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Love is in the Eclair: Some Sweet History, and a Daring Bakers Challenge

The Eclair
Until this month, eating an éclair was a matter of walking down to Le Panier and grabbing one of the delectable confections. But all of this changed with our most recent Daring Bakers Challenge (suggested by Meeta and Tony) which was to make Pierre Hermé’s éclairs. Now, admittedly we haven't made éclairs before but this recipe seemed like rather a quirky one (check it out here).

But like we always do, during all of those between-steps moments we had to do something to keep ourselves from eating the unfinished masterpieces, so we turned to discover a bit more about the sweet treat. Here's what we discovered, along with our little helper above (who we like to call Pierre Eclair):

What is an éclair? To those who may have grown up eating the version peddled at Dunkin' Donuts, you've been living a lie. That is what would technically be referred to as a "long john"--basically a doughnut dressed up like an éclair. Not that we'd turn our nose if offered a box of them.


Likewise those of you who have sampled the "eclair" by Cadbury and Co. are also not eating the French pastry--these confections are a caramel coating around a chocolate center.

Eclairs, Fairway, NYCEclairs at Caffe Roma, NYC

No, a true éclair is a
"long, thin pastry made with choux pastry filled with a cream and topped with icing.
The dough, which is the same as that used for profiterole, is piped into an oblong shape with a pastry bag and baked until it is crisp and hollow inside. Once cool, the pastry then is filled with...pastry cream (crème pâtissière), custard or whipped cream, and topped with fondant icing."

Of course, if that seems a bit long, this definition for the éclair seems rather succinct: according to the Chambers English Dictionary, an éclair is “a cake, long in shape but short in duration.”


Where do they come from? Like a sweet mirage, the eclair's origins are hazy. According to foodtimeline.org, "The food history encyclopedias (including the Larousse Gastronomique) and reference books all describe eclairs but provide little if any details regarding their origin. This probably means the eclair is a product of food evolution. There is some conjecture that perhaps Antonin Carême (1784-1833), a famous pastry chef for French royalty might have created something akin to éclairs."

Beautiful Eclairs at St. Honore BoulangerieEclairs at Piancone's in Bradley Beach, NJ
But wherever they may have come from, they caught on fast. They'd jumped the pond by 1884, garnering a writeup and recipe in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book. You can find the original American recipe here.


Why are they called "eclairs"?: Like the riddle about the Tootsie Pop, the world may never know. In An A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto muses that "The primary meaning of eclair in French is 'lightning', and one (not very convincing) explanation advanced for its application to these cream-filled choux-pastry temptations is that it was suggested by the light gleaming from their coating of fondant icing". Well, John might not be impressed, but we rather like the Frenchy, film-noir image that gives us--the film's hero, shot in dark, moody tones, walks into a bakery, and upon encountering the eclair for the first time, is blinded by the flash of its glossy veneer, and then completely struck by that first taste.



Enough already, how did they taste?: Full disclosure? We didn't think that these were the tastiest of recipes for the first-time éclairmakers--they tasted a little too eggy for our liking, our custard was maybe a little runny. But, they say Hermé is the best (and we believe them), so it's exceedingly possible the fault was on our end. Only one way to find out--you can check out all of the entries at daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com. We think that this website did a wonderful job on them--and the recipe is posted there too!


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Reader Comments (51)

Very interesting bit of trivia! They sure do look delicious!

August 31 | Unregistered CommenterMigoto_Chou

it's the shiny chocolate topping that always grabs my attention.
Can't remember the last time I ate an eclair - I shall rectify that pronto!

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterThe Caked Crusader

Love the photos and information! Excellent post!

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterJude

WOW great looking eclairs cakespy and a history lesson too - well done on another great post & bake!

Rosie x

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterRosie

This is an eclair overload. They all look delicious, pity i can t even try one :-(

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterSnooky doodle

I love the background information, very informative and entertaining.
I did find them a little eggy but better once tarted up.
Beautiful looking eclairs, great job.

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterNatashya

Hey, check my blog for a post about Fauchon and their AMAZING eclairs! Lovely post.

September 1 | Unregistered Commenterkat

Love the first pic! Nice job on your eclairs. Love the background info too.

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterHalf Baked

Great looking eclairs, and I enjoyed the history lesson as well - thanks for doing the research.

