Pain de Sucre, Paris
Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The french term mise en place (translates to ‘putting in place’) means making preparations. For baking, this means making all the recipes required for a pastry. Unlike American-style cakes which normally consist of 2 recipes (cake and frosting), French pastries normally require 4 or more recipes. This might be cake layers, pastry cream, ganache, buttercream, and/or glaze.

On Monday, we did the mise en place for cakes we will be making in the next 2 weeks. We made 2 types of almond paste: pâte d’amandes confiseur and pâte d’amande crue. The first type, pâte d’amandes confiseur (similar to marzipan), is made with almonds and a cooked sugar syrup. It’s most often used for decoration as it holds its shape better. The second type, pâte d’amande crue, is made with egg whites and used as an ingredient for other recipes.

Then we made praliné (candied hazelnut and almond paste) and pralinette. Pralinette, used for decoration, is made the same way as praliné but it is not ground up. The praliné smelled so good and tasted delicious. If Chef had left the room, I would have put some in a container to-go. It was like a velvety smooth, caramelized nut paste that wasn’t sweet.

Ingredients for praliné: almonds, hazelnuts, and sugar.

Step 1: Toast nuts until they are brown (left) throughout but not burnt. This is a simple, but very important step as it helps give the praliné its characteristic flavour.

Step 2: Make a dry caramel with sugar. To make a dry caramel, we have to add the sugar slowly and continue breaking up the sugar lumps as it cooks to prevent any it from burning.

Step 3: Once the caramel turns light brown, we add the toasted nuts, mix, and pour onto a pan. Surprisingly, there is no need to oil the pan because it doesn't stick if the sugar has been cooked right.

Step 4: After cooling, we use a heavy-duty grinder to make a paste.

Grinding Stage 1: After 2 minutes, you obtain a crumbly texture.

Grinding Stage 2: After 4 minutes, you get a thick paste.

Grinding Stage 3: After 6 minutes, the oils are released and the thick paste becomes more smooth and more liquid. You can really smell the nuts at this stage.

Grinding Stage 4: The paste is completed when you have a shiny, fragrant, and almost liquid consistency. The praliné will thicken after it cools (it becomes warm from the grinding).

There seemed to be a mistake on our schedules today because we usually have French on Monday afternoon. Since it was empty, some friends and I decided to skip cafeteria food and grab a falafel instead. After we stuffed ourselves full, we took a walk to Pain de Sucre to do some ‘research’. It looked a lot different from my last visit in August. Either they closed 2/3 of their shop in August or they expanded.

Pain de Sucre separates its savoury and sweet pastries into 2 different stores, side by side. This is the storefront for its sweet pastries. Very clean, simple and spacious. The plain white interior is a nice backdrop for their eye-catching pastries.

They offer a variety of pastries, marshmallows, macarons, chocolates and other petits fours.

I love how their tarts look like mini gardens, very creative.

We settled on 2 tarts: Champcella (green on the left) and Terre de feu (red on the right).

Champcella (€5.40): crisp tart crust, caramelized apples infused with rosemary, lemon cream, and mousse infused with rosemary, crushed pistachios. I'm not a big fan of rosemary but I enjoyed this. Very fresh, creative flavour combination, and beautifully constructed.

Terre de feu (€6): Crisp tart shell, strawberry compote, fresh strawberries, sponge cake infused with elderflower, and strawberry mousse. I liked the taste of wild strawberries in this tart but I wish there was something creamier (like mascarpone) in replace of the mousse. I think the years of eating chinese mousse cakes has turned me off from fruit-flavoured mousse. One of my friends noted that the glazing job wasn't very clean. Too bad it's bright pink, it can't disguise itself.

The savoury pastries are sold in a smaller separate store, next door. I have never seen savoury pastries so beautifully presented. I did find it a bit expensive (same price as sweet tarts) so I didn't buy any. I have only just gotten used to paying double of what I would normally pay for desserts in Canada.


Well? Let me know what you think. Write me a comment below!