Recently in Paris and France category

Belt-Tightening

Summer is here in Paris. It arrived without warning last week and was brutal. It was hot, and it hit around 31°(about 88°) and so humid, I faced a real-meltdown of chocolate. And just about everything else around here, including me, suffered the same fate. Just when no one couldn’t bear it anymore, it stopped. Then we had rain and cool weather. It’s so other-worldly (hey…am I back in San Francisco?), but summer arriving means a lot less clothes, and since I’m now European, it’s obligatory that they’re much, much tighter. Damn Europeans and their fine-tailoring. So that means it’s time to pay for the last 8 months of eating too many pastries, tasting too many chocolates, snacking on too many macarons, and drinking perhaps a bit too much vin rouge. I don’t know if I can hold my stomach in consecutively for the next three months, but I’m going to try. I’ve unpacked my shorts for summer and they definitely are un peu serré.

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Speaking of tightening my belt, last week I got to spend the morning at my favorite place in Paris, getting rid of a few excess US dollars I had lying around. My favorite place isn’t the Eiffel Tower nor the Louvre (they don’t take dollars), nor was it the Museé d’Orsay or the Jardin du Luxembourg. Yes, I got to go to the American Embassy, my favorite place in Paris! I like hanging out there, since everyone there understands me, unconditionally, and without judgment. There’s no raised eyebrows or startled expressions, like last week when I recently ordered ‘Big Turd Jam’ (confiture des grosse selles), when I meant red currant (confiture des groseilles). Luckily they were out of the first one.

But the American Embassy is great: I can argue back with impunity and get huffy with them. Hey, why not? I’m on equal turf, and I’m an American and my English is just as good as theirs.
And I can argue with anyone all I want and make perfectly-formed sentences with correctly-placed pronouns and not worry if this verb is masculine to I need to match the adjective to the gender as well, or decide if I need to decide which of the gazillion French verbs I need to conjugate correctly, unlike I have to do at the Préfécture.
What are they going to do if I screw it up my English at the US Embassy? Kick me out? Or in?

So there I was, on the rue St. Florentin, where I waited, stood in line, got scanned, went through the metal detector, then had my water bottle confiscated (I guess it’s a threat to national security), then headed to the IRS office. Being a foreign resident you get an automatic extension for paying your taxes, which comes in handy when the mail isn’t very reliable. I guess somehow they caught on and give us expats a break.

So in my bid to help fight the war on terror and make the world a safer place (though things don’t quite appear to be quite heading in that direction) I sat under the over-sized, overly-glossy, and over-polished pictures of George and Dick (whose has a rather curious smirk on his face for an ‘official’ portrait), and wrote my checks.

And prayed things wouldn’t get any worse.
And in fact, for me, they were about to get better.

A whole lot better.

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Since I was in the neighborhood (well, not really, but since I left my neighborhood, I’m gonna stretch it), I decided to visit chocolatier Jacques Genin. A lot of people talk about M. Genin with a hushed reverence and most of it is directed at his terrific chocolates. But one bite of his Passion Fruit Caramels and I’m singing a different tune. And you’ll be too.

I had stopped at a bakery down the street for bread and noticed les palets Breton, delicate buttery cookies made from salted butter, so I bought a stack. Four was the minimum for some reason… this from the country where you can buy half a baguette for 42 centimes, and when madame wants to buy one fig, madame will be given the same courtesy and service (and take as much time) as, say, an American pastry chef trying to race through the market buying a flat of figs or a few kilos of nectarines to test recipes.

So I bought four, but M. Genin was happy to relieve me of half of them. In exchange, he swooped his hands into the tray he was wrapping of caramels and stuffed them in my bag (and those caramels are as precious as gold, since you can’t buy them in stores.) As you can see, each caramel is buttery, tender, and keeps its shape just long enough to get it into your mouth, where it dissolves into an explosion of creamy-smooth sweet goo, slightly tangy from the passion fruit, with exactly enough of the tropical pulp to offset the restrained sweetness of the caramel.

So I can’t say I’m going to get any thinner, or my shorts will soon fit better, or when I hit the beach in August, I’ll be turning any heads. But when you have a guy like Jacques Genin feeding you chocolates and handing you caramels, who cares if your belt needs to be loosened out a notch.

Or two.

Jacques Genin
133, rue de Turenne
Tel: 01 45 77 29 01

NOTE: This post was updated in 2009, and now M. Genin has his own boutique in Paris, at the address above, which is open to the public.

