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: 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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Non-Poisonous

16 09 2011

Nick really wanted me to put this on the blog.

good fortune

So here it is.  Enjoy.

On this day in 2009: One of a Pear (Spiced Pear Coffee Cake)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Fouquet

8 07 2011

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.

Chocolate treats at Fouquet

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.

Salvatores

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.

Chocolate-covered or plain?

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.

Pâtes de fruits and candied fruits at Fouquet

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.





Interlude: Saint-Malo

18 06 2011

I don’t know about you, but it seems like these days the weekends are even busier than the weekdays. While I enjoy having a full social calendar, sometimes I just want some time to sit and do nothing. Last night we had a last-minute cancellation, freeing up the evening to do some clean-out-the-fridge cooking (cheese raviolis in leftover tomato sauce, zucchini baked with breadcrumbs and jamòn iberico) and some good old lounging on the couch with a beer and a movie. It was just the kind of Friday night I needed after a hectic week.

A few weeks ago, Nick and I spent the weekend in Saint-Malo with a group of his colleagues.  It was a nice getaway, but there was a fair amount of running around – trying to make it to our lunch reservation on time, figuring out when the buses to Mont St. Michel were, coordinating schedules with 16 other people, and then there was my insistence on making pilgrimages to both of Jean-Yves Bordier’s shops.  I mean, why buy butter at the cheese shop when you can buy it at the butter shop?

Bordier cheese shop

Since the cheese shop was closer to our hotel, we went there first (following a little postprandial nap on the beach).

Goat cheeses at Bordier

Firm, mountain cheeses at Bordier

We were planning to have a little picnic on the train home the next day, and we were sharing with another couple, so we got to indulge and bought about seven different cheeses, including a Trois-Cornes d’Aunis, which I’d been dying to taste, and a Breton specialty cheese with seaweed in it, which tasted much better than it sounds.  We watched as the saleswomen lopped portions of fresh butter from the large slabs sitting on the marble and then used a special set of paddles to beat it into rustic rectangles before wrapping it up in waxed paper.  We didn’t buy any butter, though, because I really wanted to see the mothership butter shop, somewhere in the tangle of streets intramuros.  (The historic center of Saint-Malo is a walled medieval city, now filled with mostly touristy stuff, but there’s still plenty worth visiting.)

On our way there, we passed by the Larnicol pastry and chocolate shop.  And we couldn’t help but to stop.

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Faubourg St. Denis, Côté Porte

23 05 2011

Well.  Now that it’s been… let’s see… five weeks (!) since we moved, I am finally feeling settled enough to sit down and go through all those photos I took one sunny Saturday a week before moving day.  Our new neighborhood is vastly different from the old one, but wonderful in many other ways.  The former apartment was located on the rue du Faubourg St. Denis in the heart of the 10th arrondissement.  I loved its central location, multiple and cheap vegetable sellers, the fact that I could get Indian, Turkish, French, African, Chinese, and Portuguese products without straying more than a couple blocks, and living across the street from a cheese shop.

The view from outside my door

Oh, and there was the really cool landmark at the end of the street, too.

Porte St. Denis

This is the Porte St. Denis, which at one time marked the edge of the city.  (Porte means door, in case you don’t speak French.)  It was built in 1672, by order of Louis XIV, aka The Sun King, or, as it is inscribed at the top of the monument, Ludovico Magno – Louis the Great.  Apparently he had plans to construct showpiece gates like this all around the city, but only got two (this one, and the smaller Porte St. Martin a few blocks away) completed.  At any rate, it marks the point where the rue St. Denis becomes the rue du Faubourg St. Denis, “Faubourg” being a word that indicated any road outside the city walls.

Wilco!

This has very little to do with anything, but it's right by the Porte and happens to bear the name of my favorite band.

Faubourg St. Denis is a relatively long street by Parisian standards, running the entire length of the 10th, hence the designation, “Côté Porte.”  I often refer to it myself as the “lower” part of the street, which leads uphill.  While the “upper” part is known for being a hotbed of Indian restaurants and shops, the lower bit has quite a few as well, most of which are concentrated in the Passage Brady.

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