The Paris-Brest is a pate-a-choux dessert that is named for a race that spans from Paris to Brest and is a circle to represent said race. It is normally filled with hazelnut creme and topped with powdered sugar and almonds. It's one of my favorite traditional french desserts that I hadn't known until my trip here and when I heard such good things about Jacques Genin's rendition, I knew I had to give it a try.
Truth be told the first time I saw Genin's Paris-Brest I was completely turned off by it. The mountain of cream mousseline piped between the two shells of choux looked overstuffed and sickening and reminded me of those horrific buttercream cupcakes that stand a foot tall that you buy from Safeway back home. But after hearing from more than one source that these were the best Paris-Brests I went against my own first impressions and bought the thing. And I am certainly happy that I did.
Jacques Genin has the ability to make something decadent and sweet without being too much of either. His use of fresh high end ingredients is smart and noticeable and adds an air of sophistication to his desserts. The hazelnut flavor of the Paris-Brest was strong and tantalizing and was emphasized but wonderful crunches of toasted hazelnuts that had been sprinkled on top as well as small grains of hazelnut tucked within the mousseline. The choux, as usual, was perfection, fresh and crisp with a billowy soft inside.
This is certainly a dessert you can share and really one bite would be enough to make even the most gluttonous of people happy. But then again, when you have the whole thing in front of you, you may find it hard to stop until the plate is empty.
Tarte citron, as you very well may know, is one of my favorite desserts, and considering that I already know how fabulous Jacques Genin's tart crust is, I was more than ready to delve into the citrusy custard he had waiting for me. Flecks of green dotted the top and were, upon first appearance, what I surmised to be lime zest, but upon tasting realized were tiny chopped up bits of basil.
The basil added an element that I wasn't expecting, that was different from any lemon tart I had had, and yet that also made perfect sense. It somehow managed to make the crispness of the lemon even fresher while also making it easy to eat, numbing down some of the strong tartness of it. The consistency of the lemon filling was perfect, not too soft and not too stiff and it had just the right amount of tartness so that it tasted fresh but not so much that it came off as artificial.
The crust was, as I knew it would be, delicious, yet somehow I was a bit let down. Don't get me wrong, it's an amazing crust, but it goes so beautifully with the honey-caramel and walnut tart that I was expecting it to complement the lemon in kind. It did admirably, but it obviously is meant to be with the caramel walnut tart, like soul mates.
All in all, a delicious tart and another example of Genin's incredible talent. He manages to create classic French desserts but in such a flawless way that it is as if he were the first to make them.
Hugo & Victor
Elze has now finished her internship at Hugo & Victor with a tearful goodbye and a job offering which hinges on her ability to get a working visa. While still at Hugo & Victor, she would regularly bring home random goodies for me to try so that I could write about them. It's just one of the many joys of being a pastry blogger living with a patissier.
One of her absolute favorites of Hugo & Victor's was their Religieuse Praline. When she first commenced her internship she detested these little delicacies for their long preparation and assembly, yet once she began thinking of them as Hugo & Victor's own little fashion models, showing off the season's colors, she became enamored with them, and after bringing one home I could not blame her.
The Hugo & Victor Religieuse is certainly the prettiest I have seen. It wears its perfect, shiny fondant and chocolate accessories well, and achieves height without making it impossible to eat. And once you pull yourself away from gazing at it and actually eat it you'll find that it doesn't taste too bad either.
The hazelnut cream is light and soft though perhaps just a smidge too soft, if I'm being picky, and could have, perhaps, used a tad more hazelnut flavor. However, the flavor is boosted by the thin, secret ninja layer of straight praline butter hiding in the choux. This layer of praline is, in my opinion, pure genius, for it not only adds flavor but also an intriguing texture making it difficult to stop eating the dessert!
The choux itself is quite nice though not the perfection that you get at Jacques Genin. It could use a bit more crunch to the outside but I did appreciate that the softness of it made it easier to eat. Also, the flavor was nice and subtle without being to eggy and overwhelming the religieuse. On top were little candied hazelnuts which not only added visual beauty, sparkling and cute, but also added bursts of crunchy hazelnut flavor that kept my mouth interested while munching along. Certainly the best looking and tasting religieuse I've eaten.
Let me just start by saying, "WHOA!" This is chocolat to the max. For those of you out there who believe that chocolate is the end all be all, proof that there is existence of an afterlife, both heavenly and damned, then this is the eclair for you!
This is yet another beautiful choux dessert brought to us by Hugo & Victor, and brought home to me by Elze. Sitting on top of this dark beauty is a long thin plat of dark chocolate that at first concerned me slightly. I was worried that it would make it difficult to eat but it was tempered perfectly and so thin that it broke of easily and evenly when I sunk my teeth into it, allowing me to eat the entire thing fluidly.
The chocolate creme filling was deep and rich in chocolate flavor and the thickness of the creme matched its flavor well. It had the well rounded flavors you find in good quality dark chocolate with a smooth liquor taste and a faint bitterness. This is certainly the eclair chocolat for true chocolate lovers and would go beautifully with a glass of ice cold whole milk.
Hugo Caramel (honorable mention)
This is one of those desserts that is so beautiful it reminds you that pastry is art. Not that I need reminding, but some people, I believe, do. The caramel milk chocolate dome sits on its little dacquoise throne practically begging you to crack it open and uncover what's hiding within. Yet, at the same time, it also wants you to admire its beauty and feel somewhat guilty for demolishing and devouring it. But I try not to feel guilty so I cracked into it as soon as I had finished my photo shoot.
The inside was not as appetizing looking as I had hoped, though it certainly photographed beautifully. Somehow the ring of cream was unappealing to me and I wished it had been a smooth filling instead of showing the piping. I didn't let this turn me off too much though and quickly delved into it, uncovering the delicious caramel creme and the oozing caramel sauce that was tucked underneath it. Chunks of macadamia burst in my mouth here and there and added a wonderful crunch and butteriness to the dessert. The bits of caramel chocolate dome also added texture and flavor and the dacquoise was so wonderful and chewy that it rounded out the entire thing nicely.
My only gripe, and I must make my apologies to Elze when I say this, is that the chocolate of the dome was just a bit too thick. This is one of those times when I was happy to be a critic and not a chef for I completely understand the difficulty in making milk chocolate thin while still being able to work with it. Add to that the fact that you have to melt two hemispheres together without breaking them and it's practically water boarding.
However, when it came to eating the dessert the thickness of the chocolate made it impossible to eat gracefully. Elze suggested that I burrow in from the top next time and eat it that way. But still, it was difficult to break into manageable pieces and I had to decimate the poor thing just to get it into my mouth. But, considering that I am not just a critic but also a chef, I understand that this could be asking too much and did not find it so distracting as to detract from the overall effect of the dessert.
This is certainly a dessert I would recommend if you're trying to impress someone's eyes and mouth or if you're just in the mood to pamper yourself with a decadent treat.
All of these desserts were delicious and all things I would recommend and try again and now that Elze is no longer working at Hugo & Victor I know I will miss the days when she would randomly bring me home offerings from her job. I also know I'll miss being just around the corner from Jacques Genin, one of the best patissiers in Paris, when I finally leave this wonderful city.