Eclairs: delicious fancy French pastry or dressed up creme puff?
Eclairs represent an odd segment of the dessert category in the US. Even though the best ones are coveted by pastry enthusiasts and sold in the fanciest French patisseries, they are also found along with their cousin, the cream puff, in the frozen section in supermarkets and even in Walmart (!)I’m going to assume that if you’re reading a dessert blog, you’re probably more interested in learning about the eclair as a “fancy French pastry”. But before reading about my favorites, I thought it would be useful to get some professional guidance.
So what makes a great eclair? I posed that question to Francisco Migoya, Associate Professor of Baking and Pastry Arts at the CIA and former Executive Pastry Chef for the French Laundry Group and here’s what he said “A great eclair is evenly tubular, hollow (before filling), crisp on the outside, heavy with filling and uniformly glazed. That’s it.”
With that guidance in mind–here are four of my favorites:
Dominique Ansel Bakery – Notes: Their black and white eclair actually has two kinds of pastry creme inside–half chocolate and half vanilla; the choux crust is very light, airy and fresh but not crispy. The pastry creme itself is also very light and less “custardy”. Ansel might have received an “A” from professor Migoya since his was the most uniformly tubular. $5.50
Francois Payard Bakery and Francois Chocolate Bar – Notes: The thinnest and lightest crust out of this group, an almost runny, custard-based pastry creme. The eclair pictured below had tart raspberries and passionfruit inside along with a white chocolate American flag on top. $4.00 at FPB. I’d imagine the professor would have overlooked the flatter and less cigar-like shape since the choux was so expertly executed.
Epicerie Boulud – Notes: A thicker and a slightly tougher choux dough than the others. The filling is also much thicker and heavier–even at room temperature. The filling has a deep, rich, chocolaty taste. The frosting has a matte finish as opposed to the glacage-style, mirror finish of Chikalicious and DAB eclairs. $5.00. I’m guessing a straight “A” for Boulud since it’s uniformly tubular and heavy with filling like the professor outlines.
Interesting fact: Though the word “eclair” means “flash of lightning” in French, nobody seems to know exactly why this pastry was named after that meteorological event.
Chikalicious Dessert Club – Notes: Officially known as a “chocolate cookie eclair”– it has a distinct, crispy, cookie-like outer shell and is filled with pastry creme that has the consistency of chocolate pudding. Hand-glazed to order with dark chocolate. The most unique eclair of the group. Chikalicious also sells this eclair with ice cream inside. Tough to guess what grade Migoya would have given Chikalicious–it has the weight and the uniform glaze–but it’s also crunchy like a cookie and flat-ish in shape. $5.95
Epicerie Boulud is located at 1900 Broadway (64 St.). Their website is here.
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