Fun with Breakfast Cereal, Take 2

15 07 2013

Once again, I am way overdue for an update around here. I can explain. About three weeks ago, my life turned upside-down. In a good way. On a very rainy Monday morning, I was fortunate enough to join my friend Meg for a Paris by Mouth pastry tour. After the tour, Meg and I had lunch on the now-sunny terrace of a nondescript café. We talked about how my book was going, and the possibility of me leading some tours, and at some point I think I mentioned that I was starting to miss working in a professional kitchen. (Apparently, six months is about how long I am able to be unemployed before I get antsy.) The rest of the week was fairly uneventful, until Friday morning, when our dear friend Barbra emailed me that Frenchie was hiring a pastry chef for their new To Go restaurant. After checking out their menu, I thought that it could actually be a really good fit: the American-style breakfast pastries and other treats are the kind of thing I probably have the most experience making, and  it’s clearly an enterprise which places high value on food quality and seasonality, two things that are very important to me, too.

So I applied. A few clicks and my resumé zipped into the hands of chef Greg Marchand, who called me that very afternoon to set up an interview for the next day. Tuesday morning at 6:30 am, I was at work. And so far, it’s been great. The team is enthusiastic and professional, the chef is knowledgeable and passionate, and for the first time since I started working in Paris five years and two kitchens ago, I feel like I belong.

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The Best Thing I Ate in Corsica

12 06 2013

You might expect me to wax rhapsodic about the array of sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses, or gush about the intensely flavorful charcuterie, or rave about the freshness of the just-caught fish, but no. I’m here to extol a pastry. (And if you think about it, is that really so surprising after all?)

Almond " matchsticks"

Upon entering Ajaccio’s Boulangerie Galéani (for no discernible reason the only bakery there mentioned in any of the guide books I read) on the first morning of my weekend there in late May, I was met with the sight of these tempting allumettes aux amandes. Sure, we picked up some of the supposedly great canistrelli (like a smallish scone or thick shortbread cookie, but barely sweet and extremely dry), and some awesome cheese tarts made with the local brocciu (fresh sheep’s cheese, similar in texture to ricotta), but the allumette was the star of the show.

Imagine a thick twist of  puff pastry, probably made with salted butter, dunked in sweet meringue and sprinkled with salted almonds, then baked until crisp and caramelized. Alternately flaky, tender, crunchy, sweet and salty, it was truly one of the most surprising things I’ve eaten in quite a while. We visited other bakeries during our stay, and sampled many delicious things – mostly on the savory end of the spectrum, now that I think about it: turnovers filled with cheese, onions, and Swiss chard, sausages wrapped in croissant dough – but never saw another allumette aux amandes. So my recommendation, if you’re ever in Ajaccio, is to visit the Boulangerie Galéani, skip the canistrelli (which were pretty unimpressive) and the bread (I didn’t see a single good baguette the whole time I was there), and load up on these sweet-and-salty delights.

Of course, the setting in which we ate this pastry could have something to do with it. After hiking up and around a gorgeous peninsula…

Up

…we sat down to a picnic lunch high on a cliff overlooking the Iles Sanguinaires…

sunshine and sea air...

 

…which probably made everything taste better.

On this day in 2008: Nick’s Provençal Eggplant – a delicious ragoût, which I’m excited to make once eggplant comes back into season…hopefully only a few more weeks now.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Eleven Things, Eleven Questions

8 05 2013

My dear – and now many-miles-distant – friend Melissa has tagged me with the Liebster Award, a fun, navel-gazing meme that’s been going around.

LiebsterAward

To start, I’m supposed to share 11 things about myself. I thought it would be interesting to think of eleven ways my life has changed since moving to Paris, so here we go:

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Porter Chocolate Mousse

26 04 2013

St. Patrick’s Day, 1997. It’s spring break of my freshman year of college. I’m at a party with my boyfriend in his hometown, surrounded by his friends from high school. I’m halfheartedly sipping a Budweiser, as someone had given it to me and I didn’t want to seem stuck up by not accepting. You see, at the time, I didn’t think I liked beer. My boyfriend comes into the room holding a green plastic cup filled with a dark liquid. There is thick foam on top. It’s a Guinness Stout – a beer I’ve never seen, in a style I’ve never heard of. He offers me a sip. Hey! This is good! Really good! And all of a sudden it dawns on me why people like beer. I finally understand what Homer Simpson is talking about when he refers to “delicious, frosty, beer” and I want to know more. And I want more. And for the next few years, given a choice, I always choose a beer from the darker end of the spectrum: stouts, porters, brown ales, dunkels. Fortunately I am in the Pacific Northwest, and there is a lot of great beer to choose from.

