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Light and crisp golden brown shells made with French choux pastry encase smooth vanilla pastry cream in these Classic Eclairs that are finished with a rich chocolate ganache. They are a delicious French treat, always a crowd pleaser, and easier to make at home than you might think!
French Chocolate Eclairs
I think it’s pretty well established on here that we love French desserts, whether it is chocolate mousse, an authentic French fruit tart, macarons, or these wonderful eclairs. If you are in France and looking for these in a French bakery (or patisserie), they are called eclair au chocolat.
We absolutely love our cheater no-bake chocolate eclair cake which has the same flavors, but I wanted to make real homemade eclairs myself at home. They are every bit as delicious (honestly, more so) than any I have ever had at any high-end bakery.
The choux dough is a simple, classic French recipe that is way less intimidating to make than cooking shows on TV will lead you to believe. What is so unusual about it is that the dough is first cooked on the stove, then eggs are added to the warm flour/water/butter mixture before transferring the gloppy stuff to a piping bag and squirting it out onto a silpat mat or parchment paper to bake.
It’s not exactly a normal dough or approach for most home bakers, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult. I have every confidence that you can get it right on your first try and will share my best tips and tricks for making that happen!
- Flour: All-purpose flour is perfectly fine for making the choux pastry used to create the eclair shells.
- Eggs: These are critical for achieve the signature puff that hollows out the choux pastry. Plus, they add richness and flavor to the eclairs and are also used in the pastry cream filling to help thicken it.
- Butter: I always use salted butter in my recipes unless I specifically note otherwise. You will need this in both the shells and the filling.
- Water: This liquid provides the moisture needed for making the sticky choux pastry. You need just the right amount so the dough is sticky, but not overly wet. Some choux pastry recipes use half water and half milk, but I find that water alone does the job just fine.
- Salt: This key ingredient boosts the flavor of the shell and the filling.
- Sugar: There is just a small amount of sugar in the choux pastry, and more in the sweet vanilla pastry cream. Granulated sugar will do the job.
- Heavy Cream: This is one of my favorite ingredients that I always have on hand in my kitchen. It makes for a wonderfully rich, creamy custard filling.
- Cornstarch: This ingredient, along with egg yolks, is what helps thicken our pastry cream so it isn’t a runny, soupy mess.
- Vanilla: You can’t really make vanilla pastry cream without some kind of vanilla, right? In this case, I used regular vanilla extract, although often I will opt for an equal amount of vanilla bean paste when making pastry cream, just for those beautiful little flecks of vanilla bean seeds.
- Chocolate: Milk chocolate, semisweet chocolate, or dark chocolate will all work for making your ganache. The choice is really up to you, although I love semisweet chocolate since the filling itself is plenty sweet.
How to Make Chocolate Eclairs
There are three components to this recipes: the shells, the filling, and the ganache. None of them are really too hard or time consuming and can all be made the same day. But this is also a good choice if you are looking to spread things out or make portions of dessert in advance and just assemble before serving for a party or a crowd.
Making the choux pastry
- Bring water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil: Use a medium saucepan to combine the first four choux pastry ingredients over medium-high heat. Once the butter melts, everything should come to a full rolling boil. That’s where it keeps boiling even while you are stirring.
- Dump in the flour: That’s right, do it all at once. Use a sturdy wooden spoon and immediately start stirring until the flour absorbs the liquid and everything comes together in a clump that is a really thick paste that cleans the sides of the pan.
- Stir in the eggs one at a time: At this point, some people transfer their choux dough to a stand mixer, but I prefer to use elbow grease to mix in the eggs one by one. With each egg added to the hot dough, it’s going to seem like the batter won’t come back together at first. It gets all sloppy, but if you just keep stirring the egg will eventually incorporate into the dough, which is when you can add the next egg, repeating the process until all the eggs have been added. I learned from the Great British Bake Off that the choux pastry should drop off the spoon in a clump leaving a v-shape of batter hanging from the spoon. Let the dough cool for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Pipe the eclair shells: Transfer the still slightly warm dough to a piping bag with a large open star or french star tip. You can even use a round tip, although I have found in my experience that those shells tend to crack more and I just get better results with a star tip. Pipe 4-5 inch lengths of dough onto a silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheet a couple inches apart. Use scissors to snip off the end of each length of sticky dough.
- Bake: Baking the shells at a higher temperature for 10 minutes, then dropping the temp to 325 degrees F for the last 30 minutes helps the shells puff up quickly and then cook through, hollowing out in the center while maintaining their structure so they can be filled later. When they come out of the oven, use a wooden skewer to poke holes in both ends of the eclairs. This will help them cool without collapsing while also providing a spot to fill the eclairs on both ends.
Make the Pastry Cream
- Heat milk, cream, and sugar: Combine the milk, cream, and half of the sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan and the liquid is hot.
- Whisk sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, and salt in a separate bowl: They bright yellow yolks will lighten into a creamy yellow color as you whisk them.
- Temper the egg yolks with some of the hot liquid: Gradually pour about 1 cup of the hot milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the whole time. This method gently brings up the temperature of the eggs without scrambling them.
- Thicken the pastry cream: Pour the tempered egg yolk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the hot milk and cream. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the pastry cream thickens.
- Add remaining ingredients, then chill: Remove the pastry cream from the heat and add the cubed butter and vanilla, stirring until the butter is melted. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap before sticking it in the fridge to chill for 3-4 hours. This can be done 2-3 days before you plan to serve the eclairs.
- Fill the eclairs: When you are ready to fill the eclairs, transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip or small star tip. You might need to stir the pastry cream to loosen it up a bit if it got really cold in the fridge. You can either poke holes and fill the eclairs from the bottom like twinkies, or poke holes in either end and fill them from there. My preference is to fill them from either end, but it doesn’t really matter one way or another. Squeeze the pastry cream to generously fill each eclair.
