For this mission I was trying to do just religieuse. Both Elze and Christy wanted me to chose this pastry because they wanted me to feature the religieuse from their internships. According to Elze, Hugo & Victor has a wonderful religieuse and though she used to hate making them everyday, ever since she started thinking of them as little people she's fallen head over heels for them. Christy boasts about the miniature religieuse of the Ritz and says that three can fit on neatly in your hand. So I accepted this as my mission. Of course neither of them ended up bringing me their religieuse so I had to go out and find some elsewhere.
Though religieuse is a classic french pastry not all shops carry them. Only two of the five places I went had religieuse so I decided to also get eclairs from two of the other shops since they are very similar. A religieuse is essentially two puff pastries (made from choux shells) on top of each other like a snowman. They are filled with pastry cream and usually topped with fondant. They traditionally have a piped bit of white butter cream on top which gives them the appearance of a bald monk, hence the name "religieuse."
Eclairs have the same choux shell as a religieuse and the same pastry cream filling. We Americans are used to our eclairs with vanilla filling and chocolate ganache tops, but in France they usually use a fondant topping that corresponds to the filling. So a chocolate eclair will have chocolate pastry cream and a chocolate fondant topping. A vanilla will have vanilla cream inside and white, vanilla, fondant on top and so on and so on. I think you get the point.
For this reason a lot of religieuse and eclairs can be too sweet. Fondant is practically straight sugar and, when you put that on top of something with a sweet custard inside, it can make your teeth ache just looking at it. But I must say that of all the religieuse and eclairs I ate, none of them were too sweet and for that I was thankful.
So let's dive in shall we? The four shops I went to were Carl Marletti, Laduree, Sadaharu AOKI, and Jacques Genin. I decided to go for different flavors at each place based purely on what felt right. I also thought it would add some excitement to my tasting and make it easier to consume that much butter and sugar.
Carl Marletti: Cafe Religieuse
As I wrote about yesterday, I was extremely excited to go to this patisserie. Carl Marletti's reputation precedes him and though I've never met him I respect and love him deeply. I truly believe that being able to run a kitchen in a calm but assertive manner, and to have that kitchen be well known within the most competitive pastry city in the world, requires some sort of zen chi personality that I only wish I could have. The neighborhood surrounding the store is beautiful and you'll feel like a true parisian visiting this little corner of the city. The shop is tiny and the selection is small but beautiful. It's also unbelievably inexpensive asking only 3.90€ for a heafty religieuse, which is unheard of in the other elite Parisian patisseries.
I went with the cafe religieuse because it sounded good and I always appreciate how coffee can break through the sweetness of a dessert. Though not the prettiest of religieuse it had a certain charm to it, fat, shiny, and yummy looking. This religieuse had the modern crumble affect as well as a shiny cafe fondant. Though it felt slightly soggy in my hands it certainly did not feel that way in my mouth and was soft and easy to eat. The buttercream piping on the side was hazelnut flavor which added a subtle something that made me stop and ask myself, "what is this I'm tasting?" and I always like to be a bit surprised. The hazelnut was a humble and pleasant accent to the coffee which was nice and strong. This was wonderful since it cut the sweetness of the fondant and made the entire pastry cohesive and delicious.
The crumble of the choux added an interesting texture which my tongue found exciting amidst the smooth textures of the fondant and the cream filling. My only criticism is that there were some lumps in the filling but I only noticed them because I was looking. It certainly didn't feel lumpy in my mouth. It was also so big that I would've been more than happy to share it with someone else. But then again, I ate the other half for breakfast the next day. It is coffee after all.
Laduree: Rose & Framboise (Raspberry) Religieuse
Rose is one of those flavors that you either like or you don't. I personally love it. Something about it makes me feel like a princess, and what girl doesn't like to feel like a princess every now and again? Laduree is an experience. It's very traditional and French as well as being a huge tourist spot that is usually jam packed with people and often enough with a line out the door. This time I was helped by a wonderfully sweet girl who smiled and didn't rush me along, but now that I think about it they weren't all that busy when I was there for some miraculous reason. The rose and framboise religieuse sounded good to me because I thought the raspberry would add a freshness to the pastry and ease some of the sugar high pain I was about to endure.
Packed in a beautiful box I was excited to delve into this gorgeous religieuse. Symmetrical and eye catching it looked almost perfect. The fondant was matte and not shiny, which from what I learned in school is a mistake, but it actually looked nice and sophisticated.
