Choux pastry, coffee creme patissiere, coffee marscapone cream, dark chocolate and chocolate covered coffee beans – all in one eclair. Could it get any better? I really don’t think so. This is by far one of the most elegant pastries I have ever made, and these coffee eclairs definitely taste as good as they look.Also, slightly off topic, you can watch my new YouTube HERE! It basically explains my story as a blogger and why I started Beyond Our Sky etc. I understand if you don’t want to watch it – because the video is pretty boring and I’m quite an awkward person. But anyway, this post is not meant to be about me since I am dedicating it solely to the art of choux pastry. I am going to be giving some tips and tricks for the perfect execution (even though I have not quite nailed it yet). My intention is not to scare you or anything, it is just a bit technical.
THE BASE: CHOUX PASTRY (pate a choux)
What is choux pastry?
It is often referred to as pâte à choux, and is also used in profiteroles (recipe here), cream puffs, choux au craquelin and many more. So obviously it is very French and is the basis of most of their pastries. The main ingredients usually include water, milk, butter, sugar, salt, flour and eggs. The dough is heated and then cooled down before adding the eggs, but more of this will be explained soon. It is a different type of dough to most because the batter is cooked before baking it in the oven. How is choux pastry made?
- Milk, water, sugar, salt and butter are heated together in a saucepan. Some recipes only use water, but by using a combination of both milk and water – it creates a richer pastry due to the milk.
- It is important to heat this mixture to boiling before turning off the heat and adding the flour. At first, this mixture will seem very lumpy – but make sure you continue mixing until it is all combined (this is called a panade). Once this occurs, turn the heat back on and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until it forms a dough and is pulling away from the sides of pot. This step is vital because it will cook out some of the moisture.
- Then transfer the dough into the bowl of your stand mixer, and it is pivotal that this mixture is cooled down before adding the eggs otherwise they will scramble if it is too hot. In doing so, this allows the steam and moisture to release/evaporate further.
- When adding the eggs, the dough may appear to curdle but just keep on mixing and it will come together. Make sure to add the eggs gradually (a little at a time) and beat well in between each addition. The amount of eggs you add will vary depending on the temperature in your area as well as the moisture of your panade. So the dough should have a texture which is loose and not overly difficult to pipe, but thick enough to hold its shape.
- Then when piping onto the baking tray, a French star tip (such as the Wilton #6B or Ateco #868) is recommended because the lines/stripes will ensure for more even baking. If you do not have one, then a plain round nozzle is fine – just use a fork and run it along the piped choux to create the lines.
- Choux pastry tends to brown quickly so I like to bake mine at a high heat then reduce the temperature slightly so it cooks all the way through. It is important to ensure that they are dried out completely on the inside because if they still contain moisture, the choux pastry will collapse when taken out of the oven. As extra reassurance and precaution, I like to keep the oven door ajar after they are baked to dry out even further.
I also find it very fascinating when, even though there is no baking powder or raising agent, they mange to puff up substantially in the oven. This is why the evaporation of moisture/liquid (from milk, water and eggs) is important during the cooking of the panade and, in particular, the baking process because the evaporation causes expansion of the egg protein and creates the rise/puffiness.
THE FILLING: COFFEE PASTRY CREAM (CREME PATISSIERE)
What is creme patissiere?
It is basically a thickened custard made from egg yolks, cornflour and milk.
Ingredients and why they are used:
- Egg yolks add richness, hence the reason why I prefer to use them over whole eggs (use left over egg whites for meringue or pavlova – recipe here)
- Since there is hardly any sugar in the choux pastry, most of the sweetness is provided through the creme patissiere.
- You can use all milk, all cream or a combination of both to make this custard. Cream is obviously richer than milk, so it’s really up to personal preference. I used all milk because that’s the only thing I had on hand the time and it still tasted absolutely delicious (this was agreed upon by my family, so trust me! haha)
- I use cornflour over regular flour because it is more delicate and a better thickening agent. You may find that after the custard has been cooled in the refrigerator, it tends to set in a jelly like consistency. This is because of the cornflour, but make sure you stir it vigorously and the creme pat will return to its normal fluid consistency.
- For the coffee flavour, I use Nespresso coffee. You can use instant coffee dissolved in hot water, simply adjust the strength of it to your liking. However, it is important to make it stronger than normal because the flavour will become diluted when combined with the milk, egg yolks etc . Even though it is a coffee custard, I still like to infuse the milk with a vanilla bean.
THE TOPPING: COFFEE MASCARPONE CREAM
It is essentially mascarpone cheese, cream, coffee and a bit of powdered sugar. The coffee should be very concentrated so that the filling does not become too thin if you add too much liquid. It’s extremely easy to make, and the only tips I can give you are: to not over whip the cream and have the cheese at room temperature. The result should be a very light cream that is not too sweet, thick enough to pipe and retain its shape, and have a subtle coffee flavour. So in a way, these eclairs are inspired by Tiramisu due to the coffee and mascarpone.
THE DECORATIONS: DARK CHOCOLATE AND COFFEE BEANS
I did not temper the dark chocolate since I cheated and used compound chocolate which does not contain cocoa butter (that was really lazy, I know). If your chocolate does contain cocoa butter then you will have to temper it (read about a post by Ann Reardon from How to Cook That discussing the tempering of chocolate here). To make the actual chocolate stick, you will need a chocolate comb. So simply pour the chocolate onto some baking paper or acetate and use the comb to create the lines. It will then set, and then you can break it up into the necessary lengths.
Instead of using the whole chocolate covered coffee beans, I decided to chop them up finely because, otherwise, they would have been out of proportion with the eclairs if the whole bean was used.
