Homemade Eclairs

Our power goes out at the most inconvenient times.

Like last night, when I was trying to {finally} get started on a 4000 word paper that I naturally left myself two nights to complete.  Last night was also when I was planning to write this post and, when our power goes, so does our internet.  Power outages always make me realize why people of yore just went to bed when it got dark – candles are lovely, but darkness is sleepifying and, if I can’t get anything done anyway, I might as well catch up on sleep.

Of course, going to bed early, full of optimism and excitement, is just asking for trouble, as my normally solid-sleeping kids were each up about 8 times last night.  Ergh.

I could see this as yet another reminder to strive not to procrastinate – with it being March, I guess I will now have to wait for January 1, 2013 for that particular resolution!

Procrastination isn’t just going to get me into trouble with writing this looming paper, but also with these First on the First challenges!  This post could have been written a week ago if I hadn’t waited until February 29 to make and photograph my éclairs.

To be fair, my kitchen took a good week longer than I had {naively} anticipated, and only last week did I get all my cupboards filled and some semblance of order and cleanliness restored.  It’s amazing how easily I adapted to this new kitchen, with none of the expected wandering and aimless turns I’m used to experiencing in a new kitchen space.  I think that’s a sign that we did it right, and it really is functional for our lifestyle.  I can’t wait to try new things in there, with homemade Sponge Toffee being high on the to-do list.  One of my first endeavours was these éclairs, and it was indeed my first time making them.

This is the kind of dessert that my cream puff-loving Dad would love (no Mom, I am not calling you a cream puff), so I might just have to make them again when he is here for a visit next week. Yay for visits! Gemma can hardly wait to give up her bed and has great plans for making chocolate chip cookies with him, a skill I warned him he better quickly master or risk a seriously disappointed little 3-year-old face.

This is, to be honest, not really my kind of dessert.  I am not big on whipped cream or pudding, and filled donuts are, in my mind, a horribly unpleasant surprise, especially if they’re jelly filled.  Why would you take something delicious and fill it with goo? Give me a proper donut hole any day, and I will show you a mean finger hula.

What IS up my alley is the pastry, which is essentially the same as cream puff pastry.  It is so easy to make, lighter than a donut, and somehow totally has the ability to impress people.  Biases aside, I actually thoroughly enjoyed more than one of these, due in no small part to the thick chocolate piped on top!

Desserts like these sure make it handy to have my in-laws living downstairs, since they are happy to accept dessert in exchange for dinner.  I love having a willing audience to pawn off my excess baking, and they are honest critics who never mind being guinea pigs for experiments.

If easy custard-filled filled pastry is your thing, or the thing of someone you love, I highly recommend surprising them with a batch of éclairs.  Or make them for your next party – super easy and see above re: impressing people.

You could certainly thin your icing more than I did, and a ganache would be really delicious, but, like I said, these were a last minute affair and I wasn’t about to try multiple icing variations. :)  I did do some with piping and some with a solid layer coating the top, but I didn’t find it affected the flavour much either way.  I also didn’t pipe my dough onto the baking sheet, I simply spread it haphazardly with a spoon, trying to keep them all fairly uniform.  This did result in some pretty craggy tops that made solid icing more difficult, so if you’re striving for smooth perfection I would recommend the piping route. (If you don’t have a large piping tip, scoop the dough into a large plastic freezer bag, cut a good chunk off the corner to make a large “piping hole”, and go the ghetto route I usually choose).  Either way, make sure you don't spread them too thin since you want them to puff enough to have space for filling - but don't stress too much because really, they’re going to taste great.

Easy Eclairs  
 
Recipe Type: Dessert
Author: Anna
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 10
An easy and impressive dessert that tastes even better than the bakery version!
Ingredients
  • CHOUX PASTRY:
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • CUSTARD FILLING:
  • 1 (4 serving size) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 2 cups milk (or as called for on pudding package)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • CHOCOLATE ICING:
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate (or 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips)
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp hot water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. LIghtly grease a large cookie sheet and set aside.
  2. In medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter and water. Bring to a boil, stirring to melt butter.
  3. Reduce heat to low and stir in flour and salt with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to form a stiff ball of dough.
  4. Remove from heat and add eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition to ensure they are incorporated. Work quickly, especially with the first one, to prevent it from cooking into scrambled eggs on the bottom of your warm pan :)
  5. With a spoon or pastry bag fitted with a large tip, spread/pipe the thick dough onto prepared cookie sheet into 10 strips approximately 1 1/2 x 4" each.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 and bake another 20 minutes, until puffed and golden and hollow sounding when lightly tapped on the bottom. When removed from oven, IMMEDIATELY pierce the ends almost through to the other side to let steam escape and prevent any sogginess in the middle. This hole is also where you will be piping your filling into. Let cool completely before filling and icing (this will only take about half an hour).

  7. CUSTARD FILLING: combine pudding and milk in a bowl and mix according to package directions. In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in 1/4 cup icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/4 tsp salt. Fold whipped cream into pudding.

  8. Scoop mixture into pastry bag fitted with a smallish tip (I enlarged my steam holes a bit to make my tip fit, so do whatever works) and pipe mixture into centers of eclairs until full. This is a bit of a messy business, but worth it for ease of eating and pretty appearance. You could certainly also just slice the eclairs in half horizontally, fill the bottoms with cream, and replace the tops. Either way, you will probably have some custard leftover.

  9. For ICING: Melt the chocolate and 2 Tbsp butter over low heat in a saucepan (or in the microwave, stirring after 30 seconds and giving additional 10 second increments as needed until fully melted). Stir in 1 cup icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Stir in hot water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until icing is smooth and reaches desired consistency. Drizzle, pipe or spread over filled eclairs.
  10. Store in the fridge.
 

 
Thanks again to Carrie and Kate for hosting First on the First - drop one of them a quick note if you’d like to join us for these kitchen challenges! Don’t forget to check out the links below for some great éclairs from the other participants!

Recipe adapted from allrecipes.com.

 

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