Every time I visited France over the past years, I rushed to a bakery to get fresh pastries and especially an éclair au chocolat, my favorite of all. ‘Éclair’ means ‘flash of lightning’, the perfect name for a pastry I tend to eat so speedily. Surely I wouldn’t give up on chocolate eclairs and its divine creamy chocolate filling, just because it contains gluten and milk? Of course not, so I rolled up my sleeves and took the challenge to make gluten and dairy free eclairs.
First thing to know when baking eclairs, is that it means mastering two techniques: The so-called pâte à choux, or cream puff dough, one of the cornerstones of French pastry (think profiteroles, Saint Honoré, religieuses, choux à la crème… hmmm!); and crème pâtissière, a thick custard which I planned to flavor with chocolate (because I am such a chocolate addict).
The good news is, making the crème pâtissière with dairy-free milk is super easy to do AND the rich creamy custard is just as much to die for as the dairy version. Gluten free pâte à choux is, well, easy to do IF you respect a bunch of fundamental rules, unless you want to end up with flat or cracked pastry shells. My first batch was a disaster, it didn’t rise at all, which relates to the type of flour used (gluten free indeed).
Couple of adjustments later, my latest batch nicely puffed up into an airy and crisp shell, ready to be filled up with the chocolate custard, yay! How about the topping? Chocolate fondant is traditionally used to coat the éclair. But fondant means plain white sugar and glucose, so I went for a simple icing made of melted chocolate.
Now let’s get cooking!
- For the chocolate custard:
- 3 egg yolks
- 30 g cornstarch
- 40 g coconut nectar
- 350 ml almond milk (or other vegetal milk)
- 150 g dairy free dark chocolate (I use at least 70% cacao)
- For the cream puff dough:
- 60 g margarine
- 120 g eggs
- 120 g water
- 40 g brown rice flower
- 35 g cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of sugar
- Let's start with the chocolate custard: Whisk the egg yolks and coconut nectar then whisk in the cornstarch.
- Heat the almond milk in a saucepan, bringing it just a boil. Remove from the heat and pour slowly the milk into the egg mixture, while whisking simultaneously until well combined.
- Pour it back into the saucepan and heat on medium heat. Don’t stop whisking until you get a thick custard.
- Melt the chocolate on bain-marie (or in micro wave about 1 min) and mix it with the custard.
- Place a plastic film on the custard in contact to avoid a ‘skin’ to form. Let it cool down at room temperature.
- Now let's make the Cream Puff Dough: Bring margarine, water, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Melt the margarine on low heat.
- Once it is melted, bring quickly to boil. Remove from the heat, add all at once the flours and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until all flour is incorporated. Yes, puffed dough requires a little of elbow grease!
- Return to the stove over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes to evaporate some of the moisture.
- Transfer it to a bowl and let cool for a few minutes.
- Beat the eggs and add to the mixture in 4-5 additions, stirring well each time until completely incorporated before continuing. If you are too exhausted after stirring the flour, you can use a mixer with paddle or hooks, as for me I prefer my loyal wooden spoon.
- Before the last egg addition goes in, check first the texture of the dough: it is ready when you scoop a little with your spoon and the dough falls off in a thick smooth ribbon, leaving behind a ‘crest’. If the tip breaks, it is too dry, add the rest of the egg. If the tip of the crest falls down in a curl, touching back the spoon, the dough is too runny (ouch! You need to start from scratch, do not add more flour).
- Preheat your oven to 190 degrees.
- Transfer the dough to a piping back and pipe out 12 cm regular logs on a baking sheet (I get 8 eclairs with this quantity of dough). You can stripe the surface with a fork to give the eclairs a better shape once baked, though it is optional.
- Cook for 20 minutes, this phase with high heat is to allow the eclairs to puff. Turn down to 170 degrees and cook for about another 20 minutes, using convection heat to dry the eclairs, until they turn golden brown. Allow the eclairs to cool down.
- Using a pastry tip, make a hole in both ends of the eclairs and gently pipe the custard into them.
- Melt dark chocolate in a bowl and dip the top of the eclairs, or use chocolate fondant if white sugar is not on your ‘no no list’ of ingredients.
It is important to dry the dough during about 2 minutes back to the stove, otherwise the éclair dough may not rise properly or will crack.
Don’t take the eclairs out of the oven too early just because they look already golden, they would deflate when cooling down.
If you prefer 'milk chocolate' to dark chocolate filling, add only 100g of chocolate to the custard instead of 150g.