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Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition: La Baule 2016

Some of you saw the live videos on Facebook but I’ve been itching to tell you in much more detail about this exceptional pastry and chocolate weekend! To start, I was bowled over to be invited by Christophe Roussel to join the French jury for his Annual Pastry Competition Final in La Baule (Loire-Atlantique) on France’s west coast.

Open to budding amateur pastry chefs, five talented finalists were chosen in September via their tantalising patisseries and descriptions on Facebook, all based on this year’s défi (challenge), first announced in July.

As the event wasn’t open to the public, I feel duty-bound to share this with you, patisserie and chocolate lovers. So fasten your seat-belts for a bumper post!

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Annual Pastry Competition

What was the Défi Patissier‘s CHALLENGE this second year?

TO REVISIT an OPÉRA cake, using the famous Fleur de sel de Guérande as an imposed ingredient and during the final, include Christophe Roussel’s new signature Bahiana® chocolate from Brazil.Sounds easy? An Opera pastry has to be one of the most difficult in the French pastry repertoire!

With the competition’s early morning start, Christophe and Julie generously helped relieve any night-before stress by hosting a welcome dinner on La Baule’s beach. Dessert was, of course, by Christophe himself.  If anyone had forgotten his style and needed to tweak their dessert next day, now was the time. The desserts set the tone…

fleur d'Asie of Christophe Roussel

Luckily I had lovely Lucie by my side who works with Christophe, so she could suggest two out of the FOUR desserts! The Fleur d’Asie, or Asian Flower, is a delicate combination of apricot and the Asian Osmanthus (Devilwood) plant which has scents of apricot and peach. I love his hidden Fleur de Sel which gives that unexpected crunch – fantastic!

A First in France: Signature Chocolate

Chocolate-lovers will love the Fleur de Bahiana, the upcoming Bûche de Noël (festive yule log) made with the new signature Brazilian dark chocolate (69%), Bahiana®. It’s from the Pêtrolina cacao farm in the Bahia region, a family-run plantation, and made exclusively for Christophe Roussel in partnership with Valrhona – a first in France.

Intense in chocolate with floral and fruity notes, I found it so warming, almost like tasting a chocolate-vanilla pastry version of a velvety hot chocolate with playful textures. To top it, it wasn’t overly rich but left a lovely round satin touch on the palate.
But I digress – back to the competition!

christophe Roussel pastry competition

Meet the Finalists

From left: Catherine Brug (Besançon: Opera-Cube), 18-year-old Laurie Lacoviz (Saint-Maur: Opéra Rock), Anne-Sophie Donnard (Montmorency: Comme un Air d’Opéra), Émilie Chrysostom, (Paris, Min’Op), and Arnault Buisson (Luxemburg, Opéra Spirit).

The finalists - christophe Roussel pastry competition

Meet Christophe Roussel

Ever since I walked into Christophe Roussel‘s welcoming boutique when it opened 5 years ago in Paris’s Montmartre, it was special. As I say in my book, Teatime in Paris, Chef Christophe must be one of the most genuinely friendly and approachable pastry chefs in France. His credo is sharing, pleasure and a little bit of madness – and add to that an incredible generosity.

After setting up his first pâtisserie in La Baule in 2004, he decided to steer away from the traditional route of adding a boulangerie and instead devoted the rest to chocolate-making. Now with an impressive business with around 44 employees and 7 trainees, Christophe Roussel, part of the prestigious Relais Desserts group, is the star of the French west coast with two boutiques in La Baule, Guérande, Pornichet, Paris, and has just opened another in la Pornic. Together with his wife, Julie (pictured far right below), they make the perfect duo créatif.

Only the HIGHEST QUALITY PRODUCTS are used to create his gourmandises, notably sourcing local produce – one of which is the famous salt, the Fleur de Sel de guérande, just a few kilometres from his laboratory in La Baule (pronounced la-bowl).

Jury for Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

The Jury

Meet the rest of the jury with Christophe Roussel. You can imagine why I was so honoured to be a part of such a prestigious line-up!

  • Thierry Bamas MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) and world champion for frozen desserts, he’s the star of pâtisserie based in the Basque region, between Biarritz and Bayonne. Like Christophe, he runs pastry and chocolate-making classes.
  • Cyril Carrini, winner of the last 2015 Meilleur Pâtissier on French TV’s M6 Channel (The French equivalent of the Great British Bake Off), and winner of the best of the winners. He’s a policeman near Bordeaux who also runs pastry workshops.
  • Mercotte is to France what Mary Berry is to the UK. A most adorable, down-to-earth TV celebrity for the Meilleur Pâtissier on M6, and The French Patisserie Blogger at La Cuisine de Mercotte, with four recipe books.The Pastry & ChocolateLAB

The Lab

Hitting the starting block at 7.30am, the finalists cracked on with their 3-hour pastry challenge. As it was the early stage, we had the opportunity to visit the immense lab.

