I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The work of Café Pouchkine’s chef pâtissier, Emmanuel Ryon, is too good. Looking into the Pouchkine pastry case is to realize most other shops are not trying ½ as hard as they could be to render beauty in cake and crème. Tasting the pieces is to understand too many other chefs lack true talent. Is that hyperbole? No. There’s a reason I’ve posted little since last May. The combined excellence of Jacques Genin and Emmanuel Ryon just left me disenchanted with much of what was happening in the rest of the Parisian pastry scene. There’s stellar work in other shops, for sure, but there wasn’t enough to sustain my enthusiasm.
Much of my computer’s hard drive is made up of Jacques Genin and Café Pouchkine pastries I plan to trot out for you, one day. There’s a certain compulsion to show you nothing but them, but magical works from Des Gateaux et du Pain, Un Dimanche à Paris, La Patisserie des Reves, and Pierre Hermé deserve to be peppered-in as well. Today had to be a Pouchkine day though, because it’s not just about sharing the pastry as much as it is a teaser for what I’m putting up next Wednesday, when we go inside the kitchen with World Champion, French Champion, and Meilleur Ouvrier de France – the legend himself, Emmanuel Ryon.
Before you even bite in – just staring at the pastry – your senses delight in waves and wafts of unadulterated excellence. You get your money’s worth just from the aesthetics alone; the fact that you can also eat it borders on being too good to be true. So you carefully pluck away one of the meringue lobes and breathe in its deliciously pronounced berry tones, just before jamming a knife down through the crème, gateau and layer of cassis, which you then slather about the meringue. Ready for the first bite? It is transcendent. The meringue cracks, as the intensely thick Tahitian vanilla crème insinuates itself across your palate. You sense a soft cakeyness, a fraction of a second before a sensorial crush of berry and cassis sweeps through your mind and soul. You are psychically one with the Divinity that is Emmanuel Ryon’s Pavlova. So much flavor. So much texture. It is the definition of magnificence.
The first few times I had the piece, I ate the meringue by iself and then dug into the crème, cake and cassis. But that was poor form on my part. It was in meeting Emmanuel Ryon that I learned the proper technique, described above. And it’s next week that I’ll be sharing photos from that pastry session with you, my friends. Excited?! You’d better be.
This is literally so tasty that it’s illegal in some countries . . .
So, yes, run to Café Pouchkine and grab at least two of these. If not – and you only purchase one – I can guarantee you’re going to be walking back to Pouchkine within minutes of licking the crème from your doigts. Make sure to also pick up a dozen macarons, a vanilla croissant, and a bunch of other pastries while you’re there, too. There’s no sense in not enjoying at least half of the entire Café Pouchkine pastry case.
I’ve been out of Paris for too many weeks now. The longing has set in. I can’t wait to resume my daily routine of coffee, pastries, walks along the Seine, and other bon vivant pastimes. Though, truth be told, I will be cutting way back on my pastry intake. Spending months putting on a kilo-a-week, followed by months of taking off a kilo-a-week are too grueling. At my thinnest, people always remark how shockingly skinny I am, while at my most rotund, someone invariably points out that I have indeed become fat. I’m now at a happy, healthy, well-exercised mid-point. So indulging in 5 pastries every day is likely to be scaled back to one that I force myself to walk across town to get, sans the aid of the metro.
Helping me keep the pudge at bay will be my new apartment, “conveniently” located nowhere near any of the finer pastry shops. Technically, yeah, it’s directly between Café Pouchkine and Jacques Genin, but the to-and-fro jaunt to either of them can burn half an éclair. And the full walk down to Pierre Hermé Bonaparte, the most dangerous of all the shops – if only because of the discount and freebies, should incinerate the caloric load of a whole Croissant Ispahan. At least that’s what I tell myself. My best intentions might degrade as soon as I step off the plane. Weeks later, I’ll be chasing a breakfast vanilla tarte with a bag of salted caramel pralines and a Surprise Envie, the subject of today’s review.
