After reading David Lebovitz’s blog entry about Le Bonbon au Palais, I knew I had to pay a visit . . . asap. It’s been almost two months since then, and I’ve managed to consume several hundred euros worth of candy. I’m not kidding. The place is a wonderland of traditional French confections. Everything in the shop is super olden-timey authentic, trucked in from every corner of the country. There’s no way I can resist. And you, my friends, won’t believe it ’til you see it.
Above all the other gems in the store, the one thing that has me hooked like heroin are the guimauves (marshmallows). In fact, my favorite among them are the coquelicot (poppy), which might explain the narcotic qualities. I’m no stranger to buying a bag of them and then downing it all within the span of an hour. It’s way too much to eat, so I briefly consider bulimia before opting instead for a long nap.
Now, there’s almost as much difference between French and American marshmallows as there are between French and American macaro(o)ns. Our disgusting shelf-stable, plastic bagged flavorless travesties are little more than gelatinized sugar. The guimauves in these photos, however, are handmade in Bayonne – just outside the Pyrenées – prepared in small batches and assaultively perfumed. When you bite into them, they’re incredibly soft and begin to dissolve almost instantly. It’s a pure rush of flavor and sugar, all delivered in that texturally delicate framework. Even if you think you hate marshmallows, there’s an excellent chance you will love these. They’re just . . . amazing.
Extra cool is that the jolly owner of the shop, Georges, carries a very thorough range of flavors. While they vary from week-to-week, here’s a non-exhaustive sampling: violet, litchi, fleur d’oranger (orange blossom), rose, banana, passion fruit, réglisse (licorice), coqeulicot (poppy flower), orange zest, vanilla, pistache, poire (Williams pear), cherry, and on-and-on. Buying eight of them will cost you around 12 euros, and will make for a fine lunch or dinner. Trust me, I sometimes eat an 8 (or 12) pack for just that reason. I mean, sure, Slim-Fast has “meal replacement bars”, but I have “meal replacement bags of marshmallows”. Which would you rather eat?
The shot above is a pile of my favorites – the coquelicot. I don’t know if I love them because they are delicious or because we don’t have poppy flower flavored things in the United States. It might be both, which is also why I am addicted to tonka-flavored chocolates. However, in the case of tonka, it’s actually illegal in the U.S., whereas coquelicot is merely not-yet-popularized. And if you’re wondering how the **** to pronounce it, it’s like KOKE-uh-lee-KO.
So, yeah, obviously go run over to Le Bonbon au Palais. It’s at 19 Rue Monge (not too far from the Pantheon), and it’s open from 11am-7:30pm Tuesday through Saturday. Tell Georges that Adam sent you, and he’ll know exactly what guimauves and candies you’ll be looking for.
Croissant Quest 2011 continues today with three buttery little guys, hailing from three different corners of the city. Representing the 10ème arrondissement is Du Pain et des Idées, home to some of the most acclaimed breads and viennoiseries – produced lovingly by Christophe Vasseur. Making an appearance for the 4ème is Boulangerie Martin, whose baguettes and croissants regularly appear on best of lists. And for the 7ème, there’s Hugo & Victor, whom you know I love for their pastries.
When we left off, I’d reviewed Des Gateaux et du Pain, Pierre Hermé and Ladurée. While Des Gateaux and Hermé knocked my socks off, Ladurée made a tragically weak showing. So how do our three newest entrants stack up? Well . . .
NOTE: There have been many questions here about shape of croissants and what straight vs. curved means. By law, a croissant that isn’t 100% butter cannot be straight. But a 100% butter croissant can be whatever shape it likes.
