One day, last May, I got an email from Café Pouchkine. Chef pâtissier, Emmanuel Ryon, wanted to know if I could come in and check out their pastry lab in Montreuil, just outside of Paris. I’d requested an audience with his majesty a month or two prior but was told the master was extremely busy and might not have enough time for a nice visit until the fall. But there’d been a change of schedule, and I was invited up to see the facility and get an inside look at how they make the magic happen. Was it a pretty cool experience? No. It was the coolest.
Stepping into the laboratoire, I was blown away not only by the size but by all the natural light. Not too unlike Jacques Genin’s kitchen, but bigger – much bigger – and . . . with no one in sight; the team had just wrapped-up for the day. But I somehow got lucky and spotted one of Monsieur Ryon’s sous chefs who, when asked where I could find the man himself, pointed me down a long hall. Right then, Monsieur Ryon popped out from one of the rooms, shot me a smile, and extended a hand for a shake. Even though I’d photographed other World Champions, French Champions and MOFs before, I was nervous, expecting someone far more reserved and intense. Friendly and relaxed was what I got instead, and he asked if I was ready for a tour around. But first there was a snack to be had, a freshly made Moskito…
And what’s the perfect accompaniment for an ultra-luxe pistachio-laden pastry? Water? No. Wine. Nuh-uh. Remember that this is like visiting the most upscale Willy Wonka factory you could imagine. So what we had was some freshly prepared Mors nectar. If you’ve never had it, think of it as a cross between cranberry and raspberry . . . but 10x as fancy.
Sugared-up, I was ready to go from room-to-room and hear all about how Pouchkine brings fantasy to life. There was the weighing room, where a team just weighs ingredients, all day every day. There was the macaron room, where a team devoted to macs toils sweetly away. There was even a sugar decoration room, where sugar specialists worked on fantastically amazing garnishes for the pastries. Of course there was a chocolate room, too. Really, there was a room for just about every sub-specialty and duty you could think of. And I’d show you some of the shots, but not only are they kind of top secret, but I have so many more of pastry magic happening that I thought it best to get into them instead.
After a thorough tour of the facility – and despite having been fed – I was still pretty hungry. “Monsieur Ryon, if it’s not too much of a pain, could you custom-craft your Pavlova for my amusement . . . now?” Maybe it was because I asked so nicely, or maybe because I’m naturally endearing – I don’t know – but he agreed to whip up the requested treat on-the-spot. He happened to have some of the very special crème he uses in the Pavlovas already prepared; the other bits and pieces were carefully put in place by his assistant . . .
Monsieur Ryon even got the meringues ready and did a thorough final inspection. “Sufficiently meringue’y, Monsieur?” Oui! . . .
So he snipped a poche open…
Finished preparing that super-ultra-incredibly thick Tahitian vanilla crème . . .
And then filled the bag up with its gooey goodness.
Wielding it like a nunchuck of creamy deliciousness, he was ready to start piping.
First, he had to set a little “glue” in place . . .
And delicately affix the lobes of meringue to the gateau and cassis layers . . .
Then he was on the attack!
One billowy bookend of crème . . .
Then the other . . .
Followed by undulous mounds thereof . . .
But the aesthetic wouldn’t be complete without sparkles! Because, as I’ve said many times before . . . sparkles make everything better. So Monsieur Ryon whipped out his trusty bottle of sparkle vodka and the sparkle gun.
And loaded that puppy up . . .
His loyal assistant was summoned over, freshly-piped Pavlovas in-hand . . .
And a fresh coat of shimmering goodness was applied . . .
It’s already more beautiful than almost anything at any other shop, but the master wasn’t done. Oh, no.
Using his very specialized pastry shears to set a rose petal in place . . .
And then affixing some fresh berries . . .
The Pavlova was ready to receive its wisps of decorative grass. Monsieur Ryon summoned every bit of concentration to insert them perfectly. Can’t you just feel his excellence in the shot below (my favorite photo in the set, btw)?!
I should also take a moment to explain to you that all of Pouchkine’s pastries are more refined and deeply considered than any other shop’s. As Monsieur Ryon develops the recipes and designs, he engages in a collaborative effort with Café Pouchkine’s creator, the brilliant restaurateur Mr. Andrei Dellos. They’ll go back and forth on the flavors and design of each, as many as 80 or 90 times, before they perfect every single facet of the piece. The aim is undiluted excellence, and it is achieved.
The final touch was to be a few dabs of 24K gold . . .
And, with that, the Pavlovas were done and hastily consumed by yours truly. Were they as tasty as they look? No, they were even more delicious!