Christophe Roussel labWhat an Ali-Baba maze! It was hard to resist a peek into these enormous vats of babas steeping in rum syrup as we explored each chocolate and pastry-making workshop. Everyone was quietly and dynamically working on each creation: from chocolate moulds of Peppa Pig, Calimero, and chocolate kisses destined to be exported to Japan, to his assortiment of macarons – of which about 25 tons are produced a year. There’s even a room assigned to edible decor – spot his pastry signature above (top left).

religieuse pas très catholique christophe RousselBack to the buzzing competition room, just to keep us going, we taste Christophe’s Coffee Réligieuse – Pas Très Catholique (meaning a bit doubtful), with lively notes of two different coffees and a chocolate craquelin crumble topping for le crunch. Incidentally, this was the inspiration behind the recipe for the salted caramel choux snowman in Teatime in Paris!

THE Challenge

The classic Opéra isn’t an easy pastry … and on top of it, personal variations made it a particularly interesting challenge. Cubes, balls, discs, giant spheres, logs, tuiles … they’d all thought it out so well.

Christophe Roussel pastry competition opera challenge

All aspects were taken into consideration: such as respect to the classic recipe (e.g. right dosage of coffee coming through, enough chocolate, right textures; their interpretation; clean workspace; no waste (Christophe made frequent bin inspections), respect to time, visual aspect, and so on.

While all was being filmed on camera, we were additionally going around filming and snapping shots on our phones: everyone was spontaneously interviewed on Facebook Live by the bubbly Mercotte (we were all impressed with her mega battery!). Apparently I speak French like Jane Birkin, ahem…  Thierry Bamas and Cyril also caught the online interviewing bug as the stress and COUNTDOWN started.

Discussions behind the finalists didn’t put them off – and although there was the odd hand trembling towards the finishing touches, everyone showed their talent of being calm and collected, plus it was a good team spirit if someone needed to borrow equipment from each other.  Not every competitive spirit is prepared to do that.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule 2016

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and STOP!  Et Voilà: their finished results. Now we could think of the visual aspect. Great job – and totally resembling what they submitted online.

Finished operas - Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

By now finished, the finalists took off their aprons for a well-earned break.

Jury Salon du Chocolat la Baule

Photo courtesy of Michel Orion, Ouest-France

Salon du Chocolat, La Baule

Meanwhile, we were given the added job of tasting our way through 3 different themes of chocolates over at the Castel Marie-Louise, as part of the Salon du Chocolat in La Baule, hosted by the Casino Barrière. Our challenge was to pick the best in each category before announcing the winners – including the pastry challenge – at the Salon later.
chocolate-jury-la-baule

Our group tasted 12 chocolates on a dark chocolate and citrus almond paste theme. The unanimous winner went to Vincent Belloir (Goût du bonheur, La Roche-Bernard). It was best for the visual sheen on the chocolate, the clean cut without losing it’s shape, the smooth texture, the bouquet on ze nose, and of course, the taste!

Olivier Grimault (Créat-shop, Les Sorinières) won the chocolate bar category with dark chocolate and Matcha, … and winner of the third category went to Christophe Roussel for his dark chocolate and pink peppercorn!  Also congratulations goes to Amélie Giraud for her chocolate sculpture, who is also part of Christophe Roussel’s team!

A few glasses of water later – and all before lunch ….!

Pastry Competition Tasting & Verdict

This is when I appreciated when Mercotte took me under her wing. Although the group agreed on the same issues and were discerning on each aspect, my marking was slightly too high for each finalist – so now I can put it down to experience!

Jury tasting Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

Photos courtesy of Michel Oriot, Ouest-France news

Pastry Competition Winners!

Our winners were also announced on Saturday evening at the Salon du Chocolat.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition winners

Congratulations to the winner, Anne-Sophie, a school teacher and French pastry blogger at SurprisesetGourmandises. She wins a Gourmet Luxury Weekend in La Baule and a day of pastry-making with Christophe Roussel.
Bravo to Catherine Brug who came a close second, and a huge round of applause to Arnault, Emilie and Laurie. Each of them were not just great bakers but lovely, sensitive souls too.

finalists Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Lucie Henaff, thanking everyone, even prepared framed momentos of their Opéra creations, a lovely keepsake of their tremendous talent.

A Gourmet yet Light Weekend

After all the excitement, the chocolate, the opera cakes, lunch, more various dessert tastings, there was … another gourmet dinner!

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition Castel Marie-Louise La Baule

For everything we ate, however, all was impeccably light. Spoiled by Eric Mignard, Michelin-starred chef for 30 years at the Relais-Châteaux Castel Marie-Louise, he took us through local seafood and fish menus, including a memorable dish of tartar scallops with passion fruit, pineapple, daikon, and salsifis chips with grilled almond oil. I’d need another few pages to discuss the rest!

