An Éclair for Eileen
As a child, my family had a regular tradition of visiting my grandparents house every Saturday whilst my father religiously punched in at the (horse)races.
My grandmother, Eileen – whom we called “Eini”, would prepare miles of toasted sandwiches, arranged in assorted points, for all of the extended family who dropped by. There would be a production line of women buttering bread, layering them with various combinations of ham, cheese, tomato, chicken loaf (heaven forbid!), sometimes canned asparagus, mustard – and on special occasions, pineapple. And then someone would be at the end of the line, frying them up on the Sunbeam electric frying pan, to be cut into triangles and served on an enormous platter for whoever was present in front of the Saturday afternoon movie with my grumpy grandfather, Frank**.
It was a house filled with the smell of brown butter and chatter, with lots of aunties & young cousins, and was quite a contrast to my family home, which seemed empty in comparison.
But the highlight of the day was discovering what Eini had baked for the day! Pillowy lamingtons, airy passion-fruit sponge, chocolate éclairs, or chocolate cake. Whatever was on offer, it was guaranteed to be accompanied by oodles of freshly whipped cream! Oh, what a highlight to my week!! Now can you understand where I got my my sweet tooth from!
I think my favourite were the chocolate éclairs. Coated in a shiny chocolate fondant, they were fat and gorged with fresh cream. Reluctantly, we would impatiently tour the garden, admiring the new rose bush or marvel at the grafted fruit tree which had BOTH apples and pears growing on it, before we could go back indoors for CAKE!
I mean, what 8 year old is interested in rose varietals, when there are fresh lamingtons awaiting!!
Eini was a marvellous baker and a keen sweet tooth herself. Bless her.
Chocolate éclairs are just one of the many delights made with choux pastry. The word comes from French éclair ‘flash of lightning’, so named because it is eaten in a flash! I love anything made with choux: Beignets, croquembouche, Paris Brest, Gougiere^, to name a few!
Choux pastry, or pâte à choux, is a twice cooked pastry dough that contains butter, water, flour and eggs. The “rise” during baking, relies on the high moisture content which causes it to produce steam when cooked, which puffs the pastry.
I have played with choux pastry before in the past and I have discovered that the process can’t be rushed. Before the arrival of my thermomix, the method involved some serious arm muscle; beating the cooked roux to a smooth paste. The ease of the thermomix renders one a little impatient so its easy to want to rush. It’s important to cool the dough well before adding the eggs, you will impair the rise otherwise.
Whilst I like choux puffs on the softer side, you still need to bake them enough to dry them out or they will collapse like shrivelled prunes. To keep them tender, you need a good proportion of eggs, but too many will make them eggy. Using gluten free flour will create a crisper puff and no one will know the difference!
My recipe uses a higher proportion of butter than usual recipes. This, and a slightly less flour/liquid ratio helps when I use gluten free flour. If you are lactose intolerant, ghee works well too but I haven’t tried it with other oils. To me, choux pastry is all about the butter flavour.
Lots of recipes will advise to pierce the shells after baking to allow the steam to escape. I do this but then I put them back in the oven and let them dry out as the oven cools. The shells should be crisp and light to hold their shape. Depending on the filling, they will soften after you fill them. I prefer my chocolate éclairs with a fondant icing rather than melted chocolate. In an effort to reduce the sugar – I have made a sort of hybrid icing*. Feel free to use either plain melted chocolate or ganache or your own stock standard icing! Enjoy!
60g butter (or ghee)
75g gluten-free flour (I used this one)
1 big pinch salt
2 large eggs
Heat the water and butter until boiling, for 3 minutes at 100°C SP 2.
Add the flour and salt all at once and continue to cook at 100°C on SP 3 for 30 seconds.
The dough will be very thick and form a ball. Remove from the TM and set aside to cool.
When cool, return to the TM bowl and beat on SP 4. Add the eggs,through the lid hole, bit by bit, whilst still beating to incorporate. When incorporated, whip for a further minute at SP 4.
Use a piping bag to pipe the batter into 15cm strips on a lined baking tray. Bake in a 200°C oven for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven down to 150°C and continue to cook for another 20 minutes. Alternatively, spoon dollop-fuls onto a tray for profiteroles.
Remove from the oven and pierce with a sharp knife then return to the oven to cool. Store in an airtight container until ready to fill.
80g dark chocolate (I used sugar-free, dairy-free)
30g rapadura sugar
50g brown rice syrup
50 – 80g water
Grind the chocolate with the sugar on SP 9 for 5 seconds. Add the syrup & 50g water and cook for 2 minutes at 50°C, SP 3. It should be the consistency of runny cream. Add a little more water if required. Pour into a shallow bowl for dipping. The mix will firm up in the fridge.
I found it easier to split the éclairs before dipping the tops and refrigerating for an hour or so to firm up, before filling.
** He wasn’t always grumpy, just after he had a stroke and became immobile….
^ Look out for a post on Gougiere soon!!