So, yes, make sure to visit Café Pouchkine as soon as is humanly possible. In fact, if you happen to be in Paris at this moment and can get over to Printemps Mode, just go right now. Even if the Pavlova isn’t in the case the day you visit, there are only like a few dozen other pastries you should absolutely buy. From the vanilla croissant to the Moskito, Or Noir, and essentially any and every macaron there, you’re sure to be dazzled. And make sure to pick up some hot chocolate or Mors nectar, as those are the most appropriate accompaniments to all of Monsiur Ryon’s treats.
Address: 64 Boulevard Haussmann (inside ‘Printemps Mode’), 75008 Paris Phone: +33 01 42 82 43 31
Store Hours: Open Monday-Saturday from 9:30am until 8pm. Closed Sunday.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The work of Café Pouchkine’s chef pâtissier, Emmanuel Ryon, is too good. Looking into the Pouchkine pastry case is to realize most other shops are not trying ½ as hard as they could be to render beauty in cake and crème. Tasting the pieces is to understand too many other chefs lack true talent. Is that hyperbole? No. There’s a reason I’ve posted little since last May. The combined excellence of Jacques Genin and Emmanuel Ryon just left me disenchanted with much of what was happening in the rest of the Parisian pastry scene. There’s stellar work in other shops, for sure, but there wasn’t enough to sustain my enthusiasm.
Much of my computer’s hard drive is made up of Jacques Genin and Café Pouchkine pastries I plan to trot out for you, one day. There’s a certain compulsion to show you nothing but them, but magical works from Des Gateaux et du Pain, Un Dimanche à Paris, La Patisserie des Reves, and Pierre Hermé deserve to be peppered-in as well. Today had to be a Pouchkine day though, because it’s not just about sharing the pastry as much as it is a teaser for what I’m putting up next Wednesday, when we go inside the kitchen with World Champion, French Champion, and Meilleur Ouvrier de France – the legend himself, Emmanuel Ryon.
Before you even bite in – just staring at the pastry – your senses delight in waves and wafts of unadulterated excellence. You get your money’s worth just from the aesthetics alone; the fact that you can also eat it borders on being too good to be true. So you carefully pluck away one of the meringue lobes and breathe in its deliciously pronounced berry tones, just before jamming a knife down through the crème, gateau and layer of cassis, which you then slather about the meringue. Ready for the first bite? It is transcendent. The meringue cracks, as the intensely thick Tahitian vanilla crème insinuates itself across your palate. You sense a soft cakeyness, a fraction of a second before a sensorial crush of berry and cassis sweeps through your mind and soul. You are psychically one with the Divinity that is Emmanuel Ryon’s Pavlova. So much flavor. So much texture. It is the definition of magnificence.
The first few times I had the piece, I ate the meringue by iself and then dug into the crème, cake and cassis. But that was poor form on my part. It was in meeting Emmanuel Ryon that I learned the proper technique, described above. And it’s next week that I’ll be sharing photos from that pastry session with you, my friends. Excited?! You’d better be.
This is literally so tasty that it’s illegal in some countries . . .
So, yes, run to Café Pouchkine and grab at least two of these. If not – and you only purchase one – I can guarantee you’re going to be walking back to Pouchkine within minutes of licking the crème from your doigts. Make sure to also pick up a dozen macarons, a vanilla croissant, and a bunch of other pastries while you’re there, too. There’s no sense in not enjoying at least half of the entire Café Pouchkine pastry case.
Early on, in my last return to Paris, I stopped taking my camera out with me in the city. Unlike the last few years, it was cloudy and rainy almost every single day. That lends itself to some cool shots, sure, but it’s usually just a drag. Sunlight and zany cloud formations are more my thing. But there were a few nice days, and it was on those that I managed to capture what I’m going to share with you aujourd’hui.
The top shot might just be just be my all-time favorite photo – one of the fountains in the Place de la Concorde, snapped at 1/3,200th of a second. It’s what I use for the wallpaper on my cell phone, making it a frequent reminder of just how beautiful Paris is and of why it’s silly to ever leave. Few cities have anything so amazing, and fewer still hire calligraphers to hand-paint famous poems on medieval walls . . .
I’d just left the Luxembourg Gardens and was headed toward Saint-Sulpice, down rue Férou, when I saw this guy meticulously painting out Le Bateau Ivre by Arthur Rimbaud. Incredible. He actually came back every weekend for a few weeks, as the poem is super long. What little of it you see in the full shot above is a small fraction. It goes up about 7 metres and has verse after verse stretching down half the block.
