Eclairs set for sweet success

8 Jalan Klapa
Opening hours: Tues to Sun, 1pm to 10pm

In today's world, where it is deemed mandatory to take a picture of a dish before tucking in, business partners Joseph Koh, Michelle Au and Jenny Widjaja know how important it is for their desserts to look Instagram-worthy.

Topped with marzipan in pretty colours such as pink, yellow and pearl white, their eclairs are sure to garner many "likes" on Instagram, and the good thing is, they are delicious too.

"What we produce must taste as good as it looks and vice versa," says Mr Koh, who used to work in advertising and is also the founder of Maki-San, a make-it-yourself sushi joint, which opened in 2013.

With the colourful toppings, it is only appropriate that the founders called their dessert joint Karafuru, the Japanese way of pronouncing colourful.

Ms Au says they were inspired by the aesthetics of Japanese cuisine when creating the desserts. "Eclairs are pretty to look at, and there's lots of potential to do different flavours for them."

"The cafe scene is so competitive so we wanted to do something different," says Mr Koh.

For now, there are 12 eclair flavours, which were all created by pastry chef Michael Liu, who used to work at Windowsill in the Woods, a pie shop.

Chef Liu's flavours are more Japanese-inspired. Think yuzu, jasmine matcha, sakura rose, and ume shiso, the last of which is a plum cream filled eclair wrapped with a shiso leaf. "This classic combination is more commonly found in savoury foods, rather than in desserts," says chef Liu. He has been a pastry chef since 2006, and enjoys how "raw ingredients can turn into something tasty when making desserts."

Rather than just work with a single flavour, he combines other flavours to give the eclairs more dimension. For example, by combining sakura and rose, or layering a floral scent to matcha with the addition of jasmine. It took him six months to get the recipe for the different flavours right. "Finding the right balance took time - both for flavours and sweetness levels," he says.

The non-alcoholic flavoured eclairs are priced at S$6, while the ume shiso and the Marc de Champagne ones cost S$7. The eclairs are also available for sale online from the end of this month. Unlike their French counterparts, the eclairs here are more dainty in size. "So customers have room to try more flavours," quips Mr Koh. The choux pastry is also lighter in texture.

Apart from eclairs, Karafuru also serves parfaits, but with a spin. The frozen desserts are usually made from a base of sugar syrup, egg and cream and served in a glass. But at Karafuru, they come deconstructed and in place of ice cream, soft serve yogurt is used instead. "Yogurt is much healthier," says Mr Koh. Each parfait plate comes with a generous swirl of yogurt, surrounded by a colourful spread of moist souffle cakes, wobbly puddings, chewy Japanese dango balls and thin buttery langue de chat crisps. Each comes with a specially concocted sauce.

There are flavours such as yuzu-cha, which is yuzu with black tea sauce, or Hanami, which has strawberries, raspberries and red fruit coulis. Parfaits cost S$16.

Since Karafuru's opening a week ago, Mr Koh says both desserts have been equally popular.

Chef Liu has other ideas. Perhaps he is biased, but he confidently declares: "Eclairs are the next macarons."

L'eclair By Sarah Michelle
190 Clemenceau Avenue,
Singapore Shopping Centre, #01-28

Opening hours: Tues-Fri 11am - 8pm, Sat 11am to 9pm, Sun 11am to 6pm, closed on Mondays

Last Christmas, pastry chef Michelle Looi had the daunting task of piping 1,000 eclairs by hand on her own in her home, to fulfil orders for friends and family over the festive period.

These days, she still has lots of piping to do, but now has extra help. Together with fellow pastry chef Sarah Tan, the two women, both 26, are the owners of L'eclair By Sarah Michelle, a pastry shop which focuses on eclairs.

Ms Looi says she has always loved baking since she was 14, when she baked cupcakes, fondant cakes and cookies. In 2013, after working for six months in an accounting firm, she decided to pursue her love for baking and attended a course at culinary arts school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She roped in Ms Tan to attend the diploma in pastry making course as well, since the latter liked cooking and baking and wanted to open a cafe of her own.

Their time spent in Paris inspired them to focus on eclairs. "We found that pastry shops such as Fauchon and L'eclair de Genie were selling eclairs that were unlike those we had seen in Singapore," says Ms Tan, adding that the eclair trend also spread to London, Bangkok and Taipei.

"There was nothing similar in Singapore, and we wondered why this trend hadn't reached our shores," says Ms Looi. "So we decided we should be the ones starting this trend. It is risky to sell only one product, but we are keen to take on the challenge."

But before setting up shop, the two friends first sold their goods at pop-up events. The response was encouraging, and during that time, the duo began searching for places to open shop. They found the space at Singapore Shopping Centre, away from the buzz and high rents of Orchard Road, but still within walking distance from Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

They pumped in about S$200,000 into the shop, with financial help from their parents.

Each day, they sell up to 10 eclair flavours. From their classic collection, there are flavours such as ispahan, made from light rose cream, lychees and fresh raspberries, as well as dark chocolate, salted caramel and vanilla & pecans. From their seasonal collection, there is mango passionfruit, banana and walnut, and earl grey, which is Ms Tan's favourite. The eclairs cost from S$7.50 to S$8.50 depending on flavour.