Fast forward many years, and I’ve developed a certain taste for assertively hopped beers. I tend now to reserve stouts, porters, and the like for dessert. Which is how I ended up tasting the Porter Gourmande from My Beer Company last Friday night at Supercoin. The dark, lightly effervescent beer poured dark with a rich tan head*, making me nostalgic for that long-ago first Guinness. (Not the boyfriend, though, since he was with me. Yep, I married that guy.) This beer had a strong coffee nose, and fruity, almost grassy chocolate malt flavors rounded out with a hint of vanilla from real beans added during the ferment. It was actually an excellent dessert on its own, but I thought it would be fun to work it into a chocolate dessert for Beer Month. Since I’m focusing on chocolate mousse this month in the Paris Pastry Crawl, why not make a beer chocolate mousse?

cream, beer, chocolate

I couldn’t decide whether the beer would be better served by a dark chocolate or a milk chocolate, and since I happen to have lots of both in my kitchen (yes, that is a 3 kilo bag of Valrhona. What?), I figured I’d try it both ways.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Chocolate Mousse: Chapon

24 04 2013

rows of boxes

I knew I couldn’t do chocolate mousse month without a visit to Patrice Chapon‘s shop on the rue du Bac, because the single-origin mousse bar is pretty much the best thing to happen to chocolate mousse since, well, ever.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Chocolate Mousse Omnibus

9 04 2013

Perhaps I was a touch ambitious with my plans for the Paris Pastry Crawl. Eating all that pastry is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for people who are used to working in kitchens but now find themselves leading a much more sedentary lifestyle, nor is it for people who are trying to write their own baking books and therefore need to be baking and recipe testing (read: eating) at home, nor is it for anyone who can’t afford to replace her entire wardrobe with bigger clothes. Which is not to say I’m quitting.  But I think the monthly format might be a bit too much, despite my slowly increasing jogging and yoga habits.

I had wanted to talk about chocolate mousse for February, because of Valentine’s Day, but I think I was a little pastried out, and then that holiday came and went, and a few others, and here I am, two months later, finally ready to write about this incredibly versatile dessert.

You see, chocolate mousse is rarely seen as a stand-alone dessert in Parisian pastry shops. (It’s a different story in restaurants.) But it plays an important role in many of the elaborate tarts and cakes for which French pâtisseries are known. The one where I used to work, for example, had at least five different chocolate mousse recipes – not counting the milk and white variations – all with specific destinies as parts of various entremets. But we’ll talk about recipes another day. Today we’re playing catch up with the handful of chocolate mousse-based treats I’ve eaten over the last few months.

swoops of mousse

I wasn’t too impressed with Laurent Duchêne’s éclairs, but this chocolate-caramel tart went some way towards redeeming his work. The artful swoop of mild, smooth milk chocolate mousse concealed a filling of gooey caramel, cooked nice and dark, just like I like it. The crust was firm and crisp, but didn’t bring much chocolate flavor to the party. At 4.50, it’s one of the more expensive pastries in Duchêne’s shop, but still very reasonably priced.

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Beer Month, and the Return of Worthwhile French Beers

3 04 2013

Longtime readers of this blog (and pretty much anyone who’s ever met me) know how much I love beer.  So when I saw (via the always awesome Jenni, aka Pastry Chef Online) that Sophia of NY FoodGasm had gotten a group together to blog about beer this April, well, obviously I asked if I could participate. And, gracious hostess that she is, Sophia welcomed me to the group.

BeerMonth-logo

For the last couple of months I’ve been working on a project for Paris By Mouth, which has had me buying lots of beer in shops and bars (great work if you can get it!). But despite all the tasting, I was so focused on the places themselves that I never took any notes on specific beers. So last weekend Nick and I decided to go on an adventure in our own city, and rode bikes all the way across town to the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood in the 13th, a place we’d heard about but had never been. We wandered the cute, village-y streets and happened across a charming little organic shop with some beers in the window.

Brasserie Artisanale du Luberon

Naturally, we bought a bottle of each and brought them home for tasting.

Now, perhaps I should mention that Nick expressed some doubt about organic beers in general, which I dismissed as remnant of a bias we may have developed years ago, when the only non-industrial French beers we could find were usually organic, and tended to lack a certain finesse. At any rate, I figured they were worth a try.

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Pantry Cake, with a Beautiful Ratio

12 03 2013

Who among us has opted not to cook or bake something because the ingredients aren’t at hand?  I am especially guilty of this, mainly because I wait until I want to eat something before I decide to cook.  Leave the apartment?  Go shopping?*  No, I want something to eat NOW.  On the up side, this forces me to be creative, and tests my understanding of the way ingredients work (science!) on a pretty regular basis.  Here’s an example from yesterday. I was catching up on my blog reading, and found this delightful post about olive oil cake from The Hungry Dog.

