29 Rue Debelleyme, Paris; 011-33-01-44-613-144
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Popelini, the pastry shop Lauren Koumetz opened this month in Paris’s Marais neighborhood, is devoted exclusively to pâte à choux, or cream puffs, the bite-size flavour shots that offer a sugar lover an alternative to France’s superstar macaron. On any given day, the choux are lined up in a half dozen flavours including dark chocolate, lemon praline, salted butter caramel, Madagascar vanilla and rose; some have an additional confit filling of passion fruit or raspberry. And then there’s the choux du jour, dreamed up by the pastry chef Alice Barday, which might be strawberry-litchi, Earl Grey tea, pear, or tiramisu.
Koumetz, 26, was raised in the Marais and developed a passion for choux as a child. Her father owns the recently rechristened Lette (formerly Paulette) macaron shops in Beverly Hills and San Francisco. “I have a real sweet tooth, and it occurred to me that a lot could be done with cream puffs,” she says. “I was frustrated that there wasn’t more variety beyond the classic éclairs in chocolate and coffee, and the Paris-Brest — made from choux pastry and praline-flavored cream, created to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race in 1891.” Popelini is named for the Italian pastry chef who came up with the recipe for choux in 1540 at the court of Catherine de Medicis, a queen who knew her way around the kitchen.
Koumetz tested her idea on her friend Christophe Michalak, the pastry chef for Alain Ducasse at Paris’s Hotel Plaza Athénée. “He thought it was great and introduced me to Alice Barday, who debuted with him and went on to the restaurant Pic and Ladurée,” Koumetz says. “Alice is 24 and she was scared at first to strike out on her own after working as part of a team, but we got along great so she took the plunge.” The two holed up in Koumetz’s kitchen for two months to fine-tune their recipe.
Popelini’s little shop off Rue de Bretagne, a major market street in the Marais, did not remain a secret for long. Sarah Lerfel of Colette was an early fan (the choux are current guest stars on the menu of the store’s Water Bar restaurant), and special orders are coming in for pièces montées, the choux pileup, held together with threads of crunchy caramel, that is a French wedding-cake tradition.
Asked to define what it is about choux she finds so attractive, Koumetz says it’s the round, bite-size shape: “They’re so small you can indulge without feeling guilty, or bring them as a gift to dinner without upsetting your host if they have made a dessert. And unlike cupcakes, choux are so refined and very French.”