These classic homemade éclairs have a handful of steps involved, but they're all very simple to follow! The pastry shells are perfectly crisp and hollow in the center, sandwiching a silky pastry cream with a rich chocolaty topping. Read through the blog post and full recipe before starting for best results!
A classic staple at any French bakery, éclairs somehow manage to taste even better when homemade! Who knew that was even possible??
These homemade éclairs involve making a homemade pastry cream, homemade choux pastry, and a chocolate topping to complete the pastries.
But don't be intimidated! I used to fear éclair making like none other because it had a lot of steps involved, and it seemed like there were a million and one ways to mess up.
But with practice - read: a billion and one mistakes - I've worked out my favorite, fail proof recipe of all time!
If this is your first go at making éclairs, make sure you read through the full instructions before beginning! There are quite a few steps involved, but they're very straightforward and easy to follow.
What makes this éclair recipe fail proof?
Like I mentioned above, I've failed - A LOT - at making éclairs. And with failure, comes mistakes I'll NEVER make again! *optimism*
There are certain steps I found useless and certain steps I found absolutely vital when making choux pastry for the éclair dough! So here are the three most important points in the recipe that you SHOULD NOT skip! (I mean, you shouldn't skip any points, but these are especially key)
1. Bake the éclairs at one temperature. Traditional éclair recipes call for starting at a high initial temperature to get the shells to puff up, and then lowering the oven temperature to finish baking.
Not only did I find this an unnecessary step that just overcomplicated an already complex recipe, but it was actually counterproductive. I found my éclairs were more prone to cracking and collapsing because of that initial high heat.
So I now opt to bake at a middle temperature of 375°F for even, steady, and gentle baking. 375 is high enough to give the shells that initial push, but not shockingly high.
2. DO. NOT. OPEN. THE. OVEN. Consider the oven door off limits for the first 20 to 25 minutes of baking (depending on how large your éclairs are).
Éclairs release steam and a sudden rush of cold air can shock them, which can cause them to collapse! Oven lights are made for times like this! If you want to peak, use the light, not the door!
3. Poke holes in the éclairs. After the éclairs have been baking for 25 minutes, I go in and carefully poke holes on both tips of the éclair, then finish baking them.
These holes allow excess steam to escape the éclairs and helps them dry out on the inside. Which alllll helps prevent collapsed éclair shells!
You may be scratching your head because steam is good, isn't it? To a certain extent. Steam is important for getting the choux pastry to puff up initially. But steam getting trapped within the shells with no where to go can lead to soft shells that collapse as when they come out of the oven.
When you look at the recipe on the bottom of the page, the ingredients seem quite long, but there are a few that are just reused for different stages in the recipe.
All in all, to make éclairs you will need:
• Butter: for your pastry cream and choux pastry. It adds richness and helps your pastry cream set
• Vanilla extract: for the pastry cream and shells. It's optional, but a great flavor booster! I also really recommend not skipping it in the shells so that your pastries don't taste eggy!
• Milk: just for the pastry cream, it's the foundation of the filling!
• Eggs: we need whole eggs for the éclair pastry shell and egg yolks for the pastry cream. The eggs give richness and structure to both parts of the éclair
• Sugar: a hint for the pastry shell. Mostly to help with browning. We also use sugar in the pastry cream for sweetness
• Cornstarch: helps thicken the pastry cream
• Heavy whipping cream: this is used in the pastry cream to add lightness and make it easier to pipe. It's also used in the chocolate topping to give it the right consistency and for added richness. The temperature of the cream you use for the chocolate topping isn't too important, but the cream for the pastry cream filling should be straight from the fridge! Cold cream whips up faster and easier
• Water: just for the pastry shell. Some recipes like to include milk, but I like to use 100% water because it yields a crispier éclair shell
• Salt: a pinch to round out the sweetness
• Flour: for the pastry shell to add structure
• Chocolate: for the topping. Make sure you use chocolate made for melting! Regular ole' chocolate chips typically have a coating added to help them keep their shape so they won't melt as nicely! The best chocolate for melting is usually sold in bars and labelled "Baker's" or "couverture" chocolate.
How to fill éclairs:
To fill your eclairs, you have 2 options.
Option 1 is to poke 2 to 3 holes in the bottom of the pastry shell, just large enough to fit a piping bag with a small hole sniped from the top. Then, you insert the piping bag into one hole and squeeze to pipe the filling in. Once the shell starts to feel heavy and some filling spills out the top, take the pastry bag out. Repeat this with all of the holes.
This option will allow you to leave your éclair shell fully sealed, which makes it much easier to dip the éclair tops in chocolate.
