Chocolate Eclairs, Etc.

Just in case my last several food posts made you think that I am overly interested in "healthy" food, I thought I would show you what ELSE I made this weekend, besides two loaves of sourdough bread.

Disclaimers:

  • I know these are not traditionally round, but I was lazy and they are easier to fill this way.
  • I cheated on the pastry cream filling, but I'll tell you how.
  • Yes, I am lactose intolerant. Yes, I ate one. Yes, I paid dearly for that sin. I am undecided if it was worth it, since I'm more of a salty-crunchy sort of girl. 
After making these just a couple of times, you will not need to refer to a recipe. They are that simple.

Chocolate Eclairs

1 stick of real butter.
1 cup water
1 cup flour
4 extra-large or jumbo eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pint + 3 tablespoons of heavy cream/whipping cream
1 large box of instant vanilla pudding: the size that says to use 3 cups of milk
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of chocolate chips (I prefer semisweet, but whatever makes you happy)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease a large cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper. Choose a heavy sheet if you can so that it doesn't pop up a corner in the oven. You know how they do.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Then add the water and salt and heat on medium-high to a full boil. Reduce heat to medium.
Add the flour all at once, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a ball that leaves the sides of the pan pretty clean. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 or 10 minutes, while you pour yourself a glass of wine. Didn't I mention wine in the ingredient list? Whoops.

Make a dent in the dough and add one egg. Beat it with a wooden spoon until it is completely mixed in. Add one more egg and beat again until mixed, and so on with each of the four eggs. You can do this in the mixer if you don't want a little workout and you like washing more dishes than necessary. Now you have choux paste. Pronounced like Shoe Paste, which sounds less appetizing.

Now you have a decision to make. Do you want to be lazy, like me, and just make round cream puff-style pastries? Or do you feel that eclairs should only be oblong? Large or small? What to do? The easiest way to handle this is to spoon your choux paste into a gallon size freezer bag, snip off a good bit of the corner and use it as a disposable pastry bag.

Squeeze the choux paste onto your prepared cookie sheet into the shape you desire, If things go well, the finished shell will be puff up a lot, so space accordingly. For an oblong eclair, pipe an oval about 5 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Try not to make a bulb at the end of the oblong. They don't bake as evenly and sometimes look a little R-rated when they're done. For a round shape, just make a mound of paste about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 1/2 inches high. Ish. 

Pop them into the oven and threaten everyone on your block to not slam any doors, stomp feet, drop any bowling balls, etc. Egg pastry is fairly easy to collapse. DO NOT open that oven door to peek until the shells are golden brown. No peeking. I mean it, now. 

While your shells are puffing up and becoming amazing, pour yourself another glass of wine and then mix the pudding but only use 2 cups of milk instead of the 3 cups the directions call for. Chill that, and then beat the 1/2 pint of cream with the vanilla until stiff. That canned whipped cream will not work for this step, although frozen whipped topping of the non-dairy variety might work. I've never tried it, but it might. The traditional pastry cream would be something like homemade pudding, quite thick, then lightened by folding in whipped cream. It's wonderful and easy to make, but instant vanilla pudding is even easier. 

When the pudding is well-set, fold the whipped cream into it gently until fully incorporated. Chill.

When your pastry puffs are golden brown and well-risen, turn off the oven and leave them in there. Keep an eye on them in case there is enough residual heat to keep browning them, but let them stay in the oven for 20 minutes or so if you can. Then cool them completely and sip some more wine while you wait.

If you made round puffs, then you just need to cut a little lid off the top of each one and set it aside. You can either pull out any soft bits of center, or you can press them down for a softer shell later. Then spoon or pipe your pastry cream filling into the shells and plop the lids back on.

If you made a traditional oblong eclair shape, you can cut a little hole in one end (toward the top) and press down the soft interior with a butter knife or the handle of an ice tea spoon. Then pipe your filling inside. 

When your pastries are all filled, chill them while you make the chocolate glaze: In a small saucepan over very low heat, or in the top of a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Stir in the remaining heavy cream and stir well until the glaze is smooth and shiny. 

Once again, you can put this in a heavy bag and pipe it onto your pastries or you can spoon it on. Glaze the pastries and return to the fridge to cool. Then cover with plastic wrap to chill while you drink wine until serving time.
Add caption


Not perfectly pretty, but utterly
 delicious!


Now for the ETC. part...(can you still read after all that wine?)

You can do a lot of things with choux pastry. Yes, you can fill it the traditional way with pastry cream. You can change up the vanilla in the cream for almond or lemon or chocolate... you can fold in some berries. You can fill them with only whipped cream (my Mom's favorite). You can dust with powdered sugar instead of glazing with chocolate. You can fill them with whipped cream and strawberries and use a lemon glaze instead. You can make a cream puff ring by drawing a circle onto your parchment and spoon the choux into mounds that nearly touch all around.

Choux is also great for savory treats, though! You can make tiny puffs, and fill them with spinach-artichoke dip or any other hearty dip you like. You can can fill a tiny puff with an even-tinier meatball and add a bit of sauce inside. Or make puffs that are just big enough to hold a smidge of brie and than add a bit of peach jam and one jalapeno ring.

Try folding fresh or thawed frozen corn into the choux paste, drop by spoonfuls onto your cookie sheet, sprinkle coarse salt and a little chili powder on top and bake. Some chopped green chilis are nice in there, too. You can also make a fabulous corn fritter by deep-frying the same little ball of corny choux, instead of baking it. Yum!

Fold good-quality shredded cheese into your choux paste before baking. Smoked gouda is nice, and so is gruyere. Of course, sharp cheddar is always a winner for baking.

Pipe choux paste into straws, sprinkle with parmesan and a bit of garlic salt before baking. Or cinnamon sugar. Or bake the straws naked and use them with your favorite fondue.

Ah, yes. The magic of choux. Four little ingredients that can become so many different things!