Category: Pierre Herme
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.
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?
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.
Much as I think Jacques Genin makes the sun rise and set over the Parisian pastry scene, I’m growing to love Pierre Hermé a little more with each passing year. Why? Because, of all the Parisian shops, I think he does more to consistently push out a greater volume of fresh and original work. Is each new pastry or macaron a homerun? No, but some are. And do I find the idea of a 6-pastry “fetish” a little nutty? Sure. But I love that it lets me walk into his boutique and routinely discover something I’ve never had before. While other shops like La Pâtisserie des Rêves have almost completely stagnated, Monsieur Hermé is going strong after 10 years on the scene. Kudos, sir.
A few weeks ago, when I heard Pierre Hermé had come out with a baba au rhum, I thought to myself, “Just one?” Of course not. I soon discovered there are 8 of them. And had I been here in Paris earlier in their run, I would have eaten them all by now. At this point, however, there’s about a week left to their time in the sun, and I’m trying to squeeze in as many as I can, while not neglecting the smattering of new pastries from the other shops. First on the list is the Baba Ispahan. Shall we dig in?
I suppose it could be said this is less a traditional baba au rhum than it is a baba o’yum, rendered in raspberries, rose and litchi. In fact, the undulous waves of rose-imbued Mascarpone crème that top the piece are such a delight that I could feast on loving spoonfuls of them alone. But, wait, there’s more! Beneath that heavenly helping of gooey goodness rests a fairly sweet raspberry syrup-drenched brioche, accented just so with a moderately alcoholy dose of eau-de-vie de framboise sauvage. And, as if that weren’t tastebud tingling enough, buried at the heart of it all is a healthy jumble of raspberries and partially shredded litchis.
Texturally, the brioche is perhaps a bit dense. After all, it’s made to sit in the pastry case and hold-up well into the afternoon, so it can’t really be as mindbendingly tender as that of Jacues Genin’s made-to-order baba. But that minor issue aside, the flavors are fantastic, and I think the piece is even an improvement on Monsieur Hermé’s conventional Ispahan.
Mmmmmm … the sweet junction of rose Mascarpone and raspberry glazed brioche…
Maybe Monsieur Hermé should just make a raspberry or Ispahan dessert brioche. If the flagging La Pâtisserie des Rêves can have their amazing standard semi-sweet version, I think Monsieur Hermé can take the reigns on a flavored incarnation.
It almost looks naughty, doesn’t it?…
So, yes, although you have a very limited time to grab one of these before they’re gone from Monsieur Hermé’s vitrine, I’d suggest you snag it. Also consider the Baba Montebello, which is at least equally as tasty. And don’t forget the croissant Ispahan, conventional Montebello, tarte vanille, macaron vanille, and the dozen other things I always tell you you need to get there. Bon appétit.
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.