Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Back To Paris: Patisseries

Let's talk pastry.

After a Parisian downpour, we walked down a quiet side street tucked behind Rue de Rivoli. On the other side of the street, through a shop's big picture window, like a bird, I saw something shiny and had to swoop closer to see what it was.

"We have to stop," I pulled Tony across the street. Mesmerized, I climbed the few stairs to stand beneath the shimmering glass.

Most chandeliers hang full and long; but this ceiling was low and so the chandelier was short, wide, and covered the entire entrance ceiling. What kind of shop deserved such adornment? Where were we?--but of course--a pastry shop.

Once in a while, Tony and I will watch Master Chef. So often the cooking buzzword is "elevated." The cooks vying for the title of Master Chef, are expected to elevate their simple ingredients into elevated concoctions. A traditional apple pie must be elevated by exquisite presentation, taste and often with a twist using untraditional ingredients.

French pastries are elevated.

Super elevated. 

Pastries are a quintessential part of Paris, as much a visual art as the Louvre treasures. And how does a person enjoy a visual treasure?

Study it:

With French pastries, before the eating, comes the requisite looking. Its visual beauty requires study. The color, the arrangement, the pastry chef's choices. The smoothness of the frosting. The angles at which the strawberries lay. The perfect proportion of berries to cream.

Choose a favorite to study further:

Just like standing in a gallery filled with priceless Reniors, one cannot study every single masterpiece: one cannot choose all the pastries. One must discern and choose the certain pastry of desire.

Admire while looking for and tasting the unique aspects of the work of art:

While really looking into the heart and soul of a painting, certain angles and aspects will surface. The play of shadows, the use of light, all combine and reveal the master painter. Often a hidden element will jump to the surface, a heretofore unseen character will emerge from the edges of the painting.

As one bites into a pastry, the flavors must be rolled along the tongue, slowly, slowly, identifying the expected and the surprise. Was that a hint of cardamon? What is the fruitiness flavor I don't recognize? Why did the pastry chef choose to combine chocolate and cinnamon?

Slow Savor:

When we are stunned by a masterpiece, we don't hurry on past it. We stop. We watch. We look deeper. We discover. 

When we are stunned by the flavors of a masterpiece, we don't gobble it down like a sandwich grabbed on our way out the door to the place we have to be in five minutes. No, no, no. A French pastry must be honored by a plate, a fork, a table by the window, a park bench by a fountain.

One of our favorite Parisian activities was to ride our bikes to Pierre Herme, wait in line, all the while indulging in the presentation. No one ever seemed to mind waiting in line at Pierre Herme. By the time we heard, "May I help you," in that beautiful French language and tone, we somewhat knew the treasure or two, we wanted. The shop worker would carefully lift the pastry with tongs, place it on a tray and turn to the back counter where the works of art were placed in a box, and lifted into a beautiful bag complete with decorative cutouts. We would exit the store slowly, extending the anticipation. Our favorite place to carry that coveted Pierre Herme bag, was Luxembourg Park. We hoped for an open seat at the Medici Fountain where we would reverently unwrap the treasures and slowly, surely, indulge.

Pierre Herme is the Louvre of patisseries.

At Maison Chantilly
 Happy at Maison Chantilly
 Other delights from a patisserie other than Pierre Herme