Pierre Hermé’s chocolate éclairs were the August Daring Bakers’ challenge. The rules were to follow exactly the pâte à choux recipe and make at least one of the two chocolate components from the original recipe – rather the chocolate pastry cream for filling or chocolate glaze. As for the filling, I didn’t change it drastically. I just turned it into the mocha variation by infusing milk with French-roast coffee beans flavor. It was absolutely marvelous. I used a different recipe for the chocolate glaze (to be honest, I just recycled what had left from the previous challenge (it was about time :))
As for the pâte à choux… I was surprised to see that the recipe called for an exact number of eggs (5 – no more, no less…). Usually there’s a ratio given and a baker is advised to use the eggs judgmentally. The dough consistency is of particular importance here – thick but pliable, and not at all runny. I tried to be a rules follower – I broke all 5 eggs in a measuring cup, lightly whisked them and added them to the dough gradually. I ended up with a leftover about one egg-worth. With all my due respect to the maestro, the stated baking time, as well as the oven temperature, were not sufficient for successful baking and needed some adjustments. I started at the higher temperature and even baked longer than was suggested. You can see my step-by step photos below. I posted the pictures of the just baked éclairs as well as completely cooled ones. I didn’t have any problems with deflating of the éclairs or their eggy taste.
I filled them using a Bismarck tip. It allows to pack the éclairs generously with the pastry cream and makes the eating less messy and therefore more pleasureful.
To summarize… sure the éclairs were fabulous. The filling was smooth and creamy, and very much coffee-chocolaty. My big thanks to Meeta and Tony, this month DB hosts, for choosing a wonderful dessert appreciated by everyone.
Adapted from “Chocolate Desserts” by Pierre Hermé
Makes 20-24 éclairs
For the pâte à choux:
- ½ cup (125g) whole milk
- ½ cup (125g) water
- 1 stick (4 ounces; 115g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (140g) all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
For the chocolate-coffee pastry cream:
- Heaped ½ cup French roast espresso beans, very coarsely ground
- 2 cups (500g) whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- 6 tbsp (75g) sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
- 7 oz (200g) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Guanaja, finely chopped
- 2½ tbsp (1¼ oz: 40g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the chocolate glaze:
- 8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 12 tbsp (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp light corn syrup
- 5 tsp water
For the espresso crème Anglaise: I used some of the espresso ice cream base by Kate Zuckerman, before it’d been processed in the ice cream machine, of course. I’m posting the recipe later, or you can follow this recipe  for making the crème Anglaise omitting the honey (half batch will be enough for serving the éclairs) and infuse the cream with coarsely ground espresso beans (about 1/3 cup of the beans will suffice).
Make the pâte à choux, form and bake the éclairs:
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside.
Place an oven rack in the lower part of the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Place a pan with hot tap water onto the bottom of your oven (Pyrex pie pan works well).
In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil.
Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan, it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.
Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the dough on medium speed for a minute to cool the dough slightly. Break the eggs into a liquid measuring cup or a bowl, lightly whisk with a fork. Add the eggs gradually, in 4-5 additions beating well after each portion has been added to incorporate it into the dough. You will notice that after you have added the first portion, the dough will separate, once again- do not worry. As you keep working the dough, it will come back all together. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. You might have some eggs left over. Use your judgment, the dough doesn’t have to be too liquidy and runny.
The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used. Once the dough is made you need to shape it immediately.
You can pipe the dough and then freeze it. Simply pipe the dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and slide the sheets into the freezer. Once the dough is completely frozen, transfer the piped shapes into freezer bags. They can be kept in the freezer for up to a month.
Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a 1 ½ cm plain tip nozzle with the warm cream puff dough. Pipe the dough onto the baking sheets in 3 1/2 – 4 inches long fingers.
Leave about a 2 inch (5 cm) space in between each dough strip to let them room to puff. The dough should give you enough to pipe 20-24 éclairs.
Put one baking sheet into another to isolate the pastry bottoms from strong heat and slide the baking sheet into the oven; place another baking sheet with piped éclairs immediately into the freezer (if your oven is not big enough to accommodate both baking sheets at once). Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, until the éclairs are well puffed and golden brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F. Open the oven door and take the water-filled pan out of the oven. Rotate the sheet from front to back. Poke every pastry with a wooden skewer or a knife tip to allow the moisture to escape and leave the baking sheet in the oven for another 5 minutes, until the éclairs are well browned, firm and crisp to the touch. Turn the oven off, slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the door to keep it ajar. Let the éclairs stay in the oven for 5 more minutes.
Cool completely on a rack. The unfilled éclairs can be kept in a cool, dry place for several hours before filling.
Bake the frozen éclairs as described earlier without defrosting, just add a couple of minutes to the baking time.
Make the chocolate-coffee pastry cream, fill the éclairs:
In a small saucepan, bring the milk and coffee beans to a boil. Off the heat, cover and let steam for an hour. Strain through a double layer of cheesecloth into a bowl.
Prepare an ice bath.
Wash the saucepan or use another one; return the coffee-infused milk into the clean saucepan. Reheat the milk once again to the boiling point. In the meantime, combine the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl and whisk together.
Once the milk has reached a boil, temper the yolks by whisking a couple spoonfuls of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Continue whisking and slowly pour the rest of the milk into the tempered yolk mixture.
Strain the mixture back into the saucepan to remove any egg that may have scrambled. Place the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously and continuously until the mixture returns to a boil. Keep whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 more minutes (still over medium heat). Stir in the melted chocolate and then remove the pan from the heat.
Scrape the pastry cream into a small bowl and set it in the ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Make sure to continue stirring the mixture at this point so it remains smooth.
Once the cream has reached the temperature of 140F remove from the ice-water bath and stir in the butter in three or four installments. Return the cream to the ice-water bath to continue cooling, stirring occasionally, until it has completely cooled. The cream is now ready to use or store in the fridge. In order to avoid a skin forming on the pastry cream, cover with plastic wrap pressed onto the cream.
The pastry cream can be made 2-3 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
To fill the éclairs, transfer the pasty cream into a piping bag fitted with Bismarck tip. Insert the tip into the hole made earlier during the baking and squeeze the bag. You should feel when the éclair shell is full – it will get heavy and expand. Repeat with the rest of the éclairs.
Make the chocolate glaze, glaze the éclairs:
Place all the ingredients in a small heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir frequently until the chocolate is almost completely melted; do not overheat. Remove the glaze from the water bath and set aside to finish melting, stirring once or twice until perfectly smooth. If necessary, before using, cool the glaze to 88-90 F. It will be optimally shiny if you use it at that temperature. Place a sheet of parchment paper or foil under the rack. Dip the top of each éclair into the glaze and place the glazed éclair onto the rack for the glaze to set.
Any excess glaze may be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen.
The éclairs are best served soon after they have been filled.