Paris Pastry Crawl 2103: Éclairs: The Recipe

8 02 2013

I do believe I promised recipes to accompany my Pastry Crawl so that those of you not in Paris can enjoy along with me.  With the exception of Christophe Adam, French bakers in general adhere very strictly to the rules of éclair making: e.g. If  it’s a chocolate éclair, it has chocolate filling and chocolate icing.  If it’s a coffee éclair, it has coffee filling and light brown, hopefully coffee-flavored icing.  Rarely is it anything else.  And yet, in the United States, a chocolate eclair is almost always filled with vanilla pudding (yes, pastry cream is hardly more than a fancy name for pudding (in the American sense.  Don’t make me open the British pudding can of worms.)) and glazed with chocolate.  So I suffer none of these compunctions, instead viewing the éclair as a canvas for whatever flavor combination strikes my fancy.  On this particular occasion, inspired in part by a recent post on Not Without Salt extolling the virtues of butterscotch pudding, I chose to make my filling butterscotch.

unadorned

I am admittedly out of practice piping éclairs, my muscle memory being confused between the lusty behemoths we used to make in the States and the skinnier, more uptight ones I became accustomed to making in Paris.  You can see examples of both in the above photo, insert fat American joke here.

!#@%*

Let it be noted that the fatter an éclair is, the greater the cream-to-pastry ratio.  Do with that what you will.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: L’Éclair de Génie

1 02 2013

Somehow January is already over.  But éclair month is still going (I got a bit of a late start, and then my internet was down for ten days, so I figure I can borrow a few days from February).  I think at this point, a little history of the éclair is in order.

rows of éclairs

I went to the library to do my pastry research, but it turns out that the best information I found was right on my own bookshelf, in Dorie Greenspan’s lovely Around My French Table.  She explains that they were invented and named by Carême.  One of the first celebrity chefs, Carême gained fame in the late 18th and early 19th centuries because of his elaborate pastry creations called pièces montées.  The tradition lives on today, mainly in the form of the croquembouche, still popular for French weddings and other celebrations.  So it’s safe to say the guy liked his pâte à choux.  Dorie writes that Carême was the fist to pipe it into “long, fingerlike shapes.”

Once the pastry was baked, he sliced the strips in half, filled them with pastry cream, and glazed their tops, creating an enduring classic, which he christened éclairs (éclair means lightning).  No one’s certain why he called the slender pastries lightning…I hold with the camp convinced that the name described the way and éclair is eaten – lightning fast.

Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table

yes, please

Like most French words, éclair can be translated more than one way.  I’ve always thought of it as a flash, which makes the name of éclair guru Christophe Adam’s shop a cute play on words: L’Éclair de Génie becomes “the flash of genius”.  Adam, probably best known as the pastry chef who made Fauchon a destination for éclairs with his collection of imaginative takes on the classic pastry, now has his own shop which sells éclairs and truffles.  I found out about it on Dorie’s delightful blog (where would I be without her?) and knew that I would have to include it in my éclair tasting.  I am not disappointed.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: Laurent Duchêne

28 01 2013

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.

colors!

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.

two peas in a pod?

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.

no specks of vanilla bean

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!

nocream!

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:

blech

And it doesn’t taste good, either, unless you like gritty, vaguely chemical-processed flavored sugar.

LDchocolat

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.





Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: La Pâtisserie des Rêves

23 01 2013

And with nearly three-quarters of the vote, Paris Pastry Crawl is the undisputed winner!  Thank you all for voting, and now, let the gluttony commence.  We’re going to start off the series with the éclair, quite possibly the most iconic of all French pastries, and certainly the first I was familiar with, thanks to a francophile mother and the Beaverton Bakery (hey!  they’re still around!), where she used to take me and my brother after school for a treat if we’d been good… or maybe if she had a hankering herself.  Now, of course, I live in Paris, and finding an éclair doesn’t require a special trip, though sometimes it should.

anticipation...

La Pâtisserie des Rêves has been around for a few years now, but I admit I didn’t feel all that compelled to go.  Something about the bell jars covering the pastries on display just seemed so clinical.  Impersonal.  Sterile.  But just before Christmas, chef Philippe Conticini put out a gorgeous book (with an irresistible puffy cover).  Onto my Amazon wishlist it went, and what do you know? Santa Claus deemed that I had been a good girl.  Flipping through the pages, I realized that these pastries weren’t sterile at all.  The swoop of toasted meringue on the lemon tart, the overgrown rolled brioche, the opulent use of vanilla beans – this is the way I like to bake!  Obviously, a visit was now in order.

inside-out

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Around Paris: 8th: La Maison Du Chocolat

5 03 2010

It’s tough to come by cheap eats in an arrondissement where shops like this are the norm:

View from La Maison du Chocolat...

In the block or two that I walked between the FDR Métro stop and La Maison du Chocolat, I passed Dior, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Chloé, and a number of other shops with security guards and salespeople better dressed than I was.  Fortunately, all this scenery makes chocolate look like a positively affordable luxury, and paying 5 euros for an éclair seems like a bargain.  (Really, though, when it’s hands-down the best éclair I’ve had in Paris, 5 euros IS a bargain.  Caramel éclair fans, get yourselves to La Maison du Chocolat ASAP.)

