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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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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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.





Adventures in the Languedoc

25 07 2011

This post is not about food.  Mostly.  At least most of my vacation pictures don’t feature food, in a vast departure from my normal routine of photographing my meals and pretty much nothing else.  Not that we didn’t eat well during our week in the Languedoc.  Our first stop was Montpellier, where we stayed with a colleague of Nick’s.  He took us to Les Estivales, a weekly food-and-wine event in downtown Montpellier.  A glass and three 10cl pours of wine cost just four euros, and there were food stands up and down the main drag, selling everything from paella to aligot.  The three of us indulged in mussels, calamari, some skinny little sausages that looked like SlimJims but tasted way better, some tuna-filled African “empanadas” whose proper name I have forgotten, a trio of vegetable-laden tartines, and probably a few more things that got lost somewhere between the third and fourth tastes of wine.  The next day we lunched at a café on the beach, and after sunning ourselves most of the afternoon (don’t forget your sunscreen, kids!) we stopped to pick up an array of seafood and vegetables which we grilled on our host’s balcony.

The next day Nick and I headed south.  We stopped in Béziers for lunch, and were pleasantly surprised by Le P’tit Semard, a cute little restaurant featuring fresh seasonal products from Béziers’ main market, conveniently located across the street.  I say we were pleasantly surprised because when you arrive in an unfamiliar French town at 2pm on a Sunday, the chances of you finding something to eat, period, are slim.  That it would also be a worthwhile meal is almost too much to hope for, but we got lucky this time.

Beautiful, colorful stained glass in Béziers

After lunch we decided to take a stroll through the town, and stopped to take a look at the Madeleine church, originally built in the 10th century.  The architecture was definitely different from the Gothic style with its sturdy stone walls, square construction, and few small windows.  But these windows had some amazing colors.  Outside we read some of the history of the church, which was mostly horrible and bloody.  At one point, there was a massacre, the leader of which was quoted as saying, “Kill them all.  God will know his own.”

Beziers

Under semi-threatening skies we took the bridge out of town with the top down on our convertible (did I mention that we rented a convertible?  We did, and it was awesome.) but put it back up before hitting the main road, not wanting to get caught in a sudden rainstorm.

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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.








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