Choux pastry is, obviously, French. It might seem incongruous for a season of British baking, but in my family, eclairs might actually be more synonymous with England than they are with anything across the Channel.
First there are the eclairs of my mother’s childhood, from the Savoy Bakery in Chittagong, named for that bastion of old Art Deco Englishness, the Savoy Hotel. The Savoy Bakery seems to have done versions of all the typically British pastries, from the slightly vaguely-named ‘patties’ to plain cakes — that is, the British Madeira cake — to cream horns. Eclairs are what stand out most strongly in my mother’s memory, though, and it’s still her instinct to ask for one of these at any patisserie that we visit.
Eclairs seem to have bookended my time in London, starting with wonderfully posh ones from the pastry counter at Fortnum and Mason at the beginning of my first year and ending with a forty-minute uphill walk with my best friend to a Hungarian patisserie in Hampstead, where we gorged ourselves on the pastries and tea and pretended, in the dainty, wood-paneled interior, like we didn’t have to turn in our Masters’ dissertations in less than a month.
These aren’t the elegant, perfectly cream-injected eclairs of a French patisserie. They’re slightly messy affairs, split all the way down and filled with pastry cream that oozes if you attempt to be too dainty while eating it. (Two bites is the way to go, really.) I’d never cast aspersions at the classical French version, but these ones are pure joy to eat, summery and childish and (mostly) unpretentious.
Two-Bite Chocolate Eclairs
recipe adapted from James Morton
2⁄3 cup milk (preferably whole, definitely not skim)
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
1⁄4 teaspoon table salt
3 ounces all-purpose flour, sifted
2 large eggs
1 egg white
Pastry cream (recipe below), chilled for 6 hours or overnight
Chocolate glaze (recipe below)
- Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C).
- Prepare a baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper.
- In a wide saucepan, heat the milk, butter, and salt over low heat until the butter has melted, swirling the pan occasionally to help the liquid heat evenly.
- Continue to heat the mixture until the milk begins to steam and little bubbles appear around the edge of the saucepan.
- Pull the pan off the heat and dump in the flour all at once, then stir the mixture with a spoon. It will be lumpy and slightly loose. Continue to stir until there are no more dry patches of flour.
- Return the pan to the heat and cook the flour mixture over a low flame, stirring constantly. The water will slowly begin to evaporate and the mixture will begin to come together in one or two larger masses. Continue cooking until a film of flour and butter coats the bottom of the saucepan and is too dry to be scraped up with your wooden spoon. This should take 3-4 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat and move the dough mixture to a large, heatproof bowl (the bowl of your stand mixer, if you don’t have a hand mixer and you don’t want to be whisking constantly for ten minutes). You can leave it to cool until it’s barely warm to the touch, but this process is made much faster by beating the dough with an electric beater for 3-4 minutes.
- Crack the eggs into a small bowl and have them ready to add to the dough one by one.
- Once the dough has sufficiently cooled, add the first egg. Start by beating on low speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a stand mixer) until the egg has mostly incorporated. Then turn up the speed to medium and continue to beat for about a minute, until the dough is even. Add the next egg and repeat this process, beating on low until mostly combined and then increasing the speed to create an even texture.
- Scrape down the bowl to make sure everything is mixed well, then add the egg white and beat until everything is even and well-combined.
- Check the consistency of the batter by dipping the beaters or a spatula into it and lifting them straight out. As the batter drops back into the bowl, it should make a V-shape. If your batter is too tough or dry for the batter to fall smoothly, beat in another egg white.
- Increase the oven temperature to 405° F (205° C). This will ensure that your oven is hot enough for the eclairs to rise, ensuring that they cook properly the whole way through.
- Transfer half the batter to a piping bag with a round 1-inch tip (or a large ziploc bag with the corner cut to a half-inch opening.
- As neatly as you can, pipe 4-inch lines of the batter onto the parchment-covered baking tray. Leave a little over an inch between each line that you pipe to allow room for the eclairs to grow in the oven.
- Repeat this with the other half of the batter — a standard baking sheet should have room for 12-14 eclairs total.
- Once the oven has finished heating to 405° F, slide the tray of piped eclairs in and bake for 10 minutes. Do not open the oven during this time, or your eclairs will be deflated and gummy inside.
- After the eclairs have baked undisturbed for 10 minutes, turn the oven temperature down to 340° F (170° C) and bake for 15 minutes more. Once this second phase of baking has ended, you can open the oven and check on the eclairs, which should hopefully be tall and domed. Rotate the pan to ensure even browning, then bake for 5 more minutes to ensure that the inside of the pastry is as dried out as possible.
- Once baked, remove the eclair shells from the oven and make a 1-inch slit in each one with a knife (preferably right around where you’re going to cut into it later to add the cream). This will allow the steam to escape and keep your shell from collapsing or getting soggy.
- Set the pierced shells on a baking rack to cool for 15-20 minutes.
- Once cooled, carefully slice the shells in half crosswise using a serrated knife. Using a fork, gently scrape out any gooey-looking dough that you might see inside. (This is usually more of a problem with the shells that didn’t rise properly.)
- Leave the shells to cool for another 15 minutes, until they’re no longer warm at all.
- Spread the chocolate glaze over the top half of each shell and leave for 10 minutes to allow the glaze to set up slightly — this will make assembly less messy for you.
- Pipe or spoon pastry cream into the bottom half of each shell, then top with the chocolate-glazed top half. Serve immediately or refrigerate for no more than 3 hours.
21⁄2 cups whole milk
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into 6-8 pieces
- Heat the milk in a 2-quart saucepan on medium-low heat.
- In a large heatproof bowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs to combine. Add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt, whisking again until fully combined. The eggs will lighten slightly in color but you don’t need to beat air into them.
- When the milk begins to steam and bubbles appear around the edge of the pot, take the pot off the heat. Measure out half a cup of the hot milk and add it to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. This will loosen the mixture and bring up the temperature of the eggs. Repeat this step with another half-cup of the hot milk. Then, slowly pour the rest of the milk over the egg mixture, whisking all the while.
- Keep whisking this mixture until it is fully combined, then return the custard mixture to the saucepan and heat it over low heat, stirring constantly in slow circles, preferably with a whisk. This keeps the custard moving so that it doesn’t catch or curdle at the edges of the pan.
- Pay close attention to the custard. As soon as it begins to steam, whisk more vigorously to ensure that it thickens evenly. The resistance in the pan will increase very quickly, so it is important to take the pan off the heat as soon as the custard holds a trail for 2-3 seconds.
- Continue whisking vigorously for a minute after taking the pan off the heat.
- Pour the hot custard through a fine sieve into a large bowl, gently stirring to push the custard through the sieve, but without pressing down on any small lumps of egg that are caught in the mesh.
- Scrape any custard off of the outside of the sieve, then whisk the vanilla extract into the custard until well-combined.
- Continue whisking the custard for about a minute, then add the cold butter and whisk until the butter has fully incorporated and the custard is glossy.
- Press plastic wrap directly against the surface of the custard to keep it from forming a skin, then chill in the fridge for at least six hours before use.
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1⁄8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (or Golden Syrup, if you’re outside the US)
- Finely chop the chocolate and place in a small heatproof bowl.
- Heat the heavy cream and salt in a small pot over a low flame until the cream is steaming and small bubbles appear along its edge.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes.
- Whisk slowly until the cream and chocolate become uniform. Add the corn syrup and whisk again. Use immediately.