May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
During April’s trip to Paris to brush up my pâtisserie skills at Lenôtre’s École des Amateurs, I took the opportunity to wander the streets, gaze into the shop windows, read the magazines and do a little tasting. I’ve distilled this into my take on the latest pâtisserie trends.
Trend 1: Choux puffs
Move over macarons, choux puffs are set to be the latest small cake trend, or so young entrepreneur Lauren Koumetz hopes. She set up her boutique bakery named Popelini in the Marais district last year. Cannily, the tiny patisserie selling just choux puffs is just across the road from world-famous bakery Poilâne’s newest outlet in the rue Debelleyme (see my previous post). Eagle-eyed viewers will have seen Rachel Khoo popping into the shop in Episode 2 of her recent BBC 2 series “Little Paris Kitchen”.
The concept is simple – take a choux pastry puff, fill it with flavoured crème pâtissière and top it with a disc of prettily coloured fondant icing. The appearance of these choux puffs and their flavour combinations clearly owes a lot to the macaron trend, and indeed the pastry chef at Popelini, Alice Barday, is ex- Ladurée.
There are 9 classic flavours in the current range – these include dark chocolate, lemon, salted caramel, pistachio/griottine (more on this one later) – plus an ever changing ‘flavour of the day’.
Trend 2: Pistachios
The love affair with the pistachio nut goes on and on. It must have something to do with their intriguing green colour as well as their delicate flavour. In the on-trend pâtisseries, every classic tart or entremet traditionally prepared with ground almonds has been reinvented with pistachios. The pairing of griottine cherries (morello cherries preserved in kirsch) with pistachios, whether in the filling for a choux puff (see above) or in a frangipane tart is increasingly popular.
There’s even a shop, La Pistacherie, which opened in mid 2011, devoted to the pistachio nut in all its forms on the Rue Rambuteau just around the corner from Beaubourg, the Pompidou Centre:
Trend 3: citrus
Forget familiar lemon and orange, now it’s got to be mandarin, grapefruit (ideally delicate pink grapefruit), or more exotically still bergamot or the Japanese favourite yuzu. The Japanese are avid buyers of French pâtisserie – just look at the big names that have opened up branches in Tokyo – and are in turn bringing their influence to bear – the green tea powder matcha is found flavouring all sorts of cakes and biscuits now. The tart, aromatic yuzu described in flavour terms as being similar to the grapefruit and mandarin is very popular in Japan but sadly well nigh impossible to get hold of in the UK. I have seen prepacked juice available for sale in specialist Japanese stores so maybe the fresh fruit is on its way.
Not strictly citrus, but the herb lemon-thyme is popping up all over the place whether perking up emigré pâtissier Eric Lanlard’s lemon cake or adorning a Pain de Sucre (see below) fig tart.
Trend 4: all things American
Parisians have fallen in love with brownies (charmingly pronounced as ‘brew-neez’), luscious cheesecake and simple-to-make pound cakes and muffins and have made them their own. You’ll find them everywhere now – peeking out of chi-chi pâtisserie windows and on sale to grab and go as you pass through the Gare du Nord or wherever. On-trend boulangerie-pâtisserie Huré on the rue Rambuteau has an enticing display of American-inpsired loaf cakes in the window with flavours such as white chocolate and cranberry and pecan to the fore.
Trend 5: Classics reinvented
A step further down the rue Rambuteau and you’ll find Pain de Sucre (‘sugarloaf’), one of Paris’ hottest establishments, regularly featuring on top 10 lists of Paris’ best pâtisseries. Renowned for its flavoured breads, oversized jars of pastel-coloured marshmallows, reinvented classics abound here. Its rum baba, renamed ‘Le Baobab’ is sold complete with miniature pharmacist’s dropper of rum to allow for dosing of alcohol just the way you want it.
It’s not just in Pain de Sucre that you’ll find classics reinvented. The space age showroom featured in several episodes of the BBC 2 programme “Little Paris Kitchen” is Philippe Conticini’s “Pâtisserie des Rêves” (Pâtisserie of Dreams). Rachel Khoo, the chef within the Little Paris Kitchen is shown admiring a reinvented chocolate éclair, a sculpted beauty almost unrecognisable as an éclair displayed like an artwork beneath its own glass dome. You can find pictures of it plus detailed tasting notes here.
Places like this lead the way, but everywhere you’ll find classic large cakes like the gâteaux Opéra or St Honoré reinvented either as small individual with sophisticated pared-down decoration. The mini Opéras will sport a lacquered chocolate glaze, as dark and shiny as a Steinway grand piano, ornamented only by a shred of pure gold leaf. Alternatively, classic cakes can be miniaturised and given a new flavour twist like Ladurée’s billowy pink raspberry and rose miniature St Honoré. You can see this here. My last two links are to US citizen Adam’s beautifully obsessive blog http://www.parispatisseries.com/ dedicated, as the name suggests to all things sweet in Paris – you couldn’t find a better starting point if you were planning a food-based trip to the French capital.
As the French are voting for a new president today, I’m going to sign off with a French joke. I suspect it may be the last we hear of Sarko for some time:
Q: What is Nicolas Sarkozy’s favourite cake?
