Eclairs

The dough for eclairs and French crullers (pate de choux) is a paste made in a rather unusual procedure. Water (two parts) and shortening (one part) are placed in a kettle and brought to a rolling boil. After the fat is melted, a pinch of salt is added, flour (1-1.5 parts) is added, and the mixture is stirred briskly. The gelatinized flour paste is cooled to about 150°F, and two parts whole egg are added in several increments, with continuous stirring. A small amount of ammonium bicarbonate, dissolved in one-half part milk, is stirred in. The final paste should be soft enough to deposit from a pastry bag, yet firm enough to hold its shape once deposited. If it is too stiff, it may be softened by the addition of a small amount of milk or water.

The finished dough is deposited on sheet pans lined with parchment paper, then baked in a hot (425°F) oven until the eclairs are crispy. Leavening action is due to the formation of steam in the interior of the piece. If inadequate leavening occurs, a small amount of ammonium bicarbonate (no more than 1% of the weight of the water used) may be dissolved in a little water and mixed in at the end of the dough-making procedure. The finished piece should be crisp on the outside, hollow on the inside, and with no soggy layer on the interior wall.

Eclairs are usually filled with a chilled custard, either plain or a French custard (butter-flavored). They are then iced, with chocolate being the most popular flavor, or dusted with confectioners' (very finely powdered) sugar. To prevent bacterial growth, custard-filled eclairs should be refrigerated until served.

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