Chocolate Éclairs and Careme

The chocolate éclairs at French Riviera Bakery on Chimney Rock are an expensive addiction at $3 a piece. My main purpose in going to the bakery is to purchase the large unsliced farmhouse loaf, which is our house bread. I inevitably also bring home two chocolate éclairs in a white cardboard bakery box which I set beside the breadbox.

The elegant construction of a hollow baked shell filled with flavored pastry cream and iced with chocolate recalls the golden era of French pastry and the guy who probably invented the éclair - Marie-Antoine Careme, France's King of Chefs and Chef of Kings. Careme got his start when, around the turn of the 19th century, he apprenticed to a famous pâtissier named Sylvain Bailly, who had a shop near the royal palace. Carême became famous for elaborate displays in the pastry shop window. These came in the form of pyramids, ruined temples and famous architectural landmarks. He is credited with the invention of several modern pastries and cookies.

While serving as chef to Tallyrand, Careme unveiled his "haute cuisine" dining style using seasonal ingredients and simplified sauces. His cooking at Tallyrand's table during the Congress of Vienna changed the way the upper classes of Europe would eat for many years to come. The story of his life is pretty amazing. Some modern food writers have called him "the first celebrity chef."

The funny thing is, I never actually get around to serving Careme's lovely invention at the table. Before I can put them out for dessert, the fancy French pastries disappear mysteriously, one small piece at a time.

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