April 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
Just back from our regular easter trip to Paris and Fontainebleau and this year, Bayeux in Normandy too. The focus of the Paris part of my trip was taking part in a couple of pâtisserie classes at the Lenôtre school on the avenue des Champs Elysées (making chocolate desserts and the legendary Gâteau St Honoré). Whilst there, I took the opportunity to use my carnet of metro tickets and my own two feet to explore the city, visit some iconic bakeries and pâtisseries, and try and work out by observation the newest Parisian pâtisserie trends.
In the first of three Paris posts, I thought I’d begin with an update on the macaron trend. In the UK I think I can say they’re officially mainstream now that our local Marks and Spencer Altrincham branch regularly stocks its Own Brand pack 6 pack. Paris is of course awash with them and whilst there I took the opportunity to try a cutting-edge selection from Pierre Hermé and classic favourites from Ladurée.
First stop was the Pierre Hermé Avenue de l’Opéra shop (which, cashing in on present trends just sells macarons and chocolates, not pâtisserie). One unwanted consequence of the proliferation of food bloggers is that polite requests such as mine to take a quick photo inside the shop are sadly refused. So here is a photo of said shop from a safe distance outside:
Here’s the selection of macarons I bought and subsequently tasted. The turquoise presentation box is just a little lurid perhaps?
whereas the bag in which it was presented with its pale blue panels and cut-out broderie anglaise style leaves is much easier on the eye:
The Pierre Hermé macarons are characterised by their generous (some might say overgenerous?) fillings and bewildering palate of flavours. For the record, this is the latest menu with some of the names as fanciful as the flavour combinations. With the aid of Pierre Hermé’s Macaron book which gives instructions in meticulous detail for constructing his signature combinations, I’ve added a little extra information.
MOGADOR: milk chocolate and passion fruit – yellow shells speckled with cocoa powder; passion fruit milk chocolate ganache
INFINIMENT ROSE: rose & rose petals – pink shells; rose buttercream
INFINIMENT CHOCOLAT PORCELANA: pure chocolate origin Venezuala Porcelana – chocolate shells; Porcelana chocolate ganache
INFINIMENT CARAMEL: salted butter caramel – light brown shells coloured with yellow food colouring and coffee extract; salted butter caramel filling
CARAQUILLO: chocolate, coffee & aniseed – chocolate shells; chocolate ganache flavoured with aniseed
AMERICANO PAMPLEMOUSSE: orange, campari and candied grapefruit – orange shells; white chocolate ganache flavoured with Campari, grapefruit juice and orange juice; cubes of candied spiced grapefruit peel embedded in the ganache filling
CRÈME BRÛlÉE: vanilla and caramel shards
INFINIMENT CASSIS: blackcurrant – purple shells; white chocolate ganache made with blackcurrant and redcurrant juice rather than cream; one or two whole blackcurrants in the centre
ISPAHAN: rose, lychee & raspberry – deep pink shells sprinkled with red coloured sugar or ruby dusting powder; white chocolate ganache mixed with pureed preserved lychees and flavoured with rose extract; square of concentrated fresh raspberry jelly in the centre
INFINIMENT MENTHE FRAÎCHE: mint – blue-green shells; white chocolate ganache flavoured with an infusion of fresh mint leaves and Crème de Menthe
INFINIMENT JASMIN: jasmine flowers and jasmine tea – shells whitened with titanium dioxide with dried jasmine flowers sprinkled on top; jasmine tea white chocolate ganache flavour boosted with jasmine essential oil;
MÉTISSÉ: orange, carrot and Ceylon cinnamon – orange cinnamon shells; carrot, orange & white chocolate ganache
PLÉNITUDE: chocolate and caramel – one chocolate shell; one caramel brown shell (coffee extract and food colouring); milk and dark chocolate ganache mixed with salted butter caramel
PIETRA: caramelised hazelnut and crispy praline
HUILE D’OLIVE À LA MANDARINE: olive oil and mandarin – one olive green shell (green colouring and coffee extract); one orange shell; white chocolate ganache flavoured with vanilla mixed with extra virgin olive oil
MOSAÏC: pistachio, Ceylon cinnamon & griottine – natural shells sprinkled with red sugar or ruby dusting powder; white chocolate ganache flavoured and coloured with cinnamon and pistachio paste; stoned griottine (trade name for morello cherry preserved in kirsch) in the centre
ÉDEN: peach, apricot and saffron – peach coloured shells; white chocolate ganache infused with saffron mixed with purée of fresh white peach and small cubes of soft-dried apricot
INFINIMENT VANILLE: vanilla from Tahiti, Mexico & Madagascar – natural coloured shells flavoured with vanilla seeds; white chocolate ganache flavoured with 3 types of vanilla pod
MÉDÉLICE: lemon and crispy praline hazelnut wafer – yellow shells sprinkled with hazelnut wafer shards; natural colour lemon cream filling
INFINIMENT CITRON: lemon – yellow shells; natural colour lemon cream filling
They sound amazing don’t they? The truth is though that sample one with your eyes closed and you’d be hard pressed to say what the flavour is. There’s a healthy dose of psychological trickery going on here and the apparent flavour is boosted if you a) your macaron is strongly coloured and b) you can read the description of what you’re supposed to be tasting.
