So what about French pastries? Are they really as good as their reputation? The answer is: Absolutely!
Going to a real pâtisserie is an amazing experience. One of the modern laments in France in that neighborhood bakeries are getting fewer and fewer because of the growing number of supermarkets and that many bakeries attempt to be both a pâtisserie (pastry bakery) and boulangerie (bread bakery.) It is a commonly held belief that a pâtissier (pastry chef) and a boulanger (baker), while both well-respected as professionals, have totally different skill sets. Purists argue a good boulanger cannot also be a good pâtissier. Visiting dedicated pâtisseries and trying their pastries have made me a believer of that assertion.
I thought I would discuss the classic French pastry, the éclair, first. An éclair is made with pâte à choux, a light pastry dough. The reason a pâtisserie’s expertise is required is that éclairs are baked without using any rising agent. The pâtisserie uses only the moisture in the pâte à choux dough to create steam that “puffs” the pastry.
I visited my neighborhood pâtisserie saw and smelled some incredible treats on display. The window had large empty spaces from early rising shoppers.
I purchased two éclairs and the pâtisserie proceeded to carefully box and wrap the pastries, in Tracy’s words, “like a Christmas gift from Nordstroms.”
So how do they taste? Incredibly good! The éclair’s exterior is tan and crisp with layers of soft pastry inside. The filling is actually custard, rich and thick, not whipped cream or pudding. Chocolate and coffee iced éclairs are the most common with matching chocolate and coffee custard filling inside. The richness of the pastry and custard make a single éclair a complete treat. Melt in your mouth delicious.