For me, growing up, Valentine’s Day was something special. Not because of all the valentines I would receive from my many admirers—that goes without saying. I was pret-ty popular as a kid. I’m totally kidding. You caught me. I didn’t have any admirers, and what’s more, I’d get just the same amount of cards as any other boring Joe at school. The bare minimum. It was sad and depressing. I don’t want to talk about it. No, it was a special day because of the crafts we’d do at home. The coloring of cards and cutting of construction paper and gluing of pipe cleaners. My hearts were always cut lopsided, unlike my sisters’, but that’s okay. I think we all know which were better (mine). The youngest child can practically make a pile of crap and it would still be considered cute. The best part of the day, however, was when we’d get to decorate cookies, and then eat them, of course. Mamma would make a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies for us. Then we’d proceed to dump globs of pink, red and white colored icing on them, and make it rain nothing but sprinkles. I’d make it rain sprinkles—in my mouth. It was awesome! Sure there would be a gigantic mess at the end of it all, not even worth the cookies that came out of it, but the memories were totally worth it. Now don’t get me wrong. Mamma, bless her soul, isn’t a baker at all. She didn’t spend hours in the kitchen making said Valentine’s Day cookies. Nope. Instead, she would take a few minutes to open up a package of store-bought dough and plop them on a baking sheet and call it a day. We never complained. I mean after all, a cookie is a cookie.
There are only a few things in life, when it comes to food, that I really enjoy. Okay, who am I kidding? I don’t even believe that myself. There are a lot of food things in life I can’t get enough of, like Valentine’s Day cookies for instance. Also, doughnuts are definitely on the top of that can’t-get-enough list. Come to think of it, I don’t think there is a list out there where doughnuts don’t make an appearance. Freshly popped popcorn doused in a generous amount of questionable white cheddar cheese powder, add that to my “food I really enjoy” list also. Powdered popcorn cheese? Yes, please! 100% yes. I don’t even give it a second thought, yes. Of course there are more reasonable foods I absolutely go nuts for like, french fries, tater tots, hash browns (I promise you it’s not all potatoes, but really it is), potato tacos, and garlic mashed potatoes. I was a potato in my past life, remember? Dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets—you’ll forever have my heart. Croutons on an iceberg salad. Hard boiled eggs in the evening. Whipped ricotta on crusty bread with a drizzle of good olive oil. Pistachios in pretty much ANYTHING (especially ice cream). Yeah, I could go on and on but you catch my drift, I love food. Especially themed food.
I think the best part of any holiday is the themed food, snacks and desserts you can make and eat. What makes Valentine’s Day so special? Is it all the love that is going around? Sure that’s nice, but no that’s not it. Is it the fact that you can spend the day with your loved ones? Uh I don’t think so. That can happen any day of the week, if you think about it. Perhaps it’s all the heart shaped chocolate, brownies, cookies, love-inspired desserts and meals out there? Yeah that’s definitely it. Think about it, what other day of the year is it perfectly acceptable to dive, mouth first, into a heart-shaped box of chocolate and not even feel guilty about it? What other day can you pretend to make something decadent like pistachio eclairs for your “significant other,” when in reality, we all know it’s really just for you? There is no other day. This is the only chance we get. So let’s stop fighting it and do nothing but eat chocolate and candy and pistachio eclairs on this day of love. That’s what February 14th is all about, right? Well that, and chubby naked babies flying around, flinging arrows at people.
I know it must seem daunting to make eclairs. The process of making a choux pastry isn’t necessarily the easiest as there is a lot of hand stirring of eggs and temperature adjustments and what not. Sure, it might seem like a lot to do, along with the pastry cream and ganache and then assembling the eclairs themselves BUT I’m not here to discourage you. No, not in the slightest. I’m here to make sure you step away from that fear. You have nothing to worry about. You can totally make eclairs and make them damn (sorry mom) good, at that. All you have to do is follow this recipe (step by step images will help tremendously here, you’re welcome) and you’ll be good to go. After all, it is Valentine’s Day we’re talking about here. Why not step out of your comfort zone and make something “KAPOW IN YOUR FACE” good for that special someone in your life? I’ve got you covered.
So let’s get started. We’re going to begin by making the pastry cream. It’s not just any ol’ pastry cream either. We’re talking about pistachio pastry cream.
