I recently visited the Cake and Bake Show at the London ExCel, on the lookout for some new bits and pieces to bolster my ever expanding bakeware collection. I did my best to be as well behaved as possible though, as we’re going through a big clear out at the moment, so coming home with armfuls of new bakeware was not going to go down well.
But the second I laid eyes on this silicone baking mat, I knew I was going to take it home.
I mean, who can resist a good silicone baking mat anyway? And anything that means I don’t have to draw out templates on the back of my baking parchment is a total win. It also seemed like a serendipitous find, and I’d recently been researching more into choux pastry and learning about the merits of using different flours, as well as the benefits of using a pizza stone to create extra lift. I knew the universe was trying to tell me something…
Also, I knew I wouldn’t get into any trouble over this one as my husband absolutely loves eclairs. He actually mentions that quite a lot; on reflection I’m surprised that I haven’t taken the hint more often…
So let’s get started!
Now, if you’re just going to fill your eclairs with whipped cream, you can make them in a couple of hours. But as I’m always looking to try out something new, some of my components are going to take a little longer to create. I’m going to make a creme patissiere and some candied peel the evening before I make the eclairs, so that I can hit the ground running in the morning.
Firstly, I need to make a dark chocolate sauce to flavour the creme patissiere. I think you need a pretty rich chocolate sauce to balance the orange flavour, so I’m using a recipe that calls for cocoa powder in addition to dark chocolate – the bitterness should really help to temper the brightness of the orange.
I’m going to introduce the orange flavour to my creme patissiere using just the orange peel. Some people like to use a vegetable peeler to take huge shavings of peel to infuse the milk, but I think if you have a microplane zester you can extract a lot more flavour. And a good pastry chef will always sieve their sauces, so you can easily remove it later.
Using cornflour as a thickener, and tempering the eggs to avoid scrambling, you can quickly create a custard. Then simply add in your chocolate mixture, before straining and leaving to cool overnight in the fridge.
This recipe will make twice as much as you will need, but the finished creme diplomat freezes surprisingly well, and having a batch in the freezer cuts out a huge amount of work the next time you want to rustle up a batch of eclairs.
Chocolate Orange Creme Patisserie
40g cocoa powder
130g dark chocolate, finely chopped
60g granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of half an orange
5 egg yolks
60g granulated sugar
Bring milk to boil and remove from the heat.
Sift the cocoa powder into the milk, and add the finely chopped chocolate.
Stir together until smooth, and then set aside.
Place milk, sugar and orange zest into a pan, and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks with sugar, then add cornflour.
Slowly pour in the hot milk mixture, stirring constantly.
Return everything to the saucepan, and heat until the sauce thickens and begins burping and spluttering. Cook for another minute, whisking continuously.
Remove from the heat, and stir in the chocolate mixture.
Pass through a sieve, and then cover with clingfilm touching the surface.
Cool completely in the fridge.
Whisk the creme patissiere thoroughly before using to ensure a smooth texture
The other thing that I needed to take care of was the candied peel. Since I learned how to make this a few weeks back, I’ve been candying every citrus fruit in existence, and adapting every recipe I make to include it! Making your own peel is very easy but quite time consuming; I can certainly understand why some people would rather just buy it ready made, and you could certainly do that for this recipe, but I do get an unearthly pleasure preparing everything from scratch.
Candied Orange Peel
1 large orange
Cut the orange into quarters, and remove the pulp and any stringy pith from the inside. Cut the peel into thin strips, and place into a saucepan, covering with water.Bring the water to the boil, and then drain the peel.
Blanch the peel once or twice more with fresh water, depending on how bitter your orange is.
Heat the sugar and water together in the saucepan until the sugar is all dissolved.
Add the orange peel and simmer until translucent – about an hour.
Drain the orange peel and spread out on some parchment or a silicone mat, to dry out. This will take about 6 hours. If you need to use immediately, remove as much of the syrup as possible, and roll the peel in caster sugar.
