For some students in my school, it’s a delight to hear that there’s a Pierre Hermé Boutique just two metro stations away. Once in a while, a box of pastries from the shop would appear in the school’s common fridge. Some who live near the school for convenience’s sake become regulars as they pick up a box of macarons on their way back home. While there are plenty of food, sweet and savoury, available in the school, (thanks to the students who prefer not to bring home everything they made in class,) temptations are hard to resist. On resistance, my body has now a higher electrical impedence, apparently a way to measure body fat percentage, from all that butter, cream and sugar.
Apart from all that, I had a great deal of vanilla too. If you were to open a cabinet of a random pastry chef, there is an astronomical chance that you would find vanilla. For all its ubiquity, vanilla turns out to be the second most expensive spice*, after saffron. Such rankings may be tenuous, but be prepared to pay a substantial amount if you want the cream of the crop. Just two days ago, I saw a bag of 45 Bourbon vanilla beans selling for €24 at G. Detou. It is a steal, because back home in Singapore, good quality vanilla beans can go for €1.5 for every bean. (Botanically, it’s a pod. Vanilla is not a legume; it’s an orchid. But ‘bean’ is the common name.) If that’s too much for your wallet, you can consider the extract or the powdered form – both considered to be inferior to the actual bean itself.
So I have to suppose that with a hefty price tag to this vanilla tart, Pierre Hermé used top-notch quality vanilla beans. For sure, it has a pompous name, Tarte Infinitment Vanille, and it has a matching white marble-like surface. You can see the tiny little black dots, and that’s vanilla beans. I suspect that the same effect can be achieved using vanilla powder, but vanilla powder has more of a brown hue to it. Nonetheless, for an amateur, I could tell that there are genuine vanilla beans in there in my first mouthful. Unable to make out what went into the tart, I have done some research and found that three types of vanilla were used – Bourbon, Mexican, and Tahitian vanilla, for their “different properties”.
This tart is so delicately constructed that its architecture eluded me. The white marble-like surface was made with a vanilla glaze comprising white chocolate and titanium dioxide. Beneath it lies a mascarpone-based cream. Molded into a disc, it sits on the tart filled with vanilla ganache and a biscuit cuillere (lady’s finger) soaked in vanilla syrup. It will take forever and a mess to make this back home. I like tarts because they’re supposed to be a simple dessert. Nonetheless, Pierre Hermé’s complicated rendition has been a hit amongst the gourmands, the Parisiens and the non-Parisiens alike.
The first bite was explosive, to say the least. The deep vanilla taste blended into the sophisticated texture slowly worked its way into its full bloom, like a budding flower. However, as I worked my way through this dessert, the taste of vanilla turned out to be too overwhelming. Till the end, the taste saturated and didn’t turn on the palate as it did at the beginning. Perhaps I would make one with just the Tahitian vanilla, a more subtle and floral flavor. Or I could have it with a cup of strong coffee, that would make it perfect. So perhaps I didn’t have it right. I will, the next time round. I would imagine the satisfaction of having a cup of espresso, the tart, and a book to read on a lazy Sunday afternoon, after painstakingly putting together this masterpiece the day before. The day will not come soon, but it will come nevertheless. Till then, it is hard to forget the aroma of this vanilla which still lingers at the corner of my mouth.
*Le Cordon Bleu Cuisine Foundations (2009)
P. S. Here is where I found out about its construction.