July 2005 archives

The Longest Month of My Life

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“Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos…”

-Don Kardong
1976 Olympic Marathoner

Ladurée

Ladurée makes what I consider the best macarons anywhere. And apparently so do many others: the four shops of Ladurée in Paris sell 12,000 macarons each day, over four million per year.

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Many Americans raise an eyebrow when confronted with their first French macaron, since macaroons in the US are normally chewy, egg white-based cookies heaped with shredded coconut. But both the French macaron and the American macaroon are based on the crisp Italian meringue cookies made of whipped egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds or bitter apricot kernels, called amaretti. However Ladurée gives credit to Pierre Desfontaines, a distant cousin of founder Louis Ernest Ladurée, who they claim first joined two disks of crisp macarons together with buttercream and ganache fillings in mini-sandwiches to create the now-classic Ladurée . But prior to Ladurée’s creation, the original French macaron had no filling; while still warm from the oven, macarons were joined together at their bases, fusing together as they cooled.

Aside from taking credit for providing Paris with their now-legendary macarons and other sweet treats, the wife of Monsieur Ladurée decided soon after the original bakery opened in 1862 that she would open a the first salon de thé in Paris, where a woman could sit unescorted and not be considered ‘loose’. (My French dictionary doesn’t have a definition for ‘loose woman’…but if you come to Paris and want to see zaftig dames offering their services, take a stroll down the rue Blondel.)

Recently, the macaron wars have been raging in Paris, as pâtissieres try to outdo each other by introducing wild and over-the-top flavors and outrageous packaging. Ladurée has of course entered the fray but with dignity and class, avoiding some of the silliness I’ve seen.

Recently Ladurée macaron flavors include jet-black reglisse (licorice), herbaceous anis vert (anise), and the au courant flavor-combination-of-the-moment in Paris, citron vert-basilic (lime-basil).

But to me, the there’s nothing better than the Ladurée classics: chocolat amer (bittersweet chocolate), dark café, and my absolute favorite, caramel-beurre-salé, a duo of almond-rich macaron cookies oozing smooth caramel…enriched with salted butter.

Ladurée
16, rue Royale
Tel: 01 42 60 21 79
Mètro: Madeleine or Concorde

Related Links and Recipes

Making French Macarons

Sweet and Stinky

My Paris

The Best Candy Shop in Paris

10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris

I Love Macarons (Amazon)

Ketchup Macaron Recipe


French Chocolate Macaron Recipe

Caramel Corn Recipe

Caramel Corn

I tried various recipes of for caramel corn, some came out too dark, some not dark enough. So I worked and worked, until I settled on this one.

Caramel Corn

Adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
  • 1½ cups packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup light corn syrup
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup salted peanuts, or use any toasted nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or cashews.

Special equipment: a candy thermometer

Heat oil with 3 kernels in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, covered, over moderate heat until 1 or 2 kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add remaining kernels, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping (or until your shoulder gives out), about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and uncover.

I ended up with 6 cups of popped popcorn.

(Premium American-brands of popcorn will yield more than mine did, about 8 cups of popcorn. If so, you may need to prepare 2 baking sheets in the next step.)

Line bottom of a large shallow baking pan with foil and lightly oil foil, or use a non-stick baking sheet.

Melt butter in a 6-quart heavy pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup, and salt and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring, then boil, without stirring, until syrup registers 300 degrees F on thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir vanilla and baking soda into the syrup, then quickly stir in peanuts and popcorn to coat. Immediately spread mixture over baking pan as thinly and evenly as possible.

Let cool completely, then break into bits.

Click here for more cookie and candy Recipes.

Raimo

RaimoGlaciers depuis 1947

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Raimo
59-61 Boulevard de Reuilly
Tel: 01 43 43 70 17
Mètro: Daumesnil



For a listing of ice cream shops in Paris, check out Les Glaciers of Paris

Xavier: The Happy Cooker

One of the great things about having a food blog is that instead of doing something productive (like, perhaps, work on your next cookbook, for example…) I scan what others post then immediately hop on the mètro and whiz over to the newest and most exciting pastry and chocolate shops in Paris at a moments notice, sans hesitation.

