Penultimate dessert: Chef offers sweet team mascots to honor playoffs



As they begin a rare (recently) playoff run, how do the Penguins look?

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette photos
The real Penguins don't look quite as delicious.
Click photo for larger image.

It depends on your perspective. If you look at them from the Millvale bakery of Jean-Marc Chatellier, the guys look short, soft and sweet.

These penguins are pastries, handmade from sponge cake layered with chocolate mousse and a bit of brownie frosting, wrapped with marzipan and dipped in Belgian dark chocolate.

Mr. Chatellier, a fan of the Penguins hockey team, recently started icing numbers on the backs of the treats in honor of the team's making the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

He actually learned to make the small-p penguins before he knew anything about hockey. He was a 15-year-old apprentice baker in his native France, and a goalie on a soccer team. These penguins were a singular specialty of his boss, master pastry chef Georges Merlet (who still makes them at his bakery in Chateaubriant).

Mr. Chatellier discovered hockey after coming to America and meeting the woman who would become his wife, Sandra, who at the time was doing marketing work for the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings. This was pre-Wayne Gretzsky. They got to go to a lot of games free.

When the couple moved to Pittsburgh in 1987, Mario Lemieux and his French-Canadian accent were in their third season here.

"On several occasions when we went out, people would ask [Jean-Marc] if he was Mario Lemieux," Mrs. Chatellier recalls. "He'd say 'Mario who?' This piqued his interest in the Penguins."

He now cheers for Pittsburgh's hockey team as well as for his beloved soccer, but it was his wife and their two daughters who persuaded him to make the penguins to sell to the public with players' numbers on them.

He's even put up a sign with the roster, so customers and workers can match numbers and players.

The "big guys" such as No. 87 Sidney Crosby are popular, and Mr. Chatellier still makes a No. 66 for Mr. Lemieux. He leaves some blank so he can put on custom numbers of other fans' favorite players, even if they happen to be their own children.

"No two are alike," he says, grinning as he pops a piece of one into his mouth. They're rich, he concedes, but not too big for one person: "You cut it in three pieces and eat one each period."

The penguins last only two or three days and must be refrigerated, but they're hot: The batch he made last Thursday was gone by Friday, he reports.

He was making some recently when a woman came in to order a cake for her May 25 wedding. Both she and her fiance are diehard Penguin fans who hold season and playoff tickets. Guess what tuxedoed figures they're now going to have as toppers for their wedding cake?

Mt. Washington's Shannon Maughan says the cake is otherwise traditional that she ordered for her wedding to Jim Stevenson, which could conceivably happen during a playoff game. Mr. Chatellier has kindly offered to take the couple's tickets.

"Everyone in our section been razzing us: 'Who gets married in the NHL playoffs?' Who knew the Penguins were going to the playoffs?" she says with a laugh. "It's just been really fun."

The penguin pastries are priced at $5 each and Mr. Chatellier plans to keep making them for at least as long as the Penguins continue to play. They take a lot of work, so he can't mass produce them, but he says he'll try to have some on hand when the bakery is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Saturday, he closes at 2 p.m., which is "perfect," he says, "because the game is at 3").

For more information, call 412-821-8533 or visit www.jeanmarcchatellier.com.

Jean-Marc Chatellier puts a batch of penguin pastries into the refrigerated case in his Millvale bakery. The pastries are made of sponge cake filled with chocolate mousse, wrapped with marzipan and chocolate and decorated with numbers of Penguins players.
Click photo for larger image.

Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.




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