Somehow January is already over. But éclair month is still going (I got a bit of a late start, and then my internet was down for ten days, so I figure I can borrow a few days from February). I think at this point, a little history of the éclair is in order.
I went to the library to do my pastry research, but it turns out that the best information I found was right on my own bookshelf, in Dorie Greenspan’s lovely Around My French Table. She explains that they were invented and named by Carême. One of the first celebrity chefs, Carême gained fame in the late 18th and early 19th centuries because of his elaborate pastry creations called pièces montées. The tradition lives on today, mainly in the form of the croquembouche, still popular for French weddings and other celebrations. So it’s safe to say the guy liked his pâte à choux. Dorie writes that Carême was the fist to pipe it into “long, fingerlike shapes.”
Once the pastry was baked, he sliced the strips in half, filled them with pastry cream, and glazed their tops, creating an enduring classic, which he christened éclairs (éclair means lightning). No one’s certain why he called the slender pastries lightning…I hold with the camp convinced that the name described the way and éclair is eaten – lightning fast.
Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table
Like most French words, éclair can be translated more than one way. I’ve always thought of it as a flash, which makes the name of éclair guru Christophe Adam’s shop a cute play on words: L’Éclair de Génie becomes “the flash of genius”. Adam, probably best known as the pastry chef who made Fauchon a destination for éclairs with his collection of imaginative takes on the classic pastry, now has his own shop which sells éclairs and truffles. I found out about it on Dorie’s delightful blog (where would I be without her?) and knew that I would have to include it in my éclair tasting. I am not disappointed.
Despite the price tag – 4.50 to 5 euros for a relatively small pastry – I couldn’t leave with fewer than three éclairs. I chose the pistachio orange for its mesmerizing green glaze, the vanilla pecan for its topping of crunchy caramelized nuts, and the grand cru chocolate because, well, if you’re going to have a barometer éclair, it should probably be chocolate.
What I liked about it: good chocolate flavor, the chunks of brownie on top, the generous portion (and excellent consistency) of the filling, and the very nice choux surrounding it all. What I didn’t: the gloopy industrial glaze. Sure it’s shiny, but it adds nothing to the flavor. Use ganache, people!
This one had great flavor, too. Real pistachio, real orange, in perfect balance. I’m not too sure about that shiny green glaze, but am somehow more tolerant of it than the fake chocolate stuff. I guess because you could make the chocolate one with a ganache glaze, and it would still be shiny and pretty, but also taste better. With this green stuff, I’m not sure what else could be used to create the same effect. So I’ll give it a pass.
This was probably my favorite of the bunch – the intense vanilla cream inside, the almost smoky crunch of the pecans on top – I would happily pay 5 euros apiece for more of these.
All told, Christophe Adam’s éclairs are worth the elevated price. They’re masterfully executed and the flavors are spot-on: clean distinct, and balanced. But then if you’re going to stake your reputation on a pastry, you’d better be doing them right. Fortunately for the team at L’Éclair de Génie, they are.
On this day in 2011: Worthwhile French Beers: La Véliocasse (In which I drink a good beer and forget the name of the bar, which I now know is called Bijou Bar, and I’ve been back several times.)
Originally published on Croque-Camille.