by Paige Donner
As noted earlier this month, Parisian chefs have a sweet tradition of rolling out their Christmas cakes, their Bûche de Noël (Christmas Yule Logs) here even before we in the U.S. have celebrated Thanksgiving. It's a charming custom and one that inspires much creativity amongst them. It's sort of like the grand unveiling of what myriad forms flour, sugar, chocolate, mousse, fruits and other sweet delectables can take on within the imaginations of these great chefs and the skillful execution of their staff.
It's also the sign, at least in the Parisian culinary world, that the Holiday Season has begun!
This year, Chef Yannick Alléno, one of France's most distinguished chefs, paid tribute to his terroir, Paris, in his re-imagining of these customary holiday cakes. He harkens from île-de-France, the county that encompasses the city of Paris, and has built a career and his successful brand upon highlighting what he calls Terroir Parisien.
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For this year, his Christmas gateaux (cakes) have taken on the role of representing, in delicately edible patisserie form, several of the great monuments of Paris.
Café en Capitale
The café gourmand is a dessert that you will find on many French menus. It's a delightful little smattering of bite-sized desserts, often miniatures of the full portioned desserts on the menu. It's served with coffee and is a nice dessert to share or also have when you're too sated by a good meal to devour more than just a few nibbles afterwards.
Alléno's twist, however, is to shine a spotlight on three of Paris's beautiful monuments, namely the Grand Palais, the Opéra Bastille and the Notre-Dame and offer each of these namesake cakes in turn, consecutively, throughout the holiday season.
Let The Sweet Festivities Begin!
And it all starts on December 1st. Beginning on the 1st of December you will be able to enjoy l'Opéra Bastille at Alléno's Bourse district Terroir Parisien. Of course, the famous pâtissier, Gaston Le Nôtre is who created the even more (now) famous cake, l'Opéra. The form of this small, just a bit bigger than bite-size very chocolate délice with a creamy center, pays tribute to the dome of the Opéra Bastille, the landmark theater which crowns the Place de la Bastille. This dessert will be served with coffee following lunch or dinner at the popular bistro in the 2nd arrondissement.
La bûche du Grand Palais
Ah, now for the main act... The form of this cake, crowned with a remnant of the celebrated Parisian monument, the Grand Palais (albeit in patisserie, not in actual steel or concrete!) has a heart of pear from Ile-de-France that is covered, actually, nearly smothered and entombed, in chocolate. The metal edifice of the Grand Palais, the creative child of Gustave Eiffel, is what is represented by this avant-garde cake decoration. Even the presentation of the cake pays homage to the metal-work detailing of Eiffel's in this monument of and to Paris that is the Grand Palais.
*These cakes can be ordered for takeaway as well when ordered in advance.
La Galette du Parvis de Notre-Dame
After the New Year, here in France there is another cake that you will see in all the bakeshop windows: it is called the galette du Roi. It celebrates Epiphany or the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem. You can read more about the tradition here. The cakes are much-loved by children because of the little fève (which translates as bean but is really a little ceramic lucky token) that is placed inside each cake which bequeaths the winning slice with a wish come true.
The form of Alléno's Galette Notre-Dame is in the form of the celebrated rosette window, the rosace, of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. And rather than filled with just the traditional almond paste, here you will find a mixture of chocolate-almond paste. It's like Alléno and his patisserie team really just couldn't get enough chocolate this year. And Hallelujah for that! This rosace form represents as they appear at Notre Dame flowers of Paradise and rose petals. "It's a treasure hidden inside an historical holiday cake tradition."
And last, but certainly not least, is the bite-sized flaky cake-cookie, Le Montsouris. This creation is dear to Alléno's heart because of its inspiration: the very last farm that exists within the city of Paris is set to soon be demolished. This farm is in the 14th arrondissement at 26 à 30 rue de la Tombe-Issoire and is the last of over 450 such farms that once existed within Paris city limits (until about 1895 when they started to be demolished and buildings constructed in their place). Since Alléno is devoted to creating his cuisine with local produce, he wanted to pay homage to this last Parisian farm before it slipped into our collective distant memory. The flaky cookie-cake is filled with apple compote.
TIP: The first 300 Galette Notre-Dame sold offer the chance of winning a dinner for two at Alléno's newest restaurant, the elegant Pavillon Ledoyen. There is one extra winning fève (token) hidden inside one of the first 300 galettes. (Yes, sort of like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory : ) ). To hear a review of this restaurant, listen to my upcoming Paris GOODfood+wine episode on World Radio Paris.
And for a chance to taste or take away any or all of these cakes mentioned here, go to Terroir Parisien, at either location 28 Place de la Bourse or 20 rue Saint Victor.