Chocolate éclairs are long, puffy buns stuffed with cream (although in France it’s usually cold custard) and topped with rich chocolate icing. The buns are made with choux pastry, which unlike normal pastry is made by bringing butter and water to the boil, tipping in the flour and stirring it quickly until smooth. Eggs are then beaten in and the soft, glossy mixture is piped on to lined baking trays and baked until golden. Eclair is French for ‘a flash of lightning’. They take a little longer to make than that, although you may well find that, once served up, they disappear as fast as lightning.
Switch on the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Put the butter, water and salt into the medium saucepan and switch on the heat to low. Stir from time to time with the wooden spoon as the butter melts. Meanwhile, sift the flour into a small bowl.
When the butter has melted, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to the boil. Switch off the heat and quickly tip the flour into the saucepan. Immediately beat the flour into the liquid with the wooden spoon to mix all the ingredients together After a few seconds or so, you’ll find that the mixture swells into a smooth dough that comes away from the sides of the saucepan. Stop beating.
Let the mixture cool for 3 or 4 minutes. Crack the eggs into the measuring jug and whisk them with the fork. Pour a little of the egg into the flour mixture and beat it in well. Keep adding and beating in the egg, a little at a time, until the dough looks thick, smooth and shiny and still holds its shape well. You may not need the last 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of egg if your eggs are large ones.
Spoon the mixture into the freezer bag (you’ll need to scrape it out of the pan with the plastic spatula). Fold down the top of the bag to squeeze the dough to the bottom. Snip off one of the bottom corners of the bag to give you a hole about 1–1.5cm long.
Line the baking sheet with baking parchment. Squeeze the mixture into chipolata-sized sausage shapes on to the parchment, allowing about 4cm space between each one (they should get at least 3 times bigger in the oven). You should be able to make about 12 or so.
Place the baking sheet in the hot oven and leave for about 25 minutes. When the éclairs are ready, they should be golden brown all over (turn them over if necessary) and feel hard when you poke one with a knife. Oven gloves on again. Take out the baking sheet and switch off the oven.
Immediately take each éclair gently off the sheet (they will be very hot, so wrap your hand in a tea towel or wear oven gloves) and, with the point of the sharp knife, gently split the side to let out the steam. (Otherwise, the steam sits trapped in the éclair and turns back to water, leaving you with a soggy bun.) Leave them to cool on the wire rack where the air can get all round them and dry them out.
Whip the cream in the small bowl with the rotary whisk until it’s just thick enough to hold its shape. Put it in the fridge while you make the chocolate icing.
For the icing, put the sugar and water in the small saucepan, place it on the hob and turn the heat to low. Heat gently, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and boil fast for just 2 minutes. Switch off the hob and wait for a few minutes for the syrup to cool down (you can speed this up by dipping the base of the pan in a bowl of cold water, if you like). Meanwhile, break up the chocolate and cut the butter into chunks.
When the syrup is very warm, rather than very hot, add the chocolate and butter. Stir until both have melted and blended to a smooth, glossy sauce. Leave to cool, stirring occasionally. When the sauce starts to thicken (at about blood temperature), it’s ready to ice your éclairs.
When the buns are cool, use a teaspoon to fill the inside of each éclair with whipped cream (you may need to enlarge the slit that you made in the side of each bun). After you’ve filled all the eclairs, take a different teaspoon and smear a little of the chocolate icing over each éclair. Leave the éclairs on the wire rack until the icing has set.
How to eat your chocolate eclairs
The cream does make the pastry go a bit squidgy after a while, so you might not want to fill the éclairs until just before you are going to eat them. On the other hand, they’re quite nice when they’re a little bit squidgy.
The great thing about the icing for the éclairs is that, while it is still warm, it is simply a fantastic chocolate sauce. This means you can easily adapt your éclairs to become the irresistible pudding known as profiteroles. Just make the éclairs round instead of long (pipe them into blobs on the baking sheet, like meringues, rather than long ‘sausages’). Bake, leave to cool, and fill with cream just as before. Put 2 or 3 in each pudding bowl and pour over the warm chocolate sauce as you hand them out.
- Butter, 75g
- Water, 200ml
- A pinch of salt
- Strong plain flour, 100g
- Free-range eggs, 3
- 150ml double or whipping cream
For the chocolate icing:
- Caster sugar, 100g
- Water, 75ml
- Dark chocolate, 50g
- Unsalted butter, 25g
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