Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Praluline from Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus


That is all I have to say.  It takes a lot to impress me with a sweet treat these days.  I'm spoiled, I eat a ton of desserts, and baked goods in particular.  The pastry chefs at my office are insanely talented and I'm treated to about 4 different amazing dessert creations ... every single day.  I seek out great desserts when I'm not at the office.  And you can kinda guess what I spent my time in Paris doing ...  yes, visiting as many bakeries and patisseries as I possibly could.  Let's just say that my sugar, butter, and carb consumption was at an all time high, which is impressive, given how many desserts I eat in "normal" life.

But I digress.  I haven't even started telling you about the amazingness that awaits at Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus.  Which I'll do.  But, if you want the short version: go to Paris (or Lyon, where they also have a shop).  Get a Praluline.  Actually, get a few.  Save one for breakfast.  Bring one back for me.  Or take the easy route, and order online.  Yes, they ship worldwide.  Thank me later.  You are welcome.
First, Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus is actually mostly a chocolate shop, with master chocolatier François Pralus at the helm.  When you enter the shop, the large front counter display is filled with individual chocolates, plus large bars on top.

Apparently the chocolates are quite good, but that is not what I was there for, and I honestly didn't even stop to look at them.
Packaged Chocolate Confections.
The wall behind houses assorted chocolate confections, packaged up to go.  I almost stopped to browse this area to get something else to take back with me, but I had my eyes set on my prize.
The further wall contained some assorted jams.  Clearly not what I was there for.
No, what I was there for wasn't really on display, besides a tray in the font window, and a platter behind the counter where you order.

Again, this IS a chocolate shop after all, so 95% of the shop is occupied by chocolate and other confections.

It took a while for me to be able to take a photo of the storefront, without gawkers in the photo.  The number of people who walked by, saw the platter, and stood staring was a bit amazing.  Let's just say that I wasn't the only one with a camera out.
So what were we gawking at?  Pralulines!  The look on this guy's face really does sum it up.

That cleared it up, right?  Pralulines are an amazing creation by Auguste Pralus (father of the aforementioned chocolatier François Pralus).  A simple description is that it is a praline bread, but, that doesn't do it any justice.

First, it looked nothing like any other praline bread I've ever seen.  Now, to be honest, I had never heard of praline bread before I got to Paris, but they were a fairly common item at bakeries around town, like Liberté.  The others are all inspired by the Praluline, but none are said to compare.  And, at least on looks alone, they clearly don't.  The one from Liberté was a small roll for example.  The one from Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus was ... not.  But I get ahead of myself.

Let's talk more about the Praluline.

Auguste Pralus was a pastry chef.  A rather accomplished pastry chef at this point, but he created the Praluline in 1950 when he was just a baker somewhere (yes, this thing has been around for 60 years).  He subsequently won many awards, chaired many important pastry and culinary boards in France, and even received the French Order of Nation Merit.  I see why.

Quite frankly, the Praluline is the only thing I ate in Paris that not only lived up to its hype, it surpassed it.  On Saturdays, they sell more than 800 Pralulines at a single shop.  Again, I see why.
Baking Center.
Pralulines are baked on site, continuously, all day long in a tiny little area in the back of the store.  When I was there, I saw a worker kneading dough, and fresh pralulines were lined up on baking racks right inside the doorway.

These things come out fresh.
Pralulines all lined up and ready for packaging.
Since I've been reviewing all the packaging at different pastry shops, I'll continue that theme here as well.

I ordered from a person behind a counter, who grabbed a Praluline, wrapped it in a wax paper-ish wrapper that was already laid out, tied it with a ribbon, and passed it down to the cashier.  The cashier quickly rang me up, placed it into a brightly colored bag, and handed it over.
The packaging was only slightly annoying.  Better than some of the fancy boxes I encountered like at Pierre Herme, but still a bit hard to deal with.  I wanted to break into it right away, and the ribbon made that difficult!

Since the shop is just a small chocolate shop, they do not have any seating.  I couldn't wait to get back to the hotel to try this, so I found a nearby bench and dug in.

It was with my Praluline, sitting on a bench on a tiny side street, that I finally met my first friendly Parisians.  Nearly every person who walked by ... smiled at me.  A few offered a cheery "Bonsoir!"  I think they could see the glee and excitement on my face.  One even wished me "Bon Appétit!"  Well huh, this was different treatment!
Praluline ... Petite. 6.50€.
So, the Praluline.

Perhaps from the photo of the packaging you can see how, uh, massive the thing was.  People said they were big, but I had no concept of how big they truly were until I arrived at the shop.  It was as big as my head, honestly.  I include this photo, just to give you context, with my hand stretched out as big as I could make it, it still wasn't even close to the size of the Praluline.

Which gets me to part of the story.  

Pralulines are the only pastry they sell at the shop.  Everything else, as I said, is chocolates.  Praulines come in two sizes: "individual" or "large".  I saw only one size, in both the window and behind the counter, even though a sign listed both sizes.  And, they were huge.  It was 7pm when I arrived, and they close at 7:30pm, so I assumed that the issue is that they were out of the small ones.  So I attempted to ask, just to double check.  I didn't actually want something that massive.  I thought I was  going to get, well, an individual treat.  I was assured that no, THIS was the petite size.  ZOMG.  I had no choice but to get the massive thing, and suddenly, the 6.50€ price tag made more sense.  Oh, did I mention, it weights 600g?  Uh, yes.
Chocolate Version.
Also, I did slightly lie.   The Praluline isn't the only pastry they sell; they also sell a chocolate version, with chocolate chips in it instead of pralines.  They didn't have any on my first visit, and I can't imagine they are nearly as special.  I'm sure they are great warm though, and clearly, they must use awesome quality chocolate.
Ok, I lied even more.  Besides just Praulines, they also sell Pralusiennes.  These are tropéziennes, Pralus-ified, aka, giant stuffed Praluline (or chocolate one), filled with vanilla crème mousseline.  I can't even imagine the insanity that thing is.  Luckily for me, they were out of when I visited the first time, and I knew better the second time.  I think the Pralusienne would do some SERIOUS damage!

