France is full of things that make foreigners (and the French, too) complain. The ample vacation time is not one of them. I’ve been on vacation for a couple of weeks now, and I have a couple more ahead of me before I go back to work. We’ve got some friends arriving into town this evening, and Nick has taken today off to prepare for their arrival (well, initially they were supposed to be arriving in time for a late lunch, so he’d planned to take the day off to hang out with them – we won’t go into the reasons behind the delay here) and won’t go to work the whole time they’re here. He just admitted he has more vacation days than he can probably use. I’m lucky in that once the vacation schedule is all sorted out, we pretty much have to stick to it – we rotate vacations so the pâtisserie can stay open all summer long – and July is my month off.
One thing that people do complain about (and rightly, I suppose) is the general tendency here to be oblivious or unconcerned about food sensitivities and allergies. It’s getting better, but vegetarians, celiacs, and the lactose-intolerant still have extremely limited options, even in a large city like Paris. The reason I bring it up is because one of our arriving friends is allergic to wheat. It breaks my heart that I won’t be able to take her on a bread and pastry binge, so I posed the question to the Paris by Mouth forum (which I believe I’ve mentioned at least once before) in hopes of getting some wheat-free pointers. As it turns out, simply asking the question made me realize I had more answers than I thought.
Ice cream is almost always wheat-free, especially if you get it in a cup instead of a cone. Meringues and their trendy little sisters, macarons are also generally made without wheat flour. (It can’t hurt to ask in the shop, though, just to be sure.) And then I hit the motherlode, so to speak: chocolate shops! Caramels, ganaches, pralinés, pâtes de fruit, marshmallows, and many other sweet confections, all so very French, and made without any flour at all. So you can be sure that we’ll be visiting at least one chocolatier this weekend… as if I need an excuse.
Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a tasting at Fouquet. It’s one of Paris’ oldest continually operating chocolate shops, having opened its doors in 1852. The original shop still exists, on rue Laffitte in the 9th arrondissement. The company has been in the same family since the beginning of the 20th century – Frédéric Chambeau and his sister Catherine Vaz are the fifth generation of Chambeaus to run the place as it continues to grow. They now have three locations in Paris (which you can find, along with many other tasty destinations, on my Google map) and while the house may have started out making mostly candies, which they still do, and marvelously well, they have expanded into chocolates, and we’re so much the luckier for it.
The only things I tasted that day that my friend won’t be able to indulge in are the “croustillants” – pictured in the top photo – thin, crisp almond cookies dipped in chocolate. But everything else should be well within the limits, from the “salvatores” – single, perfect nuts coated in a glassy layer of crystal-clear caramel – to the jumelles, “twins” of roated hazelnuts coated in dark chocolate, to the marshmallows, about which David Lebovitz waxed rhapsodic a few weeks ago.
Personally, I’m hard pressed to tell you whether I like them better coated in a thin layer of chocolate or unadorned. The crisp chocolate offers a nice contrast, but the marshmallow itself is so wonderfully puffy that it’s a delight on its own as well.
Fouquet also make a range of candied fruits and peels (my favorite was the grapefruit, although the cherries were also excellent) and pâtes de fruit. What’s special about their pâtes de fruit is that instead of being made in a big square and then cut, like they do at most places including where I work, they drop the still-warm jelly into a sheet of sugar, with pre-formed wells, so as to get the pleasant round shape as opposed to an industrial-looking rectangle. The same procedure is followed for the fondant candies, of which the chocolate-covered mint ones are what Junior Mints dream of being.
But if I have to pick one favorite confection at Fouquet, it’s got to be the pralinés. They make them the old-fashioned way, carefully caramelizing the hazelnuts and almonds before grinding them not to a paste or a powder, but to a still-crunchy mass which is then combined with a little cocoa butter or milk chocolate to help it keep its shape before being enrobed in dark or milk chocolate. The slight crunch, the deeply toasted nuttiness, the slightly bitter edge from the caramel, these are probably the best pralinés I’ve eaten in Paris. Really. I like them better than Maison du Chocolat, better than Jacques Génin.
So don’t worry about me, even if I have to eschew wheat this weekend, I’ll have plenty of ways to satisfy my sweet tooth, and my friend’s, too.
On this day in 2008: Happy 4th of July! Or, Our Very First Attempts at Burgers and Potato Salad in Paris. We were successful.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.