A Visit To Richart Chocolate

Want to know what’s it like to visit one of the finest chocolate shops in Paris?

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Les Itinéraires des Beaux Jours: Richart’s Exquisite Upcoming Chocolate Collection

Richart Chocolate
258, blvd St. Germain
Paris
Tél: 01 45 55 66 00

Solving Two Problems

I’m currently working on solving two problems, and I beg forgiveness.

I recently upgraded to a digital SLR camera, and I’ve been struggling to understand all those little dials, digital read-outs, flashing numbers, and the myriad of switches that will make me look like the pros.
So that’s one problem I’m tackling.

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The next problem: I have too much chocolate.
Here is Paris, the temperature is starting to soar and after a recent project I worked on with several of the top chocolatiers in Paris I was handed multiple boxes of chocolates to sample and taste.

(“What project?”, you might be asking. I’ll be sending more information about that to my Subscribers. What? You’re not a Subscriber? Enter your email address is the green box on the right and you’ll get wild and wacky updates from me.)

So I hope you indulge me in letting my try out my new camera photos here on the site, and I’ll be introducing some wonderful chocolates, and other French confections, in the next few postings. Some of the postings will be short and sweet, and others I’ll ramble like a madman on chocolate. And sugar.

The chocolates above are from Patrick Roger, one of my favorite chocolatiers in Paris. The collection is called Le Best-of and each stick contains something different:


  • Ganache baies de Sechuan: Chocolate ganache seasoned with grains of Sichuan pepper.

  • Gananche mandarine: Ganache infused with tangerine peel.

  • Ganache citron vert: Ganache with lime zest and a touch of the lively juice.

  • Pâde d’amande chocolat et châtaigne: Almond paste compounded with chestnut puree.

  • Praliné nougatine: Crunchy nougat paste. (my favorite!)

  • Ganache et gelée de coings: Jellied quince paste layered between chocolate cream.

  • Mousse caramel: Caramel mousse (ok, I lied…this is my favorite…or am I allowed two?)

Patrick Roger
108 Blvd Saint-Germain
Paris
Tel: 01 43 29 38 42
M: Odéon

47 rue Houdon
Seaux
(RER station B: Seaux)
Tel: 01 47 02 30 17

(And Muchas Gracias to a certain señorita too!)

La Maison du Chocolat

We often take things for granted.
Me, for example. I take things for granted. I get messages from readers, “You’re so lucky! You get to live in Paris!”.

To be honest, it wasn’t like one day back in San Francisco I came home and there was an envelope waiting for me with an airline ticket, an apartment lease, and all the blanks filled in on the paperwork filled for a French visa. It’s a lot of work living in a foreign country; it’s so much easier just to stay ‘home’. So when people say I’m ‘lucky’, I prefer to substitute the term ‘fortunate’, as living in Paris has some challenges as well as its rewards.

But each and every time I step out of my apartment, I’m amazed at the beauty that surrounds us here. Everywhere you look is something special, from the stately place des Vosges to the over-the-top Opera Garnier. Perhaps I’m a dork, but each time I pass something of significance, I stop and take a long, deeply-felt look. There’s fresh bread everywhere too. I can have a buttery croissants, a rich, cream-filled éclair, a yeasty kugelhof, or a scoop of glace Berthillon whenever I want.

(Except on Monday and Tuesday, when Berthillon is closed. Or in July or August. Or on Tuesday and Wednesday, when my bakery with the good croissants is closed. And in August. Although this year it might be July. Or on weekends, when the place I go for kugelhof is baking them. If they’re in the mood, of course. But I won’t know that until I get there. Unless there’s a holiday. Or a strike.)

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Anyhow…I spend a fair amount of time here exploring the chocolate shops, which seem to keep reliable hours. Nowhere in the world is more devoted to chocolate than Paris, and there are really excellent chocolatiers here, who I visit and write about often. But although we’re often excited by what’s new and unusual, sometimes we return to the classics for a reason: the simple fact that they’re really good.

Robert Linxe founded La Maison du Chocolat in 1977. He was a young man from the Basque region, famous for its abundance of chocolate shops, although many are sadly gone. When he opened shop in Paris, M. Linxe distained fillings heavy with nuts, spices and sugar (which had quite a long shelf life), in favor of smooth, creamy (and highly-perishable) ganache, that suave mixture of pure chocolate and heavy cream, which has since become synonymous with fine chocolates that we enjoy today.

