If you’re a fan of chocolate and pastry, then you must try chocolate éclairs. This delicious French pastry is made with choux pastry dough, which is light and airy on the inside and crispy on the outside. The pastry is filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache. The end result is a treat that is both rich and decadent. It’s perfect for any special occasion or you know – for any Wednesday afternoon.
History of Chocolate Éclairs
The origin of the éclair is not clear, but it is thought to have been invented in France during the 19th century. The name “éclair” actually means “flash of lightning” in French. It refers to the shiny glaze that covers the pastry, making it look like a flash of lightning. Éclairs were originally made with a chocolate glaze, but over time, bakers started experimenting with flavours and fillings. Nowadays you can find specialized bakeries that make creations in different flavours and colours. They range from chocolate to fresh fruits, nuts and caramel.
How to make chocolate éclairs
Chocolate éclairs are made with choux pastry as a base, the same used in chocolate profiteroles. Choux pastry, when done right, should result in a light pastry which is empty on the inside. This makes it so that you can fill it easily. The recipe requires milk, water, butter, sugar, salt, flour and eggs. The first ingredients are cooked and once they cool down, the eggs are added a bit at a time. Once the dough is ready, it’s piped in long lines for the classic éclair shape.
The perfect choux dough
To achieve a hollow interior, you need to add just the right amount of egg to the choux. This makes things more complicated for us; that means that I can’t tell you the exact amount of egg that you need to add to the dough. You will need to add more little by little. The amount of egg depends on how long the water took to boil or how long the dough was in the pot before you removed it to cool.
For the perfect result, you can add the first egg with confidence. Once it has completely incorporated into the dough, whisk the second egg in a bowl. Add 1/4 of the egg at a time. You will know to stop adding egg when you lift a bit of dough with a spatula and when it falls back onto the dough it makes a “V” shape. Below is a photo of exactly what we’re looking for. Adding more egg or less egg than this will result in an unsuccessful choux.
How to pipe chocolate éclairs
When piping chocolate éclairs, you want to use a French star tip. The difference with a normal star tip is that it has lots of dents in it. This helps achieve a nice and rounded look when baked. You have two options when piping éclairs: you either go for a bone shape with wider ends or for a more elegant and modern straight line. I prefer to go for the latter but it’s totally up to you.
To get that straight modern look, make sure to pipe with equal pressure all along. If you have any imperfections, you can lightly tap them with a wet finger to correct them. To keep them all the same length, I like to mark my baking paper with a pencil. I make them 12cm/4.7in long. Bear in mind that thicker éclairs will require a longer cooking time in the first portion of cooking than thinner éclairs.
Covering éclairs with ganache
Making chocolate ganache is pretty straightforward forward and it’s one of those basic pastry skills that you need for several recipes. To make it, you need a nice quality dark chocolate and whipping cream (30-35% fat). You will melt the chocolate either in the microwave in 30-second intervals and mixing in between, or on a bain-marie. Then, you will pour the cream (warm) over it and mix at the centre. I like to mix at one point only in the centre as it comes together naturally. Then, you just dunk the éclairs in the chocolate ganache and they’re ready! I also flatten the top after dunking with an offset spatula but that’s optional. I always like to refrigerate them for a couple of hours before eating them.
There are many options for filling chocolate éclairs. On this occasion, I went for a classic crème pâtissière or pastry cream. You can also fill them with a chocolate pastry cream as I did on my choux au craquelin. Another option is to use Diplomat Cream as in my Chocolate Profiteroles recipe. All of these options get an amazing, soft, delicious result and you will love whichever you choose. A delicious vanilla whipped cream is definitely also acceptable!
How to fill chocolate éclairs
For the perfect fill of a chocolate éclair from top to bottom, I like to make 3 holes. I make 3 equidistant holes along the bottom of the baked and cooled-down eclairs. For this purpose I use a fine piping tip, without a bag or anything, just to poke the holes. Then, in those same holes, I introduce the piping bag with the pastry cream. The piping bag is fitted with a fine round tip. You squeeze gently until you feel that section of the éclair is full. After that, you can scrape the excess and get ready to dunk in your chocolate ganache.
