There is a little shop in South Kensington that sells perfect éclairs that are beautiful. The shop looks more like a jewellery shop than a patisserie one! Inspired by these I decided on this simple yet delectable éclair, perfect for an afternoon tea. Bread flour is ‘thirstier’ than regular flour, so if you use a mixture in choux pastry you can add more eggs, which give the éclairs a lovely rise and golden crust.
To make the filling, put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl with the salt and mix well together. Then mix in the cornflour until combined. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a pan with the vanilla until it is just about to boil, then take it off the heat. Drizzle about 3 tablespoons of the hot milk into the egg mixture and mix well to combine. Then add the rest of the milk, mixing again to combine. Pour the mixture back into the pan on a medium heat, stirring all the time until thickened and boiling.
Stir in the coffee essence and transfer to a bowl. Put a piece of baking parchment right on the surface of the mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Leave this to cool to room temperature, then chill for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight.
For the next stage, you can either use a hand-held electric whisk or transfer the mixture to a bowl in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. When the mixture is at body temperature, add a quarter of the eggs and beat well until the mixture is combined. Then add another quarter and beat well again.
You will need to beat it pretty hard to get all of the mixture mixed in. Repeat with the next quarter of the eggs and beat again. Now you should have a quarter of the egg mixture left – add half of this and beat it well, until the pastry is smooth, shiny and has reached a piping consistency. Aim to include as much egg in the mixture as possible while still keeping the mixture to a ‘reluctant dropping consistency’, as this means the choux will rise and turn to a good darkish golden-brown colour in the oven.
Place the choux pastry in the piping bag. Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment, and add a blob of choux pastry underneath each corner to prevent the baking parchment from moving around in the oven. Pipe 10cm lengths of the choux, each about 2.5cm wide, onto the lined baking sheets, spacing them about 5cm apart. Apply an even pressure to the piping bag throughout the whole Length of each éclair.
Once the éclairs are cooked, remove them from the oven and cut a little slit at the bottom of each one with a paring knife to release any steam. Leave them to cool down completely. While the eclairs are cooling down, remove the filling from the fridge and whisk it up again until nice and smooth, then fold in the toasted hazelnuts until evenly combined.
Use a skewer to make three small holes in the bottom of each éclair. Place the filling in the large piping bag and snip off a small opening. Pipe into the three holes until the filling starts to ooze out through them a little. The filled éclairs should feel heavy for their size. Repeat until all the éclairs have been filled.
Put all the ingredients for the coffee glaze in a heatproof bowl and mix until evenly combined. Put the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water with the sugar thermometer and stir constantly until the glaze reaches 35°C (95°F). Turn the éclairs upside down and then dip the top third of each éclair into the coffee glaze. Sweep off any excess glaze around the edges with your finger, and arrange them on a wire rack, glazed side up.
Once you have glazed a few éclairs, sprinkle some hazelnuts along the length of the glaze, gently pressing them into the still soft glaze to help them to stick. Leave the glaze to set for at least 10 minutes before serving. The glaze is best used at 35°C (95°F), so if it cools too much while you are dipping, place the bowl back over the simmering water until it has reached the correct temperature.
Once all of the éclairs are decorated, put them onto a plate and serve. The éclairs will keep in the fridge for up to 2–3 hours without going soggy.
© Lorraine Pascale, 2017. Images: © Myles New, 2017.