Pâtisseries and Paris go hand in hand. In this excerpt from the beautiful book, the first in the 250-year history of the beloved Parisian confectioner, chief chocolatier Julien Mercheron shares the history of À la Mère De Famille, along with a lip-smacking recipe for you to try at home.
1761-1791: Une boutique aux allures de fermette
One day in 1760, a young man from Coulommiers arrives in Paris with a grocer’s diploma. During this first year in Paris, Pierre-Jean Bernard falls for the charms of a small farm on the corner of what is now the Rue de Provence. It is a three-room cottage, with an earthen floor and wooden doors, whose three sheds and stables he turns into a pretty épicerie. It is 1761, and the corner store quickly becomes an essential stop-over in Faubourg-Montmartre. In 1773, Pierre-Jean buys the store that he and his wife Marie-Catherine run their business from.
In 1779 Pierre-Jean make the first changes to the store: he modernises, expands and develops a section for confectionery. The Maison Bernard is a grocery store in the style of the Ancien Régime; it belongs to the apothecaries’ guild and mainly sells savoury food items, such as vinegar, hams from Bayonne, Bordeaux and Mayence, flour and wine, on a retail basis. But already the Bernards offer sugared almonds, jams, dried fruit and pastries…
1895-1920: A Childhood Dream
Georges Lecoeur has been a frequent visitor to the Faubourg-Montmartre quartier and its famous confiserie from his earliest childhood. Fascinated by the shop’s soul, he even promises himself as a very young boy, that he will own it one day. He moves into the neighbourhood and buys a shop on Rue Cadet so he can work in proximity to the confectionery store he covets. When that store is put up for sale a few years later, Georges Lecoeur wastes no time in buying it, thus fulfilling his childhood dream. À la Mère de Famille becomes a place for rare and surprising pleasures, combining creativity, authenticity and indulgence, and uniting fine food lovers of all generations. It this period of development, born of affection and innovation, that produced the store as it remains today.
In 1907, Georges Lecoeur meets an apprentice he has watched working in the neighbourhood. Thus the young Régis Dreux begins his apprenticeship with the person who will pass on his confectioner’s know-how and passion for À la Mère de Famille. Over the years, the two men become close friends. But when World War 1 breaks out, Régis has to leave for the front. Before leaving, Georges Lecoeur, who has not been able to persuade his son to take over the establishment, promises it to his young apprentice. Régis survives the fighting and returns to Paris. When his employer and friend dies, he takes over the reins of the establishment.
1950-1985: Albert and Suzanne
In 1950, young shop assistant Albert Brethonneau marries Suzanne, who had been adopted by previous owner Madame Legrand. It’s with a very special affection that they decide to carry on the venture when the Legrand family hands it over to them. Under the new impetus of Suzanne and Albert, the shop remains a Parisian benchmark. Most of the items offered at the beginning of the century by Georges Lecoeur are still sold: chocolates, confectionery from all over France, dried fruit and nuts, cakes, the famous Plum-Plouvier baba, Breton fruits preserved in eau-de-vie, marrons glacés, and 25 kinds of petit four.
1985-2000: The Time of Chocolate
A renowned pâtissier and chocolatier, Serge Neveu takes over. His wife and daughter, also under the spell of this timeless place, are by his side to run the store. New works are launched, the former preserving workshop is turned into a chocolate laboratory and, for the first time, Serge Neveu starts manufacturing in-house. His creations take their place in the display windows, alongside the specialties that follow the rhythm of the seasons. In autumn, dried or candied fruit, in summer, regional specialities.
In 1989, the Paris chamber of commerce and industry awards Serge Neveu the prestigious Nef d’Or. Over two hundred years after it was formed, À la Mère de Famille is more than ever a benchmark for Parisian gourmands and tourists from all over the world. Today, the shop is as it was at the time of the Belle Époque, as imagined by Georges Lecoeur. This unique store has been heritage-listed as a historical monument since 1984 and has inspired painters such as André Renoux.
