These classic French eclairs are made with pate a choux dough and filled with light and airy pastry cream. Topped with chocolate ganache glaze for a delectable treat, you won’t be able to eat just one!
If you asked me what my favorite classic French desserts are, eclairs would definitely make the top of the list, along with lemon tarts and financiers. In France, you can find eclairs in all sorts of flavors, but classic eclairs have a pastry cream filling and chocolate glaze topping. They’re light and airy, yet rich and decadent, making them the perfect dessert!
What are eclairs?
Eclairs are a classic French dessert made from a type of dough called pate a choux dough. Pate a choux is unique because you need to cook the flour with the wet ingredients on the stovetop before baking. Then, eggs are added gradually until it reaches a pipeable consistency. When the dough is piped and baked, it takes on a very light and airy consistency with a hollow center, creating the perfect vessel for fillings. The outsides are crunchy and the insides should be slightly wet and custardy. Some other common desserts made with pate a choux are cream puffs (or profiteroles in French) and Paris-Brest.
How to make eclairs
There are 3 components to classic eclairs:
- Pate a choux dough
- Pastry cream
- Chocolate ganache glaze
Make the pate choux dough
- Place butter, milk, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and heat on the stove until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.
- Pour all the flour at once into the pot and stir until the flour is completely incorporated and a thick dough clumps into a ball. Beat the dough ball against the bottom and sides of the pan for 1 minute on medium heat, which gently cooks the flour (Note: You’ll know the dough is ready for the next step when it easily pulls away from the sides of the pot).
- Remove the dough from the heat and place in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (You can also do this with a handheld mixer or by hand with a whisk, but it is more difficult to incorporate the eggs by hand).
- Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Turn the mixer on medium speed and slowly and gradually add the eggs a bit at a time (about the amount of one egg). Allow the mixer to incorporate all the egg before adding more.
- When you have about the amount of one egg left, add it bit by bit until the dough reaches a soft, shiny, pipeable consistency.
Note: The amount of egg fluctuates because when you cook the dough on the stove, it’s impossible to control exactly how much liquid will evaporate and how dry the dough will get. So the important thing when adding the eggs is to check the dough between each addition. Once it reaches the a shiny, pipeable consistency, don’t add any more egg.
If you accidentally add too much egg and your dough is too thin, make 1/4-1/2 of the recipe again on the stove top and add it gradually to the runny pate a choux until it reaches the correct consistency.
Pipe and bake the eclairs
Tools you’ll need to pipe eclairs:
- Pastry bag or large Ziploc bag
- Circle tip or star tip, around 1/2-inch in diameter (the Wilton 1A and Wilton 8B work great)
- Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Place your star tip either in a pastry bag or in the corner of a Ziploc bag. Cut a hole to bit the tip and then fill the bag with pate a choux.
- Hold the piping bag in an angle against your sheet pan. Use one hand to squeeze the dough out slowly and evenly and the other hand to guide it. Pipe long cylinders, about 4-inches in length and at least 1 inch apart.
- If you have sharp points on the ends when you lift the piping bag, wet your finger and simply press them down.
- Bake for 15 mins at 400°F. Then, lower the temperature to 350°F with the eclairs still in the oven and bake another 12-15 minutes until the tops are a golden brown.
- Allow to cool completely before filling.
Make the pastry cream
Pastry cream is a vanilla custard thickened with cornstarch and eggs. It’s made on the stovetop and comes together quickly, although it needs to cool completely before filling your eclairs. This recipe calls to fold in a small amount of whipped cream to the pastry cream at the end so it’s extra light and fluffy.
- Combine egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch.
- Heat the milk. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla together until it is steaming and very hot. Discard the vanilla pod if using.
- Temper the milk with the egg yolk-mixture. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture in a steady stream, whisking the egg mixture constantly.
- Cook the mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat again gently on low-medium heat. From this point on, don’t stop whisking or the mixture will curdle. It will start to become very thick. Once thick and boiling, keep whisking for about 30 seconds more before removing from the heat.
