Wednesday, April 25, 2007
April (and cupcakes) in Paris
I first spotted Patricia Valliccioni at the Raspail market, standing behind a stall of little cupcakes that looked like nothing I've ever seen in a French pâtisserie. I was intrigued. It's unusual enough to see a woman pâtissière, let alone one who has invented a new style. I didn't have time to talk to her for very long that day but tasted her pistachio-raspberry cake, whose moist, nutty crumb reminded me in a way of the North African pastries I've loved since I was a teenager in Paris.
I came across Patricia again yesterday at the afternoon market in place de la Bourse, which happily seems to be developing a good following. The market runs from noon to 8pm on Tuesdays and Fridays instead of the usual 8am-1.30pm, allowing the local office workers to pick up fresh foods at lunch or on their way home from work. It was a freakishly summery April day and I had only landed in Paris hours ago, so it seemed like just the moment to chat with Patricia and treat myself to a few of her cakes.
It turns out that Patricia is from a family of Corsican biscuit makers (hence her name) - her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all in the business. Patricia enrolled in a nine-month pastry course in Paris that culminated with internships at the Warwick hotel and Sucré Cacao in the 20th, among other places. Before going solo she worked with Eric Kayser, one of the city's top bakers.
"I used to make all the traditional cakes, like the croquembouche (choux pastries filled with pastry cream and topped with caramel)," she told me. "But at a certain point I started to have doubts about using so much cream. So many people have intolerances to dairy products or health problems that can be aggravated by cream. I decided to work on replacing it with fruit purées."
Hence her unusual line of cakes. Orange was the first, followed by a multitude of variations such as sweet chili, black sesame and spinach-mint (one of many savory versions). The weirder the flavor the more her customers like it, she says, which shows that Parisian tastes really are growing more adventurous. Her ideas often come directly from her customers, who suggest new combinations. At her stand you'll also find fiadone, a Corsican take on cheesecake made with brocciu (a kind of Corsican ricotta), eggs, sugar and lemon zest.
I chose three cakes - orange, black sesame and pistachio-raspberry - and ate half of each for breakfast this morning. Orange was the most classic, while black sesame had a slightly disconcerting coal-black color all the way through but just the right touch of bitterness to balance the sweetness. Pistachio-raspberry was already a favorite, and I'm a sucker for anything with pistachio.
Patricia plans to open her own shop within the next year or two, so you might not find her at the market for long - look for her stall at Raspail or the Bourse, both on Tuesdays and Fridays (she works with a partner). What could be better for spring than a guilt-free cake?