When Louisa posted about discovering a new pastry shop, Xavier Le Quéré, I ran over to taste right away. I trust her judgement since she’s a pro and gets to work with famous chefs. (Kinda like I used to do…before I moved this continent where all the chefs speaks funny languages.) It’s hard work, and often not as much fun as it sounds, but I’m glad she found this place and shared it with us.

So here’s what I found…

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Beautiful pastries, including a delectable caramelized pine nut tartlet on pâte sucrée, buttery tart dough.

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Almond financiers studded with plump-sweet framboises. Financiers get their name because they’re shaped like little bars of gold, although I like to think it’s because they’re so rich.

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I walked away nibbling a Piemontais, twin hazelnut sablés smeared with homemade gianduja filling.
I couldn’t resist walking down the street while wolfing it down.

Terribly un-Parisian of me…

Xavier Le Quéré
121, rue Mouffetard (5th)
Mètros: Place Monge or Censier-Daubenton
tel: 01 58 10 00 32
www.xavierlequere.com
(website coming soon)

Something’s Popped Up in Paris

I’ve been craving popcorn for quite a while.
Then Heidi came along and posted a recipe for spiced caramel corn, one of my favorite treats. I scoured the ethnic shops in Paris to track some down and…violà!

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J’adore the soupçon of patriotism…
C’est très americain!

le Boulanger de Monge

Because of the congés d’été, almost every boulangerie in Paris shuts down for one month of vacation. Luckily it’s carefully coordinated with the other bakeries in each neighborhood so that Parisians never have to go too far to find fresh bread daily, one of life’s necessities in France.

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le Boulanger de Monge

I see it as an excuse to leave the confines of my quartier and try other bakeries. Now that the weather in Paris has cooled down enough so that taking a stroll is possible without ending up feeling like you just crossed the desert, ending up drenched in sweat, I mètroed across Paris to a bakery on the rue des Martyrs which Clotilde confided had the best baguette aux cereales in Paris.

But as I arrived (after having to exit the first mètro due to a breakdown, then taking one bus and two mètros, which took about an hour including the time it took me persuading each driver and station agent to let me through using the canceled ticket I’d validated at the first mètro), the window shades were drawn and on the door was the all-too-familiar sign “Fermature pour les Congés”.

“Zut!”

Make that…“Merde!”

So yesterday, I hiked up towards the Pantheon to the rue Mouffetard, a rather well-known market street that I generally avoid since it’s rather pricey. Nevertheless, there’s some great places on that street and I wanted to return to le Boulanger de Monge.

(Update 10/08: Both Octave and Xavier Quere are now closed.)

On page #1 of Le Guide des Boulangeries de Paris, there are only three bakeries in Paris given the lofty 3-star status, and le Boulanger de Monge is one of the lucky few. It’s located at a busy intersection and there’s generally a queue of locals waiting for their daily bread. My first visit was a few months back with my friend Frank, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t won over.

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In the window was a multi-layer cake, similar to a Napolean, with alternating layers of puff pastry and cream. Draped across the top were the broken end-shards of the cakes, which I suppose were meant to be decorative, but was suprisingly clunky and amateurish. The tarte aux pommes looked better, but tasted somewhat sec and not-really-all-that-interesting (especially in a city full of very interesting tartes aux pommes.) Perhaps it serves me right for ordering apple tart when apples aren’t in season. But since Frank wrote the book on apples, it just seemed like the right alignment of elements.

But what I came for was the bread.

Le Boulanger de Monge is an open bakery. The bakers are right there beside the patrons making the bread, everything in plain view; the organic flour, the bakers (dusted with organic flour), and the wood-fired ovens with crackly, fresh-baked bread emerging every so often. I loved the look of the levain bread, which is slashed prior to baking so comes out with a crusty sunburst baked into the surface. It’s perhaps the most beautiful bread I’ve seen in Paris. But when I got home and tasted it, I missed the sourdough-tang characteristic of my favorite levain bread from Poilâne (which deserves the 3-stars it got from the same guide), as well as the Bay Area’s Acme bakery. The bread also had a cake-like texture that crumbled when you cut it, rather than gluten-y nooks and crannies and holes, the appeal of well-crafted bread.

