When it comes to French pastry, Pierre Herme is almost like a household name. I’d mentioned him countless times on this blog and I’m sure some of you guys would already know that I am quite a fan of his works, especially the art of macaron making, which he revolutionised with innovative combinations of flavours and the use of exotic ingredients some totally unheard of, sometimes to the point of the unimaginable under his “Signature“, “Fetish” and in more recent years, his “Jardin” series. But during our most recent trip to Tokyo, we’d decided to go back to the traditions and “re-discover” the French classics. Read on to see how Pierre Herme fares!
January and it is strawberry season. Specifically Korean and Japanese strawberries that is. This is practically the only time of the year that I eat strawberries. Apart from the erratic French gariguettes that come a couple of months later. IF they ever come that is. Fraises des bois and Mara des bois…I can only dream. Yes we do get strawberries on the supermarket shelves almost all year round. Call me picky but I don’t buy straws from Australia, New Zealand or the Americas, be it North or South. They just don’t dig as well as the Korean, Japanese or French fellas. Neither do I eat Driscoll’s
crappy strawberries. No offence guys but they just make you think that you are eating strawberries. So in reality and as snobbish I may sound, the “real” strawberry season is actually very short. For me at least. As seasonal as how these fruits had been in the past and should rightfully be so. Apart from buying and savoring them as it is, we often crack our heads to find ways to extend our days to enjoy them before the season closes. And what better way to lock in these flavours through making jams out of them, an age old method to “immortalise” the delicate sweetness the current season bequeaths upon us which alas, come so swiftly yet ends all too shortly.
The grand masters of French pastry arts seem have to shifted their attention to the East and this comes as no surprise. With an already intensely saturated populace of macaron lovers back home and the vast potential of an ever-growing market from China, it makes perfect sense for these big names in French cuisine to stretch their tents and earn the Asian dollar. Ladurée, Alain Ducasse, Joël Robuchon are already here and it is timely that they are now joined by one one of the most esteemed colleague, Pierre Hermé.
Pierre Hermé has been in Japan for quite a number of years now, with boutiques in several of her cities, most notably a flagship store in Aoyama, Tokyo. But interestingly when I’d visited his boutiques in Tokyo, I chanced up not local Japanese but tourists from China and Taiwan who have specially come to sample his creations. A sort of culinary pilgrimage I’m sure it was for them as it is for me. Surely Monsieur Hermé would have noticed that too. And a store in Hong Kong was nothing short of being strategic, with visitors from all over Mainland China flocking here at all times of the year. The potential would have been too great to miss and so presents the temptation and desire to venture into the Mainland China market. Hong Kong would be the ideal gateway.
Hello everyone! Kindly excuse us for the long absence! Just realised that it had been 3 weeks since we last posted, only because we had been terribly busy trying to clear our work and run errands before we take a much
deserved awaited break to Tokyo! The trip was planned to take place ahead of the hanami season as it was the only time when both of us could make it! Alas thanks literally to the freak weather, the cherry blossoms bloomed much earlier in Japan this year, allowing us to enjoy their beauty, amidst other spectacular floral displays along the way. The downside is, we had to cut back on several pastry joints which we had slated to visit. Nonetheless we had a really good time in Tokyo!
This trip to Tokyo is all about pastries, ramen and depachikas! We absolutely love depachikas in Japan, so they are surely a “must go” whenever we are in Japan! J lamented that we didn’t get to try any ramen joints during our last trip so I made sure that we had enough ramen this time round for J to remember by! And 5 years ago during our first trip to Tokyo, which incidentally marks the commencement of this blog, I wasn’t much into fine pastry making then. But I do remember being much in awe with what I saw at the display windows of dessert boutiques and patisserie sales counters at depachikas. The level of artistry and presentation in trhe Japanese patisseries then was already quite impeccable and very impressive. Over the years as I grew to appreciate and get involved myself in the French art of pastry making, the desire to return to Tokyo fueled on. So after a long wait of more than 4 years, we are finally back! I will be writing and sharing about the various patisseries and ramen joints we’d visited this time round over the next couple of months or so but here’s a sneak preview of what we’d tried and sampled in Tokyo 2013!
So I begin my macaron tasting adventure with Pierre Herme’s macarons, and it’s a piece which does not need elaborate introduction, one whose name and fame precedes it. Macaron ispahan has been synonymously associated with Pierre Hermé for the longest time, though this unique combination of flavours were actually developed by Christine Ferber, a fellow French patissier whom I hold with the highest esteem for her ingenuinity of creating flavour combinations and art of making confitures. I had a brush of luck when I encountered her confitures in Taiwan but I decidedly gave it a miss. A bludy stoopid blooper now in retrospect. but that’s another story for another time.
