The French Éclair is known around the world, it is one of the greatest cakes ever! Éclair means “flash of lightning” and quite why it’s called that is not 100% known but many say that it is an old joke of pastry makers that the éclair is eaten “in a flash”!
The history of the French Éclair
Antonin Carême (1784-1833), one of the first celebrity chefs, is attributed with making the éclair legendary by adding his magic touch to a cake previously known as “pain à la duchesse” or “petite duchesse”. Carême was the chef who baked Napoleon’s wedding cake and created gastronomic masterpieces for the Prince de Talleyrand at the Chateau of Valencay. He was invited to cook for the Romanovs in St. Petersburg and made soufflés flecked with real gold for the wealthy Rothschilds in Paris. His cookbooks published in Paris made him world famous.
An éclair is an oblong pastry made with choux pastry (the same dough used for profiteroles) and when baked, and cooled, it is filled with cream or crème patisserie that can be flavoured and topped with icing. The older version, the Duchesse style cake, included different types of pastry.
The most famous éclair is the chocolate one, in fact, there’s even a national day devoted to the chocolate éclair – June 22nd!
In France the éclair is revered and you will find a version in every patisserie. Filled with chocolate cream or fresh cream and topped with chocolate icing is how many like their éclair but you’ll also find designer versions with unusual fillings and toppings. In Paris, for the last few years, Patisserie Fauchon have been creating glamorous éclairs to honour Paris Fashion Week (September) with flavours like foie gras and truffle, white chocolate and coconut, lemongrass and lime, pearls of honey with Chantilly cream and slivers of pistachio…
Éclair today, éclair tomorrow – they’ve been loved for almost two centuries and we still adore them!