Recently in Paris category

Homemade Cottage Cheese Recipe

Where did I find the inspiration for this little bowl of white, creamy cheese? At the pharmacy in Paris, which are at the top of my list of favorite places to visit in the city. There’s everything you can imagine at la pharmacie, like thyme oil. And Rescue Remedy. And baking soda. And Bio-Gauze (the world’s best burn treatment). And pills that will make you thin and give you the most amazing abs like the male model shown in the window no matter how much cheese you eat or wine you drink.

Aside from their ability to spend an unusual amount of time with the person in front of you (especially when you’re in a hurry), French pharmacists are also trained to identify any mushrooms to determine which are poisonous, and which are okay for la bonne cuisine. If you go to a homeopathic pharmacy, you step up to the counter and stick out your tongue. Then they give you a few bags of pills and cures. And not all of them are administered orally. (Although thankfully, they don’t “dose” you there.)

What also impressive, though, is that I found out that you can order présure, or rennet, at the pharmacy, which is used for making cheese. And I missed the taste of cottage cheese, and I wanted to see if I could replicate it at home. Although Americans eat lots of cottage cheese, most of it’s bland and watery. It’s nothing like real cottage cheese.

So I made cottage cheese at home. It’s remarkably simple and tastes great. And you can make it too! You’ll need to get rennet, and I’ve listed a few sources below. Do give it a try. It’s so much better than the store-bought stuff, and pretty easy to make as well.

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Homemade Cottage Cheese

All utensils should be cleaned very well before beginning.

  • 1 quart (1l) whole milk
  • 4 drops liquid rennet
  • ½ teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
  • 6 tablespoons heavy cream (or half-and-half), or a mixture of heavy cream and buttermilk
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Heat the milk very slowly in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan. Use the lowest heat possible and if you have a flame-tamer for underneath the saucepan, now’s a good excuse to use it.

Insert a thermometer into the milk (I use a chocolate thermometer, which is easy to read) and heat until the milk reaches 85º F.

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Turn off heat and stir in rennet. Stir gently for 2 minutes.

Cover the saucepan with a clean tea towel draped over the top and put the lid on. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours.

After 4 hours, the mixture will be very softly set and marvelously jiggly. Take a sharp knife and cut the mixture diagonally 5 or 6 times, then do the same in the opposite direction.

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Sprinkle in the salt then set the pan over extremely low heat and cook, stirring gently, until the curds separate from the whey. It will take just a few minutes.

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Do not overcook it at this point or your cottage cheese curds will be tough.

Line a strainer with cheesecloth or étamine, and set it inside a large bowl. Pour the mixture into the cloth and stir it gently to drain off the copious amount of whey. (You can use it in bread making or in soups in place of water.)

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Fold the ends of the cheesecloth over the cheese and chill the strainer (keeping the bowl underneath) in the refrigerator. Let drain for about 1 hour, stirring once or twice.

Spoon the cottage cheese from the cloth into a bowl and stir in the cream, or cream and buttermilk. Taste, and add more salt if necessary.

Here are a few sources for liquid animal rennet in the United States, available here, here, and here.

For more information about liquid rennet, check out Rennet FAQ.

Le Nemrod: Paris Pleasures

croque monsieur (or madame)

Paris abounds in cafés. There is one on each and every corner. In your quartier, you’ll have a favorite, your place to hang out which you affectionately call ma cantine. You go for the camaraderie and the ambiance. Sometimes the food is good, sometimes not so terrific. But that’s not the point. You go since it’s close by, the patron greets you by name, and the wine is drinkable…and promptly refilled.

Café Breakfast

With the weather still chilly and damp (which hasn’t thwarted the hordes of people protesting new government work proposals this week in Paris), those of us with cabin fever (who are protesting the outdoors until the weather becomes more hospitable) find that cafés become the perfect place to hang out and watch the world go by…and beats staying indoors after five long months of grey, dismal weather, when you just can’t take it anymore. In addition to the strikers, there are other signs of spring everywhere: tiny blossoms on the trees, long underwear being tossed out of windows (well, maybe just mine), and the optimistic glimmer of sunshine every now and then peering through the grey skies.

Going for a walk, I like the idea of stopping for lunch in a café since the food is generally simple, modestly-priced, and decent. And with a petit pichet of red wine, the afternoon does drift by rather pleasantly. But most often if you order a salad, it’s terrible. A few tired, leaves of wilted lettuce, the omni-present mustardy vinaigrette, tasteless tomatoes, and green beans so limp you can forget any final money shot. Then there’s the final insult: a spoonful of canned corn plopped smack in the middle of the whole mess, impossible to shove aside.

And don’t get me started about the pile of rice that’s too-often plunked down on la salade Niçoise. They should bring back the guillotine for whoever came up with that brilliant idea. And please, allow me to be the one to release the handle.

While wandering through the 6th arrondissement this week to visit a favorite fromagerie in the area, we decided to stop for lunch at a café I’d heard about, passed by several times, but never sat down for a meal. The menu, frankly, never looked exciting enough to make me want to eat there rather than another favorite lunch spot in the neighborhood.

