When I heard that there is a pastry chef specialising in caramel in Paris I had to visit of course. Who doesn't adore the luscious, nutty, glistening dream that is caramel? I personally want to go back in time to find and thank the person who first noticed that pyrolysis of disaccharide sucrose can magically transform the crystals into flowing gold. In the absence of a time machine I guess the next best thing is visiting Karamel Paris.
So where Karamel Paris' passion for all things caramel comes from? The head pastry chef and founder is Nicolas Haelewyn (photo credit Karamel Paris). Before establishing his own venture, he worked for 5 years at the legendary Ladurée, where he was an international pastry chef in charge of their production laboratories. Under his watchful eye Ladurée opened 12 production sites internationally. Originally from Normandy, he is passionate about caramel and he wished to pay tribute to the confectionery of his childhood.
From what I've read, it seems that Normandy IS the place to go for good caramel. Salted butter caramels are a specialty and are considered the epitomy of French confectionery. They are made with local salted butter from Isigny and are commonly called Caramels au Beurre d'Isigny. The story of Normandy caramels dates back to the 1930s when two main producers in the region Galliot and Dupont d'Isigny decided to compete making salted butter confections showcasing the dairy products from the region. Eventually the Isigny's Cooperative merged the two companies resulting in the production of caramels known as "genuine caramels d'Isigny" and comprising of 70 varieties of toffees and hard caramels today. I guess chef Haelewyn wanted to bring some of the Normandy magic to Paris!
Entering the shop can be overwhelming for the senses! A huge display of confections, pastries, viennoiserie and walls with shelves from floor to ceiling filled to the brim with caramels, chocolates, spreads, biscuits.. you name it! I didn't know where to look at first. I decided for this trip to focus on pastry and selected a few pieces to take with me. The shop in itself is very sweet, friendly and comfortable with an undertone of vintage coming through. There is a gramophone in a corner, old photographs, 1930s style teacups and a hint of art deco in the style of furniture and marble top.
To my amazement there is also a small tea room at the back of the shop, which I can't wait to enjoy next time I am in the neighbourhood. For any moms wondering if they could use the space, the answer is a resounding yes! It is possible to fit a stroller and the place is so chilled that I can imagine that even my toddler could manage to sit for 10mins. I visited mid-week in the morning and the place was calm and serene, perfect for a chat and a wind-down. Their toilet is spacious and kid-friendly (but doesn't have a nappy changing unit) and they offer high chairs. And apparently their hot chocolate is to die for (note to self to try next time). They have an extensive coffee list including a heavenly caramel latte and an even bigger tea selection by Kodama. There is breakfast including hot drinks, juice, pastry or tart and granola. From 11.30am there is brunch with multiple options and combinations of pastries, fruit, yogurt and even a version of an english breakfast. For lunch you can enjoy a quiche, a salad or a sandwich. A vegetarian option is always included quite thoughtfully. And of course there is gouter with hot drinks on offer, toast, tarts, pastries. I particularly like the option of a hot drink with 5 sweet items to accompany it!
So what did I end up buying? There was the lemon tart, a refreshing ensemble of zesty lemon cremeux inside a shortbread shell lined with toasted hazelnut caramel and topped with a lemon madeleine under a mountain of silky italian meringue. The black swan a refined and poetic gauteau with vanilla light mousse and cremeux on crunchy biscuit encased in a choux bun. The whole thing is brought together by a caramel-praline heart. The 1001 miettes, a rendition of mille feuille with caramelised flaky puff pastry, in-between layers of vanilla cremeux finished off with fleur de sel from the Ile de Ré, and supported on praline crunch. And of course the heavenly chocolate tart with dark chocolate ganache covering a caramel spread with vanilla, fleur de sel and roasted peanuts encased in a chocolate shortbread base.
On another occasion I had the good luck to try viennoiserie. I still remember the pepito gourmand, an oblong piece of pastry with chocolate, pecans and caramel sauce and the delectable kararolls made of croissant dough and filled with strussel, caramel and grains. I also enjoyed the famous Paris Brest that is filled with gorgeous praline, their raspberry pavlova and their tangy raspberry and rhubarb tart. But even if it is difficult for you to visit, don't worry. Many of the Karamel Paris goodies are available online via their website. They also deliver at home via deliveroo!
After sampling these gateaux, one thing was obvious. Chef Haelewyn's creations are not just about magnificent caramel. His attention to the balance and complexity of flavours as well as the mastery in the use of textures left me speechless. I could almost hear the happiness receptors in my brain singing as it was trying to make sense of the marvel my palate was experiencing. The flavours are bold and unapologetic, hitting you with zest and brashness of whatever the protagonist is in the gateau (lemon? chocolate? caramel?) followed by strokes of calming rounded counterparts (meringue?praline? cream?) and made whole with surprising playful textures. As I told a friend: "I am not sure how I'll have any other gateaux again after this!"
67 rue Saint Dominique
+33 (0) 1 71 93 02 94
+33 (0) 6 21 80 18 88
Metro: Invalides (line 13, RERC), Tour Maubourg (line 8)
Monday to Friday: 7.30am-7.30pm
Photo credit: all photos are mine unless otherwise stated