Category: Pastry Reviews
I wish all Parisian pastries were stunning works of art that operated at the absolute limits of complete tastiness. Sadly, most are just vaguely amusing to regard and pleasant enough to enjoy eating. There are only a dozen shops that truly make a go at developing astoundingly delicious pieces, and among that delicious dozen, there are maybe five shops that forge talent together with effort in order to make visual masterpieces.
Ladurée is one of those few pâtisseries that succeeds in crafting truly eye-catching work – e.g., La Fraise or Divin. Even if you’re super ****** and think those designs are pandering and overdone, you’ve still got to tip your chapeau when you realize others like the
famed hyped Blé Sucré turns out this garbage. Do I still often accuse Ladurée of doing sloppy work? Yeah, because I mean … look at the piping running up the head of the above. And does Ladurée truly excel in developing taste sensations? No, not often, but it’s usually at least “very good” and rarely anywhere close to disappointing. And what about the subject of today’s review – the Religieuse Pistache? Well…
If I had to grade it, I’d give it a B-. It’s certainly much better than a neighborhood pastry shop could do, but it’s not close to what it could be. Not to say that the crème sucked; it was good – just . . . good and nothing more.
As for the rest of the religieuse, the chou was decent – standard – maybe a bit dry. The pistachio shellacking about the tête and corps of this little one was, much like the interior, a tad oversweetened. And then of course there were the 5°-angled squirts aside the head. [Paging your neighborhood supermarket and/or 4th rate pastry shop] I think a certain stagiaire is ready to return to icing cupcakes back in Parsippany, NJ.
I’m being a little hyperbolic in the above. But of the two of these I’ve purchased in the last week (cause I always retaste/retest before I write), the second had maybe 5 grams of crème in it. It wasn’t even really filled. I think the “chef” felt a little resistance in their poche and decided to not give a **** whether the ridiculously expensive pastry was actually . . . What’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, yeah . . . salable.
The first one I purchased here was filled…
So, eh, this might not be the best purchase at Ladurée. Their Harmonie, Divin, Tarte Tatin, Religieuse Rose, La Fraise, and others are great ones to snag. And while their macarons are suffering a bit these days, there are still classics like the Fleur d’Oranger, Réglisse and Cassis to purchase too many of and enjoy. That said, a visit to Café Pouchkine or Jacques Genin would likely be a more rewarding adventure.
A few months back, I reached out to Café Pouchkine to see if I could arrange a photo shoot of their boutique and, more awesomely, a special session with their chef pâtissier – his majesty Emmanuel Ryon. The Pouchkine team has long been keen on sharing my reviews of their work – both on their Facebook page and “the twitters” – so I was hopeful the fine folks there would be totally agreeable to setting up said sessions. They were quick to get back to me and say a boutique shoot would be a snap to arrange but . . . a session with Monsieur Ryon likely wouldn’t be possible. No, it wasn’t because I’d offended the master; it was simply that he was so busy managing the development of their newest pastries – and making sure all was in order in Moscow, Paris and with their latest New York efforts – that he wasn’t sure he would have enough time until later in the year. All that changed the week before last, when their awesome team got back to me and said Monsieur Ryon had an unexpected opening and would have enough time not only to prepare a few pastries for me but to sit down and talk. I wound up getting part of the afternoon with The Great One this past Thursday, which is why I was so rushed in putting together the Friday entry. I’m sure you’re wondering . . . was he as cool as I imagined? No. He was at least 11 times cooler, and you’re going to love the photos . . . when I finally decide to share them with you 😉
For now, you’re going to have to content yourself with enjoying one of the tasty pastries from Café Pouchkine’s case. While Monsieur Ryon said he pretty much loves all his pastries equally, pressing him to name a few personal favorites got him to confess a soft spot for his Chouqette Botchka. And if he loves it, then maybe you will, too. So shall we dig in?
Unlike your average vanilla crème-engorged chou puff, this little one has a shiny sugar coat with a studly studding of sugar nibs – all dusted in yet more sugar! Yet this hat trick of sweetness is actually much more subtly sucrée than you’d imagine. And it serves as a perfect complement to one of the finer pâte a chou preparations I’ve come across in quite some time. I’m not sure if I got lucky and had one that got a little extra special cook time, or if it’s the standard preparation, but there was this awesomely warm and complex character than shone through. Yum. Then at the heart of our friend here was a decidedly light vanilla crème. I was expecting something much more dense, but was pleasantly surprised at how delicate it was. And while the density of the crème was restrained, the full force of the vanilla Gods was in effect. It took me but one bite to go, “Madagascar!” I quickly whipped out the Café Pouchkine menu I always keep on-hand to confirm my suspicions, and immediately saw that indeed it was a work of pure Bourbon (Madagascar) vanilla – an unmistakable taste sensation.
