I quickly found out when I started dating my husband, that he had a soft spot for éclairs. Naturally, I used it to my advantage and would order 30 mini éclairs from a local bakery whenever he would come visit me from abroad. At the time, I was still too shy to show him just how many desserts I could actually eat in one go. But he’d just open the box every now and then and before we knew it, they would all be gone.
I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t like éclairs. Especially nowadays, when there are so many incredible options for customizing an éclair. You can select the flavor or color you like the most. But even the texture, by adding a crunchy craquelin layer.
So today, we’ll learn together how to make an éclair and I’ll share with you a recipe that I think you’re going to love if you are team vanilla filling. And if you’re not, you’ll know exactly where to start to get your perfect éclair.
What Is An Eclair?
An éclair is made of choux pastry piped into an oblong shape. The sky is the limit when it comes to the éclair flavor profile. For a traditional éclair, fill it with pastry cream and cover it with chocolate glaze or fondant. Are you a caramel lover? Well then, how about salted caramel éclairs (yes, please!). Fruity fillings such as lemon or raspberry can transform your choux pastry into such colorful and bright desserts, that are too pretty to eat!
How To Make Eclairs?
Before attempting to make éclairs, you need to know how to make choux pastry. If you haven’t been following the choux pastry calendar with us and just joined in, make sure to read first How to make choux pastry.
I strongly encourage you to get comfortable piping choux before you attempt piping éclairs. Choux are much more forgiving and will not show all their flaws as easily as éclairs will. If you are wondering what flaws I am talking about, don’t worry, I have tons of pictures for you! Yes, I’ve tried making éclairs so many times!
Piping éclairs is not quite the same as piping cream puffs. First off, it’s harder! And secondly, while you pipe cream puffs at a 90° angle, éclairs should be piped at a 45° angle. Use your left hand as a support to hold the bag (if you are right-handed) and your right hand to exert pressure on the piping bag.
Start piping and move in a straight line. When you are happy with the length of the éclair, stop applying pressure and bring the piping tip down, along the end of the éclair towards the baking sheet so that it sticks to it. Try to lift the piping bag quickly to avoid getting a peak. But don’t worry too much if you get one, you can always press it down with some egg wash.
By position, I’m actually talking about two things: the position of your piping bag and the position of your body.
Some people suggest piping straight onto the parchment paper. So your piping tip is constantly touching the paper while you are piping. Others recommend piping about 1cm (approximately 1/2 inch) above the pan, and letting the “log” of dough gently drop onto the paper. I’ve tried both methods and haven’t found any significant differences.
Piping straight onto the paper did produce slightly flatter and wider logs but it was hard to tell the difference once they were baked. Piping straight onto the paper is slightly easier to do, especially if you are not used to piping, since you can use the surface as a support. No shaky hands in the air!
Next up, the position of your body! This is also quite personal I have found. I’ve seen chefs pipe towards them, so top to bottom, diagonally. And I’ve seen others pipe from left to right in straight lines. I personally prefer piping left to right. I feel like I have more control over my hands if my hands stay at the same level and just move from one direction to another. When I pipe from top to bottom, I tend to want to readjust my body or hands and change the pressure while piping.
Height of baking sheet and table
Another thing to pay attention to is the height of your baking sheet. You probably won’t have this issue, but when I was testing out éclairs, I ran out of baking sheets and used my oven sheet which has high edges. Well, it was incredibly hard to pipe at a 45° angle since I couldn’t lower my hands.
The height of the table will also affect the ease with which you pipe. If it’s too high for you, it will be harder for you to control your movement so try to put your baking sheet at a comfortable level.
Securing your parchment paper and baking sheet
Have you ever tried to pipe but your parchment paper kept sliding? To avoid that, you can put a little bit of choux pastry between your parchment paper and your baking sheet and it will stick.
I personally have more of an issue with a rotating baking sheet. This might sound strange to some of you but if I pipe on light baking sheets, they will just start turning. To stop this, you can put a towel under it or an oven mitt.
Ideally you want to use a large star tip with a lot of teeth. This will allow the éclair to expand without cracking. I use Wilton 4B. If you don’t have something similar, you can just use a wide round tip and using a fork dipped in egg wash, gently draw lines on the eclair. Don’t press too much!
Removing air bubbles
It took me a while to figure out how to do this and also how important it actually is. I kept thinking I could just skip it but had to finally learn how to do it when my choux and éclairs had holes and bumps in them. We went through this when discussing choux pastry but I’ll quickly remind you again how to do it.
- Place your piping bag filled with choux pastry on a flat surface.
- Flatten the choux pastry as much as possible with your hand, being careful not to press it towards the piping tip. Ideally, you should have twisted your piping bag close to the tip so the choux pastry doesn’t come out. My piping bag is too small so I couldn’t do that.
- Using a pastry scraper or a spatula, start pushing all the choux pastry towards the piping tip until it is all collected in one place.
- Twist the top of the piping bag to close it and pipe a little bit into a bowl to get rid of any air bubble that might be left close to the piping tip.
- You are now ready to pipe, bubble-free!
