For this year's bûche de Noël, I returned to one of my favorite French pastry shops on the Upper East Side. When last I purchased a Yule log (a sinful Saumur) from Payard, it was at the pâtisserie's original site at 1032 Lexington Avenue—a hallowed space that once housed the delightful Délices La Côte Basque, and its desirous successor, Désirs La Côte Basque. After the inexplicably long hiatus, I felt a bûche from Payard was overdue.
Beyond having relocated one block east to 1293 Third Avenue (next to J.G. Melon), Payard has added several new locations in Manhattan, as well as branches in Las Vegas, Japan, and Korea. Payard's expansion and continued success should come as no surprise to anyone. A third-generation pâtissier, François Payard found himself immersed in the art of pastry while growing up around his grandfather's acclaimed Au Nid des Friandises in Nice, France. After burnishing his skills under the tutelage of his family, Mr. Payard left the French Riviera for Paris, where he became the pastry chef at the venerable La Tour d’Argent, and later at Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton. After Paris, where else but New York? In August of 1997, following successful stints at Le Bernadin and Restaurant Daniel, François Payard opened his eponymous pâtisserie and bistro at the aforementioned Lexington Avenue address.
Payard's selection of bûches de Noël this year seemed more tempting yet than what I could recall from my last visit: Chestnut Cassis (vanilla bean pound cake with candied chestnut mousse, cassis crémeux, and poached cassis); Chocolate & Berries (milk and dark chocolate mousse, chocolate flourless cake, raspberry, strawberry, and currant jam, and raspberry crémeux); Caramel Chocolate (sablé breton topped with caramel mascarpone, salted caramel chocolate mousse, and chocolate cake); and the Louvre (layers of chocolate and hazelnut mousse, with a crispy hazelnut wafer, hazelnut dacquoise cake, and dark chocolate glaze). The foregoing bûches were available in sizes of four ($28), six ($42), and eight ($56) servings.
Though each was extremely appealing, I chose the six-serving Louvre, a work of art worthy of its name. This rich, decadent bûche delivered the sort of complexity not normally found in such a confection. The various levels of hazelnut, chocolate, and cake, each with its own flavor and texture, were coated in an exquisite dark chocolate ganache, and embellished with macaron "mushrooms." François Payard's Louvre elevates the Yule log to a veritable art form.
All the artistry comes at the expense of tradition and verisimilitude, however. Payard's bûches lack the rustic look and feel of a log. Absent are the nubs, the bark-textured frosting, and the meringue mushrooms. That said, it's hard to find fault with Payard's exquisite pastry; it's among the finest I've tasted.
Finally, to add a little Christmas spirit to the Louvre log, a glass of Frangelico is the perfect accompanying libation.
1293 Third Avenue (near 74th Street),
Upper East Side, Manhattan (map)
Related post: Ceci-Cela's Bûche de Noël