An Eclair by Any Other Name
Smell, some sources say, is the most evocative sense. In my experience, however, the simple utterance of the name of a food can evoke first a visual memory, then a taste memory—followed by associated memories that can be pleasant or unpleasant.
Take liver. We used to get it at boarding school. I don’t know what happened to the poor beasts before the nuns got hold of their internal organs, but I swear we never got a piece of liver that could be sliced without a chainsaw or chewed without bionic teeth. If they were trying to give us an early experience of purgatory or a lifelong aversion to liver, they succeeded.
“Chocolate éclair” on the other hand has happy associations. When my dad, a hotel manger who cooked like a dream, worked at one particular hotel with a rather grand restaurant, he would bring me a chocolate éclair every so often from the kitchen. It was always a luscious treat with its airy pastry, dark-chocolate glaze and filling of ever-so-lightly-sweetened whipped cream that squished deliciously when you took a bite.
I learned later from my father that I could use the same choux pastry mix (flour, boiling water, butter and eggs) for both éclairs and profiteroles—or I could drop teaspoon-size bites into boiling water to create gnocchi-style dumplings that married appetizingly when added to simmering stroganoff-style dishes.
Chocolate éclairs often disappoint with dry or lardy pastry and yucky custard or chocolate cream, but La Farine on College Avenue commits none of these sins. The éclair recipe at this popular bakery dates back to 1974, and the shop’s original owner, Swiss pastry chef Lillie LeCoq. The casing is light and airy. The bittersweet Guittard chocolate glaze is delicious. The filling of vanilla-cream custard and fresh-whipped cream works. Many people line up for La Farine’s morning buns. While I have no doubt these are good, the éclairs verge on heavenly.
La Farine French Bakery, 6323 College Ave., open 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily except Sunday when the bakery closes at 3 p.m. (510) 654-0338, www.lafarine.com.
—By Wanda Hennig