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?
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.