Tarte citron is one of my favorite desserts. Something about lemon after a heavy meal makes me feel less guilty than an ice cream sundae or slice of chocolate cake. It's tart and refreshing. I always want dessert but I hate when my dessert throws me into a pit that I feel only an excavator can dig my rotund body out of. And here in France, tarte citron is something that practically all patisseries have, and it's often one of the simpler desserts. And really, I'm a simple gal. I love looking at the beautiful entremets in the window, and I find it intriguing and fun to eat them, but when it comes right down to it, the desserts I crave really aren't all that fancy. Brownies. Lemon tart. Any type of pie. Perhaps a souffle if I'm feeling flamboyant.
I also looked forward to taste testing tarte citron because I thought it would be an easier mission to endure than eclair or croissant or millefeuille. Not as sweet. Much more invigorating. I was thinking it would be like eating a few palate cleansers. I was wrong.
Tarte citron are, well, tart. Add on top of that they are a creme in a buttery shell and it makes for quite a undertaking. Tasting two of them in a row was uncomfortable. Tasting three was painful. Give me a few days of this and I was crying out, "Uncle!" But if anything it made me realize how awesome this little dessert is. Often small and unassuming, it hits all the rights senses, at least as far as my senses are concerned. Sweet and rich, the cream is smooth and comforting. Crumbly, crunchy butter shells add great texture and complexity. Then top it off with the tart lemon essence that creeps in at the end and slaps you across the face, and I'm one happy camper.
For MISSION: Tarte Citron, I went to a few more places than usual. I hit up Gerard Mulot, Ble Sucre, Stohrer, Dalloyau, Sadaharu AOKI, Pierre Herme, and Fauchon. So as you can imagine I was a bit "tarted out" this week. With tarte citron I found much less variance than in my other missions because these were all, of course, lemon in flavor. Though some of them obviously employed some other citrus in the mix like lime and orange, for complexity and interesy. But overall, these were slightly harder for me to compare than my previous missons. I tried my best, though. And here are the results.
Stohrer is one of the oldest patisserie's in Paris. It's located just a few steps away from the Etienne-Marcel metro stop and is in the Marais district with Pain de Sucre. The streets surrounding Stohrer are lovely, charming, and very old school french, and I look forward to sharing this enchanted little neighborhood with my family when they arrive next week.
The shop itself is quite small and is quaint and humble in its old fashioned decor and set up. I found it to be quite refreshing after entering so many modern, art gallery-esque stores time and time again. The pastries were also a bit more old fashioned looking than what I've seen and the store has a small selection of savory goods for sale as well. This was, overall, much more like a small neighborhood patisserie than the big boys of the pastry world that I frequent.
The tarte, I must say, followed suit. While I appreciated the old fashioned decor and look of the place, the quality and taste of the dessert just wasn't there. It was okay, but I don't think I'd be buying it again. To begin with, the tarte crust was burnt, and this is coming from someone who generally likes her bread and baked goods on the crispier side. But there's a fine line between rich flavor and oops it was in the oven too long. This was the later.
The creme citron was nice but very very tart and somewhat artificial tasting because of it. I didn't get much lemon flavor, mostly just sourness, and while I enjoy my lemon desserts when they pack a punch, I don't want that to be the only thing they have going for them. This was cut by the meringue topping and so while I usually prefer my tarts without meringue, I found that this one needed it...desperately. The meringue was nice and fluffy and not overly sweet, so it added a nice element to the super tart tarte.
All in all I would say this wasn't the best lemon tart I've had. Not by a long stretch. And I'm really not all that surprised. Stohrer isn't really famous for much except for how old it is. It makes me a bit sad that it hasn't kept up with the competition but that's sometimes just how things go. I will say that I wasn't so put off that I'll never return. It was reasonably priced and so I'll give them another try, or two.