But we sat down and since I had reservations that night at Le Meurice, the swank restaurant in the Hotel Meurice, I wanted a salad. Scanning the menu, I noticed an entire portion devoted to French Fries, les frites. My interested piqued, certain they were à maison, made in-house. So with little convincing, we ordered a plate to share. I decided on the salade œuf mollet, whose brief description didn’t do it justice.

salad at le nemrod

When the salad came, I was thrilled to find it practically perfect. Each bite was a wonderful revelation of textures, contrasting salty bits of meat and croûtons with the perfect ratio of crispness to tenderness. Fresh lettuce leaves topped with enormous lardons, cubes of smoked bacon fried extra-crispy with just a bit of fat to bind the pieces of succulent pork together. Mixed in were cubes of brioche, perhaps tossed with butter or bacon fat then toasted until crisp and toothsome. (Have I used the word crisp enough?) Moistening everything was the soft-cooked egg resting on top. Once split open, the runny yolk invaded everything, melding all the crisp (!) ingredients into a gorgeous and exceptionally tasty lunch.

Wine Glasses

And the frites? No bad at all. They would have benefited from an extra minute in the deep-fryer (What’s up with that? Does anyone really like soft French Fries?) but they were very good and fresh. After a sprinkle of fleur de sel, they disappeared tout de suite.

At the next table the waiter set down one of the most magnificent Croques in Paris. (It’s a favorite lunch of mine so I’m in a position to know.) The version at Le Nemrod is served on a jumbo crusty slab of pain Poilâne, topped with a smear of béchamel sauce, then a few choice slices of ham and cheese. It arrives at the table still sizzling, the smell of soft, caramelized cheese bubbling away. It made me want to summon up a little bravado and ask for a bite. But I kept my attention digging into my salad but made a mental note to order that next time. And there will certainly be a next time. Any takers?

For dessert we strolled a few blocks to Sip, a corner cafe specializing in house-made ice cream, but I had heard about their hazelnut paste-infused hot chocolate and was anxious to give it a try.

paris menu

It was good, not great. It wasn’t too thick, nor too thin. It was pretty to look at and went down rather smoothly. I loved the interior, a 70’s palette of pink and gray. Lots of chrome and mirrors and perhaps the goofiest clock in Paris. And being Paris, there was just a smidgen of attitude from the server. As anyone know who lives here, the fun is learning how to win them over and get what you want (…if you’re lucky!)

Back in the drizzle, I headed home, stopping by the pharmacy for a tube of la présure (to make homemade cottage cheese), which, due to my accent, they kept thinking I was asking for la pleasure.

Which I already had that day. Twice, in fact.

Le Nemrod
51, rue du Cherche-Midi
Tel: 01 45 48 17 05
(Map)

Sip Babylone
46, Boulevard Raspail
Tel: 01 45 48 87 17

Continue Reading Le Nemrod: Paris Pleasures…

Saucisse/Saucisson

An extraordinary tarte Tatin, the one I consider the best in Paris…

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A clever ruse, and now that I’ve gotten your attention with something sweet and luscious, I decided I wanted to show how I got to the bottom of something that’s been bugging me all week: the difference between saucisse and saucisson.

So this morning I braved the biting cold and went to my local market with a real Frenchman, aka Romain, hoping to have him explain the difference between the two. And being 100% Parisian, I learned to set a few hours aside if I want something explained.

So bundled up in our wool coats, sweaters, long underwear (me), thermal shirts, gloves (him), a hat (him: I look funny in hats), mitten (me: my hands get cold, I don’t care how funny I look), and scarves (both), we wandered the market, first stopping at the stall with my favorite women from the Savoie, the mountainous region encompassing France and Switzerland, home to many of the finest sausages (and Comté cheese as well.) As we perused the piles of dried and fresh sausages, his explanation was this; Saucisse is any little sausage, fresh or dried. Saucisse seche is the term used when it’s dried. Saucisson is any sausage that’s dried, but big.”

It all seemed a bit confusing, so I decided to ask a Parisian foodie Clotilde what was correct, someone who understands French ingredients but also has a fine understanding of American food as well as an excellent grasp of the English language.

Ok, so I didn’t actually ask her.
But instead checked out her useful Bloxicon of French-to-English food translations.
Her definition:


  • Saucisson: dry sausage.

So I had confirmation that saucisson was dry sausage.
But what about saucisse seche?
What’s the dif?

Still grasping for knowledge (and a glass of Sancerre, which will come later) I checked my trusty Le Robert et Collins dictionnaire. You would think a volume that boasts 120,000 translations would have a bit more information about one of the most important and meatiest items in French cuisine.
Realizing perhaps that they’re treading on extremely thin ice, they offer these rather sketchy and non-committal responses:


  • Saucisson: (slicing) sausage
  • Saucisse: sausage

Patricia Wells, in The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris gets a bit more in-depth, although there’s a touch of confusion:


  • Saucisson: Most often a large air-dried cured sausage, such as salami, eaten sliced as a cold cut; when fresh, usually called saucisson chaud
  • Saucisse: Small fresh sausage

Wait a minute. When ‘fresh’ it’s called saucisson chaud (presumably when cooked), and saucisse if it’s small?
I know the truth is out there, but I needed to find it.

