These little devils have been on my culinary bucket list for a good while ! Eclairs are one of Silent Bob's favorite pastries. We oogle them whenever we go into a bakery of note and I always tell him that I will learn how to make them for him! I'm so glad I screwed up my courage and tackled them! They weren't perfect - there was a bit too much salt in the choux and the eclair shells didn't stay as puffed as I would have liked, but they were fantastic for a beginner eclair maker ... me!
A French patisserie may well turn down my version because of the unconventional filling, but who cares ? It's Fall in New England and the pumpkins are gracing the rock walls, countertops, and front steps of many a house! Cans of pureed pumpkin are sitting the end aisle displays of every supermarket and corner store and I am beginning to whiffle through the many pumpkin recipes I've marked in 'the cookbook collection' !
Yes, I have flavoured the traditional pastry cream with a light spicy pumpkin puree and topped the eclairs with a chocolate and hazelnut ganache ... that should make our dear friend, Choclette take note! You see, these are the two ingredients that are a required match for this month's 'We Should Cocoa' challenge!
This recipe comes to you from the website at America's Test Kitchen ... thank goodness for their tutorials on filling and wielding a pastry bag, strategies for filling the little choux torpedoes, and making the ganache ... I have changed their recipe a bit because of the parameters of this month's 'We Should Cocoa', but I think they should take credit for the recipe ... so ... get creative with it and see what you can do to turn your nearest French patisserie on its proverbial ear!
So ... attacking the recipe required that I plan my day a bit. I wanted the pumpkin pastry cream to be nicely chilled so that we could knosh the first eclairs as soon as they were constructed. Hence, I made the pumpkin pastry cream custard first and chilled it - this involved decreasing the half & half content by 2/3 of a cup and subbing in the pumpkin puree. I also added a healthy pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to the half & half/pumpkin simmer. This changed America Test Kitchen's Pastry Cream recipe just enough to maybe call it my own, but who cares?
Pumpkin Pastry Cream
1⅓ c. half & half
⅔ c. pureed pumpkin
⅛ tsp. cinnamon
6 tbsp. sugar / 2 tbsp. sugar
Pinch Kosher salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract
5 large egg yolks
2 ½ tbsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cold and cut into pats
Making the Dish:
- Place the half & half and pureed pumpkin in a saucepan and whisk together to make a smooth mix. Add the 6 tbsp. measure sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract.
- Place the pan over low heat and bring to a simmer.
- While the pumpkin mixture heats up, place the egg yolks, 2 tbsp. sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl and stir to combine to a smooth paste.
- When the pumpkin is simmering and bubbles have formed at the edge of the pan, temper the egg yolks by adding slowly 1 cup of the hot mixture, whisking as you go.
- Turn the tempered egg yolks back into the saucepan with the remaining pumpkin mixture. Whisk to combine and place the pan back on the stove.
- Bring the heat up to medium and whisk continually until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble.
- Remove and stir in the cold butter until it has melted and given the cream its sheen, cover the surface with a piece of plastic wrap and set aside to cool. When the pan is has cooled a bit, place it in the fridge to thoroughly chill the pastry cream before using it in the éclairs, pie, tarts, or what ever.
My next project was to make the choux pastry ... I've done this before when I made little cream puffs for dessert profiteroles and hors d'oeurves. My challenge this time was to use the pastry bag to make proper eclair-shaped choux 'torpedoes'. I used parchment paper liners to ease the handling of the baked eclair shells. The key there was to grease the cookie sheet so that the paper stayed put when I was piping the choux onto the lined sheets. The recipe was meant to make eight eclairs ... as you can see, I managed seven before I ran out of choux goo. I admit, I prayed to the Kitchen Gods when I popped the choux into the oven for baking ... would the choux puff up and make nice little pockets for that pastry cream?
While the choux baked, I started the chocolate hazelnut ganache ... my hazelnut fix was, of course, a healthy addition of some Nutella to the chocolate melt. I also planned to sprinkle the tops of the eclairs with some hazelnut embellishment, so I toasted a small measure and set the nuts aside to cool.
Chocolate Hazelnut Icing
3to 4 tbsp. half & half … or a tiny bit more
2 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate
2 tbsp. Nutella
1 c. confectioner’s sugar
Making the Icing:
- Place the chocolate, Nutella, and half & half in a microwavable bowl. Heat for 30 seconds to one minute just until the chocolate has softened to ‘collapse’ stage.
- Remove the bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients to a smooth consistency.
- Add the confectioner’s sugar and stir to a smooth ganache.
- Use while warm, as this ‘sets up’ as it cools.
- If the icing becomes too thick to spread, ‘zap’ it just until it’s warm and re-stir to smooth things out again, then proceed.
Cooling the eclair shells gave me some real concern, as they settled back down upon themselves ... would they fill up and expand a bit without breaking apart when I poked the pastry bag in the ends and pushed in the pumpkin pastry cream ? Again, I lifted up some words to the Kitchen Gods ...
Construction was pretty easy and then ... OH. MY. GOD. Thank you for inspiring some French guy to come up with the idea of the eclair and thank you for this We Should Cocoa challenge ... pumpkin and chocolate ... who knew !!!!??!!!!
Afterword: Who did know, I wondered ? So, I did a Google search for 'pumpkin eclairs' ... turns out a lot of people have had the same idea. Damn! I thought I was being soooo original. Oh well, who cares? We ate those little devils and enjoyed every bite! To boot, I used the leftover egg whites and another two eggs to make a spinach and walnut quiche for our supper ... not bad for an afternoon puttering in the kitchen!