So, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Life in France was hectic for the last couple of months, but I have so much to share now that I am settled in at home!
Prior to Grignan, I had been planning (and budgeting for) a pastry tour of Paris as a key part of mine and Elvir’s France trip. The history, technique, dedication and art of French patisserie is a huge source of inspiration for me. Paris was my chance to get a taste of some of the older shops and newer pastry chefs that I have been reading about.
Our first stop was Pierre Herme – located in the historic, florid Galeries Lafeyette Haussmann. It’s a perfect backdrop for the decadence of these macarons – plump with cream pushing out from their coloured feet. Presentation, richness and signature flavours are the standard at Pierre Herme.
Infinement vanille (vanillas from Tahiti, Mexico and Madagascar) expressed all of the pleasantness, comfort and yearning inherent in vanilla. Infinement rose was boastfully rose, like biting into a mouthful of petals in the form of a smooth cream. My favourite was the mandarin and olive oil: bright, rich, exciting with that light edge of mandarin bitterness. We also sampled the infinement caramel (salted-butter caramel), infiniment chocolat paineiras (pure origin brazilian dark chocolate, paineiras plantation), Mogador (milk chocolate and passionfruit) and Yasamine (Jasmine, Mango, Candied Grapefruit).
Cafe Pouchkine was one patisserie I was determined to visit. Originating in Moscow, Pouchkine has a long history, with their modern cafes run by chef patissiere Damien Picsioneri. Their pastries are as refined as they are opulent, like showpieces lined up under glass; draped in ganache, brushed pearlescent, scattered with gold leaf. In this Tarte Chocolate I experienced textures married together in a way that I have never felt before. The kind of dessert that begs the question – How did they do that? Will I ever have the skills to make something that beautiful? Elvir and I were arrested in that moment watching each perfect, gleaming forkful slip away.
Tara, pastry chef from Detour Cafe (and wonderful blogger), told me that I absolutely had to visit Sadaharu Aoki and try his black sesame eclair. Elvir and I set off to the nearest location and arrived minutes before it closed, with only one black sesame eclair remaining. Meant to be! We took a seat at a nearby cafe, ordered espressos and I took my first bite of that life-changing sesame beauty. Toasty, creamy, warm, like a giant hug for your tongue. It made me giddy with possibility.
When I returned to Paris alone for my last few days in France I visited the historical Maison Laduree. I tried all of their macaron offerings in 2 visits which included vanilla, strawberry marshmallow, pistachio, rose petal, orange blossom, lemon, chocolate.
These were the highlights: their salted caramel held a potently salty caramel filling. Every bite made me sad that it was going to end eventually. Their signature Marie Antoinette tea had hints of black tea, citrus and light sweetness. The earl grey was consolingly pleasant, enlivened with small leaves of tea on the shell. Apricot, coffee and ice mint were other standouts.
I discovered Un Dimanche a Paris while happily wandering. As described on their Facebook, this pastry is a celebration of summer using the flavours of the south. It consisted of a gelee and confit of vine peach, with thyme/lemon/vanilla ganache, atop a almond/hazelnut sable. As with most of the pastries I sampled in France, this was understated in sweetness. Instead it focused on the beauty of ingredients: herbs, peaches, lemon brightness, punctuated with the right amount of richness. Such a wonderful balance of texture and flavour.