Gerard Mulot is another establishment that hasn't exactly kept up with the trends when it comes to modern layout and modern food design. Again, I found this to be a nice change of suit, but I must admit that the store and the pastries don't look all that appealing from a customer's perspective. I'm not sure if it's the lighting that makes me feel like I'm in a movie from the seventies, or the sad and sometimes messy composure of the desserts, but something is just a bit off in the store at Bastille.
Their tarte citron was perhaps the most boring looking one I bought. I was appreciative of the fact that they offered it both with and without meringue but still felt that the naked one needed a bit more clothing. Perhaps a dash of zest would liven it up? As such, if I weren't on a mission for tarte citron, I probably would've bypassed this little guy. I'm not saying that looks are everything, often times they can be deceiving, but it isn't a secret that we eat with our eyes. Especially when it comes to dessert.
The tart was nice and shiny, which was pleasing, but when I bit into it I realized that it was due to an excess of nappage. Nappage is fine and dandy when used sparingly, but otherwise it can feel a bit weird inside your mouth, like someone's sugared hair gel landed on your dessert. But I tried to ignore it and continued with the tarte, which I found had a nice creme citron. A good lemon flavor with an after bite of sour, it was neither too sour nor too weak. I do prefer my lemon desserts with a bit more bite to them, but I know that not everyone agrees with me on that point. So in this case, I would've appreciated a tad more tartness to the tarte, but because the creme had such nice flavor otherwise, I was happy.
The tart shell was perfectly shaped with ninety degree angles and all. It was buttery and crumbly, without being so crumbly to be disruptive. But overall, the tart was missing something. It was almost as boring tasting as it was looking. Not terrible, and I would perhaps purchase it again if I were in the area and felt in the mood for some lemon, but not my favorite of the group.
Blé Sucré (winner!)
Blé Sucré is notorious for how horribly their treat their workers. But considering that I still praise Pain de Sucré for their delicious delicacies when I have more than enough reason to want to see them burnt to the ground, I felt that it would be unfair for me not to venture out and give Blé Sucré a try. What do I care how they treat their employees if they can make a good dessert? I guarantee you that most of the top notch restaurants in the world are filled with disgruntled workers. Chef's have a god complex, and with that can come a foul attitude and a lot of enemies. It's the nature of the business. But as long as you make a mean dish, people are willing to look past that, me included.
Blé Sucré is located in a wonderful little spot just across from a sweet little park. If it hadn't been so windy I may have sat down outside and enjoyed a viennoiserie. The store was little and quaint, and also looked as if it had survived without getting the modernized face-lift so many other top stores were buying into. The desserts were a bit more chiq and exciting looking than Stohrer and Gerard Mulot, however, and I was pleased to see this little guy waiting for me to take him home and devour him.
I was also pleased to see that he cost under 4€. Sure he may have been smaller than the rest but when it comes to tarte citron less can definitely be more. And since I like mine tart and powerful, I don't need a huge plateful to satisfy my craving. The light dusting of powdered sugar around the shell was sweet and while some may see it as out of style, I still think powdered sugar is magical. The square of yellowed white chocolate also added some eye-pleasing elevation and made it look just a bit more modern. I was also happy to see a large mound of creme citron practically overflowing the shell, and wondered how they got it so perfectly smooth.
Though the tart shell was horrible uneven, it was one of the best things I've ever tasted! Buttery and nutty, crumbly but strong, it was an experience just eating it. And it complemented the creme nicely without overpowering it. The creme was nice and smooth with a good lemon flavor and a nice strong sourness that I enjoyed every second of. This was what I was looking for. Small but spunky with fabulous flavor, I couldn't stop myself from eating it even though I had plenty more tarte citron to taste. I imagine that they must use almond flour in their tart dough but they also seem to do something else magical to make it so delectable. This was, by far, my favorite tarte citron of the bunch.
For convenience sake, I went to the Dalloyau near Bastille and was happy to see seating in this store. What a wonderful place to buy a little something to eat and a cafe and sit and chat with friends! The store itself was also very delightful, warm and welcoming, I was excited to eat their goodies.
