The Origins of the Éclair
To understand the origins of the Éclair, it is necessary to know the origins of the 'choux' pastry, which is the main part of the dessert. This dough was created in the XVIe century, at the time of Catherine de Medicis. Around the 1540s, the one who was Duchess of Brittany at that time wanted to impress her subjects.
Between painters, poets, and musicians, Catherine de Medicis invites great cooks. Among them is a certain Popelini. The Italian cook takes up the recipes of his predecessor, in particular that of choux pastry, previously nicknamed " hot pastry ". He works it in small cabbages that he garnishes with fruits, which delights the court which is crazy about it.
It was not until the 19th century that the éclair made itself known, at the hands of Antonin Carême, nicknamed the Pastry chef of kings. He is considered a precursor of French gastronomy, and the inventor of the 'toque' (the beautiful hat), would have reappropriated the choux pastry. He declines it in several forms: profiteroles, croquembouche and other mounted pieces.
He reinvents the pain à la duchesse, a dessert made from choux pastry that has been stretched to look like a finger. He fills this cake with custard or fruit jam, before icing it with a melting sugar. This is how the éclair found its final shape, which we know and devour today.
So why the name Éclair? Legends would explain that the dessert proposed by Antonin Carême was so popular that it spread across the country at lightning speed (Éclair). Other theories would indicate that the éclair was so good that it was devoured... in a flash (éclair).