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Apr 24, 2009 07:04 AM

Best Chocolate Eclair

I've been thinking about this subject lately, and wondering who might sell the best chocolate eclair in the Chicago area.

How do I define the perfect chocolate eclair? The outside layer is a classic French pate a choux dough; ideally it should be dry but tender on the outside, mildly eggy in taste. The filling is a classic French creme patissiere (pastry cream), rich and flavored with real vanilla. There should be plenty of pastry cream, no place to scrimp! It should be topped with chocolate icing in a very thin layer so as not to overwhelm the milder flavors of the other components. Size and price don't matter in my opinion (although I suppose they would if I found a small eclair selling for a ridiculously high price!).

Common faults in chocolate eclairs include the following. It must be freshly made; otherwise the outside crust/dough becomes soggy very quickly. The chocolate icing on top should be minimal; if it's slathered on, particularly if it's a thick layer of fluffy frosting like you'd find on a supermarket layer cake, it overwhelms the rest of the eclair. There should be LOTS of pastry cream in the middle, enough so that you have to be careful where it goes when eating it! Some bakeries don't use a true creme patissiere, but instead use a shelf-stable custard filling like you'd find in custard donuts at a donut shop; if you see an eclair that is not refrigerated, run away!

I recently had perhaps the best chocolate eclair I can remember, but it was out of town, at Rene's Bakery in Indianapolis. In addition to everything being just perfect, overstuffed with delicious pastry cream, one welcome twist was that they used a milder chocolate icing (light or "milk" chocolate in appearance). A definite A+. I normally wouldn't mention it here on the Chicago Area forum, but it makes a nice standard for comparison purposes.

An excellent place for chocolate eclairs in the Chicago area is Three Tarts in Northfield, where I got some recently. Theirs are somewhat small, not mini eclairs but I'm recalling maybe 3-4 inches long, rather than the full-sized 6-8 inch version many places sell. $1.60 apiece. They slice theirs horizontally to stuff them with pastry cream; to me, that's not a fault, since I welcome whatever it takes to have enough pastry cream! The outer crust/dough is ever so slightly tough/chewy, not terribly so, but not as tender as it could be - which is only a minor fault. The pastry cream is outstanding (as well as ample) and the chocolate icing is properly minimal and tasty. I'd grade them a solid A. The good news is, they're always fresh; the bad news is, that's because they're usually sold out by some time during their lunchtime rush.

Where do you find your favorite chocolate eclairs in the Chicago area, and how would you describe them?

(And I realize that excellent chocolate eclairs are not difficult to make at home, as long as you have a pastry bag!)

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  1. I am in the same search (being french ) and missing my eclair au cafe (coffe flavored). Imight add to me the look is really important. It needs to be very neat, nicely shaped, compact little thing... not some slouchy bunch of dough that came about together you dont know how :)
    I like the minis the best, and if I could ever find a religieuse (combination of a bigger round pastry choux filled the same way, with a smaller one on top..) that would be even better. Tried Vanille patisserie, they only make them on special order, and I have to say I was not greatly impressed with their stuff. It looked very pretty, but the flavors were off and it was just too sweet and too rich. (we had 3 different individual entremets)

    2 Replies
    1. re: kirikara

      Try Jarosch Bakery in Elk Grove Village. Same location since 1958, and they haven't changed a thing.
      Friends came in from overseas and all over the country a few months ago for our 40th HS reunion, and the 1st stop most made was Jarosch. I'm still in the area and get requests all the time for one item in particular- their chocolate eclairs! Craggy, crusty exterior that melts away to a soft airy interior, sweet creamy custard filling, delicious chocolate frosting- just terrific.

      1. re: Laury99

        I tried an eclair at Jarosch a week or two ago. The frosting was pretty good, just enough to add taste without overwhelming. The shell was also decent and fresh. However, the filling was not a true creme patisserie, lacking the richness and strong vanilla flavoring of the best eclairs. I'd give theirs a B-.

    2. Here's another entry in the contest. Today I bought a chocolate eclair at Gourmet Frog, the carry-out branch of Froggy's in Highwood. This one is a full-length 6" eclair, a bit thinner than some others though. But there's ample (and delicious) pastry cream inside though. The chocolate frosting is a bit stronger in taste than some, but that's offset by the fact that it's spread in a very thin and narrow coating on the top of the eclair. This works out well. The crust is nicely tender, more so than the Three Tarts version described above. This one, too, I'd grade a solid A.

      1. There is a cream-puff-and-eclair place in the new Block 37 mall. I forget what it's called, something like Papa Bear, but it's a branch of a (I think) California place. Haven't tried it. Got good reviews in the Trib.

        3 Replies
          1. re: nsxtasy

            I went to Beard Papa's today. To make a long story short, I LOVED these!!!

            Beard Papa's sells cream puffs. You can choose a shell, all of which are round (like cream puffs) not elongated (like eclairs). Choices are plain, cookie crumbs (on the outside), and "eclair" (cream puff shell dipped in chocolate). You then choose a filling, such as vanilla custard, chocolate custard, or strawberries and cream. They fill the cream puff then, after you order it. So already there's an advantage, since the shells have no chance to get soggy.

            And oh, was it wonderful! The consistency of the shells is different from any I've ever seen elsewhere or made myself. They were FLAKY. They also were very crumbly; these can easily fall apart while you're eating them. The filling was very good, like a very nice, slightly light vanilla pastry cream. I didn't get the "eclair" shell (the one dipped in chocolate) so I can't testify to the chocolate coating. But I loved these.

            The store is located on the pedway level, one flight down from street level and between the Washington el stations for the CTA Red Line and the Blue Line.

            Incidentally, I believe Beard Papa's started in Japan.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Beard Papa's has closed their Chicago location. :(

        1. Lately I've tried a couple from Delightful Pastries ( ), with locations on the northwest side on Lawrence, in the new French Market downtown, and on the near north side. The crust was pasty and flavorless; the pastry cream was a bit weak on vanilla and had a slightly gelatinous texture to it. I'd rate it a C. However, Delightful Pastries has some other items I like better, particularly their almond paste based rainbow cookies.

          1. Yesterday I got eclairs from Fox & Obel in River North ( ). They were excellent - nice strong chocolate taste on the frosting balanced by being spread only thinly, a nice tasty shell with the proper chewiness, and creamy pastry cream filling with vanilla taste. The only downside is that they're thin, and as a result, the amount of pastry cream filling is less than I like to see, upsetting the ideal balance among the filling, shell, and icing. I'd give them an A minus.