**Tip: It’s best to start with this part of the recipe, as it has to chill for a few hours in the fridge. I would even recommend making this a day (or a few days) in advance. That way its perfectly chilled and ready to go when you assemble the eclairs. Also, that would be one step down that you wouldn’t have to worry about on the actual day of eating. Sounds nice right?**
In a medium (I’m using large because that’s all I have. I really should invest in more pots and pans, don’t judge) saucepan add the egg yolks, granulated sugar, and cornstarch. Give it a good whisk until completely combined and smooth.
In a separate pot bring the milk to a simmer. You can also nuke it in the microwave until hot, if you’d like. Add the hot milk, slowly while whisking the entire time, to the egg yolk mixture.
**Tip: It’s important to temper the egg yolks with the hot milk. Tempering means to bring the egg yolks to the same temperature as the hot milk, by adding a little bit to the yolks and whisking. Phew. I just confused myself. Look at it this way, If you were to just dump the hot milk into the eggs all at once, the eggs would begin to cook, and that’s not good. So stream in the hot milk while whisking continuously to ensure you don’t scramble the eggs.**
Once all the milk has been added, place the pot over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the pastry cream has thickened and has started to bubble.
**Tip: When making pastry cream, it’s crucial to not walk away from the pot. Don’t go pick up the phone and start a conversation spreading all that celebrity gossip you heard recently. As much as it pains me to say, DON’T go mix yourself a cocktail in the meantime. No, don’t you dare step away from the pastry cream. Continue to whisk constantly until it has thickened. This will prevent lumps from forming. If by chance your pastry cream does develop lumps, run it through a fine-meshed sieve.**
Once the cream has thickened, remove the pot from the flame and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
Transfer the warm pastry cream to a small bowl. Set to the side for a minute and prepare the pistachios.
Place the shelled pistachios into a food process with a splash of water and purée until somewhat smooth. Continue to add water until a paste is formed.
Add the puréed pistachio paste to the pastry cream and mix until completely combined.
**Side note: I know it’s not the most appealing color at the moment, I’m no fool, but I promise when you mix it with the pastry cream and you actually try it, it’s rather delicious. Don’t let the color put you off. Not all food can look beautifully appetizing, no matter how much we wish it was.**
Okay okay, so the color still isn’t all that appealing, sue me. It’s delicious though, I promise.
We need to chill the pastry cream a bit before placing it in the fridge, so we’re going to dunk the bowl into an ice bath. Fill a large bowl with cold water and throw in some ice. Then place the bowl of pistachio pastry cream on top of the ice water, stirring it to bring down the temperature.
All I can think about right now is how this pistachio pastry cream looks a lot like grainy mustard pastry cream. It’s not, though. I think it’s because I got roasted and salted pistachios and they were somewhat brown because of the roasting. Maybe you should just get plain pistachios and then you’ll end up with more of a greenish-yellow hue instead. The way it’s supposed to be. Either way, it’s a delicious pastry cream, I assure you. Stop bringing up the color, jeeze. Let’s move on.
Remove the pastry cream from the ice bath and cover it tightly with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap touches the cream. Yes, press the plastic wrap onto the pastry cream itself. This will prevent a skin from forming. Then place it in the fridge and chill for at least 3 hours. Or overnight.
While that is doing it’s thing in the fridge, let’s make the pâte à choux pastry. Don’t let that crazy title scare you. It’s just a fancy French pastry dough, is all.
In a large pot, bring the water, butter, and salt to a boil.
Add the flour, and quickly stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. A crust might form at the bottom of the pot, that’s okay. Nothing to worry about. You just keep stirring. Allow to cook for a few seconds to dry out the dough. Then remove the pot from the heat.
Here comes the hard part of making choux pastry. The stirring. This dough is really stiff right now. Don’t let that discourage you. You can do this. If you don’t want to do this by hand, by the way, you can dump the dough into a stand mixer and mix it with the paddle attachment. But you’re better than that. You can do this by hand, like the rest of us. Show your Valentine just how much you care for them. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Vigorously mix after each addition. The dough will begin to loosen up after each addition.
The dough will still be somewhat stiff but should be a little smoother than what you started with before adding the eggs. It’ll be more like a thick batter than a dough. Anyhow, let’s proceed.
Transfer the choux to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.
**Tip: If you don’t own a pastry bag, you can just transfer the dough to a large food storage bag and snip off a corner. That’s a cheaper way to do it.**
Pipe out the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Shape the dough out into logs about 2 to 4 inches long, depending how large you’d like your eclairs. Leave about 2 inches of space in between each to allow room for spreading when baking. I made them on the smaller side so I wouldn’t feel so guilty when I continued to grab one to scarf it down.
