When you happen to be one of the finest chocolatiers in France, the temptation to nibble is great. Jean-Paul Hévin, who runs four pristine Parisian boutiques (and four more in Japan), says he consumes at least four ounces of chocolate a day, “and a lot more when we’re developing new recipes, because to properly judge a pastry I must eat the entire thing.” So what does a master chocolate-maker do when his belt will no longer buckle? He eats his own pâte à tartiner, a sophisticated take on the chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella which is a fixture of any French childhood.
This article was supposed to be about Hévin’s cheese-filled chocolates, bitter little squares boldly filled with some of France’s most distinctive cheeses, including roquefort with walnut. But when this genius chocolatier told me that he lost 25 pounds eating pâte a tartiner – spread on buttered bread, no less – it occurred to me that we all have something to learn from his approach to dieting.
“Food is about comfort and happiness,” he says. “When we’ve had enough pleasure, we stop. That’s why people who eat only good things don’t need to eat as much. When I started to have my pâte à tartiner at breakfast, I realized I only needed a little of it to feel satisfied.”
Never reluctant to try a new chocolate creation, I hopped on my bike to visit Hévin’s sober boutique near the Luxembourg gardens – in a minimalist brown-and-cream setting, the tidy rows of ganache-filled chocolates and intense cakes speak for themselves. At home, I spread a little of the precious paste on some crusty baguette from my local bakery Le Boulanger de Monge (which merits its own article, coming soon).
What struck me was the intense nuttiness – as Hévin explained to me, the spread consists of 50 per cent hazelnuts, 25 per cent almonds, plus Central American chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids) and sugar. Fond as I am of Nutella, it tastes overwhelmingly of sugar, unlike Hévin’s more sophisticated spread. I have to admit that I finished the jar so quickly – aided by my two-year-old son Sam, a gourmand since birth – that I forgot to try it with salted Breton butter, as Hévin had recommended.
So versatile is Hévin’s pâte à tartiner that he uses it as a base in many of his pastries. For Edible Paris he generously shared the following recipe, which is easy to prepare at home:
Ile flottante with Jean Paul Hévin’s chocolate-hazelnut spread
A classic French dessert is updated here with chocolate-hazelnut spread and finished in the microwave.
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp chocolate-hazelnut spread
3 egg whites
3 tbsp sugar
In a small bowl, mix the egg yolks and sugar. Add the chocolate-hazelnut spread and blend well. Heat the milk and cream in a small saucepan, pour half of it into the chocolate-egg yolk mixture, stir and pour this mixture back into the saucepan. Over low heat, stir the mixture constantly until it thickens, without letting it boil. Pour it into a bowl and set aside in the refrigerator. Once it has cooled, beat it with a whisk and pour it into two microwaveable bowls.
For the meringue, beat the egg whites with the sugar to make a meringue. Place a large spoonful of this mixture into each bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 7 seconds. Set aside in the refrigerator and serve cold.
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My favorite Parisian dessert, il flotante! With one of the worlds most decadent ingredient, chocolate hazelnut spread! I will make this soon!
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