Making Éclairs – Achieving That Professional Look


(Photo source: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé)

Pâte à choux is a foundation recipe found in classical and contemporary French pastry making that is extremely versatile. Many French pastries and desserts have been created from pâte à choux like cream puffs, éclairs, St-Honoré, choquettes, profiteroles, and croquembouche and its versatility extends into savoury applications as well.

As with any recipe, there have been many interpretations on how to make pâte à choux. Extensive discussions and analyses about the topic can be found here with plenty of excellent tips and recipes shared among the forum participants.

As far as recipes goes, I’ve had much success with Pierre Hermé’s recipe from Chocolate Desserts and have used that as my base recipe for all my pâte à choux applications. Another highly acclaimed and very successful recipe I’ve used comes from Pichet Ong and can be found here.

Today’s discussion will not focus on how to make a pâte à choux dough since there is enough information that can be gleaned from the above links to come up with a successful dough.  Rather, this discussion will focus on a question that was inspired by a fellow reader to my blog (thanks Mightyroy) who asked me how to make éclair shells that looked like the picture perfect versions typically found in professional French pastry shops. He noted that the éclairs found in these shops tended to have very little cracks in the choux shells and were very uniform in shape.

What is the secret?

Assuming you have just successfully completed making your batch of pâte à choux dough , the secret lies in the use of a star piping tip (16 or 18 teeth with 1 to 1.5 cm tip diameter) to pipe the pâte à choux onto the baking sheet.

(Shown – Star polycarbonate Nozzle)

The use of a star piping tip (or nozzle) to pipe pâte à choux is essential to allowing the dough to expand evenly with minimal cracking during the baking process. The ridges created by piping the pâte à choux with a star tip creates gaps that allows the choux to expand evenly during baking. If you take a look at the picture below, you’ll see that the choux shell has dark lines along the length of the éclair.  These dark lines were the ridges that were filled in as the choux dough expanded during the baking process.

If you find that your shells are still cracking significantly, you may want to add a bit more salt to the pâte à choux base recipe to minimize the cracking but be warned that doing so may result in your choux shells being slightly saltier.  Finding the right balance in ingredients will be essential to fine tuning your recipe to a taste that’s right for you and your customers.

Sometimes, all it takes is a slight tweak in recipe and technique to bring your pastry creations to the next level and I hope I have been able to provide you with some tips on how to give your éclairs that polished and professional look.

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13 Responses to “Making Éclairs – Achieving That Professional Look”

  1. MightyRoy Says:

    Thanks alot for this! I’ve been looking forward to reading it and I found it very informative. I’ll try out Pichet Ong’s recipe later in the day. Those blue striped eclairs in the second picture look delectably alluring. How do they make fondant patterns like that?

    Thanks alot for the post again!

  2. stickofachef Says:

    Hi MightyRoy,

    Glad you found my post informative.

    Making the fondant patterns like that involves using different colour fondants. You use a base coloured fondant first to dip (length-wise) your éclair to cover the top of the pastry. Next, you pipe different coloured fondants across the width of the base fondant. Once done, you would then run your finger along the edge of the fondant and drag it length-wise across the éclair to clean off the sides of the fondant topping. Next step is to chill the fondant to set.

    Let me know how your attempt at Pichet Ong’s recipe turns out.

    Happy baking.

  3. MightyRoy Says:

    Hi,

    I spent the the afternoon yesterday baking up Pichet Ong’s recipe and I would like to say they tasted great! They’re good enough to be eaten without any filling. But the eclair shells I made with this recipe still had large cracks, mostly at the base. Maybe I need to use a proper conventional oven instead of my current microwave/convection tabletop set (I read in your other post about ovens that choux pastry bakes better in conventional ovens). Is a conventional oven really essential in making totally crackless eclairs? Also, the piping nozzle I used had only 14 teeth. So I decided to make custard puffs with the remaining dough instead, and they came out fine 🙂 And everything got eaten up by the end of the day.

    Those stripped eclairs look so irresistible, I’ve got to try to make them! I’m going to buy some fondant!

  4. stickofachef Says:

    Hi Mightyroy,

    What you are facing in baking choux dough in your microwave/convection combo oven is very typical. The oven cavity is very small and the convection fan is blowing so strong within the small compartment that it warps the rise of the eclairs during the baking process. I find that in home ovens, the conventional built-in ovens with its larger cavity and gentle heat will give the choux dough a nice even rise. You still have to deal with hot spots within your oven but this can be remedied by turning your baking trays part way through the baking period. I would suggest you try this recipe at a friend’s who has a built-in conventional oven and compare your results. You’ll should expect to see a difference. If you ever try this experiment, I would love to hear your results.

