As sophisticated as my tastes are, my initial reaction to any pastry is fairly primitive. Rather than admiring the delicate composition of something like Carl Marletti’s Marie Antoinette, my impulsive thought was, “Mmm! Red. Pink. Berry. Good. Goo inside. Want. Now!” Gazing upon La Pâtisserie des Rêves’ Éclair Chocolat drew something along the lines of, “Ooo! Éclair hiding. Neat. Gold swirlies! Get. In. My. Tummy.” But I was much more dignified in my response to the Tonka here; I’m not an animal after all. When I first caught sight of it, I went full-on William F. Buckley in my assessment . . . “Top crunchy things! CHOCOLATE!!!!!!”, before violently pushing the saleslady aside and grasping at the pastry so hard that it oozed through my fingers like dark brown Play-Doh. I vaguely remember yanking a €10 note from my pocket for her, as I fell to the ground, gnawing every last bit from my fingers and palm of my hand. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m classy, and as I cradled my post-cacao’oital self in the fetal position on the tile floor of Jean-Paul Hévin, I was glad I could represent America so well to the French people. I was even more excited that I had just indulged in the Tonka . . .
Most of you are probably wondering why Jean-Paul Hévin, arguably the greatest chocolatier alive, would name his pastry after a children’s toy brand – much less one renowned for their 1:40 scale depictions of heavy machinery. But the name actually refers to a quite obscure South/Central-American seed, the tonka, which tastes remarkably like vanilla. Or maybe it’s only a coincidence that he used tonka seeds in the piece, and I should fully expect to see Hot Wheels, Hasbro and Lego on the placard during my next visit. I’m not sure. But the blend of those vanilla-like seeds, brilliant Mexique chocolate selection, and what I believe was a dose of fine cinnamon, made this a little slice of heaven. Of course, there was that layer at the bottom that I removed immediately (the second time I bought it), because . . . guess what it was. Do you know? Starts with a “c”. Ruins about 50% of all Parisian pastry. Wouldn’t be missed if I never had it again. Give up? Croustillant!
If you’re not familiar with praliné croustillant, just imagine something with the flavor intensity of peanut butter, except with a different character and vaguely smoky, even more pronounced, and with a slightly crunchy texture. Now, pretend you’re a pastry chef. What would you put that flavor with? If you’re rational and have a tongue, you’d probably choose a few flavors it went with, using it sparingly most of the time, and employ it as the feature in a few pieces. If you’re French, the answer is anything and everything. In this case we have Mexican chocolate, which is “bright” but not necessarily bold in flavor, paired with the vanilla-like tonka. If you have to use praliné croustillant, this is where you use it sparingly. The way it’s been handled in this piece, all those delicate layers above the croustillant slip away into a faint background noise. The tragedy!
So just rip off the bottom layer, and you have a wonderful pastry you’re sure to love. Subtle notes of cinnamon and vanilla mingle with a slightly acidic chocolate in one of the most delectable chocolate “cakes” you’ll find here in Paris. Among all of Hévin’s amazing creations, it is a true standout.