French Patisserie 101: Part 3 | What is a Classic French Eclair? | What is Eclair Paste? | Troubleshooting Eclairs | Types of Fillings for Eclairs | How to Make this Classic French Eclair Recipe | Should Eclairs Be Soft or Crunchy? | 6 Tips for Making and Baking Eclairs to “Perfection” | Essential Baking Tools for Eclairs
This classic French eclair recipe is so delicious and beautiful. The eclair shells are light and airy while the pastry cream is rich and creamy. Perfectly crisp eclair shells with light and creamy pastry cream all topped with ganache…I mean, can you even? I don’t know about you, but I most certainly can!
French Patisserie 101: Part 3
Welcome to Part 3 of French Patisserie 101. Have you been practicing your choux pastry skills? If not, I highly recommend going back through parts 1 and 2 for an in depth understanding of choux pastries.
If you are just here for the eclairs, then jump right on into this series 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 and they were delicious and beautiful? 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 that has three elements: eclair paste, pastry cream, and chocolate ganache. It seems so simple, but it’s completely delicious!
While there are many variations on the classic eclair recipe, nothing beats the classic. First, master the basics of this recipe, and then you can confidently try other pate a choux and pastry recipes.
As a side note, if you ever visit Paris, it’s an absolute must to stop in at some of the many pastry shops because several shops serve classic and modern eclairs. They come in all sorts of flavor combinations with beautiful colors, nuts, creams, fruits, etc.
What is Eclair Paste?
Eclair paste is also known as pâte à choux, choux pastry, or choux paste. It’s a foundational French pastry consisting of flour, water, milk, salt, sugar, butter, and eggs. Classic eclairs use an equal amount of flour, water/milk, and butter along with the other ingredients.
When choux paste bakes properly, the insides hollow out, leaving room for all sorts of delicious fillings.
Once you know how to make choux pastry shells, you can easily make many French pastry recipes that call for this delicious pastry.
Trouble Shooting Eclairs
Making an eclair recipe that produces patisserie quality pastries requires some skills and practice. While eclair pastry is simple in nature, there are a lot of little nuances that can make the difference between average and great pastries.
Let’s take a look at some of the common problems with eclairs so that you know how to fix them if they ever happen along your journey.
Eclairs are too Soft
This is a very common problem for beginners. We, as bakers, are used to desserts being lightly golden brown. Eclairs, however, are soft and collapse if they are just lightly golden brown.
Eclair shells are generally too soft because they don’t bake long enough. Also, you will notice that eclairs soften after a day. This naturally happens to most pastries, so they are best eaten the first day after being filled.
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 back up. This is a super 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 he outside of the choux needs to stay moist while baking so that the dough can stretch and puff up without splitting. A super high temperature will dry out the exterior too quickly while the inside is expanding rapidly, thereby causing split shells. Make sense?
Also, eclair paste with too much flour or not enough moisture also bursts due to the imbalanced recipe.
Bake at a lower temperature. Even if a recipe says to bake at a super high heat to start, it might not be right for your oven or recipe. In addition, make sure the ingredients are measured out correctly so that they are balanced properly.
Eclairs are Doughy Inside
This is another baking-related issue. The culprit is most likely taking the pate a 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, then the outsides will brown and bake quickly, but the insides will still be doughy.
Bake the eclairs until brown, crisp, and no light spots show on the pastries. And be sure that the oven temperature isn’t too high.
Eclairs are Flat or Deflate
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 will not cause the steam to build up enough, so the eclairs will be smaller and tighter in structure.
In addition, using flour with a lower protein percentage can result in deflated eclairs. Many recipes call for all-purpose flour, but the protein content isn’t strong enough in most cases.
Why do eclairs need a higher protein content? Eclairs need a strong protein structure to help them hold their shape during and after baking. Bread flour has a higher protein percentage, and therefore it will create more structurally sound eclair shells.
You can use all-purpose flour for this eclair recipe if that’s all you can find, but for the best results, use bread flour!
Bake at the right temperature and use bread flour for structurally sound eclairs.
Types of Fillings for Eclairs
Traditionally, eclairs are filled with pastry cream (you can learn all about pastry cream here).
Other fillings include caramel pastry cream, praline, mousseline, mousse, curd, and much more. For this recipe, we will stick with the classic filling so that you can master the basics. And as a side note, pastry cream is perfectly delicious, so you really don’t need more extravagant fillings to make these pastries taste amazing.
How to Maked this Classic French Eclair Recipe
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 this good unless you visit a patisserie or high-end bake shop.
- Start by making the pastry cream because it needs at least 2 hours to cool and set up in the fridge. Be sure to cover the surface of the pastry cream with a piece of plastic so it doesn’t form a “skin.” The pastry cream can be made a day or two ahead, but it’s super fast and easy to make the same day as the eclair pastries.
- Next, make the eclair paste. To begin boil the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt. Then remove from the heat and stir in the flour. Return to the burner and stir for two minutes to remove the flour taste.
- Add the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and mix the eggs in one at a time. Be sure to mix in each egg completely before adding another on low speed. You can also give the egg yolks and whites a good whisking before adding them to the dough. It’s easier to add the eggs in a stead stream instead of one large egg at a time.
- Avoid mixing on medium speed or high speed because this will add large air bubbles to the dough. Add eggs until you can lift the paddle out of the bowl and see shiny dough that makes a bird beak on the end of the paddle.
- Next, fill a piping bag with the choux paste, pipe the eclairs onto prepared baking sheets with a French star tip (with either parchment paper or one of these perforated baking mats (they are my fav!)), and bake in preheated oven until dark golden brown. Cool completely and make the chocolate glaze.
