Category: Jacques Genin
The other day, I wrote about how frustrating it can be when shops change their pastries out — either too often or not often enough. When it’s done too frequently, you show up one day to buy a favorite, only to discover it won’t be back for another 11 months, if ever. When it’s done too rarely, seeing the same lineup can quickly grow ennuyeuse. After all, most shops have but a few great pieces, and there are only so many times you can eat the same macarons or tartes before you stop visiting the pâtisserie entirely. Now, when it comes to Jacques Genin, it is true that the range of pastries changes very little from season to season, but he produces so much brilliance that he can sell the same ones over-and-over again without them ever getting boring. Ultra-perfection just doesn’t get tired . . . by definition.
Monsieur Genin’s work is so incredible that I’m seriously considering taking up residence in his café either every Saturday or Sunday. Maybe both. I could arrive around noon, claim my table and slowly binge my way through 6,000 calories, before scooting back out into the city around 4pm. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect way to spend an afternoon. And while the tarte citron and éclair au chocolat are sure to figure heavily into every one of those sessions, I’d be remiss not to occasionally include the subject of today’s review, the Saint-Honoré.
This little guy is a delicious and beautiful Frankenstein’ed mélange of the Master’s other classics: feuilletage from his millefeuille,crème patissiere from that same millefeuille, éclair au chocolat in mini-choux form, and chou vanille in miniature. Add in the herringbone of Chantilly, and there we have our Saint-Honoré. I once said it’s like getting two pastries in one, but as I read the breakdown I just gave, I realize it’s more like 3-in-1. The big upgrade is that volume and easy lightness of the Chantilly that does wonders for making that ultra-fragile/fresh feuilletage of this shine with a brilliance it never fully achieves in his millefeuille vanille. That same Chantilly, combined with the effect of the chocolate, also takes the edge off the full force of Madagascan vanilla that runs through much of the piece. So the net experience is simply . . . splendiferous.
Just soak in the above! I wish all cement were made of caramelized sugar, as you see there between the pâte and the feuilletage. In fact, I have to go in to my dentist next week and have a crown put on one of my molars; I’m going to request that he uses caramelized sugar to secure it in place. Oh, wait, that might not be wise . . . for a whole host of reasons. But I should clarify that I’m having the procedure done because the tooth is cracked for reasons UNRELATED to my Parisian pastry and candy adventures. I’d feel evil if I were pulling a Paula Deen on your guys, but rest assured I’m not.
Just look at how perfect that piping is…
The below is exactly the same as his éclair au chocolat. And the best part is that you get two chocolate puffs on this little guy. The vanilla one is great, but the chocolate . . . it’s a religious experience.
So, yes, grab one of Monsieur Genin’s Saint-Honorés. But first snag a lemon tarte, chocolate éclair, caramel éclair, slice of flan, a huge box of chocolates, a gigantic bag of caramels, tons of pâte de fruits and anything/everything else you can get your hands on. Then bring it all to me. I’ll eat the bulk of it, just to make sure it will live up to your standards, and then you can finish what’s left. It’s the least I can do to ensure you have the ultimate Parisian pastry experience.
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.
I’ll always remember the first time I had Jacques Genin’s Baba au Rhum. This is mostly because it was the first baba He had ever served to a customer, and as the crew from France 4 flanked us, camera rolling for the debut tasting, Monsieur Genin waited patiently for my verdict. “Incroyable!” I said. He beamed. The day before, He’d had me up into His kitchen to taste the yet-to-be-released orange crème for the return of His Tarte à l’Orange, but He’d disappeared into a kitchen emergency before I had time to share my thoughts. So, in addition to my “Incroyable!” for the baba, I continued, “Et la crème d’orange hier . . . sublime!” He glowed. Was I lying for the benefit of the camera crew? No, are you kidding? He’s the greatest classic pastry chef in Paris. If anything, my comments were a gross understatement of how amazing it all was.
In fact, Monsieur Genin is so amazing that this coming Monday and Wednesday I’ll be sharing my two-part series of in-kitchen photos with the Master himself! That’s right. You heard me. It’s going to be a combined 33-photo spectacular of the Legend and His team. And, as is that weren’t enough, in late February, I’ll present a three-part series just on His shop and all the chocolates, pastries, caramels and goodies therein. For how mind-blowingly crucial Monsieur Genin is to the legacy of all disciplines He touches, it’s a shame no one’s done this sooner. Truly. It’s long overdue. But enough of me wagging my finger at those who don’t show His Greatness enough respect, let’s dig into Monsieur Genin’s Baba au Rhum.
