Recently, a friend of mine and I had lunch at Clementine’s Bistro on El Paseo in Palm Desert. If you ever get anywhere close to them (just west of Monterey/Hwy. 74 on the south side of El Paseo), I urge you to try them. We had the most delightful lunch in a bistro that came right off any of the major Paris thoroughfares! They have a deli and bakery where you can take home many of their creations, a gift shop with really unusual and charming items for entertaining (my friend had to take my purse away from me to keep me from buying everything I saw). Did I mention the restaurant part? No?
The place is bigger than it looks and the menu so different than what you normally see. The salads, sandwiches, paninis, omelets, and other items made it hard to choose. Since both a sandwich and a panini sounded good to both of us, we decided to order one of each and share. We couldn’t have been happier with our choices. Both were served with house-made chips that were thick and crisp, a jardinière that was colorful and full of flavor, and the coffee was wonderful! We saved room (by taking some of the lunch home for a 2nd helping) for dessert – and shared a chocolate éclair.
I’m never ceased to be amazed at how something so simple can be so wonderful. So, today I am going to give you a recipe for an easy Chocolate Éclair – and don’t expect it to hold a candle to the one at Clementine’s … but one you can certainly cause your family and friends to say WOW when they taste it! The shell of an éclair is the same as the shell of cream puffs and is called a ‘choux’ or ‘pate choux’ pastry (pronounced ‘patay shoo’) and is easy to do. You can make them a day or two in advance and keep them in an air tight container or freeze them. Be sure to defrost them before filling. (They can be filled with ice cream, too, but I like the pastry cream much better.)
I’ll also give you 2 options for the filling. Clementine’s used the traditional Chocolate Pastry Crème but if that’s more work than you want – or if you are in a hurry, you can substitute a GOOD chocolate pudding. It won’t be the same – I promise you that – but sometimes we just have to make do! To taste the real thing, though, a trip to Clementine’s is worth it!
- ½ c unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 c water
- 1 c all purpose flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 4 eggs
Filling #1 – Chocolate Pastry Cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 9 Tbsp. sugar
- 1-1/2 Tbsp. flour
- 1-1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2-2/3 c whole milk
- 1-1/3 c heavy (whipping) cream
- 1-1/4 c chopped dark chocolate (at least 64% cocoa or better)
Filling #2 – Pudding
- 2-1/2 c whole milk, cold
- 1 pkg. (5.1 oz.) instant chocolate pudding mix
- 1 c heavy (whipping) cream
- 1/4 c powdered sugar
- 1 tsp. pure vanilla
- 2 oz. semisweet chocolate
- 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 c powdered sugar
- 2 – 3 Tbsp. hot water
To make Choux Pastry:
Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 450.
In a large saucepan, combine butter and water and bring to a rapid, full boil, stirring until the butter melts. Reduce heat to low. Add flour and salt all at once and stir vigorously until the pastry forms a stiff ball. Remove from the heat. Add eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each addition to ensure the egg is fully incorporated into the dough before adding the next egg.
With a tablespoon or a pastry tube (fitted with a #10 or larger) tip, spoon or pipe dough into 4” by 1-1/2” wide strips. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes. Tops and bottoms should be golden brown and tubes should sound almost hollow when tapped. Cool completely on wire rack. Tops and bottoms will be firm and center should be hollow and fairly dry. You may test one by cutting it in half horizontally. If it’s really wet inside, return them to the oven for another 5 minutes. When completely cool, either fill them or store for later filling.
Filling #1 – Chocolate Pastry Crème
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch until well blended and sugar is dissolved. In a saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking all the time to keep the eggs from cooking (tempering the eggs). Whisk the egg/milk mixture into the saucepan and return to the heat and cook over low, whisking constantly until thick, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the dark chocolate until melted.
Transfer the chocolate crème into a bowl and immediately cover with plastic wrap right on top of the chocolate so no skin forms. Refrigerate until cool, about 2 hours.
Filling #2 – Chocolate Pudding
In a large bowl,, whisk milk and pudding mix for 2 minutes, and let stand for another 2 minutes or until soft-set. In another large bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form Beat in sugar and vanilla; then, fold into soft-set pudding. Fill cooled éclair shells, frost and serve.
Melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring to be sure it doesn’t burn. Or, melt in the microwave in short bursts, stirring until both are melted smoothly. Stir in sugar until sugar is completely dissolved. Add hot water, a half teaspoon at a time, until glaze is smooth and of pouring or frosting consistency, as you prefer.
You can slice the éclairs in half, horizontally, and spoon in about 1-1/2 to 2 tsp. of the chocolate cream onto the bottom half, cover and then glaze or frost the top. Or, you can poke a hole in the end and using a pastry bag and long-nosed tip (called a Bismarck), fill the éclair without cutting into it. Either way works.