Bonjour Paris: Cream Puffs, Gateaux and Twists on Classics, Too
A short walk away is the gorgeous Patisserie Jacques Genin, where I find it impossible not to want one of every little jewel-like pastry and shiny caramel in the case. When I finally stopped wandering around oohing and aahing, I settled my gaze on his reading of a Gateau St. Honore. Before I show you Genin’s version, here’s a traditional St. Honore, this one a mini version from Laduree with the six classic elements. The base is made of puff pastry (element 1); on top of this is a ring of pate-a-choux and pate-a-choux puffs (2); the ring and the puffs are ‘glued’ in place with caramel (3) and the puffs have caramel tops; the puffs are filled with pastry cream (4); the center of the gateau is filled with creme Chiboust (5), a mixture of pastry cream, meringue and gelatin, created by Chef Chiboust in Paris in the mid-1800s; and the whole concoction is finished with whipped cream (6).
But that’s not how Genin saw it. Jacques Genin’s Gateau St. Honore has all the elements, but they’ve been de- or re-constructed. The base is the puff pastry and the cream puffs are held to it with caramel. There are three puffs, two of them filled with chocolate, because … well, why not? And then there’s the whipped cream over the creme Chiboust.
This is a great example of something I adore about French pastry and the chefs who make it — the classics continue to be the backbone of the canon and even the most cutting-edge chefs return to them for inspiration.
And here, from a pastry adventure that I had a couple of months ago (now’s not the season for this, but it’s such a good example of playing on a classic that I really want you to see it): the Mont Blanc two ways.
This version of the Mont Blanc is probably the most famous. It comes from Angelina, the gilded tea salon on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, where they sell 600 of them a day! Over the years, Angelina has refreshed the look of their signature dessert — this current version is from pastry chef Sebastien Bauer — but they’ve always kept its elements: meringue, whipped cream and chestnut cream piped through a special tip that produces what is usually referred to as vermicelli.
Just around the corner, on the magnificent Place Vendome, stands The Ritz, where their pastry chef, Sebastien Serveau, created his own version of the Mont Blanc. Reminiscent in style to Jacques Genin’s version of the Gateau St. Honore, you could call this a deconstructed Mont Blanc, but it’s the classic reconceived and lightened in the process. Serveau gives the chestnut cream a base to stretch out on and he adds a touch of chocolate, so lovely with chestnut, and a drizzle of caramel.
While Serveau’s Mont Blanc may or may not make an encore performance at The Ritz next winter, Bauer’s remains front and center at Angelina’s no matter the season.
And, I know I don’t have to tell you this, but no matter the season, Paris remains sweet.