I love how food trends are constantly adapting and changing. You can barely keep up with the snowballing popularity of the Cronut without ten new imitations popping up in its place (including the Greggsnut, the chain bakers’ admirable attempt which was launched yesterday). I remember when I first tasted salted chocolate and found it unbearable; now I love a smattering of salt sprinkled on my chocolate chip cookies. For a while, food blogs the world over seemed to be drowning in salted caramel and why not? It was one of those lightbulb moments whereveveryone sat up and noticed the delicious balance between salty and sweet.
A couple of months ago the new kid on the block was caramelized white chocolate. Forget blocks of Milkybar, everyone was dipping strawberries in the stuff, swirling it into brownies and licking it off their hands. Beautifully rich in colour like a Caramac, the realisation that roasting chocolate could elevate its greatness saw it treated like a gift from the angels.
I was intrigued to see that milk chocolate was starting to get the caramelized treatment too. Not as wide reaching as the white stuff, but a few blogs were covering the discovery and I wanted in. After my Love and Death by Chocolate Cake, chef gave me a bag of Callebaut chocolate so I could work on my tempering. But I think slowly roasting is now up there with creating chocolate shards.
Caramelizing milk chocolate uses the same method as white, but it appears disheartening as you can’t see much of a change in colour as the minutes tick past. But the beauty lies in the taste – reserve a few pieces of the chocolate to compare with after the process has finished – it brings a whole new dimension to what we normally associate with the likes of Dairy Milk. It has a grown up taste, deeper and richer with an almost coffee-like tang. You could skip this step if you are short of time, but the smell of chocolate slowly melting will give your kitchen the air of a chocolatier’s paradise. A sneaky spoonful after every stir is also a delightful chef’s perk.
Chai really is the perfect autumnal flavour for those that are already sick at the thought of Pinterest overloaded with pumpkin spice-themed everything. I personally I love the flavour – I’m a sucker for a pumpkin spice latte (don’t hate me) – but paired with the deep tones of the chocolate, chai really is a star for autumnal baking.
There may seem like a lot of steps to these éclairs but I promise they are worth the effort. You can chill the crème patisserie a day ahead and even bake the choux bun beforehand and store in an airtight box, but there is something so soothing about a lazy Sunday making these from start to finish. Just make sure you leave enough time to devour in one go – for tasting purposes of course…
You Will Need
For the Chai Crème Patisserie
300ml semi-skimmed milk
½ tsp vanilla paste
2 chai teabags (I use the M&S blend)
2 egg yolks
20g caster sugar
20g plain flour
For the pastry
20g unsalted butter, cubed
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
70g plain flour, sifted
For the topping
100g good-quality milk chocolate (I used Callebaut)
50g pecans (optional)
Tip: I used Poires au Chocolat’s method for caramelizing chocolate. I’ve added the basics below, but for a more in-depth explanation (including a brand taste test), have a read of her post here.
Begin by making the crème patisserie, as it needs time to chill in the fridge. Pour the milk into a medium sized saucepan and whisk in the vanilla paste before adding the chai teabags. Place over a medium heat and warm until simmering. Remove from the heat and squeeze out the teabags and discard.
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar for around 3-5 minutes until pale and creamy. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Carefully add a splash of milk at a time and whisk until the egg mixture is smooth. Once all the milk has been added, return the custard to the saucepan and heat until boiling. Keep whisking to prevent lumps forming until the custard thickens. Pour into a small bowl and press a sheet of clingfilm directly on the crème patisserie’s surface to prevent a skin forming. Cool to room temperature then place in the fridge to cool completely.
Preheat an oven to 200oc/180oc fan/gas mark 4 and line a large baking sheet with baking parchment. Heat the water, salt, sugar and butter in a saucepan until boiling then add all the flour at once. Stir to a thick paste then take off the heat and leave to cool for 2-3 minutes.
Add one egg and whisk into the paste – it will look lumpy and porridge-like but persist, it will come together. Once smooth, add the second egg and whisk until a shiny dough is formed. Scoop the dough into a piping bag (I like the plastic disposable ones) and cut a hole around 1cm wide. Pipe 8 fat lines around 8-10cm long onto the parchment spaced well apart then place in the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, wedge the door open with a wooden spoon and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and pierce a hole either end of each bun to release the steam. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Preheat the oven to 120oc/100oc fan/Gas mark 1. Place the chocolate on a clean baking sheet (broken into pieces if you are using a bar) and place in the oven. You will be cooking the chocolate for a total of 65 minutes, removing and stirring after the first five minutes, then every ten minutes. It easier if you write down the timings and cross them off as you take the chocolate out of the oven, stir then return it. After the chocolate has caramelized, scrape into a bowl for assembly.
To assemble the éclairs, slice the choux buns lengthways and either slice right through or leave a little hinge. Scoop the cooled crème patisserie into a piping bag and snip off the end, piping inside the éclairs in a zig zag pattern. If using the pecans, gently heat in a saucepan until fragrant and chop. Spread spoonfuls of the caramelized milk chocolate across the top of each éclair and decorate with the chopped nuts if using. Éclairs will keep in the fridge for around 1-2 days, but are best eaten as soon as possible.