- Strain the custard. I highly recommend straining the thickened custard using a fine-mesh strainer to remove any curdled egg yolk. This will ensure your custard is super creamy and free of any lumps.
- Cool the pastry cream. Allow the pastry cream to cool slightly, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top to prevent it from forming a skin. Place in the fridge to cool completely. To speed up chilling, cool the pastry cream in an ice bath. Fill a large bowl with a bit of cold water and ice cubes. Place your bowl of pastry cream inside the larger bowl.
- Fold in whipped cream. Whip the heavy cream until soft-medium peaks form. Once the pastry cream is cooled, use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the whipped cream. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Make the chocolate ganache glaze
You can use either of the following methods to make the ganache:
- Boil the cream. Pour the cream into a pot and bring it just to a boil. Be careful not to let it boil for too long or the liquid will begin to evaporate and the cream will start to reduce. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. I recommend letting it sit for about a minute before whisking it together to emulsify.
- Melt together in the microwave. Place chocolate and cold cream in a heat proof bowl. Microwave in 30 second increments, whisking together until the chocolate is fully melted and the cream is incorporated.
Fill and top eclairs
Once you’ve baked the eclairs and your pastry cream is cool, it’s time to fill them and top with chocolate ganache.
- Use a pairing knife to poke two holes in the bottom of each eclair about 2-inches apart.
- Place the pastry cream in a piping bag and cut a small hole in the bag. Evenly deposit pastry cream into each eclair through the holes in the bottom.
- Top them in chocolate ganache, make sure the ganache is slightly warm and has a viscous consistency. Dip the top of each eclair in the chocolate ganache and place bottom-side down onto parchment paper. Place the eclairs in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.
Note: Eclairs are best served the same day they are made so the pate a choux is fresh and not soggy, but I find that they are still tasty the following day (just slightly softer).
Tips for making perfect eclairs
Eclairs take a bit of technique to master, so be sure to read my tips below to make them perfect:
- Use bread flour. I prefer using bread flour with eclairs because it helps make them extra sturdy and keeps them from getting too soggy. You can certainly use all-purpose flour if that’s what you have, but just keep in mind your eclairs will have a bit less structure.
- Cooking the flour with the wet ingredients and sugar IS necessary – do not skip this step. This step cooks the flour slightly, which helps the dough puff up and create hollow shells.
- Be careful when adding the eggs to the pate a choux. The amount of eggs will vary slightly depending how much liquid evaporates when cooking the dough on the stovetop – this is why there is always a range in the amount of egg in pate a choux recipes. Add a bit of egg at a time and mix the dough together to check the consistency before adding the next. Once you’ve reached the right consistency, DO NOT add any more egg. If you accidentally add too much egg and your dough is too runny, make 1/4-1/2 of the recipe again on the stove top and add it gradually to the runny pate a choux until it reaches the correct consistency.
- Apply even pressure when piping the dough. Keep your piping bag at a 45-degree angle when piping your eclairs and apply even pressure so the dough pipes continuously into a cylinder shape. Do not start and stop.
Can I freeze eclairs?
You shouldn’t freeze eclairs once they are filled, but you can freeze the unfilled shells in a closed container or Ziploc bag for up to 2 months. To use, bring them to room temperature. Then, line cream puff shells on a sheet pan and place in a 350°F/180° oven for 5 minutes to crisp up. Allow to cool completely before filling.
This classic French eclair recipe is easy to follow and makes the most dreamy eclairs. They're filled with light and airy pastry cream and topped with chocolate ganache glaze.