Option 2 involves just going in and cutting the éclair in half horizontally, piping or spreading the filling into the center, then sandwiching the top. This method is easier than option one, and it's super fun and rustic looking!
The only down side is that dipping the éclairs in chocolate is basically impossible, so you would need to pour your chocolate over the éclairs (which can get messy! But delicious messy)
HOW TO STORE YOUR ÉCLAIRS:
You can store your éclairs assembled or the unassembled individual parts. Assembled éclairs keep best when stored in an airtight container in the fridge. It's best to serve filled éclairs within 1 to 2 days because the pastry cream filling will cause the shells to soften over time.
To store your pastry cream alone, it will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. Your unfilled éclair shells will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge as well. The chocolate topping is the only part of the éclairs that I prefer to make fresh just for the sake of having the right consistency for dipping/pouring.
You can also freeze your unassembled éclair shells for up to 1 month. Keep in a freezer bag for maximum freshness. Before using, defrost at room temperature for a few hours, then fill as normal!
Check out some of these other recipes!
Classic Éclairs Recipe
For the vanilla pastry filling:
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup milk
- 3 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup cold heavy whipping cream
For the éclair pastry shell:
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, spoon and leveled
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
For the chocolate topping:
- 6 ounces semi-sweet Baker's or couverture chocolate, (about 1 cup) chopped
- ½ cup heavy cream
Make the vanilla pastry cream filling:
- In a medium sized, heatproof bowl, add your butter and vanilla extract. Set aside.2 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pour your milk into a medium sized saucepot and set over medium-high heat. Heat the milk until it just starts to steam and bubble around the edges. In a separate bowl, whisk together your eggs, sugar, and cornstarch until you get a smooth, pale yellow mixture.1 cup milk, 3 large egg yolks, ¼ cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Gradually incorporate your hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking well after each addition. Clean out your saucepot and strain your mixture back into the pot. Place over medium heat, and cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it starts boiling and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Pour your cooked mixture into the bowl with your prepared butter and vanilla extract. Whisk until the butter is melted and everything is incorporated. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream (to prevent a skin). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using.
- In a large bowl, pour in your cold heavy cream. Using an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a handheld whisk (if you want a reeeaaal workout!), beat your cream until it reaches stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream into your chilled pastry cream. Keep in the fridge until you're ready to fill the éclairs.¼ cup cold heavy whipping cream
Make the choux pastry dough:
- Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.
- In a large saucepot, combine butter, water, sugar and salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring up to a boil.½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt
- As soon as it starts boiling, remove from the heat and add in your flour. Stir until you no longer see any dry flour and it starts to come together into a rough ball dough.1 cup all-purpose flour,
- Return the pot to your stove burner (still set on medium heat). Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until your get a thin film of dough forming along the bottom of the pot (pictured above).
- Transfer your dough to a heatproof mixing bowl. Set aside to cool slightly (about 5 to 10 minutes) before adding your eggs. While it sits, give your dough an occasional stir to make sure it's cooling evenly.
- Crack your eggs into a separate bowl or measuring cup and add vanilla. Whisk to roughly break the eggs up. Gradually add your eggs to the cooled dough (about ¼ cup at a time), mixing well after each addition. It's normal for the mixture to separate as you add your eggs. Just keep stirring until it comes together before adding the next addition of eggs! Repeat until all the eggs are incorporated and you're left with a silky, pipe able dough.4 large eggs,, 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Working with a piping bag fitted with a large star tip, fill your choux dough into the bag. Pipe 4 inch logs onto your prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch of space in between each one. If you have any sharp edges peaking out, wet your fingers with water and press down any rough tips (they tend to burn).
- Bake your éclair shells in the center of your preheated 375°F for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, carefully poke holes on the tips of your éclair shells with a skewer to allow steam to escape.
- Continue baking for another 10 minutes, or until the bottom of the shells turn a deep golden brown. The shells should also sound hollow if you tap them. Take the shells out of the oven and cool completely to room temperature before filling.
Make the chocolate topping:
- In a medium, heatproof bowl, combine your chopped chocolate and heavy cream. Heat in the microwave or over a bain-marie until melted and the mixture is smooth. * (see notes for detailed instructions on each method)6 ounces semi-sweet Baker's or couverture chocolate,, ½ cup heavy cream
Assemble the éclairs:
- Slice the cooled éclair shells in half down the side lengthwise. Spoon or pipe your pastry cream into the center of the bottom shell and sandwich the other half of the shell on top. Repeat this process to fill all of the holes. Spoon over some of your chocolate topping.