What’s better than one éclair? Answer: two éclairs! Everyone in my family is a fan of éclairs, but until recently we did not have a recipe to make them at home. The recipe below comes from my mother-in-law, and it took us months of testing to get the quantities right.
When I was little I would buy éclairs from a local confectionery shop, on my way back home from school. Crammed and dark, with oversized platters and old-fashioned decoration, that place sold day-old éclairs filled with a pastry cream vaguely tasting of coffee. Sometimes, the cream was sour and the dough was stale, but there was nothing I could do: I had spent good money on the éclair, and I had to eat it. There was no flour or butter on sale at the grocery stores, and sugar was rationed, which meant baking at home was also very limited.
Those days are long gone, thankfully. With so much abundance of ingredients at the stores, why not indulge in one of the favorite desserts of my childhood – and why not share it with the world? 🙂 This is what I did recently, when my mother-in-law and I began working on an old éclair recipe she had, to make it palatable to an American readership. The original recipe called for margarine instead of butter and all quantities were in the metric system. It took us months, but the recipe is finally here!
After the dough is made by melting butter in a pan with water and adding flour over a low heat, take the pan out of the stove and stir in the eggs, one by one.
Make small elongated éclairs and put them in a parchment-lined baking pan. I used a spoon to make traditionally shaped éclairs, but you can use whatever cookie cutters you have. A variety of shapes will go a long way with your kids, who will be anxious to help you make the éclairs, and later eat them. I’m writing from experience 🙂
Bake the éclairs until golden-brown. One very important note here: You must not open the oven door at all during the first 15-20 minutes!
While the éclairs are baking, make a pastry cream with eggs, sugar and flour added in stages. Add the milk in stages as well, and then put the pan on the stove and stir continuously over a medium heat.
Once the pastry cream has thickened, cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring continuously.
Take the pan out of the stove and add butter. Lastly, add the vanilla extract.
After about 35-40 minutes total baking time, take the eclairs out of the oven and let them “rest” for a bit. By now, they should look chubby and fluffy and should radiate a golden-brown aura.
Once they have cooled down, cut the éclairs in half and fill them with the pastry cream.
Serve the éclairs with whipped cream, berries and/or chocolate sauce, as per your preferences.
You cannot go wrong with this recipe as long as you pay attention to two important steps: when adding the flour to the dough (to avoid lumps) and when adding the butter to the pastry cream (slowly, to avoid splitting). Also, make sure you don’t open the oven door during the first 15-20 minutes of baking the éclairs, otherwise there is a high chance the éclairs will fall flat.
So, is the stress worth the trouble? I would definitely say “yes.” Now grab a few éclairs, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and enjoy 🙂