Over the past few days, I have busied myself with revision for a theory exam that passed yesterday. I didn’t have time to write until now. That is a partial truth, because there is always time for pastries. To my horror, I am starting to sound like an addict, with an unhealthy obsession for sweets. Call it an occupational hazard being a culinary student, but the thought of not having enough pastries before my return irks me. In just over a month’s time, I would no longer run into a boulangerie or pâtisserie on every other street. Nonetheless, I still hold some hope for decent pastries back home, with all sincerity and faith.
Sometimes, the idea of decadence bugs me. Am I being a downright hedonist, self-indulgent in good food and turning a blind eye to the cruel realities of others? In all honesty, I am unprepared to answer this question here, and I don’t wish to go any further in this series on food. To keep it simple, I’d rather savor food than hoard personal effects. Paris may be the capital of fashion, the city of love, but I would have none of that. It is certainly not the only city where one can find good food, but it is one of the many places. Short as my stay may be, I have come to hold greater respect for food, not just necessarily the superfluous, but also the basic. I will leave my reflections nearer to the end of my stay, and now I’ll begin on that which has first captured your attention to this post.
As previously mentioned, I had gotten the Grand Cru from La Pâtisserie des Rêves. As a new learner of the language, trying to grasp French from everyday conversations and unstructured self-study (what’s worse – a lack of discipline), the name befuddles me. A direct translation gives “the great raw”. Perhaps a better interpretation would be “the great vintage/vineyard,” but that doesn’t really help in the context. Google searches tell me that this term is used primarily in the wine industry, to refer to a land with great potential for great wine. And a somewhat helpful definition from ChocoParis: Grand cru chocolate – Chocolate made with beans from a particular region. Mystery solved? Not quite. But a visit to the patisserie’s website (a well-designed and comprehensive one) explained it all. All the chocolate in this cake is from Samana and nowhere else. Well… that’s an anti-climax answer for all that Sherlock action, but I was rewarded with a wonderful video, which I have embedded at the end of this post.
While I cannot (at least not yet) translate what is explicated in the video by the chef himself, M. Philippe Conticini, here’s my own take on this petite dessert. I have above a (perhaps unprofessional) photo of its cross-section. Underneath the chocolate glaze lies the chocolate mousse, enveloping a chocolate ganache layer atop a chocolate biscuit cuillère (the same type of biscuit as in lady’s finger), with a chocolate coustillant sitting at the base. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. If you’ve watched the video first, impatient you, that’s probably the only thing you would understand if you don’t know French.
It would seem uninteresting and plain, in terms of taste, to have everything made with the same chocolate. It wasn’t. The catch was in the coustillant; it had a fair amount of fleur de sel incorporated. (FYI: “fleur de sel is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans” – wikipedia). That complex flair of saltiness worked out perfectly with the dark and intense Samana chocolate. With every mouthful comes the chocolate taste that chocolate lovers would die for, only to be succeeded by a refreshing kick of salt to the top of your palate. For sure, the use of salt instead of an acidic fruit as a contrast to chocolate isn’t new. But it has to be done right. In one other pastry I’ve tried, of which I wouldn’t name because it was a shame to a good reputation, the salt overwhelmed everything and it was immensely awful. The balance for the Grand Cru was done just right – the chocolate had ample time to work its magic before the salt comes in just in the end to make its presence known.
The rest of the layers didn’t just stand by and watch. They were skilfully textured; even with the same chocolate used throughout, it certainly doesn’t feel like having a bite from a chocolate tablet. The moist biscuit with the crumbly coustillant, and the dense ganache with the light mousse, all play their part to make a splendid ensemble, not forgetting the dark glaze that draws the curtain at the lips. The play of taste and texture… it was a performance deserving of an encore.
All that high-flown rhetoric aside, the Grand Cru is a well-made dessert and I would pay for another one. It might not be the best chocolate entremet I’ve tasted, but it has earned a place on my list of “pastries I would miss back home.” Take a minute to watch the video below, but be warned not to drool. Food is a universal language. And what I really admire is the humble pride and passion the chef holds for his creations.