Some of the best baked goods I have ever eaten have come from Gram’s Recipe Box. Outside her home smells of goodness would be oozing out of the cracks in the house, enticing anyone who walked by to come in and eat.
Gram had this massive old wood cook stove that she used to do all of her cooking and baking. Gramps had bought a new modern stove for Christmas one year for her; she tried it for a week only to demand that they “remove that piece of trash from my kitchen!” How we all did laugh about that.
Despite how hot that house would get in the summer she still would use it every day, one taste of the magic that came out of that oven and we would forget all about the sweat pouring off us. Not to mention she produced some of the best tasting baked goods throughout the whole county. Each of us kids had our own favorite recipe, of course, and mine was her Chocolate Covered Éclairs.
To this day I cherish that recipe. During my early cooking days I spent a good deal of time working to update that recipe for use with a modern cook stove, mostly trial and error adjusting the temperature settings and bake times. With each failed attempt I could almost hear Grams laughing as she would certainly scold me for trying to ruin her recipe with a trash oven.
When I was finally successful I looked upward as shouted at the ceiling “Ha, Grams! I did it! And on a trash stove to boot.” My husband looked at me like I was insane. But, you know, the éclairs as awesome tasting as I remembered them being. Every time I make them it feels like I’ve been transported to Gram’s old baking kitchen all over again.
Because the filling portion of her recipe had never been committed to paper I also had to try to reconstruct that from taste memory. I use vanilla pudding with an attitude adjustment. That recipe is included in this article as well. Gram used to use different fillings depending on her moods, but I was partial to the vanilla filled ones so that is the one that I am including here.
Try this recipe for yourself (newbies exercise patience as the dough can be tough to get right on the first try) and see if you want to put it on your own list of favorite baking recipes. If you typically like éclairs I think you will.
The following sets of ingredients can be prepared in any order that works for you; I typically will prepare the filling first in order to allow it cooling time while I do the pastry and the frosting. By the time the baked shells are cool enough to work with and fill, the filling has cooled sufficiently to use it.
GRAM’S CHOCOLATE COVERED ÉCLAIRS
Yields approximately 18-20 éclairs
1 cup cubed butter 1 ¾ cup water 2 cups flour (all purpose)
2/3 tsp salt 6 – 8 eggs
Directions: In a large saucepan combine the water, salt, and butter. Turn heat on high, bringing the mix to a boil until the butter melts completely. Turn the heat down to lowest setting; add the flour and salt slowly mixing as you add. Once it is all added stir the mixture vigorously until it leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball around the spoon. (I’ve found that a long handled wooden spoon works best) Remove from the heat.
The eggs: I’ve found if I break each one in a cup first and beat it with a fork before adding to the pastry it mixes easier and gets the consistency I want a bit faster. DON’T add them all at once.
Proper batter consistency is determined by the eggs. Too many makes it too wet. Too few, too dry. Let 6-8 eggs be just a guide, you may not need them all. I know some people who have had to use more because of the type of flour they used. Let the consistency of the batter determine your egg usage.
One at a time add the eggs, stirring it thoroughly through the batter before adding the next one. You want your batter to hang onto the spoon without being runny like cake batter but don’t want it so thick that you can knead it like bread dough. As you lift the dough with the spoon it should form a “V” and should seem to almost tear, like being stuck in the mud.
After your batter is mixed and you’re happy with the consistency, spoon or pipe dough into 4-inch long by 1 ½ inch wide strips on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spacing evenly apart and away from the pan’s edge.
Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for 20 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack.
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate 4 tbsp butter
4-6 tbsp hot water 2 cups confectioners sugar
Using a small pan over low heat melt chocolate and butter. Stir in sugar. Gradually add hot water until the icing is smooth and reaches the consistency you like. Let cool slightly before frosting the éclairs. Chill until ready to serve.
1 small box cook-to-serve vanilla pudding mix 1 cup heavy whipping cream
¼-cup confectioners sugar 1 tsp vanilla extract
Directions: Follow the directions on the box for making pie filling; while that is cooling prepare your whipping cream. In a large bowl (not plastic) whip cream until soft peaks form on top, add the sugar and vanilla beating it into the cream. Whip this just until it starts to thicken and small light peaks form at the top. (If you beat it too long you will be making butter and you will have to throw it out.)
Next, gently fold the whipped cream into the pudding filling and return to the fridge until ready to fill.
(Note: I have known some people who just have no success with homemade whipped cream, if you are one of those people, do without the cream, sugar, and vanilla, and just use Cool Whip instead. The taste is only slightly different but it really is less work, and mess.)
ON TO THE TABLE:
Once your pastry has cooled they are ready to fill. Slice the pastry from the side, like you would a hotdog bun, and fill opening with the filling. Fold the pastry back over the top and frost. Your éclairs are ready to eat.