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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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.





The One Where I Get Podcasted

30 05 2011

Just a quick update, because this week is pure insanity, but I got to spend Saturday with the lovely Katia and Kyliemac, of K&K Podcast fame.  We took a field trip to the pâtisserie where I work, picked up some tasty treats to sample, and went back to the studio to record a couple of shows.  The first one, episode 441, is already up, and the second one should be posted midweek.  I hope you’ll listen!

In fact, I think you should be listening to Katia and Kyliemac anyway.  I dare you to read one of their show titles and not want to listen.  They are a dynamic duo, whether they’re interviewing “interesting people doing interesting things” or just chatting about the expat life or current issues in Paris.  It’s easy to spend the whole afternoon listening, and I expect you’ll soon consider them friends, as I do.

UPDATE: Episode 442 is now up, in which we talk about some of the secrets of the pastry shop and the life of a pastry chef!

On this day in 2008: Calzone at Home

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





I Get Older, They Stay The Same Age

9 09 2010

I’m not done recounting my vacation food adventures just yet, but going back to work after an extended break is always a bit of a shock, and I have some thoughts:

  • I am continually amazed by the physical and intellectual incompetence of the incoming apprentices.  When I ask a 17-year-old to multiply 200 by 6 and am met with a completely blank (not to mention slightly incredulous) stare, it really frightens me for the future.
  • Did they do anything at all in August?  I nibbled a bite of mousse cake Monday morning that definitely tasted like it had been in the freezer for a month.
  • Holy houndstooth, my feet are tired.
  • Note to co-workers – “You’ve put on weight” is pretty much the last thing anybody wants to hear, ever.  Especially if it’s the first thing out of your mouth when you haven’t seen someone in a month.  “You’ve cut your hair,” or “you look tan” would be much more appropriate, and welcome.
  • My hands are apparently still made out of asbestos, and I still like burning things.
  • I also still enjoy the zen of chocolate making, especially if I can claim my own workspace.
  • Looks like the chef is laying down some discipline with the apprentices this year.  Good.
  • Here’s a piece of advice for anyone starting out working in a kitchen (or a lot of other places, I’m sure): Never complain to someone whose shift started before yours about how tired you are.  Another related one is: Never tell someone who works six days a week that your (two-day) weekend was too short.  Thankfully, this is no longer an issue I have to deal with.
  • I’ve been having a bizarre reaction to my alarm clock this week.  Instead of the usual “No, not time yet, snooze,” I’ve been in complete denial about it.  As in “Huh?  That’s not my alarm.”  At least I’ve been pretty good about getting up once reality kicks in.
  • Is it really fall already?  When did that happen?

On this day in 2008: Easy Tapenade Salad Dressing

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





We Can Probably Add “Glacière” to The Résumé Now

29 07 2010

It should come as no surprise when I tell you that I love making ice cream.  Sorbet and granita, too.  And let’s not forget frozen yogurt.  So today was kind of my dream day at work.

Like many parisian pâtisseries, mine makes an assortment of ice creams and sorbets to sell in the summertime.  The chef’s been on vacation, and the vendeuses have been pestering me to replenish their ice cream supply.  There were a few problems with this.  First of all, we’ve been undergoing some minor remodeling at the shop, and our ice cream machine got relocated to the pantry closet in the shuffle.  Someone seemed to think that was an ideal place for it, but as the pantry lacked the proper electrical and water hookups, the machine has been collecting dust most of the summer.  The electrician finally showed up on Monday and the machine was, in theory, ready to go this week.

In theory, communism works.

First there was the mystery tube to nowhere.  It turned out to be the exit tube for the water.  (Why this machine needs so much water, I’m not sure.  I asked, and everyone just seemed surprised by the question.  The main response I got was along the lines of “Well, you shouldn’t ask yourself those kinds of things.”  Welcome to France.)  The tube was not long enough to reach the drainpipe.  So we had to remove it, take it across the street to the hardware store, and get another one, similar but longer.  Then install it.  This was yesterday.  Obviously, no ice cream got made.

