Les Desserts Préférés de Pierre Hermé

Mes Desserts Préférés

[Pierre Hermé's Favorite Desserts]

Pierre Hermé is a world famous pastry chef. His stores in Paris, New York and Tokyo are designed like jewellery stores and are constantly crowded, with lines often going around the corner. He is a very prolific and inventive chef, who actually imagines new pastry lines twice a year, a spring/summer collection, and a fall/winter collection. His creations are always aesthetically perfect, but his real focus is on layering flavors, pleasing the palate and astonishing the tastebuds. Many of his findings and inspirations, revolutionary at the time, get adopted by other pastry chefs to become classics.

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Crèmes Brûlées Beware!

Chalumeau

Please let me introduce you to the latest addition to my ever-growing collection of baking knick-knacks, tools and toys : <drumroll, please>… the Blowtorch!

You do understand, of course, how badly I needed one of these. No, really. I mean, crèmes brûlées are just one of these desserts that any self-respecting cook *has* to be able to make at home, yes? Plus, I bought the cute little earthenware ramequins the other day. And what good are they if I can’t caramelize the sugar properly, I ask you?

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Broccoli Soup

Broccoli Soup

[Broccoli Soup]

I am not a soup maker. For a very long time, I was most intimidated by it. Something about the large pot and the veggies cooked to death turned me off. I also didn’t grow up in a soup family — we hardly ever had it, though it was delicious when we did — so I don’t think of it as a particularly comforting dish. And finally, I’d rather eat a thing than drink it: I’d rather eat an orange than drink its juice, and I’d rather eat my vegetables than have them as soup.

My first attempt at soup, about three years ago, wasn’t altogether convincing : I tried to make a potato-leek soup, but I used too many potatoes and they killed the taste of the leeks. Plus, I burned the back of my hand with piping hot soup. Not quite what you’d call a success, but valuable lessons were to be learned. Lesson #1, do not underestimate the Power of the Potato. Lesson #2, do not assume your food processor is watertight, unless you would like your kitchen cabinets repainted in pale green accents. Understandably, this episode put an end to my soup making ambitions.

But I underwent dental surgery on Thursday, I am unable to chew much for a few days, and I thought, what better occasion to exorcise my fear of soup? So yesterday night found me and my swollen cheek tackling broccoli soup, loosely following Dean Allen’s sarcastic recipe for Something Soup.

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Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake

Yesterday we had a small party at my office to celebrate my company’s fifth anniversary, and our pendaison de crémaillère, which is French for a housewarming party: une crémaillère is a trammel, the metal adjustable hook that was used to hang pots in the fireplace in the days of yore, and the hanging of this essential piece of equipment in a new house was as good an occasion as any to have a village gathering.

Our new offices are located in the south of the 13th arrondissement, close to the Parc Montsouris and the very nice Butte-aux-Cailles area. The street name happens to be Rue Brillat-Savarin, in reference to Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin*, who’s considered the first food writer/critic in history. Cool, huh?

I had offered to bake a cake for the occasion, and used a trusted recipe for fudgy chocolate cake — gâteau au chocolat fondant in French. It is a very easy recipe that does not require a food processor, and like all dark chocolate cakes, it is best made the day before, or at least in the morning if served for dinner.

Edit: Over the years, my way of making this cake has evolved, and I’ve updated the recipe below to reflect that. I now use 180 g of sugar (instead of the original 250 g) and 4 eggs (instead of the original 5). I bake the cake at 180°C (instead of the original 190°C) for slightly longer (25 instead of 20 minutes), and I sprinkle the surface with fleur de sel, which enhances the chocolate flavor and provides tiny jolts of saltiness here and there.

The cake was suitably wolfed down by my appreciative coworkers. It has a nice thin crust, while the inside is 100% melty gooey chocolate goodness. Needless to say, it is pretty rich, so it is best served with something refreshing — ideally, Marie-Laure and Ludo’s fruit salad, but your own fruit salad, fresh strawberries, ice cream and/or whipped cream will be great too.

* Brillat-Savarin published a treatise on the art of dining called “La Physiologie du goût” (“Physiology of taste”) and he’s the one who said “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”, translated as “Tell me what you eat, I will tell you who you are” or “You are what you eat”.

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Cheese Fondue

Fondue

[Cheese Fondue at our Neighbors' place]

We are lucky enough to be very good friends with our next-door neighbors. Stéphan and Patricia live on our floor, in the apartment to the right of ours. We met on the night of our housewarming party : we had posted a note to apologize in advance for the noise and music, and to invite everybody over for a drink. We were very happy to have several neighbors show up (which was a very favorable omen in regards to the friendly and village-like atmosphere of the building), and among them, Stéphan and Patricia.

We have grown very fond of each other over time, chatting from window to window, plucking from each other’s aromatic garden, having drinks/coffee/cake/dinner at their place or ours, borrowing books, sharing a wireless high-speed connection, bringing back small gifts from our trips, and just generally having a grand time. We all share a pronounced taste for good food, and Stéphan is a passionate cook too, with his own style – pretty different from mine – and a lot of talent.

So Saturday night, when they invited us over for a fondue savoyarde (cheese fondue), we very happily accepted.

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