I’d like to introduce you to Henri Le Roux. And if you don’t know who Henri Le Roux is, it’s time that you did.
There’s a lot of very talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs in France. Some are quite famous, and some just go to work everyday and do their jobs well. A few have rather large egos, others are more humble, preferring the lights of the kitchen to the ones in the television studio. (I was at a recent event with another food blogger who correctly noted that all the famous chefs mostly talk about is one thing: Themselves!) But if you mention the name ‘Henri Le Roux’ to any chocolatier or confiseur in France, they stand silent for a moment. Then nod agreeably. He is perhaps the most respected and admired pastry chef and candy maker I know.
I first met Monsieur Le Roux when I went to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with my Thierry Lallet, who has an excellent (and highly-recommended) chocolate shop in Bordeaux, Saunion, one of the best in France.
Before that day, I thought that caramels were caramels, and until that point, I’d tasted so many things in my life that there was little left that would deeply impress me. M. Le Roux is a very kind man, who basically changed the way pastry chefs, glaciers, and bakers everywhere think about caramel: he created caramel-buerre-salé (caramel-salt-butter), which he simply calls C.B.S.
And they are truly divine.
Henri Le Roux, whose Breton father was a pastry chef (and lived in New York for 5 years, cooking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) started making caramels in the seaside town of Quiberon in 1976, located at the tip of a dramatic peninsula in the south of Brittany, where the best butter in the world is found (the first chapter in his book, is called “Le Rideau de Beurre”, or “The Curtain of Butter”. He decided to open there, selling cakes, candies, and ice creams. But like warm, buttery caramel, word of his candies spread and he stopped making cakes and tartes to concentrate all his energy on candymaking. Just 3 years later, in 1908, M. Le Roux won the award for the best candy in France, Le Meilleur Bonbon de France at the Salon International de la Confiserie in Paris.
M. Le Roux was kind enough to let me explore his workshop with him when I paid a visit during my August vacation in Brittany. As he raced from room to room, he flipped open bins of almonds from Provence or hazelnuts from Turkey to give me a sample, later showing me how he grinds his own fresh nut pastes in his broyeuse with massive granite rollers which keep cool, while metal rollers would heat the nuts too much, losing some of the flavor. And a rarity in the pastry field nowadays, M. Le Roux uses true bitter almonds in his almond paste, which he sources from the Mediterranean. Almond extract is made from bitter almonds, even in America, but they’re hardly used anymore since they’re difficult to find (and those pesky toxicity issues.) But in the land sans lawsuits, M. Le Roux makes that effort and blends a few into his freshly-pressed almond paste which tastes like none other I’ve tasted in France.
I like to ask chocolatiers which chocolate they use.
Most are secretive, but M. Le Roux led me into a cool room packed floor to ceiling with boxes of various chocolates he gets from all over France and Belgium. He tore into them, breaking off chunks for me to taste and explaining how he uses some of each, blending them as he wishes to get the desired tastes he’s after. Valrhona and Barry-Callebaut are used, but he also sources chocolate from François Pralus, an artisan chocolate-maker located in Roanne, just outside of Lyon, who specializes in single-origin chocolates, as well.
I wanted to describe each and every chocolate in the box, but decided that that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Actually, I ate them all and didn’t feel like writing down what tasted as I was eating as I went. As mentioned, I’m a lousy blogger.) But I remember Harem, a filling of green tea and fresh mint, Sarrasine, infused with blé noir (buckwheat), and Yannick, blended dark cane sugar, salted butter and ground crêpes dentelle, hyper-thin, crackly lace cookies ground to a crunchy paste.
Oh yes, there’s C.B.S. too, nutty salted-butter caramel enrobed in dark chocolate as well, which was my favorite.
18, rue de Pont Maria
56170 Quiberon, France
1, rue de Bourbon le Château (6th)
(Will ship internationally.)
Henri Le Roux’s caramels and chocolates are also available in Paris at:
A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine
Tél: 01 48 74 59 55
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