Monday, June 9, 2008
We went to Paris in late summer. We hurried by Notre Dame on the way to lunch and passed the Louvre on our way to eat dinner.
Lunch was fabulous. We visited one foodie destination after another acquiring all of the components. We bought stinky cheese, saucisson sec, a fragrant Charentais melon (saucisson sec and melon, by the way, is an even happier marriage than prosciutto and melon), a slab of country pâté, a quarter of a loaf of Poilâne’s famous bread, a pint of tiny fraise des bois, a bottle of red wine, and, after waiting in a very long and slow-moving line, a selection of goodies from Pierre Hermé. We picnicked under the Eiffel Tower.
Of course, I had heard about Pierre Hermé’s reputation before: God to pastry chefs and pastry lovers everywhere. But I guess I’m the type of person who just has to see it, or should I say, taste it, to believe it. I just didn’t believe all of the hype. At first.
When we finally entered the shop, I found myself inside my wildest fantasy. It was like being in a jewelry shop, only instead of diamonds, the display cases were full of cakes and tarts and macarons! Dizzy with excitement by the time it was our turn to order, I had no idea of what to get. I was never any good at ordering, I want to taste everything. My husband resolutely asked for a Kouign-Amann. I pointed at a Tarte Citron, a Carrément Chocolat, an Émotion Ispahan, and a chocolate macaron.
It was love at first bite. The Kouign-Amann was light as a feather, with croissant-like layers of slightly salty pastry and a shatteringly thin caramel crust. We fought over the last bite. The chocolate macaron melted in the mouth. We should have ordered more than one, sharing is for the birds. The lemon tart was so puckery it tingled. The chocolate dessert was rich and intense and deeply satisfying, even for a chocolate lover who can’t be satisfied. And the Émotion Ispahan was simply the most delicious thing that has ever crossed my lips. A layer of litchi gelée, a layer of raspberry gelée so vibrant it almost seemed effervescent, and a layer of slightly sweetened rose-scented cream, all topped with a wafer of pink macaron and a single red rose petal, made for a perfect flavor combination. It was divine.
But sweeter still was the passing schoolboy who, just as we were digging into our Émotion Ispahan, called to us with a broad smile, “Bon appétit!”
I have searched for Pierre Hermé’s Émotion Ispahan recipe everywhere, but my hours of effort have been fruitless. So here’s my own recreation of that oh-so-special treat. The recipe may look long, but, take my word on it, it’s really quite easy to make. Bon appétit!
Memory of an Émotion Ispahan
1 20-ounce can litchis in syrup, drained
1 ¾ teaspoons gelatin
6 ounces raspberries
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon Chambord, optional
1 ounce fragrant rose petals
½ cup heavy cream
1 to 2 drops red food coloring
Puree the litchis in a food mill using a fine disc.
Measure 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of the gelatin.
Place the bowl of gelatin over a small pan of simmering water and heat until melted.
Stir into the litchi puree. Chill the litchi mixture over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. This will allow the bits of litchi to stay suspended in the mixture.
Divide the mixture among 4 juice or dessert cups. Refrigerate for about half an hour, or until set.
Reserve 12 of the raspberries. Puree the remaining raspberries in a food mill using the finest disc. If the puree has seeds, strain it through a fine mesh sieve to remove them.
Stir in 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the Chambord, if desired. Measure 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over the remaining ¾ teaspoon of gelatin. Place the bowl of gelatin over a small pan of simmering water and heat until melted. Stir into the raspberry mixture. Arrange 3 of the reserved raspberries atop the litchi layer in each cup. Divide the raspberry mixture among the dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.
Meanwhile, reserve 4 of the rose petals. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining rose petals and bring to a bare simmer, stirring constantly. It will seem like a lot of petals at first, but they will wilt down quickly. Immediately remove from the heat and let cool. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and chill.
Combine the cream and food coloring in a large bowl and whip to medium peaks. Add the rose syrup and whip to stiff peaks. Divide among the dessert cups. Top each with 1 of the reserved rose petals. Leave at room temperature for about an hour and serve.
Makes 4 servings. Can be made up to a day ahead of time and kept covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. It’s best at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about an hour before serving. Juice cups with a 5 to 6-ounce capacity are just right for this dessert. Make sure the rose petals you are using haven’t been sprayed.