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C Constant -- Chocolatier


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I visited the Christian Constant chocolate shop in Paris a while ago. There is a little tea salon (12 seats) that is simple, next to the main shop. Note there appears to be no relationship to the chef of Violin d'Ingres (?).

I selected pastries and chocolates from the main shop, and these were brought to the tea salon for sampling. Constant defines himself more as a chocolate-maker than a patissier, like Pierre Herme (although a good portion of Herme's selections include chocolate). Constant offered a wide selection of patisseries, mostly containing chocolate (in every case, dark chocolate):

(1) “Sonia Rykiel” (Tarte fondant au chocolate banane-braiche, 3.35 euros): A slight acidity from cross-sectional slices of firm, mini bananas. These slices were abundant, and formed a small ring on the top of the tart, which had a nicely thick crust and a high rim. The  gooey chocolate inside the tart was creamy and had some banana taste as well.  This was a nice creation by Constant.

(2) “Fleurs de Chine” (China Flower; mousse legere de chocolate amer, creme croustillante de the vert au jasmin): This is one of Contant’s signature creations. It is a dark chocolate covered square structure, with a chocolate fan and the Constant logo on a gold little label on top. There are three primary layers, on top of a cake base. Two layers consisted of chocolate; the other was excellent – subtle and flavorful at the same time. Such green tea layer was perfumed and more refined than the green tea flavor in green tea ice cream offered at many Japanese restaurants. Of the three items sampled, this was the best.

(3) Praline Chocolat (Creme chocolate et creme parlinee caramelisse aux noisette): This was nice, being comprised of two layers, each with a chocolate cake-like (somewhat soft) crust at the bottom. The top layer was yellow-colored and appeared to have slight browning and caramel effects on its surface. On top of that surface were a single almond, praline, small hazelnut and the Christian Constant sign. The second layer was chocolate. In between the two layers was apparently a gooey mixture of hazelnut and cinnamon and sugar – moist and crunchy.

I had the above with Moka d’Ethiopie, described as a savage and perfumed coffee! I also bought small chocolates from the shop for sampling: Ganache au The Earl Grey (ganache with earl grey tea); Roses et Raisins de Corinthe (rose and corinthean raisings); Safran en fils (threads of saffron); Cardamone de Malabar (cardamon from Malabar). None had the ingredients separately visible to the eye; all had the ingredients integrated into the chocolate. I’m not a big fan of dark chocolate, so, while nice-tasting, these items were not particularly impressive. Other dark chocolate flavors included: Fangipanier flowers; Ylang Ylang des Comores (a flower from Comores); Jasmin du Yemen et The Vert (jasmin from Yemen and green tea); Ganache au Café Fort (ganache of strong coffee).

Overall, it's hard for me to place Constant relative to his peers. First, I have not sampled meaningfully Parisian chocolatiers' works, including J-P Hevin. (Perhaps magnolia or other members could advise) Second, I do not believe I would be capable of detecting subtle differences in the context of dark chocolate. If members happen to be in the 6th arrondisement, however, C Constant might be worth a quick visit.  37 rue d’Assas, 6e, M° St-Placide, tel: 01 53 63 15 15.

Background -- Certain Poilane breads, a variety of salads (pasta; squid; marinated mussels; chick peas; chicken salad), and roasted farm chicken were also available. Ice cream was offered in 5-7 rotating varieties. The day I visited, one flavor was a wonderful almond milk; another (not sampled) was coconut.  Christian Constant also sells jams made by his shop.

The chocolate bars available included (square brackets for not-yet translated country names; none sampled):

Pure Pate sans sucre, 100% cacao (5.35 euros)

Bitter-Plus (80% cacao, Venezuela)

Monteserrat’s Plantations (73%, Trinidad)

Cuba (70%)

Madong (70%, from [Papouasie])

Carupano (70%, Venezuela)

Guanaja (70%, blend from Antilles and Central America)

Extra bitter (66%, very roasted blend)

Pur Trinitario (66%, Trinidad, Tobago and Grenada)

Pur Criollo (64%, Madagascar, Ceylan)

Guayaquil (64%, [Equateur] -- is this Equador, sic?)