That said, the macarons tasted pretty good, even the mint one which was surprisingly subtle and fragrant rather than being filled with a toothpaste-like substance as I joked it might be before tasting it.
I didn’t make it to Hermé’s flagship store which is on the Rue Bonaparte on the left bank. He now has a myriad of shops throughout Paris, like the one I visited on the Avenue de l’Opéra selling just macarons and chocolate. Presumably these are shipped in daily by the dozen rather than being lovingly crafted on the premises. Well, I suppose you have to ride that trend while it lasts…
The original and classic macaroon maker Ladurée is playing the same game. You can load up on macarons in various locations throughout Paris, even at their newest outlet Terminal 2 Charles de Gaulle airport, which is exactly what I did. You can opt for the classic eau-de-nil and gold packaging:
Or the dinky duck-egg blue and shocking pink “Hello Kitty” presentation box aimed fair and square at the Japanese market:
The current Ladurée list of flavours runs as follows:
Café – coffee
Caramel – caramel
Cassis Violette – blackcurrant and violet
Chocolat – chocolate
Fleur d’Oranger – orange flower water
Framboise – raspberry
Pistache – pistachio
Réglisse – liquorice (black)
Rose – rose water
Vanille – vanilla
Incroyable Guimauve Amande – incredible almond marshmallow
Citron – lemon
Fruits rouges – red fruit
Fleurs de cerisier – cherry blossom
Chocolat pure origine Colombie – Colombian chocolate
Praliné – praline
Marron – chestnut
Pomme Verte – green apple
Chocolat au lait – milk chocolate
Read the small print underneath the box to discover the list of ingredients needed to make this range of flavours:
sugar; almonds; eggs; butter; cream; cocoa; blackcurrants; raspberries; pistachios; chestnuts; coconut; hazelnuts; mint; lemons; morello cherries; whole milk powder; glucose syrup; cornflour; pectin; coffee; rose syrup (sugar syrup, natural red colouring, rose flavour); redcurrant; dark rum; honey; candied fruit (sugar, glucose, citron, ginger, lemon, orange); flavourings: orange flower, citron, lemongrass, chestnut, mint, mimosa, violet (invert sugar, propylene glycol, alcohol); cinnamon; star anise; ginger, gelatine (not porcine); emulsifier: soya lecithin; natural vanilla extract; vanilla; lime; rose essence; salt; sunflower oil; vegetable fat; barley malt extract; emulsifier: glycerides of fatty acids; colours: luteine, carmine, carminique, carantho, chlorophyll, spinach, coal black, brilliant blue fcf, carotinoids, caramel.
If you still feel like buying some here’s where to go:
Pierre Hermé Paris addresses
72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arrondissement (flagship store – the full range)
185 rue de Vaugirard, 15th – pâtisserie, macarons, chocolates
just macarons and chocolates:
58 avenue Paul Doumer, 16th
39 avenue de l’Opéra, 2nd
Galeries Lafayette concession, amongst shoes in the basement (!); home on ground floor; and designers on the 1st floor, 40 boulevard Haussmann, 9th
Publicis Drugstore concession, 133 avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th
Printemps Parly II concession, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Le Chesnay nr Versailles
Ladurée Paris and surrounding area addresses
16-18 rue Royale, 8th arrondissement
21 rue Bonaparte, 6th
75 avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th – AT DATE OF WRITING CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT
Orly airport West Terminal
Charles de Gaulle airport Terminal 2
Printemps department store concession, 64 Boulevard Haussmann, 9th
Chateau de Versailles, Versailles
April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
Actually this is not a macaron but vrai Parisien Philippe, expert instructor for the pâtisserie class I took last Saturday, entirely devoted to the making of the perfect macaroon.