Review #1: September 2015

My first visit was on my first trip to Paris, in the evening.
"A rich brioche flavored with pieces of pralines made in-house: Valencia almonds and Piedmont hazelnuts coated in rose sugar and then cracked. " 

Ok, so getting to the real review.

Yes, a Praluline is just a (very large) round broiche loaded with bits of praline.  They make the pralines in-house, from both almonds and hazelnuts, coated in rose sugar.  The pralines are then cracked and baked into the dough.

Sounds simple enough right?  First, the pralines are pretty amazing, just on their own.  Very generously coated in the rose sugar, they are basically candy, but with a bit of bitterness from the nuts.  Crunchy, sweet, addicting.   You can buy containers of just the pralines, which, I did on my second visit.

But add these things to brioche, and, well, the result is astounding.  You see, the candied pralines turn into magic when they bake.  Some of the sugar comes off and forms gooey little pockets of rose flavored sweetness throughout the bread.  Exterior bits turn more into hard candy.  The result is a sweetness that just welcomes you in so many ways, from the rose sugar in its several forms, to the sweetness from the brioche base.  The brioche is good too, rich, slightly sweet, fluffy, perfectly cooked.  It isn't dry, it isn't crusty, it isn't too dense.  The end result is complete addiction, as you keep wanting to have just one more bite of the crispy candy edge, just one more sweet gooey pocket, just one crunchy nut.

I was a bit unsure of what to do with my Praluline though.  I wasn't actually expecting something quite so sweet.  I immediately lamented that it was 7pm, and this didn't seem like the appropriate time to eat such a thing.  I think it would be AMAZING with a cup of black coffee for breakfast.  Yes, it was loaded with sugar, so not the breakfast of SOME champions, but I assure you, this would make for an amazing breakfast.  I vowed to only eat 1/4 of it that night, which seemed entirely reasonable, still the size of a very large individual roll.  I knew I should give Ojan a chunk, and assumed I'd have about half left after that, enough for breakfast the next two mornings.  People say these keep fine for a few days (and freeze wonderfully), so this seemed like a great idea.  I took a few more bites, blown away by sweetness and honestly, confusion, and decided to go get some savory food.  I still just wasn't sure what to make of the thing.

And then a few hours passed, and I was sitting back in my hotel room, glass of red wine in hand.  It dawned on me that the Praluline would ALSO go great with a glass of red wine.  I pulled it out.  And devoured it.  All of it.  I couldn't stop.  Once you get going on one of these, I think it is actually impossible to stop.  I no longer questioned that this was considered the Petite, or Individual, size.  The folks behind me in line were a group of 4, one of whom had been there before.  The others saw the size, and said they should split one.  The returnee assured them that they all needed their own.  They all acted like she was crazy.  She wouldn't listen, and refused to split with anyone.  Again, I see why.  No matter how big it is, there is no way you'll want to give one up either.

It was fantastic just as it was, ripping off little, or not so little, chunks as I went, but I also wonder how it would be if you warmed it up, and put butter on it.  If I somehow ever wound up with a piece that was slightly older, I'd certainly consider doing that to revive it a bit.  It certainly didn't need it when fresh though.

Review #2: September 2015 ... the next day

Update ... the next day.  I went back.  I had to.  I went at 11:30am, right after they opened.  I got a Praluline.  It was hot and fresh.  It was a thing of beauty.  So fresh, it was moister, fluffier, gooier.  I might have slightly preferred the cold version with the hardened, candied edges, but it really is a toss up.

Review #4: September 2016

A year later, I found myself in Paris again, for a *very* short work trip.  I didn't make it to any other patisseries during my time, which, quite frankly, is a bit absurd.  I was in Paris for 3 days and went to no bakeries???!!!  What?  Yeah.

Partially I was just really busy with work and didn't have the time.  I did have some good eats and enjoyed an excellent Michelin starred meal at Fables, had a team dinner at the highly mediocre Le Souffle, and had some excellent soft serve ice cream from Jeff Brudges, but, alas, no pastries.  I also had an incredible breakfast buffet at the Westin which included amazing warm brioche bread pudding, cheesecake, mini frosted donuts, and crispy puff pastry brioche every morning, and was working from an office with fantastic desserts, so, it isn't like I was *hurting* for pastries.

Anyway, on my last day, after feasting at breakfast again, I got a message that the other people I was meeting with were running late.  I had 30 minutes.  I was a 30 minute walk away from Pâtisserie Chocolaterie Pralus.  So, I decided to jog there, making it in just under 15 minutes.  I quickly ordered a praluline from a remarkably friendly, English speaking woman, stashed it in my bag, and jogged back to the office.  I was only 2 minutes late.

It was a ridiculous move, but, well, necessary.  How could I visit Paris and NOT get another of these?

I snuck a bite the moment I had any room in my stomach.  As much as I loved my breakfast feast of bread pudding, cheesecake, a mini donut, and sugar brioche, I regretted filling my stomach with sweets that, while good, weren't the best things ever.  Because the praluline?  It is.

I had high expectations going into this, but, the praluline lived up.  Such soft, fluffy, sweet bread.  Deliciously sweet and crunchy pralines.  Pockets of gooey sweet bits. The top had a crusted layer of praline sweetness.  I adored it.  I wanted to devour the entire thing on the spot.  I don't understand how it can be that good.  But it is.


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