cooling, and refrigerating. It might be a bit of a process, but it’s so rewarding to make this dessert. And believe me, you won’t find any eclairs that are this good unless you visit a patisserie or high-end bake shop.

  1. Make the pastry cream and chill for at least 2 hours.
  2. Make the eclair paste by boiling the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt. Add the flour, stir for two minutes, and then transfer the dough to a stand mixer.
  3. Add the egg slowly to the dough as the mixer runs on low. The dough is done when it forms a bird beak on the end of the paddle.
  4. Fill a piping bag with the choux paste, pipe the eclairs onto prepared baking sheets with a French star tip (on either parchment paper or one of these perforated baking mats), and bake in a preheated oven until dark golden brown.
  5. Cool completely before filling.
  6. Whip heavy cream and fold it into pastry cream. Fill the eclair shells with the filling.
  7. Make ganache and dip eclairs. Allow the ganache to set up before serving.
  8. Refrigerate until ready to eat. They are best served cold!
eclair batter flowing into a bowl
Eclair paste flowing into a bowl
hand piping eclairs onto a lined baking tray
Eclairs being piped on a baking tray

Should Eclairs Be Soft or Crunchy?

Don’t let the grocery store eclairs fool you. Those soft, soggy logs are not what eclairs should be. Trust me, I know good pastries.

Good eclairs are crisp and brown on the outside and dried out on the inside. Mastering the baking aspect takes a bit of practice, so learn as you bake your first few pans. You’ll then feel more confident about baking them.

eclairs on a speckled oval platter with a white backdrop

6 Tips for Making and Baking Eclairs to “Perfection”

I use the word perfection with quotations to remind myself and everyone that perfection is sometimes a matter of opinion. Don’t get discouraged if your eclairs aren’t “perfect.” No matter how they look, they will still taste amazing.

Tip 1: Cook the Eclair Paste

Cook the eclair paste for 2 minutes after adding the flour to remove the flour taste, stirring constantly so that the paste doesn’t burn or stick to the pot too much. You will see a light film of choux paste form in the pot, which is normal.

Tip 2: Add Enough Egg

The most important factor for success is getting the eclair paste to the right consistency. As you add the egg to the dough in the stand mixer, you’ll notice that the dough starts to soften and thin out. You know you’ve added enough egg when you can lift the paddle out of the mixer and form a slow-flowing ribbon of dough.

Tip 3: Cool the Dough

After mixing in the egg, cover the dough and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. This gives the dough time to cool and gives it more structure for piping.

Tip 4: Use Templated Airmats

Use an eclair perforated airmat so there is no guesswork about how long or wide to make the eclairs. I love the Silikomart airmat because it’s high quality, made in Italy, and a professional brand I count on for many of my pastry needs.

If you don’t have an airmat, you can instead draw 4-5 inch lines on parchment paper with a food-safe marker or pencil, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Turn the parchment over so the marked side is face down on a rimmed half sheet pan. You can pipe the eclairs along the lines so they are all the same length.

Tip 5: Smooth out Pastry Points

If there are any spikes of dough on the piped eclairs, dab your finger or a pastry brush in water and pat the pointy parts down. If left unsmoothed, spikes of dough are more likely to burn and don’t look very good after baking.

Tip 6: Keep the Oven Door Shut

Don’t open the oven door while baking until the eclairs have baked for at least 20 minutes. Opening the oven door, in the beginning, can deflate the eclairs if too much heat escapes from the oven.

Making eclairs is a learning process and an adventure, so enjoy all of the little things you learn along the way. And be sure to enjoy eating the eclairs regardless of how “perfect” or imperfect they look.

Pro Tip: Bake the cooled eclairs a second time for 10 – 15 minutes at 325 degrees F to give the exterior extra crispness. This will also help dry out the inside if it is still slightly underdone.

Essential Baking Tools for French Eclairs

How to Store Eclairs

Once filled with pastry cream, eclairs need to be stored in the refrigerator. For the best texture and experience, I recommend filling them within 2 hours of eating. However, you can store filled eclairs for up to 3 days. The main difference is that they will soften some during this time, but they are still delicious.

