January 23, 2004
Last fall, I met the friend of a friend at a party and discovered to my great excitement that he worked for none other than pastry chef Pierre Hermé, at his rue Bonaparte pâtisserie. I had been coveting his new recipe book called "Mes Desserts Préférés" for a little while, and when I mentioned that to my new friend, he said he could try and have a copy signed for me. I nodded. Vigorously.
It took a number of weeks, missed calls and missed appointments to arrange it, but my daydreams about this beautiful book easily carried me through the wait. I finally went to collect it at the production center in the 15th arrondissement, in a small pastry shop with a discreet sign which the untrained eye would miss. It was just before new year's eve, and this was where the huge quantity of holiday orders were being made and assembled, fresh from the morning. A lot of these are orders for Pierre Hermé's signature macarons. (A macaron is made of two disks of light almond meringue, held together by a layer of cream.) Since nothing but the perfect macarons make it into the gift boxes, my friend was sweet enough to also give me a few small broken ones, which I shared with my parents and Maxence (aren't they the luckiest bunch?).
And I have to tell you : I have never ever had such amazing macarons in my entire life. Pierre Hermé invents new twists on this confection each season, coming up with classic or unusual pairings. His macarons taste fresh and delicate, their flavors surprisingly powerful and pure. Peach apricot and saffron, chocolate and passionfruit, olive oil and vanilla, rose and litchi, caramel and fleur de sel, pistachio and white chocolate, need I go on?
But back to the book. It is signed. And beautiful. Really beautiful. It is written by Dorie Greenspan, an American journalist and award-winning cookbook writer who worked with Julia Child and has written several cookbooks with Pierre Hermé. This one, published in the US under the name "Desserts by Pierre Hermé", is a collection of his favorite cakes, tarts, petits fours, and fruit desserts.
So this is really a four-handed book : the recipes are Pierre Hermé's, but the writing is hers. And what great writing! Each breath-taking recipe has a short introduction that explains the history and characteristics of that particular dessert, including a quotation by Pierre who tells us where the idea came from, or what he likes to serve it with, or why this is among his favorites. Dorie then proceeds to walk you through all the steps involved, in great and clear detail, from start to finish.
The book is full of striking pictures by one Hartmut Kiefer, and I love that it includes recipes ranging from very easy (chocolate and nut cake, rhubarb and raspberry soup) to very intricate (layered chocolate dome, fall meringue cake). But the recipes are so well described that you feel like you can really do this, and inspiration abounds.
A lot of happiness is also to be found in the glossary of food terms, as well as the final section detailing the basic techniques and recipes used throughout the book. I mean, when you are making meringue or crème anglaise using Pierre Hermé's recipe, surely nothing can go wrong!
My only gripe about the book - there has to be one, right? - and this is really not Pierre or Dorie's fault, is that it was originally written in English, what I have here is the French translation. And it shows in some places, where the sentences are a little awkward and I can actually guess what the original English wording was. Which happens to be my pet peeve. I just hope they've done a better job at the translation between measuring systems, but this will be confirmed as soon as I try one of these exhilarating recipes!
Pâtisserie Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte
01 43 54 47 77
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