Grand Caraque (59.5%, Venezuela; also available with dried fruit)

Lait Amer (64%, also with dried fruit)

Chocolat Blanc

:wink:

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I made a special trip to Constant last year and was extremely disappointed. The chocolates and cakes were less than perfect (French pastry chefs are the masters of perfection, next to the Japanese of course). In fact, I'd go a step further to rate the work sloppy. The store was dull, the floor was dirty, and the people who worked there were rude. It was the first time I had ever encountered such awful Parisians. There was one pimply faced little apprentice who I actually considered punching. Everything we tasted was overpriced and ordinary. I will never set foot in that place again. Anyway, I'm a Hévin, Chaudun and La Maison du Chocolat fan.

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In fact, I'd go a step further to rate the work sloppy.

Lesley -- When you have a chance, please consider discussing what aspects of the patisseries/chocolates you sampled were sloppy (e.g., delicacy of construction, basic chocolate taste itself?).   :wink:

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After visiting Hermé's boutique, I found Constant's shop quite ordinary.  I didn't tasted anything...I wanted to keep some strength for Hermé.

In Albi, near Toulouse, I visited Michel Belin.  We were quite lost in this small town and we were searching for his boutique.  We stopped a women on the street to ask her if she knew where was Belin's shop.  She told us that she was Michel Belin's Wife !!!

She had just closed the boutique for lunch but, she opened it specially for us and she offered us a special dégustation of her husband's chocolates.  It was incredible!!!

The last chocolate, infused with tobaco was one of the most incredible thing I ever tasted.

We bought 2 boxes of chocolates and she gave us a rare  bottle of dessert wine!

We then ask her if she knew a good place where we could go for dinner and she told us that her husband is a very good friend of Michel Trama...she tooked the telephone and made a reservation for us.

Patrice Demers

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I am a fan of Jean-Paul Hevin. I had the 'pomme de terre' (I think) at the 231 r. st honore shop, which was marzipan around a chocolatey centre. I got that due to a mix-up of labels- I don't really like marzipan. But this particular dessert was full of interesting flavours. The milk chocolate bar was the best I have tasted, better than L'Artisan du Chocolat (London), Bernachon (Lyon) and Maison du Chocolat (Paris). I went to a Herme store but I there was a queue and because I had eaten so many pastries (and macaroons from G. Mulot) I decided not to wait...

I too thought Constant was some way off the pace although I doubt I had a 'signature' creation (I can't remember what I had). The store was indeed drab but not dead.

Where is Chaudun?

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The milk chocolate bar was the best I have tasted, better than ... Bernachon (Lyon)

I think Bernachon is best known for his very dark and not very sweet chocolate and best appreciated by those who like this kind of chocolate. With Klc reading over my shoulder, I'd be wise not to comment at all on chocolate, but I think of Bernachon as best offereing an intense and not very fat or creamy chocolate. I know plenty of gourmets who do not enjoy that sort of thing. I think of it as an acquired taste much like caviar and olives.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux, stop that, comment away.  I'd suggest to cabrales, though, that we all need to help her stretch her appreciation to include dark chocolate somehow.  Not liking dark chocolate puts one at a severe disadvantage here, I'm afraid, in discussing differences between patissiers and chocolatiers.

Observing sloppy technique visually--like irregular sizing, dull rather than shiny surfaces--only gets you so far.  Observing texture (thinness vs. thickness of walls, consistency of fillings) is but one part of a much larger whole--and yes, these can be observed independent of taste.  But so much of chocolate appreciation and assessment (the French model anyway) is tasting the dark chocolate elements first--the couverture used for the shell or coating and possibly a different one in the filling--savoring as chocolate first--and only then allowing the other flavors to mingle, subtly revealing themselves.  If there's a French model it seems to be--appreciate the dark chocolate first and foremost and search for infused flavors somehow second.  The French model is admired for this lengthening of the process on the palate and is why many American chocolates, even those produced in the French style, are found wanting--lacking in subtlety--for being too fruit, flavor or filling foward.

