Meet New York’s Next Generation of Amazing Eclairs
By Niko Triantafillou
[Photographs: Niko Triantafillou]
Look around New York’s pastry cases and you may notice something new.
Okay, not that new. Unlike some sweets that have become popular darlings, the humble eclair has been a fixture of New York bakeries for over 30 years. Its presence in some of the city’s ritziest bakeries, though, is something of a surprise.
There’s little not to like about the comforting combination of crunchy, airy pâte a choux pastry filled with sweet creams and custards, all in an elegant, easy-to-eat package. But eclairs are rarely taken very seriously, and up until recently, serious pastry chefs haven’t given them much attention. Today’s haute eclairs, though, are a different sub-species from the versions in your supermarket freezer aisle. They’re freshly made with bold, bright, unexpected flavors, and a keen eye toward aesthetics. You can even call them exciting.
Many of these newer eclairs forgo the standard fondant icing glaze and replace it with meringue, caramel, or sculpted slabs of chocolate. At Lafayette, for instance, a sweet-tart lemon pie eclair comes with a torched meringue top and lemon curd filling, and that’s only one of several on the menu.
So why eclairs, and why now? The answer takes us beyond this little log-shaped dessert into New York’s changing pastry culture.
The Eclair as Blank Canvas
With more competition than ever before, the city’s French pastry chefs have been forced to reimagine the eclair from a staid, old-school pastry to a blank canvas for exploring new flavors, fillings, and toppings.
One reason for the eclair’s reemergence is the explosion of high quality French bakeries in the city. Maison Kayser, Francois Payard Bakery, Epicerie Boulud, Dominique Ansel, and Mille Feuille have all added multiple locations in Manhattan in just the last two years. With more competition than ever before, the city’s French pastry chefs have been forced to reimagine the eclair from a staid, old-school pastry to a blank canvas for exploring new flavors, fillings, and toppings.