Doesn't it make you just want to crawl through the screen? I thought so. These are the most wonderful chocolate frosted éclairs in the whole world, and I've been making them since I first ran across the recipe in a magazine more than five years ago. (I could have sworn it was Gourmet, but an exhaustive and ridiculously time-consuming search of my old magazines revealed that it was, in fact, Food and Wine). I suppose there are comparable or better pâte à choux recipes out there, and the "frosting" is just chocolate and butter. But what makes this éclair truly spectacular is the pastry cream. It is PERFECT. It is absolutely delicious--rich, not too sweet, redolent of vanilla beans, and they make it look pretty, too! Plus, the recipe makes just the right amount to be generous when filling a dozen small eclairs--and who wants a skimpy éclair? No one!
Seriously, if you take nothing else from this post, bookmark the pastry cream and use it wherever warranted (my other favorite use for it is in a fresh fruit tart with a cookie crust). But I really think you should try making the éclairs. They look very complicated, like an advanced pastry skill, but they truly aren't. I cajoled Cyd into helping me, and we had a batch thrown together in no time, and Cyd declared that they were easy enough that she could make them herself (not that she would ever be so inclined, mind you)! You can even make the pâte à choux shells and the pastry cream a day ahead, and then frost and assemble the éclairs the next day. Actually, I would suggest this in any case--make the elements but don't put them together until right before serving. YUM!
(Source: Food and Wine, June 2002)
Makes one dozen éclairs
1 cup water
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/4 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (I use a whole one!)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cake flour
pinch of salt
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Make the choux pastry:
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil over moderate heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 2 minutes, until the dough comes together and a film forms on the bottom of the pan. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and beat at medium speed until slightly cooled, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1-inch round tip. Pipe twelve 5-inch-long logs onto a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325° and bake the shells for 30 minutes longer, or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
Make the pastry cream:
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, vanilla bean and seeds just to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the sugar with the cake flour and salt. Whisk in the egg and egg yolks. Slowly add the hot milk, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking constantly. Continue to boil the pastry cream, whisking constantly, until thick, about 30 seconds longer. Immediately strain the pastry cream through a fine sieve into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until cool. (It's much faster if you use an ice bath...FYI.)
In a medium bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Whisk the pastry cream, then fold in the whipped cream until blended.
Make the chocolate glaze:
In a medium bowl, melt the chocolate in a microwave oven. Whisk in the butter until smooth.
With a serrated knife, split the éclair shells lengthwise. Spoon a generous amount of the pastry cream into the bottom half of each shell. Dip the top half of each shell into the chocolate glaze, close the éclairs and serve.
The components can be made early in the day, but assemble the éclairs shortly before serving.