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+. www.renesbakery.com 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. www.threetartsbakery.com
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!)