Ispahan was incidentally, one of Ferber’s confiture creations which inspired PH so much that he created a “Fetish”, a whole line of delicious pastries out of it, from giantic petit gateau-sized macarons to tarts to croissants.
Rose, raspberries and lychee… who would have guessed.
Ah what luck! Just last month, when I reconstructed Pierre Hermé’s Macaron Jardin Enchanté, I also lamented on the very near impossibilities of potentially sampling the real stuff from the French pastry master. Macaron Jardin Enchanté was reconstructed with some brainstorming with Swee San and Chef Nicholas, but based entirely on sheer imagination. As I was piping the lime ganache over the shells, I couldn’t help but yearn to know how close these would taste to those made from the kitchens in Alsace. Alas, some greater being of higher order up there must have heard my prayers! How lucky am I, for the celestial bodies must be aligned, as I got to know a new friend recently who shares the same passion for macarons from PH and caramels from Jacques Genin as me! What more, she couldn’t have been more generous to help lug back a couple of boxes of macarons from PH and Laduree! Yes, I know Macaron Month is just over, but I certainly don’t mind a bit of “seepage and spillage” of some macaroning action to continue to in the months to come as I bring to you some reviews of these delectable French almond biscuits sandwiched with the utmost bizarre combinations of ingredients and flavours! So if you would allow me to indulge a lil’ bit more, let me show you just how crazy these dainty lil’ Parisienne confections can be!
Macarons must surely rank amongst the top in the list of the most versatile foods in the world, with two almond and sugar biscuit shells to be filled with an infinite number of possible fillings from sweet to savory. This became the drawing board for patissiers all around the world, drafting all sorts of flavour combinations from the familiar to the exotic.
It all started from monochromatic flavours like the ever-popular vanilla buttercream, raspberry confiture and chocolate ganache. These fillings, withstanding the test of time, are indeed delicious, but can be rather boring at times. The constant desire to innovate the mind and invigorate the tastebuds motivate patissiers to experiment with “pairings” of flavours, in attempt to add depth and dimension to these petit fours. And these bold attempts to produce something unique and astounding is found in none of than the works of Pierre Hermé.
Bakerzin launched four new tarts a couple of weeks ago but they most certainly beared resemblance to some of the familiar favorites we know. Utilising some Bakerzin dining vouchers we had, we’d got some for a sampling.
Haven’t made macarons in quite a while now. I think I need to make it a point to go through it periodically. Macs are so temperamental and finicky that one can never be really sure he’s gotten them right. Going feetless, erupted tops, burnt shells, soggy bottoms are just some of the ways they would throw tantrums and get back at us in “silent protest” for the neglect and being all assuming with the “if you think you know me, well you don’t!” So drama huh? Well… ask a macaron maker and I’m pretty sure that he would have his own version of “Tales of Mac Macabre” to tell.
I’d read about pistachio paste being used in pastry recipes for the longest time and have been really curious to how it actually taste like. I even tried to make some myself, modifying Jacques Torres’ recipe for DIY almond paste and used it for Tarte aux Fruits Rouges sometime back but its definitely one of those “once-in-a-lifetime” kinda experience which I’m not too eager in replicating anytime soon. This is to much relief of Mr Food Blender who overworked and concussed twice while the homemade pistachio paste was churning furiously in his guts. Thankfully after some cooling down and ample rest, he sprang back to life, though i’m sure the old dog is not quite the same as before after his “near-death experience”. Surely is “diet” has become more picky, and wary of what he is being “fed” nowadays. I’ve heard of others of his kind “fuming mad” quite literally while in action, probably lamenting how they had been ill-treated by their owners. I can’t risk giving Mr Food Blender indigestion problems as he is a much valued asset in the kitchen, probably assigned simpler tasks now like purees and rempahs, so no more “hardcore” stuff, quite literally.
After some searching around, I’d managed to source some commercially made pistachio paste which was quite pleasing in colour and texture. But there’s a whooping 1kg of it to be expended so I’m finding every means to use it whenever I can. Since there were leftover raspberries from Tarte Ispahan, a fine opportunity for another Pierre Hermé’s macaron creations, Macaron Montebello.
My first encounters with anything overpoweringly “rosy” is probably “Rose Floral Water ” 玫瑰花露水, which was the “SK-II Esssence” in my grandma’s era. The wafts of familiar yet deathly pungency of rose water brought back memories of my grandma’s dressing table, and the macabre scent of rose water can only be less dreadful when compared to something even more ghastly, 夏士莲雪花膏 Hazeline Snow Moisturising Cream.