For the choux pastry
- 95 ml milk any kind
- 31 ml water
- 50 g unsalted butter
- 75 g all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1-3 eggs
To paint the éclairs
- 1 egg + 1tbsp water. You can use the leftover egg from the dough
For the pastry cream
- 250 ml milk any kind
- 50 g granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 12 g all-purpose flour
- 12 g cornflour
- 1 tsp vanilla paste or seeds from 1 vanilla pod, 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 tsp vanilla essence
For the chocolate sauce
- 170 g dark choclate 60-70% cacao
- 60 g whipping cream warm
For the choux pastry
- In a pot over medium-high heat, add the water, milk, butter, salt and sugar.
- As soon as you see it it's on a rolling boil add the flour and quickly mix with a spatula. When the dough comes together as one large ball transfer it to a bowl where you're later going to mix using an electric mixer or a spatula. It's important to remove the dough from the pot at this point to prevent it from cooking further.
- The dough needs to cool down completely before adding the eggs or the choux pastry won't expand in the oven. You can let it cool on its own or use an electric mixer with the paddle attachment to help it cool down faster.
- Once the dough is cool add an egg and mix. If you're doing this by hand, use a spatula. First, it will look like it's not coming together but it will after a while. If you're using an electric mixer make sure to scrape down the sides every once in a while to help the dough incorporate.
- At this point, make the test we talked about in the post: lift a bit of dough with a spatula and let it drop on its own. If it falls on its own and leaves behind a "V" of dough hanging from the spatula then you don't need to add more egg.
- If you're still not there then whisk an egg in a small bowl. Add about ¼ of it and make the "V" test again. Repeat until the test comes out correctly and remember to always scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Fill a piping bag fitted with a French star tip with the dough and make 12cm/5in long éclairs on a baking tray lined with baking paper or a silicone mat. I like to mark the backside of baking paper with a pencil and a ruler so that they all have the same size. Leave about 4-5cm between each; they expand a lot in the oven!
- Any mishaps in the shape can be corrected by tapping them with a wet finger. Before baking, paint them with the mix of egg and water.
- Take the éclairs to a preheated oven at 180°C/350°F for 15-20min, they should be slightly golden.
- Lower the temperature to 150°C/300°F and leave them in there for 10 more minutes. In all of this time don't open the oven because they're really sensitive and will deflate.
- Remove them from the oven and place them on a cooling rack. Don't fill them while still warm because the filling will melt and the éclairs will become soggy.
- Now that they're cooked you can freeze them for up to 3 months and then before serving, you place them in the oven at 140°C/280℉ until they're back to normal.
For the pastry cream
- Place half the sugar in a bowl. Add the egg yolks. After adding each egg yolk, mix them using a whisk to prevent them from generating a crust that doesn't dissolve later.
- Add the flour and cornstarch/cornflour and whisk together with the yolks.
- In a small saucepan, place the milk and mix it with the other half of the sugar, salt and vanilla. Heat it up until it steams; don't let it boil.
- While whisking the yolks, add about ¼ of the milk to them. Whisk vigorously.
- Add the rest of the milk and mix. You can now do it more calmly.
- Return the mix to the saucepan and heat it up over medium-low heat, mixing all the time. Once it starts to boil, leave it in for a couple of seconds and then remove it from the heat and saucepan to stop the cooking process. If you leave it on the heat or in the saucepan for longer, it could split.
- Place it in a bowl and cover it with plastic or silicone, making sure that it touches the surface of the pastry cream to prevent it from forming a crust where it meets the air. Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours.
- Using a very small piping tip, poke three equidistant holes along the bottom of all the éclairs.
- Use a piping bag fitted with a small tip to fill the éclairs with pastry cream through those holes, squeezing gently until it gives resistance. Scrape the bottom clean of excess pastry cream with an offset spatula.
For the chocolate sauce
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second intervals, mixing in between.
- Add the cream and use a spatula to mix at the centre in a small motion until it starts coming together on its own.
- Dunk the éclairs in the ganache, remove them, flatten the top with an offset spatula and let them cool for 1 hour in the fridge before eating them.