Well they say a picture is worth a thousand words so even though I’m quite embarrassed to share this with you, I think you’ll benefit from it!
My piping was completely random! I put uneven pressure on the piping bag so my éclairs were sometimes wide then suddenly narrow. Well, there were so many mistakes that all I could do was spoon everything back into a piping bag and try again! And that’s ok! Do it as many times as you need.
If you are just starting out, I strongly recommend using a template .
I know it may not look like it, but I was actually trying to pipe the bottom éclairs in a straight line!! I was so focused on piping each individual éclair, that I ended up piping in a completely random direction!
So what templates can you use? Well, you can simply draw lines on the back of your parchment paper, about 12cm (4 3/4 inches) each. Make sure to stagger them and keep some space between the lines (about 5cm/2 inches) as the éclairs will puff up (fingers crossed!).
But if you are a complete beginner, you probably won’t know how much pressure to apply and you might end up with very thin éclairs, or very wide ones. I found that using rectangles as a guideline was much easier to understand. The width should be about 2.5cm (1 inch) while the length should be about 12cm (4 3/4 inches).
If you pipe very long éclairs, you will have trouble dipping them in chocolate glaze and filling them. Not to mention that they will be harder to hold while eating!
Perforated silicone mat
If you are completely obsessed with choux pastry like I am, then you can buy a perforated silicone mat with an éclair template on one side and a choux template on the other side! I was so excited when I found this! I was actually just looking for a normal perforated silicone mat for my tarts (and choux pastry) and came across this. It’s not very easy to clean what gets stuck in the holes though. I’ll let you know when I figure out how to do that!
Freezing piped éclairs
One technique which I discovered recently is to pipe logs of éclairs on a piece of parchment paper and freezing them. Once they are completely frozen, you can cut off the éclairs in the same size and you’ll get nicely shaped éclairs. If you really want them to be the same size though, use a ruler. Don’t eyeball it like I did in the pictures below!
Pros of this technique
- Their shape is quite nice and uniform and you can cut off the uneven parts like the edges of the logs.
- You’ll be able to bake éclairs whenever you feel like it. All you need to do is pull the logs out of the freezer, cut them in individual pieces and let them warm up at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking them.
Cons of this technique
- There is a bit of wastage with this technique since you cut off the parts you don’t like. You could probably just put the leftover pieces in a piping bag and just pipe them again once the choux pastry is warm. Or just spoon them onto the parchment paper because, let’s be honest, who wants to use another piping bag for the leftovers?
- If you are not very good at piping, then it might be hard to pipe long logs that you can cut. I usually start going in random directions after a few seconds and end up with a crooked log. I’m much more at ease piping individual éclairs.
But no matter what size or shape you want to pipe, the bottom line is you can actually prepare the éclairs in advance and just freeze them. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the different stages of éclair preparation when you are just starting out: baking, filling, glazing. Freezing them is very practical if you don’t have much free time.
To freeze them: Simply pipe the éclairs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about an hour or until the piped éclairs are frozen. Transfer the éclairs to a zip-lock bag and freeze for up to a month. To bake, simply thaw them at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Be sure to check out my post on “How to make choux pastry” for an in-depth troubleshooting section. I won’t mention everything again here but we’ll go through some of the issues you could have when making éclairs.
If your choux pastry was runny when you were piping and the éclairs are completely flat and impossible to fill, you probably added too many eggs. Solution: Just because you can’t fill them doesn’t mean they can’t be really tasty. Cut them up into small pieces and place them in an ice-cream bowl. Top with pastry cream or ice-cream and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Innovation is what we’ll call it, not failure!
Eclairs have a cracked surface
This could happen if you haven’t added enough eggs in the dough and it is too dry. It will start cracking. Another factor could be the oven setting. If the temperature is too high, the surface of the éclair will set while the steam inside the éclair is still pushing to expand it. As a result, the surface will crack.
The oven shelf selected could also play a role. If you usually bake the éclairs on the middle rack, try baking them on the lower rack (lower third of the oven). This will ensure the éclair rises fully from the bottom heat before the surface has set. You can find more troubleshooting tips in the post dedicated to choux pastry.
Eclairs have an uneven surface or bumps
This could be caused by air bubbles in the piping bag. I clearly recall piping the éclair shown above. When I was piping, I got air bubbles in two spots and as a result, the dough suddenly splattered out afterwards causing the bumps you can see. I didn’t notice a big irregularity before baking the éclair but you can clearly see the flaws now. Solution: Make sure you get rid of all the air bubbles from the piping bag next time (see “Removing air bubbles” section).
The bottom of your éclairs rose, creating an inward curve. As a result, you have practically no space left for the filling. This one is a bit more of a mystery to me but I’ll tell you what I noticed. I have found that this happens when the bottom of the éclair doesn’t have anything to hold on to or stick to while rising.
This happened to me when:
- I buttered my perforated silicone mat.
- Using a silicone mat with a slippery surface.
- My silicone mat was on an oven grill with wide gaps.
Solution: The bottom of the éclair should have some support while it is rising so don’t butter your mat and make sure you place the parchment paper/silicone mat on a baking sheet and not a grill with large gaps.
