On my recent trip to Paris on Corinne Preteur’s Symphony of Flavors program, one of the delectable days of cooking was actually an afternoon of baking at Corinne’s highly regarded, neighborhood bakery in Sevres, France. Only fifteen minutes outside of Paris, Le Grenier a Pain is a delightful boulangerie with an even more delightful pastry chef. Patrick barely spoke any English, but his fun-loving personality was all the common ground we needed, and we laughed and baked ourselves silly all afternoon. With Corinne playing translator and guiding us through the recipes, we discovered how simple choux pastry is. Those eclairs in your favorite French pastry shop may look daunting, but the cream is out of the pastry bag: this revered pastry is truly a cinch. The only decidedly tricky part is piping the choux into perfectly shaped, uniform lines, but alas, practice makes parfait!
Ingredients for about 10 chocolate eclairs:
Choux dough: 125g milk, 125g water, 100g butter, 150g all-purpose flour, 200g eggs (4 large), 5g granulated sugar, pinch of salt
Chocolate filling: 250g milk, a pinch of vanilla powder, 40g egg yolks (from 2 eggs), 80g granulated sugar, 25g cornstarch, 25g unsalted butter
Chocolate icing: 150g unsweetened chocolate, 60g butter, 60g water
Recipe: First make the choux dough. Pre-heat the oven to 340 degrees F. In a medium pot, mix the water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Once the butter has melted, take the pot off of the flame and slowly pour in the flour, stirring as you pour. Put the pot back on the flame and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the pot. Take off the flame. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously. Fill a pastry bag with the batter. Squeeze out “finger-sized” eclairs onto the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
Now for the chocolate filling. Place the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. In a medium bowl, add one tablespoon of cold milk, the egg yolks, and the sugar. Whisk until smooth. Add the cornstarch and mix to combine. When the milk begins to bowl, remove from heat. Slowly dribble the hot milk into the yolk mixture, constantly stirring. When about half of the milk has been added, place all of the yolk mixture into the saucepan over medium heat. Whisk the cream as it heats. Bring the mixture to a boil for about one minute, stirring constantly. It will become thick. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Let the mixture rest so that it becomes room temperature before chilling it for a few hours in the refrigerator. When the cream is cold, add 15g of cocoa powder. Stir to combine. Fill a pastry bag. Poke tiny holes in the back of the choux pastry with the metal tip of the pastry bag (or use a similar instrument to make 3 holes the size of pencil erasers). Stick the tip of the pastry bag into the hole and fill the choux pastry with the chocolate filling. The pastry will feel noticeably heavier in weight.
For the icing, melt the chocolate with the water in a small pot over a low flame. Once the chocolate is melted, add butter, constantly whisking as you go. The icing should look shiny and creamy. Remove from heat and use a spoon or spatula to spread a thin layer on each eclair. Patrick held the eclair perpendicular over the icing bowl and dropped a spoonful at the highest point, allowing the icing to drip down the eclair. Then he removed the excess, dripping chocolate with his finger. Easier said than done, but worth a try!
Recipes and photos courtesy of the darling Corinne Preteur, owner of Lifestyle Vacations France