Looking at the shot below, you can just about taste it, can’t you?! Don’t lick the screen.
So, yes, particularly if you’re a Madagascan vanilla lover, this makes an excellent purchase. I’ll personally be buying it again, if only to taste the chou. I might also pick up some other goodies like their Pavlova Cassis, macaron coeur lait d’amande, and vanilla croissant – the three treats that happen to be my current favorites. Then I’ll find myself halfway back to my apartment wondering why I didn’t buy another dozen of their fine pastries. Why must Café Pouchkine have so many amazing pieces? The temptation of it all!
Sometimes my pastry eating and photographing schedule get so intense that I literally don’t have enough time to edit photos and write something thoughtful about the goodies at-hand. This week has been particularly bananas. From being “forced” to do such things as leisurely sip a half dozen sublime coffees at Coutume Café for hours on end, to photographing Café Pouchkine’s genius Emmauel Ryon at work in his laboratoire, there’s just been too much real-life awesomeness to fully focus on the blog content here. Thank God I always keep a set of pre-processed, pre-loaded photos on hand for just such time-pinched occasions.
Pierre Hermé’s macarons were of course a logical “emergency” pastry to whip out. People’s natural affinity for his work will let me slide by here without toiling away at a lengthy written entry. So sorry to all of you who enjoy reading through my hyperbole, invented words, and more, but … hey, at least your getting some Pierre Hermé macarons today, right? With that, let’s dig into my light musings on the Asperge Verte & Huile de Noisette Macaron.
I know a lot of you are probably thinking, “Asperge verte . . . is that . . . no, that can’t be what I think it is, can it?” Yep, it’s green asparagus. This is an asparagus macaron, my friends. Though, if you’ve read my PH macaron entries before, you know that the first ingredient the master lists is often the secondary flavor. It’s really the hazelnut oil that is the dominant tone in these puppies. The asparagus notes are actually quite light within the hyper-ample crème. It’s only when you get to the small chunk or two of slippery asparagus nestled in the center of these that the gardeny goodness of it all pops out and says hi.
Surprisingly, I actually kind of like it overall. Even if one of the flavors is pretty whacky, the textures of the piece are nice. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any customer buy it, but then again neither have I. As you know, I rarely actually pay for my macs chez Monsieur Hermé; they’ve got the science of spoiling me and skewing my opinions down to a science, and I love them for it.
All I can say is that if you love seriously stuffed macs, these were made for you.
So, yeah, should these asparagus macs ever come back to Pierre Hermé, give one a try. But since I’d been saving these shots for a day when I didn’t have enough time to process more current treats, I think about a year has gone by since they were last in the case. Monsieur Hermé’s newest pieces are also garden-fresh, but the focus is on the florals for the moment. Not a bad turn of events, so perhaps my best advice to you is to snag his Jardin Secret – quite possibly my favorite of the macs I’ve ever not paid for chez Monsieur Hermé.
Do I know more about chocolate than I’ll likely ever know about coffee? Yes. Does that keep me from drinking the equivalent of 10-15 espressos a day? No. After all, I’m only hooked on Coutume Café like crack. It’s there that the ever-talented Kevin and Talor (the newest barista extraordinaire) turn me on to dazzling blends, drips, pulls and methods of enjoying their expertly roasted beans. The latest and greatest is of course Talor’s ice-presso (hot espresso served in a frozen cup). So it should be no surprise that I’m always looking for the next dose in one form or another – if not for the splendors of flavor, then at least to stave off a crash or caffeine withdrawal symptoms. There is no such thing as enough.
Since I can’t be at Coutume 24/7, my coffee lust winds up getting sated by the occasional café-imbued pastry. Most just serve as some clumsy approximation of coffee’s delights, as I’ve come to find 90%+ are woefully lacking in the appropriate nuances and quality to be called anything but . . . crude. But there I was at Un Dimanche à Paris a couple weekends back, when I spotted a new addition to their lineup, the Éclair au Café. Could it satisfy me? Would it perhaps even delight me? Well…
Yes and yes. While the main vehicle for the piece is the éclair-standard pâte à chou, it’s been lovingly coated in Un Dimanche à Paris’ trademark cacao nib croustillant. It adds just the perfect touch of sweetness and crumble. Some sweetness and snap is then furnished by a whisperingly thin wafer of 40% milk chocolate. Do I usually hate tempered chocolate on pastries? Yes, but it works here. For not only is it slight enough to bite through without mess, but since the éclair is “open faced” – with a chunnel of crème resting right below the chocolate – that little wafer shields the crème from the elements. God knows I hate when my crème goes knockin’ about with crusty, mingin’ edges. And it’s that crème that is the highlight, my friends. Based in Mascarpone, it’s a sublime blend of milk chocolate with Mexican and Ecuadorian coffees. Fairly sweet and with just a waft of maple’esque tones, it might well be the finest coffee crème in all of Paris.
