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Mar 28, 2014

Viennoiserie Waits For You: Patte d'Ours

THE STORY:

Viennoiserie are not to be confused with patisserie, and yet it's a confusing distinction indeed. Pâtisserie is both the generic name for pastries and also the pastry shop where they are made. You may be looking at the photo below thinking they are pastries, and in the general sense, I suppose they are. But specifically, in French, they are called viennoiserie, a sub-category that basically includes and defines all these flaky, puff pastries plus bready things like brioches or rolls.
 


The name springs from the belief that croissants were presumed to have been created in Vienna (in the shape of a crescent, which is on the Turkish flag, to commemorate a defeat of invading Turks) in the 17th century. Which does beg the question, what did Frenchmen eat before that?
 
It also begs the question: what are these beautiful, complicated, very sugary, dessert pastries called? Ah, these are patisseries, purely.


It is commonly believed that Marie-Antoinette brought viennoiserie with her from Vienna when she married King Louis XVI. However, there is a dissenting opinion. Author Jim Chevallier has written an entire book about how August Zang brought the croissant (and viennoiserie baking techniques) to Paris half a century after her time, opening the Boulangerie Viennoise in 1839-ish.

photo from: http://www.joepastry.com/2013/when-did-the-viennoiserie-arrive-in-paris/

So it doesn't go back in history nearly as long as you think. Among the viennoiserie, the classic is the croissant. But the perennial favorite is probably the pain au chocolat -- actually a square croissant with a chunk of dark chocolate in the center. One of my personal favorites is the chausson aux pommes (which means "apple slipper"), a crunchy puff pastry filled with applesauce; I confess that I often peel away a lot of the pastry to have a higher filling ratio. There are many viennoiserie, and perhaps my single favorite is the patte d'ours -- or bear claw -- made at La Parisienne, one of my favorite local pâtisseries. You can see where it got its name.



However, there are two patte d'ours flavors, and I only go for one of them. There's the traditional flavor, with pear and chocolate, which sounds fabulous but tastes bland to me:


But once in a while, the bakery makes what they call a "revised" version, filled with coconut cream and raspberry. This particular patte d'ours is absolute heaven. When they're fresh out of the oven, they are utterly irresistible.
 

THE CHEESE: Patte d'Ours

Patte d'Ours, which means "Bear Claw", is produced in Béarn, in the Aquitaine, in the southwest corner of the country from a mixture of raw milk from both sheep and cow. It's aged a minimum of three months, resulting a firm, tangy cheese. Actually the texture is somewhat smooth and silky.



The taste has elements of the sweetness of a cow cheese, acidity of a sheep cheese, and the nuttiness of a hard mountain cheese. What is a little surprising, considering the amount of time aged, is that it's not extremely hard and crumbly, nor extremely pungent.

Though it's only half-sheep, as with Ossa Iraty and other Pyrénées hard sheep cheeses, Patte d'Ours is lovely served with cherry jam. I have no idea why it's called a Bear's Claw, so don't even bother asking.

THE CONNECTION:

A pastry called patte d'ours. Also a cheese called Patte d'Ours. Both of which I prefer with a little berry jam. It's like somebody's handing me this connection (and, if I'm lucky, the pastry and cheese, too) on a silver platter.

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