So I turned to a little volume that claims to be “An exhaustive compilation of terms from French gastronomy…”, The A-Z of French Food. I picked up a copy of this book years ago when I was at cooking school at Ecole Lenôtre and struggling with the subtle difference between Suprême de poulet and blanc de poulet and poitrine de poulet
Geez, how many words for chicken breast does one language need?

Very informative, here’s what the The A-Z of French Food had to say:


  • Saucisson: A large variety of sausage preparations of minced or chopped meats and organ meats, which are seasoned, cooked, or dried (often called saucisson sec. Saucisson is eaten sliced , and usually cold, as it is bought.
  • Saucisse: The generic term for sausage (cooked, uncooked, or cured) which is served hot or re-heated, as opposed to saucisson which is generally eaten cold in slices.

So there you have it.
I hope that helps you next time you’re at the market in France and it’s your turn to order and the pressure’s on and everyone’s waiting for you to decide and madame behind you is not-so-gently pressing you forward and all you want to do is turn around and smack her upside the head which you can’t do (but boy, would that make you feel better.)

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So now that we all completely and unequivocally understood the difference between the two (right?), I decided to reward myself with a nice Sunday lunch of chipolatas, highly-seasoned, meaty, and slender sausages, along with a few dozen fresh oysters.
(To be honest, by this point I was thoroughly confused and a bit terrified, so I let him do the ordering. But I did offer to stand guard and smack-down any ofles dames that tried to take cuts.)

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Our next stop was for the oysters, and since we needed help making up our minds, the vendeuse was more than happy to pry open a few and let us pop them in our mouths. After much discussion (which always happens in France when there’s food involved) we chose 2 dozen No. 2 Huîtres de Normandie with the fresh, briny taste of the sea.

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Once home, Romain expertly shucked the oysters while the chipolatas sizzled and the bottle of Sancerre, also chosen at the market (after the obligatory tasting), chilled quickly in the freezer (although with the freezing temperatures in Paris, the rooftop outside would have been faster.) The crusty baguette de pavot was sliced and each piece smeared with salted butter then I mixed up a simple sauce mignonette of white wine vinegar, cracked pepper, and lots of finely-chopped shallots.

And there we had it. A rather excellent Sunday lunch, my only consolation for another unsuccessful attempt at comprehending the nuances of the French language.

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And the tarte Tatin?
Dessert from Berthillon, who I think makes the best tarte Tatin in Paris. An enormous wedge of caramelized apples resting on crisp pastry, served with a big, melting scoop of their amazing caramel ice cream alongside.

Now that’s something I have no trouble understanding…

Berthillon
31, rue de St. Louis-en-I’le
Tel: 01 43 54 31 61

Chouquettes: French Cream Puff Recipe

Choquettes

Dinner in Paris generally starts at 8 pm, especially in restaurants. And most places don’t even open to take reservations until 7 o’clock. I once was talking to a visitor who was really upset as he recounted arriving 15 minutes early at a place that he had reservations for dinner. The staff was sitting down having dinner (how civilized!) and asked him to come back at 8, when the restaurant opened and the time of his reservation. He told me he threw a fit, not believing that they wouldn’t seat him, and stormed off. (I think I will try that next time I arrive at the airport early and throw a fit when they refuse to take off until the scheduled departure time.)

Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant knows how precious those few minutes of sitting down and eating are. Those moments of peace-and-quiet with your co-workers are the last chance to get off your aching feet for a spell and have a bite to eat. Especially since the next chance to sit down or eat something is likely to be well past midnight.

Parisians do dine rather late, and sometimes it can be a painfully long stretch between lunch and dinner. So French people often visit their local pâtisserie for an afternoon snack, known as le goûter, although nowadays Parisians often call it ‘le snack’.

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Le snack is often nothing more than a buttery financier or a tender Madeleine. At home, French children at home are often given a split piece of baguette with a bâton of chocolate tucked inside to keep them happy until dinner.

But my snack of choice is invariably les chouquettes: Cream puffs covered with crunchy nuggets of sugar, then baked until golden-brown. The eggy, pillowy puffs are piled uneventfully behind the counter and sold in crisp little paper sacks, each one holding about 100 grams, or about 10. I found that engaging the counter person in a few words of niceties will often mean that before the ends of the bag are twisted shut, a few more will be tossed in as a petit cadeau for l’americain.

Nothing is easier to make than chouquettes and you can bake them tonight with ingredients you likely already have on hand. Unfortunately I don’t know where in your country you can buy the very coarse, crackly sugar that they use in France. But you can substitute any large-grained sugar that you have. And since I like to add chocolate to whatever I can, whenever I can, I press some chocolate chips into a few of the puffs before baking.

