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Several years ago, while watching the Great British Bake Off, I began doing the 'Bake Along'. This is where recipes for the technical challenges were shared online for viewers to try their hand at the bakes that were used to stump contestants in the tent. Courtesy of being provided with an actual recipe, rather than a variable (and often vague) description of what the judges were looking for, this was sort of an interactive Bake-Off-Made-Easy. Sometimes things went well and sometimes they went terribly. My husband is grateful that I no longer participate after a particularly emotional Sunday night remaking a sugar paste tennis court. Viewers may remember the episode with the Victorian theme from 2015. All I can say is, I'm happy techniques have moved on from the 19th century...
In any case, doing the technical challenges introduced me to a range of bakes and recipes that I'd never really considered trying to make at home myself. Pâtisserie in particular became a favourite. Despite the impressiveness of the finished products, most of the recipes are by and large based around a very basic repertoire of techniques and some classic ingredients: sugar, flour, butter and eggs. Recently I tried experimenting with éclairs. The below is a bit of a work in progress recipe. The results turned out, but the icing could use a bit of tweaking to increase the maple flavour.
Candied Maple Pecan Praline Paste
For this recipe, I've made a candied maple pecan paste to flavour my crème pâtissière. If you'd rather, you could use a pre-made pecan paste or nut butter. I have to say, though, that snacking on the candied pecans certainly made this process worth it for me!
To make the paste, you'll first have to make candied maple pecans. I opted to do this on the stove top. Mix all of the ingredients for the paste in a large shallow pan, ensuring that the pecans are well coated in the maple syrup and spice. Over a medium-high heat, I brought the syrup to a boil and then reduced this to medium-low. Then, I continued simmering the mixture, stirring occasionally until the syrup thickens and begins to crystallise on the nuts.
Tip out onto a piece of parchment paper and spread the nuts out to allow them to set and cool. Once these have reached room temperature, set a handful aside for decorating the éclairs later. Place the rest into a food processor to blitz into a paste.
If you have never made a nut butter/paste before, this does take longer than you might think. For the pecan paste, it took me roughly 20 minutes on high with a few pauses to scrape down the inside of the food processor. You are looking for the nuts to break down and start to become smooth. Essentially, you're looking for a consistency similar to peanut butter (maybe a bit more stiff, but not grainy). Once you've reached a consistency you are happy with, set this aside. You will end up with considerably more maple pecan paste then you will need in this recipe. With the excess, there are infinite options! For example, I've used this in various bakes, including these tart shells and my praline poundcake.
Praline Crème Pâtissière
The next component for your éclairs will be the maple pecan praline crème pâtissière. This pastry cream is extremely easy to make and very versatile. You can add pretty much any flavouring you would like - spice it up, use it in baking or just eat it on its own like custard. First, place your milk and vanilla into a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat to bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to avoid burning on the bottom.
Meanwhile, in a large heatproof bowl (ideally something you can easily pour from), whisk together the egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour until this is smooth. Once the milk has boiled, slowly pour this into the egg mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. Then immediately pour the whole mix back into your saucepan, replace over the medium-high heat and continue whisking constantly until thickened. At this stage, you can add additional flavourings - in this case, 1 tablespoon of your candied pecan paste (or more or less if you'd like!) - whisk until combined and then pour into a clean bowl.
Cover with cling film, sealing directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin forming. Place this in the refrigerator to chill for a couple of hours (this can also be made a couple of days in advance as well).
And now, the final component - the éclair pastries themselves! - choux. I think I find choux one of the most incredible and yet simple pastries to make. I used to assume that you had to be a proper pastry chef, with all sorts of fancy gadgets before attempting them. In fact the only tools you will need are a saucepan, bowl and wooden spoon. I'm still amazed every time that beating some butter, flour and eggs in a certain way can yield the delicate little shells that make such an excellent vehicle for custard and cream.
To make choux pastries, you'll want to do a couple of bits of preparation. First pre-heat your oven to 180C/165C Fan (350°F) and then line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. You can get silicone mats with pre-printed guidelines for piping out your pastries. These may be worth investing in if you get hooked on éclairs! I use this set. Otherwise, draw guidelines on the underside of the parchment to help you to pipe consistent lines when the time comes. I used a pre-printed template with the guidelines about 3.5" (8cm) long, spaced about 1.5" (3cm) apart.
Now, place your butter, sugar, salt and ½ cup (120mL) water in a saucepan. Heat this over medium-high heat until the butter has melted and the mixture boils. Add your flours to the pan, keeping this over the heat, and beat quickly and fiercely with a wooden spoon. This will incorporate quickly, but you will want to continue beating over the heat for a couple of minutes. This additional time will cook off the flour and improve the likelihood of your finished pastry shells drying out properly. Then, tip the mixture into a clean bowl and continue beating until this cools down enough to stop steaming.
Add your eggs one at a time to the mix, beating to fully incorporate after each addition. The mixture will separate at first when adding an egg, but it will come together with enough beating. You may only need two eggs, if these are larger. You are looking for a dropping consistency, when the batter is still fairly stiff, but smooth (as pictured below). When you've reached the consistency, fill a piping bag, fitted with a nozzle about .5" (1.5cm) wide with your batter and you are ready for piping and baking your éclairs!
Once you have piped these onto your prepared baking mat, brush each with some beaten egg as a glaze. Bake these in the pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes, until risen and turning golden. When they reach this point, turn off your oven and leave them in for an additional 30 minutes. While the oven starts to cool off, this will help to dry out the shells. Then finally, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to finish the cooling process.
