Cream puffs and eclairs, these are quite possibly some of France’s most popular pastries, excluding the macaron, of course.
Unlike the crisp macaron cookie, cream puffs and eclairs are pillow-y and soft. I like to think of them as pastry clouds because they truly taste like a dream.
And since today is my birthday, I think I deserve a dreamy, indulgent dessert.
Both cream puffs and eclairs are made from a French pastry dough called pate a choux. Cream puffs are usually filled with whipped cream, while eclairs are usually filled with pastry cream, or custard.
Eclairs are also topped with chocolate ganache, whereas the only time cream puffs are garnished with chocolate is if they’re turned into dessert profiteroles.
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to make the pate a choux dough for the eclairs. In all honesty, this entire dessert is pretty easy to make.
It just requires some advance planning, as you need to allow time for the pastries to cool and the cream to chill. Once you’ve achieved both, you can fill the pastries with the cream and top with the chocolate ganache.
Chocolate eclairs are delicious on their own, but I love adding a little crunch by topping mine with chopped hazelnuts. It’s no secret that chocolate and hazelnuts are a scrumptious combo, as made evident in this post (plus, Nutella, anyone?), but it’s the texture difference that I really love here.
The pastry cream that I use in this recipe is also really great because it holds up well inside the eclairs (no messy cream seeping out here!).
The best part about this recipe, though, is that you don’t have to wait until your next trip to Paris to enjoy a tantalizing eclair!
for the pate a choux pastry dough
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
for the pastry cream filling
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp salt
for the topping
- 4 oz . dark or semi-sweet chocolate
- 1/8 cup to 1/4 cup whole milk heated
- 1/4 cup hazelnuts finely chopped
Create the pastry cream by first warming the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar together until thick and pale. Add the cornstarch and salt, and whisk again to combine.
Once the milk is hot and just about to simmer, pour a fourth of the milk into the egg batter and whisk vigorously to combine. This will help temper your eggs so that they don't curdle later when combined with the hot milk.
Slowly pour the entire egg mixture into the saucepan with the hot milk, whisking vigorously as you do. Continue to heat this mixture over medium-low heat, stirring the mixture the entire time. After about 7 to 10 minutes, you should see the cream really thicken up into a gelatin/pudding-like consistency.
Take the cream off the heat. Add in the vanilla extract and whisk to combine. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the pastry cream to prevent a filmy layer from forming. Refrigerate the pastry cream until chilled.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. To create the pastry dough, heat the water, sugar, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, remove the saucepan from the heat.
Add in the flour and stir to combine. Place the saucepan back onto the stove, and over medium-low heat, stir the dough until it forms a wet sand-like appearance. You'll know it's ready when the dough easily pulls away from the bottom and sides of the pan.
Take the saucepan off the heat, and add in 1 egg at a time, stirring the egg in really well before adding another. You should end up with a sort of paste-like appearance with the dough.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag that isn't fitted with any tip, and pipe out 1" wide logs onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake the pastry logs for 10 minutes, then without opening the oven door, reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the logs are golden.
Let the pastry logs cool entirely before filling. Once cool, use a sharp knife to make a horizontal cut along one side of the pastry logs (like a hot dog bun). Fill a pastry bag (with no tip) with the pastry cream and pipe the cream onto the inside of the pastry logs.
For the chocolate topping, heat 1/8 cup of milk in a small bowl in the microwave for 20 seconds. Remove the bowl from the microwave and add chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has melted and is smooth. If it's too thick, heat some more milk in a separate bowl, and add to the chocolate to loosen up.
Use a spoon to scoope the chocolate ganache onto the top of the eclairs, then use the back of the spoon to smooth it out along the entire top surface of the eclairs. Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts onto the wet ganache.