Can You Freeze Eclairs?

While some choux pastries freeze well, filled eclairs do not because of the pastry cream. If you want to freeze the eclairs, bake the eclair shells and then freeze them. When you are ready to assemble the pastries, remove the choux shells from the freezer, thaw, and fill.

Alternatively, you can pipe the eclair shells and freeze them before baking. Pop them into the oven straight from the freezer to bake them.

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Classic French Eclair Recipe

5 classic French eclairs on a white, oval, speckled platter

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  • Author: Camille
  • Prep Time: 3 hours
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
  • Yield: 20 1x
  • Category: pastries

Ingredients

Units Scale

Eclair Choux Dough

  • 155 ml (2/3 c) whole milk
  • 78 ml (1/3 c) water
  • 113 g (1/2 c) unsalted butter
  • 10 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 90 g all-purpose flour
  • 30 g cake flour
  • 190225 g eggs (4-5 large eggs), room temp
  • Nonstick spray
  • Powdered sugar for dusting the eclairs

For the Filling

Chocolate Glaze

  • 180 ml heavy cream (3/4 c)
  • 113 g baking chocolate (56-60% cocoa), finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs light corn syrup

Instructions

To Make the Eclair Paste

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Add water, milk, butter, salt, and sugar to a medium-sized pot. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil.
  2. As soon as the mixture starts to boil, remove from heat, add flour, and stir quickly. Return pot to heat and cook for 2 more minutes on medium heat to remove flour taste, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove the dough from the heat and pour the dough into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
  4. Turn the mixer onto low and mix until the dough temp reaches 125 F (50 C).
  5. Slowly add the egg mixture to the pate a choux in 7-10 additions. You know you’ve added enough egg when you can lift the paddle, and the dough slowly falls back into the bowl like a ribbon.
  6. Cover the dough and set aside for 30 minutes to cool.
  7. Spoon the choux pastry into a piping bag fitted with an Ateco #866 tip, and clamp the top so it doesn’t leak.
  8. You can use an eclair airmat with a halfsheet pan or draw 4-inch lines (with pencil) on parchment paper, spaced 2 inches apart. Flip the paper over the pencil side down on a rimmed sheet tray. Pipe the eclairs onto the airmat or parchment If you are having difficulty ending each line of dough, use scissors to cut the dough for a clean stop.
  9. Lightly pray the eclairs with nonstick spray and dust lightly with powdered sugar.
  10. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Eclairs should be very golden brown all around and firm to the touch.
  11. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack, about 1 hour.

To Make the Vanilla Pastry Cream

  1. See directions here.

To Make the Ganache

  1. When you are ready to fill the pastry shells with pastry cream, it’s time to make the chocolate glaze. Bring heavy cream to a simmer over medium heat. 
  2. Place chocolate in a bowl and pour hot cream over it. Allow the chocolate to sit for 2-3 minutes, and then gently whisk the cream and melted chocolate together.
  3. Add the corn syrup and stir. Allow to sit for several minutes so it thickens slightly but is still a pourable consistency. It needs to be thin enough for dipping but not so thin that it runs everywhere when dipping.

Assembling the Eclairs

  1. Optional: Whip the whipped cream to stiff peaks, and fold into the pastry cream. This is optional if you want a lighter pastry cream vs the standard pastry cream, which is a bit heavier.
  2. Poke 3 holes in the bottom of each eclair with a #6 or #7 tip, or poke a hole in one end of the eclair. Place the tip in a piping bag and fill it with pastry cream.
  3. Insert the tip into each hole of the eclair and fill until each section of the shell is completely filled. You will know it is full if the pastry cream starts to push out of one of the other holes just slightly.
  4. Repeat with all eclairs. 
  5. Dip the tops of the eclairs in the chocolate glaze, and add any garnishes desired(such as these crispearls or cocoa nibs). Allow the eclairs to dry before storing them in the refrigerator. Eclairs are best eaten the same day, but are still delicious for a couple of days longer. The shells soften after being in the fridge for a few hours, so they are best eaten soon after making.

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