If February means Valentine's Day, and Valentine's Day means chocolate... does February mean 28 days of chocolate? Logicians might beg to differ, but we say yes. Thus you have plenty of time to join our Dark Chocolate Eclairs Bakealong challenge, a heartfelt tribute to the pleasures of deep-dark chocolate.
Now, you might think éclairs are way beyond your experience level but trust me — they're not. If you can stir together flour, melted butter, and water, you've got the savvy for your shells. If you can simmer milk and cocoa in a saucepan, then mix it with egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch (plus chocolate and butter), you've nailed the filling. And the glaze on top? Just two simple ingredients.
Our February Dark Chocolate Eclairs Bakealong challenge isn't quick; but its multiple steps can be spaced out to fit your schedule. And the result?
Follow along with me as I show you how to make these éclairs — and share some tips I discovered in the process.
Make the pastry
Combine the following in a saucepan:
1 cup water
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/8 teaspoon salt
Heat until the butter has melted, and bring to a rolling boil.
Add 1 1/4 cups (5 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Return the pan to the burner and cook over medium heat, stirring all the while, until the mixture smooths out and follows the spoon around the pan. This should take far less than a minute; a few good strokes is really all you'll need.
Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool for 5 to 10 minutes. It'll still feel hot, but you should be able to hold a finger in it for a few seconds. If you have a digital thermometer, the temperature should be below 125°F.
Transfer the mixture to a mixer, and beat in 4 large eggs one at a time; it'll look curdled at first, but when you add the last egg it should become smooth. Beat for at least 2 minutes after adding the last egg.
If you have a pastry bag, scoop the batter into the bag, and add a 3/4" plain tip.
If you don't have a pastry bag, do what I did: take a plastic bag, stuff it in a tall glass, and scoop the batter into the bag. Push the batter to the bottom of the bag, and cut off one of the two corners, making a hole about 3/4" in diameter.
Tip: Use a plain, inexpensive plastic bag, not one with gusseted corners that open outward. Cutting the corner off a gusseted bag leaves two holes, not one — as I discovered in my first DIY pastry bag attempt!
Shape the éclair shells
Pipe the batter onto the pan in 5" logs about 3/4" in diameter.
If you don't have a pastry bag and choose not to DIY with a plastic bag, you can shape the shells using a spoon and your wet fingers; but it can be a sticky undertaking. I highly recommend piping with a bag.
Make sure to squeeze as much of the sticky batter out of the bag as possible; a bowl scraper works well here. You should be able to make about 20 éclair shells out of the recipe.
Bake the shells
Bake the shells for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 25 minutes, until they're a medium golden brown.
Remove the shells from the oven. Make a small slit in the top (or on the side) of each, and return them to the oven to bake for 5 more minutes, to allow any steam to escape.
Let the shells rest until they're cool enough to handle. If you plan on filling and finishing them right away, split each in half to make top and bottom pieces.
Tip: If you're time-challenged, set the shells aside, without splitting, for up to a couple of days before filling. Don't wrap them tightly in plastic, but rather loosely in a partially open plastic bag, or covered with a large cake cover.
Make the dark chocolate filling
Gather these ingredients:
1/2 cup sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup King Arthur Triple Cocoa Blend, or Dutch-process cocoa
1/3 cup chopped unsweetened baking chocolate (2 ounces)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Tip: Store-bought unsweetened baking chocolate used to come in 1-ounce squares; now it comes in 1/4-ounce rectangles. Don't be fooled into thinking each of these rectangles is the equivalent of the 1-ounce squares of old! (Luckily, they're clearly marked.)
Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a mixing bowl.
Whisk in the yolks; the mixture will look like scrambled eggs.
Bring the milk and cocoa just to a simmer in a saucepan set over medium heat.
Pour about a quarter of the hot milk/chocolate into the yolk mixture, whisking until incorporated.
Return the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan, and put the pan back on the burner over medium heat.
Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes very thick, and just barely starts to boil. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add the baking chocolate and butter, stirring until melted and smooth.
Transfer the filling to a bowl.
Cover it with plastic wrap, pushing the wrap right down onto the filling; this will prevent it from developing a tough top skin. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours. The filling can chill in the fridge up to several days, so you definitely have flexibility fitting it into your schedule.
Tip: To make classic éclairs stuffed with vanilla filling, use a half recipe of our Pastry Cream, omitting the whipped cream at the end.
Eclairs are best served the same day they're filled and iced. Let's assume you've reached that day; let's finish these éclairs.
Make the glaze
Combine 2/3 cup chopped semisweet chocolate (or chocolate chips) and 1 1/2 teaspoons corn syrup in a medium heat-safe bowl.
Heat 1/2 cup heavy cream to simmering, then pour it over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for about a minute, then stir until you've made a smooth glaze. The glaze may be quite thin at the outset, but will thicken as it cools.
Tip: This amount of glaze is more than enough for the éclairs, if you simply dip their tops. Either drizzle additional glaze over the éclairs, or refrigerate any leftover glaze and pour it over ice cream.
Assemble the éclairs
At last! We're ready to put all the pieces of this project together.
If you hadn't already split the shells into top and bottom pieces, do so now.
Fill the shells
Pipe or spoon the filling into the pastries. You'll use just over 1 ounce (30g) filling for each of the 20 éclairs.
See how soft my filling looks? Operator error. I inadvertently cooked the filling over high heat, and it became lumpy; then I had to put it into the blender to smooth out the lumps, and it "broke" — the cornstarch lost its oomph. Ah well, life is full of very minor tragedies... and the éclairs still tasted just fine.
Glaze the tops
You can set the éclair tops over the filled bottoms and drizzle the glaze on top. But for even application, I prefer to dip the tops right into the glaze, then carefully set them atop the bottoms.
Make gluten-free éclairs — or fill with vanilla cream
I tried a batch of éclairs using our newest gluten-free flour, Measure for Measure, and was totally impressed. The gluten-free shells are every bit as crisp and high-rising as the original version.
For those looking for a more traditional éclair, I also filled this batch with vanilla pastry cream. A half batch of our Pastry Cream recipe (sans the whipped cream added at the end) will yield enough to fill the éclairs, though not quite as fully as the chocolate filling does.
For ease of preparation, you can also substitute your favorite vanilla pudding mix prepared with cream instead of milk, and spiked with a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
A final touch
Our food photographer loves beautifying recipes — and you can see what a great job she does. Piping the filling with a star tip adds an elegant look, while a sprinkle of diced shelled pistachios adds color, flavor, and crunch to these pastries.
Are you ready to take our February Dark Chocolate Eclairs Bakealong challenge? Let us know how it goes in comments, below.
Interested in more? See our complete collection of Bakealong recipes.