If the choux fits: Give these California-style caramel eclairs a whirl
The beauty of a home-made eclair is eating the choux pastry while it is still crisp
Salted caramel eclairs. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography
A few years ago I attended a course at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley. While I was there, a patisserie course was taking place in the adjacent kitchen. I was distracted by the heavenly scent of praline caramel wafting over from the patisserie section. I could regularly be found drooling over trays of choux pastry.
The lunchtime buffet included all the dishes made that day in the school, so I got to taste them, and they were simply divine. The memory of those heavenly Californian choux pastries inspired these salted caramel eclairs.
I’ve used a simple home-style method of making caramel using condensed milk, then combined it with whipped cream for an indulgent filling.
If you don’t have the cool hands and light touch needed for good shortcrust pastry, then making choux pastry could be the answer. There is no rubbing in, rolling out or lining of tart tins. It does require a little elbow grease but, if you prefer, you can transfer the mixture to a food processor before gradually adding the eggs.
The beauty of a home-made eclair is being able to eat the choux pastry while it is still crisp, providing the essential textural contrast to the creamy filling. The filling will slowly soften the pastry, so it is best not to fill the eclairs too far in advance.
To give even more crunch, and as an extra nod to the Napa Valley originals that inspired them, I have sprinkled my eclairs with shards of home-made praline (caramelised toasted hazelnuts). Confectionery skills are required to make praline safely, so unfortunately, it is not included in this recipe. But if you want to add a nutty flavour, you could sprinkle with chopped toasted nuts.
SALTED CARAMEL ECLAIRS
¼tsp caster sugar
50g butter, cubed
65g strong white flour, sieved
2 small eggs, beaten
397g tin sweetened condensed milk
75g caster sugar
1tbs Golden Syrup
Generous pinch sea salt
125ml whipped cream
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees fan, or equivalent, and line a greased baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. For the choux pastry: Heat the water, sugar, butter and salt in a medium-sized heavy-based saucepan. Increase the heat and as soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat and quickly add all the flour, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Return to a low heat and keep stirring for one minute to slightly cook the flour (and to remove any excess moisture). The mixture will come together as a ball and pull away from the pan sides.
3. Allow the mixture to cool to tepid before adding the eggs. Beat in each egg gradually, before adding the next egg, until you reach a smooth, shiny paste with a dropping consistency (this will take five minutes vigorous hand-beating).
4. Spoon the paste into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm-wide nozzle and pipe 10cm lengths on the parchment paper. Bake the piped choux in the preheated oven at 200 degrees, or equivalent, for 25 minutes until puffed up and browned (do not open the oven door during this time). Lastly, to crisp them up, remove the eclairs from the oven, prick the bases twice with a skewer to release steam and bake for two further minutes. Allow them to cool on a wire rack.
5. To make the salted caramel: Gently melt the condensed milk, sugar, butter and Golden Syrup in a medium saucepan. Over a medium heat, stir continuously for 20 minutes until the sauce deepens to a caramel colour (occasionally reduce the heat and use a wooden spoon to scrape around the inside edges of the pan where the mixture might catch and burn). Cool, then add sea salt to taste.
6. Make a light caramel cream filling by whisking a quarter of the cooled caramel with a quarter of the whipped cream.
7. Slice open and fill the base of the eclairs with whisked caramel cream, followed by a layer of whipped cream. Spread caramel over the upper lids and place on top. Serve immediately.