Christophe Roussel dessertsj

On to the DESSERTS, all prepared by Christophe Roussel, each one was immaculate. They’re airy, full of surprising textures (he has fizzy chocolates too) and each ingredient has its own punch to say, “Taste me – I’m here too!”. The finale – made especially for the occasion – of Tahitian vanilla mousse with mango and that nesting ball on top is full of exploding salted caramel. It was the closing firework display to an exceptional weekend.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Do keep an eye out for the 2017 competition on Christophe Roussel’s Facebook page. If you or anyone you know is a real fan of making French pastries, then you’ll have witnessed that this is an extremely special competition indeed. I hear there will be even more surprises for next year’s Défi challenge. How can you beat that?

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

I’ll finish with Christophe Roussel’s popular chocolate kisses from La Baule and say a big Cheers, Santé to you, Chef! Bravo to such an extraordinary and successful weekend, the opening of your new boutique in La Pornic, the new signature Brazilian chocolate, for such a wonderful, dynamic team you’ve inspired – and, above all, for your generosity.

christophe Roussel Pastry Challenge

Christophe Roussel Duo Créatif

6 Allée des Camélias
44500 LA BAULE

5 Rue Tardieu
75018 PARIS

20th Salon du Chocolat Paris 2014

How could you resist? Week 2 of the French mid-term school holidays and the 20th Salon du Chocolat Paris kicked off yesterday.

chocolate fashion dress salon du chocolat Paris 2014

The kids ruled (my excuse, anyway) so it was time to head over to the Porte de Versailles for a taste. Arriving in the vast upstairs gallery, most people were making for the chocolate dresses.  Hey, did someone pinch that meringue at the bottom? It wasn’t me, I promise…

chocolate and macaron candy dress salon du chocolat Paris 2014

The fashion show parades at 3pm and 5pm, when the crowds form around the central podium.  That’s when I ventured around to visit other attractions, including the ground floor, full of chocolate from around the world.  The last time I came here was with talented artist, Carol Gillott of ParisBreakfast fame: her fabulous artwork was in full view behind Fréderic Kassel’s pastry stand – although I don’t understand how I missed it.  It’s huge here – and not for nothing I lost Carol last time, too!

chocolate sculpture Paris 2014 court of Louis XIV

Jean-Luc Decluzeau, chocolate-maker and passionate historian put this sculpture together, celebrating how chocolate came to France around the 17th Century.  This represents the court of Louis XIV. It’s made with 500 kilos of Leonidas chocolates – including 2300 pralines – representing 300 hours of sweet labour.

Leonidas chocolate sculpture Paris salon 2014

Personally I had my eye on a leg: I’d be quite happy with the seat alone, weighing in at 35 kilos!
This time, macaron-lovers would certainly be happy.  These gluten-free treats were … everywhere.

macaron displays at the salon du chocolate Paris

And even more macarons from a huge central stand devoted to Pierre Marcolini‘s chocolates – including a White Bar, serving cocktails. I intended to return but became carried away… His chocolate macarons are top of my list, for sure.

macarons by Pierre Marcolini Paris

By lunch time, the kids and I were starving.  Looking around for a sandwich…. all we could find were these savoury macarons from les Macarondises (Paul, the only savoury boulangerie stand had sold out – my 12-yr old daughter Lucie has decided she’s setting up a stall next year).  That was definitely a first: savoury macarons for lunch.  Well, it was a gluten-free sandwich or few: salmon-dill, goats cheese-honey, foie gras and gingerbread and foie gras with chocolate (but of course).   The salmon was our winner with chèvre-miel a close second.

savoury macarons from les macarondises

We followed it off with another box for dessert from Les Macarondises.  Do you know what?  I much preferred the savoury ones – they were so much less sweeter and full of flavour, just enough filling, not too much.  Perfection.

macaron box at the salon du chocolat in Paris 2014

Before I knew it, I bumped into Christophe Roussel, the most friendly chocolatier-pâtissier in Montmartre.  He didnt have a stand this year being busy as a new Dad but was one of the judges – you must check out his new chocolate Eiffel Towers, called iTowers!  Then just around the corner, Philippe Urraca, one of my pastry chef heroes, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, s’il vous plaît, was demonstrating how to make chocolate truffles.

Philippe Urraca Cemoi chocolate demonstration Paris

Enough name-dropping (and grinning in a photo with him together – more are on Facebook and now on Instagram).
Look at Sadaharu Aoki’s stand: preparing the Tokyo Macaron Yaki – a large chocolate macaron sandwiched in between green tea waffle batter.

Sadaharu Aoki Tokyo macaron yaki for the Salon du Chocolat Paris

Every stand has something going on.  So much to take in, smell, taste, then bring out the wallet and pocket money… this is when I realise my kids love good, dark chocolate.

