I never thought I’d be a person capable of making chocolate eclairs. The first time I made them was because I couldn’t sleep one night and was bored out of my mind. I raided the fridge and all I had were eggs, milk, and butter. So, I made custard. I set up a bowl and spoon to put it in, all ready to dig in, and then read the part of the recipe that said to chill for at least two hours. I made a sad walk back to my room and started looking at what I could do with custard, and voila, chocolate eclairs. Light, airy choux pastry baked to golden perfection filled with luscious custard cream. I absolutely love how it all oozes out when you take a bite. It’s a messy affair, eclairs, but totally worth it.
The boys were coming over the next day for game night, making then the perfect audience for testing out recipes. When I knew I was coming to the US, I was sure (knowing me and my great aversion to socialising,) I would be the creepy old person who forgot how to make friends, but being in a college atmosphere completely changed everything. The college shoved so much events and barbecues on us, it was hard to not become friends. Soon, we didn’t need the college, we had game nights! Poker, Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, Cards Against Humanity, Rummy, Black Queen, you name it, we were playing it. I absolutely love playing with these guys and have so much fun even just watching them play. All that testosterone in one game, all you need is a crisp, cold beer to sit back and watch the fight.
So, the next evening I finished my class and lined up all the ingredients I needed to make choux pastry. When I make something new, I always feel more confident if I have everything ready in front of me. That way, I know I won’t miss any ingredients. Checking the recipe after each step, I lined the baking tray with some parchment paper, made the batter, put it in a piping bag, and was ready to bang out beautiful eclairs, except I was a novice and that was my first time handling a piping bag. Not only did I make a mega mess, each one was a different size and were also shaped different.
I settled on the couch with my kindle while the pastry baked and was just about to doze off when the fire alarm went off! Jarring, constant, thought impeding fire alarm. I jumped up from the couch disoriented and quickly moved to full-blown panic. It was my first time and I really thought the oven was gonna blow up. It took me a minute, but I ran to the oven and opened it to see that the parchment paper had caught on fire. I pulled the tray out and furiously waved at the oven with the kitchen towel, but it didn’t really help like they showed in movies (It’s only later I realised I should’ve been waving that towel at the fire alarm.) I ran to the windows, opened them despite the negative temperatures outside and kept swinging the door open and close to get some circulation going, hoping and praying that fire trucks don’t show up outside. Thankfully, the parchment paper smoked more than burning, so nothing got ruined.
Couple of weeks ago, I was organising some old photos when I came across the eclair photos and I immediately knew I had to make them again. I owed it to myself to see if I could make a better version without burning the house down. I was so excited to get started. Learning from the previous time, I started with the custard.
Whisk egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together until it becomes a thick paste and set this aside. Heat milk with a split vanilla bean until simmering. Take it off heat and let it cool off for a bit before adding it slowly to the egg mixture, constantly whisking to make sure it’s well incorporated. Wash the saucepan, this is important to make sure there is no cream or lumps stuck to the side, and to get the custard silky smooth. Strain the egg milk mixture back into the saucepan and bring it to heat until the custard thickens. It should coat the back of a spoon. Put this in a bowl and close it with saran wrap and let it set in the fridge for at least two hours.
The recipe calls for folding in whipped cream, making the pastry cream super dooper light.
For the choux pastry, bring water and butter to a boil, take it off heat and add the flour. Mix fast with a wooden spoon until it comes away from the sides and forms a ball. Allow this to slightly cool and then add the eggs in, one by one. It will be slimy at first, but keep at it until all the ingredients are well incorporated. Put this in a piping bag with a half inch round tip and bang out even sized lines. It doesn’t matter if they are short or long as long as they are consistent. Smoothen the top with a wet finger and into the oven it goes for forty-five minutes.
Once they are out, poke a small hole on the side to allow the steam to escape and let them cool completely. Transfer the custard to a pastry bag with a small tip and fill the hole until the shell feels full and heavy. The weight is actually the best indicator because sometimes even though it looks full, it might not have filled all the way and you’ll end up with a disappointing shell.
Now comes the best part, the chocolate glaze. Carefully dip the top of the pastry into melted chocolate, shake off any excess and allow it to set. And just like that, you are also the kind of person who can make an eclair! How awesome is that?
You can see the complete recipe here.