A: Brownie (pronounced like ‘Bruni’ in French!)
29, rue Debelleyme
Tel +33 (0)1 44 61 31 44
Opening hours – check website but currently Tuesday to Saturday 11.00 to 19.30; Sunday 10.00 to 15.00
La Pistacherie (website still under construction at time of writing)
67, rue Rambuteau
Tel +33 (0)1 42 78 84 55
Opening hours “every day of the week”
18, rue Rambuteau
Tel +33 (0)1 42 72 32 18
Pain de Sucre
Tel +33 (0)1 45 74 68 92
Opening hours: 10.00 – 20.00 closed Tuesday and Wednesday
La Pâtisserie des Rêves
93 rue du Bac
Tel +33 (0)1 42 84 00 82
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 9.00 – 20.00; Sunday 9.00 – 16.00
111 rue de Longchamp
Tel +33 (0)1 47 04 00 24
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 10.00 – 20.00; Saturday and Sunday 9.00 – 20.00
April 29, 2011 § 2 Comments
You have to wonder what the point is of the tourist office in Pithiviers. After 10 minutes’ browsing the leaflets for various châteaux, parks and gardens I was none the wiser about the two things for which Pithiviers is most famous. The first is its eponymous cake, an indulgent confection of buttery puff pastry with an almond filling, and the second is its notorious second world war transit camp where French Jews were rounded up and detained before being sent on to Auschwitz.
We were spending the easter holidays in France based in and around Paris and Fontainebleau. On a sunny Monday morning we decided over breakfast to head off to Pithiviers, a typical French market town some 50 miles South of Paris.
A: a rather frivolous excursion to try and track down a genuine Pithiviers pastry.
The less frivolous outcome was that we learned a little about an unedifying episode in French history, one that the tourist office was keen to airbrush away. I’d read about the French internment camps before, specifically Drancy on the outskirts of Paris. This was not in a history book but in Sebastian Faulks’ moving wartime novel “Charlotte Gray”.
It was another novelist, Irène Némirovsky, the author of the sensational “Suite Française” who’s partly responsible for putting Pithiviers on the map, for all the wrong reasons. Némirovsky was interned here before being sent to Auschwitz where she died in 1942 leaving her epic novel unfinished, its manuscript undiscovered until some 60 years later.
Back to the original purpose of our visit. The Pithiviers has a special place in our family history as I ate a stunning chocolate Pithiviers at London’s Bibendum restaurant the night before our eldest son George was born. It features in chef proprietor Simon Hopkinson’s book “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” if you fancy making one at home.
Finding a Pithiviers proved surprisingly easy. Having found a parking space in a sunny square (the Mail Ouest) in the centre, we found ourselves just across the road from an inviting-looking pâtisserie, “À la Renommée” (the Renowned).
Heading to the window, we realised we’d struck lucky with a picture perfect example of a Pithiviers feuilleté (puff pastry) with its distinctive scalloped border and sculpted lid not just once:
but twice, with its more gaudy iced cousin, the Pithiviers fondant:
Of course, we had to buy both, the fondant version to enjoy there and then with a cup of coffee and the feuilleté version later after our evening meal.
The fondant Pithiviers, with its virginal white icing and old school glacé cherry and crystallised angelica decoration, bore more than a passing resemblance to a Mr Kipling Cherry Bakewell, but without the pastry case. Beneath the icing was a dense and crumbly almond sponge, satisfying in its simplicity. Apparently this is the original version of the cake, an ancient Gaulish speciality, its origins lost in the mists of time. Maybe Asterix ate one of these…
The origins of puff pastry in France are generally dated back to the 17th century so the more familiar Pithiviers feuilleté is a relatively recent upstart. We followed the bakery instructions to warm it through gently for 15-20 minutes before serving. It needs no accompaniment (other than a strong cup of coffee). The puff pastry layers were featherlight, belying the huge quantities of butter that went into its manufacture, and the almond cream filling rich and sweet. It reminded me just a little of its more rustic cousin the English Bakewell pudding – the real dense almondy version you find in the Peak District town rather than the more usual tart I mentioned earlier. Maybe Pithiviers and Bakewell should be twinned?
You’ll find recipes for the regular puff pastry Pithiviers in any fat cook book with a pâtisserie chapter. Recipes for the fondant version are harder to come by so here’s one I hunted down:
Recipe for Pithiviers fondant – iced almond cake from Pithiviers
From the recipe section of the website http://www.loiret.logishotels.com with quantities halved to make a more manageable sized cake.
250g blanched almonds, very finely chopped
250g caster sugar
1.5 cl rum
6 or 7 eggs (depending on size) beaten
White fondant icing
Halved glacé cherries and angelica to decorate
Mix the sugar with the finely chopped almonds and beat in the softened butter. Incorporate the eggs gradually and the rum. Spoon into a greased and floured Pain de Gênes mould (a deep fluted flan tin – use an ordinary round cale tin not a shallow flan tin as a substitute) and baked in a moderate oven (180 degrees C fan) for 30 to 35 minutes. When cool, ice with white fondant icing and decorate with glacé cherries and Angelica.