Japanese chocolate houses at the salon du chocolat Paris

Not only exquisite chocolate, but the best in artisanal lollipops, full of flavours such as the classic of salted caramel, chocolate-pear, green apple, honey, chocolate-nougat, chocolate-pistachio…

Artisanal lollipops salon du chocolat Paris

Chocolate mousse – the traditional chocolate mousse bar run by the famous house, Chapon – here’s Patrice Chapon’s recipe for his 100% cacao Chocolate Mousse.

chocolate mousse bar Chapon

Then the more chocolate, chestnut, coffee, praline flavours of macarons from Laurent Duchêne.  Then I was tempted by his Baba au Yuzu… just finished it tonight, split with the girls to taste.  Thanks to Carol Gillott for tempting me with a photo of it in the morning – this was the final straw and had me legging it to le Salon!

Macarons Laurent Duchene Paris

Not forgetting that pastry chefs and chocolatiers are real artists, there was a huge emphasis also on chocolate artwork as well as the sculptures.  Here, Romain Duclos  demonstrated his artwork, ‘Valse Chocolat’ showing the movements of chocolate through 15-second vibrations every 1.5 minutes underneath the table.  At one point, the vibrations were so powerful, we could have been in Iceland watching some kind of chocolate eruptions.  Wonderful imagination.

chocolate artwork by Romain Duclos Valse Chocolat

Then back to art on canvas – macarons.  Carol Gillott should have a stand of her amazing macaron and pastry watercolours.  Just saying for the next Salon du Chocolat Paris …

macaron artwork

Next door, the kids posed for a Giant King Kong in chocolate, were particularly taken by a chocolate owl who was weeping, then we gazed up at these painters still preparing something for the following few days…

painters in action at the salon du chocolat Paris

Hubby was brought up in Africa and so spooky masks are something I’ve tried to avoid.  Now that these are in chocolate by Chocolats Colas, I could live with that…

african art chocolate masks by chocolats Colas

Suddenly we heard the crowds again: the next fashion show was parading around with chocolate dresses.  Meanwhile, this little girl was up to a few tricks and treats: watching attentively as the strawberries were dipped into the most tempting of melted chocolate.

Godiva-chocolate-strawberries-Paris

By now we were flagging.  I’m sure you are too by now?  There are more photos on the other social network channels (I’m starting to give it a go) for those of you who need more chocolate.

giant macarons

By this time, giant macarons were rather on the big side – even for macaronivores.

chocolate and coffee macarons

What would you go for, now that Autumn is here: lemon, praline, coffee, speculoos (cinnamon), crème brûlée, chocolate?

macaron-tower-salon-du-chocolat-Paris-2014

There’s still time to get to Le Salon du Chocolat Paris – it continues until Sunday 2nd November!

Jour du Macaron – Macaron Day 20 March 2014

With Spring officially arriving in Paris tomorrow, it’s also a sign it’s Macaron Day!

The 20 March unveils the 9th edition of the annual Jour du Macaron in Paris, initiated by pastry chef extraordinaire, Pierre Hermé, and followed by over 80 budding pastry chefs who are members of the Relais Desserts.

macaron day paris march with free tastings for charity donations

Each macaron tasted is all in a good cause…

So what’s the drill?  Give a donation for a macaron in participating boutiques.  These include Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin, Arnaud Larher, Christophe Roussel, Laurent Duchêne, and Sadaharu Aoki.  This year in Paris, the donations shall go towards Musoviscidosis, or Cystic Fibrosis.

Each year, more and more cities and pastry boutiques take part in the event.  There’s now a Macaron Day in New York and in Toronto, for example. In London, I’m sure it’s not just Pierre Hermé’s London store taking part.

Last time I walked around the boutiques in Paris on Macaron Day,  I started at the Opéra and walked around les grands magasins, Galéries Lafayette and Printemps.  If there are too many crowds this year, I suggest you go towards the Eiffel Tower and check out Jean-Paul Hévin (23 bis, avenue de la Motte Picquet) and Christophe Roussel (10 rue du Champs de Mars) in the 7th arrondissement for a more leisurely macaron walk.

What kind of flavours are you likely to choose? Classic or adventurous?  Savoury or sweet?  Plain chocolate? Chocolate ginger? Chocolate pistachio?  Or are you more of a fruity tutti?

chocolate pistachio Parisian macaron stack

And if you’re not around any macaron boutiques that are taking part in Macaron Day, then why not make your own this weekend and sell them for your chosen charity?  Apart from Mad About Macarons recipes, here are more macaron ideas.  Go on, enjoy yourself!

Update:

Grandin Pâtisserie in St Germain-en-Laye (west of Paris) is also participating and, like many other boutiques, are continuing ‘Macaron Day’ until Saturday 22 March!