I never really liked eclairs until recently, when I discovered coffee eclairs (aka eclairs au cafe) at my local tea shop. They were a revelation. Until then, I always equated eclairs with those whipped cream-filled spongy concoctions you can find slowly drying out behind your nearest donut shop counter. You know the type. You take a bite and get a mouthful of too-sweet cream and cake. I gag slightly just thinking about it and I have a serious sweet tooth.
But the real thing, authentic Parisian eclairs, are airy eclairs filled with the lightest of light custard or pastry cream. With eclairs au cafe, both the glaze and pastry cream is accentuated by the inclusion of espresso, introducing just the right amount of sharpness to mellow out the high sugar content.
I know what you’re thinking. I haven’t yet addressed the rather interesting shape of these eclairs. I have no idea why but when I piped out the pate a choux, I piped it into squiggles rather than straight lines. To my defence, it was a Friday night and I was dead on my feet. And I couldn’t even bear the thought of piping it out again.
So – whatever you do, don’t pipe your eclairs into squiggles. It’s harder to get the pastry cream to neatly sit inside. It’s just common sense, which I temporarily misplaced, obviously. Despite my gaffe, these eclairs turned out to be one of my most successful sweets ever. I felt almost like I could one day be a professional. I felt proud. This recipe is not for the faint at heart. Unless you have hours upon hours, you may have to make it in steps like I did.
This recipe comes to us via the amazing Dorie Greenspan’s phenomenal book “Paris Sweets.” Can I pack any more complimentary adjectives in there? You should buy it. That’s all.
Recipe for Coffee Eclairs by Dorie Greenspan from Paris Sweets, adapted from Fauchon
Ingredients for cream puff dough:
– ½ cup whole milk (125g)
– ½ cup water (125g)
– 1 stick unsalted butter (115g)
– Pinch of sugar
– Pinch of salt
– 1 cup all-purpose flour (140g)
– 5 large eggs, at room temperature
Ingredients for espresso pastry cream:
– ⅓ cup espresso, cooled (80g)
– Vanilla Pastry Cream, chilled (see recipe below)
Ingredients for Vanilla Pastry Cream
– 2 cups whole milk
– 6 large egg yolks (I’m going to use a few less next time to cut some calories)
– 1/2 cups sugar
– 1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
– 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
– 3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature
Ingredients for coffee fondant:
– ¼ cup espresso, cooled (60g)
– 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted (600g)
– Squirt of lemon juice
To make the pastry cream:
– Bring the milk and vanilla beans to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover the pan, turn off the heat and infuse for at least 10 minutes or up to an hour.
– Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished cream and be placed in this ice bath. Find and set aside a fine-mesh strainer as well.
– Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. While continuing to whisking, drizzle a quarter of the hot milk into the yolks. Still whisking, pour the rest of the liquid over the yolks.
– Place the saucepan over high heat, and whisking vigorously and without stopping, bring the mixture to the boil. Keep the mixture boiling, until it begins to thicken, then remove the pan from the heat and press the cream through the sieve into the reserved small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath
and, stirring frequently so that the mixture becomes smooth, cool the cream until it’s slightly warmer than room temperature. About three to five minutes is a good reference point. Remove the bowl from the ice bath and stir in the butter a tablespoon at a time. Cool completely and keep in the fridge until it’s ready to use.
To make and bake the cream puff dough: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375˚F (190˚C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip and keep nearby. (The bigger the tip you have, the better)
– Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to a rapid boil in a heavy bottomed medium saucepan over high heat. Adding the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium low and quickly start stirring with a wooden spoon, until a light crust forms on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring for a couple more minutes to dry the dough and until smooth. Take off heat. Add eggs one by one while beating the dough until it is shiny and thick. Once all the eggs have been incorporated, the still-warm dough should be used right away.
– Spoon half of the dough into the pastry bag and pipe out thin fingers of dough that are each about 5 inches (12 cm) long and about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide onto the lined baking sheets, making sure to leave about 2 inches (5 cm) space between them. Repeat with the remaining dough.
– Bake for 8 minutes before slipping the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven to keep the door slightly ajar. When the eclairs have baked for 12 minutes, rotate pans front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking for another 8 minutes (total baking time is 20 minutes) until the eclairs are golden, firm and puffed (adjust cooking time accordingly). Transfer the eclairs to a rack and let cool to room temperature.
To fill the eclairs:
Lightly whisk the espresso into the pastry cream. Carefully cut the eclairs horizontally in half; lift off the tops. Spoon the pastry cream into a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip and fill each eclair base with cream, or you can also do this carefully with a small spoon. You will have pastry cream left over. Tuck the filled bases into the refrigerator.
To make the fondant:
Pour the espresso into a small bowl, then add about 2 cups of the powdered sugar little by little, stirring constantly with a whisk and trying not to create bubbles. Stir in lemon juice, then add in as much additional powdered sugar as needed to produce a fondant that evenly coats the top of an eclair and stays where it’s spread.
To finish: One by one, hold the eclair tops over the bowl of fondant and working with a small icing spatula, spread them with fondant. Settle each eclair top on a filled base and refrigerate the eclairs for at least 1 hour upon serving.
None. I don’t mess with a recipe from a master. Let’s say you didn’t want to make so many eclairs though (you can’t really keep them around forever) and didn’t want them to go to waste, consider piping the pate a choux into cream puff balls and freeze them. you can later inject them with some pastry cream or ice cream and top them with chocolate sauce. Voila, ready-made dessert.
Would I make this again?
Yes, likely soon. I didn’t make all the eclairs at once. I didn’t read the recipe properly so rather than freeze the unbaked eclairs, I froze the baked eclairs. Thank goodness for Twitter. When I tweeted about my predicament, Dorie Greenspan herself actually responded, saying freezing the baked tops would be fine. (I was star struck as only a real Francophile foodie can be, and immensely grateful for her response).
Grade: Five stars out of five. Too bad I had to go and ruin it by piping out of the line. Figures.