Bonjour! This week, I am proudly embracing my French roots…by making French pastry of course! You see, the majority of the time, when I am asked about my nationality, I boast about my Irish heritage. My name is Erin for goodness sake. Erin Go Bragh…”Ireland Forever”? How could my response be any different? But, when I’m being really honest, I also have quite a bit of French blood running through me as well. Like, a lot, as my mom’s side would remind me. So, this week, I pay homage to my French heritage. To do so, I’m channeling some badasses from the motherland, such as Julia Child, Jacques Torres, etc.
Okay, let’s cut the crap. While, yes, I do totally appreciate being French quite a bit, I also appreciate pastries filled with anything creamy or chocolatey just as much. Which brings us to eclairs, and consequently, my real inspiration. If you haven’t already heard of this show that I’m about to give a shout out to, your life is about to change. If you have, I’m sure that you’ll agree with me that it is undoubtedly the best food themed/baking show in existence. Clearly, I’m talking about the Great British Baking Show. Despite the fact that it’s not an American show, it is still the most amazing of them all. Basically, a group of wonderfully-accented amateur bakers gather in a tent week after week, and bake amazing, fancy creations to be judged by Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. You can find it on Netflix or PBS.
Anyways! On Season 3, Week 7, the showstopper challenge required bakers to make eclairs. Not just any eclairs, but 24 eclairs, in 2 different varieties. As I re-watched this episode for the millionth time whilst huffing and puffing on the treadmill, I (embarrassingly) couldn’t even control the drool as bakers whipped up flavor combinations such as maple bacon, chocolate and mango, as well as basil lemon meringue. After finishing the episode, I just knew that eclairs needed to be done. Pronto. But, because I’m not nearly as fancy…or European… I decided to go with a classic combination you can find in just about any stateside bakery: chocolate and peanut butter. So, as my favorite hosts Mel and Sue would say, “Ready, set, BAKE!” My recipe for these pretty pastries, by the way, is down at the bottom.
Eclairs start with a dough called pate a choux, pronounced “pat-a-shoe”. Dear God, just writing it can make a girl feel fancy. I mean, come on, any creation that uses a dough with a silent “x” has to be good, right? This dough can be used for many other pastries like cream puffs and profiteroles…which you know I’ll probably experiment with at some point or another. Despite it’s fancy name, making choux requires relatively few ingredients, and is pretty easy.
Essentially, you’re going to bring your butter, water, sugar and salt to a boil. Once boiling, you’ll take it off the heat and add in the flour. Mix, mix, mix, until it is incorporated, at which point, you’ll put it back onto the heat and keep mixing until it forms into a ball. You’ll need to do this for 2-3 minutes, because the flour has to be cooked out. Then, you’ll remove it from the heat and put it in a mixing bowl. Once the dough has cooled a bit, the eggs will be added one at a time, so that they can each have a chance to mix in. When you’re done adding eggs, you’ll be looking for a consistency that allows the dough to ribbon off of a spoon slowly, then leave a v-shape. For a few minutes there, I was seriously sweating during this part. Your mixture is going to look lumpy initially as it’s mixing, but all of a sudden it’ll smooth out. Don’t you worry.
Put all of this in a pastry bag with a large round tip and pipe logs that are 4 inches long onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, 2 inches apart. Top tip: put a dot of dough underneath each corner of the parchment paper, so that it will stick to the pan while baking. There are two different baking temperatures in the recipe because the higher temperature allows the eclairs to puff up with steam and harden, and the lower temperature allows them to stay in the oven longer to get some color. You know they’re done when they’re puffed up and golden brown. Mine didn’t puff up as I thought they would, but I knew they were ready to come out because they were pretty well hollowed out in the middle. As soon as you take them out, poke three holes in the bottom with a sharp knife. Gently rotate the knife around a bit to make the hole a little larger. For my first eclair, I tried using the pastry tip that I would be using to pipe the filling later, to make the holes. But, just out of the oven, the eclairs are too fragile for this and will crack.
Up next: pastry cream! Peanut butter pastry cream, that is. I won’t bore you too much with this part, because this is the same cream I used in my American Banana Cream Pie, just less of it. You see, that cream is super customizable. There are so many flavorings you can add into it so that you can use it in other desserts. Remember, my biggest tip for this stuff is… strain that cream! Seriously!
Okay, here comes the tastiest part, let’s be honest. In reality, I should have doubled the chocolate ganache part of the recipe, so that I could drizzle the other half of it over everything I eat for the rest of the week/eat it with a spoon in front of the next season of The Great British Baking Show. But, nevertheless, this stuff is so good and so easy. Literally two ingredients, three steps. Heat the milk, pour it over chocolate, stir. That’s it. Done. For the these eclairs, you’ll want it to cool for a while so that it thickens up to the point where it won’t flood off of the pastries once it gets on there.
Assembly time! Put that cooled pastry cream in a piping bag with a small sized tip. I started with a medium one, but then realized the eclairs were too delicate for that large of a hole. You’ll be piping the filling into the holes we poked earlier. Pipe just enough to the point where you feel the eclair filling up, but not to the point where it’s bursting. If you’re not able to get a lot in, you can stick in a skewer to hollow out the middle a tad. One thing I found is that it’s really hard to tell how full it is when you can’t see the filling! To solve this, I weighed the eclairs before and after filling them, with the goal of at least doubling them in weight. Seeing the number go up on the scale erased my visions of taste testers biting into an empty and disappointing pastry.
Next, ganache. You can dip, spread it on, pipe it on. You do you on this one. Top tip: when you cover the “top” with ganache, actually cover the bottom side with the holes. This way, when people are biting in, they aren’t squeezing pastry cream out of the holes on the bottom. Pastry cream eaten off of the ground is still delicious, but something tells me it won’t appeal to everyone.
Last but not least is an optional part. I had some extra Reese Pieces hanging around from my pancake dinner party supply earlier in the summer. So, I threw them on there. I figured since you can’t see the peanut butter on the inside, this would give your samplers a clue that there was a little something extra in there for them. Come to think of it, you could use chopped Reese cups as toppers too if that floats your boat. Keep this in mind with the Reese Pieces: if you plan to keep these overnight, you might want to refrigerate them. The color of the candy might become distorted in there, kind of like M&Ms do when they’re put in ice cream. To solve this, just put them on after you take them out of the fridge, before you serve them.
Voila! Peanut buttery, chocolatey, fancy French eclairs. Paul Hollywood would say something like, “that’s bang on mate.”
In other exciting news, next week, we go on our road trip down the east coast. Over 10 days, we plan on hitting Philly, Charlotte, Savannah, Disney (YASSS!), Charleston, and DC. While traveling you’ll be getting a double dose of me! A travel foodie blog each week, and a bucket list blog each week. For now though, if you feel like channeling your inner French pastry chef, DEFINITELY make these. Even if you don’t feel like it, still make them, because they are super fun and most importantly, tasty as heck. What are you waiting for? Go on, choux! (HAH, GET IT?!)