PastryParis: the Book, the Author & a Tower of Meringue
It was several years ago when I stumbled on a short film online that was getting quite a buzz amongst Paris lovers and pastry lovers alike. It was a masterful montage, gorgeous images of colorful pastries in Paris, as well as famous monuments and everyday objects there they appeared to mimic. I watched with a huge grin from start to finish. Then I watched it again. And again. (Some of you may recall hearing about it on my Paris pastry quiz.) I can not tell you how many times I ended up watching that inspiring, delicious, feel-good film, but I can say it was the beginning of a wonderful friendship with its creator, graphic designer Susan Hochbaum. And the discovery of what is now one of my favorite desserts in Paris.
Susan never set out to write a book on Paris, nor did she plan on falling in love later in life and moving to Paris for a year. A series of fortuitous events and the fact that everything simply looks like pastry in Paris – well, that’s how it happened. “It masquerades as a picture book about dessert, but in fact the real story is about pleasure, love, beauty and happiness, all wrapped up in butter, sugar and cream.” It all began when Susan was eating a cone-shaped pastry from Gérard Mulot, while sitting in the Place des Vosges, gazing at a conical-shaped topiary tree. Voilà !
The resemblances were unmistakable, and Susan ended up spotting these comparisons every day in her strolls around the City of Sweets. The Pyramide du Louvre looked just like a financier, the swirl-like designs in Paris’ perfectly manicured gardens were just like palmiers (elephant ears), and the métro sign at Place d’Italie looked just like an éclair !
Just as I thoroughly enjoyed Susan’s original PastryParis video (sadly no longer online), I devoured her book, PastryParis, cover to cover. Many times. Simply flipping through the pages, admiring the images, the styling, the creative angles, and smiling along at the associations between pastry and city: “Yes, totally !” Or reading the descriptions of the pastries, with fun stories and historical tidbits, dozens of flavors of macarons or éclairs, again all designed and photographed by Susan. And then I went through it yet again with an agenda in mind – I had not yet tasted some of those pastries [gasp] ! On to the list they must go. Number one was without a doubt an enormous tower of meringue (resembling the high spurting water of a fountain in front of the Louvre) sitting atop a thin tart crust and layer of lemon curd. That was a slice of heaven I was determined to discover for myself.
And with what better person to share it, than Susan. After our stroll around Place de Vosges last fall, off to Le Loir dans la Théière we went. (The name meaning “the dormouse in the tea cup,” a cute nod to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland.) We’ve bounced around New York City together, sharing life stories and sweet favorites – cupcakes and cookies at Spot Dessert Bar, macarons and chocolates at Payard’s Chocolate Bar, but that latest in Paris… takes the cake.
The Tarte au Citron Meringuée is clearly a signature item at this popular café in the Marais, as Susan and I literally lost count of how many entire tarts whooshed past us from the kitchen to their tempting table of desserts in a matter of two hours. It reminded me of the dessert buffet at Zum See in Zermatt, piled high with comforting homemade desserts like tarts, crumbles and clafoutis. Gargantuan slices were carved out of those brûléed meringue domes, with a bit of effort and two knives. You can’t help but giggle when it’s placed before you. Yes, the slice is that big. (Fyi, that’s an oversize spoon below too.)
No disappointment there. I have made jokes before that I could eat an entire bowl of just sweet uncooked meringue or frosting. Wow, I really can. Truth be told, I may have even traded some of my tart crust for more of Susan’s meringue. Yes, it was that good.
I’ll be back there on my next visit to Paris, that’s for sure. And I’ll enjoy walking around the city with my usual sweet tooth and gluttonous appetite, but perhaps with a new eye. And I’m sure I’ll agree… “In Paris, everything looks like dessert.”
Le Loir dans la Théière
3 rue des Rosiers
by Susan Hochbaum