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Eclairs are typically filled with a sweet vanilla cream known as crème chantilly and topped with chocolate or coffee icing. If you wish, you can make them extra rich and fill them with a combination of crème chantilly and pastry cream (crème patissière), as for Croque en Bouche. Eclairs can be prepared in advance: once the unfilled pastries are cooked and cooled, they can be kept in an airtight box for a few days or frozen, although it is best to make the chantilly cream on the day that you are planning on eating the éclairs. Makes about 25 eclairs.
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and set aside
Place the water and butter in a medium-sized saucepan with high sides (not a low sauté pan) set over a medium-high heat, stirring until the butter melts. Allow the mixture to come to a rolling boil then immediately remove the pan from the heat. Add the flour and salt and beat very well with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together.
Reduce the heat to medium and replace the saucepan, stirring for 1 minute until the mixture starts to ‘fur’ (slightly stick to the base of the pan). Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 1 minute.
Pour about one-quarter of the beaten egg into the pan and, using the wooden spoon, beat very well. Add a little more egg and beat well again until the mixture comes back together. Continue to add the egg, beating vigorously all the time, until the mixture has softened, is nice and shiny and has a dropping consistency. You may not need to add all the egg or you may need a little extra. If the mixture is too stiff (not enough egg) then the choux pastries will be too heavy, but if the mixture is too wet (too much egg) they will not hold their shape when spooned onto greaseproof paper.
Although the pastry is best used right away, it can be placed in a bowl, covered and chilled for up to 12 hours, until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F), Gas mark 7. Line a baking tray with parchment paper (not greaseproof paper, as the éclairs may stick when cooked).
Place the dough into a piping bag fitted with the plain 5–8mm (1/4–3/8in) nozzle and pipe into lengths approximately 10cm (4in) long onto the prepared baking tray, spaced about 4cm (1 ½ in) apart to allow for expansion. Use a small wet knife to stop the dough coming out when you have finished piping each éclair.
Brush the éclairs gently with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°C (400°F), Gas mark 6 and continue to cook for a further 15–20 minutes or until the éclairs are puffed up, golden and crisp.
Remove the éclairs from the oven and using a skewer or the tip of a small sharp knife, make a hole in the side or the base of each éclair. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes to allow the steam to escape. Transfer the éclairs to a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, make the icing. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a bowl. Add the boiling water and stir to mix, adding a little more boiling water if necessary until the icing is spreadable but not too watery.
To make the crème chantilly filling, fold the sifted icing sugar and vanilla extract into the whipped cream. Chill until you are ready to use it.
When the éclairs are cool, spoon the crème chantilly into a clean piping bag fitted with the small, plain nozzle (or use the same nozzle used for piping the éclairs) and pipe the cream into the éclairs through the hole made by the skewer or knife until they are well filled.
Using a small palette knife or table knife that has been standing in a jug of hot water (to make spreading the icing easier), spread the icing over the top of each éclair, dipping the knife into the hot water between each éclair. Serve and watch them being devoured!
Coffee glacé icing: Use coffee glace icing instead of chocolate.
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