Du Pain et des idées (above): I was very excited to visit Du Pain, as a number of my friends had said my life was not complete until I snagged a few of their goodies. My friend Caroline actually refuses to call it Du Pain et des Idées, feeling that it dishonors Christophe Vasseur to merely reference his shop’s moniker. After he made her fall in love with pain au chocolat, which she’d spent 27 years of Parisian life not being fond of, Monsieur Vasseur’s is now one of her favorite haunts in the city. And, yes, the pain au chocolat, as well as their Mouna (fleur d’oranger brioche), is quite tasty. But what about the croissant? Well, I wish I could be in love with it, but after purchases on two separate occasions, I can’t muster more than a sentiment of “pretty good”. On that second visit, Monsieur Vasseur himself proudly told me, “Cent per cent beurre! (100% butter)”, and it’s true that the buttery tones are lovely. But from the hum-drum skin to the fairly ordinary internal texture and on to the only modestly amusing notes from the farine, I just wasn’t getting the same level of excitement I had for the other work of theirs I’d sampled. Score: 6.5
And now on to Boulangerie Martin…
Boulangerie Martin: I had some pretty high hopes this this croissant, given all the nice things I’d read about it. So I walked over to the shop, situated on the Île Saint-Louis, not far from Berthillon’s doors, and poked my head in. It’s a very run-of-the-mill boulangerie, and everything, including the croissants looked pretty standard, too. But I had them wrap one up, and as I nibbled on it during my walk home, the first thing I thought to myself was, “Interesting. I didn’t know Pillsbury Crescent Rolls had such a sophisticated pedigree.” It literally tasted like enough of a notch above said crescent rolls that it seemed Boulangerie Martin might have been Pillsbury’s inspiration. A second tasting was not as Pillsbury’esque, but it was still pretty mundane. Buttery, though a wee dry. Not particularly nuanced in flavors. Pleasant enough – but not worth another vist.Score: 6.5
And now on to Hugo & Victor…
Hugo & Victor: As with all the croissants I have reviewed and will review, I’ve savored H&V’s on two separate occasions – just to make sure I don’t catch a chef on an off day. In fact, I gave H&V a third shot, as my first two tastings were a little late in the morning and perhaps didn’t let me be privy to the height of freshness. So the third visit allowed me to experience a more tender and generally pleasant texture. But, honestly, and I keep searching for the best word here, the piece felt “encased”. The exterior seems almost a separate entity from the inside – not like a deliciously buttery team. The interior was the aforementioned pleasant part – yet I just wasn’t getting a lot of flavor/character from it. I wish this little one were closer to the awesomeness of H&V pastries.Score: 6
So it’s a tie between Du Pain et des Idées and Boulangerie Martin today – not that I would buy either of them again. In my next croissant round-up, I’ll have one from Eric Kayser, which is superior to the three today. I know. I kind of want to vomit, too, thinking that chain can top Du Pain et des Idees and H&V for croissants. Don’t get me wrong – it’s only going to rate a 7. Why can’t more of these shops be like Des Gateaux et du Pain? I don’t want them all to be the same, but I do want a different spin on the same level of excellence. I guess Jesus can’t personally descend from heaven each morning and visit every kitchen in the city. For now, Des Gateaux seems to have a monopoly on his time and his assistance in crafting transcendent croissants.
Jacques Genin is the greatest classic pastry chef in Paris. Does this have anything to do with the chocolates I’m reviewing today? Not at all, because chocolate is not pastry. But it’s a sentiment that has been bubbling within me for the last month, and it just needed to be said. For not only have I now eaten all but two pastries in his shop, but having seen him at work in the kitchen during a photo session last week, I can assure you your Genin pastries are being prepared at level the other shops don’t, and frankly can’t, touch. So let me just say it again . . . Jacques Genin is the greatest classic pastry chef in Paris.
If you happen to be in Paris on Saturday June 25th, you can join me as we invade Monsieur Genin’s shop as a group. Check out the Facebook event I’ve set up here, or RSVP by shooting an email to email@example.com. We’ll be eating more caramels, pate de fruits, pastries and chocolates than is humanly possible. Of course, one of the chocolates not to miss during our pastry pillage will be the Tonka Chocolat Noir (and Tonka Chocolat au Lait). . .
As with any tonka chocolate or pastry, the scent of these little guys will hit you from a metre away. It’s a curious blend of cinnamon, vanilla, hay, and clove – all distilled from the lovely tonka bean. Your first little nibble cracks the whisper thin shell and welcomes you into a world of silky-smooth ganache, where the tonka essence surges, albeit delicately, carrying with it a host of ever-more nuanced tones – among them a wildflower honey. Then, as that ganache interior gives way, leavinging behind its now-melting hull, you’re privy to the crush of the chocolat noir’s smoky charms. Warm, nutty, complex, vaguely amer and a perfect counterpoint to the creamy goodness it enclosed – you can now die happy.
So the description above is for the dark chocolate version and not for the milk chocolate. While the milk version is certainly excellent, it’s merely the Paul McCartney to the dark chocolate’s John Lennon. Really, the dark is just जय गुरुदेव (jai guru deva yum). Nothing’s gonna change my . . . opinion about that.
Monsieur Genin also has some other fantabulous chocolates in the case. I think the next I might be compelled to share is his dill. For those of you not used to the wild world of chocolate, the thought of that might make you want to barf. For the remainder of you, rest assured it’s quite tasty.
So, yes, absolutely grab some tonka chocolates at Jacques Genin’s shop. They’ll fit nicely in your bag, along with the other 20 things I’d suggest you purchase there. Even though I gave Monsieur a 4-way tie with a few other shops in my recent Best Pastry Shops in Paris list, he would top the Best Pastry Shop Chefs in Paris. I can’t get enough of his excellence.
Oh, chocolate. Who knew such a weird little jungle bean could be coaxed into something just as complex, sophisticated and expensive as a fine wine? An expert choco-snob can nibble on a bar and tell you not just the country of origin, and not just the plantation on which the beans were grown, but which producer worked with those beans – even when they processed them. While I’m far from being at that level, I too appreciate the variations one experiences from tablette to tablette. My favorite bar ever has killer notes of super tart raspberries and plums; it’s almost offensively acidic. Another fave actually tastes like parmesan cheese, and my newest delight (a 62% blend from Michel Chaudun) here in Paris has unmistakable notes of fig. Yum.
