The Éclair: Exploring The Roots Of The Creamy French Dessert
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France boasts a dazzling array of sweet treats, ranging from sinful chocolate mousse to delicious crème brulee to crispy sweet crepes. Joining the ranks of the aforementioned timeless sweet treats is the esteemed éclair. The éclair is essentially a choux pastry that’s pumped with a sweet cream or custard filling and dipped in enriching fondant icing. Some variations of the dessert also use confectioner’s sugar as a garnish.

Characterised by its long and oval shape, the éclair is ubiquitous throughout France. The dessert’s soft and gooey texture ensures that it produces a sensational melt-in-the-mouth effect when bitten into. The éclair also comes in a range of flavours, such as chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, strawberry, and more. Unlike other legendary French desserts, which typically have complicated origin stories, the history of the éclair is quite clear and straightforward.

Read all about the origin of the éclair below.

The Éclair: Origin Story

Most food scholars and historians credit the invention of the éclair to a Frenchman named Marie-Antoine Carême. Coming from humble beginnings, Carême rose to the position of a famed pastry chef in the 1800s; some of his most popular patrons included royals, such as Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, and King George IV of Britain. The earliest iteration of the éclair, known as “pain a la Duchess,” was devised by sweeping finger-shaped pastry into almonds. Carême replaced the almonds with custard and frosting, thus laying the foundation for the contemporary version of the éclair.

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In French, the word éclair literally translates to “flash of lightning.” It’s speculated that this name was given to the dessert owing to the glaze on top of the pastry, which looked like lightning. Another alternate reason for the name was that the éclair could be consumed quickly or “in a flash,” as the saying goes. The first published English recipe for this dessert appeared in a Vanity Fair article in 1861; this recipe was included in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book in 1864. Thus, the éclair has been captivating the hearts and minds of dessert connoisseurs for centuries. Craft this classic dessert at home with the help of a simple recipe, given below.

The Éclair: Recipe

The éclair has three distinct components: the choux pastry, the cream filling, and the chocolate ganache used as a topping. Therefore, the recipe is divided into three parts. Let’s begin.

Ingredients for the Choux Pastry

5 large eggs

1 cup of water

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon of granulated sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

¼ cup coarse kosher salt

Ingredients for the Cream Filling

4 egg yolks

2 cups of milk

½ cup heavy whipping cream

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons of cornflour

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Ingredients for the Chocolate Ganache

½ cup heavy whipping cream

¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)


Directions for the Choux Pastry

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Step 1: Preheat the oven and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Step 2: Mix water, butter, salt, and sugar in a pan on medium heat till the concoction begins boiling. Add flour to the pan, and mix it thoroughly.

Step 3: Keep stirring the dough until it transforms into a ball. Continue cooking until a gentle crust begins taking shape on the base of the pan.

Step 4: Transfer the dough to a mixing bowl and pulse it for a few minutes. Add eggs and mix thoroughly; the resulting dough should be glossy and velvety and thin enough to form into a ribbon.

Step 5: Transfer the concoction to a pastry bag with a round or star tip, and allow it to settle for approximately 2 hours.

Step 6: Pipe the batter into logs and bake the mixture for about 30 minutes or till the logs become puffy and golden brown. Keep them aside to cool.

Directions for the Cream Filling

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Step 1: Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a bowl and bring to a boil. Set aside the mixture once it has boiled satisfactorily.

Step 2: In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks alongside the sugar, and add cornflour and flour. Introduce hot milk to the concoction, stirring quickly for tempering.

Step 3: Transfer the tempered concoction to a pan for cooking; keep stirring until the mixture begins boiling.

Step 4: Move the mixture to a clean bowl, shield it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for about 2 hours.

Step 5: Whip the heavy whipping cream till hard peaks form, and fold it into the cream till fully blended. Move the concoction into a pastry bag with a round tip and set it aside.

Directions for the Chocolate Ganache

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Step 1: Warm the heavy cream till it begins gently simmering; ensure not to boil the cream.

Step 2: Pour the simmered cream over the chocolate chips, letting the mixture rest for a few minutes.

Step 3: Stir the mixture thoroughly till it becomes velvety while adding butter simultaneously and combining it well.

Directions to Assemble

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Step 1: Pipe the cream filling into the choux pastry by drilling holes in the pastry. Douse each stuffed pastry with the chocolate ganache.

Step 2: Refrigerate the éclairs for about an hour for setting purposes. Once set, serve or savour them, as needed.