Saturday, January 27, 2007

Creme de la Creme

BERNACHON Patisserie et Chocolatier
42, cours Franklin-Roosevelt-69006
-Tél. : (0033) 04 78 52 23 65 -

Opening hours Tuesday to Saturday: 9.00 to 18.15
The above title is a French interpretation of being the best of the best. Six years ago, as a gift for my wife, N who was still then my girlfriend, I bought her a small box of chocolates from Paris' most famous hip and trendy Chocolatier, Jean Paul Hevin. The little box has since set the benchmark for good quality artisan chocolates in her memory. Nothing else came close or better till we stepped into Bernachon in Lyon. I am sure Jean Paul Hevin’s chocolates are still as good in taste and they continued to be marketed via a platform of modern haute couture sophistication. Benarchon on the other hand works on a formula based on traditional skills, a rich history, exclusivity, familiarity and warmth. A Lyon based culinary icon in the world of pastry arts and chocolate making, Bernachon is a third generation business having started by Maurice Bernachon the man himself.
Bernachon prides itself as a chocolatier that imports, roasts and process their own cocoa beans for chocolate making. Sourcing for the best beans from cocoa producing countries around the world, the different variety of beans and their unique characters allow the chocolate master to design his master pieces with unlimited creativity and maximum flexibility. Aided by modern technology with traditional methods of processing and recipes, the processed beans go through the two most important steps of chocolate making which is conching and tempering. Conching is a process traditional used to convert chocolate in its initial raw form which is doughy or powdery into smooth couvertures with cocoa butter. It’s like a fine milling process which makes the chocolate so smooth to taste on the palate and its takes patience and skill to understand the different amounts of required time for conching each different batch of raw chocolate. It can be anywhere from a few hours to a week depending on what kind of quality of chocolates is to be produced. Every Chef has their own recipes and it takes experience to bring out the best of the cocoa beans. Under conching will result in coarser grain chocolate while over conching it drives the chocolate to become plain or gummy in texture.

After the conching process which produces chocolate couverture, it is ready to be tempered where hundreds of creations with spices, nuts, liquers and flavours are produced. Artisan chocolatiers like Bernachon will then temper each piece with their respective signature flavours and profile while at the same time capturing all the finesse it takes to be. All their chocolates are handcrafted pieces and are produced daily for freshness. Unlike commercial chocolates with emulsifiers and stabilizers, Bernachon chocolates should be consumed within a month even when stored in right conditions. The sales staff explained to us that this is to encourage their customers to appreciate the freshness and full flavour of the chocolates and its fillings. The wide variety of chocolates on display was feast to the eyes. From simple nuts and couverture bars to regular truffles and the more sophisticated ones speck with gold leaves and exotic spice flavours like chili and lemon grass, each delicate piece is an elegance of its own kind. The chocolates are sold by batch weight in different box sizes and little touches like offering little sampling pieces randomly when they see that you are unable to make up your mind. We thought that was really a nice gesture.

The other strength of this institution is the Patisserie arm of Bernachon. The cakes both large and small well all beautifully decorate with elegance from carved chocolate pieces, fresh fruits and sugar work. It was a visual feast for the eyes and everything look so wonderfully delicious. Style of presentation also helps and the neat rows of mini pastries on display with different flavours and decorations were sending our sweet cravings to a high.

There were rows of fruit tarts, choux pastry favourites like hazelnut éclairs and Paris Breasts, flavoured mousse based slices, Magdelines, sumptuous looking white and dark chocolate slices, and the list can go on forever. Some of these pieces are crowned with visually stunning decorations that would seem to project an impressive high level of technical difficulty on a lay man’s mind. Besides pastries, there was also a colourful selection of macaroons, some with interesting flavours like cola, pineapples, Oreo cookies etc….. There were also fruit glaces and sugar coated fruit gummies on display. Beyond sweets, Bernachon also offers savoury items like different types of quiches featuring mushroom, spinach, smoked salmon and traditional Quiche Lorraine which was very good (see article below). The selection of croissants and daily de rigueur items like Pain au Chocolate and Pain au Raisins were also very tempting. I could fantasize grabbing one of those buttery flaky croissants and dipping it in freshly brewed coffee as sheer bliss in the cold winter morning.

By now N has assembled a box of flavoured chocolates and picked up a bag regular ones as well while I had been happily snapping pictures of all those lovely items around here. We picked a selection of mini French pastries. Given the favourable winter weather which was like a big open air refrigerator at 2°c, it took us two days to finish the pastries with every bite of satisfaction.

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