Creme de la creme
I AM just back from France and feeling foolishly fat, my cheeks all plumped up like a squirrel’s — I look as if I am hoarding macarons and madeleines.
All good intentions about sticking to my usual healthy diet, eschewing dairy and saying non, merci to naughty pastries, fell at the first croissant. It was not any old breakfast roll but a creation of raspberries, rose cream and lychees known as Ispahan and devised by Pierre Herme, a chap known as the ‘‘Picasso of pastry’’ for his daring combinations of flavours (olive oil and mandarin or black sesame and green tea macarons).
This overindulgence took place at Le Royal Monceau Raffles, the delightfully flamboyant Philippe Starckdesigned property located an easy stroll from the Arc de Triomphe. The hotel serves the Ispahan croissants on its superb daily breakfast and weekend brunch buffets at its Michelin one-star La Cuisine dining room.
It’s the only place in Paris you can be served Herme’s creations (although you can take out from his six shops); hotel guests can even order a set of seven macarons from room service (‘‘a few grams that will leave your senses quivering with pleasure . . . tempting colours and tender interiors’’ is the lure).
At Laduree on the Champs-Elysees, the queues for the shop and the tearoom snaked along the block; this patisserie caused a sensation several years ago with its licorice macarons, which frankly look horrid. I finally snared a table and ordered a religieuse rose, which should be a nun in a pink habit, but is a sinful assembly of choux pastry, rose fondant and cream that looks a bit like a ceremonial hat with a silver pearl on top. The only thing that saved me from utter ruin in Paris is that I am one of just 10 acknowledged people in the world who hates chocolate; I suspect the other nine are fibbing.
It’s not just Paris that is full of sweet treats. Normandie is booby-trapped with full-fat cream, butter and salted caramels at every turn. In Rouen, Auzou does a lively trade in yellow boxes filled with macarons and featuring a picture of the family grandmother, a macaron maker par excellence, apparently; the shop’s literature says the chewy delicacy has been around since Henri II’s queen Catherine de Medici introduced the Florentine delicacy to France in the 16th century.
I thought I’d be safe in seaside Honfleur. I can resist fairy floss. But the ice- cream shops were selling summery scoops of violette and rose petal. Gulp.