Recently in Paris category

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

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French Chocolate Macaron Recipe

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

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.)

Fromagerie François Olivier

When people ask me the rather perplexing question, “Why do you live in France?”, I simply direct them to the nearest fromagerie. Yes, there’s great food to be found everywhere: Spain has great ham and crisp, almond turrone, Italians have great olive oil and gelato. And when in New York who can resist the chewy bialys and bagels? But there is nothing comparable to the cheeses of France…

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In the small city of Rouen, in Normandy, is one of the few remaining affineurs in France. As you may know, once milk is formed into molds, it needs to be properly ripened to become cheese. The ripening can be for just a few hours or can last up to several years for a hard grating cheese such as Parmegiano-Reggiano. There’s just handful of affineurs left in France, who ripen cheese in caves just below their shops. The last time I visited François Olivier with my friend Susan Loomis, he welcomed us into the caves. This time, he told us that as of a few months ago, European Union regulations forbid visitors. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the French voted against the constitution.

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Of course, I was immediately attracted to the butter that François salts himself. While I was there, a steady stream of customers came in for a large block of it.

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But I also came for the camembert, since François carries one of the few artisanally-made camemberts left in Normandy. Although camembert is the unofficial symbol of France (there was a giant wheel of camembert balloon ‘float’ to lead off the parades at the commencements of the Tour de France recently) but there are few remaining true camemberts left. Like Brie de Meaux, true camembert is actually called Camembert de Normandie and will be labeled au lait cru (raw milk) so if you come to France, be sure to choose a cheese labeled as such, not simply “camembert.”

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The French are a famously stubborn lot and are refusing to compromise the integrity of their cheeses (as well as a few other things…) But why not? They make the best cheeses in the world. And Normandy is arguably the most famous cheesemaking region here in France. At François’ fromagerie, you’ll find the elusive Maroilles, a hulking square of cheese aged for 100 days and weighing in at a hefty one-pound, with a powerful, pungent fragrance that cheese-expert Steve Jenkins describes as “…about as subtle as a bolt of lightening–get out a clothespin.” One whiff, and I agreed.

More subtle was the soft, dewy-white wheels of Delicor. When sliced open, the pleasantly chewy rind gives way to a soft, milky cheese that is sweet and slippery on the tongue. This is the one cheese that François makes entirely himself and is justly proud of it. Another famous cheese of the region is represented here, Neufchâtel (not to be confused with the low-fat cream cheese in the United States) which is often heart-shaped since the women cheesemakers would often make them for their sweethearts. You’ll find Graval, a mound of bulgingNeufchâtel, enriched with extra cream with a velvety yellow mold on the exterior. The nutty, complex Comté, aged for 2 years, was the best I’ve had. And I’ve had a lot of Comté.

Properly made raw milk cheeses have been consumed for centuries and he noted that raw milk that’s less than 1½ hour old is full of natural antibodies. He compared cheeses made with cooked milk to wine made with cooked grapes.

When reflecting on the new changes in cheese making because of EU regulations and strict US importation laws, François sadly noted that in most of the world, quality means hygienic, whereas here, quality means “good taste.”

Fromagerie François Olivier
40, rue de l’Hôpital
Rouen
tel: 02 35 71 10 40


French Cheese Archives

A l’Etoile d’Or: The Best Candy Shop in Paris

chocolate tablet

Forget Catherine Deneuve and Carole Bouquet.

The most photographed and revered woman in Paris is Denise Acabo. With her braided pig-tails, necktie, and crisply-pleated kilt, Denise is the sweetest woman in Paris.

CBS

Her shop, A l’Etoile d’Or, has an ethereal selection of artisan confections and chocolates from France and whenever I go, I invariably find something new to try, something tasty, something that is so amazing, that I’m compelled to go back for more. What’s a guy to do?

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I give myself at least one hour to shop. Minimum. Words fly out of her mouth in rapid-fire French. She’ll often use the tu word, instead of the formal vous, which suggests immediately comradery.

Don’t understand a word of French?
That’s ok, Just nod. She’ll keep going.

Continue Reading A l’Etoile d’Or: The Best Candy Shop in Paris…

Brie de Meaux

In summertime, I follow Parisians who’re making a mass exodus from the city. We scurry from the city, jamming crowded autoroutes and packing the train stations. The city offers few trees or shade, and the sunlight reflecting off the white buildings means little respite from the withering heat no matter how hard you look-and there’s only so much icy-cold rosé that I can drink!

So I often make weekend trips to the village of Coulommiers, where there’s a lively outdoor market selling the most famous cheese in the world: Brie.
Brie is not a town, but a region to the east about one hour away by car or train. The sunday market in Coulommiers is one of my favorites because no where else in the world will you find so many cheese vendors selling all kinds of Brie, many unavailable anywhere else.