I have a picture of the storefront, as viewed from the Cartier shop in the previous photo, but for some reason WordPress doesn’t like it, so I’ll have to send you over to Flickr if you want to see it.  Or the unopened box of chocolates.

Since I’m on their mailing list, I had a good reason to go over there.  (Ok, there are several locations throughout the city, but there are two in the 8th, and when else do I have such a good excuse to go window-licking* on the Avenue Montaigne?)  I had a certificate for a free box of birthday chocolates!  Yay!

Ooops.

Of which I seem to have greedily eaten one before remembering to take a picture.  But let me tell you, that coconut praliné (lower right in the photo) is out of this world.  That comes as no surprise though, as La Maison du Chocolate delivers consistent high-quality, whether it’s ganaches, pastries, or service.  It’s vexing, then, that they don’t allow photography within the shop, which is always beautiful and clean, with neat stacks of chocolates and other goodies lining the case and even a few seats for enjoying a coffee or treat on the spot.

Attention to detail

Even the bottoms of the chocolates show their exquisite attention to detail.  So if you happen to find yourself hungry in the 8th arrondissement, I highly recommend stopping by a La Maison du Chocolate for sustenance, and then heading off to cheaper climes for lunch or dinner.

* faire de la lèche-vitrine – literally, “window licking,” this is the French expression for “window shopping,” which I totally love.

On this day in 2008: Reubenesque

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc

27 05 2008

And now, the long-awaited Véronique Mauclerc post!  I won’t be putting up any pictures of her breads, because they’d just make mine look bad. Well, that, and I don’t have any decent pictures of them.  But they are something special, I will tell you that.  The first one I tried was a hazelnut, almond, and pistachio bread that was to die for, especially toasted and buttered with jam on top.  Apparently, Véronique Mauclerc has one of only four wood-burning ovens in Paris!  In it she and her team bake large loaves of bread using organic flours and natural yeast (levain).  What was interesting to me in her shop, the first time I went, was that the breads are not necessarily sold whole.  Many of them are too large for a family to eat in a couple of days, so they are sold by weight.  You tell the woman at the counter how big of a piece you want, and she cuts the bread and weighs it.  If you want it sliced, she’ll do that, too.  I have since learned that this is the way bread is sold by many artisan bakers, but I still find the concept kind of novel.

Of course, no boulangerie is complete without at least a small selection of pastries.  The pastries are usually of a more rustic style than you would find at a pâtisserie, but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less tasty.

Tarte au Citron

Take, for example, this lemon tart.  The tart shell itself was filled with a buttery cookie-like substance, rendering what was essentially a thick shortbread cookie for the base.  And then there’s that gorgeous slab of bruléed lemon curd perched on top.  Not too sweet, not too tart, with a firm yet creamy texture.

Or this rhubarb crumble tart:

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Gérard Mulot

24 04 2008

Last weekend, as we were making our way home from a trip to the Carnavalet Museum (we just had to find out how the revolution turned out for Louis XVI) we stumbled upon Gérard Mulot’s shop just off the Place des Vosges.  I had heard about Mulot from a number of reliable sources, so when Nick suggested we go in and try it, I wasn’t about to say no.

Mulot\'s case - left

Mulot\'s case - right

Luckily, there was a line inside, which gave me time to peruse the offerings at my leisure.  I immediately noticed that the chocolate éclair was made with chocolate pâte à choux.  Brilliant!  Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this?  Obviously, we had to get one of those.  But what else to choose?  At first I was attracted by the individual St. Honoré (top photo, left), then tempted by the promise of chocolate and raspberry in the Sortilège (bottom photo, second from right), then drawn in by the Saint Gilles (bottom photo, third from right).  I told Nick I was going to ask what was in it, and if it was caramel, that’s what we were getting.  Well, it was, and we did.

We stepped outside and opened the box to get a closer look at our purchases.

Saint Gilles and Chocolate Eclair from Gérard Mulot

We gazed at the storefront as we devoured the éclair.

Pâtisserie Gérard Mulot

Yeah, we got all the way across the street before tearing into it.  It was a good éclair, with real chocolate glaze on top and plenty of creamy chocolate filling.  I’m not sure if the chocolate pâte à choux actually made that much of a flavor difference, but eating an entirely chocolate éclair just feels so decadent!

We managed to wait until after dinner to try the Saint Gilles.  The chocolate garnish looked cool, but was unnecessary in terms of flavor.  The dessert was composed of a cone of caramel mousse which surrounded a filling of spiced peaches on a pecan toffee base.  The toffee had a nice crunch to it, and the peaches added a welcome flavor contrast to the creamy caramel mousse.

I like the way Mulot has taken some liberties with traditional pastries while retaining their integrity and palatability.  (By which I mean, there wasn’t anything that was weird for the sake of being weird.)  It all made sense, but none of it was boring.  I’m going to have to go back and see what he’s done with the St. Honoré.








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