The syrup can be saved for making drinks or used as flavouring in other recipes.
In the morning, it’s time to crack on with the choux pastry and get these eclairs made!
Whilst piping the eclairs is super fiddly, the choux pastry is ridiculously easy. Basically you need to heat everything minus the flour and eggs in a saucepan, and then when everything is at a nice simmer, you can incorporate the flour. This will need to be cooked for several minutes whilst stirring continuously to avoid colouring the dough.
Then simply remove the dough from the saucepan, and cool it a little before beating through the eggs. I have recently discovered the joy of using a food processor to do this; not only can you cool the dough quickly, you can also chuck all the eggs in at once! I’m always looking for ways to make things easier, and this is a winning hack.
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp sugar
110g unsalted butter
140g bread flour, sifted
4 large eggs
A little melted butter
Place a pizza stone on the centre rack of the oven, and preheat to 190c
Place water, milk, salt, sugar, and butter into a saucepan, and set over a medium heat.
Bring the mixture to the boil.
In the meantime sift the bread flour, and crack your eggs into a jug and lightly whisk.
When the mixture reaches the boil, remove from the heat, and stir in the flour, all at once.
Incorporate completely and then return the pan to the heat, stirring continuously for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, put the dough into a clean bowl.
Do not scrape out any film on the pan.
Beat in the eggs gradually, either by hand, or by using the help of a machine.
The easiest method is to use a food processor and pour the eggs down the feeling tube.
Allow the pastry to cool to 25c-30c before piping.
Pipe 4 inch eclairs into a lined baking sheet using a french tip
Use a wet finger to smooth over any peaks.
Place the baking tray directly onto the pizza stone.
Once the oven door is closed, immediately lower the temperature to 175c
After 30 minutes, check if the eclairs are completely firm.
If not, continue baking a little longer.
If you allow the choux to cool significantly, it will be much easier to pipe. It’s also worth trying to get rid of any air bubbles before you place it into your piping bag. An easy way to do this is to flatten it out onto a sheet of cling film, before rolling it up like a sausage. If you leave the ends open, you can then squeeze it into your piping bag. This should prevent the choux from spluttering as you try to pipe your eclairs. Truly, all the imperfections will be magnified as the eclairs bake, so it’s very important to be as neat as possible during this stage.
If you don’t have one of these glorious silicone mat templates, you will need to pipe out your eclairs on baking parchment. Make a template on the back of the baking parchment, making 10cm/4-inch lines, and leaving a good space between them – the eclairs will expand significantly in the oven. If you have a french star tip, then you should definitely use it. Actually, come to think of it, if you don’t have a french tip, you should buy one before making these. You can use a plain tip in a pinch, and drag a fork along the top of the choux to help it expand, but you really want that french tip, trust me.
I like to use a pair of scissors to snip off the choux from the bag once I reach the end of my eclair. It seems the most reliable way to get the amount of pastry you actually want. Once everything is piped, you can then go back over them with a wet finger to smooth over any peaks, or otherwise poke them into shape.
Then simply brush with cooled melted butter to help the surface stay moist long enough to expand evenly. To ensure maximum expansion of the eclairs, I also recommend the use of a pizza stone. This will give the choux a quick blast of heat from underneath, encouraging them upwards as quickly as possible. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you could put an identical baking sheet in the oven first, and place your eclairs directly on top. You’ll get best results using this method. My new oven is so tiny that I can insert my pizza stone directly into the side rails. I’m not sure whether this makes me happy or sad.
The general wisdom on making choux pastry is that the oven should start off hot to give you a good oven spring, and then turned down to help dry out the pastry. After trying a few recipes, I think it’s more manageable to simply preheat the oven hot, and then turn it down immediately once the eclairs are in the oven; the oven will cool gradually by itself, and you won’t have to babysit the eclairs. I think this technique works just as well as any other method I’ve seen, and is a lot less stressful.
