It all sounds so intriguing when you call it a fetish event. Perhaps it doesn’t mean anything quite so racy in the French it was translated from, but it certainly makes for a memorable event that Pierre Hermé celebrates a few times a year, when the pastry chef chooses a particular ingredient to celebrate across his entire line of patisserie and chocolate products. I was pretty eager to get an invite.
This time the fetish is for coffee. As I learnt last night, it came about when Pierre went to visit a famous coffee house (and roaster) in Paris that was opened by a food writer who previously despised coffee but changed his tune upon tasting a cup made with beans from Guatemala. So obsessed he became with the bean, while writing the book he was commissioned for, he ended up opening L’Arbre a Café, the first coffee shop in Paris that truly showcased how coffee could taste. Much like modern chocolatiers and chocolate makers, the new wave of coffee roasters and café owners know that the quality of the bean that starts the process makes all the difference to the final flavour.
We heard that what inspired this particular fetish collection began more than two years ago when Pierre took the cafe owner, Hippolyte Courty (isn’t that a great name?), his coffee tart. Apparently whilst Hippolyte confirmed it was a delicious tart, it didn’t capture the taste of coffee that converted him to loving the drink.
Hippolyte then began to educate Pierre on this “other bean” and the two men worked together, primarily using two different coffee beans, to create the range of desserts that form this fetish period.
Starting yesterday and finishing on October 20th, the range includes:
* 2 macarons
* cake de café
* chocolates – a galet, a bon bon and a nougatine
* sable shortbread
and in the shops with patisserie (sadly, only in Paris and Tokyo), a selection of tarts, desserts and a croissant.
Pierre considers his new launches “collections”, not unlike a designer of luxury fashion brands. As such there was a big party on Tuesday night, undoubtedly filled with celebrities, at least from the food world, if not fashion. I wonder whether they ate more than one thing? Last night a few food bloggers and lucky me were invited to the only UK Pierre Herme boutique, in Belgravia (though there is also a small concession in Selfridges), to sample the range on launch day. The bon bon and the sables were yet to arrive and sadly there was none of the fresh patisserie, just stunning pictures of it (as seen at the top of this post), but I managed to taste the rest of the selection before rushing off to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall (a very sophisticated evening all round!).
The three resulting coffees used in the collection are the Cafe Iapar Rouge du Brasil, which is the more traditionally flavoured coffee, and Cafe Vert and Cafe Bourbon Pointu de la Réunion (Réunion is an island off Madagascar, near Mauritius and officially part of France). These latter two, when combined in two-toned macaron provided the subtle flavours of coffee you get from a good filter coffee or espresso from one of the newer coffee shops in London. The coffee itself, which will also be sold in the stores soon, is so rare it retails for £150/kilo. Some made comments about the lack of disctinction between shell and filling in the macrons. Each to their own, but for me this is part of their appeal. I’ve had so many macarons with hard, dry shells; I much prefer the slight crisp edge that yields into a thick layer of ganache which is, after all, where the flavour mainly is. I never really cared for macarons much until I tried Pierre Herme’s. Perhaps it’s because they aren’t like other macarons?
Criticism also came for the cake. Pound cakes are meant to be quite dry, but it does seem a waste of Pierre’s talent to produce such a plain cake as this one. The challenge for this cake in justifying its style is that it’s not being compared side by side with any other coffee cakes that might prove that it is superior in flavour. When I was a buyer at M&S we would conduct regular taste comparisons with competitor supermarket products within the same category. 19 times out of 20 the M&S product would be clearly better than the others. The trouble was that for some of the competitor products, unless the M&S product was being tasted a few minutes later, you would have happily thought it was sufficiently good. This of course leads to interesting conversations about whether too much money is being wasted in making the product better than the average customer might be able to identify compared to another supermarket’s version. Fortunately all of the team who work on food are furiously proud of their taste credentials and won’t compromise.
I digress… In regards to the Pierre Hermé coffee cake, it is just too simple to justify its price tag. It lacked the interest of Pierre’s Ispahan cake which has layers of jelly intersecting it, or the chocolate praline cake studded with pieces of praline and whole, roasted hazelnuts.
I should be clear, I would still happily have eaten any of the products from last night again today and definitely could become addicted to the nougatine pieces. I’d encourage people to try the Café Vert two-toned macaron which is an excellent example of the variety of flavours that coffee can exhibit, flaunted in a unique expression. It is a shame that this was the only product that truly, in isolation, succeeded in the intended mission to celebrate the variety of coffee flavours. In all of the others the chocolate and sugar fought with the coffee for supremacy. A delicious balance but not allowing the supposed unique flavours of these coffees to really shine. I’m still hoping and dreaming that one day a patisserie kitchen will open here in London. If anyone’s going before October 20th and would care to bring me back some of the fresh patisserie samples I’ll be a happy girl. The intention of the coffee croissant is to mimic the apparent French habit of consuming their coffee with their croissant by dipping the latter into their drink. If it’s even close to as good as the Ispahan croissant I’m sure it’s pretty special. The Ispahan croissant I had in Paris was the best croissant I’ve ever encountered: flaky, buttery and filled with the delicious, seedless rose, raspberry and lychee jam. Apparently the Ispahan fetish period is coming later in the year. Now that I am excited about. That and heading back to Paris and the end of next month. I’ll be a little too late for the coffee fetish, but there’s still so many things I haven’t sampled yet and as long as there’s an Ispahan croissant, I think I’ll cope.