Bria Helgerson is in pastry school, but isn’t all that crazy about sweets. We think that’s great news, as it means more dessert for the rest of us!
By Bria Helgerson
I had no clue that I held a secret, deep down, buried-in-the-depths-of-my-soul obsession with eclairs. I feel that this love/want/desire/need has always been there, waiting to be discovered, but I don’t think I have been exposed to a serious eclair in the 26 years I have been on this pastry-filled planet.
People think I am insane when I tell them that I don’t really like sweets that much. Then their jaws drop to the floor when I say I am just not that into chocolate. Then, they practically faint when I follow that up with the news that I am in pastry school and I tend to spend my days making cakes and confections for showers and weddings…treats which I am not really tempted to eat. I know what tastes good, but just a taste is enough for me. The pleasure I get from sweets and desserts is the process, the ritual, the craft, and the art of making them, not necessarily from personal consumption.
It doesn’t make any sense, I know, but there are important exceptions to my general ambivalence towards desserts. One of those exceptions is shaped like a log, filled with pastry cream, and dipped in chocolate.
I have finally discovered what may be my perfect dessert. It starts with a neutral, fairly un-sweet pastry shell, which is similar to one of my great loves, the popover. Then you fill this unadorned shell with an amazing thick, rich, and refreshing pastry cream. I could stop here and be the happiest girl in the world. But adding just a very thin layer of chocolate ganache to the top takes it to pastry perfection. The chocolate adds just the perfect amount of sweetness, and coming from me, (typically a chocolate-abstaining baker), that says much about the importance of this component.
There are a few steps involved here, but each separate component is fairly simple and can be made in advance if you aren’t up for tackling the entire project in one go. My guess is though, once you start the process, you won’t want until you are biting into the creamy goodness that is the chocolate eclair. Try to save at least a few to share with others, you may win some hearts and make new friends. They are that good.
Chocolate Dipped Eclairs
adapted from Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen
You will notice that I measure everything on a kitchen scale, even liquids and eggs. This really is the best way to measure ingredients for baking, as it is very dependent on precision. If you do not have a kitchen scale, you can visit this site for approximate conversions: Cooking Conversions.
Pâte à choux:
- 1 lb (454 grams) water or milk
- 8 oz (227 grams) butter
- .18 oz (5 grams) salt
- 12 oz (340 grams) bread flour
- 1 lb 4 oz (680) eggs
Combine liquid, butter, and salt in a saucepan, and bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and add all the flour at once, stir vigorously to combine. Return the pan to medium-high heat, and stir constantly until mixture dries out a bit, forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Transfer dough to a stand mixer (you can mix it by hand, but you might get blisters on your hand like I did, just a warning) and mix on low speed until dough has cooled a bit. Turn the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs in 4-5 additions. Wait until each addition is completely incorporated until adding the next addition, you may not need to add all the eggs.
When the pate au choux is ready, you should be able to drag a finger through the dough, as deep as your second knuckle, and the two sides of the dough created by the drag should slump back together and touch. You should still see a parting line, but the the sides should touch. If they stay apart, mix in a bit more egg. If they completely blend back together, you may have gone too far, and then well, I don’t know what to tell you. You can do one of two things, start over, or use the dough anyway. If you decide to use the dough, they will probably spread out more than you would like. They will still most likely be delicious, but there probably won’t be as much room for the pastry cream, and that is a shame.
Transfer the paste into a piping bag fit with a large plain tip, and pipe three inch long lines onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then reduce the temp to 375 degrees F and bake until golden brown and cooked through on the inside. The best way to tell if they are done is to sacrifice one and break it open. It should have the consistency of a popover on the inside, hollow and still a bit moist, but not sticky or wet.
- 2 lb (907 grams) milk
- 4 oz (113 grams) sugar
- 3 oz (85 grams) egg yolks
- 4 oz (113 grams) whole eggs
- 2.5 oz (71 grams) cornstarch
- 4 oz (113 grams) sugar (this is an additional 4 oz of sugar, to be used separately from the other 4 oz)
- 2 oz (57 grams) butter
- .5 oz (14 grams) vanilla extract
1. In a heavy saucepan, bring 4 oz sugar and the milk just to a boil. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks, whole eggs, cornstarch, and the rest of the sugar until completely smooth. Temper the hot milk into the egg mixture, then return the mixture to the pan over medium high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, and immediately remove from heat. Stir in the butter and the vanilla and mix until completely incorporated.
2. Pour into a shallow pan, and cover with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is touching the entire surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Chill for a few hours or overnight. Whip until smooth again before using.
- 1 lb (454 grams) dark chocolate, chopped
- 12 oz (340 grams) heavy cream
1. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream just to a boil, remove from heat, add the chocolate and stir. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir until smooth. If all chocolate has not melted, place bowl over pan of gently simmering water and stir chocolate until completely melted and smooth.
2. When the eclair shells have cooled completely, take a star piping tip, and gently poke two holes in the bottom of each eclair. Pipe pastry cream into each hole to completely fill the eclair. Alternatively you can also use a bismarck tip if you have one, to pipe the cream into the eclair. Try to get as much cream inside as possible, trust me on this, you will thank me later!
3. After eclairs are filled, carefully turn each one over and dip the tops into the chocolate ganache. Place eclairs ganache side up on a baking sheet to set.