Less productive men don’t paint centuries-old poems. They take naps alongside the Louvre’s pools so that others can surreptitiously photograph them. Every time I look at this photo, I assume the guy is homeless and just wants to luxuriate on the palace grounds. Then I look at his shoes and realize he’s probably just a weary German traveler or something.
The gargoyles of Notre Dame are always doing their thing, trying their very best to scare away the tourists. “Don’t come in!” they seem to say, but we do anyway.
Other statues, like this awesome one at Sacré-Coeur, just hang out and look triumphant.
For those of you who’ve only ever seen the front of Sacré-Coeur, did you know the backside is arguably even more awesome? It’s such an amazing church. Almost every time I’m up at Gontran Cherrier’s, for a croissant or five, I go a little out of my way to swing by Sacré-Coeur. I love it even more than Notre Dame.
Of course the stone work in the Luxembourg Gardens is pretty amazing, too. The shot below is one I snapped just after dawn. The statue was still pretty shadowed, but the sky and clouds had just lit up.
Speaking of fun lighting, here’s a quintet of French flags I spotted one summer afternoon in the 7ème. There are so many buildings in that area with flags, but I never seemed to catch them when they weren’t tangled or just draped perfectly about one another . . . until I got this shot. Just looking at them makes me miss the coolest country in the world.
I don’t know quite how to explain how much I love the trees in the photo below. Several times each week, I’d walk across the Pont du Carousel, heading from the left bank to the Louvre, and I’d always stop to stare down the river at Notre Dame and to look over and see my trees. They’re the kind of trees Bob Ross would have painted . . . happy trees. Permanently bent a bit westward – I assume because of how the wind blows along the banks in that section – they always seem to be rustling, whispering. Once I get back to Paris next month, they’re one of the first sights I want to soak in. I love my trees.
So there you go – some of my favorite shots of Paris. Make sure to keep an eye peeled next Wednesday, when I whip out what might be the prettiest pastry you’ve ever seen here. Oh, yes, you read that right; it’s possibly the loveliest of them all. And who is it from? Café Pouchkine, of course, courtesy of the ever-brilliant Emmanuel Ryon. And it’s the following Wednesday that I’m going to take you into the kitchen with the master himself! My apologies in advance if it blows your mind.
I’ve been out of Paris for too many weeks now. The longing has set in. I can’t wait to resume my daily routine of coffee, pastries, walks along the Seine, and other bon vivant pastimes. Though, truth be told, I will be cutting way back on my pastry intake. Spending months putting on a kilo-a-week, followed by months of taking off a kilo-a-week are too grueling. At my thinnest, people always remark how shockingly skinny I am, while at my most rotund, someone invariably points out that I have indeed become fat. I’m now at a happy, healthy, well-exercised mid-point. So indulging in 5 pastries every day is likely to be scaled back to one that I force myself to walk across town to get, sans the aid of the metro.
Helping me keep the pudge at bay will be my new apartment, “conveniently” located nowhere near any of the finer pastry shops. Technically, yeah, it’s directly between Café Pouchkine and Jacques Genin, but the to-and-fro jaunt to either of them can burn half an éclair. And the full walk down to Pierre Hermé Bonaparte, the most dangerous of all the shops – if only because of the discount and freebies, should incinerate the caloric load of a whole Croissant Ispahan. At least that’s what I tell myself. My best intentions might degrade as soon as I step off the plane. Weeks later, I’ll be chasing a breakfast vanilla tarte with a bag of salted caramel pralines and a Surprise Envie, the subject of today’s review.
Any of Monsieur Hermé’s Surprise variants are never the most exciting for you guys, I know, as the superficial aesthetic is a moonrock-like dome of crusty meringue. But it’s so tasty! Unwrapped from its purple cellophane, you just cradle the little guy in your hand and jam it into your face. As your teeth cleave through the soft almond biscuit base and disintegratingly sugary frame, a gush of vanilla-violet mousseline gracefully oozes its way onto your palate, only to give way to a pleasantly sour blast of cassis compote. The flavors rollick – nay, frolic – exciting and delighting you, second-after-second, bite-after-bite, until you’re licking the last crumbs of meringue from your sticky paw and realizing you’ve somehow already made it halfway back to Monsieur Hermé’s shop, ready to buy another.
Really, just look at this. It’s so wrong that it’s right . . .
Even if Monsieur Hermé’s Montebello was my daily go-to pastry, I’d get a Surprise at least 2 or 3 times each week. He’s always got some variant of it going on, and I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t enjoy.