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Yesterday I thought I would try their pain aux cereales, since as many of you know I am smitten with hearty breads chock-full grains and seeds. It cost a whopping 2.60€ for the small loaf they bundled up for me. From the looks of the exterior, I didn’t have high hopes for the loaf but ordered it anyways. When I hurried home and sliced it open, there were so few grains that I wondered where they got off calling it aux ceriales?

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I suppose that I should have simply ordered a baguette, since that’s how these bread guides judge bakeries in Paris, so perhaps I need to go back since the third-time may be the proverbial charm. They did have beautiful looking little round cakes, which I will try next time; the chocolate ones in particular look rich and tasty.



Le Boulanger de Monge
123, rue Monge, 5th
M: Les Gobelins or Censier-Daubenton
tel: 01 43 37 54 20
Closed Monday

(They have a few other addresses in Paris as well.)

Chocolate Percentages

Since I wrote the book on chocolate I realize that I should be blogging more about chocolate, but all the answers to many of your chocolate questions can easily be found in The Great Book of Chocolate. This book is the ultimate guidebook to the world of chocolate and a wealth of information with delicious recipes. If you’re like me and can never have enough chocolate, this is the book for you.

Want to know the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate? What’s the difference between Venezuelan and Ecuadorian cocoa beans? Which country produces the best chocolate? Which chocolatiers worldwide produce the most interesting and scrumptious chocolates? All the answers, and everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about chocolate, can be found in The Great Book of Chocolate.

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One of the most common misconceptions about appreciating chocolate is that you should base your opinion on the percentage of cacao in the bar. The was reinforced this week when a close friend came to visit, and brought me a tablet of the fantastic chocolate from Cacao Sampaka in Barcelona, which I profiled for Saveur magazine last year in their 100 Best issue. Like everyone that I bring into chocolate shops, he was raving because the chocolate tablet that he graciously brought me (albeit half-eaten) was 71%! (…insert his enthusiasm here.) Like lots of people, everyone seems to expound upon the theory that the higher the better. (…insert everyone’s question here… “But what about anti-oxidants?…)

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I like my friend very much and he may be reading this and if he is, I want him to continue to bring me care packages from Target and Trader Joe’s on his return visits so I don’t want to make him feel cuplable (well, maybe a little.) But I feel compelled to get folks to understand that the exact percentage of cacao in the bar is truly unimportant to the taste or even the bitterness. I’ve had chocolate bars that are 99% cacao that were palatable and other bars that were 80% cacao that were bitter and inedible (and I like very bitter chocolate.) I’ve had 90% bars that were amazingly good and smooth, while others were 60% and were crumbly and mushy.

So quit throwing your nose up in the air and saying, “I only eat chocolate that’s at least 75%.” To me, the numbers are, um, interesting, but not what I look for when evaluating chocolate, since by muddy chocolate-colored logic, that argument means that the 75% chocolate is inherently better than a 70% chocolate. It’s amazing with this analytical mind that I didn’t make my mother proud and become the lawyer (or better yet, the doctor) that she always wanted in the family.

Look what I have. Two Italian chocolates from Baratti & Milano in Torino:

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One is 65% and the other is 80%. Does that mean the 60% is the worse of the two and should be avoided at all costs? You’ll also notice one is made from beans from Ghana and other from beans from Grenada. Quick: which one is better?

It means little to judge a chocolate based simply on a number (or origin, but that’s information that can be found in the book.)
Why?
The percentage doesn’t take into account…

The variety of beans,
or…
The quality of the beans,
or…
The careful roasting of the beans,
or…
The blending of the beans by the chocolate-maker,
or…
The sweetness of the beans themselves,
or…
The acidity of the beans themselves.

I think part of the reason many of us Americans are hung up on high numbers (which is why we never adopted the metric system) because It sounds so much better to say, “Oh my gosh! It was 105 degrees today!” rather than, “Mon dieu, it was an unbelievable 40 degrees today!”

John Scharffenberger of ScharffenBerger chocolate says to pretend you’re Helen Keller when tasting chocolate; Don’t read the label and don’t listen to what others tell you. Taste the chocolate and judge for yourself. If you like it, it’s good chocolate!