In response to my list of suggested desserts for The Ultimate Backyard Barbecue Party, a reader e-mailed me to ask if I could recommend desserts other than ice cream that requires minimal fuss. I’ve always considered fresh fruits to be the most fuss-free—and healthiest—sweets to end a meal but, on second thought, you can’t cut fruits well ahead of time. And you have to serve them in dessert bowls with spoons or forks. Not really fuss-free, I suppose, especially when you’re talking about serving a dozen people or more. But dark chocolate eclairs can be a fuss-free dessert for a backyard barbecue party if you’re smart about when to prepare and how to serve them.
Alex made a second batch of dark chocolate eclairs about two weeks after the cream puffs. She made the first batch on the same day as the cream puffs but the chocolate I used for the ganache wasn’t so good and the ganache turned out rather lumpy. No earthly reason to take photos of the first batch of eclairs. The second batch was just perfect.
These dark chocolate eclairs can be served without utensils. Drop each on a piece of non-stick paper liner (like a cupcake liner but elongated; they are available in baking supply stores), place the lined eclairs on a tray or trays and serve. Everyone can piece up a piece and eat it right from the liner. No dessert bowls, spoons or forks required.
And to make it even more convenient, you can make the eclairs a day ahead. Just keep them in the fridge in a tightly covered container. If the pâte à choux was baked correctly, the shells won’t turn soggy. And there’s a plus side to chilling the eclairs a day ahead too—the pastry cream filling will have a chance to firm up.
How difficult is it to make eclairs? Not difficult at all although I have to admit that this is not a dessert to make if you’re a total newbie. Making the pastry cream filling and piping it into the baked shells can be especially tricky.
Making eclairs is just like making cream puffs except that the pâte à choux is piped like a log and the topping is ganache rather than caramelized sugar.
Okay, piping the pâte à choux into logs is not as easy as dropping them by spoonfuls. Different bakers have different techniques for doing this. Some use a large plain tip and pipe the dough with one fluid motion. Alex used a medium plain tip and piped the dough in a back-and-forth motion. It doesn’t really matter which technique you choose. Choose whichever is more in your comfort level. The result will come up the same—lightly crisp and dry logs with hollow centers.
Dark chocolate eclairs
The prep time presumes that the pâte à choux has been prepared and the pastry cream filling has been cooked and chilled.
Bake the shells
Preheat the oven to 400F.
Line a baking tray or trays with non-stick paper or silicone mat.
Using a spatula, scrape the pâte à choux into a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (large or medium).
Pipe the dough into a log about three inches long and an inch-and-a-half wide. You may do this with one stroke if using a large tip or with back-and-forth strokes if using a medium tip. Remember to keep the piped dough at least two inches apart because the logs will puff during baking.
Bake the piped dough at 400F for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 375F and bake for another 10 minutes or until the tops are dry to the touch and the shells make a hollow sound when tapped lightly.
Cool the baked shells on a rack.
Fill the pastry shells
Using a small pointed knife, poke two holes on one side of each shell.
Transfer the pastry cream filling to a clean piping bag with a small plain tip attached.
Holding a shell with one hand and the piping bag with the other, press the pastry cream through the holes of the shells just until filled. Do not overfill as the filling will ooze out. Repeat until all the shells have been filled with pastry cream.
Make the ganache
Place the chopped or grated chocolate in a shallow bowl.
In a microwaveable bowl, heat the cream in the microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds or just until it starts to simmer.
Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for 30 seconds to give the chocolate time to get hot. Stir gently but thoroughly until smooth. Note that you may also use the double boiler method for making ganache.
Let the ganache cool for a few minutes to make it a bit thicker.
Glaze the eclairs
Holding each filled shell upside-down, dip the top in the ganache then invert on a rack. Repeat until all the filled shells have been glazed.
Place the dark chocolate eclairs in a covered container or containers, in a single layer, and chill in the fridge for a few hours (or up to 24 hours) until needed.