Paris-Brest Turns 100 (the pastry, not the bike race)
To say that there has been buzz about a certain Paris-Brest in France’s capital is an understatement. You may already be seeing pink just at the mention of it – which can only mean one thing: You’re familiar with La Pâtisserie des Rêves, Philippe Conticini’s “pastry shop of dreams” that opened in September of 2009. (Bravo to those of you who correctly identified it in the Paris sweets quiz!) Ever since the opening, Parisians and visiting foodies have been flocking there to see (and taste) Conticini’s masterful reworking of France’s classic pastries, including the Tarte Tatin, Saint-Honoré, éclair au chocolat and au café… and the Paris-Brest.
I am certainly not alone in thinking it could very well be the best Paris-Brest I’ve ever had. Which, by the way, is traditionally a baked almond-topped ring (or tire) of choux pastry, split and filled with praline-flavored buttercream, first created in honor of the famous bicycle race of the same name. Barbra Austin is a fan, more of the divine, liquid hazelnut praline interior of the pastry than the Jetsons-like interior of the shop. As is Rosa Jackson, whose recount of being courted by Conticini with Saint-Honoré and blocking rue du Bac to get a look inside his new boutique is a great read. But what had me thinking about the Paris-Brest again was Figaroscope naming Conticini’s the very best in Paris.
I love Figaro’s (French newspaper) palmarès gourmands, when they select a theme, be it tarte au citron, pain au chocolat, baguette or millefeuille, and taste a dozen or more of that item from shops around Paris. They chose the Paris-Brest this time, 100 years after its creation. You can read the feature and watch a video from the tasting with Christophe Felder (ex-pastry chef of Hôtel du Crillon, whose books fill my shelves and whose column in Elle à Table I look forward to each month). For the non Francophones, you can still enjoy this fantastic photo slideshow of Paris’ top Paris-Brest, perhaps not all resembling a bicycle tire, as the dessert was invented to do in 1910. And don’t miss Angelina’s Paris-New York, another original take by pastry chef Sébastien Bauer, who adds pecans. (Anyone ever try that?)
But do keep one thing in mind… if you are able to visit Conticini’s shop, the Paris-Brest isn’t the only pastry you’ll want to taste. On my last visit, I of course first pointed to the individual Paris-Brest sitting on display under a glass dome, and then did the same to the Tarte au Citron (I love when they’re topped with meringue!). In line with the space-age feeling of the shop, a lady in a white dress (as Dorie Greenspan perfectly compared to Star Trek, minus the makeup), took my order on her electronic hand device. I strolled around the center island and made sure not to miss what was on the walls, admiring the funky, spiral top Brioche Feuilletée and requesting a few petits Pains Gourmands for my train ride back to Zürich, one chocolate, one vanilla.
Into my Vélib’ basket they all went. Unfortunately, my box did not have the signature pink picks and foam board holding the cakes in place that Dorie had, and what resulted was a Paris-Brest dipped in meringue. The desserts were not nearly as pretty and precious as they had been in their glass cases in the shop, but luckily that didn’t affect their taste. Next time I’m back in Paris, you can be sure to find me on rue du Bac once again, heading for the Paris-Brest, but sans bicycle wheels of my own.
La Pâtisserie des Rêves
93 rue du Bac
Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 8:30pm, Sunday 8:30am to 2:00pm
PS – Here is a really fun short video (en français) from June 2009 of the ever gourmand Conticini showing, explaining (and tasting) his own pastries for L’Express, when he first announced the shop’s opening. You get a behind-the-scenes look at each dessert, pretty cool.