The retro trend has swept the globe – nowhere more so than the fairytale world of Parisian pâtisseries, where classic pastry, such as choux pastry, is making a well-deserved comeback.
Living and working in Paris, I have had the pleasure to watch the newest trends unfold before my eyes. Pastry has gone back to its roots; pâtisseries are revisiting the most cherished French classics and adding an artistic, modern spin.
If you were to glance into Philippe Conticini’s renowned pastry shop, La Pâtisserie des Rêves, you would see many of his pieces are revised classics such as the tarte au citron, saint-honoré, tarte tatin and, one of my personal favourites, the Paris-breast; a jewelled concoction of indulgent choux filled with a super fine praline cream that takes you back to the imaginings of childhood. Philippe takes the mere skeleton of each dessert and then, using this base, creates his own interpretation.
This is how classics are being reborn. The modern masters pull each dessert apart and re-imagine a completely new version of the original dish. Not only is the very essence of the classic recipe honoured, but a new direction is dictated – resulting in something entirely new, but with the elements of the taste, texture and sensibilities that made the original so highly desired. The most important thing is not to fall too far from the tree; the spirit of each revisited dessert should illuminate the new.
A stroll around Paris will reveal La Pâtisserie des Rêves is not the only pastry shop playing with the classics. Café Pouchkine with its fraisier – one of France’s most treasured strawberry cakes – has been transformed into a masterpiece. Decadent layers intertwine from one to the next; weightless almond and vanilla sponge, velvety orange blossom and vanilla cream, caramelised pistachios and fresh strawberries encased by a white chocolate box laden with delicately crafted sugar flowers.
It doesn’t stop there: Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) pâtissier Arnaud Larher also creates a gourmet garden of Saint-Honore’s on special occasions. Taking what was traditionally caramelised puff pastry, toffee-coated choux puffs and chantilly cream, Larher crafts an array of stunning flavour combinations from mango, coconut and caramel to lychee, raspberry and rose. With each flavour comes new textures, colours and a new appreciation.
Revisited desserts are a journey into the core of French pastry; it is the knowledge of the past brought to life by the technology and creativity of today. Today our world has never been so close and the flavours we are using are broader than ever before. We’re able to source the best spices, fruits, chocolate, coffee and vanilla from across the globe and the variety of ingredients has never been so endless.
With this variety has come a wave of creativity. Pastry is no longer just a sugar hit at the end of a meal or afternoon tea. Pastry windows look more like Tiffany’s jewellery shops with each exclusive cake glistening with elegance and grace.
Pastry is a craft. Each pastry symbolises years of training and centuries of knowledge carried down from chef to apprentice. It is hours of thought, experience, passion and skill embodied in each mouthful for customers to enjoy.
It saddens me sometimes that here in Australia, much of our population prefer to spend their money on a larger and less quality product. The notion that talented chefs all over Australia produce desserts well below their ability is the horrible reality because the market is not there for them.
Too often I hear “that looks too good to eat”. We need to educate our citizens that the small profound indulgence of quality pastry is something life enriching and certainly not something to be denied.
Macarons seem to still be living the high life in Australia and, although I am quite partial to a good macaron, I would love to see more French classics brought to life, as I see in the streets of Paris.
One of my absolute favourite revisited desserts is choux pastry; I am talking choux puffs, éclairs and religieuse. What once was a choice of chocolate, caramel, coffee and vanilla has now become rose, pecan, yuzu and raspberry. Pastry shops are embracing this newfound joy of choux pastry and are making more extravagant decorations then ever before.
When talking about choux pastry my mind naturally thinks of Chistophe Adam, who has recently opened two boutique pastry shops L’éclair de génie in Paris specialising in éclairs. Throughout the year the range of éclairs change with the season and today, you may find granny smith apple, passionfruit and raspberry or melon and lemon verbena has been replaced by vanilla and pecan, lemon yuzu or chocolate mango or banana.
Just like the craze for macaron, choux is making its way across everyone’s lips. Its soft creamy centres and enchanting decoration are too tempting to resist. Seduced by the evolution of pastry constantly moving towards higher quality and broader variety one can readily understand why this easy to eat classic is making a well-deserved comeback.