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We test a selection of Paris’ most delicious, limited edition mille-feuilles for you (aren’t we nice?)

Pierre Hermé is one of France’s most celebrated pastry chefs, with a super chic boutique in Saint-Germain (and Tokyo!) and a solid reputation for extremely delicious desserts. People queue outside and right down the street to buy them.

When we heard that he was producing six limited edition mille-feuilles for the month of September, we thought it would be the ideal excuse moment to try a mystery tasting session with some of our team, asking them to try and guess the ingredients and then vote for their favourite. This is how it went…

photos : JasonW
photos : JasonW

Usually we offer you a new restaurant review each month, but for once we felt like doing something a little different. As we’re fans of desserts, and also because Pierre Hermé has one of his lovely shops near our hotels, we were delighted to hear that he had released six limited edition mille-feuilles (available only from 26th August – 27th September 2009). Initially we did entertain the idea of eating them all ourselves, but even we are not that greedy. So, a plan was hatched: we would go and fetch 12 mille-feuilles (two of each) and go round our hotels, asking members of our team to:

– try to cut them into slices without making a horrible mess,

– try to guess the ingredients of each limited edition mille-feuille, and

– vote for their favourite

A great concept if ever we heard one!

So we met up outside his chic boutique (here), ordered our lovely cakes and took a few photos to show you just how lovely it is. As well as fine cakes, they also sell jams, chocolate, macaroons, posh croissants and, er, scented candles…

I also took the opportunity to ask a cheeky question: how does one eat a mille-feuille without making a right royal mess? Personally, I always end up with crumbs and cream spread liberally over the table, and my clothes.

Apparently, there are several possible ‘attack plans’. Some people just like to cut into them with a sharp knife and hope everything will be alright, others lie the mille-feuille on its side and go for it from the side, and there are even those who like to dissect it layer by layer, munching the pastry before laying into the cream below. All valid ideas that we were eager to put into action…

With everything safely stored in a very smart bag, we walked the short distance to the Hôtel Jardin de l’Odéon to put get our big experiment started.

Safely sat in the hotel’s leafy interior courtyard, we slowly opened our little boxes to inspect the wonders inside…

Take a good look at them, because after two hours in the August heat and four bike rides over cobblestones to get from hotel to hotel, they looked very different.

After a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing, we got down to business and chose one, two.. three mille-feuilles to try out. The hotel manager Sylvia was joined by Stéphanie, Olivier and Sacha, with Sylvia looking after diving the cakes up. And rather a good job she made of it too (frankly, it’s not easy).

The team didn’t know what they were tasting, but we had a crib sheet handy to check whether their guesses were close or not. Each of the six limited edition mille-feuilles has a different type of pastry, a different cream filling and often many other special ingredients. Finding out what they are proved to be tough for all our tasters.

Don’t forget that the mille-feuille is a classic French pastry that you’ll find in almost any boulangerie and although its outward appearance will generally be similar (lots of layers of pastry and stripy icing), its consistency can be anything from fluffy to brick. Plus, as its main ingredient is generally butter, eating a whole one is almost a challenge.

Hoping that these luxury versions were a cut above, we launched into our test. The choices were:

– the mille-feuille Mogador. Fruit-flavoured puff pastry, milk chocolate and passion fruit chantilly cream, a passion fruit compote and caramelised pineapple.

– the mille-feuille Ispahan. Caramelised puff pastry, rose-flavoured mascarpone cream, raspberry compote and lychee pieces.

– the mille-feuille Carrément Chocolat. Caramelised puff pastry, chocolate-flavoured mascarpone cream and chocolate pieces with a hint of salt.

I love this picture of Olivier, taken just at the right moment!

No-one in the team was able to define the fruit used in the Mogador (passion fruit) but it was generally well-received. The Ispahan earned much more instant enthusiasm though: many immediately identified its taste of rose (the rose petal that was placed on it for decoration gave a pretty heavy hint) and the mousse was wonderfully light. “Very feminine,” was one remark! The chocolate mille-feuille – usually the biggest crowd pleaser – left us perplexed though. We all thought it tasted more of praline and not at all of chocolate, and it was only after a thorough tasting that the truth struck us: THEY HADN’T GIVEN US ANY CHOCOLATE MILLE-FEUILLES!!! Instead we had a couple of 2000 FEUILLES (deux-mille feuilles) which are made of caramelised puff pastry, layers of praline and praline cream. Very praline and not at all chocolatel-y. Our deception was immense.

