In my teens, my grandmother spent a week-end teaching me to make Paté à Choux dough. Not an especially good cook and a fairly worse baker, she somehow managed to overcome the complexities of Paté à Choux dough. Through the years, I experienced as many failures as successes but each time I learned just a bit more on how to create a glorious pastry shell which held up to any type of filling and did not require 10 hours in the kitchen.
The dough is definitely the most difficult aspect of the éclair but with a few suggestions, it is manageable. First, be sure to fully cook the dough in the saucepan after the addition of flour to ensure the dough does not taste raw. Second, incorporating air into the dough is not a good thing. Using a paddle or dough hook attachment allows the eggs to be completely mixed without whipping the dough. Third, do not add the eggs until the dough is close to room temperature or there is a chance they will “cook” just a bit. Fourth, cool the dough to room temperature before forming into fingers; it will be more manageable. Fifth, a slow baking and baking twice make the shells crispy outside and slightly moist inside ensuring the shells will withstand the moisture of the filling.
Hints of Flavor Tiers abound in all aspects of this dessert. Vanilla added to the dough and cognac to the filling is unexpected but surprises with subtle flavors. Boosting the unsweetened chocolate from the usual 2 ounces to 4 ounces creates a slightly bitter, deep sauce to counter the sweetness of the filling.
There will be sauce left over. Place in a jar and refrigerate for up to a month. Enjoy on ice cream!
Pâte à Choux Dough:
¼ c whole milk
1 vanilla bean
4 T unsalted butter, cold
1/8 t salt
¼ c water
½ c flour
2 eggs, room temperature
1 c whole milk
3 large eggs, slightly beaten, room temperature
1/3 c sugar
3 ½ T cornstarch
1 ½ T cognac
Insanely Deep Fudge Sauce:
½ c sugar
½ c whipping or heavy cream
¼ c light corn syrup
pinch of kosher salt
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 T unsalted butter
Cognac Whipped Cream
½ c heavy whipping cream, cold
1 T powdered sugar
1/2 T cognac, chilled
Pour milk in a microwave safe measuring cup. Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into the milk. Save the bean for another use. Heat for 1 minute on high in the microwave. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Pour milk into a medium sized saucepan. Cube butter and add to the milk along with salt and water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the flour, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until dough forms. Reduce heat to medium low. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, until dough leaves sides of pan and wooden spoon. Remove from heat and place dough into mixer bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Using paddle or dough hook attachment of stand mixer, add one egg. Mix on low speed until completely incorporated into the dough. Add second egg and mix completely. (A hand held mixer may be used. Beat on lowest speed and only until eggs are fully incorporated.) Pour dough onto a piece of parchment paper and cool while oven is heating. Do not place in refrigerator. It is much easier to work with room temperature dough than cold dough.
Heat oven to 475°. When oven is ready, line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper. Place dough in pastry bag and squeeze onto baking sheet forming sixteen 2” long fingers of dough. Slightly wet your fingers with water and smooth surface and shaping ends into ovals. Place baking sheet into oven. Reduce heat to 325°. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from oven. Leave on baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
Heat oven to 475°. Place éclair back in oven and reduce heat to 325°. Bake for 15 minutes. This second baking ensures the éclair are crisp on outside and dry on the inside. Remove from oven. Break open one éclair. If inside of éclair is still very moist return to oven for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Break open one éclair. If inside of éclair is still very moist return to oven for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. (Oven temperatures vary so the testing allows checking the inside.)
In a small bowl, mix ¼ cup milk and the cornstarch. Set aside. Place remaining milk in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and eggs. Beat with a whisk until completely blended. Heat over medium heat until bubbling. Slowly whisk in the cornstarch mix. Turn heat to medium low and continue cooking, whisking rapidly until filling is smooth and thickened, about 2 – 3 minutes. (Mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.) Pour into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.
In a small saucepan combine cream, sugar, syrup and salt. Cook mixture over medium low heat until bubbly, about 2-3 minutes. Add chocolate. Continue to stir until chocolate is completely melted and sauce has thickened. Turn heat off but leave saucepan on burner. Add butter and cognac. Stir until completely blended. Pour sauce into bowl. Set aside.
Place a small mixing bowl and beaters in freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from freezer and immediately add the whipping cream to the bowl. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Add sugar and cognac. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Watch carefully. Do not beat too long or you will have cognac butter. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a tube tip with Cognac Crème. Insert tip into center bottom of éclair. Fill éclair completely. It is better to overfill than under fill. Continue until twelve éclair have been filled. Warm Insanely Deep Fudge Sauce if needed for 1 minute in microwave. Puddle 1 tablespoon Insanely Deep Fudge Sauce on each of six dessert plates. Place two éclair on each serving plates in the sauce. Spoon additional sauce over the éclairs and top with a dollop Cognac Whipped Cream.
Éclair shells can be filled up to eight hours before serving but do not fill until within one hour of serving.