Chocolate Eclairs (1887) ★★

Well, chocolate eclairs wouldn't be the first food I think of when I think of what to eat at Thanksgiving, but apparently they were appropriate during the 1880s at least! Perhaps this was due to the relative novelty of the dish - it seems that the first English recipe for eclairs was just published in 1884. But - what more American source than the Whitehouse Cookbook to validate their appearance on a Thanksgiving menu!

Eclairs are listed under "Supper," which would be lunch to us modern folk. For the curious, here's the menu in full:
Breakfast: grapes, oat flakes, broiled porterhouse steak, codfish balls, browned potatoes, buckwheat cakes, wheat bread, coffee
Supper: cold roast turkey, scalloped oysters, potato salad, cream short-cake, eclairs, preserved egg plums, tea
Dinner: oysters on half shell, cream of chicken soup,  fried smelts, sauce tartare, roast turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, baked squash, boiled onions, parsnip fritters, olives, chicken salad, venison pastry, pumpkin pie, mince pie, charlotte russe, almond ice-cream, lemon jelly, hickory nut cake, cheese, fruits, coffee

Overall, the dinner menu looks quite similar to something we'd see today, although perhaps a little...more elaborate. The only thing I think is missing is sweet potatoes, and of course there are a few oddities (fried smelts, boiled onions), but overall the link to modern Thanksgiving is obvious.

Happy Thanksgiving, from 1887!

Original Recipe:

Make the mixture exactly like the recipe for "Boston Cream Cakes." Spread it on buttered pans in oblong pieces about four inches long and one and a half wide, to be laid about two inches apart; they must be baked in a rather quick oven about twenty-five minutes. As soon as baked ice with chocolate icing, and when this is cold split them on one side and fill with the same cream as "Boston Cream Cakes."
Put into a large-sized saucepan half a cup of butter and one cup of hot water; set it on the fire; when the mixture begins to boil, turn in a pint of sifted flour at once, beat and work it well with a vegetable masher until it is very smooth. Remove from the fire, and when cool enough add five eggs that have been well beaten, first the yolks and then the whites, also half a teaspoonful of soda and a teaspoonful of salt. Drop on buttered tins in large spoonfuls about two inches apart. Bake in a quick oven about fifteen minutes. When done and quite cold, open them on the side with a knife or scissors and put in as much of the custard as possible.
Cream for Filling.—Made of two eggs, three tablespoonfuls of sifted flour (or half cup of cornstarch) and one cup of sugar. Put two-thirds of a pint of milk over the fire in a double boiler; in a third of a pint of milk, stir the sugar, flour and beaten eggs. As soon as the milk looks like boiling, pour in the mixture and stir briskly for three minutes, until it thickens; then remove from the fire and add a teaspoonful of butter; when cool, flavor with vanilla or lemon and fill your cakes.

Put into a shallow pan four tablespoonfuls of scraped chocolate, and place it where it will melt gradually, but not scorch; when melted, stir in three tablespoonfuls of milk or cream and one of water; mix all well together, and add one scant teacupful of sugar; boil about five minutes, and while hot, and when the cakes are nearly cold, spread some evenly over the surface of one of the cakes; put a second one on top, alternating the mixture and cakes; then cover top and sides, and set in a warm oven to harden. All who have tried recipe after recipe, vainly hoping to find one where the chocolate sticks to the cake and not to the fingers, will appreciate the above. In making those most palatable of cakes, "Chocolate Eclairs," the recipe just given will be found very satisfactory.

The Verdict:
I was super excited when these were baking, but alas, my dreams were crushed. Firstly, I undercooked the pastry. I've never made eclairs before, so I didn't realize until it was too late. Because of that they fell, were gooey instead of crisp, and tasted eggy. The chocolate icing was tasty, but grainy from using regular sugar. The filling was edible, but not my favourite flavour. It was basically identical to the blancmange I made a little while ago. I would've much preferred whipped cream. They are edible, but I won't eat them, unfortunately. I think if I didn't make as many mistakes the pastry could've been good, but personally I just don't like the filling, so the whole recipe is pretty much moot.
Oh, and they are ugly, aren't they? The filling was running out, but possibly just because I didn't let it cool completely. Little Y saw the photos and said, "Ewwwww, gross!" Haha!

Modernized Recipe:
(Adapted from The Whitehouse Cookbook)

1 pint (2 cups) FLOUR, sifted
4 EGGS, separated
1/2 teaspoon BAKING SODA
Pinch of SALT

Chocolate Icing
4 tablespoons BAKING CHOCOLATE, finely chopped or grated
3 tablespoons MILK
1 tablespoon WATER
1 cup SUGAR

1 pint (2 cups) MILK
1 cup SUGAR
3 tablespoons FLOUR
2 EGGS, beaten
1 teaspoon BUTTER

1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and hot water. When it starts to boil, remove from heat and add in the flour. Mix well until a smooth dough forms (a potato masher may be useful). Let cool.
2. Preheat the oven to 400F. Meanwhile, separate the eggs into two bowls. Beat the whites until stiff peaks form and then beat the yolks until frothy.
3. When the dough is cool, beat in the yolks and fold in the whites, baking soda, and salt.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put the finished dough into a ziploc bag (or pastry bag). Cut off one corner of the bag to be about 1.5 inches wide. Use the bag to squeeze out 4-inch tubes of dough, keeping them about 2-inches apart. If needed, use your fingers dipped in water to smooth out the tops and edges. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.
5. While the eclairs are baking, make the chocolate icing. In a small saucepan, add the chopped chocolate. Put it on top of the stove or somewhere warm to gradually melt. When melted, stir in the milk and water. Add the sugar and boil it all together for about 5 minutes. When the eclairs are baked and nearly cold, ice them.
6. To make the filling, put two-thirds of the milk in a double boiler. In a separate bowl, mix the other third of milk, sugar, flour, and eggs. Just before the milk boils, stir in the mixture and whisk for three minutes or until thickened. Add the butter and flavouring, stir, and let cool. When the eclairs are cool as well, split them open  on one side and fill.

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.