Classic éclairs, with their crisp outer shell, vanilla pastry cream filling, and slick topping of chocolate glaze, are just the ticket when you want a satisfying, hand held dessert. Click through the slideshow to learn tips and tricks for making éclairs at home.
Prepare your tools and components
Before you begin, you'll need to make a batch of vanilla bean pastry cream and pâte à choux. For refresher tutorials on each of these, click here for pastry cream, and here for pâte à choux. You'll also need to prepare your tools. Fold two pieces of parchment (cut to fit two sheet pans) the long way, making even thirds to create lines to guide you as you pipe your cylinders of dough. Fit a piping bag with a medium-sized round tip (I recommend nothing bigger than a #8, shown here).
Fill the bag halfway
Many people struggle with piping pâte à choux because it is so heavy and thick. Do yourself a favor and only fill the piping bag halfway or less. You'll have a lot more control of that bag with less dough in there.
Adhere parchment to pan
Before you begin, dab a small amount of the dough into each corner of the pan and press the parchment liner into it. This will keep the paper from moving around as you work.
Pipe the pâte à choux cylinders
Moving in slow, careful strokes, use two hands to squeeze the dough out into cylinders on the parchment. Pipe each one 1 1/2-inches apart (the shells will expand while baking). Use the lines you created in the parchment to pipe them in even lengths.
Scrape away mistakes
Not satisfied with some of your piping work? Not to worry! Just scrape the blemished piece off the parchment and try again. The pâte à choux dough can be piped a second time.
Use a pastry brush to apply egg wash to the top and sides of each piece. Use the brush to gently smooth any bumps.
Draw lines with a fork
Lightly drag a fork over the top and sides to create light indentations on the surface. These lines will help the pâte à choux expand evenly while it bakes, helping prevent large cracks or bursting.
Bake in a falling oven
Pâte à choux is leavened solely by it's own steam—the liquid in the dough heats up and puffs the dough from the inside, forming cavernous voids to fill with cream. To accelerate the steam, I like to start pâte à choux at a high temperature in the oven, then drop it down to protect the éclair shells from burning. I recommend allowing the shells to get as dark as possible because then more moisture evaporates from the inside. Bake until the interior of the cracks and the outer surface of the pastry are almost the same shade of golden brown.
Bore two small holes
Using the tip of a paring knife, gently bore two small holes at each end of the bottom of the eclair shells.
Fill with pastry cream
Beat the chilled pastry cream until it is smooth and creamy, then pour it into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (it should fit inside the holes you've made in your shells). Pipe the cream into each of the holes. Apply enough pressure to fill the éclair, but not so much that the éclair bursts.
Wipe away excess
After piping, wipe away any excess cream that has leaked out and turn the éclairs over on the sheet pan.
Dip in warm glaze
Ensure that the glaze you are using is warm but not hot. Dip the éclair horizontally into the bowl, submerging it just enough so that the top surface is covered.
Pull the éclair away and shake the excess glaze back into the bowl. Turn the éclair ninety degrees, and allow the excess to drip off the end. Then place back on the sheet tray.
Serve sooner than later
Éclairs are best served soon after assembly to preserve the crispness of the shell and the freshness of the cream and glaze. Place the finished éclairs in the fridge to allow the glaze to set up slightly, then serve as soon as possible. Any leftovers should be wrapped and stored in the fridge.