Éclairs are traditional French pastries consisting of long tubes of pâte à choux, filled with pastry cream and coated in a thin layer of icing. We’ve kept our recipe classic, filling the light pastries with a rich vanilla bean–flecked filling and a chocolate glaze.
Éclairs, which translates to “flashes of lightning,” are frequently said to have been invented or popularized by Marie-Antoine Carême, regarded as one of the founders of modern French cooking and one of the original “celebrity” chefs. One of the first written mentions of the confection in the United States can be found in Fannie Farmer’s 1886 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, in which she describes piping the choux paste (which she calls “cream cake mixture”) into its signature log shape, baking it, filling it with pastry cream, and finally glazing it with “confectioners’ frosting” to which melted fondant has been added.
Little has changed about the recipe since Farmer’s recording of it. The éclair’s shell is made from choux pastry. For this particular choux batter, which follows our foolproof technique, we call for a mix of half milk and half water (see instructions in the note below). The combination of milk and water work in tandem to perfectly brown the éclairs and ensure a crisp shell. Meanwhile, adding the optional sugar listed in our classic choux recipe contributes a touch of sweetness to the base that complements the sweetness of both the filling and the glaze.
Éclairs are fussier than similar filled pastries that rely on choux, like cream puffs. In particular, nailing the correct shape—one that is straight as an arrow with a fully hollow interior— requires practice and patience. We’ve provided some helpful guidelines below:
- Use a 1/2-inch French star tip. The “teeth” of a star tip create ridges in the choux batter, which helps steam escape while evenly lifting and expanding the éclairs, thus minimizing splits and cracks. Although it’s not a one-for-one replacement, you can use a round tip to pipe the choux and then lightly run fork tines over the top of each to reduce cracking.
- Take your time when piping. With éclairs, how they’re piped is how they’ll bake. To achieve straight lines, we recommend holding the pastry bag at a 45° angle while lightly dragging the bottom of the tip along the parchment paper (hovering in mid-air as you pipe will produce inconsistent lines). Keep in mind that you can always start over by scraping any piped batter back into the pastry bag. In addition, aim for a one-inch wide base per éclair. Because of their delicate, less sturdy structure, piping any wider can contribute to a concave bottom. For those who aren’t expert pipers of choux, we recommend drawing guidelines on the parchment paper using a marker and ruler; then flip the parchment over and pipe on the lines.
- Finish with a nonstick cooking spray. When used in conjunction with a star tip, a quick and even application of a flavorless nonstick cooking spray like PAM will eliminate extreme cracks and splits and add color to your éclairs.
- Bake at a moderate temperature. We found that the popular method of baking the choux logs at a higher temperature, then reducing it, often led to cracked éclairs (the initial high blast of heat causes their delicate structure to expand too rapidly). To offset that, we bake our éclairs at a lower temperature of 350°F (that’s even lower than the 400°F oven we use for cream puffs, gougères, and chouquettes). Doing so gives them ample time to rise, set, and dry with golden brown exteriors and nicely hollowed interiors.
While the éclairs are still hot, use a sharp paring knife to drill two small holes in the bottom of each one. After a short rest in the cooling oven to dry out the inside and keep the outside crisp, pipe pastry cream into both holes. Dip the top of each cream-filled éclair in a warm pool of rich chocolate glaze, made by quickly microwaving dark chocolate, butter, corn syrup, and salt together until melted, then stirred until smooth.
Between the crisp choux, creamy filling, and rich glaze, these sweet treats will disappear in a flash.