About three people came up to me while I was making this (and one person called and asked me later) how eclairs become hollow. This confirms my suspicion that pate a choux is absolutely awesome. You don't hollow it out, you don't shape the dough. You just make the dough, plop it on the cookie sheet and bake it. When you pull it out of the oven, you have golden, crusty, hollow pastry shells ready for you to stuff with tasty wonderful cream and dip in melted chocolate.
This is an eclair that's been bitten into. This is also my roommate's thumb nail, which has Totoro on it.
Isn't that about sixteen different kinds of exciting?
The pate a choux is made on the stove. It's very egg-heavy; this is where most of the structure comes from. It's very easy to over cook and curdle the dough, so you have to be careful. Using a double boiler (a metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water--DO NOT let the bottom of the bowl touch the water) gives you a bit of extra insurance against this, but I just do it straight in a pot. It works well enough with this recipe and I don't lose batches very often.
There are three steps here: make the dough. Bake the dough. Fill the pastry and top with chocolate (okay, so maybe that last one's two). Here we go!
from Catherine Atkinson's pastry cook
9 tbsp flour
1/4 cup butter2/3 C water
Preheat 400 degrees. Measure our the flour into a cup and put it to the side. On the stove, set up your pot or your double boiler and melt the butter and water together. When they are melted, remove from the heat and dump in your flour. Stir, vigorously, until all is combined, and then return to low heat. Continue to stir vigourously for 1-2 minutes. Do NOT cook this too long. The dough will pull away a little from the sides; the best way I can describe it is that the edges will be rounder. It will stop sticking as strongly to the bottom of the pan. But don't worry too much about it; just stir for a minute and remove from the heat. You will be fine and so will your dough.
Take the dough off the heat. After it's cooled 2-3 minutes, add the eggs and beat until smooth and shiny, another couple minutes.
Put the dough on a greased cookie sheet in the size and shapes you like. The dough will stay mostly in the same form as you put it on the sheet. I like just a single spoonful, but the traditional eclair is longer and bigger than I make my little cream-puff-eclairs. (You get more if you make them smaller). Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden.
Some people slit the puffs open at this point and bake them at 200 degrees for 5 minutes, but I'm much too lazy. I imagine this is to dry them out a little more, but I find just the half hour at 400 does them fine.
the filling: creme patisserie
1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
4 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Beat all but milk and vanilla in a medium bowl. Heat the milk in saucepan until it starts to steam, but not boil (there should be a few little bubbles beginning to form at the edges, but nothing more).
Spoon the milk a little at a time into the egg mixture, stirring briskly. Continue to spoon the milk in until you've added about half of it. We combine these two slowly to keep the hot milk from making scrambled eggs of our filling.
Pour the tempered (aka slowly heated) egg and milk mixture back to the rest of the milk in the saucepan. Bring the whole mixture to a boil and boil 1-2 minutes. Remove from the stove and mix in the vanilla. Let the mixture cool.
Spoon the mixture into a plastic bag and set aside.
construction; step by step
1. Melt 1/2 C chocolate and 2 tsp vegetable oil in a small bowl.
2. Cut one corner off the plastic bag of filling.
3. Pick up a pastry puff and stick your finger through one end to make a small hole.
4. Put the cut corner of the filling bag into the hole. Squeeze and fill the pastry until it is heavy and full of cream.
5. Dip the top of the eclair in the melted chocolate and put on a plate to set.
The last (and favorite) step: DEVOUR.