Preeminent. Virtually every other pâtissier in the city should converge on the Place de la République and take turns slapping one another for what they call a baba. Monsieur Genin won’t even allow anyone else on His team to touch the thing. It’s 100% pure Masterwork. He readies a few cakes every morning, lovingly bathes them in an obscenely decadent 30-year-old rum and then personally assembles the pieces.
While I only enjoy liquor in desserts these days, I’ve been no stranger to fine rums, Scotches and vodkas. Biting into this Baba was about as top-shelf as you’re getting before He’d be forced to charge 20€+ for the honor or partaking in one. In fact, I’m surprised He’s turning a profit on these, as that rum is smooooooooooth. Yes, 10 o’s of smoothess. And the gâteau that’s soaked it all up? Perfection. Monsieur Genin has calibrated its exact moisture content, pre-rum bath, to ensure it achieves the most exquisite consistency once soaked. The mildly astringent quality of the alcohol and texture of the cake contrast so beautifully with the fairly dense and extremely-vanillaed crème at the heart of this little guy. All that then marries with the pillowy light plume of moderately vanillaed Chantilly, and the assorted tastes and textures rollick about your mouth, exciting and delighting you with every…single…bite.
The overall experience of the piece is . . . meditative. So calm, balanced and refined that I can see why Monsieur Genin saw fit to add the pineapple garnish. The glancing shocks of sweetness and acidity it provides remind you just how astoundingly and effortlessly mellow the rest of the piece is. Brilliance.
Just look at the shot below. It’s almost profane.
I usually show the cross-section shot last, but here I thought it fitting to show the aftermath. I would have licked the plate clean, had people not been watching. Number nine on my Top 38 Best Pastries in Paris list, you just don’t understand how good it is.
So, yes, you must head to Jacques Genin’s for a Baba au Rhum. Aim to arrive at about 1:30 in the afternoon, as He’s sometimes not quite ready with the cakes when the shop first opens. Take a seat in the dining area — as it’s not available to-go — and get ready to be thrilled. Don’t miss out on getting a lemon tarte and chocolate éclair, too. And, of course, make sure to snag some chocolates, caramels and pâtes de fruits. Did I just describe exactly what I’m doing as soon as I get back to Paris? Yes.
For a man who told The New York Times, “I don’t even want to be called a master… ”, Jacques Genin still does a great job of making almost everyone else seem like amateurs. Sure, they had their fancy stages and sous chef positions alongside MOFs, Champions du Monde, and three star Michelin royalty, but Monsieur Genin eschewed formal training in favor of a reliance on His own genius and immeasurable talent. Yet, in my conversations with Him, Monsieur Genin is always exceedingly humble, claiming none of his pastries are yet perfect and that there’s still so much more work to be done.
The Master has also told me that my opinion of Him and His work might be tempered a bit, if only other chefs had access to the finest ingredients. Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to believe 90% of the majesty stems from His techniques and obsessive love of the pastries. Take for instance His book “Le Meilleur de la Tarte Citron” (a cookbook that’s solely about making perfect lemon tartes), and you’ll see that not only is it packed with exceedingly specific temperatures, weights and times – but hyper-specific sidenotes, musings on lemons and even poetry about lemons; it’s crazy in the best possible way. There’s a reason this Man dominates the classics. Among them is of course His Éclair au Caramel . . .
Every time I bite into one of His éclairs, I feel as though I’m tearing through something Divinely transubstantiated – engaging in a sensual violation of a perfect and holy flesh – rendered in pâte a choux. So tender. So sublime. It’s the perfect vessel for the sweet amber goodness that engorges its length. Neither too subtle, nor too forceful, the caramel crème is a revelation of balance of flavor. It was once a violently bubbling cauldron of sugar and cream, but as its cool smoothness floods your mouth, you’re privy to nothing but wave after wave of pacific delight. A sense of betrayal creeps into your mind, wondering how any other chef has seen fit to charge you for his own inferior work. But, basking in a mouthful of Greatness, your attention quickly shifts to the sticky milk chocolate glaçage. It dances against the pâte a choux and caramel, expressing its cacao tones for a few moments before subsiding. It glides in again and, together with the choux and crème, reverberates through your soul in an instant of symphonic magnificence.
