Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day Eight: La Praline, Christian Constant

Definitely feeling the effects of eight days of intense pastry consumption, I set out this morning for a power walk with my friend Mei. Now, let me preface this posting by saying the SOLE reason I am able to even contemplate eating 28 of anything is Mei. When I put out a desperate call last spring for a walking buddy she answered, and we've been pushing our poussettes (strollers) around the Luxembourg Garden (or the Champs de Mars), comparing recipes, gossiping (who, us?) and trying to support each other through this Great Parisian Adventure. At times our walks/therapy sessions have been the glue holding seemingly endless weeks together.

Indeed, I credit Mei with one of my best pastry finds, as last summer we discovered what I still believe to be the best Pain au Chocolat in Paris, at a tiny boulangerie on Rue Vavin. And today, glutes burning as I shove my stroller through six inches of post-rain sludge, I am motivated only by her promise to introduce me to another "gem of the sixieme": Christian Constant's tiny bakery on Rue d'Assas. If you have already read this posting, please not this CORRECTION that Chocolatier Christian Constant is not this Christian Constant of, well, just about every terrific restaurant in Paris. Name confusion aside, this is a lovely addition to my repertoire.

But back to pastry - as Mei, our daughters and I arrive at the window of Constant's café and chocolate shop and press our noses to the glass, the clerks are just beginning to put out the day's delights. We decide on what looks like a snickerdoodle-cream sandwich when in the trays begin to appear glistening tartes aux pommes, towering milles-feuilles, cheeky chocolat-marrons... I scamper inside to demand a full description of each patisserial triumph from the exceedingly patient shopkeeper. After about ten minutes of intense scrutiny, I emerge with... the Snickerdoodle-wich, which is actually called a "Praliné."

We both try to appear casual strolling to Mei's apartment, but once inside it's a flurry of jacket-shedding, tea-making, child-busying, so that we can sink into the chairs in her cheery salon and contemplate this upscale, poufy little sandwich cookie. I cut it in half, and we simultaneously have visions of George Costanza eating a Milky Way with a knife and fork and decide it's best eaten, quite delicately, with our fingers. WOW. One really can't call this a cookie. Please don't excommunicate me, Mister Christian. And if my mislabeling weren't sinful enough, get a load of the creme filling - sweet, balanced between intense vanille and nutty (almonds? hazelnuts?). The pastry (see, I've stopped calling it a cookie) does taste like snickerdoodle, but chewier, and somehow when I bite down the cream doesn't squirt out all over the place - the disparate layers hold together quite well.

When I initially chose this pastry for today's post I was a bit disappointed by its size. That too is clearly by Constant's design -- any larger and it would render the customer slightly nauseous. Hopefully Mei will motivate me around the track enough times to earn one of those big shiny tarte tatins...

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