Behind the Scenes of the Infamous French Pastry

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The distinction between cooks and pastry cooks was recognized in the Middle Ages. The first ice creams were served at the wedding of Catherine de Médicis and the future Henri II, along with pâte à choux, light pastry dough invented by Popelini.

In the 17th century, Anne of Austria brought chocolate to France from the Spanish court, and the concept of “pièces montées” (decoratively mounted confectionery centrepieces) made its entrance in Versailles. Vatel whipped up the first Chantilly cream, yet it wasn’t until the 19th century that French pastry began to really take flight.

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Today, many of the pastry classics are being revisited by pâtissiers who have become stars themselves. Pierre Hermé, Philippe Andrieu, Christophe Michalak, Christophe Felder and Philippe Conticini travel around the world, “sign” their creations and present their “collections” in gallery-like pastry shops.

Here are the top ten French pastry classics:

*La tarte tatin: an upside-down caramelized apple tart
*Le Paris-Brest: a praline-flavored choux pastry named after a bicycle race
*La religieuse: two choux pastries on top of one another held together by chocolate or mocha pastry cream, resembling the “nun” for which it was named
*L’éclair: an oblong choux pastry filled with cream and topped with icing
*Le mille-feuille: this layered puff pastry separated by pastry cream, with a powdered sugar top, is also known as a Napoleon
*Le macaron: sweet meringue-based confectioneries sandwiched together by a variety of filling flavors
*Le Saint-Honoré: named for the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs, this is a combination of puff and choux pastry, filled and decorated with creams
*L’opéra: an almond sponge cake layered with ganache and coffee butter cream, covered in a layer of chocolate
*La tarte citron meringuée: a lemon meringue pie
*Le fraisier: a layered cake with pastry cream and fresh strawberries

Take a pastry-making class:

*In Paris and Strasbourg, study with Christophe Felder, former pastry-chef at the Crillon.
*In Lyon, pastry-chef Sébastien Bouillet opened his “Gâteau Ecole,” or cake school, which offers thematic courses.
*In the Rhone Valley, chocolate-maker Valrhona transmits its knowledge of éclairs, macarons and other great classics (Saint-Honoré, opéra, mille-feuille…).

Delicious pastry in Paris and elsewhere in France:

*La Pâtisserie des rêves, in Paris: Philippe Conticini revisits the classics.
*Sève, in Lyon: master chocolatier and pastry chef Richard Sève comes up with original creations in his four Lyon boutiques.
*Les Douceurs de Louise, in Bordeaux: Philippe Andrieu dreams up fruity éclairs, macarons, pies and other cakes.
*Pâtisserie Intuitions, in Cannes: chef Jérôme de Oliveira, world pastry champion, perfects the Paris-Brest, lemo

(top photo – the cooknextdoor.blogspot.com and second photo ©Atout France/Cédric Helsly)