Traditional French éclairs are beautiful in their simplicity: Pâte à choux pastry dough is baked, filled with vanilla pastry cream and then finished with chocolate icing. Éclairs can provide a foundational canvas for experimenting with creative flavor and texture combinations. From Japan to London to cities across the Midwest, pastry chefs are redefining the classic pastry with modern flourishes.
When Chris and Kate Matsch opened Ibis Bakery, the focus was on French-style sourdough breads. As the bakery and its loyal customer base grew, the couple expanded the team to include pastry chefs such as Tim Veith, Ibis’ pastry production supervisor. He introduced kouign-amann, a cake native to the Brittany region of France, as well as tarts, galettes, Danishes and a seasonally rotating éclair. “I love pâte à choux – I think it’s such versatile dough to work with; there’s so much you can do with it and it’s a great method for any number of flavors and fillings,” Veith says. “I had seen some pastry chefs worldwide doing some really neat things with éclairs… particularly one in France – so bright, colorful and flavorful.” He first introduced a salted caramel flavor last fall. “To get that really strong caramel flavor to come through, you really have to torch the sugar to get a robust and dark caramel flavor,” he says. Last winter, Ibis featured a toasted coconut cream éclair, followed by an Earl Grey flavor in spring and vanilla bean over the summer. This fall, Ibis served a walnut-praline éclair developed by pastry chef Kathryn Ratzlaff. Veith adds that Ibis will serve a maple-pecan flavor this winter topped with candied pecans.
Ibis Bakery, 12817 W. 87th St. Parkway, Lenexa, Kansas, 913.669.9883, ibisbakery.com
Brasserie by Niche
When pastry assistant Alice Harvey started making éclairs at Brasserie by Niche, James Beard award-winning chef Gerard Craft’s French-style bistro, three years ago, she was directed to use classic French desserts as her inspiration; early éclair flavors included lemon meringue and peach-melba. Harvey soon found herself inspired by sweets from around the world, as well as her childhood. In the past two years, she’s whipped up an éclair with matcha pastry cream, vanilla whipped cream and matcha icing. In early September, she featured an éclair with buttery popcorn pastry cream, salted caramel and popped sorghum. Harvey remembered that the chefs at Brasserie had previously made popcorn ice cream and “figured that if you can make ice cream taste like popcorn, you can make pastry cream through a similar process.” She topped the éclair with popped sorghum because “the pieces are so tiny when they pop; instead of having two or three pieces of regular popcorn, you can have a full mound of popped sorghum for lots of crunch and flavor.” Harvey left Brasserie in October, and now pastry chef Elise Mensing has taken up the éclair R&D. “I really like the nostalgia of desserts, too, and we’ll keep drawing from childhood memories in our éclairs,” Mensing says. This fall, she served a candied apple flavor with cream cheese-apple filling and a caramel glaze.
Brasserie by Niche, 4580 Laclede Ave., Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.454.0600, brasseriebyniche.com
Hopscotch: Cakes & Confections
Kaya Tate attended pastry school in Portland, Oregon, and worked in kitchens across the world before founding Hopscotch: Cakes & Confections in 2014 in Champaign, Illinois. Today, her cakes, marshmallows, and more are sold out of Art Mart, a specialty wine and grocery store nearby. There, Tate serves one or two éclairs in her dessert case each week. Past flavors have included Winter Citrus made with salted choux pastry, bitter orange-chocolate pastry cream, candied pistachios and grapefruit rind with blood orange coulis; and English Breakfast with choux pastry, charred lemon-juniper posset (a British custard made with just cream, sugar and citrus), bergamot sablé crumbles and cocoa-nib glass. “I used to live in Oxford, England, and I love English pastries,” Tate says. “When I made the English Breakfast éclair, it reminded me of English tea, but in pastry form. And a lot of people have never had posset in their life – they don’t know what it is – and I like to give people a teeny bit of history, too.”
Hopscotch: Cakes & Confections, 1705 S. Prospect Ave., Champaign, Illinois, hopscotchcakes.com