The ones with chocolate chips, needless to say, are always the first consumed once the puffs are cool enough to handle.

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Chouquettes
About 25 Puffs

From The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books)

Shaping the mounds of dough is easiest to do with a pastry bag, although you can use two spoons or a spring-loaded ice cream scoop.

  • 1 cup (250ml) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
  • 1 cup (135g) flour
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

Glaze: 1 egg yolk, mixed with 1 teaspoon milk

Crystal sugar (Coarse sugar is available in the US from King Arthur and in some Ikea stores. In Paris, I buy mine at G. Detou.)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (220 C.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2. Heat the water, salt, sugar, and butter in a small saucepan, stirring, until the butter is melted. Remove from heat and dump all the flour in at once. Stir rapidly until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan.

3. Allow dough to cool for two minutes, then briskly beat in the eggs, one at a time, until smooth and shiny.

4. Using two spoons, scoop up a mound of dough with one spoon roughly the size of an unshelled walnut, and scrape it off with the other spoon onto the baking sheet.

5. Place the mounds evenly-spaced apart on the baking sheet. Brush the top of each mound with some of the egg glaze then press coarse sugar crystals over the top and sides of each mound. Use a lot. Once the puffs expand rise, you’ll appreciate the extra effort (and sugar.)

6. Bake the cream puffs for 35 minutes, or until puffed and well-browned.

(If you want to make them crispier, you can poke a hole in the side with a knife after you take them out of the oven to let the steam escape.)

The cream puffs are best eaten the same day they’re made. Once cooled, they can be frozen in a zip-top freezer bag for up to one month. Defrost at room temperature, then warm briefly on a baking sheet in a moderate oven, until crisp.

The Sunday Market

I’m very lucky that I live just one block from the biggest outdoor market in Paris, the Richard Lenoir Market. Beginning at the Place de la Bastille and radiating northward, Sunday is a particularly lively day, since almost all other shops are closed in Paris on Sunday. I guess the alternative, going to church, is a less-popular option here, even in this predominantly Catholic country. If God is everywhere, I suppose, he’ll find the heathen at the market, lugging around our loaves and fishes.

You can find just about anything at the Richard Lenoir market. (In fact, I found packaging tape this morning. I did look for thermometer batteries, but no luck.) I always set out with an empty basket with the intention of buying a few vegetables and maybe a slab of fish. But by the time I’m done, I’ve almost dislocated my shoulder hauling my market basket home.

It’s obligatory for me, and just about everyone else shopping the market, to stop at the stand of Jackie Lorenzo, one of the best fishmongers in Paris. His stand is always a buzz of activity and you need to push your way to the front to get help. I’ve nudged little old ladies out of the way in order to get served (and they’re not so kindly here, and are far tougher than they look; I’ve come home with bruises!)

Being the resourceful American that has to use his God-given talents to good use to get what he wants around this city, I’ve been known to ply the young men and women who work for M. Lorenzo with chocolate chip cookies on select occassions in the past, so l’americain sometimes gets priority placement in line. Consider it a job perk. The young men and women who work there are always friendly and willing to give advice about preparation too, as is the person behind you (…unless it’s madame that you shoved out of the way. Then it’s best to slide away without making eye contact.)

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It’s scallop season, or as they’re called, les coquilles St. Jacques. At the stand today they were piled high, almost up to the top of my head! They’re normally sold in their shells with their orange ‘foot’ attached in France. and I bought four live ‘uns, which cost around 4 euros. For lunch, I pried them open with my oyster knife, removed all the gooey stuff, and sautéed them briefly with garlic and butter.

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Monkfish is very popular in France, often referred to in America as “Poor Man’s Lobster”. It’s common for fish merchants in France to leave the heads on fish to prove they’re fresh (the eyes should always be clear). But monkfish are so ugly, they lop off the tête. I’ve never bought one. They scare me, even without their heads.

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I don’t know if anyone purposely displays their dry sausages like a cobra, but that’s what they look like to me. One confusing thing for us non-native French speakers is the difference is the words for saucisson, which is a dry-cured sausage, and saucisse, the fresh sausage. Invariably I screw it up and they give me funny looks (another thing I’ve gotten used to around here.)

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Since sunday is so busy, often the butchers will just put out some slices of…ok, quick!…it is saucisse or saucisson?…
They make a nice snack while roving the market too.

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When I began cooking at Chez Panisse in the early 80’s, we would buy imported blood oranges from Italy and diners invariably would ask, “How do you get the oranges that color?”. If I was in a particular mood, I’d make up a good story. People would also ask if the goat cheese was tofu. Nowadays, I presume, goat cheese is more common than tofu in America. Even (or especially) in Berkeley.

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If you don’t feel like cooking, you can buy long-simmered boeuf Bourguignon already made. Since the weather’s been especially cold here in Paris, you can see it’s rather popular.

