Friday, November 28, 2014

Café en Capitale - Christmas Cakes from Chef Yannick Alléno

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!


Chef Yannick Alléno explains his creative inspiration behind 2014's Christmas cakes. Flanked in the background by his chef patissier. Photo by Paige Donner copyright All Rights Reserved.
Chef Yannick Alléno explains his creative inspiration behind 2014's Christmas cakes. Flanked in the background by his chef patissier. Photo by Paige Donner copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved.

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!

l'Opéra Bastille cakes at Terroir Parisien. Photo by Paige Donner copyright All Rights Reserved.
l'Opéra Bastille holiday cakes at Terroir Parisien. Photo by Paige Donner copyright All Rights Reserved.

l'Opéra Bastille

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."

Le Montsouris

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.


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♥Chérie Du Vin

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Christmas Yule Logs And Paris - A Sweet Tradition

by Paige Donner

(all photos copyright Paige Donner)

Every year about this time, as the leaves turn their gold, yellow, orange and red, a sweet tradition overtakes Paris. That tradition is the annual presentation by France's superstar chefs of their creative interpretation of the Christmas Yule Log Cake, a staple on every French Christmas Dinner table.

Autumn is like a second Spring

With each falling leave like a flower 

(seen posted as a sign in French as I walked yesterday evening along rue Fbg. St. Honoré)

​​​​​The 68 Guy Martin Christmas Yule Log inspired by Guerlain Fragrances and named "A Scent of Shalimar". Find it at 68 Guy Martin at 68, Champs Elysées, Paris.
2nd Photo: Le Grand Véfour Buche de Noel, in the shape of a champagne bottle
Top Photo: ​​Chef Guy Martin and Team, Paris

The French bûche de noël 

Over the years these Yule logs have become more and more creative. No longer are they a simple cake with frosting that has been rolled into a log form. Oh, no sirree!

Now, with the creative artistic inspirations of Chefs like Guy MartinJean-François Piège and Christophe Michalak, the yule log has taken on incarnations of everything from a Champagne bottle (Guy Martin) to steamer trunks (Michalak – chocolate covered, of course!) to Christmas Gifts wrapped up in a Santa's Belt (François Perret).

This year's Chef Guy Martin creations span the globe and are all infused with "fun" and the sense of traveling. For example his bûche de noël for the 68 Guy Martin, his elegant restaurant nestled inside the Champs-Elysées Guerlain flagship boutique, is derived from essences dreamed up by the famed parfumeur and Thierry Wasser, its celebrated "nose."

This Christmas cake is called "A whiff of Shalimar' and has hints of bergamot and cardamon laced within its lemon and mandarin mousse. All this light fluffy fruit mousse is placed on a vanilla butter cookie crust. It's sheer heaven and, true to this artist-chef's signature, is a delicate, almost ethereal play on senses, tastes and aromas.

Below here are some of the Christmas Yule Log cake "Stars" of Parisian Christmases past:

Michalak's 2013 version of the Buche de Noel (for Le Meurice)

Christmas Yule Log cake by François Perret, from season 2013

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♥Chérie Du Vin