My family is pretty nuts about cinnamon rolls. We have a tradition, which I accidentally began 25 years ago as a newlywed up in Bellingham, Washington. On the night of our first snowfall that year, I thought it might be nice to surprise Dave with a batch of cinnamon rolls. Then as now, he likes his with a giant glass of cold milk and a giant slab of butter melting itself into all those cinnamony folds. He ate … oh, I don’t know … 11 of the 12 I made? But it didn’t curb his desire. The next snowfall, he said, “Are you making cinnamon rolls again?” And a tradition was born.
When the kids came along, I made a game of it. The rules were simple: I would make cinnamon rolls on the day of our first snowfall, but only if the snow was actually sticking. Boy, have they been great weather-watchers because of that. Even as little things, they’d stand at the window gawking at the sky and predicting how much we’d have and when it would start. I think their first full sentences were, “Have you started those cinnamon rolls yet?”
I’ve made 500 batches in 25 years. I’m certain of it.
The thing is … I’m not crazy about cinnamon rolls. I’m really not. I probably have a tiny bite of one every five or six batches, and even then, I’m kind of like, Meh. Just not my thing. But eclairs? OMW. When would I like an eclair? How about for breakfast? How about instead of dinner? How about at 3:00 in the morning? Try me on that — wake me with an eclair. I will bless you.
Look at that. What’s not to love?
Since I’m so crazy about eclairs, I learned to make them. Maybe you love them too … so here’s what you do:
For the shells:
- 1 cube butter
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup water
- dash salt
- 4 eggs
Combine the butter and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the flour and salt and stir until it begins to clump together. Cook until it forms a ball that doesn’t break apart, then remove from burner and let cook 10 minutes, stirring a few times to help cool it down.
Once they’ve cooled down a little, take one egg at a time and break it into the pan. Stir like crazy and make sure every bit of that egg has been incorporated into the dough. Then add another.
Here’s what it looks like while egg #2 is being incorporated:
I seem to always start out using a fork, and then remember and switch to a wooden spoon when it starts to get hard. That would be around egg #3. Seriously, you’re going to have to take a break or two. And you probably shouldn’t expect to do any heavy lifting with that arm the next day. It will be on bed rest.
After all four eggs have been stirred into the dough, you have a few options. You can put the whole mess into a pastry bag with a large tip and pipe out your shells, or you can use a spoon to measure it out, or you can do what I do and use a small ice cream scoop. Using my scoop, this recipe makes 9 eclairs. But I’ve doubled up and made 4-6 bigger ones.
Form your eclair shells on a baking sheet lightly sprayed with a nonstick spray. Leave room for them to expand, because they will.
I put two scoops together, then wet my fingers and form the dough into oblong shapes.
Bake the shells for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Watch them toward the end to make sure they’re not burning.
When they’re big and puffy and beautiful, remove from oven and IMMEDIATELY POKE HOLES IN BOTH ENDS. I probably should have not just capitalized that, but also underlined it, colored it, italicized it, and made a way for fireworks to go off as your eyes glided over the words. If you don’t poke those holes, your shells will deflate in a sad, soggy puddle. Well, maybe “puddle” is a bit dramatic. But “sad and soggy” is for real.
Now for the filling:
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 5 oz package of instant vanilla pudding
- 2 1/2 cups cold milk
In a mixing bowl with a wisk, whip the heavy cream just until soft peaks form. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue mixing just until incorporated. Set aside.
In another bowl, mix the instant vanilla pudding and milk. Let set for about 5 minutes to thicken, then fold in the whipped cream. (*Note: in a pinch, you could skip the whipping cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and substitute with an 8-oz container of Cool Whip … but you didn’t hear that from me.)
When ready to serve the eclairs, slice them lengthwise but not all the way through. (Just like you’d slice a hoagie). Now, I know. When you buy them in a bakery, they’ve put the filling in those holes in the end with a pastry bag. And I’ve done that. A lot. Until one day it occurred to me that it was a whole lot of fuss and worry for very little value. The truth is, I can eat them faster and get more of that filling inside when I slice them. But maybe you have a LOT of time on your hands and you want to get all fancy with it. I salute you. 🙂
And finally, the frosting:
- 2-1 oz squares semisweet chocolate
- 2 TBSP butter
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 – 3 TBSP milk
- 1 TBSP corn syrup
I’ve tried all kinds of glazes, and this is the one I’ve settled on. Just melt the chocolate and butter, stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla, and add just enough milk and corn syrup to make a nice glaze. Frost the tops, fill with filling, plop it in front of someone you love, and bow at the waist.
One of my best memories ever is of this afternoon tea at the Orange County home of my dear friend, Kay Smith. I brought the eclairs and she provided the beautiful china.
But most people aren’t nearly as fancy …
… or as civilized.