I was so happy when I cut into it to see fresh raspberries hidden inside. Like the best surprise ball in the world, I'm always happy to see fresh fruit! Plus it looked even prettier now that I'd sliced through it's fat body. But this high didn't last long. I ate the head off and I'm sure a frown pulled down at my lips. What was this? This was not the kind of surprise that I like. It tasted weird and I couldn't figure out what it was. The choux was extremely eggy, which wasn't exactly bad but it also had an almost stale element to it. The rose flavoring was nice and not too strong and the cream was good and smooth. What I finally realized was that it was the raspberries that were the problem. It's December, after all, raspberries have no business being in a dessert here in Paris. To my defense, I was thinking it would be some sort of raspberry jam or cream, and while I was delighted to see these fresh beauties hanging out in the middle of my religieuse, I was not so delighted to eat them. They were drab and flavorless, adding a horrible unrecognizable weirdness to the pastry.
Overall, this religieuse left me confused and disappointed. Perhaps another flavor would be a better way to go, something a bit more classic, like caramel or chocolate. But for 6.70€ I'd rather hit up my new BFF Carl Marletti for one of his homely little gems.
Sadaharu AOKI: Green Tea Eclair
I love green tea in desserts. Green tea ice cream is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and at Sadaharu AOKI almost everything comes in green tea (or matcha). The sad thing about green tea is that it's, well, green. Not the most appetizing of colors for a dessert. But if you look past the ugly duckling appearance you get to indulge in the swan within, and I was more than happy to.
The fondant on this eclair was a bit uneven in shine and was cracking slightly in areas, but I really don't care too much about such things. It looked wonderful and being thin and long made it easy to eat. The green tea came through immediately and was strong and sweet and glorious! I couldn't help but utter a muffled "yum" as I chewed my mouthful of eclair. The choux had a wonderful doneness to it that added a great base to the dessert, something rustic to anchor the sweet fondant and green tea flavor. It was so perfectly sweetened that I could have easily eaten the whole thing and would have if I didn't have other desserts waiting for me to try them.
The filling was perfect and smooth with a great green tea flavor mirrored by the green tea in the fondant. The cream was eggy and rich but not too dense or filling either. My only complaint was that it wasn't completely filled to the ends so I felt a little cheated. It was just so delicious! Usually I leave a half of each dessert in the fridge for my roommate to enjoy in later, but I set this one aside. There would be NO sharing of this dessert. It was all mine!
Jacques Genin: Caramel Eclair
I had never heard of Jacques Genin before and so I was surprised to see that his store was located just a short walk from my apartment. Though he is known more for his chocolate he is also supposed to have superb pastries and so I set out to decide for myself. Even though it was only a few blocks away I instantly got lost. I looked left, I looked right, I doubled back, yet no Jacques Genin to be found. I dipped inside a hotel to ask for directions. The man laughed at me and pointed at the store just kitty corner from him. "There's no sign, I know..." he said. I felt a bit silly but quickly shook it off and strode across the street and through the automatic glass doors of his signless shop sitting just on the corner of Rue de Turenne and Rue Charlot.
It was very oddly set up, with two levels. The first had a case with candy and that was all. I walked past this and down the few steps to the level with chocolate and pastries. Tucked around a corner here was also a large area filled with tables and chairs and people enjoying their desserts. It was very quiet and I felt a little bit like a kid who had wandered into a room filled with adults have serious conversations. I looked at the case of pastries and was sad to see no religieuse amongst their small selection, but they did have chocolate and caramel eclairs that were even longer and skinnier and tastier looking than Sadaharu AOKI's and so I went for it. The man behind the counter came up with a smile and asked my what I wanted. I was a bit taken aback by his polite attitude, especially in this hoity toity establishment. I decided on a caramel eclair and, with box in hand, took the little devil back to my apartment for tasting.
The eclair was absolutely breathtaking. Skinny and long with a nice slender shiny fondant topping, I was excited to bite into it. And when I did I was surprised, yet again. This wasn't fondant, this was caramel. I've never been a huge fan of fondant and so I was ecstatic for this switch-up. The caramel was just the perfect consistency, not too soft or stringy and not hard or crunchy either. It was chewy and perfect with a great deep color and nice, rich, dark flavor to it.
The choux shell was heavenly, crispy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. It added a nice element and flavor to the rest of the eclair without taking over the pastry cream or caramel. Like a base guitarist, you wouldn't necessarily know it was there but without it the entire thing would've fallen flat. The cream was smooth and just as rich in dark caramel flavor as the topping. And I was happy to see that it filled the shell end to end.
Caramel desserts can be a bit scary. They can often become too sweet too quickly. But this eclair was nothing of the sort. It had a strong caramel punch but it's sweetness didn't assault my senses into submission. I ate the entire thing, in one sitting, without so much as a twinge of a sugar headache. It was so rich but so balanced that I just couldn't help myself. I had to eat it. In my opinion, this was the perfect eclair. It had the best choux and the best overall flavor. The winner of this group, I cannot wait to go back and try it's chocolate brother. I only wish the shop was a bit further away 'cause I really can't afford to buy new, bigger, pants.