What is the Difference Between a Cream Puff and an Eclair?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Differences between a cream puff and an éclair do exist, and they are not limited to the two pastries having different shapes. Shape is, however, the most distinguishing factor between a cream puff and an éclair. Cream puffs tend to be round in shape, and are often sliced open, so that the scrambled egg-like inner portions of the choux pastry can be scraped out, leaving more room for whipping cream. Éclairs are usually an elongated oval shaped pastry, and instead of being sliced in half, have whipped cream (or other fillings) piped in through a small hole in the pastry.

Traditionally, eclairs are topped with chocolate ganache.
Traditionally, eclairs are topped with chocolate ganache.

Other differences between a cream puff and an éclair are historical in nature. References to the cream puff date back to the late 16th century. The éclair could be called a descendent of the cream puff and according to food historians wasn’t made with any regularity until about the late 18th century, or possibly even later.

Eclairs may be filled with whipped cream.
Eclairs may be filled with whipped cream.

In the standard cream puff, the filling is almost always whipping cream, which may mark an essential difference between a cream puff and an éclair. Cream puffs may have no more topping than a light dusting of powdered sugar. The éclair conversely may be filled with either whipped cream or a variety of custards, or custards mixed with cream. The usual éclair is also topped with melted chocolate or ganache. Varieties exist with both. A cream puff and an éclair may be filled with custard, or either could have different flavors of custard, a mix of raspberry jam and whipped cream, or any other delicious filling you can invent.

Though a cream puff and an éclair are most often made with choux pastry, there are certain bar shaped donuts that may also be called éclairs. These tend to be made with donut batter, and may have custard or fruit fillings piped into them prior to being topped with ganache or maple frosting. Typically, most pastry chefs disdain labeling these donut imitations as éclairs and call them “bars” instead. From a definition standpoint, the fact that such a bar is not made from choux pastry means it is not a true éclair.

Chocolate eclairs may be filled with vanilla pastry cream.
Chocolate eclairs may be filled with vanilla pastry cream.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

sunshine31

Subway11-I agree the éclair custard is creamy but not overly sweet like the guava paste is. It is a completely different type of taste.

I love the combination of the chocolate frosting with the éclair custard. Éclairs are also a safe bet when you are serving pastries at a gathering because they are not too sweet and have a light taste even though they have a lot of calories.

They also sell éclairs frozen as well, but I prefer buying them fresh from the bakery. The Bavarian cream does not taste the same when it is frozen.

Eclairs are best served fresh.

subway11

I love pastry cream. Éclairs with Bavarian cream are so delicious. I usually buy a variety of pastries when I go to a bakery.

I like the éclair custard along with doughnuts filled with pasty cream. I get the jelly filled doughnuts as well. I also like the guava filled pastries.

These pastries are great with a cup of coffee because it is such a contrast to the taste of the coffee. You can also buy a guava pie which tastes about the same but it is not as sweet and there is more of it.

I love all types of sweets, but éclairs are my favorite. The eclair custard is the best.

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