So that’s basically it. I cannot describe how amazing these were. The only downside was the amount of washing up, but that’s ok – my mum said that it was worth it. I’m actually posting this recipe from Mooloolaba at the moment, and there is only 1 more week of holidays left. The time always goes so fast. I have a bit to do next week; continue reading Jane Eyre, analyse The Wings of the Dove and cook of course. I haven’t done this for a while but I would like to finish with a segment of one my favourite poems, You Learn by Jorge Luis Borges.
“And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.
After a while you learn…
That even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So you plant your garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.”
Now onto the recipe…
Makes 10-12 eclairs, depending on size.
Choux Pastry (pate a choux)
I used the choux pastry recipe from Adriano Zumbo’s Croquembouche, but I simply scaled down the quantities and changed the baking times. Read the post above (the section – How is choux pastry made?) for further tips and instructions.
- 135mL milk
- 105mL water
- 100g butter
- 8g sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 135g plain (all purpose) flour
- 4 eggs, whisked and at room temperature
- Preheat the oven to 200°C and line two trays with baking paper or silpat. Optional: draw lines of 9cm in length on the baking paper, leaving 4cm space between each one. Then flip the baking paper over; this will ensure that your eclairs are the same length.
- In a large saucepan, combine the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt. Then heat over medium-high heat until the butter has melted and the mixture is boiling. Turn off the heat and quickly beat in the flour until a thoroughly combined and no flour is visible (this is called a panade). Then return to medium heat and cook for 1-2 minutes whilst stiring vigorously until a dough forms. The panande should be pulling away from the sides of the pot, and this is when you know it is ready.
- Transfer the dough into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and beat for 4-5 minutes on medium speed to release some steam. Then gradually add the whisked egg, a little at a time, beating well between each addition. Make sure you check the consistency of your choux dough before adding the last addition as you may not require all the remaining egg. So slowly add it in until the texture of your choux is shiny and able to be piped but firm enough to hold its shape.
- Transfer your choux dough into a large piping bag fitted with a french star tip (such as the Wilton #6B or Ateco #868). Pipe 9cm lines (or whatever size desired) onto the baking sheet leaving 4cm space in between each one. Ensure to apply even pressure and flick at the end of the eclair. Dip your fingertips in water to pat down the tip that forms at the end of the eclair.
- Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180°C and cook for a further 20-25 minutes. They should be golden brown on the outside and feel quite firm. Check if they are ready by breaking one apart, and the inside should be dry and look hollow – that is when they are done. Once all the moisture has been evaporated and the choux are completely cooked, turn the oven off and leave the door ajar for 1-2 hours to dry out further. Then transfer onto a wire rack to cool. Set aside until ready to assemble.
Coffee Creme Patissiere
Read the post above (the section – Ingredients and why they are used) for further tips and instructions.
- 480mL milk
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee (optional)
- 6 egg yolks
- 100g caster sugar
- 40g cornflour
- 30mL strongly brewed coffee (I used a Nespresso espresso shot dissolved with 1 teaspoon of instant coffee. Alternatively, you can use 2 tablespoons of instant coffee dissolved with 2 tablespoons of water)
- 40g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- In a medium saucepan, heat together the milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and instant coffee to a simmer (almost boiling). Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale in colour and thickened (almost ribbon stage). Sift in the cornflour, and whisk until thoroughly combined.
- Gradually add the hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the egg yolks to ensure they do not scramble. Continue doing so until all the milk is added and return to medium heat. Whisk continuously until the mixture has thickened and is boiling. Then whisk for a further 2 minutes to ensure all the cornflour has bean activated.
- Remove from the heat and pass the creme patissiere through a sieve into a bowl. Add the coffee and butter, then whisk until butter has melted and well combined. Cover with plastic wrap, ensuring that is is touching the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until cooled and ready to use.
Coffee Mascarpone Cream
Read the post above (the section – THE TOPPING: COFFEE MASCARPONE CREAM) for further tips and instructions.
- 250g mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract)
- 30mL strongly brewed coffee, cooled (I used a Nespresso espresso shot dissolved with 2 teaspoon of instant coffee. Alternatively, you can use 3 tablespoons of instant coffee dissolved with 2 tablespoons of water)
- 300mL cream
- In the bowl of a stand mixture fitted with a whisk attachment, beat together the cheese and icing sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla and coffee, then mix until well combined.
- Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, beat the cream to soft peaks. Add one third of the cream to the cheese mixture to lighten, then add the remaining cream. Beat mixture until stiff, ensuring not to over whisk otherwise the mixture will curdle.
- Transfer cream into a piping bag fitted with a petal tip (such as the Wilton #103 or #104).
Assembly and Decoration
Read the post above (the section – THE DECORATIONS: DARK CHOCOLATE AND COFFEE BEANS) for further tips and instructions.
- 80g dark chocolate, melted (tempered if needed)
- Chocolate covered coffee beans, chopped
- Pour the melted chocolate onto a sheet of baking paper or acetate, leaving enough space for the lines. Using a chocolate comb, drag and spread the chocolate out to create thin lines. Allow to cool at room temperature until set.
- Remove creme patissiere from the fridge and whisk vigorously so that it returns to its normal, fluid consistency. Transfer into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip or filling tip.
- Filling option 1: Poke 3 holes at the bottom of each eclair, and fill each hole with creme patissiere. Filling option 2: Cut each eclair in half, and fill both halves with a generous creme patissiere. Then sandwich the two together. Refrigerate if needed.
- Pipe the mascarpone cream onto the eclair, ensuring that the thicker side of the petal tip is touching the eclair. Break the chocolate into the sticks so that they are long enough to sit on top of the eclair, and place it in the centre of the mascarpone cream. Sprinkle with chocolate covered coffee beans.
- Best eaten the day they are made, or 1 day after. Store in the refrigerator.