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Another take-out item, stuffed cabbage. I see bacon peeking out…
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Leeks are very popular in France and almost everyone’s shopping basket has a plume of green leaves poking out. Leeks are gets par-boiled, cooled to room temperature, then doused in vinaigrette. I also crumble hard-cooked eggs over the top, or mash some good anchovies into the dressing.

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I know this isn’t good for me, but I can’t resist bringing home a perhaps not-too-healthy slab of terrine Gascogne. The butchers grind together long-simmered pork confit with savory bits of duck liver and duck confit, packed in it’s own fat. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever tasted and they always sell me too much. When they hover the knife over the terrine, so I can tell them where to slice, they invariably move the knife in the opposite direction that I tell them. I am sure they do it on purpose but when I get home and take my first bite from the rich slab, I know it will be gone within a few days so I’m happy to have it all.

Richard Lenoir Market
Begins at the Place de la Bastille
Mètro: Bastille or Bréguet Sabin
Market is Thursday and Sunday, between (approximately) 9am to 1pm

Ingredients for American Baking in Paris

cupcakes

Although we can’t expect things to be like ‘back home’, many of us do miss certain things and for us bakers, it’s often a challenge to adapt to new ingredients or ones that behave differently than what we’re used to. Here’s a list of commonly used baking ingredients and where you can find them, or what you can use in their place.

americanbaking paris

Buttermilk, Heavy Cream, and Sour Cream

Many grocery stores and cheese shops sell lait ribot, fermented milk from Brittany. Arabic markets also sell fermented milk (lait fermenté) as well. In many recipes you can substitute plain whole milk yogurt or you can milk 1 tablespoon of white or cider vinegar, or lemon juice, with 1 cup (250 ml) of whole milk and let it stand ten minutes.

For sour cream, full-fat (20%) fromage blanc is the closest substitute for baking. Crème fraîche, which is usually at least 30% fat, can be used as well, but is richer. I also use Bridélice, a low-fat dairy product (called crème légère, or “light cream”), whose 15% fat content is similar to American-style sour cream.

(A reader mentioned that smetana, a type of sour cream, is available in Eastern European shops.)

Heavy cream is called crème liquide, crème fluide, or crème entière in French. Both are liquid pouring creams. They are available in supermarkets. (Be aware that entière is full-fat and légère is low-fat, which containers thickeners and will not whip.) The fat percentage of crème entière is usually around 30% whereas American cream is about 36%, although it behaves the same in most applications. (For whipping, get the cream with the highest percentage possible.) Fresh cream is available in supermarkets in the dairy case; be aware that sterlized UHT cream is common in France, which can be challenging to whip, and is refrigerated or unrefrigerated. Some fromageries sell heavy cream, although most offer UHT cream. Beillevaire fromageries carry fresh, raw heavy cream.

Monoprix carries their own brand of heavy cream in small plastic bottles, and Elle & Vire is one brand that sells UHT cream in paper cartons, as well as crème entière épaisse, which comes in a pouch and is quite thick, but works well in most applications that call for heavy cream.

sucre vergeoise

Brown Sugar

To replace the sticky brown sugar used in American recipes, there are two options. One is sucre vergeoise, which is beet sugar sprayed with caramel-coating (to resemble brown sugar) and sucre cassonade, which is unrefined cane sugar. Both are available in dark and light variations: light (cuivrée) or dark (ambrée), for cassonade.

Sucre vergeoise is more available, found in supermarkets, although I prefer cassonade, which can be found in supermarkets (most often under the Daddy brand, which they sell online at La Boutique Daddy and you can find other brands at natural food stores, like Naturalia and Biocoop.

Coarse crystal, free-flowing cassonade is available in most grocery stores as the French use it for coffee and baking, and can be substituted in some recipes, although I prefer the sticky varieties when a recipe calls for light or dark brown sugar.

You can read more detailed information in my post: French sugars.

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Flour

Flour varies from country-to-country. French ‘all-purpose’ flour (type 45 and type 55) is closer to American cake flour: it’s milled very finely and has less-protein and gluten (strength). In most cases, you can’t just substitute French all-purpose flour in American recipes like cookies and cakes. I know too many Americans who opened the oven door and found all their carefully rolled-out chocolate chip cookies, melded into one, giant blob.

If you’re interested in the precise composition of both flours, you can read about them American vs French flours and French flours. Chow published a French & American flour equivalent chart.

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In spite of the listing, I found that organic type 65 flour is the closest, which you can find in natural food stores like Naturalia. You can also buy type 65 organic flour at Monoprix and other supermarkets. It will say on the side of the package.

Regular whole wheat flour can be found in most groceries stores, as well as in natural food stores. Type 110 is equivalent to regular whole wheat flour, and Type 80 bise is a lighter flour, similar to whole wheat pastry flour.