Any of Monsieur Hermé’s Surprise variants are never the most exciting for you guys, I know, as the superficial aesthetic is a moonrock-like dome of crusty meringue. But it’s so tasty! Unwrapped from its purple cellophane, you just cradle the little guy in your hand and jam it into your face. As your teeth cleave through the soft almond biscuit base and disintegratingly sugary frame, a gush of vanilla-violet mousseline gracefully oozes its way onto your palate, only to give way to a pleasantly sour blast of cassis compote. The flavors rollick – nay, frolic – exciting and delighting you, second-after-second, bite-after-bite, until you’re licking the last crumbs of meringue from your sticky paw and realizing you’ve somehow already made it halfway back to Monsieur Hermé’s shop, ready to buy another.
Really, just look at this. It’s so wrong that it’s right . . .
Even if Monsieur Hermé’s Montebello was my daily go-to pastry, I’d get a Surprise at least 2 or 3 times each week. He’s always got some variant of it going on, and I’ve yet to meet one I didn’t enjoy.
So, yes, make sure to grab yourself a Surprise Envie, once it returns. I believe it will be back in the case in the spring. So, for the next six or seven months, you might have to content yourself with his Tarte Vanille, macarons, assorted croissants, millefeuilles, and other gems. Not a bad way to bide your time, obviously.
Even among the greatest Parisian pastries, only a few dozen can be classed as exceptional. Fewer still have earned the label of perfection. But the rarest of all are perhaps the two contemporary works that have recently shaped the arc of pastry history in the way that the Saint-Honoré, the macaron, and the opéra once did. Those past classics were all once made by one man or one team, until their magnificence carried them into the hearts, minds and vitrines of chefs all across Paris and beyond. Indisputably, Pierre Hermé’s Ispahan is one of the two modern classics guaranteed to grace pastry cases for hundreds of years to come; in just a decade it’s spread well beyond Monsieur Hermé’s boutiques and has become instantly recognizable, far and wide. And the other modern classic? That’s simple. On June 19th, 2012, the above paradigm-shifting act of unbridled magnificence debuted in the case of Un Dimanche à Paris. Never before in the 1800-year history of The City of Light had peanut butter, caramel and chocolate united into a single act of pastry deliciousness. BEHOLD LE PÉCHÉ D’ADAM!
Now, you might be thinking, “Hey, Adam, isn’t this exactly the pastry you’ve been badgering pastry chefs to make for the last three years? And, given that Un Dimanche finally caved and also named it after you, doesn’t that maybe skew your opinion of how significant it is?” Well, um, I guess the easy answers would be yes and yes. But, honestly, my official answer is, “Yes and kinda but not really.” Let me explain . . .
You must understand that, generally speaking, the French don’t “believe in” peanuts. While hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios have an unquestioned place in every single French pastry shop, good luck finding a peanut in one. They get no respect. In fact, ask your average French person their opinion on peanuts, and their most likely response will be along the lines of, “You mean those things at the bar? Yeah, I guess they’re good with beer.” Ask another French person for their feelings on peanut butter, and a totally normal reply will be, “I’ve never had it.” So in introducing a peanut-based pastry to Paris, we are truly changing the game. Parisians are about to experience what dirty Americans like me have long known – peanut butter, chocolate and caramel are as indispensable to life as water or air.
While Le Péché d’Adam has only been out for two weeks now, its sales are brisk. It usually sells-out before day’s end, and I’ve been told it’s already the third most popular pastry in the case. Lest you think I and other Americans are the ones snapping it up . . . au contraire. The most enthusiastic buyers are the French themselves. They love it! It’s been an instant hit with them.
