Not so long ago, I too was completely oblivious to the fact that éclairs are somewhat different in France. The problem is, once you cross over the pond and taste their authentic version; there is no going back. So what is this ‘je ne sais quoi’ that the French éclair has the British version hasn’t? When you visit any Pâtisserie or Boulangerie in France you bite into a chocolate éclair and you get… umm… well… chocolate. C’est quoi!? Yep… chocolate! No, not fluffy white whipped cream but chocolate crème patissiere. That is chocolate custard to you or me and it tastes amazing, trust me! Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like cream, I mean who doesn’t? It’s just too heavy in comparison. Whipped cream or crème Chantilly in France is usually just part of the finishing touches, for example on the Paris-Brest or Gateau St Honoré. The thing is the flavoured crème pâtissière just adds a level of sophistication that French pâtisserie often has. I think the reasoning behind this is that the cocoa, chocolate, eggs used in the crème patissiere clearly cost more. Additionally, I personally think, it's a lot easier to whip up a bit of cream than to stand over a pan making a custard. But this is precisely why French patisserie is right there at the top. They go that extra mile, to make things ‘just so’. It doesn’t matter the time or cost. Okay, rant over.
Ever since this great enlightenment, I have been desperately seeking a real éclair. Okay, I expect all the well-known supermarkets to stick to the cream version, but I am shocked to actually see most cakes shops and bakeries in the UK only stock cream. Even Pâtisserie Valerie and the patron Saint of baking Mary Berry uses whipped cream in her recipe. The jury is out on which is the best, but for me, the clear winner is chocolate crème pat, all the way. Yum scrum and here is the recipe, which is a mix of a recipe from Raymond Blanc, me and William Curley So you can make your own minds up…
Éclairs au chocolat *Makes approximately 10 éclairs
Equipment: Baking tray, baking parchment, a ruler, a sugar thermometer, piping bag with a 15mm plain nozzle, piping bag with a 5mm plain nozzle, fork, pastry brush, 2 saucepans-one at least 20cm in diameter.
Choux pastry75ml Water75ml Whole milk75g unsalted butter7g caster sugar1g salt150g eggs beaten (roughly 3)egg wash
Chocolate crème pâtissière5 free-range egg yolks80g caster sugar35g cornflour450ml whole milk1 tsp vanilla extract25g good quality dark chocolate 1¼ tbsp cocoa powder
Glaze400g fondant60g water2tbsp cocoa powder
1 gelatin sheet
100g granulated sugar
To make the chouxPreheat the oven to 200°c. Heat the milk, butter, water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring up to the boil for 1 minute. Take the pan off the heat and add the sifted flour and salt. Use wooden spoon or spatula to fully combine. Return the pan to the hob, reduce the heat to low and continue stirring until choux leaves the sides of the pan (approx. 1 minute) take off the pan and leave to cool for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to an electric mixer or if beating in eggs by hand leave in pan. Gradually beat in the eggs until smooth and glossy. It should be a dropping consistency. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a 15mm plain nozzle and pipe 15cm long batons evenly spaced. Brush éclairs with beaten egg and score a fork along the length to make a pretty pattern.Bake choux for 18 minutes at 200°c and then lower the temperature to 160°c and bake for another 8-12 minutes. Do not open the oven whilst baking or the choux may collapse. Piece 3 holes in the bottom of the éclairs with the 5mm nozzle and leave in the oven set to 0°c for 5 minutes whilst the éclair dry out inside. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the Chocolate crème pâtissière In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until they turn a pale gold colour. Whisk in the cornflour and set aside.Place the milk and vanilla extract in a saucepan, bring to the boil then remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 30 seconds slowly pour in the hot milk onto the egg mixture, whisking all the time, then return the mixture to the saucepan. Bring the mixture back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking continuously, or until thickened and smooth. It should be a thicker consistency then custard. Whisk in the cocoa and chocolate until completely mixed. Cover crème directly with Clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming. Place near a windowsill to ensure it cools down as quickly as possible.Fill the piping bag fitted with the 5mm nozzle with the chocolate crème pâtissière. Gently squirt the crème into the pre-prepared holes until it starts to ooze out of all 3 of the holes. Then you know that the whole of the inside of the choux is filled.
To glazeSoak the sheet of gelatin in cold water. Dissolve 100g of granulated sugar in a pan with 100ml of water. Once dissolved add the soft and squidgy gelatin sheet and dissolve in, leave aside. make a paste with the 60g water and cocoa powder knee this together with the fondant ball over a surface dusted liberally with icing sugar. once to have a smooth and even consistency and the chocolate paste is fully incorporated into the fondant roll out to 0.5 cm thickness. Using a paring knife cut out oblong shapes to fit over your eclairs. Dip the oblongs into the gelatin syrup and gentle place over each éclair. Place them on a tray lined with baking parchment Leave for a few minutes for the fondant to firm slightly. Now eat!
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