When it comes to the flavors in a pastry, there are two broad schools of thought. The first is one of simplicity. You take a singular dominant flavor or two complementary tones and coax perfection from that very Spartan palette. Jacques Genin and Hugues Pouget are two of the best at doing just that. Employing the second tack, you develop an inventive blend that merges a range of flavors and try to unite them into a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Emmanuel Ryon and Pierre Hermé are perhaps the greatest adherents to that flavor philosophy.
Admittedly, I’m more often a fan of simplicity than I am a lover of the great mélanges. Not only do I respect the challenge of working with a very limited set of flavors, but wild combinations can tend to be just as wildly imbalanced or can come off as pretentiously bizarre. When I stepped into Monsieur Hermé’s shop last July and spotted his Constellation, a clever studding of Gariguette strawberries caught my eye. But as I read the description – heavily toasted almonds, sugar nibs, strawberries, orange marmalade, and cardamom-imbued Mascarpone – I was concerned it might taste like a discordant jumble of quasi-related flavors. So what happened when I dug in? Well . . .
I was 100% wrong. This wasn’t just extremely tasty; it was genius. And, if you’ve read my past Hermé reviews, you know I don’t give his work blanket approval like most others do. If anything, I’m harder on him than I should be. So when I say this was truly inspired work, trust that I was blown away. There’s a reason I wound up eating this for breakfast almost every day for a month.
Biting in, you immediately get to delight in those amazing Gariguettes, with a flavor so perfectly strawberry that it tastes like a cliché of what a strawberry is meant to be. And that’s a great, great, great thing. But a wee millisecond later, and a dreamily smooth – not timidly cardamomed – Mascarpone drifts across your tongue. Together with the fruit, it’s enchanting your tastebuds with a duet of fresh, lively tones. It’s right then that the orange marmalade insinuates itself. Still fruity, but heavy – almost musky – intense, sticky and vaguely bitter. You’re head is swirling. And then … then, my friends, your pre-perked papillae arrive at those heavily toasted almonds. Logic would tell you they should clash catastrophically with the rest of the piece, but in an instant of gastronomic alchemy, all the flavors join forces and unite in a super-experience of epic proportions. You’re literally tasting brilliance, because at least in the French dictionary ‘La Constellation de Pierre Hermé‘ is one of the accepted definitions under ‘brillant‘.
I usually only show 4 or 5 shots of every pastry, but I couldn’t help myself with this little guy. The form is too original and with far too many lovely angles. Only 8 shots would do it justice. I mean just look at the crème above and those almonds below…
I love the way to orange marmalade just oozes out…
It’s almost profane…
I mean, seriously, how much would you love to be eating one of these right now?
What interesting to me is that Monsieur Hermé apparently considers this to be an éclair variation. Personally, I think it almost invents a new category . . . or at least has the potential to do so.
So, yes, you basically have to go and get one of these. I believe they don’t come out again until July, but once they do, life will have new meaning. Until then, you might just have to content yourself with his croissants, Montebello, assorted ‘Surprises’, vanilla tartes and more. It’s just another 9 days before I’ll be back in Paris doing exactly that! So make sure you come to Monsieur Hermé’s shop shortly after opening; God knows I might clear their supply out early and often.