Though this tarte citron certainly had nothing fancy going on, I appreciated the little detail of the Dalloyau chocolate, and the ridging on the edge of the crust. The higher middle was also pretty to look at and I was a bit more excited to buy this small dessert than I was Gerard Mulot's.
I was even more excited when I cut into it and saw a layer of lemon curd laying in wait at the bottom. I simply love lemon curd and I was looking forward to see how this would enhance the rest of the tart. The curd itself was quite tasty with a good lemon flavor yet not quite sour enough for my liking. This was remedied, though, by the tartness of the creme and overall the dessert had a nice kick to it. However, it was also not without flaw, or should I say, "flaws."
The crust had a good doneness to it adding a rich, deep flavor, but was so crumbly that it insulted my mouth and didn't meld with the creme or curd. The creme citron was so thick it was almost repulsive and was so eggy tasting that it almost overpowered the flavor of the lemon. It was, at the very least, quite smooth and I suppose if you like your creme citron as thick as cement you would find this a delight. But overall I felt that with it's sickeningly thick creme and lack of lemon flavor that it was somewhat of a letdown and with all the desserts they have to chose from I most certainly will not be repeating the tarte citron.
Pierre Hermé (honorable mention)
Aah, Pierre Hermé. I hold him in such high regard. And apparently, so does everyone else. His small store was so packed when I went in I was afraid I may never make it back out. It's so obvious that this is a country that doesn't sue because I encounter at least five blatant fire hazards on a daily basis. Even though Pierre won my heart with his perfect macaron, I was a bit hesitant about buying his tarte citron. I understand that at his elevated status he's expected to go above and beyond the standard, but when I looked down and saw too large and somewhat offensive strips of candied orange peel surrounded by bits of unknown origin, I was somewhat turned off. It reminded me of a fruit cake. But being Pierre Hermé I figured he knew what he was doing and went ahead and bought the thing, knowing it would only be a matter of minutes before I could determine the level of deliciousness for myself.
Overall, I enjoyed it. The crust was, not surprisingly, amazing. It had a wonderful buttery shortbread flavor to it that was subtle behind the lemon but present enough to be felt and enjoyed. It was hard and crumbly all at once making it easy to bite into. The filling was silky smooth and almost oozed out of the shell, reminding me of some of my Cheese Tuesday friends. This could be seen by some as being too soft but I quite enjoyed its delicate texture and it managed to stay inside the crust, though just barely. The creme was creamy in flavor as well and quite tasty though I did wish for a bit more lemon flavor and tartness.
Most of the flavor and sour taste was presented by the little mystery nuggets which turned out to be chunks of actual lemon. This was, I felt, a wonderful touch and added an extra freshness to the dessert. Oh Pierre, you're so darn clever!
But while I enjoyed the hidden land mines of tart, sour, lemony explosion, I did not appreciate the candied orange peel lying limp and lifeless on top. They were distracting me from the tart eating experience, and I eventually peeled them off and ate them on their own. And considering that I didn't exactly enjoy their flaccid appearance on the tarte, I feel they could be tossed aside and never thought of again.
This tarte was delicious, there's no doubt about that, but I felt that it could've used a bit more lemon and a hint more tartness to make me truly love it. Perhaps a few more strategically placed lemon bombs, Pierre.
I seem to enjoy Sadaharu AOKI for I certainly go there a lot. There is just something about them that I absolutely adore. Perhaps it's because the staff are all Japanese and thus friendly and accommodating in comparison to their Parisian counterparts. I also enjoy speaking to people who speak french as a second language. I feel as though we are brothers-in-arms, to some extent. Though, then again, I don't know if you can call what I do speaking french.
Sadaharu AOKI certainly falls into the category of "art-gallery" when it comes to shop appearance. Everything is perfect and lined up and well lit, and everything looks as though you shouldn't really touch it. But for some reason I feel much more welcomed and excited to indulge than I do in other stores. Why? I don't exactly know.
