Monday, November 28, 2016

Pierre Hermé, Paris

It is no secret that I adore desserts.  And baked goods.  Ok, basically anything sweet.  So it shouldn't surprise you that finally visiting Paris was a bit of a dream come true for me.  Pastries, sweets, everywhere!

One realm of desserts I am never excited by however are cookies.  Yes, even if they are macarons.  I've just never really liked macarons.  Why eat one?  I just don't get it.  I want more textures, more ... something.  I dunno.  So this is one area I was a mismatch for Paris.  Parisians, it turns out, are quite serious about their macarons.  Like Starbucks stores here (or Dunkin' Donuts for you east coasters), they are on every single corner.  And of course, there are great epic debates over who makes the best macaron (the answer seems to be Ladurée or Pierre Hermé, depending on who you ask).  Both of these brands have several shops around town, so I obviously ran into them over and over again.  Luckily for me, they don't just make macarons.

I sought out Pierre Hermé for one specific reason.  Another grand debate in Paris (along with where to get the best croissant, baguette, etc) is where to get the best mille-feuille.  Not an item we see all that often in the US, so I was definitely interested to sample some local options.  For the uninitiated, mille-feuille is a layered dessert with crispy flaky puff pastry and cream.  Usually 3 layers, but some pastry chefs go crazy adding more.  Usually stuffed with vanilla pastry cream, but sometimes it can be whipped cream, or other flavors.  The top usually has just confectioner's sugar, but I saw many that were iced too.   You might know these as napoleons, or a vanilla slice perhaps?

Anyway.  According to the all knowing internets, Pierre Hermé makes THE BEST mille-feuille in Paris (unless of course, you want one that is always made to order to ensure maximum crispness, in which case, there are other answers ...)

So I sought it out, venturing to the location in the 6th Arr.  There were several closer locations, but only a handful of Pierre Hermé shops actually sell the pastries, most sell chocolates and macarons exclusively.

There is no seating available, so all goods are packaged to go.
Macarons.
One large counter area was devoted to the famous macarons.  I quickly moved on.
Pound Cakes and Confectionary.
Opposite the macarons along the wall were assorted jams and spreads, and beautifully decorated pound cakes.  Still, not interesting to me.
Individual Chocolates.
The wall also had a display case of individual chocolates.  While I was browsing, I was offered a chocolate.  Chocolates are the other big speciality of Pierre Hermé, so I wasn't about to say no to that, even though it wasn't a flavor I was excited by Mogador, "passion fruit and milk chocolate ganache, enrobed with milk chocolate"

The chocolate was fine, and I liked the smooth creamy chocolate ganache, but the fruity flavor of the passion fruit inside the chocolate wasn't my favorite.  Still for a free chocolate, I was happy (these are not cheap!)
Pastry Case.
But I had my eyes on the pastry case, filled with stunning creations.
My Prize!
It turns out, I must not have been the only one who wanted the mille-feuille.  There were only two left!
Packaging.
After I ordered it, I was given a ticket, and sent to the cash register.  I paid.  And then I waited.  And waited some more.  Finally my treat was delivered to me.  They weren't just being slow or lazy.  They uh, take the packaging seriously.  Every order, even if just a single item, goes into a special box, with some marketing materials, in a bag.  I didn't need the bag nor the flyers, but, ok.
Fontaine Saint-Sulpice.
Since there was no where to sit at Pierre Hermé, I walked just a half a block away to the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice, and sat on a bench in the sun, prize in hand.

Let's just say I was excited.  I also knew that Pierre Hermé did not sell drinks, not even bottles of water, so I brought along my own coffee.  Because desserts need to be paired with coffee!
The Un-Boxing.
It was a bit difficult to get into, as the box was the type that kinda falls apart and is held together by a sticker.  I quickly realized that I couldn't eat it inside the box with the high walls, so I had to keep deconstructing that elaborate boxing job.
2000 Feuilles. 7.30€.
"Flaky caramelized puff pastry crust, crispy praliné with Piedmont hazelnuts, praliné mousseline cream."

It was beautiful, right?

I grabbed the PH logo thing on top, assuming, as it was part of my dessert, assuming that it was edible, and tossed it in my mouth.  It was not.  What, seriously?  I assumed it was printed on chocolate, or at least edible paper.  Nope.  Ok, major strike, this is worse than a garnish on a plate you aren't supposed to eat!

I carefully cut a slice, getting all the layers.  I tasted it.  Hmm.  I wasn't happy.

I seem to have missed an important memo ... the mille-feuille at Pierre Hermé is hazelnut based, not vanilla.  I don't really like hazelnut.  This isn't what I wanted!  I won't count this against them though, this is my own preference and fault.

So, take everything from here on with the knowledge that I was very disappointed.  I know I had read that it was "praline" and I saw it wasn't white, but somehow, I just didn't think about what I was getting.  It was supposed to be the best, I didn't question it further!

Anyway.  There were three layers of the crispy puff pastry crust.  This is what I like about mille-feuille, the contrast of that super crispy, caramelized crust with the cream inside.  It was crispy.  It was flaky.  But it tasted burnt.  There is a line between burnt and caramelized, and they went over it.  Was it supposed to be this way?  I'm not sure.  But it was bitter and burnt, not sweet and caramelized.  Strike two.

There were also three layers of the cream, "praliné mousseline cream".  It was creamy, it was hazelnut flavored.  It was fine.  Not much more to say there.

Wait, how were there three layers of cream, if there were three layers of pastry?  Because they added a bonus layer, the third from bottom.  Instead of another puff pastry layer, it was ground hazelnuts with more hazelnuts embedded in it.  Even more hazelnut flavor, but at least I liked the texture.

The ends were covered in feuilletine (those flaky little pastry crunch things).

Overall, it hit some checkboxes: yes, the pastry was crispy.  Yes there was a creamy layer.  The bonus hazelnut layer added some needed texture.  But ... it wasn't sweet enough.  The cream wasn't sweet, the hazelnuts were rather bitter, and the pastry layer was incredibly bitter.  It just wasn't what I was looking for.  I can deal with hazelnut, but it needed to be balanced by sweet (or chocolate!).

The 7.30€ price is also pretty high, but makes sense, given the elaborate nature of all of it, including the packaging.  Serious meh from me.
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