Millefeuille is most traditionally made with plain feuilletage (though don't let that fool you into thinking it's plain, it just isn't chocolate or green tea or any other flavor) and vanilla creme mousseline, but it can definitely be made in an assortment of flavors and I found many of them when I went out looking for this calorie packed little darling.
I decided upon millefeuille for this week because Elze was able to sneak some home from her internship at Hugo & Victor, and she has always raved about how theirs is simply the best. I then also decided to include Pain de Sucre's millefeuille because it was one of the few things I was allowed to eat while there since it is made in a large portion and then cut into smaller, individual servings, leaving ends and trimmings to snack upon. From there I went to Pierre Herme, Sadaharu AOKI, Patisserie des Reves, and Dalloyau, though the later two did not have millefeuille and so I picked random pastries that I thought looked delicious and interesting (we'll call them "wild cards").
One thing I must say before diving in is that I am, by no means, trying to speak for everyone. I have eaten with enough other people and worked with enough fellow students to know that everyone has their own opinion of what is good, what is not, and what should never be made or eaten again. Having friends from all over the world has shown me that some things are preferred in certain countries over others. Having read enough pastry reviews that I have then disagreed with has shown me that just because someone has an opinion which they share on the internet or in a book doesn't mean they speak the word of God. But all the same, it is nice to have something to consider before going out and embarking on your own pastry exploration. Take everything I say with a grain of salt (or sugar) and try to keep in mind what your own personal tastes are when going to any restaurant or patisserie. So, with that said, here is the millefeuille break down.
Hugo & Victor: Caramel Millefeuille
And caramel it is. They certainly don't mess around with the flavor at Hugo & Victor. The feuilletage in and of itself is often very caramel-y because it must be topped with some type of cooked sugar to avoid sogginess. I was happy to see that this had been done because nothing is worse than a soggy millefeuille. Well, ok, a lot of things are worse, but you get the gist. This was a lovely millefeuille and if you are a fan of caramel you will go crazy for these sugary layers. The feuilletage was nice, crispy, and flaky, without being so hard that it was impossible to eat. The caramel creme mousseline wasn't so sweet as to make the dessert unbearable and had a lovely color and texture to it. Perhaps the best part of this delight was the gooey caramel center. I ate through the rest with great anticipation for this nugget of deliciousness and it did not disappoint. But I must say, this was not my favorite of all the millefeuille. Perhaps Elze's hype had raised my expectations too high, but I definitely didn't lose feeling in my extremities from how incredible this was. Something about the feuilletage just wasn't right for me. And frankly, though the oozing caramel center was as good as it looked, I think I prefer the original vanilla flavor instead. It was just too much caramel.
Pierre Herme: Hazelnut Millefeuille
There is this thing called, "praliné," which is used in almost every pastry kitchen in France. It is a butter made from caramel coated hazelnuts. It's delicious as I'm sure you can imagine. This is essentially the flavor of Pierre Herme's millefeuille. They did not have a vanilla one to choose from and so I begrudgingly bought this one instead, but I must say, it was incredible. The feuilletage was pretty much perfect, crispy and delicate with a good crunch to accompany the smooth cream filling. It had a nice caramel flavor from the cooked sugar but was not so strong as to overpower the rest of the dessert. The hazelnut cream filling was smooth and super-hazelnutty, but being a big hazelnut fan I was not upset by this at all. There was also a layer of chocolate hazelnut "nutella" containing chopped hazelnuts that added a nice hint of chocolate and an extra crunch to entertain your mouth. For anyone who likes hazelnuts or nutella (and who doesn't love nutella) this is something you would love! A beautiful dessert. My only gripe is that it was topped with a candied almond which I found confusing since it was hazelnut, not almond, inside. From everything I learned at school this is a big no-no. Toppings like this are used to alert the buyer what the dessert contains beneath it's crispy folds. But, alas, I flicked the almond away and happily dug in like it had never happened.
Sadaharu AOKI: Vanilla Millefeuille
Finally, an original! Though I was quite tempted to buy the matcha flavor as well, I decided that going with the classic would be better for this test. The top of the millefeuille had a thin layer of hardened caramel. I needed a serrated knife to cut through it without completely massacring the rest of the dessert but it was certainly worth it. This layer added a nice caramel crunch and made the dessert beautiful and shiny to look at. The feuilletage was flaky and crisp. The filling was a pastry cream and not a creme mousseline (which means it has less butter and a denser, more custard-like consistency) but this didn't bother me a bit since it was delicious. It had nice subtle hints of vanilla and I was happy to see bits of vanilla bean smiling up at me with each bite. Overall it reminded me of a stellar creme brulee in flavor but with the added charm of the flaky, crispy feuilletage. It was also the smallest of all the millefeuille and, in my opinion, the most realistic serving size.