But life goes on, and the votes for the Jardin de l’Odéon favourite were cast: Ispahan was their firm favourite. It has to be said that Pierre Hermé uses this rose recipe in various ways for all sorts of cakes and sweets. He even has an Ispahan croissant on sale (1.80€)!

Next stop: the Hôtel Design Sorbonne. Christie, Rémy, Clément and Henriette were waiting, and Henriette kindly agreed to be on slicing duty.

There were two new flavours to try here:

– the mille-feuille Montebello: pistachio-flavoured puff pastry, pistachio mascarpone cream with a hint of raspberry, strawberry compote.

– the mille-feuille Eden: passion fruit-flavoured ‘inverted’ puff pastry, white peach and soft apricot compote, white peach and saffron mascarpone, and ‘joconde’ biscuit.

Some thought the Montebello contained coconut, but they were wrong of course. The green colour was a rather blunt hint that pistachios were included, and most of our team got that. For the Eden, the peach on the top gave the game away (although some thought it tasted of apple instead). The pastry and taste went down much better with everyone, and it was voted the Hôtel Design Sorbonne’s favourite.

Clément looks pleased!

And of we went to our next stop, the Hôtel du Panthéon and its cosy lounge. Here, not only were members of the team ready to start tasting (Félix, Michael and Carine) but also the hotel’s owner Corinne Moncelli, who is a major fan of mille-feuille’s apparently. We nominated here to start diving up the portions and it was evident that she had done this before…

They/we had chosen the second Ispahan and a mille-feuille Infinément Vanille (caramilsed puff pastry and vanilla mascarpone cream), something of a return to the basic recipe, albeit elegantly done.

Although the team loved the rose flavour of the Ispahan, we were surprised that the simplest of the two mille-feuilles was voted best, hands down. Corinne is something of a connoisseur, and for her the Infinément Vanille was exactly what a mille-feuille should be like.

Once finished, we popped next door to the Hôtel des Grands Hommes, the most stately of our hotels. Marie-José the manager was there, and we invited Sophranie, Solange and Pierre-Louis to join in. However, an intruder infiltrated our group: Corinne Moncelli again! Apparently the attraction of more mille-feuilles was too much for her to resist.

However, after being transported by bike and not being refrigerated for a couple of hours, some of our cakes were starting to looking a little floppy, or even sloppy, making cutting rather difficult. Marie-José tried nonetheless…

Oh dear...
Oh dear...

Yep, the 2000 Feuilles was buckling under its own praline weight. Our team quickly started tasting it (together with the Eden and a Mogador).

Sophranie doesn't look too disappointed

Surprisingly, the sloppy 2000 Feuilles was voted the favourite, with its sweet praline taste seducing our team. This is all that was left at the end…

There was only one stop left on our journey: our offices, to give the people who work behind the scenes a taste of theses crumbly, sweet delights. Coralie did the cutting, Elodie and avid helped with the tasting, and Pascal Moncelli abstained completely, saying that he’d really eaten too much during his holidays and that it wouldn’t be reasonable to stuff himself with dessert at 4pm. Point taken.

They had a Montebello and a Vanilla mille-feuille to taste, and the Montebello came out the winner because they found it to be less heavy than the other.

Although we didn’t let everyone taste every mille-feuille in each location, it’s interesting to note that no mille-feuille was voted the best twice. Also, the Mogador wasn’t the favourite anywhere!

Personally, I would have loved to taste the Carrément Chocolat. Perhaps I’ll go back down to Pierre Hermé’s shop again and pick one up?

The one that got away
The one that got away

One thing to note is that when the limited edition mille-feuille’s were first announced (just before the holidays) the price was noted as 5.80€, however it has been raised since then to 6.20€ (7% rise, well above inflation). Cheeky! These mille-feuilles are definitely not cheap, but compare them to those you’ll find in any boulangerie in Paris and the difference will be clear.

Pierre Hermé‘s limited edition Fetish Mille-Feuilles (seriously, that’s what they are calling them) are available at his boutiques at 72 rue Bonaparte (here), 185 rue Vaugirard (here) and Tokyo (here!) until 27th September 2009.