The venue was the Lenôtre amateur cookery school in the grand looking Pavillon d’Elysée in the heart of Paris’ 8th arrondissement.
On the agenda were three classic macaroon recipes: vanilla, coffee and chocolate. I’m feeling too lazy to write up all 3 recipes in full, so here they are as photos. I’ve translated and annotated the base vanilla recipe below, but have taken the liberty of halving the quantities to make the numbers more manageable for the home baker.
My fellow course participants were 3 Parisian ladies and 1 man who turned out to be a professional pastry chef. I decided to share my workbench with him and pick up some extra tips. The 6 of us shared a spacious kitchen nattily decorated with orange walls, sleek white cabinets and lots of chrome and stainless steel.
Chef Philippe was a little stern at first and asked for no photography. As the morning went on, he gradually warmed and melted and by the end of the session, the no photography rule was relaxed as you can see.
All was of course in rapid Parisian French. This was clearly going to be a workout for my schoolgirl French as well as honing my pâtisserie skills.
So, what did I learn?
1) All the recipes include a mystery ingredient “tant pour tant amandes” which is nothing more than a 50:50 mixture of ground almonds and icing sugar. This is a mix that the professional pastry kitchen already has on hand as it’s the starting point for a number of recipes. It’s not something that the domestic cook needs that often so I’ve restated the recipe in terms of the underlying quantities of ground almonds and icing sugar.
2) The base recipe specifies vanilla powder rather than the more usual extract or paste. Ever wondered what to do with old vanilla pods other than them into a jar of caster sugar? Once the old pods are thoroughly dry, you can crush them in a spice grinder/ mini food processor to make a fragrant powder perfect for use in baking. I haven’t tried this at home yet but will give it a go with my next batch of old pods.
3) The egg whites are weighed for an accurate result. A medium egg white weighs a little over 30g so you’ll need 3 eggs for the base recipe I give below.
4) I need to mention the nasty subject of additives. Although not listed amongst the ingredients, Chef Philippe casually added a couple of pinches of white food colouring to his macaroon mix. On closer inspection, this turned out to be E171 titanium dioxide. At best this seems entirely unnecessary – the finished macaroons were an attractive toasty gold colour – and at worst possibly dangerous.
Philippe also added yellow food colouring to his coffee macaroons, again not in the recipe, and again unnecessary as the coffee extract used to flavour the macaroons (make your own by dissolving instant coffee granules in a very little hot water or consider that old standby Camp Coffee Essence) will also lend them a little colour.
Finally, the chocolate macaroon recipe specifies a massive 82 combined drops of black, red, blue and yellow food colourings to turn the mix into the requisite rich dark brown. When I try these at home, I will make do with a more delicate brown colour provided by the cocoa powder alone.
5) I learned to use a much smaller piping nozzle than the one I’d used previously. The recipe specifies nozzles in the range between nos. 7 to 10. I’d estimate that the one we used in the class was about 12mm in diameter.
6) We used very convenient big disposable clear plastic piping bags. I’ve stocked up on these to bring home with me.
7) We used a powerful professional food processor to pulse the ground almond and icing sugar mix. I’m not sure if a domestic processor works quite as well but I’ve had good results from my Kenwood liquidiser.
8) Talking of my Kenwood mixer, this was the machine of choice in the Lenôtre kitchen. Chef Philippe prefers it to the more modish Kitchenaid.
9) To bake the macaroons, we used doubled-up (one stacked on top of another) baking trays lined with unbleached non-stick baking paper, again just like the stuff I use at home. The double trays mean a more even heat distribution.
10) The most versatile kitchen tool we used was a little plastic scraper, the kind used for bread making. This was a fantastic stand-in for a spatula and dead handy for filling piping bags, emptying bowls, rubbing ground almonds through a sieve etc. I’ve brought one of these home with me too.
