I’ve been catching up on some reading lately and realised that I must be longing for a holiday. Both of my bedtime reads (I’m afraid I’m one of those people who has several on the go at the same time) have had a distinctly French flair. I’ve finally been spending some time with David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, which is full of fantastic recipes and stories from his expat life. I’ve been interspersing this with Julia Child’s letters to Avis DeVoto, which I’ve been dipping in and out of for a while. It’s great for when I need a kick up the bum – those women crammed so much into their lives!
All this has me longing for a trip across the Channel, but for the time being I’ll have to make do with some homemade French treats. I’ve also been working with Expedia recently who wanted me to make something from their World on a Plate campaign, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dip into a patisserie challenge.
These eclairs are totally decadent and the flavourings really sprung from a desire to use up the kirsch I made with a glut of cherries over the summer when they were in season. The choux pastry is actually pretty straightforward, this one is really all about having fun with the decor. Yes, there are a lot of steps, but you can keep it simple by just making a plain vanilla pastry cream instead of a chocolate and/or cherry one. Give them a go if you want a baking project for one of these rainy Autumn days.
Black Forest Eclairs
Makes 12 eclairs
I added an extra biscuit topping to my eclairs, which gives them a lovely crisp exterior and definitely worth the extra trouble.
You will need:
For the eclairs:
250g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml whole milk
4 large eggs
For the chocolate and cherry pastry cream:
400ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
325ml double cream
2 tbsp cherry jam
100g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids, finely chopped
1 vanilla pod
cherries soaked in kirche, glacé cherries or fresh cherries
a few chocolate biscuits, like Oreos or Bourbons
super shiny chocolate glaze (recipe below)
1. Begin by making the eclairs. Dice 100g of the butter and keep very cold. Add this to a magi mix along with 125g of the flour, 125g of the sugar and the vanilla extract. Blitz until it comes together to form a sticky dough. Flatten to a thick disc shape, wrap in cling film and refrigerate until needed.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C and line two oven trays with baking parchment. Place the remaining butter, milk and 100ml of water in a large saucepan. Heat to slowly melt the butter. Sift 125g of flour into a bowl with 25g of sugar and a pinch of salt. When the liquids are simmering, tip the dry ingredients into the saucepan. Remove the heat and stir briskly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball.
3. Transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before adding the eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate. You should have a smooth, shiny dough. Fill a piping bag with the mixture and pipe out your eclairs onto the oven trays. They should be about 10cm long and 2-3cm wide. Be sure to leave plenty of space between them.
4. Get the chilled dough you prepared earlier and roll out as thinly as possible. Cut out 12 rectangles, each just large enough to cover the eclair, with some overhang. Drape the coverings over the eclairs and place in the oven for about 30 mins, until puffed up, golden and dried out in the middle. You can leave the oven door open just a little after about 15 mins to let some of the steam out. You should end up with crisp eclairs, with a crackled-looking surface.
5. While the eclairs are in the oven, make the pastry cream. Heat the milk, vanilla seeds and pod in a sauce pan and bring to a gentle simmer, then remove from the heat. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and cornstarch until thick and pale. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and then pour over the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Clean out your saucepan and then pour the mixture back in. Heat gently until very thick and holds a trail on the surface when drizzled with a wooden spoon.
6. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Allow to cool completely then refrigerate until needed. Once ready to use, whisk 225ml of the cream to stiff peaks. Fold into the chilled custard to make the pastry cream. Divide into separate bowls and add your flavours. I made a cherry version by adding a few tablespoons of cherry jam (strained to remove any larger bits of fruit) and some very finely chopped cherries soaked in kirsch. Be careful not to thin too much or it will be too runny to pipe. You can also add a little food colouring for effect.
7. To make a chocolate pastry cream, begin by making a simple ganache. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and bring 100ml of the cream to a simmer in a small pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave for a few minutes. Gently fold the cream through the chocolate, so that it melts completely, leaving you with a thick ganache. Be careful not to over stir or it will seize up. Once cool, combine with the remaining bowl of pastry cream. Refrigerate until needed.
8. To fill the eclairs, I made 2-3 small holes on their underside and piped the cherry pastry cream into half, using the smallest nozzle I had. I erred on the side of caution, but you can be quite generous here, allowing the eclairs to ‘puff up’ a bit. Repeat with the chocolate pastry cream to fill the remaining eclairs.
9. Finally you are ready to decorate. I piped dots onto the chocolate eclairs, alternating vanilla whipped cream and a bit of the remaining chocolate pastry cream. I also used a few cherries soaked in kirsch and crumbled a few chocolate biscuits over them. Finally, I liberally drizzled the eclairs with some cherry jam let down with a bit of water for a drizzle-able consistency. For the cherry-filled eclairs, I used a super shiny chocolate glaze (recipe below) and some red sprinkles I had to hand.
Super shiny Chocolate Glaze
(makes a small amount, double to cover a cake)
You will need:
4g leaf gelatine (about 2 sheets)
125g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder, sifted
50ml double cream
25g dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids, chopped
1. Leave the gelatine in a small bowl of cold water to soak for 10 mins. Place the sugar, cocoa, double cream and 75ml of water in a small pan. Bring to a simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugar.
2. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring to melt. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes then add the drained gelatine. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool completely. You may find you need to stir it a little before using.
3. To decorate the eclairs or a cake, spoon over, allowing to pool and spill down the sides. Leave to set a little, although it will still be tacky to touch.