Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chocolate Glazed Vanilla Eclairs

My mother, who is Welsh, is the best hostess in the world. When you pay her a visit, she makes you feel like Queen (or King, if you’re a guy) for a Day. Even today, at the age of 87, she hosts elaborate bridge parties and luncheons with wonderful food. When I was a kid, I remember friends dropping by our house 

spontaneously. Instead of panicking, my Mom casually whipped up a batch of whipped cream-filled cream puffs to serve the visitors along with their tea. We were all pretty impressed with that trick. She was, and is, never afraid to try anything new, no matter how daunting the recipe or technique. So it’s in the spirit of my mother’s 

cooking approach—sheer fearlessness—that I present a recipe for éclairs, filled with a lightened vanilla pastry cream and topped with a shiny bittersweet chocolate glaze. Making choux paste, the dough for cream puffs and éclairs, is a technique that many find intimidating, though it’s actually fairly easy to put together. The 

only problem with homemade éclairs is that they have multiple components—the dough, the filling and the glaze—and it takes time to make each and assemble the finished pastries. The trick here is to make the filling (minus the whipped cream) a day or two beforehand, so that you only have to make the choux paste and the 

glaze the day you plan to serve the éclairs. Though I made mine slightly smaller than standard bakery éclairs, you can make them any size you like, and you can also vary the flavor of the pastry cream filling (espresso pastry cream is great with the chocolate glaze). I recommend chilling the filled éclairs while you make the glaze, so that the glaze sets up faster on the cold pastry. And do serve them the day they’re made—you won’t have any trouble finding takers.

Chocolate Glazed Éclairs

Makes about 24 medium éclairs

Vanilla Custard Cream Filling:
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
1/2 cup heavy cream

Choux Paste:
½ cup water
½ cup whole milk
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
4 large eggs
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for eggwash

Chocolate Glaze:
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup

Make the Vanilla Custard Cream Filling:
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar, and cornstarch; set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a gentle boil. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan containing the remaining milk. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Continue to boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the butter pieces until melted. Quickly strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Whisk in the vanilla extract or paste. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for 2 hours (or up to 3 days), until well chilled.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Fold one-third of the whipped cream into the custard to lighten it. Fold in the remaining cream. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the filling until ready to assemble the éclairs.

Make the Choux Paste:
4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.
5. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, milk, sugar, salt and butter and bring to a full boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the flour is completely incorporated and the mixture pulls away from the side of the pan. Continue to cook for another minute, stirring, to dry out the dough a bit. Transfer the paste to a medium bowl and, using the wooden spoon, beat in one of the eggs, mixing vigorously until smooth. Continue to beat in the remaining eggs, one at a time, mixing until smooth before adding each egg. Mix until smooth and shiny after the final egg has been added.

Pipe the éclairs:
6. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment paper. Scrape the warm choux paste into a large pastry bag fitted with 5/8-inch plain tip (such as Ateco #7). Pipe out 4- to 5-inch long logs of the choux paste onto the sheet, leaving 2 inches between each éclair. Brush the surface of each éclair with the egg wash. Use your fingers to smooth out the points on the surface of each éclair. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F degrees and bake until puffed up and light golden brown, about 10-15 minutes longer. Let cool on the baking sheet.

Fill the éclairs:
7. Use a small, plain pastry tip to make a hole in an end of each éclair. Using a pastry bag fitted with a ¼-inch plain tip (such as Ateco #802), gently pipe the custard into the éclairs, using just enough to fill the inside. Set the filled éclairs aside in the refrigerator while you make the glaze.

Make the glaze and finish the éclairs:
8. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Combine the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is shiny.
9. Dip the top of each éclair in the glaze, letting the excess glaze drip back into the bowl. Place the éclairs on a wire rack and let the glaze set for 30 minutes. (You will have some glaze left over. Store it covered, in the refrigerator, for up to a week. The reason you make more than you need is that it’s easier to dip the éclairs in a larger amount.)