Coffee Cream Éclairs

Michael Nagrant / 04.26.06

In Boston, some folks consider the proximity of a Dunkin Donuts franchise when purchasing a new home. According to a short New Yorker piece last year, allegiances to a particular store can be measured in the number of steps it takes to reach the front door.

My guess is that similar wars are waged for living spaces near sublime patisseries in Paris. At those patisseries, you’re likely to encounter flaky sugar glazed napoleans, airy cream puffs, and shiny chocolate dipped éclairs. Unlike Dunkin Donuts, which deploys a flat sugar enriched yeast dough for its commercial pastry, the Parisian confections are made with an airy eggy souffle-like puff pastry dough known as Pâte a Choux or Choux paste, which comes from the old French for “to cherish” or the modern literal interpretation, “cabbage paste” because of its shape.

In 1533, when Catherine de Medici hooked up with the Duke of Orleans and moved to France, she brought her head chef, Panterelli with her. Panterelli invented a hot dried paste with which he made gateaux. Exercising the only perk a humble chef of the court had, he dubbed the paste Pâte à Panterelli.

Later it became became known as Pâte à Popelini after a cake made in the shape of a woman’s breasts. A patissier named Avice perfected the paste in the middle of the eighteenth century and created Choux Buns, thus Pâte à Choux. Antoine Carême, the legendary chef perfected the recipe used today.

The origin of the éclair, which is the French word for “lightning” after the bright reflection of the chocolate glaze, is not known, but is thought to have been invented by Careme.

The beauty of the following recipe is that it is extremely versatile. You can alter many parts of the recipe, throwing in a bit of salt in place of sugar, and herbs, and cheese to make savory pastry. You can use chocolate, orange zest, or any flavoring to change the sweet base paste. The same goes for the glaze or the whip cream.


Éclair Shells – Pâte a Choux

1 cup water
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
6 ounces flour
4 large eggs and 1 egg white

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1) Put water, butter, salt, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.

2) Take pan off heat, and add flour all at once. Use a wooden spoon to work the flour in, and add pan back to the heat. After about 20 seconds, a ball will start to form, and after a few more moments as you stir, the mixture will pull away from the sides of the pan, and form a ball. It’s now done.

3) Transfer dough mixture into bowl of a mixer and let cool for about 4 minutes. If you don’t let it cool, when you add the eggs, they’ll curdle and your dough will have a grainy texture.

4) Put the mixer on the lowest speed and add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before adding the next one.

5) After a minute or two, and once all eggs have been added the mixture should be smooth. If it isn’t, keep mixing…

6) Spoon the smooth dough into pastry bag fitted with a round tip. If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a medium size Ziplock bag. Just fill the bag, push all of the dough into one corner, removing all air at the bottom. When you are ready to pipe, use scissors to cut a one inch hole in the corner of the Ziplock bag. Pipe the dough in 3 inch long lines, spaced about 2 inches apart onto parchment lined sheet pans.

7) Cook for 12 minutes at 425 degrees F, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown. This is approximate. To really test for doneness, remove one of the éclair shells, and break it open. If it is still moist, cook for a few more minutes and repeat. The inside should be completely dry like bread

8) Once the éclair shells are removed from the oven, poke them with a sharp knife ito release steam.

9) Let the shells cool completely.

Éclair Filling

1/2 pt. heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla you could use any liquor of your
1 tbsp. coffee liquor like Kahlua

1) If you have a whip cream dispenser, this makes it easy. Just mix all the ingredients in the canister, charge, and refrigerate. If you don’t:

Whip cream with mixer or whisk. Be careful not to overbeat or the cream will get too dense, like butter. When the cream begins to thicken, add sugar, vanilla, and liquor; stir. Put in a pastry bag or Ziplock bag as above. Refrigerate.

Éclair Glaze

1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz semi-sweet dark chocolate chips,
2 tablespoons unsalted butter – room temperature

1) Heat the whipping cream to the boiling point

2) Place the chocolate in a bowl and pour the boiling cream over the chocolate.

3) Stir the chocolate and cream mixture until smooth. Stir in the butter.

Éclair Assembly

1) If you used a whip cream canister or pastry bag, just insert the tip of the canister or pastry bag in one of the éclair shells and inject with cream. If you put the crème in a Ziplock or pastry bag, you’ll have to help the cream injection by inserting a knife in the short end of the éclair shell and making a path. Once you do, cut a small hole in the Ziplock back and pipe cream. Repeat until all the shells are filled.

2) Once the shells are filled with cream, dip the tops of the shells in the chocolate glaze, and you now have an éclair.

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