Learn how to make traditional french chocolate eclairs in this step by step tutorial. Start making a pate a choux pastry, then fill with a pastry cream and dip them in chocolate ganache for an amazing French treat!
So growing up, I remember we had this to die for donut shop down the street. We would get donuts usually on the weekends. Now I usually went for the good old glazed. Because, they were seriously that good on their own.
But once in awhile, I went big and got an eclair. Or long johns as you might know them as. Of course, the thought of making my own might seem like a crazy thought. But honestly, eclairs are totally something a home baker can pull off.
No, really. You can. I believe in you.
And something you should make at home, as oppossed to buy. Why bother? Well making them at home, means you can fill and enjoy them right away. So no mushy crusts and soggy centers here. Basically, way better than storebought.
So let’s get making some eclairs…
It starts with the dough, called pate a choux.
What is pate a choux?
To make these French chocolate eclairs, we need to start with making a pate a choux pastry. A pate a what? Pate a choux. Say it with me now. Pat a shoe. Which translates to cabbage (choux) paste (pate) because of the way the dough puffs up in the oven. Basically they look little cabbages if they are piped in rounds.
It’s simple dough made from flour, water, butter, and eggs.
There is no leavening agents involved here. So go put that baking soda and baking powder back in the cupboard. You won’t need it this time. Nope, no yeast either.
So what makes these little pastries puff up? Well when the liquid in the dough evaporates in the oven, it causes the pastries to puff up.
The pastry dough is a thick enough batter that you can pipe it into shapes. In this case, we are going to pipe the pastry into the eclair shape.
But this pate a choux pastry you can use not just to make eclairs, but cream puffs (profiteroles), a croquembouche (basically a giant cream puff tower), gougeres (cheesy cream puffs).
How To Make Pate A Choux
Making pate a choux is actually quite easy. It’s a few simple ingredients.
Step 1: Cut your butter into tablespoons or small chunks and add to a saucepan with 1 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar and bring to a simmer over high heat. Bonus: No need to stir during this!
Step 2: Turn down the heat to a medium, and add all your flour.
Step 3: With a wooden spoon, stir for 3 minutes or until it forms a cohesive mass that pulls away from the sides of the pan. The flour should leave this film on the sides of the pan.
Step 4: With a wooden spoon, stir for 3 minutes or until it forms a cohesive mass that pulls away from the sides of the pan. The flour should leave this film on the sides of the pan.
Step 5: Beat in your eggs 1 at a time until you have added 4. Keep in mind, 4 is the recommended number but keep an eye on the consistency as the number of eggs depends on the type of flour used. For me, it was exactly 4 eggs.
How To Check The Consistency Of Your Batter:
To determine if the consistency of the batter is correct and you have added enough eggs, look for one of these three things.
#1: You have added enough eggs when you drag a spoon through the mixture and the groove left behind slowly folds in on itself as shown in the second picture.
#2: Pull the wooden spoon up out of the dough. The dough should droop off the spoon and not stick straight out.
#3: If using a stand mixer, the dough should pull away from the paddle attachment in a thick rope. I don’t have a picture for this because I made mine with the wooden spoon, so if you are unsure after testing it this way then test with #1 by dragging the spoon through the mixture.
How To Pipe Your French Eclairs
Transfer the cooled mixture to a piping fit with either a plain circle tip or a french star tip to pipe your eclairs. The french star tip is actually recommended because it increases the surface area for your eclairs and helps in preventing eclairs from cracking as they expand.
To make sure you have nice even straight lines that you are piping, on your parchment paper draw your straight lines with a pencil, pen or sharpie first. Just be sure to flip your parchment paper over after!
For regular/large sized eclairs- draw 5-inch lines
For mini eclairs (which is what I made): draw 2 – 2 1/2 inch lines.
Pro Tip: After piping, give them a quick spray of non-stick cooking spray.
Once piped, you can go ahead and bake them.
When you are ready to bake them, bake them in a pre-heated oven at 400°F for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 300°F and bake them for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. My second batch took less time, so that is why I am giving you the range. And each oven is different, so just keep an eye on them!
How To Fill Your French Chocolate Eclairs:
You can fill your homemade eclairs a few different ways.
The easiest way would be to simply cut them in half and spoon the filling in and then place the top on. Basically an eclair sandwich. If you’re new to making eclairs, this might the option to go with.
If you want to fill the inside of them you can use a piping bag filled with a small round tip like this one and poke a hole on one end and fill until you see the filling start to come out the end you’re filling. I used a small long tip like this one and it works great!
Another way is to poke three holes in the bottom using a toothpick. Then begin filling your eclairs on the left side first and when you see the filling come out the center stop. And repeat on the right side the same way.
