The importance of Paris patisseries can hardly be overstated. Particularly in the past forty years, the art of pastry has been revolutionized. And Paris has been the center of that revolution.
Paris creations are immediately noticed. The sheer physical beauty of those desserts is amazing, and stunningly revealed as you walk Paris, block by block, shop by shop. One artist after another vying to having the most eye-catching, mouth-watering window display. If you try to pick “the best” you are doomed. Your brain will be in an endless cycle of remembering colors, textures, … All the glories of appearance.
And, now, what happens when you cross the portal, hand over some Euros, and receive a pastry that is brain stunning? And then on the next block, and the next? Sometimes your taste buds will find extravagance, sometimes subtly, and always surprise.
Working with the superior publisher Flammerion, Pierre Hermé has collaborated with many of his skilled peers to fashion Paris Patisseries: History, Shops, Recipes. If you love desserts — the look, the taste, and the history — then this book is a treasure you will read over and over. There are stunning pictures that make you want to find you passport. And intriguing facts that give you a much deeper understanding of the journey that has been required to today’s dessert paradise. And, yes, some of the best recipes are here, too.
The book is presented in four chapters, each a stepping stone on the journey.
Cakes from Our Childhood begins the story. Dessert, in the supreme forms we think of now, is relatively new. Just three or four centuries in our joint history. Before that, there were “biscuits” and honey and fruits and surely simple cakes and tarts. But today’s cakes and tarts, those rich combinations of butter and flour and flavorings, and those creamy fillings, well that’s the history of this chapter.
Recipes for lemon tart in France date from 1651 and this tart is distinguished by the fact that it does not contain a single piece of fruit. Other tarts then were rustic and fruit filled. This lemon tart was the beginning of the texture transition. Now, as this book describes, tarts have become ethereal.
Many of the classic cakes, like the religieuse [or “the nun”] have their creation cataloged here. The religieuse dates from 1856, the work of the famous chef Frascati. You’ll learn that a properly made mille-feuille [a “thousand leaves”] really has exactly 729 layers of pastry. And the first meringue is from 1720 in Austria [yes, egg whites and sugar and almond flour had been mixed for a bit but not just the pure egg white and sugar]. The evolution of meringue, and its marriage with different fillings, are lovingly detailed here.
The chapter Chocolate Magic describes the passion that is naturally invoked by the complexity of chocolate chemistry. The vast sea of different chocolates types and powders simply adds new dimensions that suggest an infinite path of flavors. There are examples here from the great patisseries of the city.
Macaroons, Verrine, and Caramel starts with history of the macaroon over the last century but accelerates to describe the new vertical designs [those verrines that may have been inspired by catering companies] and the intense use of caramel. Caramel, salt, and chocolate are a legitimate ménage-a-trois. Even a necessary one.
The book concludes in Croissants, Loaves, and Galettes that focuses on both the past and the present. Yes, the croissant dates from Vienna in 1683, but today’s croissant, based on puff pastry, is from the 1920s. It’s a new classic.
But that puff pastry isn’t new. The Crusaders brought back the original concept from the Middle East, and European bakers have been refining it for all these centuries. Beyond the croissant, puff pastry is the basis for so many of the fruit-based desserts we consider “special.” Paris Patisseries describes the spectrum of these treats to be found in the best of Paris shops.
And where are those shops? There are five pages of “favorite addresses.” Touring all of them, comparing them, evaluating them, well, that would take you more than a day or two. Your best way to start that journey? Paris Patisseries.
And the book ends with five pages of recipes from the very best shops in Paris. Only God knows how long it will take you to enjoy each of these.
On this blog recently, there has been keen attention to the craze of the year: macaroons [or macarons!]. Pierre Herme’s wonderful new Macaron book has been described here along with a host of other resources. Paris Patisseries is an excellent companion describing both the history and the daily race in Paris now to vault over the competition with some new flavor and color combination. It’s a mouthwatering read.
And if you are planning a trip to Paris, this is great foodie guide that could be the core of your stay.