When Michael and I moved to Paris as part-timers 25 years ago, we settled in Saint Germain des Pres and never left. Early on, I dubbed our neighborhood "Sugar Plum Central" because there were so many great patisseries within an easy walk of our apartment. Today, there are even more. And there's a Fou de Patisserie boutique that features a selection of pastries from several different shops, most of them not nearby, so the choices are multiplied.
Recently, my friend Meg Zimbeck, founder of Paris by Mouth, strolled our neighborhood and returned to share these treasures. She also took these wonderful pictures.
While I wish there were a way to truly share these little gems with you, I hope that seeing them and reading about them will make you almost as happy as you'd be if we were tasting them together.
I'll be back on Friday - hope you'll be too. In the meantime, sweet dreams.
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This was one of my favorites of the bunch. When you see "charlotte" you know that there'll be ladyfingers and mousse, and yep, the first bite reveals chocolate ladyfingers and two different mousses: one bittersweet and the other vanilla. There's also crackly hazelnut feuilletine. The peaked top - don't you love the way it echoes the Pantheon in the background - is a whipped milk chocolate ganache with caramelized pecans. If you're near a Hugo & Victor patisserie, don't walk past it - walk in. Everything they do is gorgeous and surprising.
The Opéra Cake is a grand classic of French patisserie. It usually has six layers: three thin layers of almond cake, biscuit joconde, soaked with a coffee syrup; a layer of coffee crème; a layer of very dark chocolate ganache; and a smooth, flat top layer of chocolate. Credit for creating the cake goes to Dalloyau. They say they made their first one in 1955, although some skeptics say there was an Opéra cake in Paris in 1885 - I don't know if that's true or not. But say "Opéra" and I think of Dalloyau, whose cake was as good as ever.
Finding pastries in Jean-Paul Hévin's shop is always a surprise. Hévin is best known as a master chocolatier, but he's always got a small selection of pastries and they're always worth paying attention to. The one we had was a lovely mix of creamy and crunchy. There was a base of snappy puff pastry, a layer of chocolate cake, a pouf of bitter chocolate mousse and some almond meringue too. The finish was milk chocolate and caramelized almonds.
For years, Christophe Michalak was the wildly talented pastry chef who was as well known for being married to the actress Delphine McCarty and posing for the cover of just about every magazine in print as he was for his exceptional desserts. He trained with the best people, among them Pierre Hermé, was the chef-patissier at the sumptuous Plaza Athenée and then opened his own shops. There are always lines out the door and for good reasons, this dessert among them. It's got a pistachio cream, a crunchy layer of pistachio praline and a light coconut mousse, and it all sits on a soft pistachio cake. Kind of brilliant.
If Philippe Conticini made cardboard, I'd probably eat it - the chef is a genius. Here's his mini Paris-Brest. The dessert is a classic, created to celebrate the bicycle race between Paris and Brest, in Brittany - that's why the shape always mimics a tire. Classically, the pastry is composed of piped out rings of choux paste (cream puff dough) filled with hazelnut cream. Conticini's is classic-ish - it's got chunky caramelized hazelnuts in the middle. They change everything.
Angelina is famous for two things - their thick, luscious hot chocolate, which really is chocolate, and their Mont Blanc, named for the famous mountain. The pastry is made of meringue, whipped cream and chestnut cream that's piped through a special tip that makes it look like spaghetti. The French call it "vermicelles". These days, Angelina has expanded the family to included pistachio and caramel Mont Blanc pastries. Deliciousness multiplied.
Pierre Hermé is not only France's premier pastry chef, he's been the mentor to and the inspiration for dozens of the country's best chefs. Over the years, he's developed "collections" of pastries. His most famous is the Ispahan, the marriage of rose, lychee and raspberry, but his Infiniment chocolate, coffee, vanilla and lemon collections are also beloved. This Infiniment Citron tart is a play on the classic lemon tart. It's built on a lemon sablé or shortbread cookie, and includes lemon cream and gelée, candied lemon and crackly lemon meringue. That it's puckery tart and seems whisper light is some kind of sorcery.
It was a happy day when Arnaud Lahrer opened a patisserie in Saint Germain des Pres. Before that, I'd take the number 95 bus to the end of the line in Montmartre to find his sweets. This pastry is one of his signatures. It combines a coconut cake with two delicate creams, one white chocolate and the other passion fruit, and it includes cubes of poached mango and pineapple. Tropical sweetness in the chill of Paris.
Everything that Claire Damon makes at her beautiful boutique, Des Gateaux et du Pain, looks irresistible. The best part is that it always - always - tastes even better than it looks. No easy feat. This is her reading of the classic Tarte Tatin. The crust is a sablé topped with maple syrup cream, then a slender layer of ladyfingers. It's crowned with caramelized apples and finished with pecans. It may sound a little American, but it's Parisian through and through. I loved this one.
I've never been to Tartelettes, so I was delighted that Fou de Patisserie had this pastry from them - I loved it so much that I put a little on the side of my plate so that I could come back to it. The star of this beautifully constructed "tartelette" is black sesame, or goma, an ingredient common in Japanese baking, less common (rare, really) in French patisserie. (Although I remember having hauntingly good black sesame ice cream at Sadaharu Aoki many years ago. I can't be certain, but I think Aoki introduced black sesame pastry to Paris. Matcha pastries too - his Green Tea Opéra was a revelation.) In this stunner, there was a little cookie base topped with black sesame cake, yuzu crémeux, black sesame crunch, whipped cream, praline and namelaka. Namelaka is an extra-creamy filling made with chocolate, often white chocolate (I think that's what it was here), milk, cream and gelatin. I had never heard of it, but I'm now fascinated by it and will be making it soon. Stay tuned.
Another hat-tip to Fou de Patisserie for having this tall re-imagined baba au rhum. The dough for a baba is brioche, but commonly one that's a little less rich than the usual. Once it's baked, it's set out to dry. Then, once it's "thirsty," it's rolled around in a really boozy rum syrup, dunked and turned, so that it's saturated. The crown on this baba is rum pastry cream, vanilla whipped cream and Muscovado sugar. The look is modern, the dessert is old-fashioned and its pleasures are timeless.