The best way might be a trick I picked up from Barbara over at Barbara Bakes. She suggests you poke a couple holes in the top of the eclairs. Let gravity do its thing. If you’re covering up the tops anyways with a ganache or some other fun toppings, then no worries about people seeing the holes. No messy filling oozing out the sides and bottoms. Um can you say genius?
What do you fill your eclairs with?
Oh the possibilities. Of course whipped cream works great. You could also fill the eclairs with pastry cream. I have a step by step tutorial to make your own pastry cream you can check out here.
You could also try flavoring your whipped cream or pastry cream as well.
You might want to try lightening your pastry cream as well with a 1/2 cup of whipped cream. Just be careful, because this can cause your pastry cream to become too soft and difficult to pipe with.
Once they are filled, I then want to top them with some homemade ganache. Ganache is simple to make! Just heat 1/2 cup heavy cream in a saucepan or microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until hot, but not boiling.
Then pour the cream over 4 ounces chopped chocolate. Let it sit for 5 minutes then stir until smooth. That’s it! You of course can keep it simple and dust some powdered sugar over them as well.
No one will complain trust me. I mean you just made them homemade eclairs. What’s to complain about?
Homemade eclairs are best served soon after filling them otherwise they tend to get soggy.
So I may no longer live near that donut shop. But at least I can make my own eclairs now at home. I hope this tutorial has give you the confidence to try them yourself at home!
To Make This French Eclair Recipe You Will Need:
- Wooden Spoon
- Piping Bags- I like these 18-inch sized ones so I don’t have to refill as often or never!
- Round or french star tip (I recommend the french star tip)
- Nozzle for filling the eclairs
- Measuring equipment and mixing bowls
For the pate a choux dough:
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter sliced
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup flour sifted
- 4 eggs
For the pastry cream:
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the ganache:
- 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chopped
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine the water, salt, butter, and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. There's no need to stir.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the flour all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture forms a cohesive mass and pulls away from the sides of the pans, leaving a film of flour on the sides of pan.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl or a stand mixer and beat it with a wooden spoon or the paddle attachment for about 1 minute or until slightly cooled.
Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, until you've added 4. Check the consistency of the batter by pulling a wooden spoon through it. When the groove it makes slowly in on itself, you've added enough eggs. Another way to check is to see if the batter droops from the spoon when it is held sideways. If so it is ready. Add more egg whites as needed until the batter passes away the groove test. While the dough is best used right away, it will keep for several hours in the refrigerator.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip or french star tip and fill it with the dough. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. If using paper, pipe a small amount of dough underneath the paper in the four corners to hold it down.
Make 2 rows of 3 eclairs each (if making minis I fit 3 rows). Start by holding the pastry bag about 3/4-inch above the sheet pan and squeezing. If the pastry bag tip is too close, the eclairs won't be thick enough; if it's too far away, they won't be wide enough. As the round of pastry takes shape, lift the pastry bag until it is about 1 1/2 inches above the sheet pan. The mounds of dough should be about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and about 1 1/2 inches high in the center. Brush with an egg wash, lightly smoothing the surface with the brush at the same time. Bake the cream puffs for about 20 minutes or until puffed and golden. Turn down the oven to 300F and continue baking for 20 minutes more. Let cool for at least 20 minutes on a cake rack.
Prepare the whipped cream by placing the heavy cream into a bowl of a stand mixer. Combine with the sugar and vanilla extract and whip to soft peaks. Use a serrated knife, cut each cream puff open horizontally. Pipe the whipped cream or scoop with an ice-cream scoop the whipped cream into the middle and top with sliced strawberries. Top with additional powdered sugar if you choose and I think you should!
For the pastry cream: Whisk egg yolks until smooth in a large bowl. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium saucepan, and heat over medium. Stirring constantly, gradually add milk in a slow, steady stream, and cook until mixture thickens and begins to bubble, about 5 minutes.
Whisking constantly, slowly pour one third of the milk mixture into egg yolks (this step is called tempering, which keeps the yolks from curdling). Pour mixture into remaining milk mixture in saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a full boil and is thick enough to hold its shape when lifted with a spoon, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.
Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl. Cover with parchment paper or plastic wrap, pressing it directly on surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days). When ready to use, fill a piping bag with a small round tip. Poke holes with a toothpick into the center (you can poke holes into the sides, bottom or top of the eclair. If you poke holes in the top, you are less likely to have filling ooze out). Then pipe the pastry cream into the holes. Stop piping when you see the cream start to come out the holes.
For the ganache: In a heavy saucepan, boil heavy cream (You can also heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe bowl). Turn off the heat. Add chopped chocolate pieces and let it rest until melted. Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture until all the pieces are melted. Dip the top of eclairs into the ganache. Or drizzle over each eclair.
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