Sometimes, there are those nights. The late ones. The ones that you spend in the company of good friends. The ones where you accidentally-on-purpose forget to take your make up off upon returning home. And sometimes, after a particularly late night, my brain tries to mess with me by waking me up after only a few short hours of blissful sleep. That’s the only way I can explain why I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in my kitchen at 9.30 on Sunday morning, getting ready to beat some choux pastry into submission. Because my brain is a spiteful sod like that.
The German name for eclairs is Liebesknochen or ‘Lovebones’. However, considering that one batch of these will set you well on your way to a pretty severe case of Nadal-arm, it would be more accurate to say that they are a product of sweat and willpower rather than love. Still, it’s a nice word for a delicious treat.
If I’d planned ahead or had more time, I would have made some crème pâtissière and lemon curd, but as it was I quickly raided my pantry and out came a third of a jar of shop-bought lemon curd and a packet of organic pudding mix. In effect, what I’m admitting to is cutting corners (don’t judge; you’ve done it, too.) But that’s what I like about choux pastry; even though it seems like a bit more faff than a sponge cake, all of the ingredients are things that you will have at home and the fillings can be as simple or as complicated as your kitchen cupboards allow.
for the pastry
pinch of salt
1 tbsp sugar
150g plain flour
for the filling and glaze
40g organic vanilla pudding mix (one packet) If you can’t find pudding mix, custard powder could be an alternative, although I haven’t tried this.
50g caster sugar
180g butter, cubed
1 tbsp Advocaat (optional)
zest of 1 lemon
120g lemon curd
120g icing sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon, approx.
Preheat your oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
Combine the water, milk, salt, sugar, and butter in a pan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and add the flour in one go while beating. Return to heat and continue to beat until the dough sticks together and comes away from the pan. From this point continue to ‘cook out’ the dough, to get rid of the floury taste, by beating until a white film develops on the bottom of your pan.
Remove the pan from the heat. You could transfer the dough to a bowl to help it cool down a little, but I didn’t as it would have meant more washing-up, so instead I just worked the dough a little more. Once the dough is no longer the temperature of Venus, start adding the eggs one at a time, beating the dough until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. (Note: At this point you will probably want to save your poor left and/or right arm and just abandon the whole thing, but do persevere – it’ll be worth it.) The dough should fall off a wooden spoon in long ribbons.
Transfer dough into a piping bag fitted with a large star shaped nozzle, and pipe onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. This recipe would yield a dozen large eclairs or 24 small ones. I went with mini eclairs, as I could then justify eating a large quantity of them. Pop the eclairs into the oven and bake for around 25 minutes or until golden brown.
While the eclairs are baking, make the filling. Combine the pudding mix and sugar with around 70ml milk, and work into a smooth paste. Combine the remaining milk with the paste in a pan and whisk until there are no lumps. Bring to the boil over medium heat while whisking constantly, then remove from heat and leave to cool.
Once the mixture has cooled down a little, add the butter and whisk until the mixture thickens and there are no more lumps of butter. If the mixture seems a little runny, you may either chill it or add a little more butter. Then add the Advocaat and lemon zest. Fill mixture into a piping bag.
Once the eclairs are baked, take them out of the oven and leave to cool. Slice the eclairs in half and pipe a strip of the cream filling onto the bottom half of each eclair. On the inside of the top half, spoon or pipe a strip of lemon curd, then fold together again.
For the glaze, combine the icing sugar with enough lemon juice to produce a pourable, but not runny, consistency and drizzle over the eclairs. Then immediately nab a cheeky mini eclair for yourself before offering them to other people. Yes – that is a vital step of the recipe!