So what do you do when your mother-in-law shows up at your door with 2 quarts of the most perfect strawberries in the entire world? Because that is what happened to me this week.
I knew she was coming with strawberries, so I set out one of my homemade frozen pie crusts to thaw, thinking that I would make a crumb-topped strawberry pie. But when I tasted these strawberries, I didn’t want to slather them in sugar and bake them down. I wanted to put them, fresh, into something and let their raw, natural flavor shine through. My first thought was to make shortcake, but I didn’t feel like making biscuits.
I was recently reminded of some éclairs that I made a while back (almost exactly 2 years ago, actually!). I’m still happy with the concept of those éclairs, but having eaten some pretty terrific French pastries since then, I realize that what I made were actually more akin to longish cream puffs. They were still delicious, but they didn’t have the crunch of real éclairs. My piping was atrocious, too, and the shape of the éclairs were not straight at all. Someone shared that image on Instagram the other day and another person commented, “I thought these were little eggplants!” Thaaat’s not what you want.
After that recipe was featured in a slideshow on Delish.com, I made a vow to all of those who follow me on Facebook that there would be MOAR ÉCLAIRS. So I figured I would make good on that promise and stuff the perfect strawberries inside of some éclairs. I busted out my favorite cookbook for help: Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. The man is an American hero, people.
I followed Chef Keller’s recipe for these éclair shells. The shells have that perfect crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside texture, and they hollowed out nicely and cooked all the way through. My only “beef” with the recipe is that they take quite a while to cook: a total of 70-80 minutes at varying temperatures. I’ve heard tell of some recipes that use bread flour instead of all-purpose and don’t require such a long bake time, so I plan on trying that out and comparing. For now, these are still excellent, even if they do take a bit longer.
Since the shells took so long, I kept the filling and topping simple. An easy ganache for the top, and some whipped cream with fresh strawberries in the center. I stacked mine quite high, so I found it easiest to knife-and-fork them… or turn them on their sides and eat them like hot dogs! Very un-French of me. But this is an American-French hybrid, so I think I’ll just go with it.
- 1¼ cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (33 grams) granulated sugar
- 250 grams eggs (5-6 large eggs)
- 1 cup (240 grams) water
- 8½ tablespoons (120 grams) unsalted butter
- heaping ¾ teaspoon (2½ grams) kosher salt
- ½ cup (120 mL) heavy cream
- 120 grams finely chopped dark chocolate
- ½ tablespoon light corn syrup (optional)
- 35-40 fresh small to medium strawberries
- 2 cups (480 mL) cold heavy cream
- ¼ cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour and sugar. In a measuring cup, lightly whisk together the eggs to break up the yolks and discard any excess eggs above 250 grams. Set aside.
- In a large saucepan, combine water, butter, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and dump in the flour mixture all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir for another 1-2 minutes, until the dough pulls away from the pan and is shiny but not dry. Transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed for 30 seconds to allow some moisture to escape and for the dough to cool down a bit.
- Keeping the mixer speed on low, pour in eggs in 5 additions, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition. After the last addition, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then turn the mixer speed to medium and beat for 15-30 seconds to ensure all the ingredients are combined.
- Fit a large pastry bag with a large French star tip (Ateco #867). Wrap a rubber band tightly around the bottom of the bag, just above the decorating tip. This will block the paste from leaking out. Fill the pastry bag with the éclair paste. Wrap a rubber band around the top of the bag to keep the paste from spilling out the top. Refrigerate the paste in the pastry bag until fully chilled, at least 1 hour.
- When you're ready to bake the éclair shells, set oven rack to the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit a baking sheet (half sheet size). With a back Sharpie, draw nine 6-inch lines on a piece of parchment paper, each spaced about two inches apart (you should be able to get 7 vertical lines across the center and one line each going horizontally along the top and bottom). Place the parchment guide on your baking sheet, and put a silicone mat over top of it. You should be able to see the marker lines through the silicone mat.
- Use strong, even pressure to pipe a straight line down each guideline. Toward the end of the line, lighten the pressure and pull upward and back toward the opposite end of the éclair. Dip your finger in water and smooth out the "peak" that is left over. Repeat with the remaining éclair paste.
- Spritz the éclairs with water and place them in the oven. Immediately turn the heat down to 350°F. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pans from back to front and top to bottom halfway through. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until the éclairs are golden brown and light in weight. If you cut one open, the inside should be fully cooked, not wet. Remove the éclairs to a wire rack to cool completely. When cooled, use a serrated knife to cut each éclair in half.
- Place chopped chocolate in a heat-safe bowl. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat until it is just simmering. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let rest for 1 minute. Add corn syrup, if using, and whisk the mixture until smooth and uniform and all the chocolate has melted.
- Dip the top halves of the éclairs in the warm ganache, smoothing any ridges with your fingertip. Place the covered tops on a baking sheet and stick them in the refrigerator to firm up while you fill the bottom halves of the éclairs.
- Hull the tops of the strawberries, then cut each strawberry into slices lengthwise.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cream on medium speed until it just starts to thicken. Add in the sugar and vanilla extract and beat until stiff peaks form. Load the whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with a star tip (I used Ateco #823). Pipe whipped cream into the bottom of each éclair. Layer strawberry slices over the whipped cream. Add another layer of whipped cream on top of the strawberries, then add the matching ganache-covered éclair top, pressing down slightly. Serve immediately.