This afternoon we are heading over to the home of our very close friends. Our kids love to play together and we usually have dinner and try to squeeze in some adult catch-up talk before heading home to put the little ones to bed. People say it’s the Japanese side of me but I hate going anywhere empty handed. Not that it doesn’t happen, but I think it’s so nice to at least try to arrive with something for your host. So, for tonight I wanted to prepare a dessert that we would all enjoy without having to make an extra trip to the store. Inexplicably, I came up with chocolate éclairs. Chocolate éclairs. Yes. I know they seem like EXACTLY the opposite of a treat you could just whip up with stuff that you already have in your fridge and pantry, but looks can be deceiving. I don’t know about you, but I always have eggs, flour, sugar, chocolate, and a canister of Bird’s Custard Powder in my cupboard – from the Irish Boutique (of course). Believe it or not, that’s all you really need to make éclairs. There are a few steps in the process but none of them are difficult. I love it when a recipe is both impressive and simple.
I start by making the custard because it needs to cool before I can assemble the éclairs. I’ve included instructions on how to make Bird’s Custard below despite the fact that there are easy to follow instructions on the side of the canister. This is because U.K. measurements are a little different from the ones we use here in the U.S. Personally, I do just fine winging it and adjusting the amount of milk, sugar and custard powder depending on how sweet, thick or thin I want my custard to be. I'm not much of a measurer, but I’ve included the recommended amounts (the ones on the canister) below in U.S. measurements so you can make it the way it's intended to be.
1. Put 2½ tablespoons* of custard powder and 1½-2½ tablespoons of sugar in a heatproof bowl or measuring cup.
*Technically, the proper amount of custard mix is 2.4 tablespoons but I rounded to 2½ for the sake of simplicity. Like I said, I'm not much of a measurer.
2. Mix into a smooth paste with a little (approx. 2½ tablespoons) milk taken from 1 Imperial pint (568ml/2.36 cups/19.2 ounces).
3. Heat the remaining milk to nearly boiling and pour onto the custard mix; stirring well.
4. Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil over a gentle heat; stirring continuously.
NOTE: Because I wanted to fill my éclairs with a thick, vanilla-flavored custard, I adapted the ratio of ingredients a bit. I ended up using about 3½ tablespoons of custard powder, 1½ tablespoons of sugar and only 2 cups of milk and stirred in ½ a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste after I took the custard off the heat. For a pourable custard, the kind we usually eat, I would go with the measurements provided on the canister.
Once the custard is ready - it will thicken more as it cools – cover it with a piece of plastic wrap so that it does not form a skin and refrigerate until cold.
On to the choux pastry. This is the stuff profiteroles (cream puffs) are made out of. When shaped into round balls they are called profiteroles and when shaped into logs they are known as éclairs.
Pâte à Choux (cream puff dough)
makes about 16 3-inch éclairs
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Pour milk, water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Dump in all of the flour at once and turn the heat down to low. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a smooth ball.
Now, take the dough out of the saucepan and place it in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix the dough at medium-low speed until it cools down a bit and add the first egg. The mixture breaks each time you add an egg. Don't be scared, just keep mixing. It will come back together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the second egg. Scrape down the sides again and continue to mix until a smooth paste is formed.
Place a pastry bag with a large pastry tip or a plastic ziptop bag in a large glass. Roll the sides of the bag over the glass and use a spatula to fill the bag with the dough. Cut the tip of the bag off and pipe the dough in 2½ inch logs onto your prepared sheet pan.
Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for 10 more minutes. Leaving the oven ajar just a bit, bake 5 more minutes until the éclairs are a light golden color. Cool completely on a rack.
Once éclairs have cooled completely, cut them in half length-wise and fill a pastry bag (or a ziptop bag with the tip cut off) with your chilled custard. Pipe a generous amount of custard onto one half of each éclair and sandwich the filled half and the unfilled half together. Place éclairs back in the refrigerator for about an hour.
4 ounces heavy whipping cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
When you are ready, make the ganache. Heat the whipping cream in a saucepan or in the microwave until simmering and pour over the chopped chocolate. Wait a couple of minutes before gently stirring, taking care not to incorporate too much air. Now, dip your éclairs in the ganache and place back in the fridge until you are ready to leave the house.