I’ll admit to it. I’m partial to an eclair or seven. I know its the time of the year when diets are all the rage but I just can’t help myself around them. It only occurred to me the other day, however, that I didn’t know very much about these delicious pastry treats. So I decided to have a quick search and this is what I found.
Let’s start with the name eclair. In French the word eclair is a word for lightning and its thought to relate to the glistening of the confectioner’s glaze of the eclair. It could also be related to the idea the eclair is something that is eaten fast. Eclairs are often eaten as an on the go treat and I can see why this might apply.
Ok, so when was the eclair first invented? Its funny because we don’t actually know a lot about the history of the eclair. It turns up in France around the turn of the nineteenth century but some claim that it may have existed before this under the name “pain à la duchesse” or “petite duchesse” until about 1850. Many food historians believe that the first modern eclairs were made by the famous pastry chef Marie-Antoine Carême. He was an excellent chef that was to cook for the royal family of Britain when George IV was on the throne. Whilst this chef may have invented the eclair the recipe didn’t appear in a cookbook until 1884. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Mrs D.A Lincoln contains the earliest known recipe for an eclair.
Whilst many companies advertise Long John Doughnuts as eclairs they are not at all identical to french eclairs. They are made with doughnut pastry which is yeast-risen as opposed to choux dough which is steam puffed. I won’t complain too much about the differences because I like both. A lot.
You don’t need to settle for the kind of eclairs you buy in supermarkets though. The modern eclair is a work of art with massive amounts of variation in decoration and flavour. Eclairs, whilst they’ve never had a time when they were unpopular, are really making a comeback and I for one get pretty excited about this.