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Molasses

You can buy mélasse at natural food stores, but it’s sulphured, unrefined, and very strongly-flavored. When using it in recipes, I cut it with some mild-flavored honey. Otherwise it can overwhelm all other flavors in whatever you’re baking. Unless you like that strong, molasses flavor…then go for it. American-brands of mild, unsulphured molasses, as we know it, is available in stores that cater to the expat community.

Treacle, available in British stores and markets that carry British foods, is a close substitute, but is similar to blackstrap molasses and quite strong. In a pinch, cut it 50:50 with mild honey, unless you like the strong molasses taste.

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Yeast

You can ask your local boulanger if they’ll sell you some yeast, or it’s available in supermarkets (not in the refrigerated section, like in America) in packets like the one shown above. You can also buy it in small tins in Arab markets, under the SAF brand.

Since yeast is a living organism, the yeast in Europe behaves a bit different than American yeast, but I’ve had few problems. You can test yeast by adding a teaspoon to half a cup slightly-warm water; it should start bubbling within a few minutes if it’s still good. You can find a yeast substitution guide at the Red Star yeast website for swapping fresh yeast for dry yeast. Fast-acting yeast in France is available in the baking aisle of some supermarkets called levure rapide or “action express.”

chocolate & butterscotch chips

Chocolate Chips

Finding chocolate chips is regular supermarkets is nearly impossible. In Paris, G. Detou carries them at a reasonable price (although they contain the sugar substitute, maltitol) and expat stores carry them, as well as Le Grand Epicerie. You can simply chop up a bar of chocolate, or buy Callebaut pistoles (as shown in the photo) available at professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou and Metro.

Butterscotch, and similar-flavored chips, may be available in shops that cater to the expat community.

corn syrup

Corn Syrup

American corn syrup is expensive, and sold at stores that cater to the expat community. But Asian markets often carry corn syrup cheaply, as it’s used in Korean cooking. Stores in Paris are Ace Mart and Kmart (both are on the rue St. Anne) and Tang Frères (in the 13th.)

Professional baking supply shops, such as G. Detou in Paris, also sell glucose, which is essentially the same thing. If you need dark corn syrup, add a generous spoonful of molasses to the corn syrup. For more information about corn syrup: When To Use (and Not Use) Corn Syrup, which lists other substitutions.

yellow cornmeal

Cornmeal

Various grades of cornmeal can be found in ethnic markets, mostly catering to the Arabic community. Polenta and cornmeal, such as those that are used for cornbread, can be found in those stores as well as in natural foods stores, labeled farine de maïs which is fine corn flour, or coarser, often called semoule de maïs. In Paris, many of those are clustered around Belleville and near the marche d’Aligre. Natural foods stores sell it as well. The best advice is to go and look because the nomenclature can vary.

Corn starch is available in supermarkets under the name Maizena. It’s available in natural food stores under the name fécule de maïs or amidon. Potato starch is commonly used in France and works the same as corn starch in most applications. It’s available in Kosher stores.

French peanut butter

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is available in France and now many supermarkets carry it. American brands, like Skippy, can be expensive. But “natural-style” peanut butter can be found in ethnic stores, especially those that cater to the Indian community. (In Paris, many of those are clustered around La Chapelle, behind the gare du Nord.)

The peanut butter you find is generally 98% peanuts, with a small amount of vegetable fat added. You can also make your own by roasting raw peanuts in the oven and whizzing them in a food processor, while warm, until smooth. Natural food stores also carry “American-style” peanut butter, which is similar to our natural peanut butter, but not the same as brands like Jif or Skippy, and won’t behave the same way in recipes.

cocoa in pan

Cocoa Powder

Virtually all the cocoa powder in France is Dutch-processed, which means the cocoa powder has been acid-neutralized and is generally darker. It often will not say so on the front label, but may list the alkalizing agent (often potassium carbonate or bromate) as an ingredient.

Although one should, theoretically, used what the recipe calls for, you can usually do just find swapping out one for the other.

More information can be found at my post; Cocoa Powder FAQs.

chocolate

Chocolate

When a recipe calls for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, you can use any of the dark chocolate baking bars found in supermarkets. If you live in Paris, G. Detou sells chocolate in bulk, in bars and pistoles. The membership only Metro stores also carry chocolate (and other supplies) in bulk.

G. Detou also carries unsweetened (sometimes called ‘bitter’) chocolate in bulk, which in France is called 100% cacao, or 100% pâte de cacao. Some gourmet stores carry it but in general, you won’t find it in supermarkets as the French don’t bake with it like Americans do.

You can learn more about chocolate varieties and uses at Chocolate FAQs.

baking soda

Baking Soda

Some supermarkets carry baking soda (bicarbonate de soudre) and Indian markets usually carry it as well. It can also be found in pharmacies; you’ll have to ask since they don’t normally keep it on the shelf.

evaporated milk/lait concentré

Evaporated Milk and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Evaporated milk is lait concentré non sucrée (concentrated, unsweetened milk), and is available in most supermarkets. Sweetened condensed milk is well; it’s known as lait concentré sucré, which is sold in cans as well as tubes, like toothpaste.

