The title of this should tell you just how familiar I am with this particular delicacy. Two series of GBBO, and I was sure this was how it was spelled. After all, eclairs kind of look like shoes, right? They’re long and hollow. And French. French cooking terms don’t always make a lot of sense to me. Probably because I took 4 years of Spanish instead (not that I had a choice.) Thankfully I searched “eclairs” instead of “shoe pastry” when I went looking for recipes for this project, or I never would have found it!
For those as unenlightened as I was, it is actually CHOUX pastry. See? French. Choux is French for cabbages, which the buns the dough was used for resembled. I’m assuming these original buns were something similar to our cream puffs, and yeah, I can kind of see the comparison.
Technically, I have made choux pastry before. Back when I was a pre-teen, we lived in a town that had a nice hotel with a really nice (to my uneducated eyes) restaurant. Their claim to fame was the aforementioned cream puffs. I got to go once to have one, and OMG it was so good! But I couldn’t afford to go often (mostly since my brother and I were busy spending our quarters across the street in the pool hall. Seriously.), so I decided to try to make them myself. I don’t remember where I got the recipe or how I did it, but I remember the smell. It has a very distinctive smell. Not necessarily unpleasant, but not all that pleasant, either.
But back to the present. I tracked down a recipe (The Kitchn website seems to be my go-to for these recipes these days), picked a day and got started.
Step one was organizing the ingredients. Not too many of them, it’s actually a pretty basic recipe.
I was even good and made sure everything was at room temperature.
Step two was getting the template together. I wanted these to all be the right size, so I took a tip from GBBO and marked up a piece of parchment paper that I could then turn over and see through.
Nice straight lines to pipe on! To get them the length I wanted, though, I had to use the bottom of my cookie pan. The lip around the top made them just that much too narrow to fit them all in.
As soon as I put the first stage of the dough together, the smell came back to me from all those years ago and took me right back to my parents’ 70’s day-glo orange kitchen. I’m not sure why butter, water, salt and flour would have such a strong smell, but it does, and it’s not entirely pleasant. Once the basic ingredients come together, you have to mash the crap out of it while it cooks down. 5 minutes may not seem very long, but when you’re stirring and mashing thick paste constantly, it seems like FOREVER. My arm’s going to fall off kind of forever. But that was the hardest part.
Once it was cooked down, I could dump it into the mixer and let the machine do all the work.
At this point, you just beat it until it’s cool enough not to cook the eggs you’re about to add. It still smells, and it doesn’t look very appetizing, but it gets better. Once it’s cool, you start adding the eggs. You can’t just dump them in, though, because too much and the dough won’t set up right when you pipe it. Do it right and you get a lovely, glossy, thicker-than-batter that’s starting to look more like something you might want to eat.
Then I got out my fancy piping bag and loaded it up.
The piping went pretty well, considering how rudimentary my tools were.
There was paste left, so I got out the other sheet and another piece of parchment paper and piped out a bunch of puffs as well.
Then into the oven they went.
These have to cook in stages. First you cook them on a high heat to puff them up, then a medium heat to brown them, and then a lower heat to dry them out. All in all it takes about 45 minutes. So really, not terrible. I did get an object lesson in the difference a pan can make, though.
The éclair was done on an aluminum pan, while the puffs were done on a dark, steel sheet. Same temp, same time. Major lesson for me, especially since all my cake and muffin pans are the same darker metal. Time to turn the damn oven down! Or get new pans…
Once they all came out (aren’t they pretty?), we just had to let the steam out and wait for them to cool. In the meantime I made lemon curd. Well, technically, I made my mom’s lemon meringue pie filling. Which is close enough, right? But that took a long time to come together, and we did have some whipped cream in the fridge…
Oh yeah, them’s good eating!
Again with the piping bag, I filled the eclairs with the lemon filling, dipped the tops in the chocolate, and voila, eclairs!
In the end, I was disappointed with the flavor. The lemon really overwhelmed the chocolate, so I probably won’t do that combination again. And they ended up kind of small for my taste. But that’s me. That said, I will definitely make choux paste again, this time maybe with pastry cream filling instead.
And cream puffs. Definitely making cream puffs.