Ms Tan says their eclairs have a tender choux pastry filled with flavoured cream, and artfully garnished with glaze and toppings. "We try to add crunchy elements, so as to give the eclairs more texture," she says. The ispahan eclair with a single rose petal on top is by far the most popular.

The mango and passionfruit eclair has been the most time consuming to make, as it is topped with dried mango bits that have to be chopped and then arranged by hand.

Since opening, the pastry shop has seen a good crowd, and they sell about 150 eclairs a day. "But sometimes things can be unpredictable," says Ms Looi. She cites the example of how during their pop-up days, there would be a constant crowd of people buying, because the retail time is shorter. "But now, because we are a permanent store, the stream of people coming in is slower."

Ms Tan feels that eclairs will be very popular, because of the endless possibilities of flavours. She is now creating savoury ones, such as maple bacon. Friends and family often throw up suggested flavours to give them ideas.

But there is one flavour that the two have decided that will not be on the menu. "No durian," says Ms Looi. "We use the actual fruit in our eclairs, and durians will stink up the whole store."

Two Bakers
88 Horne Road
Opening hours: Mon, 10 to 8pm; Wed and Thurs, 11am to 9pm; Fri and Sat, 10am to 10pm; Sun, 9am to 7pm; closed on Tues

We all know ondeh ondeh as the boiled glutinous rice ball stuffed with liquid gula melaka and rolled in grated coconut.

But what about ondeh ondeh eclair? It sounds strange but surprisingly it works. The eclair contains gula melaka, coconut, mascarpone cream in a vanilla bean choux, with a white chocolate glaze that's lightly coloured green and decorated with desiccated coconut. You don't quite get the burst of gula melaka unlike in a regular ondeh ondeh, but the taste in the eclair comes close.

The eclair is the creation of pastry chef Erica Yap, who together with her business partner, Jessica Chin, are the founders of Two Bakers.

While the name Two Bakers sound like a dessert place, the cafe serves both sweet and savoury foods. Ms Chin takes care of the savoury section.

"I've always like baking, and in 2012, went to pursue a pastry making course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris," says Ms Yap. Ms Chin, on the other hand, loves cooking, and with their complementary skills, the two women decided it would be a good idea to start a business together.

Ms Chin says both their savoury dishes, such as the sambal risotto which was a monthly special, and their sweets do equally well.

"Our display of pastries tend to draw customers in," says Ms Chin. She does an array of tarts, and also two types of eclairs - the ondeh ondeh and a salted caramel one, which cost S$6.80 each.

Unlike other dessert places which use pastry cream for their filling, Ms Chin uses mascarpone cheese which gives it a richer texture but which also adds to the cost. She sells about 100 eclairs of both flavours a week.

"We've had some customers who would even hand-carry the ondeh ondeh eclairs back to Indonesia," says Ms Yap.

Unlike the tarts, such as the passionfruit or the yuzu one, Ms Yap says making the choux pastry takes more care. "The weather can affect the quality," she says. "As the piping is done by hand, I've to make sure that they are all the same size."

Rather than stick to conventional flavours such as chocolate, Ms Yap is working on creating eclairs using more local flavours, to make her selection stand out. On the cards… a Thai iced tea eclair.

Tarte by Cheryl Koh
1 Scotts Road, #01-12 Shaw Centre
Opening hours: 10.30am to 7.30pm

The shop may be called Tarte by Cheryl Koh, but the pastry chef offers more than that. On display too, are carolines, the French name for a mini-sized "eclair", which is usually about 6cm in length. Eclairs are usually about 13cm in length.

"Carolines are usually served as mignardises or petits fours with coffee and tea, or as a snack," says chef Koh. Like eclairs, they are made from choux pastry, and its original flavours are chocolate and coffee.

Ms Koh started out with eight classic flavours in a box, vanilla, chocolate, coffee, chestnut, pistachio, hazelnut, caramel, and lemon.

Now, however, she will only serve two types, but the flavours will change seasonally. The first is the traditional chocolate flavour, which is made with a dark chocolate cream with no added sugar, and glazed with a smooth dark chocolate ganache. Chef Koh will also make another caroline with vanilla pastry cream, topped with a crunchy "craquelin". The "craquelin" top will give the caroline a crunchy texture, and the dense custard filling complements the texture of the choux," she says.

The chocolate carolines are made with cocao barry dark chocolate which has a low sugar content, while the vanilla beans are sourced from Madagascar and Tahiti.

The carolines retail for S$18 for a box of eight pieces, or S$2.50 for a piece. The carolines are freshly baked every morning at 7am. Next, they are filled and glazed by hand at about 10-11am, just in time for the opening of the store. "We use quality ingredients and traditional technique when making the choux pastry, and the pastry cream which is piped into the carolines," says chef.

Carolines make up about 20 per cent of the daily production, with chef Koh's signature tarts making up the rest.

While eclairs are popping up more on the dessert menu, chef Koh isn't so confident that they will take off as macarons have. "Macarons and eclair are two very different pastries, made from different ingredients, and with different textures. Therefore, I do not think it will be the next macaron," says chef Koh. "Perhaps the only similarity would be that they have a wide assortment of flavours, which could be interesting for customers."

This article was first published on September 7, 2015.
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