After a couple years of writing the blog here, there’s something that always strikes me as a little bizarre. People can get really angry and defensive about my and others’ criticism of an individual pastry or a particular pastry shop. Whether they’re upset because their favorite piece is being criticized or because they work at the shop in question, the mention of sloppy compositions, bad textures, and the like can really get under their skin. I always laugh a little because, good or bad, criticism is just one person’s opinion. So I, personally, don’t get as bothered when people disagree with me. Even if you said you hate everything a shop like Hugo & Victor has ever done, I’d probably shrug and suggest a few pieces you might like from other pâtisseries. Cause, really, is there any pastry whose excellence cannot be questioned? Well, ok, yes. There is one – Jacques Genin’s Éclair au Chocolat.
I’m not saying I would punch someone for questioning the absolute magnificence of Monsieur Genin’s chocolate éclair, but I would definitely say, “What the **** are you talking about?” Because it’s not as if this is just an incredibly delicious pastry; it’s literally orders of magnitude more sublime than any other “chocolate éclair” I’ve ever experienced. Why did I just use quotes in referring to others’ work? Because they’re so far off the mark from what Monsieur Genin produces that it’s basically insulting to class them in the same league. Historians may say that Antonin Carême first created the éclair in the early 19th century. They lie. There’s one chocolate éclair; Jacques Genin invented it.
Before you even take a bite, just admire the texture, hue and scent of the pâte à chou. Let your fingers and lips trace its length – that golden skin. So tender. So perfect. Minus the chocolate, it alone could still rank as one of the finest pastries in Paris. But as your teeth cleave through it all, and the sweet stick of the caramelized chocolate glaçage instantly blows your mind, your soul is elevated to untellable spiritual heights by the cool gush of chocolate crème pâtissière that erupts from within. You’re forced to pause, speechless, not understanding what’s inescapably a taste of Divine perfection. In fact, it’s so ineffable an experience that there truly is no word that can adequately do it justice, so we will leave a blank space here, to honor the éclair au chocolat with the adjective we can only hope to one day find: ____________.
Every part of the éclair is simply magic – at least an 11 on the 0-10 scale of excellence. But the chocolate crème pâtissière probably ranks as at least a 14 on that same scale. The full body of the Valrhona couverture Mosieur Genin employs is ratcheted up a few notches by the addition of a choice cacao powder, brilliant blending technique and extremely restrained addition of sugar. The resultant flavor is a resplendent delight, and the texture is nothing short of legendary.
Aesthetically, it’s a humble piece. The smudged glaçage is the trace of the chef’s finger that wiped away the excess, after dipping. And, in the shot below, you can see the crème poking out from a small double hole in the skin. It’s a perfect imperfection.
Can’t you just taste it?…
As I said, the only word for it is ____________…
So, yes, you’d be insane not to get Monsieur Genin’s éclair au chocolat. Since he invented the chocolate éclair, you literally haven’t ever had one until you’ve had his. There is none but the above. Make sure to also grab one of his lemon tartes and pretty much one of everything else in the shop – from pastries to chocolates, pâtes de fruits and caramels. Then bask in their splendor – these creations of the greastest classic pastry chef in Paris.
SUPER EXTREMELY SPECIAL: Monday is the first of a three part series on Monsieur Genin’s shop; parts two and three follow on Wednesday and Friday. It’s going to be nothing but Jacques Genin here for the next week, as we pay homage to His Magnificence. Get ready to indulge me in my obsession with the genius of his work.