France: éclairs et crêpes

This week Martin and I set out to make eclairs. Of all French patisserie I thought choux would be the easiest to make with a 4 year old, either that or I’m crazy… Well we did it! So you can too 🙂

Let’s get into it!

Éclairs

An eclair or éclair (in French) is a fluffy dessert either in the shape of a ball or log, filled and typically dipped in chocolate. That is only where it starts, the éclair has endless potential. If it sounds tasty to you, you can make it into an éclair! We went with traditional flavors and they were divine.

The éclair is made up of 3 main things…

  1. Choux
  2. Chocolate ganache
  3. Crème pâtissèrie or fancy vanilla pudding

I will fess up and confess that we cheated… I used a cooked vanilla pudding instead of making creme patisserie from scratch… there was already more than enough to do so I didn’t feel too guilty.

But if you want to make your own, by all means please do! I made them as authentically as I could soon after coming home from France and they are pure magic. But with my little chef, vanilla pudding worked great 🙂

These recipes come from “Essentials of Baking” by Williams-Sonoma. They make great cookbooks and this has been one of my go-to’s for years.

Choux

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 4+ large eggs

Method

In a saucepan over medium high heat, combine milk, water, butter and salt and bring to a full boil.

When the butter melts, remove the pan from the heat, add the flour all at once.

Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until blended.

Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball.

Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes or to 140℉.

In a small bowl whisk 1 egg (this was one of Martin’s jobs).

When the batter has cooled, pour the egg into the batter and beat with the spoon until incorporated.

Add the remaining 3+ eggs one at a time by whisking each one first and then stirring it into the batter

After each egg is added, the mixture separates and appears shiny, but it returns to a smooth paste with vigorous beating. My batch took 5 eggs. There are two ways, that I know of, to know if you have enough egg-

1. the batter drops off the spoon in a V shape.

2. Pinch some batter between your thumb and pointer finger, when you separate your fingers the bottom spike should fall over. If it doesn’t, add more egg.

Let the paste cool for about 10 minutes before piping.

Preheat the oven to 425℉ and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Pipe rounds and logs, leaving about 2 inches between each one (they grow a lot!). I held the bag and let Martin drive and squeeze. It helped him a lot to not have to worry about keeping the end twisted and a full bag of choux can be unruly.

Once your choux is piped, dip your fingers in water and “tap their heads like they’re little kids”. This will help the choux grow into a nice shape.

Place the two trays on the same rack in your oven and bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven to 375℉ and bake till golden brown, 5-10 for small puffs and 15-20 for large logs.

DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN EARLY FOR ANY REASON!!!! Once you open it, the steam escapes and the choux will collapse and not puff up. So, turn on the oven light and do your best to gauge color through the oven door window.

Remove from the oven and immediately prick the side of each puff or log with a sharp knife or skewer. Return to the oven, leave the door open, and allow the pastries to dry out for 10-15 minutes. Let the pastries cool completely on the pans on wire racks before filling.

Chocolate Ganache

This is the thick delicious chocolate that can be made into truffles, layered with cakes or used to top éclairs!

Ingredients

  • 4 oz (125g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup whole milk or freshly brewed coffee

Method

Place the chocolate and butter in a small heatproof bowl. Using a small saucepan, bring the milk to a boil over medium high heat. Immediately remove it from the heat and pour the hot milk over the chocolate and butter.

Stir with a wire whisk until the chocolate and butter melt and are smooth. Place the ganache in a wide bowl.

Filling

We used a stovetop vanilla pudding with whipped cream but you can also make real creme patisserie.

Whipped Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cold heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbs powdered sugar

Method

Beat on high with an electric mixer till soft peaks form. Turn off the mixer and beat a few moments more by hand- if you beat heavy cream to long it will split or separate. So beat it till it just holds it shape and then stop!

Making Èclairs: Putting it all together

Cut the choux puffs and logs in half.

Dip the tops in chocolate ganache, allow to set on a wire rack

Fill the base with vanilla pudding and whipped cream.

Place the chocolate tops on the filled bottoms and enjoy with a cup of coffee!

Crêpes

Growing up on special Saturdays, my mom wouldn’t make us pancakes, instead she would make us crêpes. I have fond memories of smothering the thin crêpe with butter and powdered sugar, rolling it up like a taco and going to the living room- where my brother, sister and I would sit on the floor, eat and watch cartoons. It was pretty awesome.

Crêpes are super thin pancake type things that are filled with all sorts of yummy things and it is my go to street food of choice in France. You can get nutella et bananes (nutella and bananas), sucre et citron (sugar with lemon juice), jambon, fromage et œuf (ham, cheese and egg), or my personal favorite and go to dinner on the go- jambon et fromage (ham and cheese).

When I studied in Paris, it was an arts program and one of the classes I took was bookbinding. Literally, how to make books by sewing the binding, making glue to build the cover by stretching the fabric- it was super fascinating! The class took place in a bookbinding shop in the shadow of Montmartre.

So every Thursday, I would climb the stairs up to the Sacre Coeur and behind the church I would buy a ham and cheese crêpe and an orangina (carbonated orange juice) and I would sit on the steps of the church and watch the sunset while eating my crêpe before going to my class. It was surreal and magical.

So needless to say, this simple street food holds a very special place in my heart. Luckily for you and I both, they are easy to make at home. First you need a full proof recipe and for that we turn to Southern Living Cooking Light from 1986- No joke, I bought this at an antique bookstore and keep it for this recipe and this recipe only. It’s the recipe my mom used for years and I can’t imagine using anything else.

Light Crêpes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter, melted

Method

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Gradually add eggs, milk, and butter, beating until smooth and bubbles rise to the top.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight (this step can be skipped but the batter with be lumpy and the flavor will not be as good).

Place a 10 inch pan over medium heat and melt a small pat of butter- not necessary if you have a good nonstick pan.

Once the pan is hot, take the pan off the heat and hold it above the stove. With your other hand, pour in a scant 1/3 cup of batter as you tilt the pan in a circle. This will encourage the batter to cover the entire pan, continue to rotate the pan till all the batter is cooking and the entire surface of the pan is covered.

When bubbles form on the surface and it no longer looks wet, run a spatula around the outside to release the edges. Flip the crêpe and cook on the other side for about 1 minute.

Place on a plate covered with a dish towel on the counter or in a warm (170℉) oven.

Fill and enjoy!

Crêpe Jambon et Fromage

Ingredients

  • shredded gruyère and swiss cheese
  • ham slices, thin from a deli
  • salt and pepper
  • crêpes

Method

After you flip the crêpe sprinkle a small handful of cheese over half the crêpe, lay one slice of ham and salt and pepper to taste.

Fold the crêpe in half, then again to form a triangle.

Flip and lightly press down to seal the other side and transfer to the oven till ready to serve.

Enjoy with a spinach, arugula, pear, craisin and brie salad with a simple vinegar dressing.

This is me enjoying the first crêpe I ever had in France.

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