Are you embracing Brits’ love for the eclair? If not, perhaps it’s time you did. We take a look at the pastry that’s on the rise
Éclairs are more than just puff. Fancy French patisserie has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the UK, with éclairs at the helm – there’s even a National Éclair Day on 22 June.
But what is it about éclairs that makes them so tempting?
“People eat with their eyes,” says Marie-Emmanuelle Chessé, international development project manager at French food manufacturer Tipiak. “Premium éclairs that have flavoured crème pâtissière and exciting icing designs surprise and delight customers, as well as get tills ringing.”
The company’s new French Pop Éclairs reflect this trend, she says. These are a mini version of the choux classic, developed to make a big impression on customers, in crème brûlée, chocolate orange, lemon, and raspberry-blackcurrant flavours.
Food historian Seren Evans-Charrington, who has been working with Dawn Foods, says the éclair is very much back in vogue. And she offers advice on how to offer the perfect pastry.
“It should not be under-baked (which causes collapsing), flatness, ageing, cracking and runniness,” she says. “The mark of a perfectly baked éclair is a dark-golden brown shell that is thin and crisp. It should be perfectly straight and free from cracks.”
Age matters when it comes to texture, she adds, as éclairs should be served the same day they are filled.
“Delays in serving result in moisture from the filling seeping into the shell; making them soft and slightly soggy. A properly executed éclair will always have an easily distinguishable contrast between shell and filling, with a delicious crisp bite leading to an indulgent cream filling. There should be a clear separation between the glaze and the edges of the pastry shell.”
Robert Whittle, general manager at pastry products business Pidy UK, says éclairs “have really taken the spotlight lately, capturing the creativity of pastry chefs everywhere”.
He adds there are many now taking the time to discover the true potential of the classic French patisserie, but that making choux pastry from scratch can be time-consuming and often isn’t practical for time-stretched bakers.
“We understand this and have developed our choux range using a traditional recipe to achieve a ready-made alternative,” says Whittle. “Featuring exceptional taste and texture, our ready-to-fill éclair shell is simple to prepare, ensuring construction is easy and effortless. This is highly beneficial for those who are rushed off their feet and need to use their time efficiently.”
While éclairs are traditionally filled with Chantilly cream and topped with icing, a trend has developed for using new fillings, textures and colours, says Evans-Charrington. “Top stores and pastry chefs have celebrated the versatility of the humble éclair by experimenting,” she says.
London-based patisserie Maître Choux this year unveiled an éclair inspired by the traditional Paris-Brest dessert that was created in 1910 by a French pastry chef to commemorate the Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race. The version developed by Maître Choux contains a crunchy nougatine filling and a layer of Maître Choux’s homemade praline cream. It also highlights the premium such creations can command, retailing at £5.80.
The Melba at the Savoy in London sells an extensive selection of signature éclairs in an array of colours and flavours, while Harrods has introduced savoury éclairs that showcase fillings including goat’s cheese with balsamic vinegar & caramelised walnuts, and salmon mousse & caviar.
These are trends set to filter down into the mainstream market, says Evans-Charrington, and bakers would do well to be ahead of the trend. Supermarket retail ranges generally feature only the classic chocolate éclair – are they perhaps missing an opportunity by not widening their éclair offer?
But as important as flavours and fillings are, says Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier, the most significant recent development for the éclair is the size.
“With mini-desserts becoming ever more fashionable, we have found that our mini-éclairs are among the most popular items in our petits fours ranges,” he says.
“Our recently launched Envies Sucrées range of petits fours includes two mini éclairs – a chocolate and a coffee. And the mini size has been so popular that we have also introduced a box of standalone mini-éclairs – a pack of 22 – 11 chocolate and 11 coffee – each just 7cm long.”
The packs of mini éclairs are part of Brioche Pasquier’s range of French-style éclairs, launched last month, which it describes as bearing “little resemblance to the rather weighty anglicised versions which tend to be filled with cream and topped with a dollop of chocolate”.
So if bakers want to make the most of the éclair trend, the key is less but also more: packing more flavour – especially with a high-end, distinctive or innovative character – into a smaller format. In short, make sure your éclairs aren’t all puff and no stuff.
Sweet, savoury and small - the world of eclairs
1. The Paris-Brest race inspired this Maitre Choux creation.
2. Sweet miniature eclairs to accompany coffee, from French food manufacturer Tipiak.
3. Blueberry eclairs from bakery ingredients and product manufacturer, Worcestershire-based Dawn Foods.
4. Filled savoury eclair from Belgian pastry products business, Pidy.
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The UK pastry team won the Best Sugar Piece prize and placed eighth overall at the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie 2017. The finals took place at international food event Sirha, which takes place biennially in Lyon, France.
The team was made up of president Martin Chiffers, ice candidate and team captain Andrew Blas, sugar candidate Florian Poirot, and Valrhona chocolate candidate Chris Zammit.
The sugar prize and eighth placing were the culmination of hundreds of hours of training and recipe development, following a series of qualifying rounds held over a two-year period. The team qualified through 50 national selection events and four continental events.
Each team had 10 hours in which to create: three Valrhona chocolate desserts, three frozen fruit desserts, 15 identical desserts on plate, one sculpture made of sugar, one sculpture made of Valrhona chocolate; and one sculpture made of sculpted hydric ice.
The UK team chose Marvel superheroes in London as their theme, as they wanted to “showcase the capital, as well as use the colours, characters and themes from the Marvel Universe to express both the team’s creativity and a variety of techniques”, according to Chiffers.
As to what inspires him, Chiffers says: “Seeing people I teach and train progress. I have been the president [of the UK pastry team] for four years and my goal is to take it to the podium position.”
At the end of April, the UK was selected as one of the five countries granted automatic entry to the 2019 Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie. It was joined by Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the US – each was chosen according to their overall results in the last three Coupes (2013, 2015, and 2017). The top five will now join 17 other nations to compete at the Grand Finale, which takes place at the Sirha exhibition from 27-28 January 2019.
Brits swoon over Miss Macaroon
Last November social entrepreneur Rosie Ginday unveiled the UK’s first French macaron shop, Miss Macaroon, in Birmingham.
The brand has proved popular with consumers, who can delve into 30 different types of macarons in-store, while enjoying a glass of prosecco.
Ginday said at the time that she has ambitious expansion plans, and wanted to hit 100 Miss Macaroon shops by 2021. Now she tells British Baker she’s "currently starting the investment process to fund future stores".
But she’s keeping her lips sealed as to the locations and, when asked, says she is "currently looking for retail sites in high-traffic transport hubs and core city premium shopping malls across the country".
As to why shes thinks Brits love the macaron, Ginday says: "Our customers say they are instantly transported back to their favourite holiday on the continent or a childhood moment."
Profits generated by the business go towards expanding the organisations’s Macaroons Make a Difference (MacsMad) course, which helps the long-term unemployed, ex-offenders and care leavers to gain vital training, employability skills and jobs.
"I am genuinely proud that we have been able to bring the first Miss Macaroon store to the people of Birmingham" says Ginday of the opening.
And she thinks macarons are on an upward curve: "They are becoming increasingly popular as a sweet snack, treat or even as a gift for someone special. We could tell from online sales and corporate interest from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, NatWest and EY that there was a genuine market for a high strett presence."
Miss Macaroon seats eight people inside and six alfresco in the Great Western Arcade.