Pain de Sucre: Vanilla Millefeuille
Oh, the old hell hole. Though I haven't dared show my face there again I do remember with deadly accuracy the state of their millefeuille. And I must say, for me, I absolutely adore it. It is gigantic and tall and would most likely be best if shared. The feuilletage is cooked until almost burnt but I love the rich flavor that it gives the dessert especially in contrast to the sweet vanilla mousseline. But I know this is one of those instances when my personal taste may differ from yours and so if you prefer things lightly cooked you may not enjoy this millefeuille as much as I do. The vanilla mousseline has a strong vanilla flavor though I don't find it too strong as to be sickeningly sweet and as I said, I think it complements the dark feuilletage nicely. The feuilletage is extra-crispy and flakes beautifully into the thick layers of creme when eaten.
All in all, each millefeuille was quite different from the next. They all had beautiful feuilletage and I was happy that not a single one was one bit soggy. For caramel lovers, the Hugo & Victor is by far the best. If you go crazy for nutella I would recommend the Pierre Herme. If creme brulee is something you have to order when you see it on the menu, I think you would be happy to try the Sadaharu AOKI millefeuille because of it's similar flavoring and pastry cream filling. And if you are looking for something classic and vanilla-y with a dirty burnt punch to it, Pain de Sucre is the way to go. Each one of these patisseries are held in high esteem and I am happy to say that from their millefeuille's I agree with that opinion.
Dalloyau was not on my list of patisseries for this mission but I walked right past it on my way to Patisserie des Reves and so decided to pop in. They did not have a millefeuille for me to taste and so after some consideration I decided to buy the "Dalloyau" since it was named after the store itself. I had no idea what to expect from this little dessert but I was quite happy when I spooned into it at home. It, too, was hazelnut in flavor, and was covered in small little chunks of candied hazelnuts. The inside was, I believe, thin layers of hard meringue and hazelnut creme mousseline. It had a nice, sweet hazelnut flavor and the creme mousseline was wonderfully pillowy and soft. My one criticsm is that the meringue got lost in all of the creme. It seemed to have absorbed a lot of the moisture and I had to look closely to even notice it was there. As such it didn't excite me too much texturally since it was like eating a ball of mousseline rolled in chopped hazelnuts. But all the same, I did go back later and finish the little guy off for a midnight snack.
Patisserie Des Reves: Mont Blanc
I have never eaten a mont blanc before and so I'm not exactly sure what they should taste like. But the mont blanc at Patisserie des Reves looked beautiful and delicious and so I couldn't help but take one home. I must say, however, that I may never eat one again. It was horrible! So sweet that my face immediately pulled into a look of dislike, I dissected the thing to see what the culprit was. Mont Blanc is a chestnut dessert, filled with candied chestnuts, vanilla creme, and topped with a chestnut "frosting." It apparently resembles the large mountain and so was named "Mont Blanc." Perhaps the biggest issue I had with this dessert was its sweetness. It was simply too sweet. I found that the cause of this was the chestnut "frosting" that was piped on top. It was like eating straight fondant, and though it had the grainy texture of chestnut, the sweetness was so overpowering that I didn't get even the slightest hint of chestnut flavor. I then went on to taste the vanilla creme which was nice and not too sweet at all, but sadly it had been engulfed in the rest of this dessert and was completely lost if I took a bite of the whole thing. Underneath this mini mountain of vanilla was some sort of soft honey syrup meringue thingy that was also extremely sweet. But perhaps the most disappointing part was the filling of candied chestnuts. I love chestnuts and I especially love how much the French use them in their desserts. But for whatever reason these chestnuts had been soaked in rum, stripping them of all the chestnut deliciousness they had to offer. Overall, I found the dessert very disappointing and so sweet that I couldn't take more than one bite. Even worse than that, they degraded all of the chestnut flavor with sugar and rum so that, if I hadn't known what flavor it was supposed to be, I would have no idea it contained a single chestnut. I am going to have to try a mont blanc somewhere else to see if this is actually how it's supposed to taste or if Patisserie des Reves struck out on this one.
I hope this has been informative. I certainly enjoyed picking through these desserts and was more than happy to stop by each beautiful patisserie. Next time, however, I may need to spread the tasting out a bit more since snacking on four desserts in one day gave me a terrible sugar headache. I'm just not the spry young pup I used to be and can't down pound after pound of sugar without breaking a sweat. It's a sticky job but I can't deny that I'm more than happy to do it!