The irony is that I worked with Un Dimanche à Paris’ new chef pâtissier, Kléber Marguerie, to craft Le Péché d’Adam for American sensibilities. After extensive discussions on how it should be composed, Kléber unveiled the prototype to me in early June. My opinion? Delicious, but the design was far too refined – too French. So I forced him to start over and spent the next week bringing in candies and pastries from other shops to serve as reference points for how to make this piece more disgustingly American. There was to be no subtlety. I wanted the ingredients obvious and gooey. And the design? I wanted it fat and adorned with sparkles. When Kléber presented the final piece to me, all I could say was, “Mission accomplished!”
The pastry is loaded with peanuts and then some! For those fans of all things crunchy, there’s plenty to love here. The crème of the piece, too, is a sublime overload of peanut flavor, accented perfectly by alternating layers of sticky-sweet salted butter caramel and peanut Dacquoise. Then, at the very base of the piece, wrapped in all that caramel and nutty cakey goodness, is a mound of 63% Madagascar dark chocolate. It’s basically like a Snickers bar on steroids and made with infinitely more superior ingredients than any candy bar could hope for. Le Péché d’Adam is quite simply . . . a revolution in Parisian gastronomy and a revelation for the senses!
Can’t you just taste the caramel and peanuts here…
And just get a load of all that chocolate, peanut crème, caramel and all those nutty nibblins! Can a life be truly well-lived without first having one of these? No, it cannot.
So, yes, you absolutely must run to Un Dimanche à Paris immediately and purchase one or more of these. Consume it with lusty gluttonous impatience, then run back to the store and buy another. For all my French readers who’ve never before enjoyed the magic of peanuts, caramel and chocolate together, it’s going to change your life. And for all those familiar with the combination, this is still sure to redefine the heights of ecstasy you know that combo can deliver. Why are you even still reading this? Feast . . .
Un Dimanche à Paris
4-6-8, Cour du Commerce Saint-André (map)
Phone: +33 (0)156811818
Boutique Hours: 11AM-8PM from Tuesday to Saturday and 11AM-7PM on Sunday (Closed Mondays)
There are a number of techniques a chef can use to make his pastries extra appealing to the average pastry shop customer. It’s almost to the point that you could make a little chart of popular ingredients in one column, popular compositions in another, and garnishes in the third. Take violets + “suggestive” shapes + sugar work and you get Carl Marletti’s Lily Valley. Take fruit + a dome + gold and you get Café Pouckine’s Tutti Frutti. Or take hazelnuts/chocolate + aggressive layering + a macaron and you have Sadaharu Aoki’s Chocolat Pralin. It’s a snap!
Now, the thing with Monsieur Aoki is that he knows he’s onto a good thing. So when it came time to create a new pastry this last spring he just took the Chocolat Pralin, swapped the hazelnuts for raspberries, and the Sensuelle here was born. What it lacks in creativity it certainly makes up for in saleability. If that sounds like I’m taking a swipe at Monsieur Aoki’s work, well, that’s because I am am. But creative commentary aside, how does it taste?
Pleasant enough . . . I guess. Working down through the layers, the milk chocolate / orange cognac crème layer is unsurprisingly milk chocolately with a fairly generously squirt of the cognac. Perhaps the crème is a bit texturally grainy, but the somewhat timid chocolate biscuit beneath it helps disguise that sensation. Then there’s the raspberry gelée layer that I found a wee too gelatinous, a bit too much in short supply, yet decidedly raspberry enough to make the fruit a significant force in the overall taste experience. And what about the feuilletine praliné and hazelnut dacquoise that rested beneath it all? Ehhh, you know I think hazelnuts are overused. Fortunately they weren’t too potent here, but they nonetheless could have been omitted. Oh, and the macaron was nice – not a taste sensation but also then not distracting from the main body of the piece. As a whole package, I guess I could say the Sensuelle was edible though underwhelming.
I was also a bit dismayed by the execution of the layers. The chocolate biscuit was oddly wavy for an Aoki piece. I think there’s a young lad or lass back in the kitchen who might need to get slapped around a few times, lest this happen again. Don’t get me wrong; I know it’s not an easy task. It’s just that when I’m buying fine Parisian pastry, I want it to look as close to perfect as is humanly possible. I’m also just a picky *******.
