[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
Éclairs are traditional French pastries consisting of long tubes of pâte à choux, filled with pastry cream and coated in a thin layer of icing. We’ve kept our recipe classic, filling the light pastries with a rich vanilla bean–flecked filling and a chocolate glaze.
Éclairs, which translates to “flashes of lightning,” are frequently said to have been invented or popularized by Marie-Antoine Carême, regarded as one of the founders of modern French cooking and one of the original “celebrity” chefs. One of the first written mentions of the confection in the United States can be found in Fannie Farmer’s 1886 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, in which she describes piping the choux paste (which she calls “cream cake mixture”) into its signature log shape, baking it, filling it with pastry cream, and finally glazing it with “confectioners’ frosting” to which melted fondant has been added.
Little has changed about the recipe since Farmer’s recording of it. The éclair’s shell is made from choux pastry. For this particular choux batter, which follows our foolproof technique, we call for a mix of half milk and half water (see instructions in the note below). The combination of milk and water work in tandem to perfectly brown the éclairs and ensure a crisp shell. Meanwhile, adding the optional sugar listed in our classic choux recipe contributes a touch of sweetness to the base that complements the sweetness of both the filling and the glaze.
Éclairs are fussier than similar filled pastries that rely on choux, like cream puffs. In particular, nailing the correct shape—one that is straight as an arrow with a fully hollow interior— requires practice and patience. We’ve provided some helpful guidelines below:
- Use a 1/2-inch French star tip. The “teeth” of a star tip create ridges in the choux batter, which helps steam escape while evenly lifting and expanding the éclairs, thus minimizing splits and cracks. Although it’s not a one-for-one replacement, you can use a round tip to pipe the choux and then lightly run fork tines over the top of each to reduce cracking.
- Take your time when piping. With éclairs, how they’re piped is how they’ll bake. To achieve straight lines, we recommend holding the pastry bag at a 45° angle while lightly dragging the bottom of the tip along the parchment paper (hovering in mid-air as you pipe will produce inconsistent lines). Keep in mind that you can always start over by scraping any piped batter back into the pastry bag. In addition, aim for a one-inch wide base per éclair. Because of their delicate, less sturdy structure, piping any wider can contribute to a concave bottom. For those who aren’t expert pipers of choux, we recommend drawing guidelines on the parchment paper using a marker and ruler; then flip the parchment over and pipe on the lines.
- Finish with a nonstick cooking spray. When used in conjunction with a star tip, a quick and even application of a flavorless nonstick cooking spray like PAM will eliminate extreme cracks and splits and add color to your éclairs.
- Bake at a moderate temperature. We found that the popular method of baking the choux logs at a higher temperature, then reducing it, often led to cracked éclairs (the initial high blast of heat causes their delicate structure to expand too rapidly). To offset that, we bake our éclairs at a lower temperature of 350°F (that’s even lower than the 400°F oven we use for cream puffs, gougères, and chouquettes). Doing so gives them ample time to rise, set, and dry with golden brown exteriors and nicely hollowed interiors.
While the éclairs are still hot, use a sharp paring knife to drill two small holes in the bottom of each one. After a short rest in the cooling oven to dry out the inside and keep the outside crisp, pipe pastry cream into both holes. Dip the top of each cream-filled éclair in a warm pool of rich chocolate glaze, made by quickly microwaving dark chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and salt together until melted, then stirred until smooth.
Between the crisp choux, creamy filling, and rich glaze, these sweet treats will disappear in a flash.
Why It Works
- Poking holes in the baked éclairs allows steam to escape and creates openings for easy filling.
- Returning éclairs to a turned-off oven after they’ve baked helps keep them crisp.
- Coating the éclairs with cooking spray allows for even expansion in the oven, ensuring minimal splits and cracks.
- A small amount of corn syrup makes for a shiny, smooth glaze.
What’s New On Serious Eats
- For the Éclairs:
- One recipe Choux Pastry (made with a combination of milk and water, and the optional sugar),transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch French star tip (see note)
- One recipe vanilla pastry cream, transferred to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain round tip
- Nonstick cooking spray, for coating éclairs
- For the Glaze:
- 4 ounces dark chocolate, about 70%, chopped (3/4 cup; 115g)
- 2 ounces (4 tablespoons; 60g) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon; 15g) light corn syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
To Make the Éclair Shells: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (177°C). To prepare a template for your éclairs, take one sheet of parchment paper and, using a ruler as a guide and a Sharpie for easily visible lines, draw twelve 4 1/2-inch long lines that are 2 inches apart. Flip paper upside down and set it on an aluminum half-sheet tray. Repeat with a second piece of parchment paper and sheet tray.
Pipe a small amount of choux paste under each corner of parchment paper (the dough acts as a glue and keeps the paper in place as you pipe).
Pipe the first tray of éclair shells: Holding the bag at a 45° angle, lightly drag the tip along the surface of the paper and apply steady downward pressure, while slowly piping a 1-inch wide line of choux following a single line on the template. To stop piping, cease applying pressure and move the pastry tip up and over toward the opposite end of the éclair before completely lifting away. Continue to pipe until tray is full. To smooth out the surface of any uneven éclairs, dip a finger into cold water and gently pat down any bumps. Coat éclairs evenly with cooking spray.
Bake first tray until éclair shells are puffed, golden brown, and hollow feeling, about 30 minutes. While first tray of éclair shells are baking, repeat Step 3 for the second tray of éclair shells. As soon as first tray are fully baked, remove from oven and set second tray in oven to bake.
Working quickly while first tray of éclairs are still hot, make two 1/4-inch holes on the underside of each éclair (one near each end) by gently inserting the tip of a paring knife and rotating in a circular motion, then return to tray.
As soon as second tray of éclairs are baked, repeat Step 5. Return both trays to the turned-off but still warm oven with the door partially open for 30 minutes.
To Fill the Éclairs: Working one éclair at a time, insert tip of pastry cream–filled bag into a hole in each éclair shell and begin piping with steady pressure until filled (pastry cream will start to overflow the hole). Repeat with other hole. Wipe away any excess pastry cream. Repeat until all éclairs are filled.
To Make the Glaze: Combine chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a wide, shallow microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments, stirring after each increment, until chocolate is melted and mixture is completely smooth, about 1 minute in total.
Working one at a time, hold each éclair upside down and carefully dip the top in the glaze, then return to tray. Repeat with remaining éclairs. Allow glaze to set, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
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