Since the year 2000: Une Histoire Réinventée
The succession of Serge Neveu is, once again, an affair of the heart: having fallen under the spell of À la Mère de Famille, and being well acquainted with the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre store as its supplier of boiled sweets, nougats, calissons and marzipans, the Dolfi family – Étienne and his three children, Sophie, Jane and Steve – today perpetuate the company’s tradition. Like Georges Lecoeur in his time, the Dolfis gave a new impetus to the store by opening other branches in Paris under the same name, creating a website, a corner in the Printemps department store and new sweet treats.
The evolution of À la Mère de Famille combines its legendary history with making its mark in the contemporary landscape. Today, Julien Merceron– pâtissier, chocolatier, ice cream-maker and confectioner – brings his own know-how and innovation. The one-man-band of “33”, a laboratory located next door to the 9th arrondissement store, and working with a master craftsman (a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, no less) he uses the traditional confections of the store as inspiration for his own original creations.
As its 250th birthday comes over the horizon, the little 18th-century épicerie has become a place of legend with a decor from another time and authentic flavours rejuvenated.
Marshmallow Pops- dark chocolate and strawberry
Makes 30 marshmallow pops. Preparation time: 40 minutes. Resting time: 1 night plus 2 hours.
For the lollipops:
1 quantity strawberry marshmallow
For the coating:
50 g dried strawberries
300 g dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa)
MAKING THE MARSHMALLOW
Pour the strawberry marshmallow (see technique below) into a rectangular dish lined with baking paper to make a layer about 3cm-thick. Allow to set overnight. The next day, cut the marshmallow into cubes and insert a lollipop stick into each one.
COATING THE LOLLIPOPS
Cut the dried strawberries into small pieces. Temper the dark chocolate using the technique described below. Dip each lollipop in the chocolate to coat completely and tap lightly to remove the excess.
Top the chocolate with dried strawberries, then place the lollipops on an acetate sheet.
Allow the chocolate to set for at least 2 hours at 18°C. Detach the lollipops from the acetate sheet and enjoy.
Blackcurrant Marshmallows (to be used in the above recipe)
Makes about 50 small squares. Preparation time: 25 minutes. Resting time: 3 hours
15 g gelatine sheets
70 g blackcurrant pulp
40 g water
50 g mild honey
240 g sugar
100 g (about 3) egg whites
1 g powdered violet food colouring (optional)
75 g icing sugar, for coating
75 g potato starch, for coating
MAKING THE MARSHMALLOW
Place the gelatine in cold water to soak for 5 minutes, drain and set aside. In a saucepan, heat the pulp, water, honey and sugar until the mixture reaches 114°C on a sugar thermometer.
Meanwhile, put the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of an electric mixer and whip on a slow speed. Gently fold in the blackcurrant mixture, then the softened gelatine. Increase the mixer speed — the marshmallow will thicken, then cool. Add the colouring, if you are using it, and stir to combine.
MAKING THE MARSHMALLOW CUBES
When the mixture has cooled to about 40°C, pour the marshmallow out onto a clean work surface dusted with two-thirds of the combined icing sugar and potato starch, turning the marshmallow to coat.
Let the marshmallow cool completely at room temperature for 3 hours before cutting into 3cm cubes. Dust the cubes with the icing sugar and starch mixture to stop them from sticking.
Variation: To make plain marshmallows, omit the blackcurrant pulp and food colouring, and replace it with 70 g of water. To make strawberry marshmallows, replace the blackcurrant pulp with 70 g of strawberry pulp.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
600 g couverture chocolate, chopped, or if unavailable, 600 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
Place two-thirds of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Once the chocolate reaches its correct melting temperature (see below), remove the bowl, add the remaining chocolate and combine with a spatula – it will melt and lower the mixture to the cooling temperature. Finally, reheat the chocolate to its using temperature.
To check the temper of the chocolate, dip the point of a knife in. The chocolate should set quickly and evenly at room temperature.
Melting temperature: 50°C
Cooling temperature: 29°C
Using temperature: 32°C
Melting temperature: 45°C
Cooling temperature: 27°C
Using temperature: 31°C
WHITE OR COLOURED CHOCOLATE
Melting temperature: 40°C
Cooling temperature: 26°C
Using temperature: 30°C
As seen in France Today magazine. This excerpt was taken from À La Mère De Famille by Julien Merceron (Hardie Grant), available from the France Today bookstore.