Last week we held a private tasting at La Maison du Chocolat for my guests, which reminded me that I had forgotten how absolutely extraordinary their chocolates were, and still are.

Each time I bit into one, I found something new and delicious, wondering how a chocolatier could consistently hit it exactly right with every bite of chocolate. Each one was melting, pillowy-soft, with the true, fresh flavor of whatever M. Linxe had infused.

Zagora is my favorite. A melange of dark chocolate ganache steeped with fresh mint leaves. Bacchus is filled with Smyrna raisins soaked in the best Caribbean dark rum, then flambéed. And a life-changing Andalousie, where just the right amount of grated lemon peel is mixed with the ganache, is resplendent with spritzy lemon oil without a hint of bitterness, tasting remarkably like grated lemon that was zested just moments before.

When I went back a few days after the tasting to personally thank them for their warm and generous hospitality, I was offered a few more chocolates to sample. Not wanting to be rude, I pulled up a seat at the counter and unwrapped Cerise Griotte, a house-made candied sour cherry enrobed in dark chocolate, which exploded in my mouth, a wash of bitter-sweet cherry liquid bathed in alcohol with a thin, dark chocolate coating…it was pure heaven. Before I could even ask, the salesperson came by with a napkin for me to spit out the pit. (Wow, a salesperson that doesn’t argue with you.)

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I felt like I was coming back home, as I’d first discovered chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat what seemed like so long-ago while on vacation a long time ago in Paris. And here I am now, rediscovering them all over again. La maison means home, and I do feel indeed fortunate, and just a bit lucky, that I get to live here.
And that this is home.

La Maison du Chocolat
52, rue François 1er
Tel: 01 47 23 38 25

Other locations across Paris, as well as in London, Tokyo, and New York. All chocolates ordered through the La Maison du Chocolat web site are handmade in their Paris workshop.

LATE-BREAKING NEWS: I just tried the Rigoletto Noir, buttery caramel mousse enrobed in dark chocolate.
Wow…simply sensational.



Related Links:

Papabubble (New York City)

Le Furet Tanrade (Paris)

REGIS Chocolatier (Paris)

Jacques Genin Opens (Paris)

The Pâtisseries of Paris

A Visit to Bernachon Chocolate (Lyon)

Eye Candy (Paris)

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux (Brittany)

The Goofus and Gallant of Chocolate

I can’t tell you how many times people ask me, “Aren’t Parisians rude?”

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Unlike Americans who are nice 100% of the time, yes, there are rude Parisians. And today I met one.

I took my guests into a well-know chocolate shops, whose name I won’t mention (ok, twist my arm…Jean-Paul Hèvin). My normal mode for visiting chocolate shops is this: We go inside, we meet the chocolatiers or salesperson, I explain the chocolates, often we’ll do a tasting, then guests will buy some chocolate to bring home. On occasion, some folks like to take a photo.
And I always ask politely before taking photos anywhere in Paris, even if I know it’s okay. It’s a courtesy. If someone says, “No, we don’t allow that here”, I’m fine with that. Several places in Paris have a no-photo policy, as do several places in the US (Central Market, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods, for example). My thoughts are that we’re on private property and it’s the owners right to deny or approve photos.

Fine.

So I ask at Jean-Paul Hèvin if it’s okay. The salewoman looks at me and says (and I’m not making this up), “You can only take a picture after you buy something.”

Incredibly tacky. Oui?

After I had a few ‘words’ with the shopkeeper, we finished our tour and I came home and deleted any and all references to Hèvin in the two magazine articles I’m writing and a future book project.
Au revoir.

One of my guests, however, said it was a very interesting lesson, illuminating the difference between rude & unwelcoming vs generous & gracious. And speaking of generous and gracious…

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This is Michel Chaudun.
He’s the owner and chocolatiers of his own shop, Michel Chaudun, located just a few blocks away. M. Chaudun was the head chocolatier at La Maison du Chocolat before striking out on his own twenty years ago.

When we showed up at his shop, M. Chaudun was preparing to make a delivery but when he saw me, he came over to warmly greet me and my guests. As you can see from his charming smile, M. Chaudin clearly loves what he does. I not-so-secretly wish that he was my grandfather.

