One would not think of French desserts without conjuring images of delicate French macarons, flaky croissants, fluffy profiteroles, and gleaming batons of éclairs.
Éclairs are an oblong, French dessert made from choux pastry, filled with cream or custard, and is traditionally dipped in melted chocolate or covered with thin fondant icing. Variations of éclair have varied through time. While chocolate remains the classic éclair, some artisans and pastry chefs are now producing frozen eclairs which are filled with creamy icing then drizzled with chocolate syrup.
- Éclair means lightning in French. The name befits the pastry as it disappears in a snap! It can also be used to refer to the gleaming lights from the shiny icing.
- National Éclair Day is celebrated every June 22.
- Everyone knows that long John Donuts advertise some of their products as eclairs. However, it’s technically just a donut since it’s not made from choux pastry.
Eclair Buying Guide
People eat first with their eyes and eclairs are lovely eye candies, with their baton shape, glistening icing, and plump appearance. But did you know that eclairs are very technical desserts a simple mistake would compromise textures and flavors?
If you have rich, brown eclairs, then you’re good! Under-baked éclairs are pale and would collapse when taken out of the oven. Inflated eclairs are a sign of a well-mixed puff pastry dough. Puffy eclairs have a fuller appearance and can accommodate more fillings. In contrast, flat eclairs just look like filled baguettes.
Eclairs should never be over or under-filled. The right amount of filling will enlarge the pastry but will not burst it. Be careful of cracks or some anomalies in the éclair’s shape.
Eclair Production & Farming in Texas
The Lone Star State loves a piece of je ne sa quoi from its rich French history. French people played a great role in Texan history, migrating to Texas in search of better economic, political, and social life. As a result, the French people imprinted their own culture in both social practices, cultural movements, and the fusion of Texan and French cuisine.
Eclairs are best produced by small-scale producers and artisans who still use the traditional methods of French baking to produce eclairs. Making choux pastry is a very delicate method and it cannot be easily reproduced through automated food technology.
Preservatives and Chemicals
Eclairs are best eaten on the day it is made. Thus, it is not ideal to incorporate preservatives and chemicals in the batter. Traditional choux pastry uses ingredients from the nearest local producers, with fillings and other natural flavor enhancers depending on the in-season fruits and berries, and some home-made compotes, jams, or jellies.
For a luxurious appearance, individually wrap eclairs in clear, plastic boxes and decorate the box with some stickers or ribbons. Eclairs that have a more home-made or rustic look can be laid in a cake box lined with wrapping paper.
While most people eat eclairs with their hands, French table manners dictate that eclairs should be eaten with a knife and fork. Cut the eclairs gently to prevent the filling from spilling into the dessert plate.
Eclairs can be made ahead of time. Make the eclairs shells, filling, and glaze separately. Freeze the unfilled éclair shells in an airtight container for up to a month. When ready, these can be thawed and once it reaches room temperature, it’s ready for the filling and glazing.
Eclairs are best eaten immediately after they’re filled but leftovers are also good, although not as great as the fresh ones. Leftover, filled eclairs should be in a single-layered lined, separately covered with parchment paper, and frozen for up to 4 days.
Classic Eclair Recipe
Eclairs are a technical French dessert but with constant practice, you can perfectly bake these stunning treats.
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
8 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped (or 2 tsp vanilla extract)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 pinch salt
4 large egg yolks
4 Tbsp unsalted butter room temperature
4 oz or 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
How to Make Choux Pastry
- In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup milk, 8 Tbsp butter, 1 tsp sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat then remove from heat and stir in 1 cup flour all at once with a wooden spoon.
- Once the flour is incorporated, place back over medium heat about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes stirring constantly (to release extra moisture and partially cook flour), or until the dough comes together into a smooth ball and a thin film forms on the bottom of the pan.
- Transfer to a large mixing bowl and beat using an electric hand mixer on medium speed for 1 minute to cool the mixture slightly. Add 4 eggs, 1 at a time, allowing each egg to fully incorporate between additions. Beat until dough is smooth and forms a thick ribbon when pulled up.
- Pipe eclairs over a baking sheet lined with silicone using a 1/2″ round tip. Pipe 18-20 (4″ long and 3/4″ wide) strips, keeping them 1 1/2″ apart.
- Bake at 425˚F for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven, reduce temp to 325˚F and, bake 30 minutes longer or until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool while making pastry cream.
How to Make Pastry Cream
- In a medium saucepan bring 2 cups milk, vanilla bean, and scraped seeds just to a boil, stirring to prevent the film from forming.
- In a separate large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup corn starch, and a pinch of salt. Add 4 egg yolks and whisk until smooth, creamy, and lightened in color – it takes a couple of minutes but it will get there.
- Gradually (so the eggs don’t curdle), while whisking constantly, add hot milk in a steady stream until all of it is incorporated. Pour mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a boil while whisking constantly then whisk another 30 seconds until mixture is thick and pudding-like consistency.
- Transfer pastry cream to a medium bowl (whisk in 2 tsp vanilla extract if using). Cut butter into pieces and quickly whisk into the custard until fully incorporated Cover with plastic directly over the surface of the cream, let it cool slightly then refrigerate for 30 minutes or until cool.
- With a small pastry tip, poke 2-3 holes through the bottom of each cooled pastry. Pipe cream inside, scraping off excess. Refrigerate eclairs while making chocolate glaze.
How to Make Chocolate Glaze
- Place 4 oz of chocolate chips into a small heat-safe bowl.
- Heat 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (in a saucepan or microwave) until it is just at a simmer then remove from heat and pour over chocolate chips. Let rest 2 minutes then whisk from the center outwards until smooth sauce forms.
- Dip the top half of filled and chilled eclairs into the chocolate sauce, allowing excess to drip off.