You can now purchase my handmade candy bars and marshmallows at http://www.bonbonbar.com/
I feel like this should be the French Laundry-style post of my Paris trip — a visit to Pierre Herme inspires so many thoughts it seems only natural to want to talk about it in every detail. Pierre Herme was my favorite pastry shop in Paris. I went there twice, and in my more greedy moments, I wonder why we didn’t make a pilgrimage everyday… so perfect was Pierre Herme. Here’s a short bio of the man himself.
I’m a bit bemused by the Pierre Herme way. Once you enter the shop, you find yourself in a world created by a pastry genius who has fashioned his own lexicon and continues to add and play around with it in a way that’s tongue-in-cheek to an extent… but there’s very serious pastry work going on. We witnessed his 2006 summer collection, and I took a copy of the summer collection catalogue. The theme is Fetish. This article explains the method to his offerings: “The themed Collection features his latest inspirations; the Classics are finely reworked versions of traditional French pastries and the Signatures highlight the favorites from past Collections.” I suppose it’s more like haute couture than culinary. Everything is given a unique name, and the combinations of flavors might be offered under that name in different forms, such as cakes, tarts, ice creams, etc. For instance, “Ispahan” is usually a combination of rose, raspberry, and lychee. “Plenitude” is dark chocolate, fleur de sel, and caramel. “Mosaic” is pistachio and griotte cherry (morello). “Satine” is passionfruit, orange, and fromage blanc (this macaron was unavailable both times we were there, and we were bummed). “Celeste” is passionfruit, strawberry, and rhubarb. The variety of flavors and attention to detail concerning how well certain flavors and textures go together is what makes the store so special for me.
I also got a cute, square-fold-out brochure of their macarons in color, and a kind of advertising postcard for the “Macarons d’Ete.” On the front are macarons standing on their sides, and on the back, there’s a significant amount of space allowed for you to answer, “And you, what is your fetish?”, space for your info, and two check-boxes: 1) Yes, I am a fan of Pierre Herme, and I wish to receive information about his new creations before everyone else, or 2) No, I only like spaghetti.
Everything was fantastic, unless I say otherwise.
This was the first pastry that I saw of Pierre Herme’s — in one of the outside display windows — and my biggest regret from Paris is not trying a “Miss Gla Gla.” They were displayed so beautifully, but once I entered, I was so in awe of all the pastries and chocolates that I forget them… I’m just going to have to figure out how to make them. Sigh… an ice cream sandwich made with rectangular macarons and swirled ice cream… Brilliant.
In another window, Celeste ice cream, for about $32.
When I asked the counterperson if I could take pictures in the store, her answer, in French, was, “Two maximum.” So much was sacrificed. I really wanted those lollipop-like pastries recorded, so that explains this picture (we actually ended up getting those two desserts in the middle, but whatever). Their name is Mr H Ispahan, and they’re none other than cakes on sticks (or “gateau individuel presente sur un batonnet,” if you prefer). They are composed of almond cake, framboise gelee, and rose cream. I didn’t order them b/c I wasn’t in the mood for white chocolate, as the coating appears to be, but they look so cool.
What I sacrificed for this picture was a photo of his cakes, one of which was the shape of a rather tall wedge, with tick marks going up the pointy edge, and I believe something red on top. It also looked so cool. And I wonder how it was arranged inside.
My second picture. I was so tempted to walk a few feet more and snap another shot, but 1) I thought about the Seinfeld routine about trying to play off taking better seats at a ball game as sheer embarrassed ignorance and 2) I’d already had the security guards sic-ed on me at Le Bon Marche for taking pic’s in the shop. So, deux photos, c’est tout.
I even love the packaging. This was for the “Emotions” — “les combinations de saveurs fetiches de la Maison Pierre Herme Paris interpretees sous forme de desserts ou de gelees et servies dans un verre transparent.” Basically, they’re layered desserts served in glasses, like high-class parfaits.
And I didn’t take a picture of the shopping bag that this was in, but it was paper, with cutouts of small leaf shapes on both larger white sides and solid light green on the sides.
On the one hand, the packaging is a bit wasteful for one pastry (we got two of kinds of these, each in their own box); on the other hand, gorgeous. And it kept them pristine in transit.
Chad got the Emotion Ispahan, with gelee of lychee and raspberries, fresh raspberries, strawberry compote and rose cream.
Attention to detail defined. I touched the bead, and it was very sticky — perhaps glucose syrup?
Mine was the Emotion Celeste, with compote of rhubarb, fresh strawberries, passionfruit-mascarpone cream, and passionfruit marshmallows. I think the combination of flavors speaks for itself, but the textures here are have more to do with experiencing it — and with structure. So, you start off with a couple marshmallows, and they’re fantastic… then you have a little passionfriut-mascarpone cream with, and maybe a lil’ bit of cake, and that’s all great… then the marshmallows are gone, and you’re so happy with it that you want to taste the rest of it at once, so you push your spoon all the way to the bottom, and experience all the wonderful flavors together. And then you’re really happy, so you work your way down until it’s all gone, mixing layers at will. I think that if any of the layers were moved around or mixed together within the glass, it would have been average at best. But the layout here is perfect.