If there are any pointy edges of dough from the pastry bag, just smooth it out with wet fingers.
Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 10 minutes. Then leave the oven door slightly ajar by closing it with a wooden spoon handle. This will allow some airflow to go in and out of the oven. It seems weird, but trust me, it makes for a great choux pastry texture. Bake for another five minutes. Then rotate the pans, front to back, up and down. Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes (with the wooden spoon keeping the door of the oven ajar) until they are golden brown, firm and puffed. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheet.
In total it will bake for about 25 to 3o minutes. I don’t want there to be any confusion.
Allow to cool down completely before assembling the eclairs.
It might seem like forever, waiting for these to cool down, but it’s crucial that they are completely cool so that it doesn’t melt the pastry cream. Once they have cooled down, cut them in half lengthwise, using a serrated knife. They are slightly delicate so be gentle when cutting them so you don’t end up damaging them.
Transfer the chilled pistachio pastry cream to a piping bag, fitted with that same plain round tip (or food storage bag) and fill the bottom half of each eclair with the cream. Cover each with the top half of the pastry.
**Tip: You might find that the pastry cream is a little runny, that’s okay. It’s normal. It will be slightly difficult to dip these into the chocolate ganache however, so a good trick is to pop the eclairs into the freezer to firm up a bit.**
In the meantime, let’s make ganache shall we?
So a ganache is just one of those pretentious culinary terms for a chocolate glaze. It’s super easy to make. Probably the easiest part of this entire recipe, if I’m being honest. If all else fails, at least you’ll have chocolate ganache at the end of this. Go to the store and buy some strawberries and get to dipping. BUT listen to me going on about this recipe not working out. That’s foolish. It will work out. You and your Valentine will be sharing eclairs for sure!
So combine the heavy cream and milk. Then bring it to a simmer, or nuke it in the microwave for a minute or so until hot.
Throw the chocolate and corn syrup (if using) into a small bowl.
**Note: The corn syrup is optional. I like adding it to ganaches because it makes them shiny and smooth. But it’ll still work out if you don’t include it. I know some people are iffy about working with corn syrup. But it’s only a tiny bit. Nothing too out of this world.**
Pour the hot cream and milk over the chocolate, and allow it to sit for a minute or two. Do not stir or mix. Just let it sit there, unattended. Don’t even look at it. Turn away. Okay, you can look at it.
The hot cream and milk will begin to soften and melt the chocolate. After a minute or two, you can stir it until it is smooth and shiny and glossy and lump free. Basically heaven in a bowl. Heaven in chocolate form. HEAVEN.
Grab the filled eclairs from the freezer and dip them, upside down, into the chocolate ganache. Place them back on the baking sheet and sprinkle with chopped pistachios. Repeat until all the eclairs are dipped and topped with the pistachio pieces.
I’m not going to lie or deny this, but at this stage of the recipe I was totally just eating all of the ganache and chopped pistachios. I was dipping my paws into everything. It was a messy situation but I couldn’t stop. Have you ever had pistachios and chocolate together? It’s a match made in heaven and I’m not just saying this because I want you to try this recipe—okay so partly because of that—I’m also saying it because it happens to be the bee’s knees. If bees had knees, which I’m like 98% sure they do not have knees, but if they did, they’d look like these eclairs. I’m guessing. Wait. That doesn’t make sense. That’s okay. A lot of the things I say don’t make sense, and I’m okay with that.
These actually freeze really well. You can freeze the eclairs on a baking sheet, then once fully frozen, transfer the treats to a food storage bag or an airtight container and keep them in the freezer until you’re ready for a delicious dessert. Hello midnight snack. Allow them to thaw out for a bit before eating though, so you don’t break a tooth or something. It’s worth making a batch of this, one weekend and then stocking them up in the freezer for later on. It’s a good way of having something great ready to go in case you ever are in need of a dessert after an impromptu dinner party. Some unexpected guests show up at your door and you have nothing to offer them…well just make a pot of coffee and pull out those tasty eclairs. PRESTO. Instant dessert.
Of course if you’re like me and don’t have the willpower to keep the eclairs frozen (for long), that’s okay. I don’t blame you. Just go on ahead and eat them as soon as you put them together. Share with your family and friends. Share with your neighbors. Share with your postal service worker if you’d like and they’re willing. I doubt they’ll make it outside of the house though. You might just have to hand them out to anyone willing to eat them so that you don’t end up eating all of them yourself. Worse things have happened, I’m sure. Now, I’m not saying I totally ate them all by myself and was left standing there with nothing but chocolate on my face, but you know what, I’m not saying I didn’t either.