Kiri

Cream Cheese

Cream cheese can be found in supermarkets under the St. Môret label, or store-brands, labeled pâte à tartiner, in the familiar rectangle shape. Ed discount markets has the best prices if you need a lot. Also cream cheese is available in Jewish grocers in the Marais, and some French people use Kiri squares as cream cheese for making le cheesecake.

Philadelphia-brand cream cheese has decided to become a bigger presence in France due to its popularity with the French and can now be found at many supermarkets in France at reasonable prices.



Shops Specializing in Anglo Products in Paris & France

Here’s a listing of the stores mentioned above, or shops that specialize in products for expats. I’ve noticed that the everyday supermarkets in Paris, such as Franprix and G20 often have sections that sell anglo products at decent prices, and those are worth checking out, too. There are a couple of places that do mail-order and although I haven’t ordered anything from them, if you really need something, they might be worth the extra expense.

For cake pans, muffin tins, bakeware, and paper cupcake liners (and more), I prowl around ethnic neighborhoods. A favorite is the rue de Belleville in Paris; there are lots of stores scattered along that street, that carry baking items at very low prices. For those who want more professional-quality equipment, check out The cookware shops of Paris. It’s a good idea to measure your oven and baking equipment, especially if you’ve brought items to France from other countries as items like silicone baking mats are sized differently and may not fit.

Thanksgiving (Paris)

G. Detou (Paris)

Naturalia (France)

My American Market (France & Europe)

The English Shop

Biocoop (France and Europe)

Izraël

American Market (Switzerland)

English Shop (Germany)

Mr. 10% (France)

British Superstore (England)

The Real McCoy (Paris)

Monoprix

La Grand Epicerie

Auchan

E. Leclerc

Carrefour

How to Find Foods and Other Items Mentioned on the Site



More Paris links:

Paris Restaurant Archives

Gluten-Free Eating in Paris

Paris Cooking Classes & Wine Tasting Programs

10 Delicious Things Not to Miss in Paris

Tipping in Paris

Romantic restaurants in Paris

Accessible Travel in Paris

Where is the best duck confit in Paris?

Paris Dining Guides

Hungry for Paris Guide

Some Favorite Paris Restaurants

Vegetarian Dining Tips for Paris and a list of Vegetarian Restaurants

Where to Find a Great Hamburger in Paris (Kid-friendly)

Pâtisseries in Paris Guide

Sunday Dining in Paris

Les Carottes Rapées

You won’t often find much in the way of vegetables on the menus of many cafés in Paris. I don’t mean the over-hyped restaurants with the fancy chef names attached that the slick food magazines tend to worship. There you might find a coin of grilled zucchini, a dot of sauce, and perhaps a leaf of parsley as a carefully-draped garnish. But most of the time, those places are filled with Americans with Zagat guides sticking out of their pockets. What I mean are the places where most Parisians actually eat lunch.

carrotsalad2paris.jpg

Many French workers get financial help footing the bill, courtesy of le Ticket Resto, a program that allows employees to buy discount coupons via their employer to dine out. The advantage to that is that it keeps many small restaurants thriving, so most of them offer a prix-fixe menu that anyone’s welcome to enjoy, usually costing less than 15 euros for a 2- or 3-course meal.
Another advantage is that it gives workers time to have a proper lunch with co-workers and friends.

(Sidenote: Having worked in restaurants all my life, I was once at a dinner party and mentioned that I never had a job where I got a true a break. All conversation stopped, forks in mid-air, and everyone turned and looked at me in disbelief. When I left the restaurant business I vowed I would never eat standing up again. And I haven’t!)

What that also means is that the food must be quick and relatively easy to prepare. Menus offer steaks or long-cooked stews, and perhaps a sauteed piece of fish. But since vegetables require washing, peeling, slicing, pre-cooking, and a bit of finesse, it’s quite difficult to find freshly-cooked vegetables on menus of ordinary restaurants. The most popular side dish is les frites; all that’s needed is a quick drop-in-the-deep-fryer, and they’re done. Sadly, most of the time, they’re the pre-frozen frites, which arrive undercooked and insipid. I make it a point to find restaurants with real, honest French fries.
And I go back as much as possible, as a show of support.

Even ratatouille, that famous vegetable dish from Provence is just a big bowl of overcooked, soft vegetables. And please don’t tell me that I haven’t had a good version of ratatouille…I have, and I still don’t like it.

carrotsaladparis.jpg

There is one vegetable dish that’s so popular that it ranks right up there with foie gras and le baguette as classics of modern French cuisine. That’s carottes rapées, a crisp pile of freshly-grated carrots. There’s well-known aversion in France to undercooked vegetables (or as they say, ‘American-style’) and you almost never find raw vegetables offered in Paris.

Corn is always served spooned right from the can onto a salad, or worse, on pizza (with a sunny-side up egg cooked in the middle.) Tiny haricots verts are always cooked until tender. And the little pointed end of the green bean is always removed…and I’ve heard various compelling arguements why.
“C’est indigestable” (I hate lying awake all night trying to digest all the green bean ends I’ve consumed), or “It gets stuck in your teeth” (that is the worst, isn’t it?)