11) The consistency of the macaroon mixture is key to the shape of the finished product. The ground almond and sugar mix was folded into the meringue mix using a spatula in three phases, with 10 turns of the bowl for each addition. Then comes the key final mixing with a spatula, a further turning and folding of the mixture until it becomes smooth and glossy, holding its shape but only just. There is a special word for this final mixing “macaronner”. If you don’t get it quite right, the mixture will be too stiff and the piped discs won’t flow to a nice flat circle and will have little tails instead of being smooth on top.
12) When piping the discs, hold the tip of the nozzle directly above (90 degrees) and very close to the baking tray. Squeeze using the palm of the right hand against the top of the piping bag for a count of 3, stop the pressure then execute a quick flick of the wrist as if writing a comma with a fountain pen to release the nozzle.
13) Pipe in neat rows and keep a good distance (3cm or more) between the discs in order to ensure a good airflow and even baking. We piped 28 discs on a tray, a row of 6 then a row of 5 in the gaps, another row of 6, another of 5 then a final row of 6.
14) To ensure that the cooked discs with their still soft centres peeled off the paper easily, we carefully poured cold water onto the hot baking tray as soon as it came out of the oven. To do this, you need to set the tray at a slight slant over the sink and carefully lift up the edge of the paper before pouring water beneath it from a small jug.
15) I’ve never paid special attention to filling macaroons previously. I’ve simply spread them with buttercream using a small crank-handled palette knife. I’ve now learned to make a silky-textured buttercream with a crème anglaise base which is piped onto a macaroon disc in a similar way to piping the disc itself. Sandwich with a second disc, press lightly and you have a level filled macaroon with a perfectly even line of filling around it’s circumference.
16) Finally, the completed filled macaroons should be left to mature overnight in the refrigerator before eating. As if!
Apparently they can be frozen successfully if you need to make a big batch for a wedding, party, family celebration or similar.
OK so that’s the rather lengthy preamble. Time for a couple of pictures of the finished product. First, our neat rows of filled vanilla macaroons:
Next, the top layer of our very desirable Lenôtre cake boxes filled with the chocolate and coffee macaroons ready to take home:
Recipe for vanilla macaroons
Makes 25 to 30 filled macaroons
For the macaroon discs
125g ground almonds
225g icing sugar
100g egg whites
25g caster sugar
2 to 3g vanilla powder
For the vanilla buttercream
37g whole milk
15g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
30g egg yolks
Further 15g caster sugar
100g softened unsalted butter
Method for the macaroon discs
Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar together. Liquidise or pulse in a food processor for 10 to seconds and push the resulting mixture through a sieve.
Put the egg whites into a mixing bowl with about one tenth of the caster sugar. Begin whisking at a medium speed (level 3 on a Kenwood electric mixer) until the mixture reaches the soft peak stage. Gradually whisk in the remaining caster sugar and whisk until the mixture becomes a smooth, glossy, stiff meringue.
Gradually fold in the sieved ground almond and icing sugar mix using a spatula. Do this in 3 or 4 batches. Continue to fold the mixture with the spatula until it becomes smooth and glossy and a little looser but not too runny for piping well.
Using a piping bag fitted with a nozzle in the range 7 to 10 (10 to 15 diameter) pipe individual macaroon discs 2cm in diameter onto a tray lined with silicone paper. Space them at least 3cm apart. Leave the macaroons to dry for 15 minutes or so before baking.
Place a second tray beneath the macaroons than place in an oven preheated to 160 degrees C. Turn the heat down to 140 degrees C and bake for anywhere between 12 to 18 minutes until the macaroons have puffed up a little and have coloured lightly. They should have cooked, crisp bases but still be soft in the centre. Start checking after 12 minutes.
Remove the cooked macaroons from the oven and immediately pour a little cold water onto the hot tray UNDER the baking paper to form steam and help release the macaroons from the paper. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so then remove from the paper onto a cooling rack with help of a small crank handled palette knife. Leave to cool completely before sandwiching together with piped vanilla buttercream.