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We tasted many chocolates, from cocoa nib-flecked disks of pure dark chocolate to tasty bits of crisp caramelized almonds enrobed in bittersweet chocolate, but my favorite are always Les Pavés, tiny squares of singularly-perfect ganache. Each one is the perfect bite of chocolate. He also had us sample a new chocolate, filled with a smooth paste of toasted sesame seeds and surprisingly, peanuts. (He created them for his shop in Tokyo since the French have the same distaste for peanuts in chocolate that Americans have for bull scrotums in tripe sauce.)

He’s also the master of chocolate sculptures and whimsical forms, including an exact replica of a Dremel drill, a full-sized perfectly-detailed feathered duck, and a miniature Hermès Kelly Bag with a matching orange sack that is a few thousand euros less than an original and certainly more tasty (although I’ve never tried to eat a Kelly bag, so I can’t be sure. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

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And yes, these are replicas of sausage made entire of chocolate. Wow!

There’s a moral to this story somewhere here, but I can’t quite find it…and am heading off to bed early, since we have an exclusive private tasting at La Maison du Chocolat.

But I would advise visitors to Paris to come to the boutique of Michel Chaudun.
And skip one of the others.

Michel Chaudun
149, rue de l’Université
Tel: 01 47 53 74 40

Chocolate Tasting With Jacques Genin

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I began our week-long Paris Chocolate Exploration tour here in Paris this week, starting with a private tasting with famed chocolatier Jacques Genin, the elusive chocolatier who works out of his very small laboratoire hidden away in the 15th arrondisement. Ten of us, including Mort Rosenblum, crammed into his tiny workshop while he explained how he began his career, the methods he uses to fabricate and enrobe his chocolates, and divluged some of the secrets (I said some…) of his exceptional chocolates.

For well over an hour, we tasted everything from ganache-filled chocolates infused with exotic tonka beans, lively peppermint leaves, and fragrant (and expensive) Bulgarian rose oil. There were soft pâte de fruit made with elusive Charontais melon, fresh black currants, and fruity raspberry. All the while his staff worked around us, packing boxes of chocolates destined for the finest hotels and restaurants in Paris, including the George V and Le Comptoir. Some were destined for Chez David as well.

The best, unquestionably, were his caramels. No pun intended, but I really have a soft spot for caramel. Caramel is a combination of cooked sugar, usually with butter or cream added. But much skill is needed to get it just-so. The sugar needs to be cooked to the exact temperature. Enough so it’s got a bit of a burnt ‘edge’ to offset the sweetness, and to give it a texture so it retains its shape with remaining toothsome but not tar-like and gummy. Jacques caramels were truly brilliant.
Each nugget was the perfect combination of sticky-soft and intensely flavored.

The first one we tasted was a bright-yellow caramel sharpened with tangy mango puree. We followed that with dark bitter chocolate caramels, oozing with the taste of beurre fermier, aka French farmhouse butter. When I’d reached my limit, which is admittedly high, Jacques stuffed my pockets with salted-butter caramels, which I ate this morning just after breakfast.

Is that wrong?

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Jacques Genin
18 rue St-Charles
Tel: 01 45 77 29 01
This is his workshop and not open to the public.

Update: Jacques Genin has finally opened his shop in Paris, in the Marais. it’s open to the public and has a tea salon, where you can sample his treats, as well as a full-scale boutique.

A Visit to Bernachon Chocolate

Jean-Charles Rochoux has perhaps the tiniest chocolate shop in Paris, located on an unassuming side street off the Rue de Rennes. It’s hard to see and easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. But what causes most passers-by to stop are the window displays, filled with intricately-sculpted statues and figures, crafted entirely of chocolate.

M. Rochoux spent many years in the workshop of Michel Chaudun, one of the best chocolatiers in Paris. And indeed, a look around this sleek boutique reveals much inspiration from M. Chaudin, including his version of Colomb, little disks of chocolate studded with cocoa nibs, and Les Pavés, tiny cubes of chocolate ganache that instantly dissolve in your mouth, the lingering pleasure lasting a few precious minutes. Then you decide it’s time for another. I always buy at least six at a time for that reason.

But stacked discretely in the corner are stacks of chocolate bars, and after we had a lengthy discussion on chocolate one day, M. Rochoux handed me a tablet labeled noisettes to take home as a gift. When I got home, I tore open the wrapper and took a bite.
I was completely surprised by what I found inside.

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Each individual roasted hazelnut was coated in crunchy, crackly caramel, then enrobed in the chocolate bar. The contrast of hyper-crisp hazelnuts and bittersweet chocolate makes this my new favorite chocolate bar in Paris.