I have no recent experience with Constant--though can enthusiastically recommend Lesley and Patrice and other's selection of Jean-Paul Hevin--who gets my overall best for chocolate bon bons--typically French, ultimately refined and elegant.  I'd also recommend--in a group just behind Hevin: Conticini at Peltier, since I had a chance to taste his line there in November before it was officially released along with the new lines--the classic line, the evolution line and the sensual line--of pastries in the recently remodelled Peltier salon de the; Belin as Patrice mentioned, Chaudun as Lesley mentioned and a pleasant surprise from my last visit--Pierre Marcolini.

I have only had Herme's chocolate line produced in Rochester, NY which uses Valrhona chocolate and found this line lacking slightly in interest, elegance and execution compared to the best chocolates I found in Paris--though clean, straightforward and a very good value at $33 per pound.  I found the Herme line less adventurous and less successful when compared to the line of Pierre Marcolini--the Belgian chocolatier who works in the French style.  In France Pierre Marcolini told me he uses alot of Pralus chocolate--and I heard from several people that in France Herme uses Pralus also.  Alas, I did not get to taste any of Herme's French chocolates to assess.

In November I was also impressed with the chocolates of Henri Le Roux--he of the salted butter caramel fame in Quiberon.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I'd be interested in hearing members' views on why people who are serious about chocolate tend to prefer dark chocolate to milk chocolate.  Also, why might white chocolate be considered a light-weight relative to even milk chocolate?  :wink:

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Helena--Cluizel makes expensive, excellent chocolate bars and blocks which rival the best in the world if not are the best in the world irrespective of price--not the bon bons--the finished chocolate candies we're mostly talking about here.  Cluizel's bon bon line is commercially competent--rather sweet--some of this ended up as private label stuff for Fauchon and is not indicative of what could be achieved by using their single estate and unique origin chocolate varieties.  This bon bon line does not have a good reputation in Europe--is not too dissimilar to Neuhaus or Godiva or Bernard Callebaut--and has in a sense hindered the acceptance and success of introducing the high-end Cluizel couverture line (blocks, bars and pistoles) to chocolatiers and foodservice.  If one were to taste the candies--one would not be moved very much, certainly not moved to spend serious money on the couverture.

What they needed to do was establish two lines--an elite line and a commercial line--and market them differently, almost with two identities, missions and distribution.  You can't sell elite prestige and commercialism simultaneously unless you rely on market confusion, a media incapable of discerning the differences and a lack of awareness among your customer base.  Most top pros in France say they use Valrhona but alot of Barry makes it's way into the blends, I'd suspect.  Conticini's guys were using both when I was in his lab.

And cabrales, I don't prefer dark chocolate to milk, I enjoy both equally when done well.  However, milk chocolate tends to have less snap and less bite due to less cacao % content, less depth and at least to me, offers less of a match or foil to various flavors than dark.  White chocolate is just fat and mouthfeel--albeit great fat!--and I don't object to it as much as some purists--it just has to be balanced and factored in to an overall experience by adjusting other flavors.  For instance, I do like white chocolate in ganaches especially with some acidic fruits like passionfruit because of just that balancing out on the palate.  I do a dark passionfruit ganache also but it is a completely different animal.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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White chocolate is just fat and mouthfeel--albeit great fat!--. . .

Steve Klc -- Yes, why does white chocolate taste like that? Also, which French chocolatiers in your assessment have stronger milk chocolate offerings than average?

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I would add to the list of great European chocolatiers Wittamer in Brussels and would highly recommend them to anyone who prefers milk chocolate and -- especially -- pralines. They also have a nice line of cream chocolates that must be eaten within days of purchase (otherwise they turn to blue cheese). Their ballotins include a variety of shapes, sizes, flavours and mouthfeels. Wittamer is one amazing pastry shop.

Belin is interesting but less fun in that respect as all the chocolates are the same shape and size with a ganache base (at least that's what they were like when I was there in the early 90's). Belin also make excellent pates de fruits.

I agree 100% with Steve's comments and also love all types of couverture (not brands) when well exploited -- especially white chocolate ganache with passion fruit (boy, is passion fruit ever making a comeback!). My real weakness though is for the heads of milk chocolate rabbits  :smile:

Michel Chaudun's shop is at 149, rue de l'Universite in the 7th.