Olive oil cake is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try, and this recipe sounded pretty great.  Until I started looking at the ingredients, and making mental substitutions: “Let’s see, I don’t have blood oranges, but I do have a jar of sour cherries I should use, maybe I could substitute those. Oh, wait, you need the juice, too, and I think the syrup the cherries are in will be too sweet. It would be easy to go get some oranges, but wait, it’s Monday and the fruit stand on the corner is closed. Besides, it’s sleeting…”

So I started casting around for another olive oil cake recipe. My cookbook collection was surprisingly silent on the subject.  I found a couple more recipes online, but they wanted me to separate the eggs and whip the whites and fold them in and it all sounded like kind of a hassle. But it occurred to me at some point that the olive oil is simply playing the role of the fat in a regular cake recipe. And I started to wonder if I could make an olive oil pound cake (quatre quarts in French) with a straight up 1:1:1:1 ratio of eggs, sugar, oil, and flour.  So I preheated my oven to 180C, weighed my eggs and got to it.**

My three eggs weighed in at 200 grams, so I scaled out 200 grams each of granulated sugar, cake flour, and extra virgin olive oil (pretty good stuff, but not the very best) in separate containers, and I drained that jar of sour cherries, which gave me about 2 cups of fruit, weighing about 350 grams.  I wanted some insurance that the cake would rise, so I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Eyeballing the ingredients on the counter, I guessed that this cake was going to fit best in my 10″ tube pan, so I oiled it and dusted it with flour.

Mise en place done, I started whipping the eggs in my second biggest bowl with my new hand mixer (I didn’t want to buy it, but now that I have it, I’m really glad I did), adding the sugar as I whipped.  I kept whipping the eggs and sugar until they lightened in color and  got thick and creamy looking.  (In some circles, we call this the “ribbon stage”, where drizzling the whipped eggs over themselves results in a thick ribbon that remains distinct for at least three seconds before melting back into the whole.) Whipping the whole time, I slowly drizzled in the olive oil and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  I thought it looked like airy mayonnaise, which it basically was, and all of a sudden those cakes made with mayonnaise made more sense and sounded less disgusting.  Finally, I sifted the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together over the batter and folded them in with a rubber spatula until the batter was smooth.

I spread about half of this in the tube pan, sprinkled about two-thirds of the cherries over it, and topped with the remaining half of the batter and the rest of the cherries.  At this point, I thought it might be nice to put some pistachios on top for crunch and because they’re so good with cherries.  So I grabbed a handful of shelled pistachios and scattered them over the cake.  And a sprinkling of cassonade for added sparkle.  After 45 minutes in the oven, the cake was a lovely golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean.  I let it cool a bit and dug in.

a sunny cake on a snowy day

The cherries had sunk to the bottom, as I feared they might, but the cake is still marvelous.  The crumb is velvety-fine and tender, with just a hint of crunch on top from the pistachios and cassonade.  The olive oil lends a subtle, earthy fruitiness, and the sour cherries offer bright bursts of juicy flavor.  It was as great for dessert as it was for breakfast, and makes a fine snack as well.  Interestingly, the flavors seemed to solidify overnight, so the olive oil notes are more pronounced the next day.

I’m kind of in love with this cake.  Only problem is, now I’m out of olive oil and sour cherries.  I suppose a trip to the store will be in order soon…

*In Paris, this can be a serious time commitment.  It’s rarely the case that you can just pop out really quick and grab that one ingredient you’re missing, because even though the shop downstairs always has the kind of flour you’re looking for, the one time you really need it fast, they’re out. So you walk to the next store, probably a few blocks away.  They don’t even carry what you need.  And it goes on like that, until you finally find the flour, but in the meantime you’ve thought of a bunch of other things you need, and then you call home to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, load up your shopping bag and lug it home.  By then any energy you had for cooking is sapped, so you scrap the whole idea and decide to try again tomorrow.

**I weighed the eggs first because they are the least flexible of the ingredients – I can weigh out any amount of flour, sugar, or olive oil I wish, but if I arbitrarily decide I want to use, say 150 grams of each, and then my eggs weigh 60 grams each, well, it’s not going to work so well.  Weighing the eggs first means I can just scale everything else to match their weight.