But my favorite reason, “That’s where all the radiation concentrates.”

um, okay…so now like a good Parisian I remove the end of the green bean, or the “boot”, as it’s called.
To limit my exposure to radiation.

Anyhow…les carottes rapées is simply grated carrots tossed in fresh lemon juice, a bit of salt, and sometimes a little olive oil. If you want to get fancy, you can add a bit of chopped flat-leaf parsley. But it’s one of those things, the simpler the better. Simple restaurants like Chartier just toss a plate of carrots at you with a wedge of lemon. Other places arrange les carottes rapées on a plate with tangy celery rémoulade and beets.

I make it often when I’m home by myself, since it’s nice to have something easy to prepare and fresh, and I always seem to have carrots around. I make a plate of carottes rapées, and eat it with a few chunks of Tradigrains baguette from my local boulanger, a nice wedge of soft, fresh, ooaing cheese like a ripe brie de Meaux or a goaty Selles-Sur-Cher, and perhaps a slice of pâte from my local charcuterie.

Here’s my how-to guide for making your own Grated Carrot Salad, French-style.

Alligators and Flies

When I was a kid, it seems like everyone was wearing Lacoste polo shirts (they were also called Izod shirts back then). The shirt was introduced in 1933 and named for French tennis star René Lacoste who was nicknamed “the alligator” after winning a game bet, the prize being an alligator suitcase.

The shirts came in a riot of colors during the 60’s and 70’s, and it was the fashion at the time to dress in the casual, but dressy Lacoste polo, accenting your outfit with something outrageous and in-your-face (but still acceptable at the country club.) Soon others designers catered to people who wished to be ‘preppy’ by advertising a genteel lifestyle, featuring people turning up their collars. I dubbed it “The Vulcan Effect”, since most of the people looked rather stupid with the tip of the stiff color scraping their ears with a Star-Trek like rigidity, rather than the “I-don’t-care-this-is-how-I-put-my-
shirt-on and that’s-how-it’s-going-to-stay-because-I-can’t-be-bothered-to-turn-it-down”
look that real preppy people did.
I went to prep school and if you flipped up your collar on purpose, you would have had the crap pounded out of you by an upperclassman named Rand or Tad.
Guaranteed.

lacosteparis.jpg

Eventually the Lacoste shirt fell out of favor until recently, thanks to a spiffy new ad campaign, and the fact the shirts last forever and are wonderfully comfortable and timeless and well-tailored…all that stuff that makes classic clothing come back into style. And so I searched around some boxes of mine last time I was in the US to see if I could find any old ones (the blue-alligator is the giveaway for vintage Lacoste, they switched to green some years back.)

I had lots of Lacoste shirts during my childhood.
My mother came home with the shirts for me, in super-saturated greens and reds, their scratchy fabric softened beautifully in the washing machine and fit like nothing else. Afterward you broke them in, there was nothing like a good, slightly-faded, generously cut Lacoste shirt.

Except there was one demon that I had to exorcise from my past:

The alligator.

I was terrified of the little blue devil. Baring sharp teeth, his menacing red tongue licking his chops, and a sharp, whip-like tail…it was all too frightening for me to deal with on my little chest, and I was scared.

So I did what every healthy, red-blooded American boy would do: I snipped them off with a scissors, leaving a gaping hole in my shirts.

(I also used to wear my Fruit-Of-The-Loom briefs backwards, since I liked pulling out the waistband several times a day and looking down at the colorful fruits lined up on the label.)

I did manage to find a vintage Lacoste shirt that for some reason has escaped my snipping. The fit was still fabulous and the color, Bordeaux, was a deep, wine-like red, still rich and robust after all these years. Wearing it was like finding that perfect partner who you can take shopping at a nice boutique or to a decent restaurant, but comfortable enough for lounging around with in your flannel pajama bottoms.

So I went to the Lacoste store in Paris and bought another new polo shirt last year.
The color?
Acidulé; a wildly-vivid hue, reminiscent of Chartreuse liquor mixed with Orangina. Then electrocuted. I immediately wore it to a café and was swarmed by tiny flies, apparently as attracted by it’s traffic-stopping color as I was.

Last week I made even more progress in getting over my fear of the Alligator and bought two more shirts. The Lacoste shop near the Bastille was having a liquidation avant traveaux (before the construction), and selling off all their stock at a rather nice discount, something you don’t see too often in pricey Paris. The salesperson loaded me up with a stack of polo shirts, pointed me towards le cabine d’essayage, and before I knew it I was standing at the register with a stack of neatly-folded shirts, in insanely over-the-top colors like Bonbon, Framboise, and Tomate.

I shouldn’t be too hard to spot on the streets of Paris, come this spring.

I’ll be the one swarmed by flies.

Lacoste
70 rue du Faubourg St. Antoine