Eclairs and Cream Puffs

You may notice that my post does not have a “TWD” header on it as you have come to find on most Tuesdays here at Sugar & Spice. Sadly, I have taken a break from Tuesdays With Dorie, as I have found recently that the commitment was getting to be a lot given some other things I have going on, and I wanted to free up some of my time and grocery budget (not to mention my waist line!) to ensure I had the opportunity to begin tackling things that have been on my “to make” list for quite some time. I still may bake along unofficially some weeks as well as use the recipes as inspiration to tackle those things that I’ve been dying to make.

That is exactly what I did this week – I have wanted to make éclairs and cream puffs for ages, but never made the time. After seeing that this week’s TWD pick was the Peppermint Cream Puff, I decided to roll up my sleeves and finally conquer a pastry!

Continue reading to find out how the pâte à choux went, the secret ingredient to the richest pastry cream ever, pictures of the cream puffs, and recipes of course!

I used Baking Illustrated recipes for both the pâte à choux and the pastry cream, and neither disappointed. This was my first time making pâte à choux, having only ever watched Ina do it on her show before. Of course she made it look quite simple, and, truth be told, it wasn’t very difficult! One question – what kind of tip do you pâte à choux experts use? I looked all over Michael’s and Joann’s and couldn’t find a large round tip for the life of me.

And now the pastry cream. Oh my, the pastry cream. Like all of America’s Test Kitchen recipes, this one was tested time and time again in terms of the type of fat (milk, half and half, and cream), the number of eggs, and the amount of butter. And let me tell you – they nailed it. This might be the best pastry cream I have ever tasted. So much so that I think I gave myself a stomach ache “taste testing” while I assembled the pastries.

If you’ve ever put off making cream puffs or éclairs because of the perceived difficulty, please give these a try!

Eclairs and Cream Puffs

Yield: 24 cream puffs or 8 eclairs

Prep Time: 3 hours

Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients:

For the Pastry Cream:
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Pâte à Choux:
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
2 tablespoons whole milk
6 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted

For the Chocolate Glaze:
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

Directions:

1. Make the Pastry Cream: Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds. Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 20 seconds.

3. When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds. Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla. Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

4. Make the Pâte à Choux: Beat the eggs and egg white in a measuring cup or small bowl; you should have 1/2 cup (discard the excess). Set aside.

5. Bring the butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring once or twice. When the mixture reaches a full boil (the butter should be fully melted), immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the flour with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until combined and the mixture clears the sides of the pan. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, using a smearing motion, until the mixture is slightly shiny, looks like wet sand, and tiny beads of fat appear on the bottom of the saucepan, about 3 minutes (the paste should register 175 to 180 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).

6. Immediately transfer the mixture to a food processor and process with the feed tube open for 10 seconds to cool slightly. With the machine running, gradually add the eggs in a steady stream. When all the eggs have been added, scrape down the sides of the bowl, then process for 30 seconds until a smooth, thick, sticky paste forms. (If not using immediately in one of the following recipes, transfer the paste to a medium bowl, press a sheet of plastic wrap that has been sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray directly on the surface, and store at room temperature for up to 2 hours.)

7. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper; set the pan aside.

8. Fold down the top 3 or 4 inches of a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip to form a cuff. Hold the bag open with one hand in the cuff and fill the bag with the paste. Unfold the cuff, lay the bag on the work surface, and, using your hands or a bench scraper, push the paste toward the tip of the pastry bag.

For Cream Puffs: Twist the top of the bag and pipe the paste into 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch mounds on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 1 to 1 1/4 inches apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped mounds.

For Eclairs: Twist the top of the bag and pipe the paste into eight 5 by 1-inch strips, spaced about 1 inch apart. Use the back of a teaspoon dipped in a bowl of cold water to even out the shape and smooth the surface of the piped strips.

9. Bake 15 minutes (do not open the oven door), then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue to bake until golden brown and fairly firm (the puffs and éclairs should not be soft and squishy), 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the baking sheet from the oven. With a paring knife, cut a 3/4-inch slit into the side of each puff and on the top of each éclair to release steam; return the puffs to the oven, turn off the oven, and prop the oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon. Dry the puffs and éclairs in the turned-off oven until the centers are just moist (not wet) and the puffs and éclairs are crisp, about 45 minutes. Transfer the puffs and/or éclairs to a wire rack to cool completely. (The cooled puffs and éclairs can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours or frozen in a zipper-lock plastic bag for up to 1 month. Before serving, crisp room-temperature puffs in a 300-degree oven 5 to 8 minutes; crisp frozen puffs/éclairs 8 to 10 minutes.)

10. When ready to serve:

For Cream Puffs: Use the tip of a paring knife to make a small X in the side of each puff, about halfway between the top and bottom. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip with the pastry cream and then pip some pastry cream through the X in the side of each puff. (Fill each puff until the pastry cream starts to ooze out the side.) Top with chocolate glaze or sifted powdered sugar.

For Eclairs: With a paring knife, cut around the sides of each éclair to remove the top third. Dip the top of each éclair into the glaze, shaking off any excess, and transfer the tops to a wire rack to dry. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of pastry cream in the bottom of each éclair. Once the glaze has set, set the tops on the éclairs and press gently to secure.

(Recipes for Pastry Cream and Pâte à Choux from Baking Illustrated; Recipe for Chocolate Glaze from Baking: From My Home to Yours)