So, yes, make sure to grab yourself a Surprise Envie, once it returns. I believe it will be back in the case in the spring. So, for the next six or seven months, you might have to content yourself with his Tarte Vanille, macarons, assorted croissants, millefeuilles, and other gems. Not a bad way to bide your time, obviously.
Even among the greatest Parisian pastries, only a few dozen can be classed as exceptional. Fewer still have earned the label of perfection. But the rarest of all are perhaps the two contemporary works that have recently shaped the arc of pastry history in the way that the Saint-Honoré, the macaron, and the opéra once did. Those past classics were all once made by one man or one team, until their magnificence carried them into the hearts, minds and vitrines of chefs all across Paris and beyond. Indisputably, Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan is one of the two modern classics guaranteed to grace pastry cases for hundreds of years to come; in just a decade it’s spread well beyond Monsieur Hermé’s boutiques and has become instantly recognizable, far and wide. And the other modern classic? That’s simple. On June 19th, 2012, the above paradigm-shifting act of unbridled magnificence debuted in the case of Un Dimanche à Paris. Never before in the 1800-year history of The City of Light had peanut butter, caramel and chocolate united into a single act of pastry deliciousness. BEHOLD LE PÉCHÉ D’ADAM!
Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, Adam, isn’t this exactly the pastry you’ve been badgering pastry chefs to make for the last three years? And, given that Un Dimanche finally caved and also named it after you, doesn’t that maybe skew your opinion of how significant it is?” Well, um, I guess the easy answers would be yes and yes. But, honestly, my official answer is, “Yes and kinda but not really.” Let me explain . . .
You must understand that, generally speaking, the French don’t “believe in” peanuts. While hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios have an unquestioned place in every single French pastry shop, good luck finding a peanut in one. They get no respect. In fact, ask your average French person their opinion on peanuts, and their most likely response will be along the lines of, “You mean those things at the bar? Yeah, I guess they’re good with beer.” Ask another French person for their feelings on peanut butter, and a totally normal reply will be, “I’ve never had it.” So in introducing a peanut-based pastry to Paris, we are truly changing the game. Parisians are about to experience what dirty Americans like me have long known – peanut butter, chocolate and caramel are as indispensable to life as water or air.
While Le Péché d’Adam has only been out for two weeks now, its sales are brisk. It usually sells-out before day’s end, and I’ve been told it’s already the third most popular pastry in the case. Lest you think I and other Americans are the ones snapping it up . . . au contraire. The most enthusiastic buyers are the French themselves. They love it! It’s been an instant hit with them.
The irony is that I worked with Un Dimanche à Paris’ new chef pâtissier, Kléber Marguerie, to craft Le Péché d’Adam for American sensibilities. After extensive discussions on how it should be composed, Kléber unveiled the prototype to me in early June. My opinion? Delicious, but the design was far too refined – too French. So I forced him to start over and spent the next week bringing in candies and pastries from other shops to serve as reference points for how to make this piece more disgustingly American. There was to be no subtlety. I wanted the ingredients obvious and gooey. And the design? I wanted it fat and adorned with sparkles. When Kléber presented the final piece to me, all I could say was, “Mission accomplished!”
The pastry is loaded with peanuts and then some! For those fans of all things crunchy, there’s plenty to love here. The crème of the piece, too, is a sublime overload of peanut flavor, accented perfectly by alternating layers of sticky-sweet salted butter caramel and peanut Dacquoise. Then, at the very base of the piece, wrapped in all that caramel and nutty cakey goodness, is a mound of 63% Madagascar dark chocolate. It’s basically like a Snickers bar on steroids and made with infinitely more superior ingredients than any candy bar could hope for. Le Péché d’Adam is quite simply . . . a revolution in Parisian gastronomy and a revelation for the senses!
Can’t you just taste the caramel and peanuts here…
And just get a load of all that chocolate, peanut crème, caramel and all those nutty nibblins! Can a life be truly well-lived without first having one of these? No, it cannot.
So, yes, you absolutely must run to Un Dimanche à Paris immediately and purchase one or more of these. Consume it with lusty gluttonous impatience, then run back to the store and buy another. For all my French readers who’ve never before enjoyed the magic of peanuts, caramel and chocolate together, it’s going to change your life. And for all those familiar with the combination, this is still sure to redefine the heights of ecstasy you know that combo can deliver. Why are you even still reading this? Feast . . .
Un Dimanche à Paris
4-6-8, Cour du Commerce Saint-André (map)
Phone: +33 (0)156811818
Boutique Hours: 11AM-8PM from Tuesday to Saturday and 11AM-7PM on Sunday (Closed Mondays)