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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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: L’Éclair de Génie

1 02 2013

Somehow January is already over.  But éclair month is still going (I got a bit of a late start, and then my internet was down for ten days, so I figure I can borrow a few days from February).  I think at this point, a little history of the éclair is in order.

rows of éclairs

I went to the library to do my pastry research, but it turns out that the best information I found was right on my own bookshelf, in Dorie Greenspan’s lovely Around My French Table.  She explains that they were invented and named by Carême.  One of the first celebrity chefs, Carême gained fame in the late 18th and early 19th centuries because of his elaborate pastry creations called pièces montées.  The tradition lives on today, mainly in the form of the croquembouche, still popular for French weddings and other celebrations.  So it’s safe to say the guy liked his pâte à choux.  Dorie writes that Carême was the fist to pipe it into “long, fingerlike shapes.”

Once the pastry was baked, he sliced the strips in half, filled them with pastry cream, and glazed their tops, creating an enduring classic, which he christened éclairs (éclair means lightning).  No one’s certain why he called the slender pastries lightning…I hold with the camp convinced that the name described the way and éclair is eaten – lightning fast.

Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table

yes, please

Like most French words, éclair can be translated more than one way.  I’ve always thought of it as a flash, which makes the name of éclair guru Christophe Adam’s shop a cute play on words: L’Éclair de Génie becomes “the flash of genius”.  Adam, probably best known as the pastry chef who made Fauchon a destination for éclairs with his collection of imaginative takes on the classic pastry, now has his own shop which sells éclairs and truffles.  I found out about it on Dorie’s delightful blog (where would I be without her?) and knew that I would have to include it in my éclair tasting.  I am not disappointed.

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Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: Laurent Duchêne

28 01 2013

One of the purposes of this Pastry Crawl (yes, there’s a purpose beyond eating ridiculous amounts of dessert) is to get out into this glorious city and sample treats from shops unfamiliar to me, and add to my ever-growing list of favorites.  To that end, David Lebovitz’ Paris Pastry app has come in incredibly handy.  Without it, I might never have learned that MOF Pâtissier Laurent Duchêne had a shop not far from my apartment, and only a couple blocks from the library where I am spending an increasing amount of time.

colors!

The shop is lovely, and I regret that I could only buy four desserts (two éclairs, two others to be revealed at a later date), because the galettes des rois looked wonderful, as did the croissants.  But it was evening, and I knew it wouldn’t do the croissants justice to eat them the next morning, so I’m just going to have to get myself out of the house in the a.m. hours one of these days (I can hardly imagine how I used to get up at 5!) and grab one fresh.

I have another hope for the project as well: that by trying the same pastry at different shops, I can get an idea of each chef’s style, and an interesting cross-section of the many ways to interpret a classic.  That I can continue to hone my palate, identify what makes a particular dessert great or less so, how the elements of a given pastry contribute to its ultimate success or failure, and how they can be manipulated to achieve the desired effect.  So, you know, I’m not just stuffing my face.  It’s for science.

All this is to say that not every pastry is going to be a winner.  It’s statistically impossible.  There are loads of really bad bakeries out there, even in Paris (maybe especially in Paris, given that there are so many of them here, which is why a good guidebook or app is so important) and I can usually spot them with a simple glance at the case.  If the éclairs are topped with dull, ugly fondant, that’s strike one.  If the tarts look old, with the filling cracking or pulling away from the crust, that’s strike two.  If they’re selling Chupa Chups or Kinder Buenos – there’s a TV ad that infuriates me, where Tony Parker and some lady walk into a bakery, and then they start fighting over the last Kinder Bueno despite the fact that there is a case full of supposedly fresh, handmade sweets and they want the stupid packaged thing… What was I talking about again?  Oh, yes, huge pastries are also generally a bad sign.  But I think I’m getting off track here.

So as I was saying, I picked up two éclairs at Laurent Dubois’ shop, chocolate and vanilla.  I was disappointed to note that the chocolate and coffee éclairs were glazed in fondant, but pleased to see that the vanilla one was not.

two peas in a pod?

You don’t actually see vanilla éclairs that often, which is one reason I chose it.  And I always approve of an éclair that isn’t covered in fondant.  The sugar cookie baked into the top of this one gave it a pleasant slight crunch – a nice textural contrast to the smooth pastry cream inside.

no specks of vanilla bean

I was a bit discouraged to note the lack of vanilla bean in the custard, but overall, this éclair was fine.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The chocolate éclair turned out to be a near-perfect example of the typically shoddy work done by apprentices.  (Éclairs, being classic and relatively simple to prepare, often fall to the apprentices.  It is supposed to teach them some basic skills used in the pâtisserie, such as using a piping bag, how to tell when the fondant is the right temperature, and tasting to see if the cream has enough chocolate/coffee/etc. flavor.)  The kid who filled this one didn’t do it carefully enough, and I got a bite with no filling in it!

nocream!