Today, I spent all morning making the various ice cream and sorbet bases, aided in part by an apprentice who will henceforward be referred to as “Lil’ Hipster.”  While I made the anglaises for vanilla, praliné, pistachio, coffee, and chocolate ice creams as well as mixing up lemon, pear, passionfruit, and banana sorbet fodder, he made the bases for apricot, pineapple, white peach, and coconut sorbets.  (This was, of course, after three of us – me, Lil’ Hipster, and the baker – searched high and low for the powdered glucose and eventually had to call the chef and wake him up to find out where it was hidden.)  I relished having the chance to tell the kid to leave the kirsch out of the pineapple sorbet, because rum makes much more sense.  I was delighted to be able to make calls like “let’s use toasted coconut in the sorbet, instead of the white stuff!”  Up until lunchtime, everything was going swimmingly.

Then I decided to put one of the sorbets in to churn.  Twenty five minutes later, it was still liquid.  (Usually, the machine freezes a much larger batch of ice cream in about twenty.)  After wasting my time asking the baker and bugging the chef again, I noticed that the valve on the water input pipe looked closed.  I opened it, and was rewarded with a splash of water on my feet.  Yesterday’s new pipe had not been properly attached.  At this point I found myself asking the Universe, “Why?  Why don’t you want me to make ice cream?”  I knelt down in the puddle and tightened the fastener until opening the valve no longer produced a gush of water on the floor.  And tried one more time.

This time, the lemon sorbet froze in a record six minutes!  Hooray!  I can still get all the sorbets done this afternoon!  And I did.  The ice creams will be done tomorrow, plus I ordered more fruit purée so I can make strawberry, raspberry, and sour cherry sorbets.  In case you’re wondering, and want to stop by for a scoop, the best flavors so far are coconut, passionfruit, and white peach.  Banana is my least favorite.  The lemon is super tart, if you’re into that kind of thing.

One last thing, about the title.  Glacier is the French word for someone who makes ice cream.  As per usual, there is no feminine form of the word as such.  Glacière means icebox.  Although I like the second definition given here, translated into English it reads: “machine for making ice cream.”*  That’s me.

*Ok, I’ve done a little creative translation – the words for ice and ice cream are the same in French.  Confusing much?  Also, big bonus points to anyone who can tell me the Homer Simpson quote I am thinking of now.

On this day in 2009: Put the Lime in the Coconut

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





A Memory That Always Makes Me Smile

9 07 2010

It’s great to have a rapport with your boss (or bosses).  Back when I was working in Dallas, I had such a rapport.  I worked for a couple with whom I got along swimmingly.  We had a lot of similar views about food – important when you’re working with it – and complementary desires to experiment and try new ingredients, techniques, and so on.  It was, however, a very small company, and as such, the finances were always tough.  Here’s something that happened one afternoon, rather typical of the sorts of exchanges I used to have with my bosses, when we all spoke the same language.

THE SCENE: Pastry shop.  Day.  MR. BOSS MAN enters.  He’s been crunching the numbers.  He gives a rundown to MS. BOSS WOMAN, or maybe he tells her that we can’t afford to buy any more chocolate.

MR. BOSS MAN: (Pointing at me) … And you.  Have been on retroactive vacation for the last two weeks.

ME: That was the worst vacation ever.

MR. BOSS MAN: Wait ’til you get the bill for two weeks of pastry camp.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.





Mashed Potatoes, and a Confession

12 02 2010

It occurred to me when I picked up this week’s CSA panier that in nearly two years of writing a food blog, I have never written about one of my favorite – and most frequently made – dishes: mashed potatoes.  I plan to rectify the situation today, but first I’ve got to get something off my chest.

