Éclairs are definitely having a moment in Paris right now, and while I await these heavenly pastries to become the next big thing here at home, I decided to give them a whirl myself. As with most French desserts, I turned to David Lebovitz‘s recipe–Paris-Paris inside his latest book My Paris Kitchen–for guidance.
As you may be, I was confused at first as to why the name for the recipe was listed as “Paris-Paris” and not simply “Éclairs”, which seems like a French enough name already, non? Turns out, the original éclair-like pastry is actually in the shape of a wheel, instead of a slender finger, and named Paris-Brest, to commemorate the bicycle race between the two French cities, which started in 1891. Lebovitz tells a charming story in My Paris Kitchen about one of the most elusive chocolate and pastry-makers in Paris, Jacques Genin (his self-proclaimed frenemy), whose Paris-Brest, he says, is his favourite dessert in Paris. An impressive recommendation, indeed. To honor this glowing endorsement, Lebovitz named his own recipe Paris-Paris, after the trip he makes from his apartment to Genin’s shop in the Marais to delight in his favourite treat.
Yes, these require at least a donation of an afternoon to make, but I don’t think I have to further highlight that they are definitely something special. Since I was running low on hazelnuts, I substituted in pre-roasted and peeled chestnuts, which was just as delicious (if not more so?) It changed the texture of the praline just so, as the chestnuts are obviously much softer, but the cream turned out just as well. A treat to end all treats – enjoy!
David Lebovitz’s Paris-Paris, from My Paris Kitchen
Makes 10-12 éclairs
Hazelnut (or Chestnut!) Praline
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup coarsely chopped, untoasted hazelnuts (or chestnuts)
Large pinch of salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons hot water
Prep a baking sheet by lightly greasing it or lining with a silicone baking mat. To make the hazelnut praline, spread the sugar in an even layer in a skillet. Heat over medium heat until the edges begin to melt and it eventually turns a light, amber colour. Use a spatula to drag the melting sugar towards the centre and add the nuts and pinch of salt. Stir the nuts into the caramelized sugar, until the mixture just begins to smoke. Immediately scrape onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading as evenly as possible, and let cool completely. (Once cool, the mixture can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.)
To make the pastry cream, warm the milk in a small saucepan and set aside (you can pour into another small vessel first to re-use the pot.) In the same cleaned pot, whisk the cornstarch and egg yolks until smooth, then whisk in the sugar. Dribble in a little of the hot milk, whisking constantly, then add in the rest, still whisking. NB: Full disclosure – I completed the above process three times before getting it right. Every time I tried to complete the roux-like mix with the cornstarch/yolks/sugar it became far too thick and curdled like very fine scrambled eggs before I could add in the milk, which was never able to save it. I was attempting to make the custard over VERY low heat, since the recipe doesn’t suggest a heat level, however I finally found it was best to take the pot off the burner completely until it’s time to add in the milk. If your mix is lumpy at all before getting to this stage, don’t bother wasting your milk and start again over no heat!
Once the milk has been added, cook the pastry cream at the lowest possible boil for 1.5 minutes, whisking vigorously and making sure to reach the perimeter of the pan, until it is very thick like mayonnaise. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter a few cubes at a time, and vanilla, until smooth. Scrape into a bowl, cover, and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to use (can be kept for up to three days).
Preheat oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. To make the éclairs, heat the water, sugar, salt and butter in a saucepan, stirring just until the butter melts. Add the flour and stir for a few minutes over low heat until the mixture forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the pot. Remove from the heat and let cool for three minutes, stirring occasionally to help cool it slightly. Add the eggs one by one, stirring briskly after each until the dough is smooth. (You can also use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.) Transfer the warm dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip and pipe out ten to twelve five-inch lines of dough evenly spaced on the baking sheet. (You can also use a freezer bag with the corner snipped off.) With a damp finger, smooth out any spiky points on the pastry lines from lifting the piping bag.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking, until the shells are a deep golden brown. Remove from the oven and poke a small paring knife into the side of each pastry, twisting as you poke, to help the steam escape and keep the dough crisp. Let cool completely.
Finish the filling by breaking up the caramelized nuts and pulsing them in a food processor until very finely ground. Add one third of the cooled pastry cream and pulse the processor a few times to incorporate it. Using a spatula, mash the nut mixture into the remaining pastry cream, until just incorporated Avoid overzealous mixing, which make the cream too runny.
Slice each éclair open lengthwise with a serrated knife, cutting almost all the way through. Using either another pastry bag with a plain tip, a spoon, or a small plastic bag with a cut-off corner, fill the éclair shells with the praline cream.
To make the glaze, mix the powdered sugar and the cocoa powder in a small bowl and stir in hot water until smooth. The icing should be thick enough to spread but also hold its shape once applied. With a spoon or small spatula, wipe a broad band of glaze over the top of each éclair, scraping off most of the excess. Chill the glazed pastries in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. (Can be kept up to three days.)