Method for vanilla buttercream
Heat together the milk, 15 g caster sugar and the vanilla pod. Bring to just below boiling point then remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, using a balloon whisk, whisk together the egg yolks and the other 15g sugar until the mixture lightens in coloured just a little. Remove the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add to the mix. Pour the warm milk over the egg yolks and sugar and whisk together. Return the mix to the pan and, stirring the mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon, heat gently to 82 degrees C to make a custard/crème anglaise which has thickened just a little to the coating a spoon stage.
Pour the cooked custard into the bowl of a Kenwood mixer or equivalent and whisk at high speed until cool. The mixture should now be much thicker, pale in colour and softly creamy in texture.
Gradually incorporate the softened butter which you have previously creamed to ensure it’s the right texture for easy incorporation.
Keep cool if not using immediately and bring back to the right soft consistency for piping by gently warming OVER hot water.
That’s it – good luck with making these at home!
École Amateur Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre
10 avenue des Champs Elysées
Tel +33 (0)1 42 65 97 60
March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
We’re still all going crazy for dainty pastel-coloured Parisian macarons. Meanwhile the Swiss firm of Sprüngli has quietly been making its own version going under the odd name of Luxemburgerli (little Luxemburgers) for some years now.
Above and below are displays at the very conveniently located Zürich airport branch of Sprüngli where we passed through last week en route to our half term ski holiday:
Pictured are a pyramid of vanilla Luxemburgerli plus trays of cinnamon (Zimt) and raspberry (Himbeer) flavours – I forgot to check what flavour the dramatic black ones on the left were. Dare I say it, these are daintier and more delicate even than the Parisian macaron, perfect for nibbling with coffee on the train journey to Luzern and beyond:
How do they come to be made in Zürich and how did they come by their odd name? According to the Sprüngli website www.spruengli.com the recipe originated at the Confiserie Namur in Luxembourg, a business with which the Sprüngli family had close ties. Patissiers from Zürich would go and work in the Duchy of Luxembourg and vice versa. It was in the late 1950s that one of the Luxembourg trainees started producing macarons in Zürich and they were given the nickname Luxemburgerli (the Swiss are very fond of the diminutive) in his honour.
Demand grew gradually and Sprüngli today produces 650kg of Luxemburgerli every day making them the company’s best seller.
So maybe the current trend for Parisian macarons is more than a fad and is here to stay?
January 24, 2011 § 1 Comment
My lovely neighbour Deborah (who is married to a Scot), knowing of my interest in all things macaroon introduced me to the Scottish macaroon a couple of weeks ago. To accompany a cup of coffee she brought out a Lees original macaroon bar. This is more a confectionery item than a cake or biscuit – a very sweet fondant centre coated in chocolate and toasted coconut. Apparently this Scottish delicacy was originally made with a sweetened mashed potato (I kid you not…) centre but as this goes off very quickly it’s now made with vegetable fat and sugar.
As its Burns Night tomorrow, I thought I’d have a go at an authentic homemade version, a sweet something to follow our haggis and neeps.
It wasn’t hard to track down a recipe on the web. I consulted these 3 sources:
All the recipes were pretty similar but the third one has the clearest instructions and good pics as well.
I set to work on my unlikely quest to turn a couple of potatoes into a sort of deconstructed bounty bar.
I started with 125g prepared weight of mashed potato – this is just one and a bit medium potatoes – as I discovered, you don’t need much.
I had planned to weigh and document accurately but these ambitions went out of the door when I ran out of icing sugar part way through the process and had to put the project on hold overnight until I could buy some more.
Into the mashed potato I beat an unbelievable quantity of icing sugar – I would guess 375g, maybe even 500g. You just keep going until the mixture is thick and doughy enough to handle.
A very odd thing happened as I started beating in the sugar – the mixture liquefied and became a translucent wallpaper pasty gloop. Never fear, just keep adding more icing sugar and I promise you, it will come together to form a fondant like substance.
Next, I pressed my mixture into a tray and popped it into the freezer for 20 minutes or so to firm up a little.
Meanwhile I toasted quickly in a hot oven 50g or so of dessicated coconut. Beware, the difference between toasted and burnt coconut is about 45 seconds as I learned to my cost. So I began again with another 50g of dessicated coconut…I then mixed the toasted coconut with about twice the quantity of untoasted to produce a lovely tweedy effect – very appropriate for a Scottish sweet.
