Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Make way for Éclairs!

Cupcakes are cute and affordable and remind many people of their childhood birthday parties, but they were never a favorite of mine. That’s not to say I don’t have a favorite pastry from childhood. I do. It’s the éclair. 

Growing up I always scoured the bakery case for chocolate éclairs  The crunchy eggy pastry, the creamy filling and chocolate glaze were much more appealing than any sugar cookie or cupcake. Their appeal has not diminished and In recent years I’ve had some very memorable éclairs including a massive one at Cake Love in Washington DC and delicate skinny ones glazed with matcha and black sesame at Sarahau Aoki in Tokyo.

Though the oblong pastry made from pate a choux and filled with pastry cream and originally called the Petite Duchesse has been around since the 1800's, according to some reports I read last year (from David Lebovitz, The Independent and even the Financial Times) éclairs have become quite trendy in Europe recently. They certainly haven’t hit critical mass here yet. But perhaps that’s about to change.

Last week I got a chance to meet the James Beard award-winning pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini as he kicked off his “Éclair Diaries” a motorcycle adventure to find inspiration for 8 new éclairs for the Le Meridien hotels. As part of the program, each hotel will offer modern versions of three signature éclair flavors – coffee, chocolate and vanilla in addition to one locally inspired flavor created by Iuzzini.

In San Francisco he shared his coffee cardamom éclair topped with bits of edible gold leaf, crunchy chocolate balls and nibs and a bit of flaky salt. The coffee cardamom eclair recipe will be in his upcoming cookbook. After his kickoff at the Le Meridien he was heading out to visit bakeries including Craftsman and Wolves as well as local farmers markets and a distillery and to forage with Chef Daniel Patterson, all to get his creative juices flowing. What will the San Francisco éclair be? We will just have to wait to find out.

With different fillings and toppings, there might be infinite variations of the eclair. Much like, you know, cupcakes.