Afternoon Snack (almost) at Pierre Hermé’s


[Afternoon Snack (almost) at Pierre Hermé’s]

Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure to meet Louisa, my own personal kitchen hero, and Andrea, her charming roommate from Mexico who also works at Les Ambassadeurs. When we discussed time and place, Louisa suggested we meet at Pierre Hermé‘s boutique, as Andrea had yet to discover it. Needless to say, I nodded vigorously (for the sole benefit of my living-room wall, as we were speaking on the phone) and happily agreed.

Pierre Hermé doesn’t have a salon de thé area in which to sit down and gape at your purchases before diving in blissfully. I’d always thought it unfortunate, but now Louisa has introduced me to the unofficial Pierre Hermé salon de thé, and for this she will forever have my gratitude. Just a block from the pastry shop is a café called “Café de la Mairie”. It looks and feels like countless other cafés in Paris (a little drab and flavorless, one has to admit) but for two invaluable things: one, it has a non-smoking room upstairs — an absolute prerequisite if you want all your taste buds to be alert and atiptoe — and two, the waiters will look the other way when you open your precious boxes and use your coffee spoon to savor their content.*

And here is the selection that Andrea, Louisa and myself enjoyed, taking spoonfuls in turn and yumming in unison, discussing our tasting notes and comparing them with the descriptions from the little catalog (the perfect bedside read for guaranteed sweet dreams).

Louisa had chosen two entremets from this season’s collection, which prominently features the yuzu (“yoo-zoo”), a tangy and fragrant citrus from Japan that is traditionally used in cosmetics but is making more and more appearances on the gastronomic scene these days. She got the Hermé Carré Yu (“Crème brûlée aux zestes d’orange, pommes crues et cuites à l’orange et au yuzu, pâte à sablé breton”: orange zest cream, raw and cooked apples flavored with orange and yuzu, sablé breton crust, covered with a thin layer of white chocolate) and the Yu (“Biscuit dacquoise au praliné, pommes crues et cuites à l’orange et au yuzu, crème au praliné”: a milk chocolate casing filled with layers of praline meringue and whipped cream, raw and cooked apples flavored with orange and yuzu, praline cream). Both of these were delicious, although I found the yuzu to be a little overpowering in the first, and a little understated in the second. We would also have wished for more textural contrast in the Yu: it was wonderfully moussy and aerial, but my palate was hoping for something cakey or crunchy to round it out. I am aware that this is a bit like standing in the middle of Heaven and shouting “Geez, I wish there was a little more light and serenity around here!” but you know what I mean.

For reasons that will be fairly obvious when you read the next few lines, I had opted for the Plénitude entremet (pictured above): “Macaron chocolat noir, éclats de chocolat noir à la fleur de sel, mousse au chocolat amer et ganache au chocolat, caramel croquant” — dark chocolate macaron, shards of dark chocolate with fleur de sel, bitter chocolate mousse, chocolate ganache, crunchy caramel. You think this description sounds heavenly? Wait till you taste the cake.

Louisa had also selected another one of Pierre Hermé’s signature entremets, the famous Ispahan: “Macaron à la rose, crème de litchi et framboises fraîches” — rose macaron, lychee cream and fresh raspberries. I generally dislike anything rose-flavored (it tastes like soap to me) so I had always shied away from this one. I was nonetheless happy for the opportunity to give it a try and boy, am I glad I did! The mix of textures from the meringue, cream and berries is simply perfect and one couldn’t hope for a better match of flavors: the raspberry hits you first, then you discover the lychee (oh, hi!), while the rose keeps you waiting a little, and makes its graceful appearance more as a scent than an actual taste. Genius, I tell you.

And because there is no such thing as too much Pierre Hermé goodness for one day, Maxence and I conducted another tasting session later that night, with the four super-fresh macarons I had brought back for us to share. Two of them from this season’s collection, the macaron au chocolat au lait et yuzu (milk chocolate and yuzu, I found the yuzu to be a little too understated here too), and the macaron chocolat au lait praliné feuilleté (milk chocolate with crunchy praline, a little too obvious and “childish” for my taste). The two other ones were classics, the macaron ispahan (rose, lychee and raspberry, almost as delightful as the entremet version) and the macaron chocolat au lait fruit de la passion (milk chocolate and passionfruit, one of my absolute favorites).

Reflecting upon this selection now, it appears that Pierre Hermé’s classics work somewhat better than his seasonal collection: this is perfectly understandable as he has had years to perfect the former, whereas the latter are recent creations. In any case I think there is tremendous merit in renewing his array of pastries so frequently and with such creativity, so I am more than happy to give the new ones a try — besides, his classics started out as inexperienced rookies too, right?

* In most cafés it would be considered terrible manners to bring in outside food. I don’t think they exactly encourage it here, but it cannot have escaped the owners’ attention that this brings them much more business than they would otherwise get. Still, I suggest you engage in this little ruse with elegant discretion, and (obviously) make sure the table is spotless when you leave.

Pierre Hermé
72 rue Bonaparte
75006 Paris
01 43 54 47 77
(Also at 185 rue de Vaugirard
75015 Paris
01 47 83 89 96)

Café de la Mairie
8 place St Sulpice
75006 Paris
01 43 26 67 82

  • Laurent

    I’m not very fond of pastries but I love chocolate and I’ve never been at Pierre Herme’s boutique (something I’ll have to correct sooner than later). As my father is a big fan of his and my girlfriend a chocolate amateur, I’ll take them both and pay a visit to the “unofficial” salon de the as well.

