You’ll need a spray bottle and a pastry bag with an Ateco #863 French star tip.
Create a template and pipe and bake the éclairs as directed below. Let cool completely.
To make a template:
The guidelines for the éclairs should be visible through the lighter portion of a Silpat. Using a fine-tip marker, draw 6-inch lines 2 inches apart on a large piece of parchment paper. Place the parchment on a sheet pan and position the Silpat over it.
Fill a small bowl and spray the bottle with water.
To pipe and bake the éclairs:
Starting at the side of the Silpat farthest from you, hold the tip of the pastry bag ¾ inch above the Silpat and apply gentle, steady pressure as you pipe the first éclair. When the éclair is about 6 inches long, begin to lessen the pressure, and then stop it as you bring the dough back over itself, leaving a ½ inch curl at the end of the éclair. Pipe five more éclairs on the Silpat.
Carefully slide out the template and repeat with a second sheet pan and Silpat. Wet your finger and press down the tip of each éclair, then spray them lightly with water. Place the sheet pans in the oven and immediately lower the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the éclairs are beginning to brown; rotate the pans halfway through. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Lower the temperature to 300°F and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the puffs are light and feel hollow. If you break one open, the center should be completely cooked. Set on a cooling rack and cool completely before filling or freezing.
Using a serrated knife, cut off the top third of each éclair (the tops will not be used).Using a serrated knife, cut off the top third of each éclair (the tops will not be used).
To fill the éclairs:
Spoon 30 grams/about 1½ tablespoons of the dulce de leche into each éclair bottom.
Fill the pastry bag with the diplomat cream. Pipe the cream in a spiral rosette pattern over the dulce de leche in each éclair, extending just past the top of the éclair. Arrange 6 or 7 pecans along the right edge of the spiral. Pipe a second spiral on top, leaving the right halves of the pecans exposed. Top with a Caramélia rectangle, if using, and set on a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining éclairs.
The éclairs are best eaten as soon as they are completed, but they can be refrigerated for up to 1 hour.
For dulce de leche:
Remove the label from the can. Stand the can in a large saucepan that will hold the can upright with at least 1 inch of water to cover, and add water to cover the can generously (it is important to keep the can completely covered with water throughout the cooking process). Bring the water just to a boil for 4 hours. Cook at a low boil, adding more water as necessary to keep the can covered by at least 1 inch. Remove from the heat and let the can cool completely in the water.
The dulce de leche can be stored in the can at room temperature; once opened, it can be transferred to a covered container and refrigerated for up to 1 month.
For candied pecans:
This is a simple recipe, but the timing is important. The nuts must be warm when they are added to the syrup, to speed the crystallization of the caramelized sugar on the pecans.
Preheat the oven to 325°F (standard).
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and place in the oven to toast.
Meanwhile, when the nuts are becoming fragrant, after 5 to 6 minutes, combine the sugar and water in a large frying pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add the pecans to the syrup and stir constantly until they have a white crystallized appearance; the syrup should not take on any color. Transfer the nuts to a plate or platter and cool completely.
For caramélia rectangles:
You’ll need a 6-by-12-inch piece of acetate and a bicycle cutter
(see page 71; optional). For this recipe, we use Valrhona Caramélia 34% chocolate.
Lightly oil the work surface to anchor the acetate, lay the acetate on it, and press against it to be sure the acetate is perfectly smooth. Spoon about one-third of the chocolate onto the acetate and spread it in a thin, even layer extending past the edges of the acetate. Place the tip of a paring knife under a corner of the acetate, carefully lift it, and move it to a clean section of the work surface.
After about 2 minutes (the time will vary depending on the temperature in the room), the top of the chocolate will appear matte rather than shiny. The chocolate should be cut at this point, before it has hardened.
The size of the chocolate rectangles should match the length of the éclairs: we use 6-by-1-inch strips. A bicycle cutter works best, but you can also use a 1-inch-wide ruler. Hold the ruler above the chocolate and use it as a guide, running a knife down the length of the ruler to cut six 1-inch-wide lengthwise strips of chocolate. Then, make a cut across the center to make twelve 6-by-1-inch rectangles.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Once the chocolate is no longer tacky to the touch, move the acetate to the sheet pan, cover with another piece of parchment, and set another sheet pan on top to keep the rectangles from curling.
Just before you are ready to use the chocolate, put the pan in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to harden it completely.
For diplomat cream:
Place the gelatin in a bowl of ice water to soften.
Transfer one-third of the pastry cream to a medium microwave-safe bowl or a small saucepan. Remove the gelatin from the water, squeezing out excess water, and add to the bowl or pan. Heat, gently stirring, to loosen the pastry cream and dissolve the gelatin.
Meanwhile, transfer the remaining pastry cream to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or to a medium bowl and mix or stir until smooth.
Strain the warm pastry cream through a fine-mesh strainer into the bowl with the rest of the pastry cream and mix or stir until smooth. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and fold in the whipped cream one-third at a time.
Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours. (The cream can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
When ready to use the cream, transfer to a bowl and stir gently until it has a creamy consistency.
For pâte à choux for eclairs:
This pâte à choux dough is a little stiffer than the version we use for the cream puffs. Because the cream puffs are molded, the dough can be fairly loose. The éclair dough is piped onto sheet pans, so it needs extra body to hold up.
You’ll need a pastry bag with an Ateco #867 French star tip.
Combine the flour and sugar in a small bowl. Using the proportions above, make the dough as directed below, adding the flour and sugar mixture in the same way and adding all the eggs.
To make the dough:
Set up a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
Combine the water, butter and salt in a medium saucepan, place over medium heat, and stir as the butter melts. (Starting at too high a temperature will evaporate some of the water before the butter has melted.) Once the butter has melted, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat and, with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon, stir in all of the flour. Continue to stir for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture has a paste-like consistency, then place over medium heat and stir rapidly for 1 to 2 minutes, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean; the dough should be glossy and smooth but not dry.
Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl and mix on low for about 30 seconds to release some of the moisture. Slowly begin adding the eggs, about 50 grams/3 tablespoons at a time, beating until each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next one. Continue adding the eggs, reserving 25 grams/1 ½ tablespoons, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl when pulled with the paddle but then grabs back on again.
Increase the speed to medium and mix for 15 seconds to be sure all of the eggs are incorporated. Stop the mixer. When the paddle is lifted, the dough should form a bird’s beak — it should hold its shape and turn down over itself but not break off. If the dough is too stiff, add the reserved egg. Transfer the dough to the pastry bag and refrigerate until cold before using.
Note on freezing: Pâte à Choux for Eclairs is not ideal for freezing before baking because the lines created by using the French star tip can be compromised when you wrap or cover the dough in order to freeze it.