I attempted Pierre Hermé ‘s Macaron Ispahan about half a year ago and I must say, its a pinnacle to this hobby for me . Looking back, it is not without problems and fears. I remembered being really skeptical about the use of rose water and rose essence as I’d associated them with the “unpleasant”. Curious on how Pierre Hermé ‘s Ispahan would turned out, I restrained all that cynicism on these “condiments” which reminded me of sickly old women (no offence ladies!) and forged on. Thankfully I did, literally blown away by the flavours when I took the first bite. Not sure if my scent receptors have “matured” over the years or the impressions of these “fragrances” have waned over time, I grew to enjoy the intricate subtlety these flavours impart, yet deepening the complexity of the work by so much.
This month’s Aspiring Bakers’ theme is Tarts and Pies, and needless to say, the perfect opportunity to reprise those flavours which I’d grown to like, in this case, Pierre Hermé’s Tarte Ispahan.
Financiers are dainty little french confectioneries, tea cakes generally enjoyed over a cuppa. What makes ’em really special is the use of buerre noisette, literally meaning hazelnut butter, owing to the “butter cooking process” causing it to develop a tan hue, giving the tea cake its characteristic colour and nutty aroma. And if this is not enough, the “nuttiness” is accdentuated with the use of ground almond which really provide the petit four secs a lot of flavour. And as if to push the palate experience to the limits, Pierre Hermé incorporates maple sugar, trimoline and ground toasted hazelnut in his recipes making them a real special treat!
I remember watching Nicole Kidman’s Moulin Rouge exactly a decade ago during my undergrad days, bedazzled by the fascinating sets and exuberant costumes. This razzle-dazzle like fantasy on the life of a young Parisian socialite, Satine leading a life of absinthe-dripped extravagance (Yes! thanks to Kylie Minogue as the Green Fairy!), swooned by men from the streets of Paris, enchanted by her flamboyance, all flocking to the renowned cabaret just to be gleamed by her beauty. ‘Gorgeously decadent, massively contrived, and gloriously superficial‘, are just some of the words used by critics on the movie but I say this is a mere understatement. Filled with song and dance, laughter and tears, this must have been one of the most refreshing musical films we’d seen in this century, since the days of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Hilariously funny and at the same time, heart-pouring empathic, the movie is quite literally a roller-coaster ride. I particularly enjoyed the large scale scenes of song and dance, bearing overtones of a Bollywood production! And how cleverly used it was, such a classic! Now in retrospect, it all makes perfect sense to me the French artistic and haute coulture scene during that era must have been extremely curious and captivated by influx of Oriental and Asian elements, fueling ideas for Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles and Massenet’s Thaïs. And hence the elephants, saris and turbans we saw in the Maharaja scene. Entertaining and at the same time thought -provoking, at least for me!
When I first learned of Pierre Hermé’s Satine dessert series a couple of months back, I couldn’t help but feel extremely curious about the association of the PH’s confections with the Moulin Rouge. Paris, decadence, sugary indulgence, flair and flamboyance… the resemblance between the two is just too uncanny. I’m also very curious to know what it tastes like. Needless to say, very little is mentioned over the internet. ph10 has some recipes of desserts from the Satine series but being a rather technical and clinically written publication, no word on the source of inspiration. Alas, the recipe for the Macaron Satine could be found in PH’s Macaron and I had to get myself a copy and hopefully solve the puzzle. But wait a minute, since when do we ever need
an excuse justification for buy PH’s works!?
So did I solve the mystery?
Talk about french baking and macarons easily comes to mind. And the one name that is almost synonymously equated to macarons is Pierre Hermé. The celebrated French patissier is renowned and worshipped around the world by dessert and sweets afficionados for his edible masterpieces. Enshrined as the “Picasso of Patissiers”, the one creation which is most often tagged onto him is the Ispahan.
7-cm wide macaron shells in brilliant pink enclosed with a mélange of fresh raspberries, canned lychees and rose petal buttercream, this must had been one of the most bizzare-sounding desserts on the menu that Pierre Hermé created when he was still with Laduree. He is afterall a revolutionary in the French culinary scene, constantly introducing mind-boggling ideas for desserts and patisseries which come in bewildering combinations of flavours or presentation that inspires to astound the world both visually and gastronomically!
It was love at first sight! I remembered when I first saw them a couple of years ago at Bakerzin, Millenia Walk, I was immediately captivated by the myriad of colours these petite pastries are available in. Especially those in pastel yellow, pink and orange! So pretty! Looking so curious indeed! Back then very few places made these and they were not as popular as what we see today!