Putting Your Maple Pecan Praline Eclairs Together
When these have cooled and your cream has chilled, you can start assembly. You'll want to cut small holes with a sharp knife into the underside of your pastry cases. Its recommended to cut one near each end. These will be used for piping your cream. When taking the crème pâtissière out of the fridge, revive this a bit by beating lightly until smooth. This will make it more easily pipe-able. Fit a piping bag with a slightly smaller nozzle then you used for piping the pastries (I used a 1cm). Use the holes that you have cut into the base of your pastry cases to fill the hollow insides. Using both holes will help to fill the cavity more evenly.
Finally, whisk together the icing sugar, vanilla, maple syrup (or extract) and milk in a bowl. You will be looking for a glaze consistency. You may need slightly more or less milk dependent on your preferences. Then either dip the éclairs (holding the bottoms and carefully dunking the tops into the icing) or use an offset spatula to coat the tops. Using the preserved candied pecans from making your paste, decorate. You're now ready to enjoy your Candied Maple Pecan Praline Eclairs
From my trial bake, I would probably recommend using more maple syrup or to use maple extract for a stronger flavour. This is something I think I will return to in future. Let me know if you have any suggestions!!
Candied Maple Pecan Éclairs
- 2 piping bags
- Food processor
- Parchment paper and baking sheets
Ingredients for Candied Maple Pecan Paste
- 2 cups pecan halves (200g)
- ⅓ cup maple syrup (100mL)
- 1½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
Ingredients for Crème Pâtissière
- 1 cup whole milk (250mL)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1 egg
- 2 egg yolks
- ½ cup caster sugar (100g)
- 2½ tablespoon cornflour
Ingredients for Choux Pastry
- ¼ cup unsalted butter (60g)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ⅓ cup plain flour (45g)
- ⅓ cup strong bread flour (45g)
- 3 medium eggs + 1 egg for glazing before baking
Additional Ingredients for Decoration
- 1 cup icing sugar, sifted (225g)
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or maple extract
For Candied Maple Pecan Paste
- If making the pecan paste from scratch, start by putting all ingredients into a large, shallow pan over medium-high heat. Stir these together so that the syrup coats the pecans and the spices dissolve.
- Bring the syrup to a boil, then reduce and continue simmering over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes while the syrup thickens and eventually begins to crystallise on the nuts. Once these become sticky and start crystallising, remove from heat and spread on a piece of parchment to cool completely.
- Set aside a handful of candied pecan halves for decoration, add the rest to a food processor and begin blitzing until they form a paste. This can take around 20 minutes and will require stopping the food processor occasionally to scrape down the sides and continue. Once the paste has formed, set aside.
For Crème Pâtissière
- Start with your milk and vanilla bean paste in a medium sized saucepan, Bring this to a boil over a medium-high heat, stirring regularly. Meanwhile, in a separate heat proof bowl, whisk together egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour.
- Once your milk has boiled, pour this slowly into the egg mixture tempering your eggs. Once whisked together, pour this back into the pan over medium heat and whisk until thickened (about 5 minutes).
- Take off the heat and add any flavourings - in this case, 1 tablespoon of your pecan paste. Pour this into a separate bowl and cover with cling film (the film should be placed directly on the surface of the custard to help prevent a skin forming). Refrigerate for about 2 hours before using (and up to three days).
For Choux Pastry
- For your choux pastry, pre-heat the oven to 180C/165C Fan (350°F) and line a baking tray with parchment or a silicone baking mat. For consistency in your finished product, you can pre-draw guiding lines onto the underside of the parchment for your eclairs - mine were about 3.5" (8cm) long, spaced 1.5" (3cm) apart.
- Begin by placing the butter, salt and sugar in a medium saucepan. Add ½ cup (120mL) water to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, tip in your flours and quickly beat with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Continue mixing over the heat for a couple of minutes to help cook the flour out, then tip the mixture into a medium bowl and continue beating until it finishes steaming.
- Once the dough has stopped steaming, you should add your eggs one at a time, mixing with the wooden spoon until incorporated after each addition. You may not need all three eggs, but you are looking for a smooth, dropping consistency of batter. Once this has been reached, put your batter into a piping bag, fitted with a nozzle about .5" (1.5cm) wide.
- Pipe out steadily in lines on your parchment paper. Brush with some beaten egg to help develop a golden colour and place in the oven to bake. Once risen and lightly golden (about 30 minutes), turn off the oven and leave inside for another 30 minutes to help dry out. Then remove and leave to cool on a baking rack.
- Now that all of your elements are ready, you are set to assemble the éclairs. Begin by using a sharp knife to cut two holes in the bottom of each éclair near either end. These will help you to fill the pastries more evenly.
- Next, revive your crème pâtissière - beating this for a couple of minutes to loosen it and then prepare a piping bag with a slightly smaller nozzle than the one you used for piping the choux (I used a 1cm).
- Take each éclair and pipe some of the crème pâtissière into each of the two holes in the bottom - aiming to fill the hollow within the pastry.
- Once filled, mix sifted icing sugar, vanilla, maple syrup (or extract) and milk in a bowl until you have an icing glaze. You may need slightly more or less milk dependent on the your desired consistency. Either dip the éclairs (holding the bottoms and carefully dunking the tops into the icing) or use an offset spatula to coat the tops. Using the preserved candied pecans from making your paste, decorate.