May 9, 2005
On Thursday afternoon I happened to have a few things to do in the St-Germain area. Being in that neighborhood never fails to send my food-hunter's antennae aflutter, in particular because of the nearby presence of Pierre Hermé's boutique on rue Bonaparte. It took me about one split second to decide that since I was having dinner at my neighbors' apartment that night to watch the Nouvelle Star semi-finals (previous episode here), well, wouldn't it be a good idea to bring dessert?
So I got in line with the others, on the sidewalk. This had never happened to me before, I guess I'd always been there at odd times of the day, but fortunately the line moved rather swiftly. It was also an excellent people-watching occasion -- quite a few passers-by pausing to wonder what it was we were waiting for outside this... um, what is it, a jewelry store or something? -- not to mention the eavesdropping, as half the people in line around me were talking on their cell phones, debating which macaron flavors should be purchased and whether little Alexandre had liked the rose-flavored ones last time (answer: no, because they were pink).
I stepped into the shop, took a deep whiff of the powerful chocolate and sugar scents, and studied the pastry case. It was late in the day (around 6pm) and they were out of some of the pastries -- which was a good thing (I tried to convince myself) because I am so bad at narrowing things down among too many edible choices. I made my selection, and it was elaborately packaged up by the kind salesguy, who also threw in the spring/summer catalog, an ivory leaflet which reads like an incredible tastebud teaser, sending you flying in sweet daydreams onto cotton-candy clouds.
And so, later that night, after a fabulous duck magret courtesy of Stéphan, and as Roland was meeting his doom, the three of us proceeded to share and taste three entremets -- here are our tasting notes!
We started with the Surprise Mosaïc. "Meringue croustillante, compote de griottes acidulée, crème mousseline à la pistache et crumble à la cardamome", says the little catalog: a dome of crunchy meringue on a cardamom-flavored biscuit, filled with a tart cherry compote and pistachio mousse, and wrapped like a giant bright green bonbon. We loved the texture of the meringue and the cherry-pistachio pairing worked really well, but we felt that there was too much meringue for the amount of filling, and that its sweetness overpowered the other more subtle tastes -- in particular, the cardamom was all but muted out.
Next up, we tried the Inca (pictured above). "Biscuit dacquoise aux noisettes, crème onctueuse au chocolat, pamplemousse confit, compote d'avocat à la banane, enrobé de fines feuilles de chocolat blanc" : layers of soft hazelnut meringue and chocolate cream, candied grapefruit, avocado and banana compote, in a thin white chocolate casing. We noticed (and appreciated) that all the flavors in this one could be distinctly tasted, and did not step on each other's toes. We liked the avocado and banana compote, the avocado adding an interesting twist to the other more "obvious" flavors (banana, hazelnut and chocolate). It was just the right level of sweetness, but we thought that the bitterness from the candied grapefruit was a tad too strong: we would have preferred just a subtle hint. Also, the whole thing was very soft and moussy, and I thought there lacked an element of crunch or bite in the textural scenery -- but this is something I've often found in this kind of entremets by Pierre Hermé, and maybe it is just how they are meant to be.
Finally, we shared the Emotion Ludic, which is part of this season's collection: "Compote de fraise, crème de mascarpone au sirop de coquelicot, fraises et betteraves cuites au jus de fraise, guimauve à la fraise". This is served in a small transparent glass (which you get to keep of course) and consists in layers of strawberry compote, strawberries, beetroot (yes! beetroot!) cooked in strawberry juice, mascarpone cream flavored with poppy syrup, and strawberry marshmallows. The guy who served me at the boutique explained that the way to eat this dessert was to make sure one pushed the spoon to the very bottom of the glass so that there was a bit of each layer in every spoonful. This we conscientiously did, passing the glass around until there was not one bit left (this can only be shared with people you know and love, as you will likely note), and we were blown away. The multiple textures blend together in a beautiful ensemble -- the beetroot pieces you can't really taste as such, but you can definitely recognize their distinctive texture. The strawberry taste, made heady by the flowery poppy accents, is extremely fresh and powerful, and the fact that it comes from different sources and in different forms makes every bite surge in your mouth in the most delightful way.
I had never been much drawn to Hermé's desserts in glasses, thinking that they looked pretty but maybe a little dull -- or at least less spectacular to the eye -- and well, I have now revised my judgement: the Emotion Ludic was clearly our favorite of the three. While we were of course very happy to taste the Inca and the Surprise Mosaïc, we found them to be just a little disappointing, not quite living up to their promise. I am guessing that it has to do with the fact that we only had a few bites of each -- complex flavor marriages often need to build up on your palate before you can truly register and enjoy them -- but that is the necessary trade-off when you want to taste it all!
The next day, Maxence and I shared the four small macarons I had also bought: the classic and always successful Caramel à la fleur de sel (caramel macaron biscuit with fleur de sel, caramel cream with "demi-sel" salted butter) and Chocolat au Lait et Praliné (milk chocolate and flaky praline), and two of the season's stars: Pêche, abricot et Safran (peach and saffron cream, pieces of apricot) and Pistache et Griottine (vanilla macaron biscuit, cinnamon pistachio cream, cherries), the latter being our favorite.
As always, Pierre Hermé's seasonal items make their appearance in two waves, so look out for the new additions on May 17 -- new pastries and macarons, and his brand new line of cakes on a stick called "Mr. H". And on a hot summer day you may also want to try his Miss Gla'Gla ice-cream sandwiches, which he introduced last summer -- I know I will!
72 rue Bonaparte
01 43 54 47 77
(Also at 185 rue de Vaugirard
01 47 83 89 96)
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