We have been in strawberry heaven this year. California must have had a record-breaking strawberry crop, because each time I go grocery shopping, a mountain of these juicy red berries is placed front and center, welcoming me into the store. Not only have strawberries been abundant, but they have been large in size, similar to the varieties that appear around Valentine’s Day, perfect for coating in chocolate. The price has been right too. At two-dollars per pound, I’ve been tossing a few quarts into my cart on each shopping trip, that is, after I have scrutinized the entire selection on all sides in an effort to pick the very best batch.
Between Eric’s massive bowl of Cheerios on weekend mornings (he actually uses a casserole-sized serving bowl), and my breakfast smoothies, we go through many, many strawberries during an average week. I’ve been meaning to take advantage of this stellar strawberry season and prepare a dessert that showcases them, but we’ve never kept them around long enough for them to be available when I am ready to create. So finally, I wised up a bit, and I snagged an extra pound at the store to use exclusively for confectionery purposes, specifically, for making Strawberries and Cream Eclairs.
An eclair is another one of those really impressive looking desserts, which is actually quite simple to prepare. The fun lies in the versatility, as you are able to play around with the filling and topping. Eclairs, along with profiteroles, gougeres, and croquembouches, are made from choux pastry, which consists of only butter, water, flour, and eggs. The high moisture content of the dough creates steam during the baking process, causing the pastry to puff up and become light and airy. The word choux translates to "cabbages" in French, simply due to the shape of some of the pastries that it creates (trust me, it has nothing to do with the taste!) Eclairs are often filled with a pastry cream, but for this recipe, I thought that strawberries were better off paired with lightly sweetened whipped cream. The rum flavored caramel sauce just takes this dessert over the edge! Here are my tips for making these fruit-filled French pastries:
- The eclairs can be baked, but not glazed or filled, 1 day in advance and kept, once cooled, in an airtight container at room temperature. Recrisp on a baking sheet at 375F degrees for about 5 minutes and then cool before glazing.
- If you don’t have a pastry bag to use for piping the batter, then simply fill a zip-top bag with the batter and then cut off one of the corners. The opening should be wide enough to pipe a 1-inch wide strip.
- Instead of filling the eclairs with strawberries, try using ripe, firm peaches, a mixture of raspberries and blackberries, pineapple, or nectarines.
- Grand Marnier or bourbon would be a good substitute for the rum. You can also just use vanilla extract if you don’t want to use any liquor in the recipe. Substitute 1 tablespoon vanilla for the 2 tablespoons liquor.
- For a party, turn this recipe into bite-sized, miniature eclairs, which you can arrange as part of a dessert tray.
Strawberries and Cream Eclairs with Rum-Caramel Sauce
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup flour
3 large eggs
For caramel sauce
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, in pieces
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 pound fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/4 cups chilled heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dark rum
In a small saucepan, bring the butter, water, and salt to a boil, stirring until the butter has melted. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the flour all at once and cook, mixing vigorously with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from the side of the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer at high speed after each addition. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag and pipe 8 (5-inch long) strips, about 1-inch wide, onto the baking sheet, spacing them about 1-inch apart.
Bake the eclairs for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400F degrees and continue to bake until they are golden brown, puffed, and crisp, 15 minutes longer. Leave the oven on and immediately pierce the side of each eclair with the tip of a knife. Return the eclairs to the oven to dry, propping the door slightly ajar, about 5 minutes more. Cool completely on a 25, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the caramel sauce: Heat the sugar in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork, until it starts to melt. Stop stirring and cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, so the sugar melts evenly, until it is a dark amber color. Remove from the heat and immediately spoon about 1 teaspoon of the caramel along the top of each eclair, spreading it with the back of a spoon. Add the water and salt to the remaining caramel in the skillet and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all of the caramel is dissolved. Add the butter and rum, swirling the skillet to incorporate. Remove from the heat and keep the sauce warm, covered.
Make the filling: Slice the strawberries and toss with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let stand until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat the cream with the remaining tablespoon sugar, cinnamon, and the rum until it holds stiff peaks.
Halve the eclairs horizontally. Put the bottom halves of the eclairs on plates and top with the whipped cream and strawberries, and then cover with the top halves of the eclairs. Drizzle the plates with the caramel sauce.