Next, i melted 2 whole bars (200g) of Green and Black’s chocolate – a mixture of milk and dark. All dark would have been just too restrained and sophisticated. I wanted the full milky sugary hit to complement the toothrotting supersweet centre.
With the mise en place sorted, it was time to complete the bars. I cut my potato fondant into 7 or 8 fingers. I then picked up a finger and shaped it into a sausage before half dipping, half rolling it in the melted chocolate, thence into the toasted coconut (a bit like egg and breadcrumbing a croquette or escalope). As I dipped and coated I held the bar very lightly, shaping and patting as I went. The completed bar was then placed onto silicone paper and popped into the fridge to set.
Here’s one of the little beauties ready to eat – despite inauspicious beginnings, it actually tasted rather good…
January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment
Just had a look at my blog stats for 2010 and apparently had over 12,000 visits last year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the page most visited was a post entitled “Macaroons Made in Manchester” which detailed my first not particularly successful attempt at making Parisian style macarons.
I imagine most people were looking for a supplier for these dainty morsels not wanting to see what some bumbling amateur was attempting to turn out.
I hate to disappoint so I’m delighted to report that there are at least 3 places where you can buy macaroons in Manchester now:
1) English Rose Bakery http://www.englishrosebakery.com/ was started up in June 2010 by friends Emma Brown and Wendy Lewis – they bake from premises in Oldham Street Manchester and sell at farmers’ and food markets in Chorlton and around Manchester. Website pics look gorgeousm very professional – I haven’ tried them yet but hope to catch up at their next event on Jan 15th.
2) My friend Gywneth and business partner Mike have set up “Vintage Afternoon Teas” and I believe sell a box of 10 macaroons for £6.00. Phone 07811 684 365 with enquiries.
3) Finally the mass-market option – Waitrose now with stores in Manchester, Altrincham and Wilmslow stock a box of 12 Maison Blanc macaroons priced at £6.49.
April 22, 2010 § 2 Comments
We took a day out from our usual walking and climbing routine in the Forest of Fontainebleau to make the one hour drive west to Chartres. Chartres is dominated by its glorious gothic cathedral which soars out of the plains and can be seen from miles away. Here it is on a beautiful spring morning:
The grandeur of the building, the intricate carving throughout, the stained glass and the view from the belltower were all uplifting. Only the noise (I can’t bring myself to call it music) in the nave as we entered the cathedral marred our visit: a church service was in progress conducted by a guitar playing and singing group, loudly amplified and execrable. There was no-one attending the service but the performers themselves. More than a little self-indulgent.
After a visit to the cathedral, the modern-day pilgrim can take refreshment at the Bistrot de la Cathédrale. Despite its proximity to the cathedral (No 1, Cloisters Tel 00 33 (0)2 37 36 59 60) this is no mere tourist trap but an outpost of Chartres highly regarded “Le Georges” restaurant within the Grand Monarque hotel (22 Place des Epars Tel 00 33 (0)2 37 18 15 15).
Our visit was on Easter Monday so most shops were closed but we still had chance to wander through the streets. Chartres has a beautiful market hall:
And I spotted this wonderful old-fashioned butcher’s in the old town:
In terms of regional specialites, local pâtisseries sell sweets called Mentchikoffs. These are praline in a crispy meringue coating and were invented in 1893 to celebrate the Franco-Russian pact of that year. The white meringue poetically represents Russian snow. There’s also Pâté de Chartres made from mixed game birds served either en croûte or from a terrine. Another speciality as is the French classic Poule au Pot (pot roast chicken). King Henri IV who famously wanted to put a Poule au Pot on every table in France was the only king to be crowned at Chartres hence the connection.
I was mistaken in thinking that the green and yellow Chartreuse liqueurs are from Chartres – the liqueur is made by Carthusian monks in Voiron near Grenoble. The drink local to Chartres is the beer “L’Eurélienne”. Sadly there was no opportunity to drink some that day.
So that’s almost it for my quick gastro-tour of Chartres. I think it would be a fantastic place to be whisked away for a weekend – wonderful architecture, places to eat and drink and not overrun with tourists.
But before I finish I have to mention these macaroons spotted in the window of a pâtisserie:
Your eyes are not deceiving you. These are sweet/savoury macaroons and the flavours on offer really are salmon, foie gras, blue roquefort cheese, and, to cap it all, tomato ketchup! This isn’t witty, it isn’t clever, it’s just yucky.
