Éclairs are a staple of French pastry, elegant elongated poufs filled with love and dipped in ganache or fondant. You might think that means they’re one of those things that’s too fancy to do at home, or at least not a project you should tackle without having a day or two where you can afford to be kept busy. leaves in your kitchen. And of course, eclairs can be tedious to fill without crushing them.
But if you want all that flavor éclair without the fuss, the best way to go is with Resident Carolina Gelen’s Éclair Cake, which harnesses the delicacy of baking with a good old-fashioned iced cake. It’s so easy an 8 year old can do it – and I should know that, because I recently did it with an 8 year old.
The 8-year-old child in question, a cousin of my companion, is a particularly precocious baker. He tried mirror glazes and started his own “bakery” with a bunch of classmates, so I knew he’d be up for a project. The good thing about the éclair cake, besides the fact that it is very, very good, is that it uses the same techniques as a traditional éclair, but in a much more tolerant format.
The base ingredient of this eclair cake, and indeed all eclairs, is choux pastry, an egg batter that you bake on the stovetop before finishing in a stand mixer. In regular eclairs and cream puffs, the dough rises in the oven, dries out, and forms a hollow pocket inside that can be filled with pastry cream or whipped cream or sweetened cream cheese. The eclair cake version uses the same dough in a square – you don’t have to worry about it puffing up and forming a pocket, and if it doesn’t rise well, who cares? You will cover it with pastry cream, cover with another square of cabbage, and cover the whole thing with chocolate ganache. I promise it will be good.
My 8 year old friend noted that the most fun part of the process, other than rolling the choux pastry into two neat squares that form the layers of the cake, was making the chocolate ganache – just do melt chocolate into hot cream, stirring vigorously until it forms a thick icing-like mixture. Her least favorite part? Wait. Once the éclair has been assembled, it must be put in the refrigerator overnight, and ideally all day. The wait is excruciating, especially if you’re 8, but it’s the only way to get that crucial icebox cake texture. The pastry cream sets, the choux gets that crispy, soggy feel, and the shiny chocolate layer tops it all off. Worth the wait, but pro tip: let your assistant lick the ganache scoop to make it a little easier.
Recipe: Eclair Cake
- 1/2 cup (99 grams) granulated sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/3 cup (37 grams) cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups (341 grams) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (114 grams) heavy cream
- 1/2 vanilla pod (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- 2 tablespoons (29 grams) unsalted butter, cubed
Choux pastry :
- 1/2 cup (114 grams) whole milk
- 1/4 cup (57 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 teaspoon (4 grams) fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) bread flour (or all-purpose flour)
- 5 large eggs (have 2 extra on hand, just in case)
- 1 cup (227 grams) heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (170 grams) chopped dark or semi-sweet chocolate (or chips)
- Make the pastry cream: Combine sugar, yolks, cornstarch and salt in a heatproof bowl. Combine milk, cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat and heat until hot. While whisking, slowly pour about half of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture. Pour this tempered yolk mixture into the pan along with the rest of the milk mixture (you can strain through a fine-mesh sieve if you’re worried about cooked egg chunks). Cook over low to medium-low heat for 4 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until bubbly and thickened like pudding. Turn off the heat, then stir in the butter. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl, removing any lumps caught in the sieve. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold. (This step can be done up to 2 days in advance.)
- Make the choux pastry: In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup (114 grams) water, milk, butter and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in all the flour with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes a sticky paste and there is a visible film of starch on the bottom of the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the flour mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Whisk the eggs in a large liquid measuring cup. With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs in a slow, steady stream and continue mixing until fully incorporated, about 4 minutes total. Dip the paddle into the dough and lift it up – the dough should form a V that eventually pulls away from the dough in the bowl. If the dough is too hard or comes off too quickly, add another egg to loosen the consistency.
- Cook the choux pastry: Heat the oven to 375°F. Get out an 8 inch square baking dish. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using the baking dish as a guide, trace two squares with a pencil on the parchment, then turn the parchment over. Pipe or spread the choux evenly inside these two squares (about 320 grams of choux pastry per square), leaving a border of about 1/2 inch for the pastry to expand in the oven and fill the squares . Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until puffed and golden. (Do not open the oven for the first 25 minutes or the choux will puff up.) Transfer the cooked cabbage squares to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Make the ganache: In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate and salt. Wait a few minutes, then stir until the chocolate is silky smooth. Allow to cool until barely warm.
- Assemble the quick cake: If necessary, use a pair of scissors to trim the edges of the cabbage squares so they can fit in the baking dish. Place a square of cabbage in the bottom of the baking dish. Stir the pastry cream to smooth, then spread it evenly over the top. Place the second square of cabbage on top. Spread the chocolate ganache on it. Cover pan tightly and refrigerate 10 to 24 hours before slicing and serving.