Although I love finding something new, sometimes I have the opportunity to discover something nearly forgotten.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of touring the workshop and chocolate boutique of the world-famous Bernachon, in the city of Lyon.

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Bernachon’s Signature Cake: ‘Le President’

Not only does Bernachon make great chocolates, they actually make the chocolate itself. Let’s say you go to a shop to buy filled chocolates, or bars of chocolate. You’re buying chocolate that the chocolatier has bought (and perhaps mixed to his or her specifications). That’s the difference between a chocolatier and a chocolate-maker. There are very few chocolate-makers in the world, only 14 exist in the United States at present. Bernachon is a small shop, but it’s stunning what they’re able to produce.

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Piping ‘Couronne Noisette': Hazelnut and Praline Paste Blended with Milk Chocolate

I love Bernachon chocolate, although it’s nearly impossible to find outside of their shop in Lyon. But what great chocolate it is and it’s certainly worth the 2-hour TGV ride from Paris.

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‘Les Roches’, Just-Dipped in Freshly-Made Dark Chocolate

Their most famous bonbons are the seriously-rich, ganache-filled palets d’Or flecked with bits of real gold. At the shop, they barely have time to keep them in the showcase, as customers come in, the saleswomen fill boxes directly from the decades-old wooden storage trays.

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A Super-Skilled Chocolatier at Bernachon Making Chocolate Ruffles

But when I visit, I stock up on their chocolate bars, which allow me to commune with the pure chocolate all by my lonesome. I like the Nuit et Jour, the Night and Day bar, where one side is bittersweet dark chocolate. Flip it over, the reverse is smooth milk chocolate. Moka is made by grinding roasted coffee beans along with cocoa beans for a double-buzz, and Extra Amer is a super-dark bar of chocolate with very little sugar. It’s bliss for some, and too intense for others.I fall into the first category. But my absolute favorite is Kalouga.

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Kalouga is a rather funny name for a chocolate bar. It’s the Basque word for ‘Caramel’ (any scholars of the Basque language out there?) But I found the Basque word for tasty, gustagarri, and that’s what this is. I first tasted one of these bars about 5 years ago, but was dismayed to find they stopped making it since. Too much of the luscious caramel would begin oozing out after the tablets were made and it was problematic to store them.

But I kept asking them to make them, and word got back to them that there was an American living in Paris who was insane for them. And lo and behold, they’re back in production! (Yes, that was the story I was told…whether or not I believe it is another story…)
Either way, you may thank me later…once you’ve tried one.

Once you bite inside, the gooey salted caramel immediately begins spilling out, and it’s hard not to eat the whole thing at once. If you’re the generous type, I recommend opening it when you have a bunch of friends over to share the bounty.

Otherwise, you can just eat the whole thing yourself.

Guess which I did?

Jean-Charles Rochoux
16, rue d’Assas (6th)
Paris
Tél: 01 42 84 29 45

Bernachon
42, cours Franklin-Roosevelt
Lyon
Tél: 04 78 52 67 77
Lyon

(Bernachon chocolate bars are available in Paris at A l’Etoile d’Or.)

Parisian Hot Chocolate Recipe: Le Chocolat Chaud

When the winter chill comes to Paris, one of the great pleasures is sipping a cup of rich hot chocolate, le chocolat chaud, in a cozy café. But no matter where you live, you can easily make and enjoy the chocolatey taste of Paris at home.

Contrary to popular belief, Parisian hot chocolate is often made with milk rather than cream, and get its luxurious richness from lots of top-quality chocolate. This cup of chocolat chaud is deeply-flavorful, but not over-the-top rich…so there’s no need to feel guilty indulging in a nice, warm cup whenever – and wherever – you feel the need.


Parisian Hot Chocolate

Four ‘Parisian-sized’ Servings

  • 2 cups (.5l) whole milk
  • 5 ounces (130 g) bittersweet chocolate, (best-quality), finely chopped
  • optional: 2 tablespoons light brown sugar


1. Heat the milk in a medium-sized saucepan.

2. Once the milk is warm, whisk in the chocolate, stirring until melted and steaming hot. For a thick hot chocolate, cook at a very low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Be careful and keep an eye on the mixture, as it may boil up a bit during the first moments.

3. Taste, and add brown sugar if desired.

Serve warm in small demitasse or coffee cups.

Note: This hot chocolate improves if made ahead and allowed to sit for a few hours. Rewarm before serving. I also like to add a few flecks of fleur de sel, the very good sea salt from Brittany.