All things being well, you should after 30 minutes be looking at some browned, crisp shells that are firm, largely cylindrical, and relatively even in shape and size. You can expect some splitting here and there, but as long as this doesn’t leave a hole in the side of your eclair shell, it’s not a problem.
Your eclairs may be dry and crisp on the outside, but there will still be a lot of moisture inside, so it’s imperative to get rid of that as quickly as possible. Make two holes in the underside of your eclair to help steam escape – you will also use these holes later to fill the eclairs. I like to use a ‘bismark’ pastry tube, as it has an angled tip which easily slices through the crisp pastry. It’s also the same tip that I use to fill the eclairs.
If you plan on filling your eclairs immediately, I would just leave them upside down to let some of the moisture evaporate naturally. If you were planning on storing them and using at a later date, I would recommend returning them to a cool oven (about 75c should be sufficient) for about 30 minutes to dry out completely.
So now it’s time to finish making the filling for the eclairs. Although the chocolate orange creme patissiere that I prepared yesterday tastes completely delicious, it’s also pretty heavy, so the mouth-feel can be a little cloying. I think it’s best to lighten the texture up with a little stabilised whipped cream. This makes your creme patissiere a ‘creme diplomat’, and is, in my opinion, the superior filling for almost every purpose.
Stabilised whipped cream
1tsp powdered gelatine
4tsp cold water
300ml double cream, cold
30g icing sugar
Mix the gelatine and cold water in a microwave safe jug, and leave to bloom.
Put about 3/4 of the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer, and whisk until just starting to hold it’s shape.
Warm the bloomed gelatine in the microwave until it is completely liquid.
Pour the remaining cream into the warmed gelatine, whisking continuously to avoid creating lumps.
This will temper the cream and help to avoid lumps of gelatine in the final product.
Start the stand mixer on a low speed, and pour in the gelatine mixture.
Return the mixer to a high speed, and whip until the cream forms firm peaks.
Simply whip up your creme patisierre to make sure it’s nice and smooth, and then fold through the stabilised whipped cream. Now you’re finally ready to fill your eclairs!
If you can get your hands on a bismark tip, you’ll find this job a lot easier, but you could also simply snip the end of a disposable pastry bag. Squeeze the creme diplomat into one hole until you see it appearing through the other, and then change to the other hole, squeezing until you see movement at the first hole; you want the eclairs completely full, but also don’t want it leaking out everywhere! If you have any excess leaking out, you can scrape this off with a knife, or your fingers. Try not to lick your fingers and then use them to wipe the next one 😜
Put the leftover creme diplomat into a freezer bag, and pop it in the freezer for your next batch of eclairs. As much as I love spending time in the kitchen, I can’t resist a good shortcut; I could have reduced the recipe, but I would never miss the opportunity to make things easier for next time!
Now it’s time to glaze!
I like to make a chocolate ganache using equal weights of cream and chocolate, and a good squeeze of corn syrup, or golden syrup, to ensure that the glaze sets softly and retains it’s shine. Pinch the eclairs gently by the bottom, and dip the them carefully into the ganache, trying to keep the sides as neat as possible. Shake off the excess, and twist the eclair upside down to stop drips ruining the neat edges you just created.
125g double cream
125g dark chocolate callets
25g light corn syrup, or golden syrup
Heat the double cream in a saucepan until it starts to bubble around the edges.
Pour the heated cream over the chocolate chips and syrup, and leave to sit for 2 minutes.
Gently whisk the ganache until it becomes smooth and glossy.
And now for the final, final touch, place a piece of the candied peel on the top of each eclair. This is known as ‘decor’ in the patisserie world, and is designed to let your guests know what flavours to expect before they put something in their mouth. Perhaps more useful in a shop than in your home, but a nice touch nonetheless!
Stick them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up before serving. And whilst at their absolute best served within a couple of hours, they’re still glorious a few days later!