For Eating Exeter, product testing is a bit of a rarity. Once Gourmet Garden sent us a whole bunch of squeezy herbs which I tried to love but failed to, and now and again we get the odd thing sent through which either gets a write up because its lovely or casually ignored if it is just naff. But this is the first time that I’ve had to arrange to pick up something that was created in Exeter.
Popping down to The Salutation Inn in Fore Street, Topsham, where Sylvain’s Little French Cakes is based after I finished work was a little like stepping back down a cobbled lane of memories as it had been quite literally years. The last time I had stepped in to The Salutation Inn’s courtyard it had been cobbled and open, but now it was quite different.
The Salutation Inn has changed greatly in the last few years, along with the general demographic of Topsham and that area of East Devon. Imagine my surprise when we visited it to pick up our cakes to find that the courtyard had transformed in to a magnificent glass walled dining area, filled with natural light. It is clear that The Salutation Inn is now positioning themselves into the fine dining arena with their Chef Director, Tom Williams-Hawkes at the healm.
But today my visit wasn’t about The Salutation Inn, it was about Sylvain’s Little French Cakes which operates out of The Salutation Inn as their in-house patisserie and the star of the show, Sylvain Peltier. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to meet Sylvain, on this occasion but I was able to meet a waitress who insisted on telling me that I had pronounced his name wrong, at least three times after I had actually made the mistake. Ah well…
Sylvain (pronounced Sil-van for the non-French speakers amongst us) has an impressive CV when it comes to his craft and its worth exploring his website as it really conveys what Sylvain’s Little French Cakes is about. It is (where possible) a personal cake delivery service, a patisserie school and a trade supplier. And there is one thing these little French cakes are, magnifique!!
We were lucky enough to have a selection of éclairs, Petit choux and macarons. So here goes with our run down of each one:
Millionaire Eclaire – Salted Caramel with hazelnut crumb, and a thick chocolate (70% cocoa) filling with caramel pillowed in between a soft choux pastry case. The pastry was strong enough to hold the contents and it didn’t dissolve when I bit in to it and had a silky smooth texture to it.
Pure Noir – Dark and rich chocolate filling with the same amazing choux pastry. The chocolate (65%) centre held by the light yet strong choux pastry again had this amazing texture to it which was like licking silk. Although I found the chocolate centre quite bitter (personal taste) this had an amazing chocolaty punch.
Vanilla Bourbon – Vanilla icing made from real vanilla (spot the vanilla seeds!) with a creamy delicately flavoured bourbon centre, which felt like it was almost whipped! The light vanilla marshmallows just dissolved in mouth, and really worked well with the combination of centre and icing. Whole thing was kept together with the strong yet light choux pastry case.
Raspberry Petit Choux – The raspberry had a wonderful fruity sharpness and the texture of the pastry made this a lovely sweet bite. I found this hard to eat in small nibbles and the presentation (and this goes for all of them) was immaculate.
Salted Caramel Petit Choux – Raspberry icing worked well with the pastry and the little crust of sea salt added a depth of flavour to the caramel insides. It was, like the eclairs, silky on the inside in texture with a lovely rich salted caramel centre.
So here is a lesson for you, they are nothing to do with Macaroons and they have a little bit of history behind them too.
Although the macaron is predominantly a French confection, there has been much debate about its origins. Larousse Gastronomique cites the macaron as being created in 791 in a convent near Cormery. Some have traced its French debut back to the arrival of Catherine de’ Medici‘s Italian pastry chefs whom she brought with her in 1533 upon marrying Henry II of France. In 1792, macarons began to gain fame when two Carmelite nuns, seeking asylum in Nancy during the French Revolution, baked and sold the macaron cookies in order to pay for their housing. These nuns became known as the “Macaron Sisters”. In these early stages, macarons were served without special flavors or fillings.
It was not until the 1830s that macarons began to be served two-by-two with the addition of jams, liqueurs, and spices. The macaron as it is known today, composed of two almond meringue discs filled with a layer of buttercream, jam, or ganache filling, was originally called the “Gerbet” or the “Paris macaron.” Pierre Desfontaines of the French pâtisserie Ladurée has sometimes been credited with its creation in the early part of the 20th century, but another baker, Claude Gerbet, also claims to have invented it.
Thanks Wikipedia :)
So nothing to do with Macaroons, and I have to admit this was the first time I had had a Macaron (always up for new experiences) and I wasn’t disappointed. Macarons are a lot sweeter than you think they might be at first, and they make excellent partners with coffee.
Lemon and Pistachio – A pistachio ganache and confied lemon centre which had a really fruity kick to it.
Raspberry and Tonka Bean – Amazing colour and a really strong raspberry flavour which worked well with the sweetness of the macaron itself.
Just Chocolate – Chocolaty and punchy, the high cocoa content coming over in its amazing flavour
Cassis and Violet – Unfortunately the not being a massive fan of the taste of violet, this had a wonderful blackberry taste but for me the violet reminded me of Parma Violets. But apart from that it, like the rest of them, had a delicious ganache centre (confied Blackberry’s) with a delicate crispy shell.
Thanks to Elle and Sylvain for the opportunity to taste these awesome pieces of patiesserie perfection. If you want to know more about Sylvain’s Little French Cakes, head to the website:
www.sylvainslittlefrenchcakes.co.uk where you can buy eclairs, macarons and get more information about Sylvain and what he does.
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