Sunday, October 10, 2010

American Smackdown, Éclair Edition

Paris, we have a winner!

For the second American Smackdown in Paris, we (happily) got after another French classic: the crunchy, custardy chocolate éclair (or, “the macaron of the ’80s,” as Emily called it).

There was no shortage of contenders from which to select. Every neighborhood pastry shop along with the plus haut patissiers serves up éclairs. Which makes the Smackdown even more sensational. Whose pastry is the freshest? Whose filling is the most chocolaty-custardy? Whose icing is the sweetest and most complementary? There was only one way to find out. A very select tasting panel sat down to with samples from Stohrer and Jacques Genin to determine… who has the best éclair?

“Omigod, they’re just leagues apart!”

Stohrer and Jacques Genin have both received high accolades. The former is an old-school patisserie—founded by King Louis XV’s pastry chef in 1730. Refined, classic, beautiful. A Parisian landmark.

The latter is a modern chocolatier. After years of supplying the top restaurants and hotels (e.g. Crillon, Plaza Athénée and Le Meurice) with chocolates and petits fours, Genin opened his elegant Haut Marais salon de thé in late 2008. Sophisticated but rebellious.

The two are different on almost every level and evoked very strong feelings.

Appearance, Stohrer

“Love the matte, clean look.”
“These look like doughnuts.”
“Very uniform. But is this a good or bad thing?”
“I like these. They’re very neat.”

Appearance, Jacques Genin

“Shiny is appealing, but a bit messy.”
“Flashy but trashy.”
“More straight from the kitchen imperfections, which I like.”

“Depends if you’re a matte or glossy person, really.”

Pastry, Stohrer

“Nice form. Round, solid structure.”
“I like the lines down the side, it’s very classy.”

Pastry, Jacques Genin

“It collapses. It’s spongy and thin.”
“A bit soft.”

Ultimately, the pastry came down to Emily’s “Squeeze Test”: the consensus was Jacques Genin’s pastry was thin and flimsy, resulting in a messier experience.

Filling, Stohrer

“Rich, chocolaty, smooth, dee-lish. But a little flour-y.”
“Lovely round flavor. A bit too much though.”
“Very round-y kind of warm chocolate.”

Filling, Jacques Genin

“I feel like he’s challenging us.”
“Too cocoa-y.”
“Too bitter.”
“More pudding-like.”

We agreed you could taste the purer cocoa of Jacques Genin—which can be too “bitter” when pitted against Stohrer’s sweeter, more sugary chocolate filling. But, going back to Stohrer from Genin’s chocolate could also “leave a funky aftertaste.”

Overall harmony

Given the positive gut reaction to Stohrer and the bite-by-bite dissent over Jacques Genin, there’s a lot to be said for the melding of Stohrer’s flavors and textures and the balance of pastry to filling. It was clean, neat, sweet and delicious.

Jacques Genin looked snazzy and has the appearance and taste of high-end ingredients, but it somehow fails to please. It’s squishy, messy, and has contrasting sweet and bitter notes.

The Smackdown verdict?

“On the pure line of which I would buy again? Stohrer.”


paris (im)perfect said...

I'm so sorry I ended up having to miss this! Sounds like a much clearer winner than we had with the macarons! The appearance alone is so strikingly different - wow!

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

Great post! Lucky tester again. I think that the Stohrer ones look better too; but of course everything is so subjective to your own tastes and looks.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Love the scientific, analytic approach and based on comments half-way through your post had decided on the Stohrer. Excellent!

Now, what is this about macarons? If there is another taste-off I volunteer, as a picky maker and taster of these delectable delights. Great post!


from cali said...

I'd love to crash one of these taste-offs! What's the next smackdown?

Sweet Freak said...

The eclairs were delicious. I realize it had been too long since I had had one. Now I must sample cafe, pistachio and violet flavors!

Genie, the Macaron Smackdown was in August:(

From Cali, open to suggestions! There WILL be another Smackdown in November, it's just a matter of deciding on the sweet!

Lost In Cheeseland said...

This looks outstanding! I always found éclairs to be a bit too much - écoeurant, as they say. But a bite or two of these probably wouldn't hurt :) Great review.

What about a pain au chocolat/croissant smackdown? So many bakeries claim to have "the best", but so many are mediocre. Even some of the unassuming, retro-looking bakeries actually have the best pastries. Anyway, I'd be down to be a guinea pig for that one!

Ann said...

Chocolate éclairs are my favorite, so I found this blog post especially tempting. Thank you for your arduous pastry research -- making éclair decisions easier for the world!

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

Well there you go! Turns out that I did not need to be there to taste-test as you guys did it all for me, and I did not have to get sick on the gluten and dairy in them as a result! This was, seriously, the next-best thing to actually eating éclairs: an in-depth analysis -- with great photos! -- of what makes each tick.

This was fun to read, and wow, I am with Sion: it is really interesting to see the clear differences between the two.

It is also interesting that, by-and-large, although the sampling is not huge so far, people are sticking with the classics when it comes to pastries like macarons and éclairs. Maybe that's why the classics have lasted so long. I'll be curious to see if the trend continues.

Also, if you do another tasting, I would be glad to bring some wine and help you organize/clean up/photograph/whatever, even if I don't eat anything. ;-)

Sugar Daze said...

That first picture of the Genin eclair insides should be outlawed! Total food porn! :P

This is a great smackdown summary and well I am a sucker for an eclair. Thanks for taking on this challenge and for sharing the very scientific results with us.

Hope i can make the next one...dreaming about eclairs now. Too bad the bakery downstairs is closed. :(

Kasia Dietz said...

All I can say is YUM!! Who knew how varied are the fillings, tastes and looks of an eclair! In the end I suspect I too would have voted for Stohrer.

Sorry I missed this and as a fellow sweet freak I'm ready for the next tasting!

WineDineTv said...

OMG.. your blog is a feast for the eyes and memories! Now we miss Europe even more. The filling and texture is definitive Stohrer..
Judit & Corina

NYC, Style and a little Cannoli said...

they both look amazing! I don't think you could go wrong with either one...
thanx for the great post!!

ParisBreakfasts said...

you MUST re-do Smackdown!
What, no Fauchon eclair?
not fair...pas juste
je proteste!

ParisBreakfasts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priscilla said...

Hilarious! I only wish I had been there to taste test with you!
My favorite are at Carton in the 6th on rue Buci two doors down from the January #paristweetup so perhaps we can take a quick trip over there to sample.
I can almost taste them now - damn you for making me want one right this minute!