Pralus, part 1: the Boutique and the Book
Being in Paris towards the end of October certainly turned out to be a good thing. Not only was I able to attend the Salon du Chocolat, but I was also there for the opening of François Pralus’ shop in the area of Beaubourg, just steps from the Centre Pompidou. His first in Paris! This was reason for celebration! There are only 3 chocolate makers in France who begin the process from the cacao beans themselves – and François Pralus is one of them. His collection of chocolate bars is sought out by pastry chefs and chocolate aficionados alike. Especially his signature Pyramid, an attractive stack of ten single origin chocolate squares, each 50 grams and wrapped in a different color paper. Sold in chocolate shops, fine food stores and even some supermarkets (like Monoprix) all across the world, the Pyramide des Tropiques includes 75% dark chocolate from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Sao Tome, Trinidad, Venezuela, Tanzania, Ghana, Madagascar, Colombia and Ecuador. A one-pound chocolate trip around the world. Tasting notes are included, with descriptions like “powerful nose, long on the palate, woody, buttered milk caramel, spicy, etc.” Each chocolate has distinct aromas and flavors, a sensorial experience similar to wine tasting.
A chocolate shop with just these bars would be a destination in itself, yet Pralus’ boutique in Paris is so much more. And it is a true pleasure to discover the entire range, with people like Estelle Marraud and Noriko Takei behind the counter – always smiling and always ready to help and answer questions. They’ll offer you a taste of the always imitated but never equalled “Praluline” (brioche aux pralines roses) – and by all means, do accept! But be warned. It?s impossible to leave without at least one in your bag. More on this divine brioche in the next post… For now, a look around the store:
A glass jar or squeeze tube of hazelnut cream that will have you toss your jar of Nutella and not look back. Beautiful bags of pink pralines – almonds and hazelnuts lightly toasted and enrobed in sugar – the key ingredient in the Praluline. Vanilla beans. Vanilla sugar. Cacao beans from Madagascar. Cacao powder. Cacao tea. Piémontaises – hazelnuts from Piedmont, Italy that are coated in milk chocolate and dusted in cacao powder. Tall glass bottles of Elixir du Père François, absinthe of ultra premium quality. Small squares of chocolate, large bars and different pre-packaged assortments. Macarons. Chocolate lollipops.
And the new book, a collaboration between François Pralus and Laurence Cailler: Vanille et Cacao, l’Or Noir de Madagascar. Ingrid Astier wrote the text, and takes the reader on a beautiful and informative tour through Madagascar with these two artisans and masters in their fields, chocolate and vanilla. The book has both sweet and savory recipes and stunning photos all throughout. Each one was taken with the hands of pastry chef Biram Niang, a friendly young man from Senegal, who was more than happy to take yet another picture with those famous hands. He told me how they worked on the book for 2 years, and that the photo most difficult to take in the entire project was definitely of the Rabbit Stew (made with chocolate of course) – two hours just to get the rabbit to stay still. Poor thing – but with a square of Pralus chocolate in its mouth, why would it want to move?
Pralus 35 rue Rambuteau 75004 Paris France +33.1.48.04.05.05 www.chocolats-pralus.com – an excellent website in both French and English, with lots of great information on the history of Pralus and the chocolate making process itself