Pastry chef Yves Scherrer clearly likes eclairs: he's created more than 140 kinds throughout his career. He's mastered the classic chocolate version, but also experimented with lime-basil and yuzu flavours. He's cut the pastry in half and served eclairs as double-decker blockbusters: stacked with peanuts and banana, coffee and hazelnut or chocolate custard with whipped cream on top.
He's even conjured up savoury eclairs, like a croque-monsieur pastry flavoured with béchamel, ham and cheese. Then there's his avocado mousse and salmon éclair, and his salmon mousse and cream cheese creation. "I've done a lot with salmon, for some reason," he says.
The Sydney chef calls the eclair his "story cake": he learnt how to make the pastry with his grandmother, back in Lorraine, France, as a kid. "I'd spend countless Sundays at my grandmother's house to help her to cook and make some traditional French cakes like the quatre-quarts (four-quarters cake) and gâteau au fromage blanc."
The smell of baking would follow him around the world as he pursued a career as a pastry chef: in France, Canada, Ireland, the US (where he worked at a private club that served American presidents), before ending up in Australia. His CV includes Sokyo, Est, Sake and Berowra Waters Inn, but it was at Sydney's Ananas, in 2012, where Scherrer's éclair-making marathons really began.
In contrast to the showy, spectacular desserts on the brasserie's menu, the chef wanted to serve something simple and French. So he offered a plain salted caramel éclair: "just a choux pastry, a salted caramel cream and a caramel glaze on top – nothing else."
"I'd spend countless Sundays at my grandmother's house to help her to cook and make some traditional French cakes."
Its unfussy nature made a statement against the complicated Snickers Revolution (long chocolate tubes – layered with salted caramel, chocolate shortbread and chocolate foam – served on a bed of salted peanuts, with Snickers ice-cream and a tuile). "On weekends, we had bets in the restaurant to see what would sell the best between the salted caramel eclair and the Snickers Revolution."
It was tight, but the salted caramel eclair often won.
The chef put a trio of eclairs on the menu each week (switching flavours from pina colada and Earl Grey to carrot cake and more), but the salted caramel version essentially reappeared every fortnight or so, "because people kept on asking for it".
Regularly coming up with so many eclair flavours could be a challenge – and sometimes, for convenience, Scherrer had to swipe elements from the rest of the dessert menu to do so ("I'd take the cream from that and the sponge from that and serve it all together"). But it helped him level up his pastry-making skills significantly.
"To make a good éclair that's nice and even and round and doesn't get too soggy or too dry – it's a lot of work," he says. "It took me four years to really understand the whole thing and get my bearings behind it."
It's a skill that's showcased at Madame & Yves, the Sydney patisserie that Scherrer opened at Clovelly in December.
The store features five different kinds of eclairs: Earl Grey, strawberry mascarpone, tiramisu, chocolate, and yes, the classic (and much-ordered) salted caramel. There was a strawberry-champagne edition for New Year's and a black sesame cream firecracker special for Lunar New Year.
The chef hopes to add more from his recipe book of 140+ eclairs over time, but the tiramisu version is a good gateway pastry at Madame & Yves: it's layered with whipped mascarpone, marsala and a sponge soaked in espresso shots straight from the coffee machine.
Madame & Yves is also "a showcase" of his creations over the last two decades, such as the toasted sesame ice-cream served at Sake.
The counter also features pina colada tarts, blueberry cheesecake entremets, and Ferrero croissants that take up to four days to make. There are new creations like the yuzu roll with matcha sponge and vegan experiments – perhaps the latter is inspired by the chef's time as coach for Australia's World Pastry Cup team. The role involved juggling crazy logistics like shipping nearly a ton of equipment to France for the competition – including the chainsaws needed for the ice-sculpture component of the contest.
After his team placed third in the Asian Pastry Cup, they made it to France, where they had 10 hours to shape towering sculptures from chocolate, sugar and ice, plus produce three chocolate cakes, two ice-cream cakes and 20 plated desserts (including a vegan one).
Their eggshell in a nest, which revealed coconut foam, coconut-pineapple sorbet and caramelised mango, once cracked, seems like a nice companion to the vegan carrot, pineapple and coconut mousse tart that the chef will serve at Madame & Yves. By the way, his team placed sixth in the world, beating Belgium. It was an impressive effort, as their contestant in the sugar-sculpture department had never made a sugar sculpture before entering the Cup, "and the ice person had never made ice", says Scherrer.
At Madame & Yves, the chef also offers tributes to his French background, like pies flavoured with beef bourguignon, ratatouille, and quiche Lorraine made the traditional way (just custard, speck and cheese: "that's all").
Seeing as he grew up in the birthplace of that savoury pastry, is that something Scherrer ate a lot? "A reasonable amount," he says, but points out that you don't eat a lot of quiche Lorraine because you live in Lorraine, France.
After all, are Australians eating pavlovas three times a week? "Do you have lamingtons every second day?" he asks.
No, but they would make for a good eclair flavour, perhaps.
Madame & Yves
343-345 Clovelly Rd, Clovelly NSW
Daily 7 am – 5 pm
A true cheat's recipe, these eclairs are a delicous twist using spnge finger biscuits.
The grassy, slightly bitter, mineral taste of matcha balances the creaminess of eclairs - it's a cross-cultural flavour match made in pastry heaven.
“For years I’ve avoided making choux pastry for no good reason. It is, in fact, very easy and versatile. You can fill it with a sweet or savoury custard – in this case, I’ve used cream. I’ve chosen coffee because it’s Sarah’s favourite!” Poh Ling Yeow, Poh & Co. 2
Éclairs are the darlings of the patisserie world at the moment, and rightly so. These cute mini mouthfuls are filled with a surprisingly intense fresh mint pastry cream that will make stopping at one very hard!
These choux pastries are filled with lemon curd, dipped in lemon icing and topped with candied zest.