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 1/2 cup (1 stick/115g) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (130g) bread flour*
- 3-4 large eggs
- 2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup (130g) granulated sugar
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (45g) cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 (120 ml) heavy cream
- 6 oz (170g) dark or bittersweet chocolate
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy cream
Make the pate a choux: Preheat oven to 400°F/204°C. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Place milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt into a medium-sized pot. Heat on medium heat until the butter is melted and the sugar and salt are dissolved, stirring occasionally. Add the flour all at once and mix with a large spoon until a dough paste is formed. Mix the dough ball with a large spoon against the bottom and sides of the pot for about a minute, which gently cooks the flour. You'll know it's done when the dough appears slightly dry and easily pulls away from the sides of the pot. Remove from heat and place dough into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.**
Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Turn the mixer on medium speed and slowly and gradually add the eggs a bit at a time (about the amount of one egg). Allow the mixer to incorporate all the egg before adding more. When you have the amount of one egg left, add it bit by bit until the dough reaches a soft, shiny, pipeable consistency. I usually have about half an egg leftover, but it just depends on how much liquid evaporates when cooking the choux on the stovetop.
Place the dough into a piping bag fitted with a round or star tip with an opening 1/2-inch in diameter. Pipe 4-inch cylinders 3 inches apart using even pressure, lifting upwards and backwards at the end to bring the tails upwards. Do not start and stop piping as you pipe each cylinder. To remove the pointy tails, wet your finger and gently press them down before baking.
Bake for 15 minutes then, keeping the eclairs in the oven, lower the temperature to 350°F/177°C for 12-15 minutes, until the eclairs are golden brown on top. Do not open the oven as they bake. Once fully baked, remove eclairs from the oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before filling.
Make the pastry cream: In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar just until pale yellow and creamy, then whisk in the cornstarch. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat milk and vanilla until it starts to steam. Gradually pour the hot milk into the egg mixture while simultaneously whisking constantly until smooth (Tip: place a wet towel or cloth underneath the bowl with the dry ingredients to prevent it from moving around).
Transfer mixture back into saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly and vigorously so that the eggs won’t curdle, until the mixture thickens. Allow the mixture to boil slightly for 30 seconds (you'll see bubbles popping up through the thick cream), then remove from heat and strain using a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a medium heatproof bowl and add butter. Allow the pastry cream to cool slightly, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top to prevent it from forming a skin. Place in the fridge to cool completely. Alternatively, you can cool the pastry cream using an ice bath.***
Once the pastry cream is completely cooled, whip heavy cream to soft-medium peaks. Fold into the pastry cream using a rubber spatula and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Make the chocolate ganache glaze: Place chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring cream just to a boil. Immediately pour cream over chocolate and let sit without stirring for 1-2 minutes. Then, whisk together until smooth. You can also do this in the microwave by placing both chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second increments, mixing between each increment, until melted and smooth. Allow to slightly cool before topping eclairs. You want it to still be a viscous consistency, but thick enough that you can get a nice topping on each eclair without it being too thick.
Fill and top the eclairs: Use a sharp knife to poke two holes in opposite ends of the bottoms of each eclair. Fill a pastry bag with the chilled pastry cream and deposit into each eclair through the holes. Dip the tops into the ganache and place right-side-up onto a sheet pan. Place in the fridge so the ganache can set.
Eclairs are best eaten the day they're made, but will stay good in the fridge for up to 2 days. If you have leftover pastry cream, it makes an amazing pudding on its own. Store in the fridge with plastic wrap placed directly on top so it doesn't form a skin. When ready to use, place pastry cream into small glasses or ramekins and serve with fresh berries and chocolate sauce.
*I prefer using bread flour for eclairs because it gives them more structure and prevents them from getting super soggy. However, feel free to substitute with all-purpose flour if that’s what you have on hand, just keep in mind that the eclairs will be softer.
**If you don’t have a mixer, you can add the eggs by hand or use a handheld mixer. If adding by hand, use a whisk and mix the eggs into the dough vigorously. The dough will looked separated and curdled at first, but keep whisking until the eggs are fully incorporated and the dough is smooth.
***To create an ice bath, place the bowl with the pastry cream in a larger bowl it can fit into. Fill the larger bowl with cold water and ice. Occasionally mix the pastry cream to distribute the cold, and place it in the fridge once chilled.