Eclairs: Hong Kong’s hottest French pastry treat
The finger-shaped cream puff is proving a heavyweight favourite as chefs dish up a creative range of sweet and savoury flavours
Move over macarons, the eclair is the hottest French pastryin Hong Kongright now. The finger-shaped cream puff, the name of which means “lightning” in French, is not exactly new to the city: global brands including Fauchon, La Maison du Chocolat and Maison Eric Kayser sell eclairs,while local soft-serve ice cream hotspot Via Tokyo, in Causeway Bay, has also been making a matcha version for its sweet-toothed customers.
But the launch of L’Éclair de Génie pop-ups on November 25 in Pacific Place and the Prince’s Building this week has upped the ante. Co-founder and pastry chef Christophe Adam changed thetraditional pastry into a range of colourful, multiflavoured and highly decorated treatsthat are a fashionable in Paris. He’s been expanding his empire not only in his home country, but also in Asia with shops in Japan and Korea, and now the pop-ups – scheduled to last for about six months – in Hong Kong.
“I started to create my first eclair – orange flavoured – with Fauchon in 2002,” says Adam, whoalso worked at Le Gavroche in London and Hotel de Crillon in Paris. “Little by little I’ve created maybe 300 different eclairs and, in 2008, I organised for Fauchon the first ever Eclair Week [which has now become an annual event]. When I left Fauchon four years ago, I was encouraged by [co-founder and entrepreneur] Charles Lahmi to create a brand with just eclairs.”
It will take some time to sample all of Adam’s jewel-like creations: 10 flavours are available each day and the selection changes each month when two or three new varieties will be added. Adam’s favourite is the salted butter caramel version as it reminds him of his childhood in Brittany – a region in France famous for its salted butter – but everyone will be able to find a flavour that appeals to them, whether it’s pistachio-orange, chestnut-blueberry (made exclusively for the Hong Kong debut), or milk chocolate praline.
Other than Adam’s creativity, which he says is fuelled by his lifestyle and travels, the key to the brand’s popularity is the freshness of the products. Since he founded the brand in 2012, Adam has made a point of investing in “artisanal factories”, like the one he built in Wong Chuk Hang, to ensure that everything is fresh. “It’s very important for me to create fresh eclairs every day, be it in France, Japan, Korea or Hong Kong,” he says.
Also making fashionable eclairs ispastry chef Roy Lau Kwong-hung.When Lau was asked to devise the dessert menu for The Park Lane Hong Kong Pullman Hotel’s new lobby lounge, Ebb & Flow, the eclair seemed the obvious choice to fit in with the space’s chic interior design.
Lau, who has been in his trade for more than 30 years, invented five flavours, including coffee sea salt, mango banana, and raspberry dark chocolate. “Traditionally, the eclair is only filled with custard, which may not be very appealing to Asians,” the pastry chef says. “I want to add contrasting textures and layers of flavours to an eclair by adding fresh fruits as well as different icings and decorations.”
His eclairs are also available in a mini size as part of daily afternoon tea, in which scones are replaced by all-you-can-eat waffles. The apple caramel eclair is Lau’s personal favourite, although it’s also the most time-consuming to make as the apple has to be soaked in caramel overnight for a deeper
colour and flavour. To create his Japanese-inspired matcha azuki bean eclair, he cooks red bean paste from scratch with three different types of sugar. A new flavour in the works is purple sweet potato, Lau adds.
At Wood Ta.Lk in Mong Kok, the eclair gets a major local makeover. A sister restaurant of La Postre in Sheung Wan, the two-storey lifestyle store and cafe allows guests to build their own eclair. Calling the invention an ice dog, co-owner Jerry Yu Tung-wing says they bake and freeze their oversized choux pastry in their Sheung Wan kitchen daily before shipping it to their Mong Kok venue. When there’s an order, they reheat the choux pastry in a toaster “for a crispy exterior and chewy interior,” he says.
They offer up to 20 types of New Zealand Natural ice cream, three house-made custards (white chocolate, matcha and original), and five sprinkles for guests to choose from. And if you’re too lazy to make the choices, they’ve also provided a couple of recommended combinations on the menu.
“Our ice dog is great for grab-and-go, although customers are always welcome to enjoy it in our cosy space upstairs,”Yu says. “We’re always looking to provide something different and the ice dog is our unique spin on the traditional pastry.”
And if you think the eclair is only a dessert, think again as Yu’s team and chef Marc Toutain have both came up with savoury options. Toutain, in particular, is determined to change the stereotype that eclairs have to be sweet with his start-up named Éclair! The first of a series of projects after the chef started his own company two months ago, Éclair! focuses on providing savoury eclairs for private events and catering, although Toutain also makes some decadent chocolate ones and is looking to open a bricks-and-mortar shop eventually.
“Everyone [thinks] that the eclair is sickly sweet filled with lots of cream and sugar. But actually the choux pastry is neutral and made simply with egg, butter, milk and flour,” says Toutain’s wife, Joyce Lau. “So what we thought is with Marc’s background being a chef in a broad way, the eclair is a great canvas for him to innovate. Also, we wanted to do something different. Because Hong Kong people didn’t grow up with it, they are not so narrow-minded in thinking that an eclair has to be made with chocolate.”
Each savoury eclair Toutain creates is a meal on its own. Think smoked duck breast with berries, mackerel on a bed of potato salad, and crabmeat with dollops of guacamole. Toutain has created about 10 varieties so far and considers foie gras with brie foam and fig, which was a hit at the Wine & Dine Festival in October, their signature. Say hello to the couple at the Christmas markets in Stanley Plaza and Olympian City, where they will sell bite-sized chocolate eclairs.
Toutain makes everything from scratch – including the chocolate cream for which he grinds his own Valrhona chocolate beans.
“When I was young I would stop with my grandma after school at a small bakery to buy a napoleon or eclair,” he says. “[Back then], the traditional ones were always chocolate or coffee,but over time the flavours change and we need to be more creative as chefs. I can develop beyond just the Western side – I have very good knowledge in Asian food having worked in Hong Kong for the past 20 years. I’m planning to do char siu flavours, or everything from Japanese to Indian and even Thai, according to the demand. The possibilities are unlimited.”
Ebb & Flow
The Park Lane Hong Kong Pullman Hotel, 310 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, tel: 2839 3377
L’Éclair de Génie
Pop-up kiosks at Level 2, Park Court, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, and 1/F Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, tel: 2554 7729
118 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, tel: 2191 5900