- To assemble the eclairs, puncture 2-3 holes in the bottoms of the pastry shells with a small piping tip.
- Whip whipped cream with a hand mixer (if lightening the pastry cream), fold or gently stir into pastry cream, add to a piping bag, and then fill the shells by squeezing the pastry cream into each of the holes.
- Lastly, dip the tops of the eclairs in the ganache. Eat once chocolate is dry, and refrigerate if they will be sitting out longer than 2 hours. This eclair recipe is best made and eaten in the same day so the shells stay firm, but they are still delicious for a day or two after!
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. And no, I’m not snooty, I just know good pastry.
Eclairs should be crisp and brown on the outside and dried out on the inside. Mastering the baking aspect takes a bit of practice. It’s easy to look at the eclairs and think they are done when they are golden, but they should be quite brown and crisp, without burning of course.
6 Tips for Making and Baking Eclairs to “Perfection”
I use the word perfection with quotations simply 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 get rid of the flour taste, and stir constantly so that the paste doesn’t burn or stick to the pot too much. You will definitely see a film of choux paste in the pot, but it shouldn’t be thick.
Tip 2: Draw Lines on Parchment
Draw 4-5 inch lines on parchment paper with a food safe marker or pencil, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Next, turn the parchment over so that the marked side is face down on a rimmed sheet pan. You can then pipe the eclairs along the lines so that they are all the same length. It makes for very uniform and beautiful eclairs every time!
If you are using perforated air mats, place the parchment underneath the mats so that you can still see the lines to follow. Carefully remove parchment so only the air mats are left on the pans.
Tip 3: Cut the Choux Paste
Use scissors to cut the choux paste off when it reaches the end of each line on the parchment. This ensures that the eclairs hold their shape, and it prevents the paste from dragging out when the piping tip pulls away.
Tip 4: 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. Spikes of dough are more likely to burn if left unsmoothed, and they don’t look very good after baking.
Tip 5: Keep the Oven Door Shut
Don’t open the oven door while baking until they eclairs have baked for at least 20 minutes. Opening the oven in the beginning can make the eclairs deflate if too much heat escapes from the oven.
***Pro Tip: Bake the cooled eclairs a second time for 10 – 15 minutes at 325 degrees to give the exterior extra crispness. It will also help to dry out the inside if the inside is still slightly underdone.
Tip 6: Let the Steam Escape
In addition, poke a couple of small holes or small slits in the bottom of each eclair, and let them cool for an hour or two. This will dry out the inside better. Even if the inside isn’t as dry as you would like it, it will still taste wonderful!
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.
Essential Baking Tools for French Eclairs
- Wilton #7 tip for filling the eclairs
- Piping bags for piping the pate a choux
- Ateco 806 tip for piping the eclairs
- French whisk for making pastry cream and ganache
- Crispearls for garnish (completely optional)
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Classic French Eclair Recipe
- Prep Time: 3 hours
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
- Yield: 20 1x
- Category: pastries
Pate a choux
- 158 g (2/3 cup) whole milk
- 79 g (1/3 cup) water
- 113 g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 4 tsp powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4–5 eggs
- 136 g (1 cup) bread flour
- 1 recipe Vanilla Pastry Cream
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)
- Powdered sugar for dusting the eclairs
- 6 oz heavy cream
- 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate (baking bar chopped up)
- 2 Tbs corn syrup (makes the ganache silkier and shinier)
To Make the Eclair Paste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large medium sized pot, add water, milk, butter, salt, and powdered sugar. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until mixture comes to a boil.
- 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.
- Remove dough from heat and pour dough into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
- Turn the mixer onto low and mix for 3 minutes to begin cooling down the dough.
- Turn the mixer up to a 3 on a 10 speed mixer, scramble the eggs with a fork, and begin adding them a little at a time. The pate a choux may curdle a little with each addition, but the dough will come back together. You know you’ve added enough egg when you can draw a line in the dough and it slowly sinks back in.
- Draw 4 or 5 inch lines (with pencil) on parchment paper, spaced 2 inches apart. Flip the paper over pencil side down on a rimmed sheet tray. Pipe the eclairs using a piping bag and Wilton 8B french star tip. If you are having difficulty breaking away from each eclair, use scissors to cut the dough for a clean stop.
- Spritz eclairs with water and dust lightly with powdered sugar.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes. Eclairs should be very golden brown all around and firm to the touch.
- Remove from oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack, about 1 hour.
To Make the Vanilla Pastry Cream
- See directions here.
To Make the Ganache
- When you are ready to fill the pastry shells with pastry cream, it’s time to make the ganache. Bring heavy cream to a boil over medium heat.
- Place chocolate in a bowl, and pour hot cream over the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to sit for 3-5 minutes, and then gently whisk the cream and melted chocolate together. Do not over whisk, as this can “break” the ganache, making it no longer smooth and creamy.
Assembling the Eclairs
- 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.
- 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 fitted with a coupler, and fill with pastry cream. (Be sure to stir pastry cream well before putting it into the bag so it is smooth.)
- 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.
- Repeat with all eclairs.
- Dip the tops of the eclairs in the melted ganache, and add any garnishes desired(such as these crispearls or cocoa nibs). Allow the eclairs to dry for storing in the refrigerator. Eclairs are best eaten the same day, but are still delicious for a couple of days longer. The firmness of the shell softens after being in the fridge for a while, so they are definitely best the first day.
This is a Baker Street original recipe.
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