Published on July 11th, 2014 | by Maureen Youngblood0
A short story of the Stohrer Patisserie
Like many people, I love a good pastry. I grew up being a regular visitor to my small town’s only bakery, my favorite pastry was the cream-filled chocolate long john (similar to a chocolate éclair). On a rare trip into town, it was a treat to be able to stop by and enter the old bakery, viewing the giant mixing machines, smelling the fresh baked bread, and looking at all the colorful doughnuts and cakes in the glass display case. Biting into my favorite, freshly made pastry was heaven.
These memories were recently brought back to life when I visited Stohrer Patisserie in Paris. History states that Nicolas Stohrer learned the art of patisserie at Wissembourg, which is located in the Alsace region of France. Sweden had invaded Poland and in 1704 Stanisław Leszczyński was appointed King of Poland by Charles XII of Sweden. In 1709 the Swedes lost their military hold on Poland and King Leszcyznski was deposed, the family was exiled to Wissembourg.
It was during this time that Nicolas Stohrer, being part of the culinary staff, prepared patisserie for the exiled family. Then in 1725 the daughter of Stanislaw Leszczyński, Marie Leszczynska, married Louis XV at the Château de Fontainebleau and proceeded to move to their new home at Versailles.
Joining the couple at Versailles was Nicolas Stohrer who spent his time in the kitchens of the palace. Five years later, in 1730, Nicolas Stohrer moved to Paris and opened his bakery at 51 rue Montorgueil. Though I assume this was a great loss for the inhabitants of Versailles, it has been a great asset for the citizens of Paris, and the world, to this day.
After exiting the Metro at Les Halles station and finding my way to 51 Rue Montorgueil, in the 2nd arrondissement, I see the shop. The bright yellow awning catches the eye’s attention ; the front of the shop is unassuming yet still decadent, in its own way on this pedestrian street. The shop is classified as an historical building with business continuing since 1730 at the same location.
As I approach the entrance, a rainbow of colors appears behind the glass windows. I step inside the small shop and I realize that I am lucky, I have the whole shop to myself, as there is only room for a few customers at a time. The glass cases are filled with macaroon, tarts, éclairs, marzipan fruits, glazed fruits, pastries of different sorts, bread, and surprisingly, jars of curds and jelly. The shop is impeccable, perfectly organized, and beautiful to the sight, the smell was wonderful.
As I look around, the lovely glass paintings on the walls are even more amazing after seeing them with my own eyes. I had read about this artwork, but seeing it was truly awe-inspiring. The murals and frescoes are painted by the artist Paul-Jacques-Aime Baudry, the same artist who painted the ceiling in the grand foyer of the Paris Opera house and who also contributed works of art at the chateau of Chantilly. The two evident paintings on the walls are of women holding the house specialties, “baba au rhum” and “puits d’amour.”
The ceiling border is painted with decorations of swirls and still-life of fruits. The paintings are elegant and graceful adorning the walls of this patisserie, making it somewhat more of an art museum that happens to sell patisserie. Choosing to have such artistic works is a representative comparison to the level of craftsmanship that is reflected in each patisserie, as each a work of art in itself. Though the artwork was installed in the 1800’s, a century after it opened, I am quite sure Monsieur Stohrer would approve.
Nicolas Stohrer is known for creating two delicacies that are still popular items today, le baba au rhum and les puits d’amour.
The history of le baba au rhum is associated with story of King Leszczyński complaining of dry brioche. The inventive Nicolas remedied this by soaking it with wine of Málaga, adding saffron and then topping it with cream and fresh grapes. The story tells that the King was immersed in reading “Tales from 1001 Arabian Nights” and proceeded to christen this new patisserie invention the Ali Baba. Over time the wine of Málaga turned to rum, so the cake was then known as the “Rum baba” or “le Baba au Rhum. “
The first mention of the recipe for puits d’amour appeared in the 1735 cookbook from Vincent De La Chapelle, “Le Cuisinier Moderne”. De la Chapelle presented two recipes for a gâteau de puits d’amour (puits d’amour cake) consisting of a large puff pastry, vol-au-vent, topped with a pastry handle and stuffed with red currant jelly, the ensemble was meant to resemble the bucket of a well. The other recipe is for the petits puits d’amour, a bouchée, or bite-sized version of the cake.
In the 1700’s the puits d’amour caused a scandal because of its name and presentation of which suggests a correlation to the female anatomy. Regardless, it was very successful in the court of Louis XV’s. Nicolas Stohrer created his own version of this dessert, instead, filling the puff pastry with vanilla pastry cream. He also glazed the top with a thick layer of caramel, removing the shocking connotation of the red jam filling.
After several minutes of admiring the beautiful interior of the shop, I am finally ready to order. As I approach the counter and am greeted by a very Parisian young gentleman dressed in a very crisp, white chef jacket, I am asked “Vous désirez?” My first thought was – yes, one of everything! I knew well in advance of arriving that a puits d’amour was a must have. I ask for four of these, as I know that tasting one will not be enough. Apparently, I am not the only pursuer of patisserie as they have very few available. The very professional man behind the counter explains that it is a very popular item and they sell out very early in the day.
After receiving my bags of purchases (yes, bags! I wanted to take some back to my hotel and also wanted to enjoy them on the long flight home) I reluctantly move towards the door, slowly taking in a last view of the art on the walls, ceiling, floor and of course, in the glass cases. I could easily stay longer admiring everything about this shop. I go outside to allow others inside the small business hoping that they are appreciative of the history, craftsmanship and elegance of this patisserie gem.
As I stand outside looking at this beautiful, iconic shop, imagining it was 1730 with horse drawn carriages going by, women in their pannier dresses and fans, I close my eyes and bite into this wonderful creation and I do believe that I am actually tasting history, thanks to Nicolas Stohrer.