My mom says, “Everybody loves eclairs,” and I couldn’t agree more. Seriously, who could resist a light and puffy treat, filled to the brim with smooth, luscious pastry cream, and then topped with a stripe of glaze? And to make it even better, I made these with coffee! Likewise, everybody loves coffee… or at least I think they should, because coffee is a blessed substance! Besides being absolutely delicious, it is imbued with miraculous properties of competitive inhibition in the brain’s adenosine receptors, i.e. it can keep you awake. Thank you IB 132 Human Physiology!
Since this was my first time making this type of pastry, Pate a Choux, I used information from three different sources– Chez Panisse Desserts, Baking Illustrated, and this intense French pastry book given to my mom by my grandpa. It was written by a renowned pastry chef from Le Cordon Bleu, who won a gazillion awards (listed in the front of the book). It comes in three volumes of which we have two, and is called “Something something Livre de something Patisserie something.” 5 years of learning another romance language, and my mom translating a bit beside me helped me to understand their recipe for Pate a Choux! This is what I gathered from the literature:
- Pate a Choux is leavened by steam alone.
- Steam trapped inside the pastry can cause it to collapse after taken out of the oven if vents (holes) aren’t cut into the pastry after baking to let the steam escape.
- Drying the pastries in the oven after venting them will help the insides to not be too soggy
- The amount of eggs and the ratios of yolks to whites is pretty important because they help to leaven the dough as well as provide the firm texture necessary for the baked dough to hold up under the wet pastry cream filling.
Aaaaand these are the things I learned from experience!
- Do not do as I did in this first picture! I piped the pastries WAY too close together!! As a result, the edges that were close did not have enough heat circulating around them. Thus, very little steam formed, and that edge hardly puffed up.
- I may be guessing at this, but in the stage of cooking the dough over the stove, you should remove it if it begins to steam. My thought process on this one is that you should “reserve the liquid” in the dough so that it can steam up in the oven, in order to puff the pastry up more. If it evaporates on the stove, that means less puffing in the oven. Does this even make sense? Tell me what you think in the comments below! Sometimes, I really need a sounding board for my wacky baking science ideas.
Anyway, when it is prepared correctly, this dough bakes up into amazing hollow pastries. Hollow means good for filling! And oooh boy, does this filling satisfy! My boyfriend said his eclair was like eating ice cream (ice cream is his #1 favorite food)! And here’s a funny story (at least funny to me)— We carpool to church, so I arrived at his house with a little box of these eclairs. He ate one, said the aforementioned statement of approval, and we left for worship service.
Immediately after the last song ended a couple hours later, he promptly turned to me and said, “Where did you put the eclairs?”
I answered him, “In the fridge.”
Then he said, “Good, then [the dog] couldn’t have gotten to them.”
Like he had been worrying about them being stolen by the dog throughout the entire church service. I laughed out loud, but of course he hadn’t been that preoccupied. :-P
Pate a Choux
Makes about 24 5-inch Eclair shells
4 eggs, 2 whites (or 1 cup of this ratio)
1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. Unsalted butter
4 tbsp. Whole milk
12 tbsp. Water
3 tsp. Sugar
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 c. Flour
- Place water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile beat the eggs (save the two extra yolks for the pastry cream), preheat your oven to 425, and prepare two baking sheets with cooking spray and parchment paper on top of that.
- When the milk mixture boils, remove from heat immediately and stir in the flour, until the dough clears the sides of the pan. This shouldn’t take very long at all.
- Return to low heat, stirring continually until the dough looks shiny, about 3 minutes.
- Take this off the heat, and transfer to a bowl. After the dough has slightly cooled, add the beaten eggs in a gradual stream, mixing constantly. A smooth paste (pate) should form.
- Transfer the paste to a pastry bag (or a ziplock, like I do), and pipe strips 1×5 inches on the parchment paper. The strips should be at least 1 inch apart to allow for heat circulation.
- Bake those babies for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 for 8-10 minutes.
- After they’re done baking, remove them and cut slits in the sides to let the steam escape. These holes can be used later to open up the hollow pastry for filling, so I just went right ahead and cut long slits in them, like hotdog buns.
- You can return them to the oven (off) to dry out for 30-45 minutes.
Coffee Pastry Cream
Makes about 5 cups, enough for the 24 eclairs
4 c. Whole milk (You can use the milk you have on hand, and add half-and-half or cream to make 4 c.)
2/3 c. Flour
12 tbsp. Sugar
12 Egg yolks
2-4 tbsp. Unsalted butter
3 tsp. Instant coffee (you can increase or decrease this depending on how much you like coffee flavor)
- Heat the milk to just under boiling. Dissolve the instant coffee in the milk while heating.
- Meanwhile, mix flour and sugar in a large saucepan and set aside. Beat the egg yolks until light-colored and set aside.
- When the milk scalds, whisk it into the flour and sugar, cooking this over medium heat. Stir constantly until mixture has boiled for 1-2 minutes.
- Temper the eggs with a little of the hot milk mixture (warm the eggs up by adding hot milk mixture so they don’t cook and clump if you add them all at once). Stir all of the eggs back into the milk.
- Continue to stir constantly until the cream reaches about 170. At this point, it should hold a little of its shape, like in the picture above. Do not let the cream boil after adding the eggs!
- Remove from heat, stir in the butter, and push it through a strainer with a spatula to remove any clumps. Wait for the cream to cool, and stir it periodically to prevent a crust forming. Refrigerate until you’re ready to serve the eclairs.
- Eclairs can be prepared a little in advance, but not too much, because the choux pastry cannot be soggy. Pastry faux pas. :) When it’s time, place the cream into a piping bag fitted with a large-ish tip, maybe 1/2 inch. I just use ziplock bags with a corner cut out. Pipe the cream into the hollow of the pastry, and don’t be stingy!
- Finish with a simple glaze (below).
Makes enough for the 24 eclairs
6 tsp. Whole milk/Half-and-Half/Cream
1 1/2 tsp. Instant Coffee
About 2/3 c. powdered sugar
- Dissolve the instant coffee in your milk/cream.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar, whisking well, until you have reached the desired consistency. I am guessing that I used about 2/3 c, but I forgot to measure exactly! I just used a knife to spread this glaze like frosting.
Et Voila! Scrumptious coffee eclairs that taste like you are an angel floating around and eating fluffy clouds that rain coffee. Yes, they taste exactly like that.
This took me about 1.5 hours, not including baking/cooling time, so not long at all! I got to share them with my mom, my mom’s French student, the student’s mom, my bf, and my bf’s family. They all seemed to really enjoy them, which made me so happy inside. I definitely suggest that you make the whole batch, and don’t halve the recipe! Seriously, I could not get enough of these and wish that there were still some left over!
So, what you think about these eclairs? Have you ever used Pate a Choux before? What have you learned from your trials and/or errors? Who do you know that would enjoy these–everyone, like my mom says?! What should I bake next? Leave me a comment below to let me know!