There’s a reason this little guy is at #20 on my Top 38 Best Pastries list. I’d likely have put it higher, were it not for the even more impressive chocolate éclair (#4 on the list) from Monsieur Genin. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to describe that when I post it here in a few months. I’m sure I can somehow wordsmith my way through even more religious imagery, as a way to paint the experience of something so much better than perfect. If only Monsieur Genin were merely great and not so often mesmerizing, then it would be far easier to write reviews of His work.
Another unintended consequence of my love affair with Monsieur Genin’s creations is that I’m even harder on my own baking/cooking than I was before. I’m literally in the process of going mad over crafting a hot chocolate recipe*. With every slight adjustment to the recette – every little tweak to the process and proportions – I wonder what the Master would say. Granted, I have a copy of His recipe (all the way down to the specific Valrhona couverture He buys), but would He be proud of what I’m creating?
*Note: I cook a lot, but I’ve only written three recipes. And when I say I’ve written them, I mean they in no way resemble others in their categories, and I spent months obsessing and crafting them from scratch. The first has been picked up by restaurant chain. The second tops Google, is constantly stolen by bloggers and other sites, and I have good reason to suspect it was adapted as the basis for an episode of a popular Food Network series. And then the third is the aforementioned hot chocolate recipe, which I’ll be sharing with you in January.
So, yes, buy at least two of these next time you stop by Monsieur Genin’s. While you’re there, pick up three chocolate eclairs, four lemon tartes and dozens of His caramels, chocolates, and pâtes des fruits. Then send me an email telling me how awesome they are. Since I won’t be back to France for about four months, I need a means for vicariously experiencing His Greatness.
SPECIAL: On Monday, I’ll be taking you into the kitchen of London’s famed pâtissier/chocolatier, William Curley. Four-time winner of ‘Best British Chocolatier’, gold medal winner at The Culinary Olympics, and recipient of numerous other awards and accolades, I think you’re going to enjoy the 16-photo spectacular of him in action!
Whenever anyone asks me what pastry shops to visit in Paris, the first name out of my mouth is always Jacques Genin. Sure, there are plenty of great pâtisseries to which I can point those with a sweet tooth, but even at the others I think are superstars, I’m hard pressed to name more than 5-10 goodies I believe are especially noteworthy. At Monsieur Genin’s, I can list about 15 treats I feel are virtually perfect. As I mentioned in a review just last week, I even go so far as to say that he invented the chocolate éclair. It is literally so many levels of perfection beyond what others produce that using the same name to describe them makes no sense.
I’m not exactly sure how Monsieur Genin has achieved such a degree of perfection either. It’s not only his pastries that are mindblowing, but also his chocolates, caramels and pâtes de fruits. And I don’t mean they’re just really good, I mean they’re literally incomparable. Jacques Genin is progressively perfecting the classics of the Parisian pâtisserie/chocolaterie. Among those many delights is the subject of today’s review, his much-loved Paris-Brest. So how do I think it measures-up? Well . . .
This is a particularly tricky one to describe, as the thrust of the experience is a fairly dense and very generous helping of hazelnut deliciousness. Not too sweet, bursting with a lovely nuttiness and ample enough to quite easily be a meal unto itself, what’s not to love? Sandwiching the swirling mounds of noisette gooeyness, are two [relatively] thin rounds of choux – the top of which is liberally dusted in powdered sugar and crowned with hazelnut nibblins. When taken together with the swirling columns of crème, the effect is quite something. You get these super sweet moments from the confectioners’ sugar, followed by crunchy hazelnut interludes that then give way to those predominant gobs of yummy goo. I dare say that, if you ever want to become a hazelnut, a steady diet of these might be sufficient to complete the human=>hazelnut metamorphosis.
What’s funny is that I like this Paris Brest quite a bit, but I love and worship so many of the other pastries, chocolates, and candies in Monsieur Genin’s shop that this one was a rare purchase. At any other shop, it might have been among my favorites. Pretty wild that great work can be overshadowed by an over-abundance of stellar work.
I can’t decide which I’d rather live in . . . the deliciousness of the shot above or the shot below. Granted, I first need to be 1,000th my current size to make either my dwelling, but still.
Just look at this cross-section. Like I said, this little puppy is easily lunch or dinner for most people.
So, yes, do make sure to grab Monsieur Genin’s Paris-Brest. Maybe try his chocolate éclair, lemon tarte, baba au rhum and others before you buy it, but it will be well worth it when you do. Oh, and just because I always feel the need to say again-and-again how great he is . . . Jacques Genin in the greatest classic pastry chef, chocolatier, caramelier and pâte de fruitier in Paris.