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On certain occasions, I have found the bitterness inhering in dark chocolate overly stark for my subjective preferences. It's interesting, because I ordinarily like bitterness as a taste, but in chocolate, the pronounced nature of the flavor is not necessarily to my liking.  :wink:

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White chocolate is just fat and mouthfeel--albeit great fat!--. . .

Steve Klc -- Yes, why does white chocolate taste like that?

"White chocolate" doesn't taste like that, it is that. It's not chcoclate. That has nothing to do with liking it or not, but it has something to do with being a purist. White chocolate is cocoa butter. Chocolate has two components--cocoa and cocoa butter. Most of the taste is in the cocoa. the fat is in the cocoa butter. This is not to say that white chocolate can't be used to make great desserts. It adds a subtle flavor as well as that rich fatty mouth feel. Fat certainly has a place in dessert. Look at butter and cream.

Milk chocolate is chocolate with milk added. As I understand it may be condensed milk or powdered milk.

Compared to Klc, I am ... well let's say that "amateur" doesn't cover the difference well enough in terms of knowledge. In terms of taste, I recall not liking Bernachon's more intense bitter chocolates when I first had them. I would love to try Marcolini's and Bernachon's chocolates side by side. I had them about four or five months apart. I've not had a lot of the chocolates mentioned in this thread.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Cabrales, to me, chocolate isdark chocolate.  I feel that milk dilutes rather than enhances the flavor.  There can be varying amounts of sugar added to chocolate to temper the bitterness.  You may have had a 70 or 72 per cent cacao (bittersweet or extra-bittersweet) when you would prefer 56 or 60 per cent (semi-sweet.)  

I will bring some of both by top producers to the the eGullet pot luck, for you to taste.

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I am looking forward to trying Chaudun in two weeks time when I am next in Paris. Marcolini is availabe in Fortnum & Mason in London- I was unimpressed, but I do have a bias against thick bars. I have also had Rapp chocolates (Nyon, Switzerland) but they were imported by an amateur so when I visit in person I hope to give them a chance to be at their best. Can anyone recommend other worth-tasting Swiss chocolatiers in Geneva or nearby?

I am a big fan of Bernachon- the last time I was in Lyon on a Monday it was closed morning and afternoon which was annoying; according to the 'opening hours' it should have been open. I like the palet d'or from there.

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Bloated--what thick bar?  I'm only talking about Marcolini's French-style candies--the dipped, enrobed style--and they are, indeed, as flat and thin-walled as Herme or Hevin.  He cheats a bit by using a flat molded shell for some palet-style candies--so the bottom and sides of the candy are "molded" then filled then covered with a plastic sheet.  So the top looks shiny and looks hand-dipped but it is not footed and enrobed--and as a result--not as clean and traditional--as those of Hevin.

Undoubtedly easier to produce, though.  I have never had Marcolini's candies at a retail store--which might suffer as any chocolate mishandled and stored for too long.  I only sampled his candies fresh from his booth at the Salon du Chocolat, which were impeccably fresh.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I brought a small selection of Marcolinni's chocolates home from Brussels and they seemed to do alright for as long as they lasted and I was very much on my best behavior. In broad terms they were mostly like Bernachon's palets. I recall them as having much thinner coats than  Bernachon's palets d'or, but I won't swear to that. We also brought back some chocolates from les Loges, a restaurant in Lyon. There were presented to us in a box along with the credit card receipt. Those had an amzingly thin coating. There was a hint of mint in the filling and they seemed a bit sweeter than Bernachon's.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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I read in Where Magazine several months ago that Bernachon is available at one shop in Paris (not maintained by Bernachon itself). Can members provide leads?  I have never sampled those chocolates  :confused:

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This new ( I think...) company make couverture chocolate for  pastry chef , like Valrhona or Barry Callebault.

Someone told me it's one of the founders of Valrhona who started this society...

I really don't know much more thing about that chocolate but I just tasted it today for the first time and I wanted to know if somebody knew this product

Patrice Demers

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I don't like milk chocolate at all. I like dark chocolate, the darker the better. Just had some 90%, lovely.

But then I like Waitrose continental chocolate. And Black & Green's. And Valhrona.

Doug

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