Sometimes it’s great to leverage amazingly expressive cacao on its own, but there are other times when a chocolatier/confissier might want to use it to merely add an accent to his work. That’s just the spirit in which Patrick Roger has crafted his milk and dark chocolate rochers. We’ll dig more thoroughly into Monsieur Roger’s fine chocolate another day; but, for today, let’s dig into his fine candy…
True, these are no Ferrero Rochers, but what is? And, when I say that, I mean they are certainly not Ferrero Rochers, because I would not pay 1.20 euros for a single Ferrero … 0.12 euros maybe, if I were starving to death, but only Patrick Roger, Jean-Paul Hévin, Michel Chaudun and a few others can justify the premium to me.
Anyway, the interior of these little guys is essentially the same as the inside of Monsier Roger’s Oeufs from this past Easter – a super sweet, slightly grainy, full-bodied blast of noisette-amande praline. Just thinking about it gives me a little high. Whether something about the texture or the inclusion of an undisclosed psychoactive substance, eating these rochers truly does give my melon some good vibrations. Extra cool is the chocolate on the outside providing a nice little twist. The milk chocolate’s great, but I’d definitely opt for the dark chocolate version. Quite bitter, such a lovely amer kick serves as the perfect counterpoint to the gooey sweetness within these yums^cubed.
My only complaint is that the outsides look a little ratty. Mind you, the images here have been heavily Photoshopped to remove most of the pits, holes and abrasions, but you wouldn’t be quite as interested in staring at the raw shots I had beforehand I’m used to pristine specimens at some other chocolateries, both here in Paris and in the U.S., and I’d be willing pay a premium for less roughed-up work. Oh, well.
Another unsolicited suggestion I have for Monsieur Roger is to put some nametags on the chocolate in the shop. It is so frustrating every time I go in and have no idea what my choices are. Every time I ask one of the girls, “Do you have a little card with the names and flavors?” And every time she’ll go, “It’s just easier if I tell you.” Actually, no, it isn’t. And, even if it somehow was, it’s a terrible marketing maneuver to not label your products. It puts a barrier in the sales process. Instead of someone seeing a sesame-flavored piece coated in an Indonesian dark and impulsively asking for a few to be added to the mix, they just see a little lump of brown they have to inquire about. The guy could make so much more money; it’s ridiculous.
So, yes, swing by Monsieur Roger’s and grab some of the chocolat noir rochers. Then ask the salesgirl to give you names of your other choices, get frustrated that you can only remember some of the 30 she rattles off, and then add some more to your gift box. And by “gift box” I mean . . . the box you secretly plan to just eat all by yourself.
Take a casual sniff of La Patisserie des Reves’ chausson aux pommes, and what do you notice? That’s right, butter, flour and heat of the oven have produced a glorious alchemy which resulted in the distinct scent of, “Corinthian raisin . . . black cherry, nuttiness, dried apricot . . . a little bit of verveine and a little bit of sweet potato.” Oh, wait, I’m sorry. That’s the scent of Dominique Saibron’s baguette, according to Steven Kaplan. Why did I feel the need to reference him? Because he is my new hero of hyperbole, and I was just waiting for my next review of a vaguely bread-related anything to tap out his hilariously ludicrous/awesome assessment as though it were my own.
The truth is that LPdR’s chausson aux pommes smells delicately of light brown sugar, a subtle caramelization, cinnamon and apples. I mean, sure, there were some glancing wafts of goji berries and a little elderflower, and yes the cinnamon was definitely Sumatran and picked by a left-handed gentleman on a Wednesday evening, but I couldn’t even detect a molecule of “Corinthian raisins”! Despite that obvious deficiency, let’s dig into Reves’ chausson aux pommes…
I just love the texture of this puppy. You take a bite, and the croustillant layer atop the chausson crumbles ever so delicately. A light puff of powdered sugar pops off and rains down on your fingers and over your clothing. The pastry partially tears, partially crunches and partially seems to melt. Nary a bit of pomme in that first morsel, the second venture for your lips, teeth and tongue hits the ever-so-sublime pocket of lightly spiced apples. They’re quite cooked down and extremely tender. You notice how autumnal they taste, just as the puff pastry nudges its way right back into the picture and marries together with all the wholesome fruity goodness. “How can this taste so amazing?” you ask yourself, but then you realize it’s from Reves and that it was just destined to spring from the oven as an exquistite exemplar of top-notch chausson aux pomme’ery.
Can you imagine if these guys made an almond croissant? God. I would stab someone for that.
Or maybe a Chasson aux Cerises (cherries) or Coings (quince). I’d be willing to do unspeakable things for the latter – things that would make Robert Downey Jr.’s character, Julian, in “Less Than Zero” look Mormon.
So, yes, a fine breakfast pastry selection is La Patisserie des Reves’ Chausson aux Pommes. Not only is it delicious, but it’s filling enough to keep you going for a few hours, while not so heavy that you won’t be able to successfully eat 6 pastries during the remainder of the day. What’s that? You have no plans to eat that many. Ok, but I’m just saying that if you were engaged in my lifestyle, you’d be covered. Bon appetit!