Making pâte à choux has always been intimidating but now that I’ve tried it once, I can’t wait to use it again. Gazing at the colorful options behind glass display cases in local pastry shops, I’m thinking, “I can’t make any of this.” Now I can proudly cross out éclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, and Paris-Brest out of The Long List of Things I Can’t Must Make.
The pastry dough is cooked twice, first on the stovetop to create a paste and then finished in the oven after piping the desired shape. Choux is French for “cabbage,” referring to the irregular shape that a round piece of pâte à choux takes. While baking, steam is trapped inside the dough to create a crisp hollow shell. It can serve as the perfect wrapper for fillings such as ice cream for profiteroles and in the case of éclairs, decadent chocolate pastry cream.
This recipe from Pierre Hermé, one of the most famous pastry chefs in the world, seems overwhelming at first but if a complete pastry newbie like me can do it, then so can you. The bane of home cooks everywhere, a long list of sub-recipes, is out in full force but such is the nature of pastry recipes. The different elements can also serve as an advantage — everything can be prepared ahead of time and the éclairs can be assembled just before serving. Even if your pastry bag is nothing more than a Ziploc with a cut-off corner, you will be dubbed Culinary God by the time you finish star-piping your first éclair.
The baked and unbaked pâte à choux can be stored in the freezer and used as needed. The unbaked pâte à choux just needs to be thoroughly defrosted before baking and it will work as well as freshly made.
recipe adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Éclairs
makes 20-24 Éclairs
Cream Puff Dough / Pâte à Choux (see below for recipe), fresh and still warm
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Divide the oven into thirds by positioning the racks in the upper and lower half of the oven. Line two baking sheets with waxed or parchment paper.
- Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 2/3 (2cm) plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in long, 4 to 41/2 inches (about 11 cm) chubby fingers. Leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to allow them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
Piped pâte à choux.
- Slide both the baking sheets into the oven and bake for 7 minutes. After the 7 minutes, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep in ajar. When the éclairs have been in the oven for a total of 12 minutes, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking for a further 8 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed, golden and firm. The total baking time should be approximately 20 minutes.
Baked pâte à choux sliced horizontally. It actually came out hollow!
- The éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Assembling the Éclairs:
Mise en Place:
Chocolate glaze (see below for recipe)
Chocolate pastry cream (see below for recipe)
- Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper.
- The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 degrees F or 35 – 40 degrees C, as measured on an instant read thermometer). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using a metal icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream.
- Pipe or spoon the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.
- If you have chilled your chocolate glaze, reheat by placing it in a bowl over simmering water, stirring it gently with a wooden spoon. Do not stir too vigorously as you do not want to create bubbles.
- The éclairs should be served as soon as they have been filled.
Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Pâte à Choux
makes 20-24 Éclairs
1/2 cup (125g) whole milk
1/2 cup (125g) water
1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
- In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the
- Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium
and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very
quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You
need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough
will be very soft and smooth.
Pâte à choux before adding the eggs.
- Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your
handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time,
beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough.
You will notice that after you have added the first egg, the dough will separate, once again do
not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together again by the time you
have added the third egg. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it
should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon.
- The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for the éclairs as directed above.
- Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
- You can pipe the dough and the freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.
Chocolate Pastry Cream
2 cups (500g) whole milk
4 large egg yolks
6 tbsp (75g) sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, melted
2 1/2 tbsp (1 1/4 oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together and whisk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.
- Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
- Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously (without stop) until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
- Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so that it remains smooth.
- Once the cream has reached a temperature of 140 F remove from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice-water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge.
- The pastry cream can be made 2-3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
- In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
- Tempering the eggs raises the temperature of the eggs slowly so that they do not scramble.
makes 1 cup or 300g
• 1/3 cup (80g) heavy cream
• 3½ oz (100g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
• 4 tsp (20 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, at room temperature
• 7 tbsp (110 g) Chocolate Sauce (recipe below), warm or at room temperature
- In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and slowly begin to add the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- Stirring gently, stir in the butter, piece by piece followed by the chocolate sauce.
Adding the pieces of butter to the chocolate glaze.
Adding the chocolate sauce to the glaze to finish.
- If the chocolate glaze is too cool (i.e. not liquid enough) you may heat it briefly? in the microwave or over a double boiler. A double boiler is basically a bowl sitting over (not touching) simmering water.
- It is best to glaze the eclairs after the glaze is made, but if you are pressed for time, you can make the glaze a couple days ahead of time, store it in the fridge and bring it up to the proper temperature (95 to 104 F) when ready to glaze.
makes 1 1/2 cups or 525 g
4 1/2 oz (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (250 g) water
1/2 cup (125 g) crème fraîche, or heavy cream
1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
- Place all the ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, making sure to stir constantly. Then reduce the heat to low and continue stirring with a wooden spoon until the sauce thickens.
Not ready yet.
- It may take 10-15 minutes for the sauce to thicken, but you will know when it is done when it coats the back of your spoon.
Nape – coating the back of a spoon. Now it’s ready.
- You can make this sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for two weeks. Reheat the sauce in a microwave oven or a double boiler before using.
- This sauce is also great for cakes, ice-cream and tarts.