Initially I planned to post this recipe before Christmas, then before New Year's. But time seems to always run away from me. So before another six months passes, let's just say I planned these in time for Valentine's day.
The inspiration for these mini eclairs (about 2-3 inches in length) comes from a bakery we have nearby. It is a local staple, and the locals are completely addicted to it.
To give you an example, the bakery closes at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Around 2:30 in the afternoon, there is a traffic jam around the small parking lot. Some patrons leave their cars running with emergency lights on on the side of the road while they run in to get their fill before closing time.
Inside the store there is a frenzy; multiple store clerks shout out who's next! while the patrons frantically point in the direction of their favorite pastry, cookie or cupcake. These aren't people who are trying to get last minute cakes or pies for a get together. These are people who have no other purpose than to satisfy their sweet tooth before the bakery closes for the day. There is a lone grown man who buys two large sun-flower shaped sugar cookies and consumes one at the store and one on the way back to his car. There is a woman who runs out clutching a small bag full of mini cannolis which she eats in the parking lot in her car, her mouth covered with dusted sugar. This bakery feeds an addiction. Addiction to amazing, fresh, made-on-the-spot goodies.
My favorite pastries there are mini eclairs. They are always fresh, with the chocolate glaze still warm. They are so hard to resist that sometimes when my husband and I get them, we eat them as soon as we reach the car, knowing to avoid eye contact with other patrons munching on their fare in theirs.
Then I decided to make my own. The eclairs at the bakery are filled with an amazing egg custard, and covered with booze-infused gooey chocolate glaze. The eclairs I make here are filled with coconut milk based filling to make them slightly lighter. For the glaze, I went heavy on the liquor and light on sugar, substituting it with agave syrup.
The pastry used for the eclairs is called pâte à choux, which is the same pastry used for cream puffs. You can read more about cream puffs here. The egg-rich batter creates an air pocket inside the pastry while it bakes, so that it can be easily filled with cream. The key to making the batter is just the right amount of eggs. Don't go by measurements but rather by consistency. Add the eggs gradually to see if the right consistency is reached (remember you can always add more eggs but you cannot un-add them if there is too much). If the mixture is resembling mashed potato texture (a bit too dry), whisk in another egg in small portions until proper consistency is reached. The pâte à choux should be easy to whisk, thick but not sticky, and glistening slightly.
These mini eclairs are so small and light that you might not notice before half of them are gone!
Pâte à Choux
Makes about 32 mini eclairs (2 sheets)
You will need:
1 cup water
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
4-5 eggs, lightly beaten (about 1 cup)
1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Heat water, butter and salt in a small saucepan on medium heat until just boiling, stir to combine. With the heat on low, gradually add the flour, stirring constantly. Continue stirring, breaking up any lumps, until the mixture is thick and separates from the sides of the pan, about 1-2 minutes. The mixture should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.
3. Transfer to a large bowl and wait until the mixture has cooled or the eggs will curdle. Add eggs gradually, mixing quickly until well blended (the mixture will separate then come together). The final mixture should have the consistency of a thick custard and should be shiny and pipe easily.
4. Fill a piping bag with the batter. With a round tip, pipe 16 eclairs on each baking sheet (about 2.5 inches in length) spacing them about 1 inch apart.
5. Bake the pastries at 425ºF for 10 minutes. The pastries should puff up and turn light gold. Reduce the heat to 375ºF and bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the pastries are golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Do not place in the fridge as they may collapse. Let cool completely before filling.
Coconut Cream Filling
Tip: For the filling you should use only coconut milk solids, otherwise the filling will be too runny. Refrigerate the coconut milk cans for several hours or overnight. This will allow the solids to be separated from the liquids; the solids will be on top. When ready, spoon out the solids into a bowl.
You will need:
solids of two 15 oz cans of coconut milk (about 2 cups)
1.5 cup confecitoner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1. In a bowl, add the coconut milk solids, confectioner's sugar and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed for about 2-3 minutes, until ripples form and the consistency is smooth and creamy. Refrigerate immediately until needed.
2. To fill the eclairs, puncture two small openings with a knife or a skewer on the bottom of each eclair, spaced about 1.5 inches apart to accommodate a small round tip. Fill the piping bag with the coconut cream filling. Using the small round tip, pipe the filling into the pastry through one opening, then the other (this will ensure the pastry is filled evenly). Wipe away any excess cream. Refrigerate until ready to glaze.
You will need:
4 oz semi-sweet baker's chocolate
2 1/4 tbsp butter, softened
1 1/4 tsp unsweetened cocoa
1/2 oz rum
1 oz agave syrup
1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler (or carefully in a saucepan over very low heat). Remove from heat into a bowl and add the butter. Mix until the butter is melted.
2. In a separate bowl whisk together cocoa, rum and agave syrup. Stir into the chocolate and butter mixture. Let stand to cool until the mixture has thickened and is of spreadable consistency. Then, with a pastry brush, brush each eclair with the glaze. Serve or refrigerate.