Parisian patisserie is the best in the world. That’s an absolute tried and tested fact. Sorry to all the Italians with your wonderful dolci and the Germans with their kuchen but the French really do win hands down. I was lucky enough to visit Paris last week to simply wander from patisserie to patisserie at my leisure. A dream come true. Here are some of the pastries I found with a little background as to where they came from.
Choux is a light pastry dough which is used for profiteroles and croquembouche towers. Its history is rather lovely. It was invented by an Italian chef called Pantanelli who was part of Catherine de Medici’s court. He called it after his own name but as the dough started to be used for different desserts, the name changed. Interestingly it was once used to make ‘popelins’ which were small cakes in the shape of a lady’s breasts. The current name ‘pate a choux’ comes from a patissier called Avice who made the choux buns we know today. Choux means ‘cabbage’ as this is what the buns are said to resemble. I can’t see it myself. I’d say they were more ‘boules’!
These choux buns are from the bakery Popelini in the Montmatre district of Paris. They are filled with all sorts of different flavours from traditional lemon, vanilla and chocolate to the more modern salted caramel and rose
Choux buns of two different sizes are also the base for Religieuse like the giant one below.
Gateau St Honore
This is the cake made in honour to the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. It is traditional a circle of puff pastry with a ring of choux pastry along the outside edge. Then small choux buns are dipped in caramelised sugar and stuck along the edge. The centre is then filled with whipped cream.
I discovered many variations. The most intriguing of which was this creation at Patisserie des Reves in the shape of a bed!
Now these are quite possibly the most coveted patisserie of them all. It’s essentially a biscuit made using meringue, ground nuts – usually almonds and sugar. The type of sugar varies depending on which version you’re making. Some use caster sugar, some icing, some even granulated. They are fiddly little buggers to make but well worth the effort. Historically again they are said to have come to France via Catherine de Medici’s court as the word originates from ‘maccarone’ which is the Italian word for meringue. Two biscuits sandwich a filling of jam, whipped cream or ganache. My favourites are from La Duree.
You can read about the origins of this one in my Great British Bake Off Semi Final post as this was the Showstopper Bake. I decided to hunt down the original creators near the Opera House in Paris at Dalloyau Patisserie. It was one of the poshest patisseries I visited on my trip. The staff were rather formal and not friendly towards pictures. But here’s a sneaky shot of the counter.
And last but not least we have the vast range of tartes – tarte au citron, tarte aux pommes, tarte au chocolat, tarte aux fruit and so on. This is basically a sweetcrust pastry base with a filling. It could be chocolate, cream, almond cream. My favourite is Tarte Aux Pommes. I love the way the apple pieces are arranged to give a fan effect.
Indulge yourself in a little simple patisserie
It is difficult and time consuming to make many of these treats. I wish they were available on every street corner here like they are in France. But you can make a simple treat quickly at home. Here’s a variation of the Millefeuille – a dessert of three puff pastry layers with cream or jam in the middle.
My simple version uses two sheets of puff pastry some whipped cream and fresh raspberries. The rose petals are edible but mainly they are for romantic décor
You’ll need the following for about 4 servings
Half pack of all butter puff pastry
100ml double cream
1-2 tsp rosewater
1 punnet of fresh raspberries
First preheat the oven to 220C and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Roll the pastry out into a rectangle to about the thickness of a £1 coin – around 5mm .
Cut off any wobbly edges and then cut 8 equal, rectangular strips along the short edge.
Place these gently onto the baking tray and bake til golden brown – about 10 mins. They will be lovely and puffed up. Leave them to cool while you make the cream.
Whisk the cream and then add the rosewater to your taste. I start with about 1 tsp.
To serve, place one pastry piece onto a plate, spoon on the cream, add a few raspberries and then place another pastry piece on top.
Inspired? For more delicious baking recipes visit Great British Chefs.