On the few occasions I was treated to a chocolate eclair as a child, I remember getting that oh-so-special feeling, imagining what it must feel like to be a queen, nibbling daintily on a fancy treat flown down by twittering bluebirds of happiness from the enchanted kitchens of the court fairies. Yes, the eclair had the power to transport this awkward 70s kid in a velour shirt and tan cords to a kingdom in the clouds with a single bite!
Perhaps this is why I've spent so much of my life elbow deep in flour, concocting fanciful treats for anyone who will have them. I'm pleased to share one of my most favorite recipes, not fairy made, but nonetheless magical with every bite...
MINI ECLAIRS WITH VANILLA BEAN CREAM
The Pate a Choux recipe is fabulous for cream puffs and ice-cream filled profiteroles as well, but here it is used for the classic French eclair.
Step 1: Prepare the Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and water, inset with a medium bowl, left empty with a strainer placed on top.
In a medium bowl, combine:
6 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
Next, stir in:
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
Whisk until smooth and pale and yellow. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine:
3 cups whole milk
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped into milk, and pods added to infuse extra flavor
Stir over medium-high heat until milk begins to steam.
Whisking constantly, add half the hot milk to the egg-yolk mixture.
Stir until smooth; add combined mixture back to remaining hot milk in the pan.
Bring mixture to a boil to thicken, whisking rapidly to prevent scorching.
Remove from heat, and stir in:
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pour hot mixture through strainer into medium bowl set in the ice bath.
Let strained mixture stand in ice bath, stirring occasionally until cool.
Remove from ice bath, and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on to surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Step 2: Prepare the Pate a Choux (the dough)
Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a saucepan over medium high heat, bring to a boil:
1 cup water
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
When butter melts, remove pan from heat.
Add all at once:
1 cup all purpose flour, and beat until well blended.
Return pan to burner on low heat
Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan.
Remove pan from heat again.
Add 2 eggs and beat until smooth
Add 2 more eggs and beat until smooth
Transfer warm dough into a pastry bag fitted with a pastry tip (plain, 1/2 - 3/4 "). If you don't have a pastry bag and tip, transfer dough to a ziploc bag, seal after removing air. and snip a 1/2" hole in one end.
Pipe 3" lengths of dough on to parchment lined baking sheet (about 1" apart).
Bake in top half of oven for 15 minutes.
Lower heat to 375 and bake 15 minutes more.
Open oven door to allow steam and moisture to escape, turn oven off and allow eclairs to dry-out and cool for about an hour.
Step 3: Fill the Eclairs
When eclair shells have cooled, use a skewer to poke a hole in one end and move it around gently to expand the opening for the cream.
Next, fill a pastry bag fitted with a coupler and filling tip with cooled pastry cream.
Insert tip into skewered end of each eclair and fill.
Refrigerate filled eclairs while preparing glaze.Step 4: Glazing
In a microwave safe bowl, combine:
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Microwave for 2 minutes
Allow to rest for 2 minutes
Stir until thoroughly combined.
Transfer to a shallow bowl for easy dipping.
Dip the top of each eclair into glaze; let excess drip off before turning over.
Transfer to a wire rack to allow glaze to set.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Makes approximately two dozen mini eclairs.