This might also happen if you overheat the panade (step 4 in the recipe: Making the éclairs) when you add the flour to the melted butter mixture. If you don’t know what the panade is, read How to make choux pastry. Solution: If you tend to really dry out the panade for more than 3 minutes when you add the flour, try heating it less next time.
Eclairs are stuck to the mat
This could happen if the éclairs aren’t fully baked and dried out. Solution: Try baking a bit longer. If they are still stuck, slide an offset spatula under the éclairs to release them. Don’t pull the éclairs or you will end up with holes on the bottom of your éclair.
If you didn’t find what you were looking for in this section, head over to the choux pastry post for more tips.
Filling For Eclairs
Hopefully, the tips were helpful and you managed to bake an amazing éclair shell. Time to fill it!
What filling to use
This is really where you can let your imagination run wild. If you like more traditional fillings, then vanilla pastry cream, chocolate pastry cream or lightened pastry cream are incredibly tasty options. But you can also go with salted caramel cream, or fruity fillings such as lemon curd lightened with some whipped cream.
How to fill éclairs
- Using a sharp knife, slit the éclair in 3 places: the middle and the sides.
- Insert the piping tip in the hole and fill until the éclair feels heavier and full. Repeat the same process in the other holes if needed.
- Wipe the excess filling with a clean finger.
Troubleshooting the filling process
Yes, another troubleshooting guide! I tend to make every possible mistake when baking so I always have to add that section!
The éclair cracks during filling: You’re too generous with your filling! Don’t fill it until it explodes but just until you feel some pressure.
The piping tip left big holes in the éclair: You are using the wrong piping tip. It should be quite small and not long or you will just pierce the éclair from the other side like I did. I initially used a long piping tip for filling choux and cupcakes, which was a disaster for éclairs. I thought I could bend it sideways to fill everything! Not my brightest idea!
When to fill éclairs
You can fill your éclairs once they have cooled down fully. But keep in mind that filled éclairs will get soggy so it’s best to do this step as late as possible to retain the crispiness of the éclair shell. You can prepare the éclair shells and the cream ahead of time and then assemble and glaze before serving.
Chocolate Glaze For Eclairs
A few things are important when coating éclairs with a chocolate glaze:
- The glaze must be runny enough so that you can easily dip your éclair into it.
- But thick enough that it doesn’t leak everywhere once you do. It should also actually cover the éclair and not be see-through which happens if the glaze is too thin.
- The glaze should also be shiny and not dull.
The two most common ingredients to make a chocolate glaze are chocolate and heavy cream. Some bakers will add butter or glucose syrup for shine. You can use any chocolate you like but you’ll have to adjust the amount of heavy cream used to get the right consistency. The darker the chocolate, the more heavy cream you’ll need. I love the intensity of dark chocolate but I add a little bit of icing sugar to please the sweet tooth crowd.
The recipe I’m using is actually for a tart filling. Since I want the chocolate to be slightly thicker and set faster than it does in a tart, I decreased the amount of heavy cream. So really, if you have a recipe you love, make a small portion and just play around with the amount of heavy cream until you get the result you are looking for. More cream will give you a runnier glaze while less cream will make it thicker.
But I’d be more than happy if you also tried out my version of a chocolate glaze.
Making the chocolate glaze
- Heat together the icing sugar and heavy cream in a small pot over medium-high heat.
- Melt the chocolate: Coarsely chop your chocolate and heat in a double-boiler or in the microwave. If using the microwave, heat the chocolate for 30 seconds, stir, heat again and repeat the process until the chocolate has melted. I did this about 3 times. It doesn’t matter if the chocolate has fully melted as you will add the hot cream to it.
- Pour about 1/3 of the cream on the chocolate and let it sit for 2 minutes without stirring.
- Stir until combined. The chocolate will initially look grainy but don’t worry it’s normal!
- Add the remaining cream in two more additions and stir until fully combined. Try not to use a whisk or something that will incorporate air bubbles.
- Transfer to a wide bowl that will fit your éclairs and start dipping! Keep them upside down for a few seconds to get rid of any drips. If needed, use a clean finger to remove any excess chocolate from the éclairs.
Troubleshooting the chocolate glaze
Too thick: The glaze is hard to spread and you end up with an uneven surface. Solution: If the glaze was initially at the right consistency but thickened, warm it gently in a double-boiler. If it was too thick to begin with, add warm heavy cream, a little at a time, until you get to the desired consistency.
Too thin: The glaze leaks everywhere and doesn’t cover the éclair properly. Solution: Add more melted chocolate until the glaze is thick enough to hold on the éclair shell.
Chocolate glaze has air bubbles: If you used a whisk or an immersion blender which wasn’t fully immersed, you probably incorporated air bubbles. Solution: Try straining the glaze through a fine-mesh sieve. You could also try pressing some cling film on top of the glaze to get rid of the surface bubbles.
And there you have it! Time to make some éclairs! I covered everything I could think of based on my own failed attempts. I hope it will be useful to you. And I can’t wait to see some pictures of your amazing creations!