Patisserie 46: Full-on French bakery in Minneapolis
In south Minneapolis, the orange paper sacks are already starting to circulate, being handed to the host by a dinner-party guest or proffered to a friend as a thank-you gift. Within a few short weeks, the blazing hue has become the Kingfield neighborhood's status symbol—its Tiffany blue or, more appropriately, its Ladurée green, the iconic shade of France's famed pastry shops.
In just the past few years, the intersection of 46th and Grand, previously known as a sleepy dog-and-stroller crossing, has blossomed into a relative restaurant row. There's the Latin fusion Café Ena, the hip-but-grownup King's Wine Bar, and now Patisserie 46, with its bedazzling array of baguettes, croissants, macarons, cookies, ice creams, cakes, and more. The name connotes the shop's devotion to its craft: In France, the term "patisserie" may be legally used only by a bakery that employs a licensed maître pâtissier, or master pastry chef.
The shop's owner, John Kraus, was most recently an instructor at the French Pastry School in Chicago, considered to be the nation's top pastry program. "After 10 years of teaching students how to open a business and make pastry, I came to the conclusion that perhaps I should take my chances and do it myself," he says. Kraus cites the Twin Cities' strong school system, good quality of life, and proximity to his wife's hometown of Hayward, Wisconsin, as a few reasons for the move. So next time you run down the street to sample the work of a man named one of the top 10 pastry chefs in the country—no biggie or anything, right?—say a little thank-you to the teachers and the trees.
Kraus no longer has time to participate in the sort of Food Network contests he's won in the past. "We have our own little competition here," he says, referring to the pace of supplying his customers. The arrival of Patisserie 46 comes on the heels of Rustica's departure from 46th and Bryant to the Calhoun Commons, but the new shop seems to fill an even bigger gap than the city knew it had. On the first Saturday the shop was open, the line stretched out the door, and Kraus has already added a second cash register.
When Kraus occasionally pops out from the kitchen, his salt-and-pepper facial scruff and bushy tresses make him look more suited to lumberjack checks than chef's whites. "I haven't had time to get a haircut," he admits. "There are only 24 hours in a day, and I think we're using 23 and a half of them."
While Minneapolis bakeries tend to do smart work, between the artisan bread makers, the old-school doughnut shops, and the small storefronts selling cupcakes and cookies and caramel rolls, their style tends toward the homey and rustic. Until now, if you wanted pastries as stylish as they were delicious—jewel cases filled with elaborate, French-style tarts and petites gateaux—you had to venture to the city outskirts or suburbs to places like Patrick's, Sofitel, or Pardon My French.
Kraus wanted his patisserie to be a traditional neighborhood bakery, with artisan products made of local and organic ingredients, including fresh, seasonal produce and flour from Great River Milling in Winona, for starters. Kraus says he appreciates the way that area bakeries such as Turtle Bread and Rustica have already developed his clientele's tastes. "We don't have to tell them what a sourdough rye is," he says. "They expect good products based on what was here before."
And what's here now is one of the world's most civilized breakfasts or afternoon snacks: a cappuccino and a canelé, or preferably several of them. The canelé look like tiny, bronzed bundt cakes, except taller and more compact. Their eggy batter is an old Bordeaux recipe, and it's baked in a special copper mold brushed with beeswax. The result is a lovely, caramelized crust—a concentrated, crisp sweetness, as if the cake were shrink-wrapped in a tuile—and a moist, spongy interior, like a rum-spiked custard crossed with a popover.
The Gibassier is another pastry that's hard to find in these parts, but well worth seeking out. The delicate, Provencal bread tastes of the outdoors, fragrant with anise seeds, orange peel, and olive oil. And the more familiar croissants are equally good, especially the pain au chocolate, its flaky layers lined with just the right amount of dark chocolate.
In fact, one could probably subsist on an all-chocolate diet at Patisserie 46. The chocolate-chip cookies seem to stay soft forever, and their chunk-studded dough tastes of molasses with a kiss of salt. The triple chocolate cookies aren't as good as the category leader, Rustica's bittersweet version, but they are dark, smoky, and as intense as a flourless chocolate cake. A bite-sized bouchon is lighter than a brownie but denser than cake, its flavor enhanced by bits of candied orange. And though the house-made candy bars cost about a dollar a bite, their smooth chocolate gianduia (chocolate blended with hazelnut paste, like Nutella) makes a Kit Kat seem like cardboard and wax.
It's hard to name the most luxurious of the Patisserie 46 chocolate desserts. But it's probably a toss-up between the chocolate-enrobed chocolate mousse cake—dark and buttery smooth, with a little salted caramel at its core—and a chocolate-covered dome containing milk-chocolate mousse, vanilla crème bruleé, and hazelnut crunch. It's sprinkled with edible gold leaf as if to emphasize that these aren't just desserts, they're high art. The Russians may have their Fabergé eggs, and the Chinese their miniature mountainsides of carved jade, but the French? Forget Monet and Manet. They have les petits gateaux.
Kraus describes the pint-sized cakes as "what a cupcake aspires to be," and it's certainly worth spending an extra dollar or two on one of them to find out what that means. Prick your fork into a snowball-like half-sphere of coconut cream and a glorious mango-passion fruit puree oozes out like a runny egg yolk. Bite into a cylinder of pistachio Bavarian cream to find a thick, strawberry-rhubarb jam; with coconut-almond granola sprinkled on top, it suggests a haute revamp of fruit cobbler. Among the tiny lemon meringues and cheesecakes, a chocolate tart is stacked with thumb-sized profiteroles, like a tabletop set for a Barbie dolls' tea. And it's just as delightful to eat.
I haven't yet tried everything at Patisserie 46, but I did sample a majority of the items and—this is the rarest of statements for a food critic—I would happily recommend every single one I ate. In fact, Patisserie 46 even made me like pastries that never seem to make my heart palpitate. I've never met a macaron, for example, that I found very inspiring. But the flavors I sampled at Patisserie 46—chocolate with passion fruit, chocolate with orange and Earl Gray—had a purity and subtlety that truly suited the crusty-chewy medium.
Right now, the shop serves only a few savory items, but they are the Technicolor version of what you typically find. The quiche's crust seems flakier, its onions sweeter, its eggs creamier, and its salty/savory ham and cheese combination as satisfying as that of the ham-Gruyère-béchamel croissant. The patisserie's six rotating flavors of house-made ice cream and sorbet—basil/chocolate, vanilla/salted caramel, etc.—are good enough to support a stand-alone scoop shop.
But this is only the beginning. Patisserie 46 aims to soon start selling soups and sandwiches, based on its natural-starter breads (and by the way, that sourdough rye has some wonderfully earthy flavors and an extraordinary crumb). Kraus also says he's planning "a pretty big chocolate campaign" to roll out a line of truffles and such. So pretty soon we'll be able to get everything we need at Patisserie 46? "Just not a haircut," he quips.
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