Also, the fondant.  (Maybe I should take a short aside here and explain that here I am talking about poured fondant, which is used to glaze éclairs, millefeuilles, petits fours, and things like that.  Not to be confused with rolled fondant, which is what they use to give wedding cakes that smooth finish.  I’m not really a fan of that stuff either, but that’s another post.)  I know from experience that this stuff is not easy to work with.  Glazing éclairs with fondant is one of my very least favorite things to do, because if the fondant is too cold or thick it won’t coat properly, but if you get it too hot it will be dull when it cools and in the meantime it will run everywhere and in either case your fingers get really sticky and after the first few nice, pretty, clean éclairs you either have to stop and wash your hands or keep going, knowing that the edges are getting increasingly sloppy and smeared. Like this:

blech

And it doesn’t taste good, either, unless you like gritty, vaguely chemical-processed flavored sugar.

LDchocolat

Those faults aside, the choux pastry was reasonably good, and I liked the chocolate pastry cream.  Although the prices were relatively low – around 3 euros apiece, or a little over half the price of an éclair from Fauchon or La Pâtisserie des Rêves – I probably won’t be back to Laurent Duchêne for the éclairs.  I still want to try that croissant, though.

On this day in 2010: Mora and La Bovida (still two of my favorite places to shop)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Paris Pastry Crawl 2013: Éclairs: La Pâtisserie des Rêves

23 01 2013

And with nearly three-quarters of the vote, Paris Pastry Crawl is the undisputed winner!  Thank you all for voting, and now, let the gluttony commence.  We’re going to start off the series with the éclair, quite possibly the most iconic of all French pastries, and certainly the first I was familiar with, thanks to a francophile mother and the Beaverton Bakery (hey!  they’re still around!), where she used to take me and my brother after school for a treat if we’d been good… or maybe if she had a hankering herself.  Now, of course, I live in Paris, and finding an éclair doesn’t require a special trip, though sometimes it should.

anticipation...

La Pâtisserie des Rêves has been around for a few years now, but I admit I didn’t feel all that compelled to go.  Something about the bell jars covering the pastries on display just seemed so clinical.  Impersonal.  Sterile.  But just before Christmas, chef Philippe Conticini put out a gorgeous book (with an irresistible puffy cover).  Onto my Amazon wishlist it went, and what do you know? Santa Claus deemed that I had been a good girl.  Flipping through the pages, I realized that these pastries weren’t sterile at all.  The swoop of toasted meringue on the lemon tart, the overgrown rolled brioche, the opulent use of vanilla beans – this is the way I like to bake!  Obviously, a visit was now in order.

inside-out

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Colorova, and a New Project for 2013!

10 01 2013

I can’t imagine what my life in Paris would be like without this blog.  Not only do I owe the majority of my friendships (apart from Nick’s colleagues, that is) to it, but it’s also been responsible for getting me out into the city, trying new places and dishes, a handful of professional contacts, and even the very apartment I live in.  So it’s sad how neglectful I’ve been of this space in the past year, and I’m starting 2013 with the determination to give it the care and attention it deserves.

colorful Colorova

This was but one topic of discussion with my friend Ann (we met through our blogs and bonded over a shared love of xiaolongbao) as we sipped tea and snacked on pastries in the colorful salon de thé at Colorova (which I learned about on my friend Lindsey’s blog).

Colorova cakes

The pastries, like the room itself, are stylish and artful.  We sampled a tart with speculoos, peanut mousse, and caramel and a “cube” of chocolate cake layered with ganache and passionfruit cream.  In the case of the latter, its beauty surpassed its deliciousness – I think both the chocolate and passionfruit flavors lacked intensity, a fault that maybe as simple to remedy as adding a pinch of salt.  I was smitten with the tart, but Ann wondered what it might be like with a different nut.  Of course, she’s been in the States for the last few months, so maybe she’s not as easily swayed by peanut-flavored things as I am, given that they’re still kind of a novelty in France.

At some point in our conversation, Ann reminded me that I used to have various projects for Croque-Camille, like when I spent each month in 2009 delving into a different regional cuisine of France.  Not only are things like that fun for readers, but I learn from doing them as well.  And it also acts as something of an instant content generator for the blog.  Don’t know what to write about?  Well, what’s this month’s project?  Much less writer’s block.

So I’m starting a new project.  This year, I will dedicate each month to a different French pastry.  I’ll taste examples of said pastry at several pâtisseries around town, learn about the history of it, and give recipe pointers so that you, readers from all across the globe, can bake and eat along with me.  Sound like fun?  I think so.  But I do need your help with one little detail:

Thank you all so much for your help, and your continued readership. It means the world to me.

On this day in 2009: And You Thought The Holidays Were Over (Ah, Galette des Rois season…)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Seasonal Cooking, Holiday Baking

26 12 2012

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!  I hope you’ve already had a lovely long weekend with family and friends, and that you’ll have a few more occasions to celebrate the end of this year, the Winter Solstice, or anything else that gives you a chance to eat and drink with your loved ones.

