Have you ever had a chocolate éclair– I mean, a real chocolate éclair? You haven’t?? Goodness. You are in for a treat. These little beauties consist of a delicate, hollow shell bursting with rich, golden cream and topped with a sinful chocolate ganache. Now, don’t get me wrong . . . those long, cream-filled donuts they call éclairs at donut shops are pretty tasty, too . . . but they are not a true éclair. Like many French desserts, these little guys can be a little fussy (remember our macarons and how insanely crazy hard they are to get right?). But take heart . . . these adorable little pastries may have a lot of steps, but if you just keep your brain turned on, you can do it.
What are we waiting for? Let’s do this!
Sinful Chocolate Éclairs
(adapted from Allrecipes.com)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 (3.4 oz.) package instant vanilla pudding
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
To make the éclair shells, boil the butter and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to low and add 1 cup flour and 1/4 tsp. salt. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough that pulls away from the sides of the pan. Move mixture to a mixing bowl and beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Pipe 1.5×4″ strips onto a silpat-lined baking sheet and bake the shells for 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then, without opening the oven (shells will deflate if you “peek”), turn the heat to 325 degrees and bake for 20 more minutes, until shells are golden brown. Remove shells from the oven and poke both ends of each shell with a fork, to allow steam to escape. Shells should make a hollow sound when you tap on the bottom. Cool shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.
For filling, combine pudding and milk until well mixed. Refrigerate mixture for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, using a stand mixer and the whisk attachment, beat heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla until mixture is the consistency of shaving cream. Fold the whipped cream into the pudding mixture. When shells are cool, gently cut them in half and fill hollow shells with the filling.
For chocolate ganache topping, melt chocolate and cream together, over medium low heat, in a small saucepan until combined and smooth. Allow to cool slightly before topping the filled éclairs with chocolate. Refrigerate the éclairs until ready to serve.
Whew. This seems complicated, but it’s just a lot of steps. Just do one step at a time. Take a deep breath. I promise you can do this. I’ll show you how to do every step. Let’s take a look at the process in pictures.
To start with, get a small saucepan going. We are going to melt the butter in the cup of water until it is just boiling.
When your water and butter mixture have reached a boil, turn off the heat and stir in the 1 cup flour and 1/4 tsp. salt. At first, it won’t seem like the flour and salt want to play on the same playground as the water and butter. But just keep trying, and they will play nicely together, in the end. Keep stirring until your mixture becomes almost the consistency of play-dough and starts coming away from the side of the pan.
Move the dough ball to the bowl of your stand mixer and beat in the eggs, one by one. I know it’s tempting, but don’t add all 4 eggs at once. Beat the dough thoroughly after each egg is added.
When all the eggs have been added, put your dough into a piping bag and pipe lines that are roughly 1.5 inches by 4 inches onto a silpat-lined baking sheet. Of course, we won’t split hairs, here, but try to shoot for that size so that they are fairly even. The dough hardens quickly– so try to work quickly so you don’t end up with a bag full of cement 😉
Put the shells into a 450 degree oven. Now, this part is kind of tricky, so make sure you understand it. The shells are “make or break” at this period, so you don’t want to mess it up, after all that work. They go in at 450, but after 15 minutes, change the oven to 325 degrees. Don’t open the oven to see how they are. Don’t crack it to bring the heat down. Don’t even think about reaching in there.
Just let them be.
After another 20 minutes, the shells should be golden brown and super puffy. If you have an oven light, turn it on and make sure that they are golden brown. If they still look pale, give them another few minutes. It’s safe, now, to pull them out and have a look. The shells should have a hollow sound when you turn one over (with a hot pad!) and tap on the bottom. We have to work quickly, here, again . . . take a fork and poke holes in both sides of each shell. This allows the steam to escape and keeps the shells from deflating and getting soggy inside. As you “poke” the shells, go ahead and place them on a cooling rack to blow some steam . . . ha. I have put a handy dandy little arrow on the picture so you can see where I poked the shell with a fork.
While the shells are cooling, let’s start on the filling. Mix your instant pudding and milk, together, with a whisk, and then put that in the fridge. This picture, above, is the start of gorgeous, homemade whipped cream. Making whipped cream is dangerous . . . because once you taste the real thing, you will never be satisfied with the fake stuff, again. Listen to the Siren call . . . and start down the path to eternal longing.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine your heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Using the whisk attachment, beat the mixture until it is the consistency of . . . well, whipped cream.
It’s also kind of the consistency of shaving cream. Sigh. Isn’t it lovely?
Gently stir the pudding and milk mixture together with the whipped cream you just made. YUM. That is some delicious filling right there, folks.
By now, our shells should be cool. Because I care so deeply for you, loved ones, I sacrificed one of my shells and split it open so you could see the inside. See that? Isn’t it lovely? Nice and hollow . . . just like we like it. You could smuggle a file in there. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the reason they don’t offer éclair making classes at local prisons . . . hehe.
There are a couple of different ways you can fill these shells. Some people like to stick the piping tip into the side and just fill it up, that way. Personally, I don’t have much luck with that method, so I slit the shells, horizontally, without slicing all the way through. See? It’s like a mini hot dog bun. Isn’t that cute?
Place your filling into a piping bag with a large tip and fill those suckers full of sweet, creamy goodness. Mmmm.
While all this is happening . . . (ominous music: “Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .”), go ahead and get your chocolate ganache topping going. Melt your chocolate chips and heavy cream on medium low heat until the chips melt into soft and gorgeous loveliness.
Sigh. Look at that. It’s a pool of chocolate. No lifeguards are necessary. No one will ever want to get out of this pool. Swim . . . at your own risk. Hehe.
Pull that chocolate off the heat and let it cool a little bit. When it starts to become the consistency of pudding, it’s ready to roll.
Take a pastry bag (OK . . . a spoon. I know you’re as ready to eat these as I was when I slopped that chocolate on with the first thing I grabbed out of the drawer 😉 and top each éclair with the delicious ganache. Allow the éclairs to dry a little bit before you
stuff them all into your mouth, ahem, sample one. Yes, a pastry bag makes prettier toppings. But a spoon is faster. Contest over.
Arrange them in a tempting array on a plate. Enjoy the impressed stares of your family and friends when you put patisserie quality pastries in front of them at the next get together. Drink in the loveliness. The creaminess.
Look at those crisp pastry shells, combined with creamy pastry cream and drool-worthy chocolate ganache . . .
These éclairs are so sinful they should come with their own priest.
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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