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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food: Memory

I’ve always been mad for chocolate. Especially dark chocolate. Sweet, silky, sticky, creamy bliss. But lately, I’ve been loving vanilla. Real, pure vanilla, never the fake stuff. 

My newfound passion for vanilla blossomed last fall when my husband and I were in Paris. We made a pilgrimage to the exclusive Pierre Hermé pâtisserie. This is no trip to the corner bakery; many consider Pierre Hermé the best pastry chef in the world. 

We walked miles and miles to find this tiny boutique, tucked in rue Bonaparte in St-Germaine, then patiently waited in line to view the treasures inside.

Designed to remind customers of a jewel box, Pierre Hermé is famous for decadent, gorgeous sweets, true works of art. Most of the pastries are almost too beautiful to eat.

His legendary macarons come in seemingly dozens of traditional and exotic flavors, ranging from rose water to fleur de sel to white truffle hazelnut. Some are dusted with gold and silver leaf. We sampled many and fell in love with all.

And then, the éclair. Specifically, vanilla éclair. Honestly, I don’t even like éclair. Heavy, waxy icing atop greasy pastry with a tunnel of thick, eggy custard inside. Never been my thing.

But these feathery, dreamy vanilla concoctions elevate the lowly pastry to a lofty perch. The textured ladyfingers are light and soft as angel’s wings, and inside are pure pillows of what must be mascarpone, speckled with real vanilla bean.  These are true delicacies, to be savored slowly.

Chef Hermé, the youngest person ever to be named France's Pastry Chef of the Year, creates a new three-part collection each September and March, in a nod to couture. When in Paris, a trip to one of his boutiques is as important as the requisite visit to the Louvre or Champs-Élysées.

We sought out Pierre Hermé early in our trip, and went back again. And again. Months later, I can't get it out of my head. And my beloved dark chocolate has lost a bit of its luster.


  1. what a great trip we had! Maria is an awesome traveling (and life) partner.

  2. you are such a good writer. i love it. this made me want eclairs...which i truly have no interest in. macaroons on the other hand...yum.