My fascination with éclairs is not a long standing one. In fact, this obsession is quite infantile; which probably explains why I can't stop daydreaming about them. Young love, perhaps? When I was offered a chance to head up a French bakery a few months ago, I knew eclairs had to not just be a fixture of the showcase, but a feature to boot. A shortlist of requirements came to mind immediately: they have to be delicious (of course); they have to be beautiful; and they have to be straight. Easy, right? Well, I quickly found out how easy it was to make ugly and wonky éclairs that look like they've exploded and imploded simultaneously. Test upon test of many a recipe ensued, including one from the illustrious Francisco Migoya, which is the one that stuck. We pretty much adhere to his recipe exactly, except for his instruction to pipe long bands of batter that you then freeze and cut into exact lengths for "to the millimeter" consistency. I love this idea, but I happen to also love the curvature of a rounded end; and so we strayed a little and now pipe the logs individually. We are lucky enough to have a three-tiered deck oven which bakes the choux gently and beautifully, and limits cracking of the exterior.
Having overcome the straightness factor, on we marched into the flavor domain. And this is where we can really have the most fun. I knew I wanted to offer at least three different flavors, two being standard, and the third something a little out of the box. "Chocolate" was a must. Ours is filled with an unctuous, not too bitter - not too sweet 66% cremeux, and topped with a shiny strip of dark chocolate. "Butterscotch Coffee", filled with butterscotch pudding and finished with a coffee glaze and ground espresso, has become a favorite of both staff members and customers, and most of all my husband. "Lemon Meringue" is our play eclair, filled with a tart lemon cream and garnished with a wavy mohawk of burnt meringue. My eclair obsession could not have been more fueled than by the eclair master himself, Christophe Adam, whose shop "L'Eclair de Genie", in Paris is a place I can only dream of visiting. For now, I just salivate at his online photos of some of the most ingenious eclair creations in the pastry world. As soon as I spotted one of an eclair hollowed out from the top and filled with fruit to make a veritable "eclair tart", my mind was b.l.o.w.n.! How simple, yet how clever!! A trip to the market right now will load your arms with black raspberries, a rainbow of currants and gooseberries, blueberries and blackberries. Filled with a Dulcey cremeux, the "Black and Blue" is born. And really people, can there be anything more beautiful than this???
If I had my way, this would be the king of all pastry. Way tastier than a cupcake, much better value than a macaron, and a million times less guilt-inducing than a doughnut.