You know, despite having used choux pastry to make cream puffs (a LOT), breakfast pastry, and fancy French praline desserts, I’d never used it to make éclairs before now. I wonder why? Perhaps because I tend to like my desserts either tiny and adorable (like, bite-sized), or big and easy to serve to a crowd. In any event, I was recently invited to a last-minute dinner party and needed something light, summery, and capable of being ready to transport in 90 minutes or less.
A quick scan of the kitchen showed that I had no fruit to bake into a crumble or cake, no thawed butter I could use to make frosting (even if I’d had time to bake and cool a cake enough to be frosted), and no leftover cake scraps or cookies that I’d ordinarily be able to use as the base for something interesting and maybe ice cream-based. And then I thought of choux– made of pantry staples, it would bake up quickly and could be filled with any number of things; plus, it would be best filled on-site, which would give me a little more time to acquire fruit or something else tasty for a filling on the way to the party.
I ended up deciding on a basic whipped cream filling, sweetened with powdered sugar and spiced up with just a touch of ground pink peppercorn, plus sliced strawberries. The combination was light and fruity, and the pepper kept it interesting without being so weird as to keep the kids from liking it. I’ll have to remember éclairs for future last-minute desserts– they’re infinitely versatile and just as impressive!
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 tbs. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 3/4 oz. flour (about 1 1/4 cup)
4 eggs, plus enough egg whites to make 1 1/4 cups
1. Bring water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a pot.
2. Remove from heat, and dump in all of the flour at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a dough.
3. Return to heat, and continue to work the dough with your spoon until you see a film of cooked dough on the sides and bottom of the pot. You’re trying to cook out some of the water to make more room for eggs.
4. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer and let it cool for 2-3 minutes (you could also do this by hand).
5. Add the eggs, one egg (or one blob’s worth) at a time, mixing on the lowest speed until each egg is incorporated before adding the next. Once the mixture forms a smooth, shiny, loose dough, stop– even if you have some egg left over. It should not be runny– when you pull your beater out of the mix, it should make a long, thin, triangle-shaped point, rather than breaking off in a ragged edge. If your dough is too sticky after you’ve used all your egg, crack open another egg and add it a little at a time. The eggs are really the most important ingredient to get right.
6. Transfer dough to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe strips about 5″ long onto a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet.
7. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes until the eclairs are fully puffed and golden. Then crack the oven door and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until the eclairs are firm to the touch.
8. Remove from the oven and immediately pierce each eclair in 2-3 places with a paring knife to let steam escape. This is an important step– otherwise the steam will stay in and make your eclairs soggy as they cool.
Once your eclairs have cooled down enough to touch, peel them off the foil. Don’t let them cool down completely– they’ll stick pretty firmly once cool!
9. Once eclairs are completely cool, slice lengthwise with a serrated knife and fill with fillings of your choice. I piped stars of the whipped cream all along the bottom, then added halved strawberries. I piped only two stars of whipped cream on the tops (to fit between the berries) and then sandwiched them together.
Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
These are best the same day, but they’ll be all right after a night in the fridge if you stabilize the whipped cream like I do for cream puffs.