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Éclairs have gotten a bad rap lately, having suffered abuse at the hands of many subpar French-themed cafes that sell them despite being long past their prime. All too often this venerable pastry sits in the display case until all that's left is a sad, rubbery tube filled with congealed cream and a glaze that resembles chocolate in appearance only. No more, I say. It's time for dessert lovers to do right by the éclair and make a batch at home.
The classic éclair has three components: crispy pastry made from pâte à choux, vanilla bean pastry cream filling, and a chocolate glaze over the top. Each of these components is not difficult to produce, and you may already have some practice under your belt if you've followed my previous columns on pâte à choux and pastry cream. The trickiest aspect is piping the thick, heavy pâte à choux dough out into even, uniform lines, but with practice you'll find you'll improve quickly.
When making éclairs, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Before you line your pans with parchment, measure out uniform piping areas to guide you. I like folding the parchment into thirds, others may prefer to draw lines lightly in pencil on the bottom of the parchment.
- Don't overfill your piping bag, or it will be very difficult to control your piping.
- Smooth any bumps with the brush as you apply the egg wash.
- Drag a fork along the top and sides of the piped dough, making slight indentations with the tines to help keep large cracks from forming while baking.
Once you've got the choux part down, you can definitely experiment with different combinations of filling and glaze. Éclairs are great when filled with pudding, jam, buttercream, or ganache, and many bakers use fondant (a sugar glaze, not the rolled stuff used to cover cakes) flavored with different extracts to create more unusual flavor combinations. Click through the slide show for step-by-step instructions for piping, baking, filling, and glazing éclairs, then check out this recipe for a classic éclair with a real chocolate glaze.
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