September 1 | Unregistered Commenterbakinginoregon

For me, it's still walking to the local bakery. Or I could walk to your place instead. :)

Love that history! Thanks! And great photos of various eclairs! You have a PhD in eclair now!!

September 1 | Unregistered CommenterLesley

So cute as usual! I had problem with the batter too.

September 2 | Unregistered Commenterveron

I LOVE LOVE LOVE your header picture on this post. Too cute.

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterEB

That Dunkin Donuts - fooling Americans into thinking they are eating an eclair!! Your eclairs look great - too bad they weren't the tastiest for you.

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

oh I love elairs!!!I have to bake some in the next few weeks...

September 2 | Unregistered CommenterDiana Evans

Stop, You're making me hungry! - Just found your blog through Taylored Expressions (love the upcoming stamp set) and wanted to say hi!

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterIda P. Krause

I had such grand plans for my own Daring Baker eclairs--I was going to make them into hot-rods and go-karts with toothpicks and wheels built from little chocolate disks and so on...Instead, as you can see, I got trashed on a variety of wines, indulged in sunshine and parties, and cringed at the thought of doing anything responsible, particularly turning on my oven and conducting precision recipe execution in the 30-degree heatwave of late summer:

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I just found your blog from a link on Taylored Expressions and I'm in LOVE!

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

What a fabulous outcome on this month's challenge. I'm so impressed. And you're telling me you never made them before? OMG

September 3 | Unregistered Commentergiz

Mrs. Cupcake: Thanks!

Aran: Your life is SO film noir, I'll bet! All glamorous :-)

TW Barritt: I know! I was surprised myself by how hazy its origins are--and how similar that type of eclair is to the boston cream pie or the doughnuts that DD sells that they call "eclairs". Interesting how it all goes together...

CL: Ha! You made me laugh til I cried with the French laugh!

Passionate About Baking: I'll take a bite too!

Ann: Yea! My first time. It was fun! Not as delicious as yours looked though!

Dana: thanks! Glad you enjoyed!

Clumbsy: It was the first time I've ever seen an eclair too. Unfortunately, Pierre is no longer with us.

Rainbow: Thanks! Yours do gleam!

Honeyb: Yup. These things matter. :-)

Tartelette: Yes, he was off...but we ate him anyway!

Isa: You didn't take that course!? What a shame! :-)

Tanya: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the l'il guy.

Judy: Nope, that is the kind of history I like!

TeaLady: Glad you enjoyed! Thanks!

Natalie: Alas, he did not last.

Psychgrad: You definitely should! I think it was worth the experience of making something I'd usually just buy!

Tablebread: I don't eat them often either but hey, everything has a time and a place!

Eileen: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed visiting!

Bonnie: I am blushing!! I have something coming your way in the mail!

Pea and Pear: I think that all that reading means you need a snack! An eclair!

Maybelle's mom: Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the intro pic!

Stickygooey: Glad you enjoyed! Thanks!

Marye: You're welcome!

Migoto Chou: Thanks!

Caked Crusader: Yes! Rectify that immediately!

Jude: Glad you enjoyed!

Rosie: Thanks so much!!

Snooky: Come on over! :-) We'd totally hook you up!

Natashya: Thanks! And the egginess wasn't so bad we didn't eat them so I guess not a total loss!

Half baked: Thanks!

Bakinginoregon: Thanks, glad you enjoyed!

Susan: It would be a long walk but you'd be welcome!

Lesley: Oooh, a PHD in eclair!? Count me in.

Veron: I'm sure yours was better than ours :-)

EB: Thanks! It's totally back to school time!

Deborah: BAD DD indeed! Well, like I said, I would still eat 'em! :-)

Diana: You do have to!

Ida: Aww, thanks! Glad you like the new stamps too!

Amanda: You're too sweet! Glad you've discovered the sweet world we live in! :-)

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy

Thanks for the history behind the eclair - I found it very interesting.

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterCakelaw

Thanks for the history behind the eclair - I found it very interesting.

September 3 | Unregistered CommenterCakelaw


September 4 | Unregistered CommenterVeggieGirl

Love the history and Pierre!

September 5 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

Pierre Eclair is SO CUTE! It just makes me want to eat him up!!! oh wait... :( hahaha ;) Great job on the eclairs! :)

September 6 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
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