I feel like I haven’t been doing as much cooking as I normally do this time of year – in lieu of planning elaborate meals, I’ve been focused on relaxing and reflecting, simmering big pots of stew to be eaten over several days.  Oh, I’ve baked some cookies and whipped up some eggnog, but instead of my customary Christmas foie gras, I got a capon roast from the butcher, neatly tied with a chestnut-and-liver-sausage filling.  All I had to do was sear it on the stove and let it finish roasting in the oven for a nearly effortless Christmas Eve meal.

And yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t scored some hits all the same.  I’ve been noodling around with the McCormick Flavor Forecast, and found a couple of great ways to incorporate my very favorite of their proposed flavor combinations: Cider, Sage, and Molasses.  Of all the options, this one seemed to me the most supremely seasonal, with its earthy-herbal sage, bittersweet molasses, and tangy apple cider.  I toyed around with some pear cider ideas, but the apple ideas came out on top.

So I have two recipes to share with you today. One a lentil salad – we ate it once with pan-fried sausages, and finished it off with our capon roast on Christmas Eve; the other an indulgent bar cookie whose touch of sage and dark molasses make it distinctly grown-up (there are plenty of other cookies for the kids, anyway).

Here’s to a year-end filled with love, happiness, and delectable eats!

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Confessions of a Macaron Hater

20 12 2012

Okay, it’s probably never been anything as strong as hate.  But “Confessions of a Macaron Ambivalent” isn’t as good a title, now is it?  My general reaction to the macaron-mania of the last few years has been a combination of eye-rolling and ignoring (not unlike what I went through with cupcakes around 2007, but that irritation has mellowed with time, and now I only roll my eyes at stupid cupcakes, by which I mean ones that are more about looking cute than tasting good, or ones that are clearly made just because they’re trendy – red velvet, I’m talking to you here, if people would just take a second to consider how much dye it takes to color a chocolate cake red they would just order a devil’s food cake with cream cheese icing which is a million times better – but I digress, please pardon the run-on parenthetical but I really do hate red velvet cake which is another post entirely).  About the macarons, here’s why.  The grand majority of macarons are composed of the same four ingredients: egg whites, sugar, almond meal, and food coloring.  You whip the egg whites to a meringue, fold in the other stuff, pipe out a gajillion little circles, let them rest so they develop the proper “feet” and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  Sorry, I fell asleep there.  Frankly, the things bore me silly.

Except.

my downfall

I don’t know how it happened.  I might have Heather to blame, a known macaron-lover at whose birthday party last year they were unavoidable.  Or maybe all those pictures on the internet finally wore me down.  Probably not, though.  No, I think the answer is simpler.  Pierre Hermé.  His book on the topic was so pretty I almost wanted to buy it.  Seeing them lined up in his shop, all shiny with luster dust (which I should be opposed to, but it’s just so pearly and delightful to look at… when it’s used correctly, that is), I couldn’t help but smile.  And then one day, hungry for a little sweet snack, I wandered in for a pastry and thought how gorgeous and interesting all his flavor combinations are and how it was a shame I couldn’t take them all home and it hit me that the macarons offered many of these same flavor combinations in bite-size format – I could try three flavors for the price of one individual cake!  So it began.  One of the flavors I chose that day was white truffle and hazelnut, and I admit I picked it because I thought it would be disgusting and therefore justify my dislike of the macaron in general.  Oh, how wrong I was.  The thing is marvelous – you start with a nose full of truffle and you think it’s going to be too turpentiney-strong, but then there’s a crunch of rich, buttery hazelnut and the whole thing is brought into balance.

So I could no longer justify my annoyance with the macaron based on its taste. (Which is not to say there aren’t hordes of really bad, too-dry or too-sweet or too electric blue examples out there.  There are.)  However, I learned something a couple of weeks ago that might just blow the top off this whole macaron charade.  You see, IT’S ALL A LIE!

According to L’Art Culinaire Français, a classic tome of French cookery published in 1950, macarons aren’t macarons at all.  While poring over said book with my good friend Jennifer, a fellow Macaron Eye-Roller, we discovered that the traditional macaron is a much more rustic affair – no meringue, so they’re denser, and the almonds less finely ground, so they have some texture.  There’s also no filling in this classic recipe.  Pictured next to the macaron in the accompanying photo was something called a “patricien” which was identical in looks and method to the little pastry we know as the macaron today.  It’s not really all that scandalous, I admit, but when and why did the name change?  Was “patricien” too snooty?  Did someone misread their pastry history book at some point and the whole misnomer spiraled out of control?  At any rate, I have a new reason to scoff at my secretly-not-hated macaron, and will continue to do so, even as I nip into Pierre Hermé for another fix.

On this day in 2009: Worthwhile French Beers: Ninkasi IPA

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

* In case you’re wondering about the flavors of the macarons pictured here, they are Quince & Rose (gorgeous), Chocolat Porcelana (yes, Hannah-who-also-buys-foods-she-thinks-she-won’t-like, you read that right, he made a macaron out of the Precious, and it was wonderful, with cocoa nibs pressed into the cream filling), and the afore-lauded White Truffle & Hazelnut.








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