So, no, I can’t say I’d recommend Monsieur Aoki’s Sensuelle. His sesame éclair, tarte caramel, and other assorted goodies are must-haves, but this raspberry-chocolate effort just left me unimpressed. And especially when I compare it to more remarkable raspberry-chocolate hybrids, such as a certain Jean-Paul Hévin classic, I can’t help but be candid in my assessment. Oh, Monsieur Aoki!
SUPER SPECIAL: Wednesday is going to be huge! I’m finally unveiling the first pastry created at my direction and to my exacting specifications. In fact, it’s so personalized that it is literally my namesake. Get ready to behold Le Péché d’Adam from Un Dimanche à Paris. Caramel, chocolate and peanuts are joining forces to take the Parisian pastry scene by storm!
Sorry for the recent unannounced hiatus from blog entries, my friends. I didn’t mean to deprive you of Parisian sweets; I’ve just been sorting some things out here in the pâtisserie scene. With “changes” at some of the shops, the corrupting influence of hefty discounts and freebies, the realization that Jacques Genin and Emmanuel Ryon set the quality bar too high, and as the product of a few other factors, I thought it best to take a little breather. But rest assured some awesome amazingness is on the horizon for you. For I’ve also been collaborating with Un Dimanche à Paris to create the first great peanut butter, chocolate and caramel pastry ever in The City of Light. That’s right. Peanut butter, chocolate and caramel. It’s never existed in Paris (don’t quote me on that) . . . but it’s just debuted in Un Dimanche with the eponymous moniker of “Le Péché d’Adam”, and I’ll be sharing it here next Wednesday. More info to come!
For now, I thought it best to restart my reviews with not only Pierre Hermé, but with a Pierre Hermé macaron that happens to be my favorite Pierre Hermé macaron ever. I’ll always have fond memories of strolling into PH, after my morning coffees/teas at Coutume, purchasing a Montebello and a croissant Ispahan, then getting slipped a couple of these little ones gratuit. Could there be a fonder pastry-based memory? I think not. So let’s dig in…
The first time I saw these guys in the case, with their tag reading “vanille, rose, et clou de girofle”, I was certain I’d like 2/3 of the flavors and not so sure how delicious a giraffe’s clou was going to be. But that’s just because I’d never seen “clou de girofle” referenced for a pastry/macaron and was a bit too liberal in how to Anglicize girofle. It turns out it has nothing to do with giraffes (unfortunately!); it’s just the French people’s much more awesome word for clove. Biting in to the mac, however, it’s not the first note you get a whiff of; that would be the rose. But then the clove gently sweeps in and goes, “Mmmm, spicy!” Together with the vanilla, the trio of parfums plays out in a wonderfully smooth crème. The totality of the experience can only be summed up as . . . intoxicating. These are the type of macs you can eat a dozen of in one sitting. They’re that perfectly balanced and perfectly tasty.
Oddly, I didn’t go for the Jardin Secret immediately upon its release. I kept making Monsieur Hermé’s team give me the Mogador and some of my other favorites. But when I finally ventured into the Jardin Secret, everyone on the Pierre Hermé rue Bonaparte team quickly knew not to even ask what mac I’d like. I’d just pay at the register, walk out with my Montebello and croissant and look down in the bag to find a duo of Jardin Secret macarons stashed in there. Can you imagine freebie macarons magically appearing in your bag every time you leave a store? There’s nothing better. All stores should do it. And when I say that I mean even Ladurée should stick the PH Jardin Secret in your bag!
So, yes, absolutely grab a a huge box of the Jardin Secret macaron . . . if they ever reappear in the case. It’s going to be a while no matter what, as Monsieur Hermé is slowly working through his “Jardin” fascination, month-after-month, one macaron flavor at a time. I believe there are 10 or 12, and he’s only at the halfway point now. But, really, has there ever been a more tastily grueling slog?