Perhaps the smallest pastry shop in Paris, Sadaharu Aoki’s sliver of a patisserie is tucked away a few blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens along La Rue de Vaugirard. And once through the sliding single pane of glass that is the front door, you see why it’s also the pastry wonderland with one of the biggest reputations. From black sesame éclairs and large bars of Army-green matcha chocolate, to noir cacao-encased macarons and baby Valencia orange slices frozen mid-air within abstract sugar sculpture, this is pastry unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Then, through your initial awe and delight, anxiety begins to wash over you, as you realize there are at least a dozen pieces you feel compelled to buy – while the limits of your body will only allow you to inhale 3, maybe 4, within the minutes after you leave the shop. I’m not immune to that wave of emotion either, even after visiting Aoki on a weekly basis. And the little guy here, the Citron Praliné, is always one screaming my name from the display case. It would be rude to ignore him, so he gets wrapped up with a few others, and we head back to my apartment. What happens next? Well . . .
I try to make him feel comfortable in my place. I complement his fuzzy yellow coat and handsome hazelnut buttons. I remark at how sturdy his lemon macaron base makes him look. He’s all smiles. Then I ask if he’s still sporting that lemon white chocolate mousse filling I remember . . . and this is where things go downhill. “What?” he says. “How do you know about that?” I’m quick with a, “You know. I’ve just heard things.” I try to be slick as my hand reaches into the silverware drawer and pulls out a fork. He catches sight of it, and a few flecks of his manteau drop loose onto the table. “Wh…wh…what are you doing with that?” he stammers. “Don’t worry.” I snap back, “There’s some pie in the fridge I was going to…” And then, after months spent refining the technique, my 4 sterling tines slip right between the two chocolate stripes on his chest. There’s no suffering. My fork glides down, cracking the macaron base, freeing a piece of our friend here, and bit-by-bit we head together into pastry heaven. Delicious.
The most striking thing about the Citron Praliné is the lemon white chocolate mousse. Quite sweet, but exceptionally smooth, as a product of the cocoa butter, it has all the flavor intensity of a lemon bar with all the silkiness of a fine pastry crème. The lemon macaron embedded at the heart of the piece is wonderfully moist and intense, with a chewy texture to balance out the volume of mousse surrounding it. And the praliné croustilliant, well . . . regular readers know what exactly what I’m thinking. So I’ll spare a tirade, and simply say . . . if there were no crousstillant, it wouldn’t be missed. While it’s flavor is not completely overwhelming, as Aoki used some restraint in how much he added, I’m 5,000% sure it would be better with an almond croustillant or something along those lines. If you’re adding the same croustillant to half of all the pastries you make, the lemon one is certainly where it doesn’t fit in. Just saying.
Overlooking the croustillant issue, it’s an otherwise exceptional pastry, and I’d recommend you stop by Aoki’s for it if you happen to be in the neighborhood. It also comes in a variety of flavors, most notably a fraises version, which will leave you feeling as those you’ve eaten the creamiest, most enormous strawberry PEZ in your life. This is Parisian pastry at its most entertaining, my friends