An obligatory Parisian rite of passage is a visit to Angelina, on rue de Rivoli – France’s most famous salon-de-thé and pâtisserie. Founded in 1903 by the Austrian confectioner, Anton Pumpelmayer, it is named after his daughter-in-law, decorated in dreamy Belle-Époque style and quickly became a favourite with the Parisian fashion and cultural elite. Even Coco Chanel was a regular, and you can still sit at what was her favourite table!
Angelina’s most famous creations are its remarkable “Africain” chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) and its Mont Blanc cake – a dome of chantilly cream perched on meringue and draped with soft noodles of sweet chestnut cream (I would not recommend ordering these together, such is the sugar hit of the pairing!). Angelina is credited with making the Mont Blanc famous, selling seven hundred a day out of the Rivoli salon.
Thankfully, with the great pâtisserie revival of the past ten years, many Parisian star pastry chefs, from Pierre Hermé and Sebastien Gaudard to Claire Heitzler, have joined Angelina in revisiting the Mont Blanc. They’ve reduced the sugar content, played with its textures and proportions, introduced new flavours (such as green tea, blackcurrant and passionfruit in Hermé’s “Fetish” collection and generally refined its presentation. The noodles are the trickiest part of a Mont Blanc to master, and there are plenty of slightly messy yet very decent examples in less renowned pâtisseries around France. They are made by mixing sweet crème de marron (chestnut cream) with the thicker, plain purée, pâte de marron, which helps them keep their shape when piped and also brings down the sugar content. These days, the chantilly cream has no or very little sugar either; however, chunks of candied chestnuts are often included to give a soft bite alongside the crisp meringue.
My own experiments with Mont Blanc concept have led me to create mousses, trifles and various sizes of pavlovas alongside individual desserts. I’m less a fan of the rather pasty noodles than the pure crème de marron, which cannot be piped, and love its vanilla flavour as much as the presentation of Clément Faugier’s retro style tins. I like to offset the sweetness by using crème frâiche rather than classic chantilly or by mixing plain cream it with a little Greek yoghurt and adding the intense flavour of a really good, bitter chocolate.
Here’s my latest version, which plays with the natural cavities created in a soft-centered meringue. It might not be up to professional pâtissier’s standards, and it may not even qualify as a real Mont Blanc at all. But I think it looks more like the famous, snow-covered, craggy French mountain of Mont Blanc than any others I’ve seen, and with its sweet chestnut heart, touch of bitter chocolate and slightly tart whipped cream, I promise it makes for the most delicious mouthful!
Photos © Angelina
- 4 large egg whites, room temperature
- 115g caster sugar
- 115g icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 300ml double or whipping cream
- 2-3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
- 6 tablespoons sweet chestnut cream
- 50g good dark chocolate
- 1 tablespoon Icing sugar
Heat the oven to 110°C. Set some baking parchment on a baking tray.
Beat the egg whites at medium speed until they form stiff peaks. Add the vanilla, increase the speed and start gradually adding the caster sugar. Keep beating for 3 to 4 minutes – every time you add the sugar, making sure the grains are properly absorbed (the meringue should look thick and shiny).
Stop the beaters, and gently fold in the icing sugar.
Spoon the the meringue mixture onto the baking parchment, without overly smoothing the surface. Bake for about 1 hour 30 minutes, until the base sounds hollow when you tap it.
Turn off the oven, open the door, and leave the meringues to cool slowly inside.
Whip the cream until it is nice and stiff, then fold through the yoghurt.
Gently detach a piece of meringue from each surface, set a tablespoon of chestnut cream inside and replace the meringue "lid."
Cover the top of the meringue with cream, sprinkle over the grated or chopped chocolate and give each meringue a light dusting of icing sugar "snow" just before serving.