And I saved both glasses, and transported them to Provence and back to California, for when I’m in the mood for an Emotion of my own making.
This was the “Surprise Mosaic,” with crispy meringue, griotte cherry compote “acidulee,” pistachio mousseline creme, and cardamom crumble. Let’s just say, I ate the whole thing (I usually only eat a couple bites of anything I get for pastry tastings… Thank goodness for Chad). But, cardamom! Brilliant here. And it’s a surprise two times over, with the cellophane and meringue covering its true nature.
My brother got this Plaisirs Sucres — dacquoise biscuit with croquant nuts, praline feuillete, fine chocolate leaves, chocolate chantilly cream.
Macarons and I go way back, to when I was in Paris in 1998. I was a freshman in college for film and imagined that my whole life would be screenwriting (my backup plan was a PhD in Film Theory), and I just happened to wander into a place called Laduree (I took a photo of the bag so that I wouldn’t forget the name and scoured what existed of the web for references when I got home). I was intrigued by these little pastel hamburger-shaped cookies, so I bought a pistachio, a chocolate, and a raspberry. Of course, they were ethereal almond-based cookies with either jelly, buttercream, or ganache inside, and I was amazed by their existence. Whenever I saw them in the US, I was so excited, but often let down (though I’ve discovered Miette at the Ferry Building as my current fix; try the grapefruit).
Now, as a pastry student, I see a bit of background. Pierre Herme has worked at Laduree and Fauchon (which I’ll blog about later), and I’d finally come full circle at his shop.
The macarons I tried were:
- Americano Pamplemousse - Campari and Grapefruit. I have no idea why this is called “Americano,” since not many Americans that I know like Campari and/or grapefruit. I found it way too bitter, even though the confit of grapefruit was a nice touch.
- Abricot Pistache “Arabesque” - Excellent. Even cooler was that there was pistachio “paste” in the middle of the apricot buttercream inside; I liked the contrast of color and texture… It was the first time that I encountered this in a macaron, until I got to the next one.
- Olive Oil and Vanilla - This was bland until I got to what I believe was a candied piece of olive in the middle… then the flavors rode on its coattails, as it were, and it finished fabulously.
- Fleur de Sel Caramel - Ugh. I love salt and I love caramel, and I love them together, but I never encountered a caramel (or chocolate) combination with salt in France that wasn’t waaaaay too salty. This was no exception.
- Passionfruit and Milk Chocolate - I was intrigued by this, but the flavor combination just didn’t work for me. I could taste both of them, but they never came together in a meaningful way.
- Rose - SO good.
These pastries were from our second visit — our last visit. It was tough. I was still full and hungover from dinner the night before, so I felt I could only reasonably get one thing… I considered the “Tango” - sesame short dough, Parmigiano-Reggiano cream, raspberry and red pepper cream, fresh raspberries, and sweet tuile of parmesan, — but a voice in my head — that’s often quite asleep — said “Nina. C’mon. Get something that you know is fantastic. A classic that works.”
So, I got the “2000 Feuilles,” with caramelized puff pastry, praline feuillete, and praline mousseline. The creativity with language that Pierre Herme has became awkward for this, though, because after I ordered “un deux Milles Feuilles,” the counterperson started packing up two slices. So, “Non… Seulement, un… deux… milles… feuilles. Yeah… Merci beaucoup.”
But I kind of cheated about ordering a classic. I usually avoid hazelnuts like the plague because I don’t like their flavor (or texture, somehow), but something about having it in a napoleon seemed good… Maybe the hazelnut could be resurrected for me? And it was, for this at least. I can still envision the perfectly caramelized individual layers of puff pastry in the tart, and that caramelized flavor and texture enveloped the hazelnuts in the best way… the hazelnuts became the apotheosis of the puff pastry by deepening the caramelization and heightening it with a nutty flavor.
And Chad got the “Carrement Chocolat,” with soft chocolate biscuit, chocolate cream, chocolate mousse, and fine layers of chocolate croquant. It was awesome, and I like the subtly off-kilter design.
The only thing that I didn’t like was this Kouign-Amann with Compote of Red Fruits. The berries tasted steamy, as if they’d been improperly cooked, and the pastry part was oddly boring. I once made a kouign-amann somewhere without access to a rolling pin, and even that was better than this.
The pain au chocolat was traditional and perfect.
I like the modernized sporks that we were given to eat with. The second time we went, I believe that they were red with a white stripe.
The exterior, for the most part. There’s a curtain to enter through, and then a sliding glass door.