One of the purposes of this Pastry Crawl (yes, there’s a purpose beyond eating ridiculous amounts of dessert) is to get out into this glorious city and sample treats from shops unfamiliar to me, and add to my ever-growing list of favorites. To that end, David Lebovitz’ Paris Pastry app has come in incredibly handy. Without it, I might never have learned that MOF Pâtissier Laurent Duchêne had a shop not far from my apartment, and only a couple blocks from the library where I am spending an increasing amount of time.
The shop is lovely, and I regret that I could only buy four desserts (two éclairs, two others to be revealed at a later date), because the galettes des rois looked wonderful, as did the croissants. But it was evening, and I knew it wouldn’t do the croissants justice to eat them the next morning, so I’m just going to have to get myself out of the house in the a.m. hours one of these days (I can hardly imagine how I used to get up at 5!) and grab one fresh.
I have another hope for the project as well: that by trying the same pastry at different shops, I can get an idea of each chef’s style, and an interesting cross-section of the many ways to interpret a classic. That I can continue to hone my palate, identify what makes a particular dessert great or less so, how the elements of a given pastry contribute to its ultimate success or failure, and how they can be manipulated to achieve the desired effect. So, you know, I’m not just stuffing my face. It’s for science.
All this is to say that not every pastry is going to be a winner. It’s statistically impossible. There are loads of really bad bakeries out there, even in Paris (maybe especially in Paris, given that there are so many of them here, which is why a good guidebook or app is so important) and I can usually spot them with a simple glance at the case. If the éclairs are topped with dull, ugly fondant, that’s strike one. If the tarts look old, with the filling cracking or pulling away from the crust, that’s strike two. If they’re selling Chupa Chups or Kinder Buenos – there’s a TV ad that infuriates me, where Tony Parker and some lady walk into a bakery, and then they start fighting over the last Kinder Bueno despite the fact that there is a case full of supposedly fresh, handmade sweets and they want the stupid packaged thing… What was I talking about again? Oh, yes, huge pastries are also generally a bad sign. But I think I’m getting off track here.
So as I was saying, I picked up two éclairs at Laurent Dubois’ shop, chocolate and vanilla. I was disappointed to note that the chocolate and coffee éclairs were glazed in fondant, but pleased to see that the vanilla one was not.
You don’t actually see vanilla éclairs that often, which is one reason I chose it. And I always approve of an éclair that isn’t covered in fondant. The sugar cookie baked into the top of this one gave it a pleasant slight crunch – a nice textural contrast to the smooth pastry cream inside.
I was a bit discouraged to note the lack of vanilla bean in the custard, but overall, this éclair was fine. Nothing more, nothing less.
The chocolate éclair turned out to be a near-perfect example of the typically shoddy work done by apprentices. (Éclairs, being classic and relatively simple to prepare, often fall to the apprentices. It is supposed to teach them some basic skills used in the pâtisserie, such as using a piping bag, how to tell when the fondant is the right temperature, and tasting to see if the cream has enough chocolate/coffee/etc. flavor.) The kid who filled this one didn’t do it carefully enough, and I got a bite with no filling in it!
Also, the fondant. (Maybe I should take a short aside here and explain that here I am talking about poured fondant, which is used to glaze éclairs, millefeuilles, petits fours, and things like that. Not to be confused with rolled fondant, which is what they use to give wedding cakes that smooth finish. I’m not really a fan of that stuff either, but that’s another post.) I know from experience that this stuff is not easy to work with. Glazing éclairs with fondant is one of my very least favorite things to do, because if the fondant is too cold or thick it won’t coat properly, but if you get it too hot it will be dull when it cools and in the meantime it will run everywhere and in either case your fingers get really sticky and after the first few nice, pretty, clean éclairs you either have to stop and wash your hands or keep going, knowing that the edges are getting increasingly sloppy and smeared. Like this:
And it doesn’t taste good, either, unless you like gritty, vaguely chemical-processed flavored sugar.
Those faults aside, the choux pastry was reasonably good, and I liked the chocolate pastry cream. Although the prices were relatively low – around 3 euros apiece, or a little over half the price of an éclair from Fauchon or La Pâtisserie des Rêves – I probably won’t be back to Laurent Duchêne for the éclairs. I still want to try that croissant, though.
On this day in 2010: Mora and La Bovida (still two of my favorite places to shop)
Originally published on Croque-Camille.