Whenever I make a trip to Souk elTayeb in downtown Beirut, I know there is one stop I will make every time: AnneMarie‘s.
I have had pastries from the best: in Paris at Pierre Hermé or Ladurée or Fauchon. I still prefer Anne-Marie’s.
Eggplant pies, banana cream tartes, meat pies or her tartes Tatin are just better.
Because they taste homemade, fresh, with the unmistakable flavor of the finest butter, which permeates her tarts and cakes, sweet and savory.
Maybe it is also the fact that what I long for, deeply, is not some super-sophisticate and intricate pastry, but something that makes me feel like my grandmother is still around and making it just for me.
Anne-Marie is someone who ditched job security in pharmaceutical sales to pursue her passion. She enrolled in pastry school in Paris, France; she worked the grueling twenty-hour days atGèrard Mulot and Sanderens.
The exposure there was crucial: she saw that these great chefs attached a fanatical importance to the quality of raw products, always on the lookout for the absolute best of the best, an approach she has adopted in her craft (for our benefit!). I remember one time as I was looking at her pound cakes, she pointed at the lemon one and said: ” You know I just came back from a week on the Amalfi coast and the lemons there were so huge and so tasty, I had to bring some back with me and make these cakes”
Her dedication to her craft is evident when you see her toiling with only one helper; she now has a faithful clientele and could expand, but she maintains that she will always remain an artisan, concerned first and foremost about the quality of her product.
I have tried to analyze why her pastries are so special: one of the reasons has to do with her unabashed reliance on first-grade butter: not margarine, not oil, not samneh (oriental butter). Plain butter. Her crusts are buttery, crunchy (never soggy), her puff pastry unbelievably crispy and heavenly paired with her pastry cream.
I dare you not to swoon after a bite of her silky eggplant pie. I have had to hide her orange pound cake from my son and his buddy in order to keep a few slices to myself.