Make the Chocolate Ganache
- Heat the cream: Place the chocolate chips in a medium-size bowl. Heat the cream in the microwave in a separate microwave-safe bowl for 45-60 seconds until hot, then pour over the chocolate chips. Let them sit for 2 minutes.
- Stir, stir, stir: Once the chocolate has sat in the hot cream for a couple of minutes, stir until the chocolate has melted completely into the cream. It might seem at first like the chocolate and cream aren’t going to combine, but if you keep stirring it eventually will and you will have a beautifully shiny chocolate ganache with no white streaks of cream remaining. If necessary, you can microwave it for another 15 to 30 seconds to get the chocolate to melt all the way.
- Dip the eclairs in the ganache: Turn each eclair upside down and dunk the top half of each eclair into the chocolate ganache, gently shaking off excess chocolate, then let them sit on a baking sheet or wire rack while the chocolate firms up a bit before serving. It helps if you let your chocolate ganache set up for a bit if you heated it a little too much while melting the chocolate.
How do you get hollow eclair shells?
The secret to hollow eclair shells that are ready for filling with a delicious custard filling is in the eggs. Mixing the eggs into the warm pate au choux is the key to getting the dough to puff up in the oven and create that mostly hollow structure and crisp outer shell that is begging to be filled with something rich and wonderful like my classic French pastry cream.
What size to make your eclairs
I like a medium-size eclair, which is anywhere from 4-5 inches long, but you can make them larger or smaller, depending on your preference. Mini eclairs are fun for parties where you have a selection of desserts to choose from.
- Small eclairs: Pipe 2-3 inches of eclair dough
- Medium eclairs: Pipe 4-5 inches of eclair dough
- Large eclairs: Pipe 5-6 inches of eclair dough
Make-Ahead, Storage, and Freezing Instructions
Eclairs really are best eaten the same day they are made when the pastry is crisp and fresh and at its best. But you can make them in advance if you need to.
You can make the shells 2-3 days ahead and store them on the counter in an airtight container, then fill and dip them in ganache when you are about ready to serve them. You could even dip unfilled eclair shells in the ganache and refrigerate them, then fill with the pastry cream right when you plan to serve them.
Filled eclairs are best enjoyed within 1-2 hours before the moisture from the filling starts affecting the texture of the shell, although really they are pretty darn delicious for about 1 day as long as they are stored in the fridge.
You can freeze leftover filled eclairs and let them thaw for 15-30 minutes on the counter before enjoying, although they aren’t nearly as nice as fresh ones.
Other Eclair Filling Ideas
It’s traditional to fill eclairs with pastry cream, but really you could use any custard or curd-type filling that you like!
- Chocolate Mousse
- Lemon curd mixed with 1-2 cups whipped cream
- Raspberry Mousse
- Pretty much any other puddings, custards, or curds (though you may want to mix any of these with some whipped cream for a light consistency)
More Recipes Like This
- Authentic French Fruit Tart (with Video!)
- Classic French Chocolate Macarons (with Video!)
- Crepes Recipe (How to Make Crepes and Crepe Filling Ideas)
- Deborah’s Knotted Orange Sweet Rolls
- Chocolate Cream Pie
Pate au Choux
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup salted butter
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs
- 1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 5 egg yolks
- 4 tablespoons salted butter, cubed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt over medium-high heat.
- Cook until the butter is melted, then bring to a full rolling boil over high heat.
- Add the flour all at once and stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until everything comes together in a clump that is like a thick paste that cleans the sides of the pan.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the eggs, one at a time. The mixture may seem to break or curdle at first, but keep stirring and it will come back together by the time you add the last egg. Let the choux pastry cool for 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Fill a piping bag with a large open star or french star tip with the choux pastry and pipe 16-18 strips, each about 4 inches long and 3/4 to 1" thick, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart, onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Do your best to pipe them evenly so that they are an even thickness all the way from end to end, rather than thick on the ends and narrow in the middle.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and continue to bake another 30 minutes without opening the door until golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Turn off the oven and crack open the oven door to let the cream puffs cool down slowly for 10 minutes before removing from the oven. This prevents them from deflating.
- Combine the milk, cream, and half of the sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the liquid comes to a simmer.
- As the liquid heats, whisk together the remaining sugar, salt, cornstarch, and egg yolks in a medium bowl until light and creamy.
- Once the milk mixture is hot, slowly whisk about 1 cup of the liquid into the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the hot milk mixture and reduce the heat to medium, continuing to cook while whisking constantly, until thickened and a few bubbled burst on the surface, about 30 seconds.
- Remove the pastry cream from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla, then transfer to a bowl and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly onto the surface of the pastry cream so a skin doesn't form. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, about 3-4 hours.
- Place the chocolate chips in a medium-size bowl. Heat the cream in a separate microwave-safe bowl for 60 seconds until hot, then pour over the chocolate chips. Let them sit for 2 minutes, then stir until the chocolate has melted completely into the cream. If necessary, you can microwave it for another 15 to 30 seconds to get the chocolate to melt all the way.
- Dip the top half of each eclair into the chocolate ganache, then let them sit on a baking sheet or wire rack while the chocolate firms up a bit before serving.
- Filling: You can fold in 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups of sweetened whipped cream to the cooled pastry cream for a lighter filling known as creme diplomat filling. I use this approach in my cream puffs, but personally prefer straight pastry cream in my eclairs.
- Eclairs are best when served either at room temperature or cold, within 12 hours of filling them with pastry cream.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 262Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 146mgSodium: 145mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 11gProtein: 5g
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes per household.
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We share recipes from #SpringSweetsWeek on Pinterest! Make sure you follow the board to see all the delicious recipes shared this week.