I was excited to try Sadaharu AOKI's tarte citron because God knows I've enjoyed all their other desserts. It was beautiful, sitting there silently on it's silver platter, with a line of miniscule pistachio bits. But when I cut into it I was shocked at what I saw. "Is this, feuilletine praline?" I asked myself in horror. And it was.
Feuilletine praline is a mixture of caramelized hazelnut butter, melted chocolate, and flakes of feuilletine. It's absolutely delicious and is like a crunchy, french, Nutella. I love it, and I love the French for introducing me to it. But in a tarte citron? How dare you! I order lemon desserts because I don't want chocolate or hazelnut. And to slip it in without so much of a mention? I felt as though I needed to shower after such culinary molestation.
I bit into the tarte and instantly knew that my preconceived notions were right. This was blasphemy. Sure the custard had nice complex flavors enhanced by orange zest, but how could anyone know that when their mouth was focusing their full attention on the damn feuilletine praline?! It was such a "Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!" moment, and it was painful to watch...well, eat. To top it off, the creme, while delicious, didn't have nearly enough lemon flavor or tartness to even come close to competing with the hazelnut, chocolate assault. And to make matters worse, the tart crust was soggy and flavorless.
Why, Sadaharu AOKI, why? I know they have the capability to create a lemon masterpiece, but they clearly hadn't even come close. Not only that, they had also lied to my face! This wasn't a tarte citron. This was a tarte feuilletine praline with a little lemon on top. A completely different animal, and one as unlikely and bizarre as the platypus. I take that back and apologize to all platypuses (platypi?) out there. I'd love to take a platypus home and make it my pet, but I will never again buy one of these things. I'd much rather spend my money on a green tea eclair or macha millefeuille.
While Fauchon is a patisserie, it is first and foremost an incredibly expensive high-end, gourmet, food store. Though I did not venture into that part of the establishment, Elze informed me that it is quite beautiful and amazing as well as being completely out of my budget.
This was obvious when I saw how expensive their desserts were but I was allured by the sweet little tarte sitting there in the case. This tarte citron was the only one I had seen that was square, and sometimes it's hip to be square. I certainly liked the looks of it, and with its little square jelly decoration on top, I was bubbling with anticipation to see if this number held up to Huey Lewis and The News' kick-ass 80's jam.
Regretfully, it did not. The crust had a weird dirty flavor to it which is never a good thing and this certainly did not go well with the creme citron. The creme citron, on the other hand, was super sour, so much so that it reminded me of the WarHeads candy I had eaten as a child which required the consumer to endure minutes of sour pain before releasing delicious sweet flavor. The square jelly on top was passionfruit, which I love, and I thought this was a nice addition since passionfruit is tart and citrusy in flavor, but with a fun and tropical taste. However, combined with the rest of the dessert it just got lost in the shuffle. This was also the case with the bottom layer of what I can only describe as a lemon goo, which was interesting and nice on its own, but which disappeared if you took a bite of the tarte as a whole.
On the upside, the cream had a lovely smooth texture to it but because of the multitude of thick nappage slathered on top, this texture was overpowered by an odd Jell-O feel. While I may enjoy my tarte citron sour, that was pretty much all this tarte had going for it, and there was too much of it to be enjoyable. To top it off, at 6.50€, this was one of the most expensive tartes in the bunch!
Tarte citron is a fairly simple dessert when you compare it to the entremets and intricate tarts so many Parisian shops have to offer, so it really is a shame that so many missed the mark. I think the two main problems were that places either neglected it because of its simplicity or tried to fancy it up too much and lost sight of reality. For me, a tarte citron should be all about the citrus. I want to taste the lemon and I want my tongue to tingle with sour flavor. Go ahead and throw in some lime or orange or passionfruit for complexity and variation, but don't forget that it's a lemon tart. And certainly don't forget that simple ain't always easy.