FOOD / A-Z of treats: Eclairs

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The Independent Culture
E is for eclairs, continuing our alphabet of sweet indulgences. Although

the name evokes childhood tea-parties, you can use unsweetened choux pastry to make savoury appetisers: fill them with smoked salmon, sour cream and chopped chives, or purees and pates. Sweetened choux attains its apogee as a Gateau St Honore: cream-filled balls piled into a cone, decorated with a floating veil of spun sugar.


Makes 8-12

4oz plain flour

3 eggs, beaten

3oz butter

4fl oz water

pinch of salt

Pre-heat the oven to very hot, 400F/200C/Gas 6. In a saucepan, bring the water, salt and butter to the boil. Take it off the heat and with a wooden spoon stir in the flour a little at a time, until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and keep stirring until the mixture forms a solid mass and comes away from the sides of the pan.

Take it off the heat, and leave to cool for a minute. Then beat in the egg mixture, bit by bit, until you have a silky smooth texture.

Butter a large baking sheet, or use non-stick baking paper. With a piping bag and a 1 in nozzle, squirt out 3 1/2 in lengths. You can fashion a home-made piping bag from a sheet of A4 typing paper twisted into a cone, snipping off a 1 in 'nozzle'. (Or you can make blobs of pastry instead, by using a teaspoon dipped into boiling water.)

Bake in the hottest part of the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is turning golden. Cool it on a wire tray. Cut slits and fill with whipped cream or creme patissiere (confectioner's custard). Cover with melted chocolate if you like, dissolving a bar of plain chocolate in a double boiler (or a small saucepan standing in a larger pan with an inch of simmering water).

Creme patissiere: beat two egg yolks, 2oz caster sugar and 1/2 oz cornflour together; stir in 1/4 pint of boiling milk, gradually at first, and beat until the mixture is smooth and shiny over a very low heat. Flavour with vanilla essence if you like, or use vanilla sugar. Chill in the fridge before use.