    Good luck with your next éclair experiment!

  5. MightyRoy Says:

    Thanks a lot for your advice!!

  6. MightyRoy Says:

    Hi!

    I’ve managed to get hold of some fondant and will try making eclairs again this weekend. Never mind the cracks 🙂 I’ve only worked with fondant once before and it was a messy experience. I’ve got a japanese recipe book that says I should thin the fondant with some syrup but I think I overdid it and the fondant didn’t dry out. How long should fondant take to set, and should it be made to set out in the open, or in the refrigerator? Is it better to spoon fondant onto the eclairs, or to dip the eclairs into molten fondant? And at what temperature and consistency should my fondant be when I’m coating my eclairs?

    Thanks a bundle!

  7. stickofachef Says:

    Hi MightyRoy,

    Fondant should not take too long to set (within minutes) and it has to be cooled in order to set. It’s best to set the fondant in a fridge after you’ve topped your éclairs. You can use simple syrup to thin out your fondant but if you add too much liquid, it will become too loose. You should heat the fondant together with a bit of simple syrup to a temperature of around 35 degrees Celsius and if it’s too thick to work with at this temperature, you would add a bit more simple syrup to loosen it. Proper fondant consistency to work with should be like a slow thick flowing mass (like lava). If you heat your fondant too high, it will become too runny and won’t coat your pastry properly. Finding the right consistency can only come from experience and a bit of practice. Once you’ve worked with fondant long enough, getting that right consistency will be instinctive.

    I find the prettiest éclairs come from the dipping technique. You hold the éclair shell upside down and dip it into the fondant. After you`ve dipped the choux shell, you pull the shell up and hold it vertically above the fondant bowl. You take a finger and lightly push some fondant down the pastry shell back into the bowl to get rid of the excess fondant. You then you take your index finger and clean the fondant at the end of the éclair shell by lightly scraping the fondant to curve it in the same fashion as the other end of the éclair. Place your éclair on a tray and put into the fridge to properly set. If you get the proper fondant temperature and consistency correct, the éclair topping should be clean along the sides with no excess drip marks (like the ones in the pictures above).

    Hope this helps!

    Good luck.

  8. MightyRoy Says:

    My eclairs look just like Fauchon’s if you ignore the cracks! I’m soooo happy! I used the spooning technique because I only bought a small amount of fondant and it still turned out great!

    Thank you so much! 🙂

  9. stickofachef Says:

    Hi MightyRoy,

    Glad you have found success in making your éclairs to look just like the ones from Fauchon! Congrats! 🙂

  10. MightyRoy Says:

    During my holiday to Japan last month, I had a number of cakes and the most oustanding of them was a simple Mont Blanc from a tiny French shop that only sold Mont Blancs. That Mont Blanc had a very special whipped cream interior that was pure white with a very fluffy and slightly curdled texture. It had a very substantial feel in the mouth unlike normal whipped cream, which is very light. The whipped cream was only subtly sweet and was curdled stiff senough to withstand the weight of the thick layer of chestnut puree above it.

    I came across this special whipped cream again once more in a cream puff sold by a cream puff specialty shop. The filling was called “Hokkaido Fresh Cream” but fresh cream in Japanese just means real cream made purely from milk.

    Do you know how I can make whipped cream like that? I tried whipping double cream and got a similar texture when all the butter curdled out but the colour was too yellow and it started to melt after I left it out in the open for about 20 mins.

  11. stickofachef Says:

    Hi MightlyRoy,

    Although I am aware that dairy products from Hokkaido are reknowned for their creaminess and taste, I have never had the chance to use their products in pastry making.

    I am not clear by your use of the term “curdled” relative to double cream since this term usually means that the double cream has separated during the whipping process and is unusable in whipped cream applications.

    To make whipped cream more shelf stable with a more substantial mouthfeel, it is common to use a whipping cream stabilizer like Dr. Oetker’s Whip It product (http://www.oetker.ca/en/product/baking-ingredients/pouch/11140) or even gelatin to ensure stability in your whipped cream applications. In Singapore, The BIY Store in Bukit Timah sells whipping cream stablizers (http://www.b-i-y.com/Dairy%20&%20Chilled%20Products.htm).

    Hope this helps.

  12. Jude Says:

    I’m so glad I found this post. Such excellent info. I noticed how sadaharu aoki’s eclairs also had those ridges so I knew star tips were used, but I didn’t know WHY it worked. Thanks for the explanation!

  13. stickofachef Says:

    Hi Jude,

    Welcome and thanks for dropping by. I’m glad I was able to demystify that observation you made concerning the ridges on the choux shells. 🙂

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