Never one to miss a new Paris pastry shop, I made a taxi screech to a halt when I spotted La Pâtisserie des Rêves back in September. "I'll be right back," I shouted as I rushed inside to inspect Philippe Conticini's new space age boutique, in which cakes are displayed on a central island under suspended glass domes.
The shop had been open only a few days but already it was crowded, so - since my cab was blocking the street, albeit for a good cause - I wasn't able to taste any cakes that day. I returned in a slightly calmer frame of mind last week to have a closer look at the pastries that many Parisophiles have been talking about.
Conticini's previous accomplishments have included directing the kitchen at the caviar house Petrossian, writing a book on Nutella desserts and introducing Parisians to the now-ubiquitous verrine as chef of Peltier, so it's no surprise that here too he is doing his own thing. Search as you might, you will find no macarons in this shop. Instead, with the same sense of nostalgia that inspired his Nutella cookbook, he has come back to French classics: the millefeuille, the St-Honoré, the éclair, the lemon tart.
I've had a soft spot for the St-Honoré ever since the days when Philippe courted me by joining the same gym, then inviting me for a cake at the deliciously old-fashioned tea room Ragueneau (which has sadly changed beyond recognition since) after every workout. Sitting on the jade-green velvet banquettes, we would share a St-Honoré, caramelized balls of choux pastry and extravagant swirls of crème Chantilly on a flaky base. This man knew the way to my heart, and soon we didn't bother with the pretense of exercise anymore.
Tempted as I was by Conticini's rectangular St-Honoré - he has brought an original, and some might say heretical touch to each cake - the Paris-Brest caught my eye. Named for a cycling race between Paris and the town of Brest in Brittany, this choux pastry with a hazelnut buttercream filling is shaped like a bicycle wheel. One of the richer desserts in the French repertoire, it's hard to face at the end of a meal, though the Breton bistro Chez Michel does one of the best in town.
I asked for one, which started a very Parisian process of ticket-issuing, lining up, paying and lining up again. As I waited, I was able to get a peek at the kitchen, where fresh cakes are aligned on racks ready to be placed gingerly in Conticini's elaborate pink-and-white boxes. It might all seem a little over-the-top, but my cake made it home without a dent, which is rare.
Conticini has broken with tradition to add liquid praline to the center of the hazelnut cream, which made my French friend "hmph" a little but struck me as a brilliant innovation since it breaks the creamy monotony of this cake. Whatever my friend's opinion we had no trouble finishing it off, and it left me floating on a little cloud of pastry-induced happiness. Next time I'll be trying the lemon tart, which I think is one of the toughest tests for a pâtissier. As for the St-Honoré, probably some memories are best left intact.
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Thanks for this writeup - might have to check this out next month when we are in Paris. Also, thanks to you, I scored a place at the ArtHome cooking workshop so thanks for writing that up a few months ago. I also scored 2 places for the lunch at ArtHome on the same day for hubby and a friend (this involved getting up at 4am east coast time for nearly a week!!!).
Ah, the PB! The very best thing I had during my visit to Paris. Yes, too much to have at the end of a meal. But have one for breakfast with your cafe....jet fuel for sightseeing all morning long!
Mardi, I'm glad you were able to experience ArtHome! What an amazing effort you made to get your reservation.
Rick: PB for breakfast - how decadent! I will have to try that.
Bonjour Rosa, J'ai également adoré cette pâtisserie, les gâteaux sont vraiment excellent ! Est-ce possible d'avoir votre email pour vous contacter personnellement ? Merci,
Bonne Journée Cordialement, Laura
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