Ah, ze éclair…si simple, si marveilleuse. I feel like eating one right now. Oh, right, I just did. But with all my prepared shells, pastry cream and ganache on-hand, there’s plenty more where that came from, n’est-ce pas? So what am I waiting for? I start by filling a pastry bag with stirred-up pastry cream and fitting it with a bismarck tip like so:
Grasping the closest available pastry shell, I gently insert the tip with a slight twisting motion (if possible right into one of the cracks in the shell, an easy entry point). Then: squeeze.
How do I know when the éclair is full? Here’s a clue:
All there is left to do now is dip the top in either melted chocolate or chocolate ganache, whichever you prefer (straight chocolate tends to chip once it’s cooled, so if I have the cream on hand I’ll usually use ganache).
Remove to plate…
…and eat! Or if you prefer you can let the topping firm up…though I can’t recall ever having had an éclair survive in my presence long enough. Simply put the pastry in the fridge for ten or fifteen minutes.
Here I should stress that éclairs are best eaten as soon as they’re filled and topped. The moment the pastry cream goes into the shell, the moisture begins to soften the pastry. The effect is not immediate, but is noticeable if the éclair is allowed to sit for more than a few hours. The shell gets soggy, which isn’t the end of the world, but part of the enjoyment of an éclair is the texture contrast. All goo is still OK, but…you get the picture.
Also, if you’re parking éclairs, always do so in the refrigerator. Pastry cream is a dairy product made with egg yolks, and should be treated with as much deference as you would show to a bowl of raw eggs (just in case). But again, when has an éclair ever lasted that long?
If you don’t have a bismarck tip you can certainly take the alternate route, slicing the shell in half (or thereabouts) lengthwise and piping the cream in. This is certainly a serviceable method, especially nice if you have decent piping skills (I don’t). The down side is that the pastry cream tends to squirt out when you bite down on it, which isn’t a problem per se, especially if you like licking your fingers.
I should also point out that some pastry makers like to flip the shells over and use the nice flat bottom as the top. The approach is not without a certain appeal.