    Thanks for this post (and making me hungry just 30 minutes after having lunch…that’s rude ;-) and making me discover Louisa’s blog.

  • aru

    my flat mate brought back 3 of the herme carre yu’s last week from a cocktail thing that pierre herme did for their office (he – flatmate in question – works for an events organisation company in the 5eme and apparantly mr P.H does most of their events – so he’s met him on a few occasions.) anyway, as soon as he said they were pierre herme works of art i immediately thought of you!!!

    i loved the sable part best. moist but crunchy!!! yum!

    you had me drooling with this review.

  • Ann/brighidsdaughter

    Clotilde, thank you for providing me with a vicarious sampling of these delicious, edible works of art. And thanks for the giggle (badly needed today) about “…standing in the middle of Heaven and shouting…”

  • Hi Clotilde,

    thanks for reminding me of the pleasure of testing PH works of art… personally I too think his classics seem more outstanding and convincing than seasonal lines, agreed, but like you say it would still be worth playing around with endless possibilities of different tastes, maybe. there’s no such thing as too much PH! Sure no! He just opened a new shop in Tokyo where I have to pay a visit sooner or later. :)

  • Pallas Athene

    I tried the plénitude the other day and it was the first time I’d tasted anything by Pierre Hermé. I have to say I was a little disappointed. The macaron just seemed bitter, but in a bad way. I felt guilty for betraying Jean-Paul Hévin! :) That being said, the Pierre Hermé boutique just smells of happiness.

  • I am drooling.

  • corey

    looks very yummy

  • jealous

    come to mommy little cake; i wont hurt you…

  • kim

    mmm, your chocolate choice seems right up my alley. I’m drooling (and I just finished my breakfast)!

  • i had to decorate these every morning and i was so uncoordinated and unartistic, the head chef would just look at me and shake his head. i could never break the pieces of chocolate into the right shapes to make it look like a mosaic. so there ended my illustrious career as a pastry chef…

  • Fabienne

    I totally agree with you on two points :
    – Pierre Hermé’s current collection is a bit disappointing (if one could say so considering the quality of his work) because boring compared to his former collections that included raspberry with parmesan, tomato with strawberry, and so (and it worked very well) and had more texture oppositions. This year, the classics are better and the Plénitude is my favorite too.
    – Cafe’s should be more outside-brings-friendly because at least they serve a coffee! I always do like you do, hoping nothing will be said to me and trying to be discreet… Anyway, the alternative would be not going to a cafe at all (not going to a cafe and eating one of their cakes!!)
    – By the way, what about the pleurote recipe with bergamot? and about addresses in the Vosges region?

  • Jenji

    Salut Clothilde,
    Thank you for this mouthwatering description—you do a wonderful job of giving precise and opinionated details! (So much more tantalizing and helpful than a generic “it was great…”.) Anyway, the Plenitude sounds phenomenal—could you really taste the salt in the dark chocolate shards? What do you think of the salt/chocolate combination? And do you know if it’s true that Pierre Herme made a ketchup macaron (perhaps you’ve tasted it)?
    Mille mercis!

  • Shelli

    Oh gosh, can salivating over your keyboard harm it? My problem at PH is that I always want to spend a half hour or so making my choices, hard to do with others following hot on your heels, also anxious to get their lovely and delicious goodies.

    I love the idea of salt and sweet, whether chocolate or caramel, and your Plenitude does sound like heaven. Yum.

  • And do you know that the Cafe de la Mairie was one of the favourite place of George Perec (one of my favourite writer) ? Just where you were seated, Clotilde, he wrote “Tentatives d’épuisement d’un lieu parisien”, where he describes the view he had from the Cafe de la Mairie on the place St Sulpice.
    His favourite place was upstairs too, but I don’t know if he was a cake-lover just as you are ;-)

  • jing

    I’ve heard that Catherine Deneuve has her coffee each morning at the Cafe de la Mairie. I’ve never seen her there but its one of my favorite cafes in Paris probably because San Sulpice is my favorite square.

  • For Catherine Deneuve, it’s just because she lives in a flat just upstairs the Saint Laurent and the Castelbajac boutique…

  • Thank you for this great tip. Will definitely try a piece of Pierre’s cake in Cafe de la Mairie next time in Paris.

  • Lilia

    Hello Clotilde!
    While staying with friends last year, I offered a box of PH chocolats and a baker’s dozen of his macaroons to my hosts. In the past, I gave them JP Hevin which is around the corner from their apartment. Reading your article made me crave the taste of PH delicious confections. (Those georgeous shopping bags are a bonus!)
    We will surely be visiting 72 rue Bonaparte a lot in May and enjoy our gouter at the Cafe de Mairie.
    Thank you for all the wonderful articles and recipes. It is such a pleasure to read the beautiful descriptions.

  • Susanne

    Since you pointed out that a non-smoking atmosphere is essential to really enjoy good food (I so wholeheartedly agree!!), I would like to ask you (and everybody else who’s reading this) if you can recommend other places with breathable air?

    I’ll be in Paris in early June and I am desperately trying to find smokefree places to eat/drink.

    Thank you very much in advance!!

  • Filipe

    I’ve found this AMAZING blog (congratulations) as I’ve been “googling” for “YUZU”. The only time I had had contact with this fantastic flavour was in a “yuzu chocolate cake” I’ve ate at Megu, in New York. Do you know if it is easy to find yuzu’s in europe? I’m portuguese and we don’t have many asian comunities around here, so there aren’t any specific supermarkets on where to find it.


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