12 Dec Pate a Choux: Making Éclairs, Part 1
Although the pastry world today is trending towards more rustic and homestyle desserts reminiscent of the stuff your grandmother used to make, there is still something to be said for classic, fancy-type pastry. Sometimes, it’s comforting to sink your teeth into a fraisier, croissant aux amandes, or mille feuille, despite their highfalutin appearance and composition.
Of one of my favourite classic style pastries are Éclairs; made with a dough called Pâte a Choux, or Choux pastry, and filled with creams, custards or mousses, then glazed, éclairs are the perfect little treat.
While the ingredients for Choux pastry are basically the same as every other pastry dough, (butter, sugar, eggs and flour) it is unique in the way in which its made.
I will explain the eclair-making process in 2 parts. In this article, part 1 , we learn how to make the pastry shells.
In terms of equipment, it’s not critical that you have a stand mixer, it just makes the process a lot easier.
I learned to do this by hand, using a bowl and wooden spoon…and a ton of muscle to incorporate the eggs. It’s absolutely doable, just a little tiring.
As for ingredients you will need:
-1 cup water
-1/2 cup butter
-1/4 tsp salt
– 2 tbsp sugar
-1 cup+ 2 tbsp flour
-4 eggs at room temperature.
Choux Pastry starts on the stove top. Use a medium sized pot. We begin by combining the water, sugar, butter, salt and sugar in a pot and then bringing the mixture to the boil.
Once boiling, take the pot off the heat and add the flour all at once, and stir vigorously to incorporate it all.
Reduce the heat to medium, and return the pot to the heat. Push all the dough to one side of the pot, then little by little, scrape the dough to the other side. You are trying to remove some of the moisture from the dough. This process is called désecher.
While you’re doing this, you can pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees.
This will take a few minutes. It’s difficult to tell when the dough is ready, so I say do this for 3-4 minutes.
Transfer your dough to a bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, and spread it with the back of your spoon up the sides. This is done to cool the dough before adding the eggs.
Crack all the eggs into a bowl, making sure there is no shell.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until it is fully incorporated. If you are doing this by hand, it does take some muscle and will be tougher as the dough thickens.
When all the eggs are in, the dough will still be thick, yet slightly runny.
Line 2-3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Transfer your dough into a large piping bag.
Pipe 3 inch logs on to the sheets, 1.5 inches apart from each other.
Brush the logs with milk; no too much though. Don’t drown them, just a light brushing. The sugar in the milk helps to brown the choux pastries in the oven.
Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and continue to bake for 20 minutes. You will see the pastries puff up a lot. This is thanks to all the eggs which are natural leavening agents.
After the 20 minutes, turn off the oven and remove your baking sheets. Pierce a hole in the side of each pastry shell, and return to the (turned off) oven. This is done to further dry out the shells.
If you want to make your eclairs from start to finish the same day, or within a few days, you can leave the shells outside.
If you want to make them ahead of time, wait for them to cool, then put them in a plastic bag and into the freezer.
When you defrost them, they may be moister than you’d like, so just throw them in the oven at 350 for 5 minutes or so.
In part 2 of eclair-making, I will discuss how to fill and decorate the eclairs.