Eclair
Jun 20, 2018

Let’s Talk About Eclairs

By MaryAnn Miano

Eclair

“Bon appetit” may be the expression the French use when speaking about enjoying your meal, but when it comes to la patisserie, there is nothing more fondly loved by France than the classic French éclair. The French are well versed in dessert, and the iconic éclair has its moment on June 22, National Éclair Day.

Eclairs are a small, lightly golden, crispy pastry shell made by piping choux pastry into a “finger” shape. The pastry shell is soft and nearly hollow, and it perfectly envelopes a very generous amount of chocolaty custard filling or vanilla cream. When the pastry is finished baking, it is split in half in order to fill it with cream. The top of the éclair is slathered with a sweet chocolate “glacage,” or glossy icing, and it seems to gleam as it beckons you to eat it. As a matter of fact, the word “éclair” means “lightning” in French, earning its name because of the dazzling shine glistening from its chocolate coating.

A number of pastries are closely related to eclairs that are made from the choux pastry base. Cream puffs and profiteroles are made in a similar way to the eclair. Choux paste, or pate a` choux, is unlike any other pastry dough. The flour is first cooked with water and butter. Using a wooden spoon to stir the mixture in the pot, the mixture begins to resemble dough. The dough then starts to coat the bottom of the pan.

It is then removed from the heat and allowed to cool slightly before adding the eggs. This prevents the eggs from turning into scrambled if they were to hit the hot dough. Once the eggs are added, the texture of the dough should be pulling when you stretch it with your fingers. It’s almost the consistency of a batter, but a bit stiffer. At this point, the choux paste can be piped into whatever shape needed. In the case of eclairs, they will be made into long finger-like shapes.

How did the éclair come to be? Originating in France around the turn of the 19th century, the story of the éclair goes something like this: A well-known chef by the name of Marie Antonin Careme had a sad life. He was abandoned by his parents in Paris when he was only 8 years old, and by age 14, he was working in kitchens to survive and pay his rent. Although his situation was not by choice, he began to develop a passion for cooking.

Marie earned the reputation as one of the first chefs to practice grande cuisine. This is another way of saying “gourmet,” and it involved cooking as an art-form done with a flourish and elaborate design. He became a celebrity of sorts as a chef in France and went on to open his own pastry shop. He later moved to London to cook for George IV.

Marie Antonin Careme loved both food and architecture. He brought these two together by creating beautiful structural desserts such as the Charlotte and Napoleon cakes. It is believed that he created the delicious French éclair.

While eclairs are known as a sweet confection, there is also a savory cheese éclair baked with a grated cheese topping, then filled with a cheese-flavored cream sauce. Unlike a sweet éclair, this type may be eaten hot.

Eclairs have evolved into many combinations of fluffy fillings and shiny coats, but for our recipe of the month, we’ll honor the original.

Dough

Heat to a rolling boil in a saucepan:

1 cup water

½ cup butter

Stir in all at once:

1 cup sifted flour

Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture leaves the pan and forms into a ball (about 1 minute). Remove from heat. Let cool.

Beat in thoroughly, one at a time:

4 eggs

Beat mixture until smooth and velvety. Put dough through pastry bag or shape with spatula into 12 fingers 4 to 5 inches long and 1inch wide. Leave about two inches of space between them on the baking sheet.

Use a 350 degree F moderate oven and bake for approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Bake until dry, lightly golden, and puffed; allow to cool completely. Fill with custard filling, either by cutting the fingers in half or by piping in.

Custard Filling

Mix in saucepan:

½ cup sugar

½ tsp. salt

1/3 cup flour

Stir in:

2 cups milk

Cook over medium heat, stirring until it boils. Boil one minute. Remove from heat. Stir a little over half of this mixture into:

4 egg yolks (or 2 eggs), beaten

Blend into hot mixture in saucepan. Bring just to boiling point. Cool and blend in:

2 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring

Thin Chocolate Icing

Melt together over hot water: (can use a double boiler)

1 square unsweetened chocolate (1 oz.)

1 tablespoon butter

Remove from over hot water.

Blend in:

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoon boiling water

Beat only until smooth, not stiff.

Frost the baked and filled shells with the chocolate icing.