How To Make Eclairs
Eclairs are how you win at brunch. Seriously — who makes their own eclairs? And yet, you can make a batch of eclairs in about the same time it takes to whip up a batch of cinnamon rolls. Here’s what to do.
The 3 Parts of an Eclair
The Shell, the Filling & the Glaze
A classic eclair is made from three things: a crispy golden shell of pâte à choux, a rich pudding-like filling of vanilla pastry cream, and a chocolate ganache glaze on top.
The eclair shell is probably the most intimidating piece of the puzzle — just the name of the pastry, pâte à choux, might give you second thoughts here. But don’t be deterred. Pâte à choux might have a fancy name, but it’s actually one of the most straight-forward French pastries to make at home. Making a batch always makes me feel like giving everyone in the room a high five — I’m always surprised at how simple it is to make and how well it turns out.
Pâte à choux is nothing more than a dough made by cooking flour and butter together, and then beating eggs into the mix. In the heat of the oven, steam from the butter and eggs lift the pastry as it evaporates, puffing it up into a thin shell with a hollow middle.
This hollow middle is just begging to be filled, of course. For eclairs, the filling of choice is pastry cream. If you’ve ever made pudding at home, you already know how to make a pastry cream — it’s a sweet base of milk, flour, and sugar, mixed with egg yolks, and cooked gently on the stove until thickened and creamy. It’s basically the best vanilla pudding you’ve ever had in your life, and it’s about to go in your eclair.
With the pastry cream piped into the eclair shells, all that’s left is to top it with chocolatey glaze. This step is super easy: Just cover chocolate with warm milk until the chocolate gets melty, stir, and you’re ready to go. Dip the tops of the eclairs and add some sprinkles for extra fun.
While this sounds like a lot of work, the upside is there are many components that can be made ahead. The eclair shells can be made several days ahead, or even kept frozen for several months. Likewise, the pastry cream will keep for several days in the fridge.
When you’re ready to assemble your eclairs, make the chocolate glaze, put everything together, and serve.
Piping Without a Piping Bag
A piping bag makes thing a bit easier, but don’t let the lack of this one tool keep you from cream-filled bliss. Instead of a piping bag, use a large zip-top bag. Transfer everything inside, push it to one corner, and then snip off about a quarter-inch from the corner. Your piping will be less precise like this, but eclairs are a forgiving recipe and precision is not a critical factor for success.
Have Fun with Your Eclairs!
Makes8 large eclairs
2- to 4-quart saucepan
Parchment or baking mats
Piping bag (or large zip-top bag; see Recipe Note)
Large round pastry tip
Heat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or baking mats.
Make the pâte à choux: Prepare the pâte à choux following these instructions.
Pipe the pâte à choux into eclair shapes: Transfer the prepared pâte à choux to a piping bag fit with a large round tip, or transfer to a zip-top bag and snip off the end. Pipe small finger-length eclairs or larger, double-wide eclairs, as desired.
Bake the eclair shells: Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until puffed. Without opening the oven, turn down the temperature to 375°F and bake for another 18 to 20 minutes, until golden-brown and dry to the touch. Lower the heat again to 300°F, and let the eclair shells dry out for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, pierce with a toothpick, and cool completely. (The shells can be kept in an airtight container for a few days, or frozen for up to 3 months.)
Make the pastry cream: Prepare the pastry cream following these instructions. Use the pastry cream as soon as its chilled, or refrigerate for up to three days. Make sure to press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.
Fill the eclairs with pastry cream: Poke a hole into either end of the eclair using a pastry tip or a chopstick. Transfer the pastry cream to a piping bag fit with a large round tip. Insert the tip of the pastry bag into one end of the eclair and fill part way. Insert the pastry bag into the other end and fill the second half. Repeat with all the eclair shells.
Make the chocolate glaze: Transfer the chocolate to a heatproof bowl. Warm the milk in the microwave or on the stovetop until it's steaming, then pour it over the chocolate. Let it stand for a minute or two, then stir to form a thick, glossy glaze.
Dip the eclairs in chocolate: Dip the tops of the eclairs in chocolate. Set them on a cooling rack and top with sprinkles, if using. Allow the glaze to set. Eclairs are best eaten on the same day they are made.
Alternative piping bag: If you don't have a piping bag or don't want to fuss with one, just transfer the choux paste to a large zip-top bag when it's time to pipe. Snip off a quarter-inch from one of the corners and proceed with piping. Same goes for when it's time to fill the eclairs with pastry cream!
Alternative to piping: Don't feel like piping at all? Just cut the eclair shells open down one side, like a hot dog bun, and scoop spoonfuls of pastry cream inside.
Change it up! This recipe makes a classic eclair, but you can easily change things up by flavoring the pastry cream with coffee, chocolate, lemon, or any other flavorings. You can also glaze the top with a vanilla glaze, or vanilla glaze flavored with a favorite extract.