Le Petit Prince Bakery and Patisserie
It's a pastry that whispers rather than shouts.
Oval shaped, sprinkled with almond slices just barely browned around the edges, the mistral at Le Petit Prince sits quietly in the display case, not even trying to compete with the shelves of brilliantly colored seasonal treats.
“It’s my favorite,” says Adrien Didierjean, the person you’re most likely to see behind the cash register at the pocket-sized bakery and patisserie located in a Birmingham strip mall. One bite of the mistral evokes pure bliss: the almond paste and raspberry filling, cloaked in a crust that glistens with butter, perfectly balances rich with light.
Adrien’s mother, Yvette, invented the mistral—as well as the tambourine, a round blueberry version; and the pointu, shaped like the small boat it’s named for and filled with strawberries. They’re just three confections that make Le Petit Prince unique.
That’s of primary importance to the Didierjean family— which, in addition to Adrien and Yvette, includes father Marcel, brothers Cyrille and Gregory and daughter Marlene—since the opportunity to bring a uniquely and unquestionably French experience to Michigan was what motivated them to come here in the first place.
Yvette explains, in an accent redolent of Fréjus, France, why the family decided to relocate: “One of our French customers had friends from Rochester, who would visit them,” she says. “They got to know my in-laws, who owned the bakery in Fréjus, and they would say, ‘You have to come to Michigan, we have nothing like this!’” The Michiganders invited Marcel’s parents to visit, and they agreed, moving in 1979. Soon after, they sold the store in France and brought over Marcel, Yvette and the kids in 1982.
The new store was housed in a former Polish bakery with an enormous brick oven. “We can do many loaves at once. We don’t need to run the heat in winter, it gets so hot,” says Yvette—a plus, as Yvette found Michigan winters to be one of the most difficult parts of adjusting to their new home. From France, the family brought pastry and bread pans, chocolate molds and a special steamer to give baguettes their distinctive shattering crust—as well as a wealth of recipes, most of which are not written down.
Perhaps most important of all was the ambience one would typically expect to find in a small town in Provence. “I try to do here the same way I would do in France,” says Yvette. “What I like the most is getting to know the customer. This is what makes my job more pleasant. I knew some kids when they were in diapers, and now they bring their kids in. I knew the grandma, the maman.”
The schedule is demanding. Marcel, who does not speak English, comes in daily at 2:30am, working until 6:30 at night to create the perpetual supply of baguettes, croissants, brioche, quiche and the bakery’s special pains au chocolat, which contain both chocolate and almond paste and inspire swooning reviews online.
Yvette arrives at 8am, and often stays until the time when Marcel comes back to work. In addition to creating new pastries, she spends hours painting chocolate molds from France. White chocolate serves as the base for brilliantly colored embellishments; some will grace cakes, others will embellish larger chocolate shapes. She also decorates cookies that change with the seasons: pumpkins and bats at Halloween, turkeys at Thanksgiving, and a riot of ornaments, angels and trees for December. The new year brings King Cake, a flaky confection flavored with almond paste, and featuring a tiny clay figurine—a shepherd, animal or goose girl—baked somewhere inside.
The rest of the family—with the exception of Marlene, who lives in California—pitches in as well. Cyrille and Gregory both put in hours on weekends or in the very early morning before heading to their day jobs. Adrien works in the front of the store, and also supplies some of the artwork for sale, including his charming illustrated books: A Journey, Bon Croissant and his latest, Right Yield, scheduled for publication in early 2016. A student at both Kendall College and the Institute for Creative Studies in Detroit, Adrien remembers his first job: building cardboard boxes when he was 5 or 6. “I would get maybe a dollar,” he says, shooting a wry smile at Yvette.
“Oh, yes, I’m a mean mother,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many times I heard that. Why do you make us speak French? Why do we have to work? But now they are hard workers, and they are very glad they can speak French.” That comes in handy when the family makes its annual summer trek back to Fréjus, when Le Petit Prince closes for several weeks so that the Didierjeans can get some hard-earned rest.
But never fear. Like the wind for which it’s named, the mistral will always return—delectable as ever, and accompanied by more unique creations available only at Le Petit Prince.
Le Petit Prince
124 W. 14 Mile Rd., Birmingham