Valentine’s Day is tricky in the sense that many people find it absolutely necessary to spend a lot of money on a gift. Like if that’s the only way to show someone how much they mean to you. Money doesn’t need to signify that. In fact, I find that the best Valentine’s Day gifts are the ones that are from the heart. Something you made or something small you found at a store that reminded you of that certain someone. That’s much more meaningful, in my opinion. What’s more, I think that making your Valentine something to eat is the perfect gift. Cooking and baking for someone is always the answer, in my book. I’m biased, what can I say? But just picture it, you present your loved one with these homemade eclairs. They’ll go nuts over them. Pun intended. Show them how much they mean to you by jumping into the kitchen and whipping up these eclairs. You know you want to. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
Recipe adapted from Saveur.com
The classic eclair gets a nutty twist with these pistachio cream filled French pastries. It’s the perfect way to say “I Love You” on that certain holiday in February that is approaching very soon. You know what I’m talking about. A flaky pastry filled with a decadent pistachio pastry cream, dipped in a chocolate ganache and topped with chopped pistachios. I don’t think it gets any better than this. Well perhaps making these for your loved ones and calling it a Valentine’s Day treat. It’ll seal the deal.
yield: 16 small eclairs or 12 large
- 1 cup water
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- pistachio pastry cream (recipe follows)
- chocolate ganache (recipe follows)
- ¼ cup chopped pistachios
1. In a large pot, combine the water, butter and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the flour and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and a crust forms on the bottom of the pot. Continue stirring and cooking for a few more minutes to dry out the dough. Remove from the heat and stir in the eggs, one at a time, mixing vigorously and completely after each addition. Once all the eggs are stirred in and the dough is still warm, transfer it to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip. You can also use a large food storage bag, with an end cut off.
2. Pipe out the dough into 2 to 4 inch logs onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Leave about 2 inches of space between each log to allow room for spreading and puffing while baking. You might need two sheets. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes leave the door to the oven slightly ajar, with the handle of a wooden spoon, and bake for another 5 minutes. Rotate the pans, top to bottom, front to back and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes (with the door slightly ajar again) or until golden brown, puffed and firm. So they will bake for a total of 25 to 30 minutes, depending on your oven. Once golden brown, remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets. Cool down completely before filling and glazing.
3. Cut the eclairs lengthwise, with a serrated knife. Transfer the pistachio pastry cream to a pastry bag, fitted with a plain round tip. Top the bottom half of each eclair with the pastry cream. Place the top half on each eclair. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer for a few minutes to allow the pastry cream to firm up a bit.
4. Dip the eclairs, upside down, into the chocolate ganache. Place back on the baking sheet and top with the chopped pistachios. Store the eclairs in the fridge until ready to eat. Can be frozen and kept for several weeks. Will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days. Enjoy!
Pistachio Pastry Cream
This pistachio pastry cream is perfect for many things, aside from eclairs. Use it as a filling for homemade doughnuts. Spread it into a sweet crust and top it with fruit! It’s a great twist on a classic recipe.
yield: 2 cups
- 1½ cups whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup shelled pistachios
- 2 to 4 tablespoons water
1. In a small saucepan bring the milk to a simmer. Combine the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a large pot. Whisk until completely combined. Slowly whisk in the heated milk into the egg yolk mixture. Once all the milk has been added, place the pot over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture has bubbled and thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Transfer to a small bowl.
2. In a food processor, purée the pistachios and water until a smooth paste forms. Add more water if needed, until the desired consistency is reached. Stir the pistachio paste into the pastry cream. Cool down the pastry cream by dunking the bowl into a larger bowl filled with water and ice. Stir the cream until it has cooled. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to chill for at least 3 hours or overnight. Can be made a few days in advance. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to one week. Enjoy!
Use this simple recipe for all your chocolate glazing needs. It’s perfect for dunking donuts, cookies, shortbread or biscotti. It’s even great for dipping strawberries! Just in time for Valentine’s Day.
yield: 1 cup
- 4.5 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet or dark chocolate
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 teaspoons corn syrup (optional)
1. Heat the heavy cream and milk on the stove or in the microwave until hot. Place the chocolate and corn syrup in a small bowl. Pour the hot cream and milk over the chocolate and allow to sit, untouched, for a few minutes. Stir until completely smooth and glossy. Use right away. Store any leftovers, covered with plastic wrap, at room temperature. Will keep for up to two days. Enjoy!