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Jan 16

El Paso Pastry Party!

Belle Sucre (7500 North Mesa Street, #307)

Having recently moved to El Paso from Montréal, a city teeming with quality pastry shops (especially French pâtisseries), I was on the lookout for a competent pastry shop here in town as soon as I landed. Belle Sucre was my first discovery, one that has, in terms of creativity, execution, and consistency, only been matched so far by Orange Peel. (To boot, Jonathan Bowden, the chef behind the shop, boasts a delightfully sardonic sense of humour!) I have to admit I was initially ambivalent about giving Belle Sucre a try, the grammatical mistake in its name (“sucre,” a masculine noun, being “beau,” not “belle”) casting doubt on the quality of its confections. In the end, my (I admit, exaggerated) worries were unfounded. While I have found Belle Sucre to struggle ever so slightly with actual French pastries (the filling of their éclair au chocolat is unintentionally reminiscent of chocolate pudding), they excel at putting a French twist on classic American desserts (e.g, pumpkin pie). Indeed, these “classics with a twist” are always inspired and expertly executed, substituting American desserts’ usually homemade quality (by no means an undesirably thing) with French finesse and precision. À se lécher les babines!

Belle SucreIn addition to being a pastry shop, Belle Sucre also doubles as a bakery, offering baked goods like croissants and baguettes (as well as hybrid abominations like cronuts and cruffins, which, in Belle Sucre’s defence, are always an instance of the whole being lesser than the sum of its parts, regardless of the baker behind them). Rather impressively, Belle Sucre has managed to create the only baguette I know of in all of El Paso that technically qualifies as an actual baguette. (All other so-called “baguettes” I have had in town so far are simply elongated dinner buns.) While its aroma, crust, and taste are right on target, the crumb’s texture is, unfortunately, not as baguette-like as it could be: dry-ish and speckled with small pockets of air, instead of soft and “stretchy” with medium to large pockets of air. While this problem (possibly due to altitude) prevents Belle Sucre’s baguette from feeling completely authentic, it remains a baguette in all other respects, and, despite its limitations, an enjoyable one at that. Now if only El Paso would produce a decent fromagerie and charcuterie to enjoy Belle Sucre’s baguettes with!

Re-reading my review, I feel like I am being rather hard on Belle Sucre, considering the sheer quality of its diverse and ambitious products. I choose to leave my review intact, however, but qualify it with this: I am being hard on Belle Sucre because it is so close to pastry and bakery perfection—indeed, it reminds me of the better pâtisseries and bakeries in my home town—that the small issues that prevent it from reaching those culinary heights become even more noticeable. However noticeable these issues may be, however, do not let them stop you from visiting Belle Sucre. I certainly haven’t!

Orange Peel (4700 North Mesa Street)

Orange Peel could stand toe-to-toe with Montreal’s more eclectic (and less traditional) pastry shops (e.g., Pâtisserie Rhubarbe), were it to spontaneously relocate there.

Orange PeelInside this diminutive (but oh so quaint) pastry shop stands a refrigerated glass display filled with triple-threat confections that a) are simultaneously playful and homey in appearance, b) demonstrate exquisite texture (a feat made all the more surprising by the fact that many of the confections are gluten-free), and c) feature creatively combined and expertly balanced flavours that bring into play natural aromas and just enough sweetness. (Indeed, in a rare show of restraint for an American dessert establishment, sweetness is here kept on a leash, letting instead aromas come to the forefront of the flavour experience.)

Although pastries on offer change regularly, new arrivals always come across as completely thought-through and carefully put-together, as if their recipes had been worked on and perfected over years. (Fortunately, old favourites make regular comebacks!) Indeed, there is an effortless quality to how the one single chef behind Orange Peel, Julie Adauto, comes up with and executes new recipes, one that testifies to the extent of her pastry passion, knowledge, and skills. To top it all off, Chef Adauto is extremely friendly and always a joy to talk to and discuss her work with. Fortement recommandé!

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