April 21, 2010 § 2 Comments
I made a flying visit to Paris during our Fontainebleau-based week over the Easter holidays. It’s an easy train journey of just under an hour on the commuter service from Fontainebleau-Avon station to the magnificent Gare de Lyon.
One day I will make a proper visit to the Train Bleu bistro and restaurant within the station but for now I’m just content to look:
After taking in lunch and a visit to the Chopin exhibition at the Cité de la Musique way up in Paris’ north-eastern corner, I decided to hop off the metro 2 stops early and walk back to the Gare de Lyon in the hope of taking in some gastronomic sensory experiences along the way. Bizarrely, most of the district I chose to walk through seemed to be a mecca in shopping terms for either motorbike or DIY enthusiasts. I finally struck gastro-gold in the form of august Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau as I walked down the Boulevard Beaumarchais on the approach to the Place de la Bastille:
The classic French Opéra cakes in the window looked absolutely stunning – sleek, glossy dark chocolate squares with a discreet flash of gold leaf. Given the shop’s proximity to the Bastille opera house, home to the Paris opera since 1989, I just had to have one.
Inside, the shop has the hushed spare opulent feel of a designer jewelry store, complete with security guard and cashier’s office. While I waited for my precious cake to be taken from the window display and packaged in the covetable burgundy Dalloyau bag, my eye was caught by a display of, you guessed it, yet more macaroons:
Browsing the rather lovely Dalloyau spring collection brochure (it really is like couture) I see that Dalloyau claim to have their own 300 hundred year old secret macaroon recipe. That would suggest a date of 1710 which would, if strictly true, make their macaroons a century older than the Ladurée ones. There is clearly scope for some historical research here. The brochure also says that the special recipe is lower in sugar and higher in their own almond paste to give a more flavoursome macaroon. They also make a big deal about using only natural plant derived colours and also the ultra freshness of their macaroons. Also for the record, their permanent collection of flavours is as follows: chocolate, coffee, caramel, vanilla, pistachio, raspberry, earl grey tea, Cognac and lemon. Clearly I had to put Dalloyau’s macaroon claims to the test.
Here is the little box of macaroons I brought home with me. I chose raspberry, pistachio, chocolate and salted butter caramel flavours:
And here is my gorgeous Opéra cake:
A little research revealed that Dalloyau is a fair-sized business: there are 7 more branches in Paris as well as the one I visited. The business has a long history having been founded back in 1802 by a canny former baker to the royal court. Post-revolution, he correctly thought that the bourgeois populace of Paris would want to have a taste of what had previously been reserved for the aristocracy. He clearly took Marie-Antoinette’s dictum “let them eat cake” seriously. Not only that but Dalloyau was the inventor of the classic French opéra cake which my Larousse tells me is a “cake composed of biscuit Joconde (almond sponge) soaked in strong coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. An Opéra, whether an individual or larger cake is always rectangular and 3 cm thick. The top is covered with icing decorated with gold leaf on which the word “Opéra” is written.”
Back home I noticed an article on the firm not in a food publication in Real Deals, a private equity magazine. Paris-based Perceva Group has just acquired 50% of the company which has been struggling financially lately. The following Financial Times article of 19 March 2010 is informative:
Who would have thought that a chance visit to a cake shop could provoke a history lesson and an insight into the world of economics!
Back to the real question, what did the stuff taste like? I didn’t expect to be bowled over by the macaroons but they really were a cut above – the pistachio ones were a much more delicate shade of green than the Cassel ones (see my previous post of 21 April 2010) and tasted fresh and intensely nutty. The same was true of the raspberry ones – they delivered a real fruit hit. From now on these are the benchmark.
As for the Opéra, served in dainty pieces, this was a divine after dinner morsel, an ultra-sophisticated version of the more rustic Italian Tiramisu.
The only remaining question is can a bunch of private equity investors really run a cake shop?
Dalloyau flagship store
101, rue du Faubourg St Honoré, 75008 Paris
00 33 (0)1 42 99 90 00
5, boulevard Beaumarchais, 75004 Paris
00 33 (0)1 48 87 89 88