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The art of the eclair

Among the luxury food shops in Paris, Fauchon is the crème de la crème, so when it turns its attention to design expect a flash of genius.

In 2009, "Wallpaper" magazine awarded it's prize for best teatime treat to Chistophe Adam for his "Madame Joconde Eclair". The Executive Chef at Fauchon asked us to take a closer look at the mysterious smile of the Mona Lisa, because the eclair is as important to the famous shop on the place de la Madeleine as the madeleine was to Proust. A retrospective is organized in their honour every September, when no fewer than 45 varieties, both savoury and sweet, are created. Like the wedding dress in a fashion collection, the eclair is reinvented every season: for the spring-summer collection it comes in soft pink, lemon yellow and lagoon blue, complementing vanilla and violet aromas. While art lovers particularly appreciate the more inventive variations in decoration − floral, striped, spotted or in a coat of silver − everyone appreciates the feast of flavours, ranging from foie gras and Macha tea to white chocolate, mint and apple.

These classic sweets of French cooking are an inexhaustible inspiration for the darlings of the sweet-tooth community. Pierre Hermé pays tribute to the Saint-Honoré cake by creating macarons in his favourite flavours: Ispahan - rose, strawberry and lychee; Satine - cream cheese, orange and passion fruit; Magador - milk chocolate, passion fruit and pineapple. Jacques Genin, the chocolatier, reinvents the millefeuille by decorating the flaky pastry with tasty dabs of chocolate cream. And Philippe Conticini, in his Pâtisserie des Rêves, treats us to a fantasy Paris-Brest cake with a praline sauce.

But it’s the eclair that is firmly in the spotlight, probably because you can eat it with your fingers, and in France it brings back fond memories of desserts served during childhood Sunday lunches. It may be called a “Bomba” in Brazil but it retains its French name everywhere else in the world. The origins of the name are a mystery although some historians suggest two possibilities: we eat it at the speed of lightning, or its icing is shiny like lightning. Something a little more poetic would be welcome!

As for its history – there’s nothing reliable here either, but Antonin Carême (1783-1833) “king of cooks and cook of kings” and the man who gave us profiteroles, might have invented the eclair when he was experimenting with Duchess petit fours. This virtuoso of the oven, who always thought that pastry cooks and architects were closely related, could have simply copied the cake from the 18th century - a strip of puff pastry rolled in almonds, filled with cream and topped with fondant icing. 

In the tradition of Antonin Carême and a long way from the great Parisian patisseries, pastry cooks all over France continue to make puff pastry eclairs every day, filled with chocolate or coffee cream and coated liberally in icing, to the delight of all gourmands.

Like the wedding dress in a fashion collection, the eclair is reinvented every season.

Design : Sandrine Giacobetti - Photography : Fabrice Bouquet - Text : Emmanuelle Robin




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