On this day in 2010: Wadja (A cool little bistro.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Two Birthdays In One

18 02 2013

As you may or may not remember, this blog was essentially on hiatus for most of 2012.  It made me sad to miss celebrating the fourth birthday of Croque-Camille, but work came first.  Now I have a little more time again, so I’m here to right old wrongs and have a proper fourth birthday party!  And fifth.  Because here we are, five years after I started writing here, five years and a few weeks after I moved to Paris, five years and a few days after my own thirtieth birthday, three apartments and two jobs later, and I still love it.  So here goes: a month-by-month recap of the last two years.  When we last left off, it was…

February 2011: There was plenty of exploring, both in town and in the country, and I also started my gig at Girls’ Guide to Paris, where I wrote the recipe of the month for a little over a year.

March 2011: The trip to Budapest was great, and the opening of Candelaria changed the face of Mexican food in Paris, but most of my time was spent looking for yet another new apartment.

April 2011: We did eventually find that apartment (the one we’re in now, and so happy we didn’t have to move last year) and moved in.  I also managed to draw up a post outlining what I think makes a successful fruit salad.  I need to make that kiwi salad again – I have a lot of kiwis right now.

May 2011: I bid farewell to my old neighborhood, still a lively and bustling street that seems to be sprouting new trendy restaurants every week these days.  I also got to spend the day with Katia and Kyliemac, chatting and eating pastries for their podcast.

June 2011: I puzzled over potential career moves (and despite how it all turned out, I don’t think I made the wrong decision) and took a break in St. Malo, eating cheese and kouign amann.

July 2011: Indian cooking, a newfound obsession with vegetable and grain salads, a glorious trip to the Languedoc, and chocolate and candies from Fouquet.

August 2011: The month started with a tour of my new/current kitchen and ended with a delightful meal at Au Passage. (Incidentally, we ate at chef James Henry’s new restaurant, Bones, for my birthday, and loved it.) In between there was Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and Italian eating, and the Four Pounds of Cheese project, where I tried to reduce food waste, and mostly succeeded.

September 2011: In which I try to pretend summer isn’t over yet with a delicious watermelon-basil sorbet.

October 2011: I gave notice at work and announced my new (now former) job as executive pastry chef at Blend.  Speaking of blends, I wrote what I like to think is a helpful post about making your own spice blends.

November 2011: Won a book, made ice cream, ate cheese, started the new (now former) job, and still squeezed in a quick getaway to eat sausage and drink beer in Köln.

December 2011: Opened a restaurant.  Thought I’d share some of my hard-earned knowledge about working with yeast and natural starter.

January-April 2012: Worked pretty much every day.

May 2012: I optimistically thought I would be able to start blogging regularly again.  I made it to one post, a quick, easy recipe for jerk chicken (and some quinoa to go with it) (this was before quinoa was evil).

June-October 2012: Increasingly miserable at work, much-needed vacation, arrange to leave work.

November 2012: Catching up with the blog, defining my life via baking – muffins, wedding cakes, Twinkies.

December 2012: I put the smack down on the “macaron”, and develop some recipes for the McCormick Flavor Forecast.  My friends are still talking about these caramel sage bars.

January 2013: And I started the Paris Pastry Crawl (which I realize I haven’t touched yet for February, but there’s still time). I didn’t mean to rag on Laurent Duchêne quite so much, but I thought it was a valuable lesson, and helpful to show you, my dear readers, what can go wrong when making an éclair.

A huge thank you to all of my readers, past and present, who have kept me going for five (!!!) years.  I might babble into the ether regardless, but it’s so much more rewarding when I know people are out there, reading and commenting and sharing and just generally being interesting people who I love to interact with, whether in cyberspace or real life.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Paris Pastry Crawl 2103: Éclairs: The Recipe

8 02 2013

I do believe I promised recipes to accompany my Pastry Crawl so that those of you not in Paris can enjoy along with me.  With the exception of Christophe Adam, French bakers in general adhere very strictly to the rules of éclair making: e.g. If  it’s a chocolate éclair, it has chocolate filling and chocolate icing.  If it’s a coffee éclair, it has coffee filling and light brown, hopefully coffee-flavored icing.  Rarely is it anything else.  And yet, in the United States, a chocolate eclair is almost always filled with vanilla pudding (yes, pastry cream is hardly more than a fancy name for pudding (in the American sense.  Don’t make me open the British pudding can of worms.)) and glazed with chocolate.  So I suffer none of these compunctions, instead viewing the éclair as a canvas for whatever flavor combination strikes my fancy.  On this particular occasion, inspired in part by a recent post on Not Without Salt extolling the virtues of butterscotch pudding, I chose to make my filling butterscotch.

unadorned

I am admittedly out of practice piping éclairs, my muscle memory being confused between the lusty behemoths we used to make in the States and the skinnier, more uptight ones I became accustomed to making in Paris.  You can see examples of both in the above photo, insert fat American joke here.

!#@%*

Let it be noted that the fatter an éclair is, the greater the cream-to-pastry ratio.  Do with that what you will.

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