When I decided to make eclairs for my second to last recipe in my 30th birthday countdown, I had no idea how heartbreaking it was actually going to be. But after failing 4 times I decided to give it one last go and there it was, perfectly risen, hollow choux pastries! I’m so glad I didn’t give up, which isn’t something I’ll do easily in general, as I’ve always ‘dusted myself off and tried again’. This was created for my dad, who absolutely loves eclairs and comes from a family with a love for sweets and desserts in general. As long as I can remember, we used to have eclairs at every birthday party, and you can bet they’ll be there on my 30th too!
When it comes to the flavours, I’ve gone for the traditional Belgian way: filled with vanilla custard, topped with chocolate sauce. A lot of bakeries around the world seem to make it with whipped cream inside, some don’t add anything on top either but trust me: you can not beat a vanilla custard eclair dipped in chocolate sauce!
But what made this recipe so hard to make? It’s the damn pastry! I had the custard and chocolate sauce figured out right away, but my first attempts were just disastrous in terms of the pastry. They simply came out of the oven flat every single time! I tweaked the recipe a few time, and if you follow my recipe below exactly, I believe you’ll succeed the first time around as well. It’s safe to say this recipe has been my Everest, the toughest and most heartbreaking one yet but let me tell you: it was all worth it in the end! They were a big hit at home – even after having traveled on a plane to Belgium.
Some things I’ve learned that might help you if something goes wrong though:
– too much liquid: if there’s not enough flour or too many eggs, your dough will be runny and won’t rise
– not enough heat: start off with a little bit higher heat, turn it down faster (maybe try starting at 220 for 7 minutes) the heat will make them rise faster, they won’t collapse once risen either so you can just turn it down then to avoid them burning
Makes: +- 15 eclairs
- For the choux pastry
- 100g unsalted butter
- 100g full fat milk
- 100g water
- 150g plain flour
- 2 tablespoons of corn starch
- 5 large fresh free range eggs (get a few extra just in case)
- For the custard
- 500ml plain milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 40g corn starch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 120g caster sugar
- For the chocolate sauce
- 150g dark chocolate
- 150g whipped cream (has to be whipped already)
- 5 tablespoons of icing sugar
- few tablespoons of chocolate sprinkles
Let’s begin with the pastry. Preheat the oven to 200°C (fan oven) Add water, milk and butter together with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil so that everything melts nicely. Take it off the heat and add all the flour at once, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon and stir until it loosens from the side. Place back at low heat, to dry it up as much as possible – which will allow us to add more eggs later, which will help with the overall result. Once it’s dry enough, set aside until it feels lukewarm.
Mix 5 eggs in a small bowl, this will make it a lot easier to add gradually! Put your dough in a stand mixer and gradually add the eggs while beating at high speed, stop when you’ve added about a third and have a look. You want the pastry to only expand just a tiny bit when you spread it onto a plate. If it’s not moving at all and looks dull (instead of glossy), add a bit more egg. I added 4 myself and kept one aside to glaze. If you add too many eggs you can try to add more flour to balance it out, but it’s possible it’ll result in the pastry failing (don’t ask me why, I heard a chef mention it before).
Use a piping bag to spread the dough out onto parchment paper. Mine were about 10-12cm long and 2 cm wide – I used the biggest piping nozzle I had. I really recommend trying just one before piping them all, if anything has gone wrong you can still try to adjust your ingredients then. Brush with some of the mixed eggs. Pop in the oven for 15 minutes at 200° and open the oven just a tiny bit in the last few minutes to let the air out – it’ll help make them hollow and dry on the inside. Lower to 170°C and cook another 10 minutes at the most.
Poke a small hole in one side of the eclairs and make sure to poke around on the inside a bit too (I used a fondue stick) and let them cool down on a wire rack – the hole will allow for the steam to come out. Wiggling it on the inside will avoid the custard from hitting a pastry wall on the inside.
Moving on to the custard now, the easier part for sure! Mix in a measuring cup the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla essence and corn starch really well to avoid lumps. Bring the milk to a boil in a little pot, then add just a few tablespoons to the other mixture – adding the hot milk gradually will help avoid lumps too. Gradually add more hot milk until you’re about halfway, then add it all to the pot and stir like crazy! Increase the heat, it’ll thicken the sauce. Stop when you have a thick but smooth mixture. You don’t want it to be too thin or it’ll just run right out of your eclairs when filling them. Cover with cling film and place the custard mixture in the fridge until between cold and lukewarm. Fill up a piping bag with the custard and fill the eclairs up through the little hole we made before. If you find the end is not filling up, make another small hole on that side and fill from there as well.
Now moving on to the last bit! Add chocolate and whipping cream to a pot and melt at low heat. I added some icing sugar as I prefer my chocolate sauce to be sweet, but have a taste and decide for yourself if you want to go that way too. Dip the eclairs in the sauce, sprinkle the edges with chocolate sprinkles and place on a plate and let the sauce firm up in the fridge. Enjoy!