Dark Chocolate and Orange Eclairs

Eclairs, to me, are just cool. The ultimate tea-time treat, delicate, chocolatey, airy, creamy delights. When, as a kid, my family used to buy selections of pastries, I would always go for the eclair, despite there being bigger, creamier pastries available- something about their size and self-contained-ness always appealed to me. They seem designed specifically with afternoon tea in mind- light and pretty, and if you’ve made them yourself, it shows you’ve put a bit of effort in for the occasion. Mastering their construction was something I had long meant to figure out how to do, but somehow I’d never got around to it.

So one Saturday, when a friend was coming over to do some cooking, I thought it would be fun to finally try making some eclairs. I knew they wouldn’t be particularly easy, requiring one or two specialist bits of equipment (see recipe), and parts of the method would be quite fiddly. The basic recipe I’ve started from is based on one from BBC Good Food, but I thought I would give the eclairs an orange twist, by making the custard filling into an orange custard filling. Also, I thought it would be fun to switch to plain chocolate for the top of the eclairs, to pair with the new orange flavour in an interesting way. I wouldn’t use high cocoa plain chocolate here- otherwise the eclair will become too bitter- but something with a bit more cocoa than milk chocolate is nice. Putting your own stamp on a recipe is half the fun of cooking, but you could try many different combinations like passionfruit and dark chocolate, lemon and white chocolate, or mint and dark chocolate, for a few suggestions.

My first time making eclairs was also my first experience making choux pastry. Choux pastry produces a very different end product than puff pastry, for example, making profiteroles or gougeres. In that sense I knew what to expect in the end product- that fluffy, light, airy texture- but had no idea how to make it, or what might happen in the cooking process. What really got me was how thin and sloppy the pastry became after adding the eggs. Piping it onto the baking sheets was like piping a thick sauce, I just ended up with long, thin pools of pastry. Putting them in the oven, I knew something special needed to happen, otherwise I would have to start again, perhaps with a different recipe. But special it was. According to Wikipedia, “Instead of a raising agent it employs high moisture content to create steam during cooking to puff the pastry”, and indeed.in the oven the pastry rose a huge amount, forming eclair shapes, and had a nice hollow inside, a bit like pitta bread. They were easy to pipe cream filling into, had the texture you would expect, and made me wonder what I ever worried about.

A very enjoyable afternoon- a great time with a friend, new cooking techniques explored, and learning how to make eclairs (which I will definitely do again). Oh, and the dozen or so eclairs left over…

Dark Chocolate and Orange Eclairs

There are a few bits of kit which are key here. You’ll need a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle to pipe the choux pastry onto the baking sheets- having two baking sheets would be helpful here, as the piping procedure is quite messy and you’ll want to work quickly. Similarly, you’ll need another piping bag- I found a piping syringe useful here- to get the cream into the choux buns. I used another piping syringe for the drizzed icing, but I imagine that a spoon or knife would work fine too. To paint the chocolate onto the tops, you’ll also need a pastry brush.

Ingredients (makes around 20):
For the choux pastry:
140g flour
pinch caster sugar
125ml milk
100g butter
4 eggs

For the orange custard filling:
300ml milk
50g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
4tsp plain flour
4tsp cornflour
600ml double cream
500ml orange juice

For the topping:
50g plain chocolate
40g icing sugar
Red food colouring
Yellow food colouring

1. Make the custard filling. Scrape the vanilla pods into a pan, then pour the milk on top, to spread out the seeds. Add the vanilla pods to the pan as well.  Slowly bring to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until creamy, then stir in the flour and cornflour, whisking until a smooth paste. Remove the vanilla pods, and add the paste to the hot milk, whisking constantly. Cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes until thick, whisking constantly. Don’t worry if it goes a little lumpy, just keep whisking. Pour onto a dinner plate, cover with clingfilm, and chill. Boil the orange juice down until it reaches 50ml. Whip the cream until it reaches firm peaks. Once the custard has chilled, whisk with the orange juice until smooth, then fold into the whipped cream. Chill until you need it later.

2. Make the choux pastry. Heat the oven to 200°C. Sift the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Put the milk, butter and 125ml water in a pan, and heat gently until the butter melts completely. Bring slowly to a boil, and immediately take off the heat and add the flour mix. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Spread the pastry onto a dinner plate to cool. Once cool (so that you don’t cook the eggs at all when you add them), stir in the eggs one by one.

3. Pipe and cook the buns. Cut two large sheets of baking paper. On each, draw two sets of lines with a 10cm gap- these are your piping lines. Put the choux pastry into a piping bag with 1cm nozzle, and pipe eclair shapes in between the guidelines- working quickly here will help you. Place the buns into the oven, for 25 minutes, immediately turning the oven down to 180°C. Put the cooked buns onto a cooling rack until chilled.

4. Assemble the eclairs. Put the custard cream into a piping syringe, and stick the syringe into one end of the choux bun. Pipe the cream into the bun- you might need to use multiple piping points to get cream into the entire bun. Melt some chocolate in the microwave, keeping an eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t burn. Brush the melted chocolate onto the top of the eclairs. Mix the icing sugar with 5ml of water and a drop of the red food colouring. Mix, then keep adding the yellow food colouring and mixing until it achieves the orange colour you want. Drizzle over the eclairs, and chill until you want to eat them.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laura
    Jul 16, 2012 @ 08:34:37

    I am really enjoying your blog, and my favourite pastry has always been eclairs too.. Yum! Laura Hassan


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