A confession, if you will.  (My Catholic conscience is hoping this will help.)  The chef was on a bread training course this week, which means I was running the show from Monday to Thursday.  We had a stage this week, which, as usual, nobody bothered to tell me about in advance.  By stage I mean a junior high student who is spending a week in the pâtisserie to see what it’s like, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is interested in doing an apprentissage there later.  Well, this week’s kid was lacking in the common sense department.  On the first day I asked him to find the pastry cream in the walk-in (success), grab the small mixer bowl (success), and put the pastry cream in the mixer bowl (failure).  He put the ENTIRE bowl right into the mixer bowl.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and then wonder how I was going to get it out of there, which luckily didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem.  It was a real lesson in giving VERY specific instructions.  Which can be trying on the patience of someone who is just trying to get some work done.  Generally the mishaps were along these lines, though – not a big deal, but enough that I had to drop what I was doing to solve problems. 

There was one incident that really pissed me off, though, and that was when I sent the kid downstairs to take the sheets of biscuit over to the oven (don’t get me started on the impracticalities of my workplace layout).  I figured it would take him a while, guessing that he would carry the sheet pans over one at a time instead of two, but by the time I had scaled and spread out nearly six more sheets of biscuit and he had neither returned nor sent up the dumbwaiter so I could refill it, I got irritated.  I went downstairs and found him sitting down next to the empty dumbwaiter, eating a warm pain aux raisins, and chatting with one of the salesgirls.  Grr.  I shot him a nasty look, slammed the dumbwaiter closed, and stomped back upstairs, grumbling about how I hadn’t had my breakfast yet, either.  And I was hard on him for the rest of the week.  That’s what I feel bad about.  I mean, he’s just a kid.  He’s not being paid.  He’s there to learn, true, but maybe I should have been nicer.

What do you know?  I think that worked.

So, mashed potatoes.  I’ve got these down to a science.  I’m sure that there are loads of people who will disagree with me, but this is how I make them, and they always taste good.  Whether or not I’m peeling them, I always cut my potatoes into small pieces.  This is mainly a time thing – diced potatoes cook so much faster than whole ones.  Then I simmer them in copiously salted water until very tender.

drying the boiled potatoes

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Around Paris: 12th: Blé Sucré

5 02 2010

Artsy B&W photo of the sign

The name means “sweet wheat.”  (Hey, it rhymes in French AND in English!  Neat.)  And Blé Sucré is sweet indeed.  Having had the place recommended several times by one Mr. David Lebovitz,  I knew the quick jaunt down to the charming Square Trousseau near the Place de la Bastille would be more than worth it.

Beautiful, shiny gâteaux at Blé Sucré

On my first visit, I sampled one of their incredibly flaky croissants and a dense, rich rectangle composed of chocolate and peanut butter (a daring combination in Paris).  And on my second visit…

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A Triumph

21 10 2009

It’s actually been pretty fun at work this week.  I haven’t said that in a year and a half, and I was afraid I never would.  We’ve been trying out new recipes for the bûches de Noël for this holiday season.  Not only do I like experimenting in the kitchen for the way it breaks up the general work routine, but this year I have been included in the proceedings.  As in, asked for my opinions and for any ideas I might have in the way of new bûche flavor combinations.

I really wanted to do a chocolate/banana/peanut butter thing, but I know better than to get too wacky (i.e. American) with this crowd.  So I Frenchified the idea, swapping in praliné mousse for the peanut one.  I ordered some bananas and when they were good and ripe I sliced up a couple and sautéed them with butter, raw sugar, and rum.  The chef found an intriguing recipe for a banana biscuit, so we tried it, and it’s delicious.  I put a sample of the cake together today, and when we tasted it, we knew we had a winner on our hands.  So just like that, my creation is going to be produced and sold this Christmas and New Year’s.  If you live in Paris, I highly recommend you come pick one up when the time rolls around.  (Or better yet, reserve one in advance.  I’ll let you know the details at a later date.)

Oh, and a quick reminder to click over to Foodie Fights and vote for me in Battle Cumin and Pecan!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.








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