Of course chef pâtissier Quentin Bailly didn’t believe me when I told him how much I loved the éclair. Last weekend, when I went it to fact-check the ingredients with him for a few pastries I’d shot, he asked what I thought of the éclair. I quickly responsed that it was, in fact, the finest coffee éclair I have ever had. He laughed, but I assured him it was true.
Mmm, it’s a stretch mark of tastiness…
Is the éclair perhaps a little more squished down than it should be? Yes, we can say that … since I know someone would leave a ****** comment to that effect anyway. But it didn’t affect the deliciosity at all.
So, yes, the Éclair au Café from Un Dimanche à Paris is a must-get. But be forewarned that it is only available on the weekends, much like their oh-too-delicious millefeuille. Should you show up another day, you can always content yourself with a Chou Pistache, some hot chocolate, coquelicot macarons, or a candied clementine. And if you’re extra adventurous, you can just enjoy all of those in one sitting, cause that’s exactly the type of thing I would do.
Much as I’m looking to hunt down new taste sensations here in Paris, there’s a big part of me that loves to re-experience past knockouts. I go to Pierre Hermé every single day and buy a Montebello, which I then save for breakfast in the morning. Paired with a few poppy flower marshmallows and an espresso, there’s no finer way to greet the sunrise . . . or induce diabetes. Then there’s the Chou Pistache from Un Dimanche, the Éclair au Chocolat from Jacques Genin, or the Croissant Vanille from Café Pouchkine. I’ve had them all repeatedly in less than two weeks, when I could really have been branching out more. Oh, well.
Now, my big excitement in getting back to Des Gâteaux et du Pain was to snag their Pomme Tatin. Had someone been tapping into my internal monologue, when I first entered the shop last weekend, it would have come off as a guttural, nearly demonic rumble of “WHERE IS IT?!” As it turned out, it was nowhere. My beloved Pomme Tatin is gone for the season. I almost wanted to walk right back out, but given how much I love many of Madame Damon’s other pieces, I knew I could at least snag another past favorite. Then I spotted the subject of today’s review, the Poire Muscovado. Looking quasi-similar to the Pomme Tatin, I had a good feeling about this new addition to the vitrine. How thoroughly did it amuse me? Well . . .
Completely. The ever-talented Claire Damon has unleashed yet another work of unbridled brilliance upon us. Shielded beneath the lightly sweet and gloriously textured pear gelée that forms the dome of this delicious mound of gooey goodness, rests an equally sweetness-restrained crème. There’s much to love about its oh-so-smooth smoothness and its delicate touch of muscovado sugar. But just as its creamy waves are making their way about your palate, the more texturally complex and molassesy charms of the pear compote insinuate themselves. Ooo. Ahhh. It becomes immediately apparent how woefully underutilized the full range of sugars has been here in Paris . . . until now. Highest praises to Claire Damon for elevating the game. And, as if that all weren’t enough, there’s that delectable layer of pâte d’amande and the perfectly brusque and insouciant character of the not timid pâte sablée that chimes in and says, “Bonjour, mon ami!”
I just love the translucence of the gelée here. You can totally pick out the bands that are the crème and pear. Yum.
Tragically, when I was in the shop yesterday, the little guy here wasn’t in the case. I think I might have arrived a bit too early in the morning. So I had to “settle” for a mango tarte and the unexpected surprise of a new twist on Madame Damon’s Réligieuse Caramel. Expect to see that up here in the months ahead. It was fantastique.
So, yes, the Poire Muscovado gets
two three enthusiastic thumbs up. Is that more thumbs than I have? Yes. But it is that good. I’m excited to eat my way through some of the other new goodies she had in the case. I’m also jazzed to sample many of the breads and viennoiseries. The Bichon Cassis – a bit of a chausson aux pommes but with cassis inside and with a caramelized sugar exterior – might need to be popped in my “Other Goddies” section here, one day. Why must they make so many tasty things? The temptation. The relentless temptation of it all!