Conticini’s Vanilla Grand Cru (Grand Cru Vanille) is the best vanilla-based entremet dessert I have ever tasted. It is pure perfection from a pastry master. If you love vanilla you have to taste Conticini’s creation. If you think you know how vanilla taste, wait until you try Conticini’s creation. If you dislike vanilla, take a leap of faith and Conticini’s creation might just change your mind 🙂
Like a great wine the first bite is powerful, almost orgasmic, yet it’s subtle, with different sub-flavors and textures. The lowest layer, a vanilla duja, is crispy but still melts in your mouth. Then comes a spongy and very soft vanilla biscuit which gives a foundation to the layer above: a black vanilla cremeux, visually intriguing and beautiful, followed by a delightful white chocolate vanilla flavored mousse. If you ever visit Paris, London, Kyoto or Osaka, make sure to visit Conticini’s La pâtisserie des rêves and do yourself a favor: try his Vanilla Grand Cru.
Unfortunately, his real recipe is still secret, but a french magazine named Fou de pâtisserie published a version of it to the delight of many, french, bloggers. The recipe i’m posting here is mainly based on the last link, with some corrections and precisions about both the ingredients and how to get the best aesthetic result. I wanted this dessert to be perfect for Christmas, so I had a first go the week before, so that I could make adjustments for the D-day. After two pastry sessions the quantities are still not perfect though and you might have some left-overs, but I’ll refine them each time I make this recipe again.
As far as I know this is the first english version published, and you can find the recipe, conveniently ready to be printed, at the end of the post. But first, I’m going to give some preliminary tips about this recipe.
Which vanilla to use and how
This entremet is all about the vanilla, so obviously if you have any respect for the recipe and your palate, you shouldn’t use vanilla extracts (which in my humble opinion doesn’t taste like real vanilla at all). After all, good food starts with good ingredients 🙂
Following this idea, I visited Roellinger’s spices store in Paris, which has a really great vanilla selection. Olivier Roellinger is a famous French cook who closed his Michelin 3-stars restaurant for his spices passion. Therefore, if there is one place where you can have good advice on spices, that’s his stores. I was very well helped, not by Roellinger himself obviously since he’s not living in Paris, but I could tell that the person who helped me liked good foods/ingredients, cooked, and knew what he was talking about from a first-hand experience as well.
For instance, I learned that you shouldn’t cook Tahiti’s vanilla insofar as it loses some of its flavor in the process. But I wanted to use Tahiti’s vanilla because of its powerful and distinct odor: some recipe adjustments were therefore needed for that.
In my first version:
- for the white chocolate mousse I didn’t use any vanilla in the cremeux base, but I let one Raiatea Tahiti’s vanilla infuse with the cream during one night and used it for the Chantilly cream base in the recipe. That way the Tahiti’s vanilla was not cooked and its flavor was preserved.
- for the remaining 3 layers I used Nouvelle Calédonie’s vanilla. One bean for the crispy vanilla duja, one for the vanilla biscuit, and two for the black vanilla cremeux.
The Nouvelle Calédonie’s vanilla is a rare and very flavorful vanilla (but really expensive too…). Furthermore, it has some cocoa flavor to it, but I might have used too much, and it was slightly bitter (really slightly, my test subjects didn’t have any issues with it and actually my grand mother loved the black cremeux which contained the most 😛 ).
Since that wasn’t what I was aiming for, trying to convey a warmer and “rounder” taste (dunno if “round taste” means anything to you, but I don’t know how to describe it, and violinist players might relate to the “round sound” analogy 🙂 ), I did some adjustments for my 2nd version:
- for the white chocolate mousse, I still used Tahiti’s vanilla with the same process (nothing in the cremeux, but infusing the cream with the vanilla for the Chantilly cream), but this time I used a Tahaa Tahiti’s vanilla. I guess you have to try them both to decide which one you prefer, it’s hard to described so I’m going to use Roellinger’s word: I find Tahaa Tahiti’s vanilla indeed more sophisticated.
- for the remaining 3 layers I used the Gourmet version of Madagascar’s north east antsirabe. 2 beans for each one of them.
Both version are good to be honest. But since I like to experiment, my next version will use the Madagascar gourmet north east antsirabe’s vanilla for the white chocolate mousse, the vanilla biscuit and the crispy vanilla duja, while using the Nouvelle Calédonie’s vanilla for the black vanilla cremeux. Maybe I’m trying too hard… who knows but Mr. Conticini? I’d be very curious to know his real recipe for it. I’d happily accept anonymous tips if any insider wants to drop me an email 😉 (yes I’m that obsessed with this recipe)
For my first try I followed other blogs linked earlier, but I wasn’t satisfied (aesthetically) with the end result. I therefore modified the assembly and you’ll find that the order is very important if you want to have a clean result with sharp and flat layers.
The trick to have very flat surfaces is to assemble the layers upside down on a perfect flat surface, e.g. a silicone mat. That’s why in this version of the recipe I put the black vanilla cremeux first while assembling the inside part. That way I’m sure I have a really flat transition from the black cremeux to the mousse. Likewise we start with the mousse at the bottom when doing the final assembly. This ensures to get a nice flat top.
The layer proportions are important as well for the balance of the entremet’s textures. As you can see on Conticini’s photo:
- the mousse is 50% of the total height
- the black vanilla cremeux is 12.5%
- the vanilla biscuit is 25%
- the crispy vanilla duja is 12.5%
So for the love of the pastry gods, please refrain from using everything you prepared and try your best to follow these proportions. Otherwise you might end up with something which we would call a cake, for the lack of enough white chocolate mousse, instead of the intended Conticini’s entremet.
Now if you pay attention to my own featured photo at the beginning, you can see I still made at least two mistakes:
- the bottom side of the black vanilla cremeux isn’t perfectly flat unlike its top side. I should have put the vanilla biscuit upside down, using the biscuit’s flat side against the cremeux.
- there is too much white chocolate mousse. It’s probably better to have too much white chocolate mouse than too much vanilla biscuit since most of the dessert’s taste comes from it, but still, I would have preferred to respect Conticini’s proportions.
I’ll be more careful next time. Practice, practice, practice…
To make thing simpler, I make this recipe over the course of 2 or 3 days:
- the first day I make the black vanilla cremeux, the crispy vanilla duja, the vanilla biscuit, assemble them and let it rest in the freezer for the night
- the 2nd day I make the white chocolate mousse, do the final assembly and put it back in the freezer
- either on the same day after about 4-5h in the freezer, or in the morning of the day I need the dessert, I apply the velvet/velours finish and let it rest in the fridge for at least 4h (it needs to unfreeze)
Dont be afraid, it might be a little bit time consuming but it isn’t that hard to make. Anyway, enough, now the recipe!