I always assumed it would be impossible to replicate chocolate éclairs at home and even if you could—well, imagine being able to conjure up éclairs whenever you felt like it—that way lies ruin. But having promised a pro-chocolate drive, I decided to have a go. Selfless, I know.
I started by consulting Raymond Blanc, a French chef, and Delia Smith, an English cook and television presenter, hoping that somewhere between the two extremes there would be a middle way to choux perfection. In the end, I had to make five batches and call on chef and author Rachel Allen and Larousse Gastronomique before I had anything approaching an éclair. The first, Delia-inspired batch was just downright flat and soggy inside and out, Allen’s and Blanc’s were like a pile of crazy paving, with deep cracks all over the surface but still soggy inside. It wasn’t until I consulted the Gallic aloofness ofLarousse and pastry chef friend Susan Jung (yes, she of the amazing curry puffs) that things started to look up.
Larousse specifies more water and eggs than other recipes, but it was the one that worked best for me so my recipe is loosely based on theirs. Susan pointed out that choux is unlike other types of pastry, in that it is made from a wet flour and water paste which has to be lightened with egg to make the pastry puff up in the oven. The most important stage, she advises, is the adding of eggs to the mixture—the paste has to be gently cooked first to dry out slightly to enable as much egg as possible to be incorporated.
Part of the problem, as always, had to do with the vagaries of my oven, which I suspect is a problem for many aspiring bakers in India, so I’m giving precise instructions for times and temperatures.
As I say, fifth-time lucky. My son and I managed to eat about 20 each and stash away 40 in the freezer. I leave it to you to decide how lucky that’s going to be.
Makes about 20 finger-length éclairs
For the choux pastry
35g butter, cut into cubes
1 tsp caster sugar
65g flour (maida)
2 eggs, well beaten
For the filling
Whipped double cream
For the icing
180g icing sugar
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2-3 tbsp boiling water
To make éclair shapes, you will need a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. If you don’t have a piping bag, make little choux buns instead and use a tablespoon to pile the pastry on to the baking sheet.
Grease a large baking sheet and preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
Put the water, sugar and butter into a large pan. Heat gently until the butter melts, then bring to a boil. Immediately take the pan off the heat to stop the water evaporating.
Quickly pour the flour into the liquid and mix well with a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on low heat and cook the paste for a minute or so until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan.
Take the pan off the heat and let it cool for a minute. Add a small amount of egg and beat until completely incorporated in the mixture. Continue to add and mix small amounts of egg, beating well each time until the mixture is soft and glossy. Don’t let the mixture become too runny—you may not need all the egg.
Spoon the paste into a piping bag (or use a tablespoon) and pipe 4cm strips, widely spaced (they will puff up in the oven) on to the greased baking sheet.
Place the baking sheet into the oven for 10 minutes. I use an electric stand-alone oven that has top and bottom heating elements. For the first 10 minutes, I baked the éclairs with both elements on. Then I reduced the temperature to 200 degrees Celsius for 5 minutes with both elements on. To finish, I switched off the top element for a further 5 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius to make sure the insides were cooked but the tops didn’t burn.
Take the by now beautifully puffed up and golden éclairs out of the oven and immediately split them down one side to let out the steam and leave to cool on a baking rack.
Make the icing by sifting together the icing sugar and cocoa powder, then adding enough boiling water to make a not-too-runny paste.
When the éclairs are cool, fill the centres with the whipped cream and either pipe or carefully spoon the icing on top. Neaten the icing by dipping a metal knife into a cup of boiling water and using it to smoothen the surface.