April in Paris

As socially awkward as I am, I find myself at ease in the midst of foodies. Conversation flows and I’m immersed in pure joy being surrounded by a group of people who just get it. 

This is why I was so happy to meet Lison from Pascal’s Patisserie here in Calgary. She exudes passion for food, particularly her partner, Pascal’s immaculate French pastry.

What makes Pascal’s so special is that it combines premium ingredients, years of practice and perfection of recipes and methods, and perhaps most notable, the fact that it is a take and bake-ery. An UN-bakery, if you will.

Pascal specializes in Viennoiserie, a type of pastry that incorperates the technique of bread making and the complexities of puff pastry. He prepares the pastries with his well seasoned hands, and then they are frozen, vacuum sealed, and distributed to high end Cafe’s around Alberta, or for customers to take home and bake themselves. Offering an authentic, French dining experience in the comfort of your own home and with so little effort required that you can actually enjoy the pastries with your loved ones.

Pascal has years of knowledge and practice of the tradition of French pastry under his belt. Recognizing the importance of the effects that the elements have on his pastries. This ain’t no Pillsbury tube-o-pastry. Despite his quiet and humble demeanor, Pascal’s passion for his craft is clear. Believe me, it is a true pleasure to watch a seasoned French pastry chef explain his work to you (with that wonderful accent!)

Lison graciously invited me to an event she organized at Cafe Gravity here in Calgary called April in Paris: Pairing fine wines from Willow Park Wines and Spirits and, of course, delicious pastry from Pascal’s Patisserie.

It saddens me to admit that my experience with French pastry is virtually non-existent; I had one incredible croissant in Monaco when I was 17, but besides that, my croissant experience is limited to the confines of the Safeway bakery.

Furthermore, my experience with wine tasting is juvenile to say the least. I am no wine connoisseur and this was my first wine tasting (as opposed to entire bottle of wine drinking while watching R.E.N.T. with a bag of rice crackers) and I was completely engrossed with all of the new things I was learning!

Michael Bigattini from Willow Park walked us through some methods of wine tasting and what to look for. Wine tasting requires all the senses. We began by observing the wine looking for clarity, and size of bubbles. After this we gave our glasses a swirl and a sniff and finally, a taste.

Tasting the wine was the best part, of course, but it was much more than your standard sip. Tasting involved sloshing, gargling, head banging and slurping in order to point out specific flavors in the wine. I think of wine tasting to be similar to analyzing literature. In English classes when I am asked to read a piece of literature and dissect it, read between the lines and decipher it’s ‘real meaning’ I am completely at a loss. I begin pulling ideas out of the air and expanding on them, hopelessly referencing evidence from the text to piece together an argument. But when the instructor walks me through the text, and shares the hidden meanings and themes, I wonder how on earth I possibly missed them!

This is much the same how I feel with wine tasting. My palate lacks a certain level of sophistication, which, I can only enhance by means of practice. That is: tasting lots and lots (and lots) of wine. Upon first sip there are certain things that come to mind, primarily, do I or do I not like it? Sometimes, I can determine whether I’m tasting stone fruits or tree fruits but that’s about as far as it goes. However, once the flavors and undertones and hints of this and wafts of that are pointed out, they are so apparent that I don’t know how I missed them in the first place!

Upon entering Cafe Gravity, a new cafe and bar in Inglewood with a modern and laid-back atmosphere, I inhaled air that was saturated with butter, yeast and hints of cinnamon. I wish this scent could be bottled.

The first pairing was a classic croissant with Campalou Vouvray Brut. – Michael suggested taking a sip of wine, a bite of croissant, and then another sip of wine. Sensory overload!

The croissant was absolute perfection. A soft, flaky cloud encapsulated by layers and layers of impossibly thin and perfectly crisp pastry.

Next, we were brought to the Lemon brioche, paired with Laetitia Chardonnay.

My first ever brioche! And it has set an incredibly high standard. The brioche was a slightly sweet with a light, cake like texture. Filled with a taste of bright lemon custard and sprinkled with crunchy sugar

Having already tried the classic croissant, I knew I was in for a treat with the almond croissant.

It was paired with Alvear Amontillado. The Amontillado offered an incredibly strong flavor (after a bit of research I have gathered that this flavor consists of almond skins, brazil nuts, salty licorice, orange peel and brown sugar –source) Michael had warned that we would probably not like the amontillado until we tasted it with the Almond Croissant. For each of the pastries I had a method of tasting each thing on its own and then together. While waiting on the basket of almond croissants to make its way to me, I tasted the amontillado. While its flavor was overwhelming initially, once combined with the subtle sweetness of the almond croissant it offered a much more pleasant experience.

A quality I noticed and appreciated with Pascal’s pastries was that even the sweeter indulgences offered a simple sophistication. None of the pastries were overwhelmingly sugary and he maintains a perfect balance of flavours.

Cinnabon has nothing on these.

Pascal uses his signature pastry to create this beautiful pin wheel with a slightly sweet cinnamon and raisin filling.

Paired with Donafugata Ben Rye which offered a spicy, citrus flavor (I figured that one out by myself) creating a grown up version of a childhood treat

 The chouquette were adorable, hollow shells of pastry just begging to be stuffed with delicious fillings: whipped cream, ice cream NUTELLA!?

However, they are absolutely perfect on their own and were served with my personal favorite wine of the evening (described by Michael as ‘teenage girl wine’ due to its extremely low alcohol content)  La SpinetteMoscato d’ Asti Bricco Quaglia from Italy.

At last, the grand finale. The piece de resistance, Pain au Chocolate.

A pastry that I had only ever heard (and dreamed) of. Pascal’s perfect pastry surrounds rich chocolate imported form France. The combination of Pascal’s impeccable pastry and the rich, high quality and partially melted chocolate had meswooning. With sips of Pineau Des Charentes, it was the perfect end to a wonderful evening. I’m so thankful to Lison and Pascal for the invite, and I’m just itching to stop by their location to stock up on some goodies to bake fresh at home.

I love the concept of Pascal’s. Offering local, high-quality ingredients, incredible passion and expertise in these delicious pastries, made accessable for everyone to enjoy fresh from their own oven. As the folks at Pascal’s Patisserie say, “Pastry to the People!”