Éclair History and Characteristics

The French Filled and Iced Choux Pastry Dessert



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An éclair is a long French pastry made from choux pastry, filled with pastry cream or custard and dipped in fondant icing.

The most popular éclair is probably the chocolate éclair, which is topped with chocolate fondant and filled with chocolate custard or pastry cream. You can try your hand at making them with a chocolate éclair recipe. Another popular variation is the frozen éclair, which is filled with ice cream and topped with chocolate syrup.

  • Pronunciation: ay-CLAIR
  • Word Meaning: Éclair means lightning in French. Why it has been applied to this pastry is unknown. Some think it's because you often eat them very fast, or a reference to the gleam of light from the shiny fondant icing.

History of the Éclair

The word "éclair" made its appearance in the 1860s, describing the pastry previously called petite duchesse in France. It may have been created by French chef Antonin Carême, who is responsible for other desserts including the Charlotte and Napolean cake. Its first print reference in English was in an article in Vanity Fair in 1861, and then in Boston Cooking School Cook Book in 1884.

The eclair is making a resurgence in popularity and can now be seen filled with trendy fillings such as matcha tea or mocha cream filling. The tops of the pastry may now be decorated with fresh fruit and fanciful fruit glazes. Frozen eclairs are also to be found with ice cream fillings.

What Makes an Éclair an Éclair?

The choux pastry (pâte à choux) is a key component of the éclair. It is also used in making cream puffs, profiteroles, and gougères. This pastry rises only from the action of steam. It doesn't use any yeast, baking soda, or baking powder. This makes the eclair different from long-shaped doughnuts such as the Long John, which are made with doughnut pastry that uses another leavening.

Choux pastry is made by heating milk, water, sugar, salt, and butter to a boil, stirring in bread flour to incorporate it, allowing it to cool a little, then adding eggs. The dough is then placed in a pastry bag and piped onto a baking sheet in the long shape desired for eclairs. If making cream puffs or gougères, spooning could be done instead. The dough is then baked at a high heat to generate the steam and get the dough to rise. Then the oven temperature is lowered to complete baking and brown the pastry.

The result is an airy, almost hollow shell that is crisp enough on top to be iced. After cooling, it is ready to be filled with a variety of fillings as desired. A thicker filling is best to prevent the bottom of the pastry from getting soggy. Pastry cream is often the filling. It is a thick custard made with egg yolks, milk, sugar, cornstarch, and may include butter.

The icing should be one that hardens, such as fondant or ganache. This allows the eclair to be handled easier. A second flavor of icing may be piped on top for decoration and added taste.