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There are two true Brie cheeses. The classic is Brie de Meaux (Bree-du-Mohw), about 14-inches across, each disk weighing approximately 5 pounds. Brie de Melun (Brie-du-Meh-Lahn) is slightly smaller, a tad higher, and doesn’t ripen all the way to make a creamy pâte, like Brie de Meaux. Often you’ll cut open Brie de Melun and discover a drier layer of underripe cheese in the middle (at left). These cheeses have the most superb flavor in the late spring-to-early summer, when the cows feast on mustard blossoms, giving the cheese a musty, complex flavor and slight golden tinge.

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Brie de Melun is aged longer than Brie de Meaux. It has a firmer texture and many aficionados prefer it because of it’s stronger and more aggressive flavor. Both cheeses can be made with raw or pasteurized milk, although I prefer the raw versions, which are rarely available in the United States due to regulations in the US (where you’re allowed to drive at high-speeds on freeways while talking on a cell phone and drinking a giant latté, but prohibited from eating cheese that has been prepared the same way for centuries.)

These two Brie cheeses are AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) as of 1990, a product designation given by the French authorities, which states that these specific cheeses meet certain criterion for heating, coagulating, and salting the milk, the subsequent ripening, as well as being fabricated within the specific region. Most cheeses you’ll find labeled Brie are not a true Brie unless the AOC label is affixed to the exterior. In the US, you’ll only find it at a specialty cheese store…if you’re lucky to find it at all. In France, a notable exception is Brie de Nangis, which is a young, milder Brie from the region but does not carry the AOC label, but it’s good. The AOC designation has also been given to 34 cheeses as well as other products like the tasty green lentils from Puy, Haricot Tarbais (the dried beans used to make cassoulet), and the free-range Poulet de Bresse.

Although AOC is often a sign of quality, other products don’t carry the appellation, since they may be made in a neighboring region, or a slightly larger size, or stirred a few more times than the regulations allow during production. So as with anything, let your nose and the taste be your guide. No matter where you live, always seek out a good cheese shop and ask the fromager for advice: they’re a wealth of knowledge and should be proud of their cheeses and happy to help you.

Coulommiers is another excellent cheese from the region, and not AOC. It’s a smaller round, about 6-inches in diameter, and not widely known outside of France. Coulommiers has the same barnyard-like smell that is delectably appetizing in Camembert and indicative of a truly ripe Brie, but is a bit more pungent.

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Locals in Brie are perhaps the only ones who have developed an appreciation for Brie Noir. Normally Brie cheeses are ripened for between one and two months. Brie Noir is ripened much longer, often 8 to 10 months. It’s such a regional specialty, and only appreciated by people of the region, that you’re likely never to see it anywhere else.

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As you can see, Brie Noir is dark, brown, and crumbly. It’s covered with dusty powder and it tastes, well…horrid. After my first eaglerly-anticipated bite, I could not get the vile taste out of my mouth. It’s bitter and acidic. A friend from Coulommiers suggested I dip it into my café au lait at breakfast, which I suspiciously tried, which actually moderated the flavor and made it more palatable. Who knew?

Brie Q & A’s

But my supermarket cheese says Brie…isn’t that Brie?

Real Brie is almost always Brie de Melun or Brie de Meaux. Most of the other cheeses labeled ‘Brie’ are not true Brie. They often won’t ripen properly and taste worlds apart from real Brie.

Should you eat the rind?

The general rule for eating the rind of any cheese is that you may eat it as long as it won’t interfere with the taste or experience of the cheese. For example, something with a lot of mold growth obviously wouldn’t taste very good. A tough rind, like the rind of Parmesan, you wouldn’t want to eat either.

How do I cut Brie?

Think of any round wheel of cheese like a pie or cake. You should slice a triangular wedge out, so that you have a nice portion of cheese.
When presented with a full cheese plate to serve yourself, never cut the ‘nose’ off the cheese, the pointy end: It’s very bad manners!

Can I bring back raw milk cheese into the US?

That depends. Most of the time, I’ve found Customs Officers (oops…I mean ‘Department of Homeland Security’) officers will look the other way as long as you’re bringing in cheese that’s for personal consumption. Obviously if you have 60 wheels of Brie, you will likely get busted. Many fromageries in France will Cryo-vac (sous vide) cheese for transport to contain the fragrance, which I recommend. I once traveled with cheese in zip-top bags and by the end of the flight, the overhead bin totally reeked of cheese.
Luckily the other passengers were French…and for some reason, the US officials quickly waved me through customs.

Le Verre Volé

If you plan on eating at Le Verre Volé (The Stolen Glass) be sure to call first and reserve a spot. It’s located just next to the Canal St. Martin, a trendy quarter of Paris, and there’s only seats for about 18 people or so. But unlike New York or San Francisco or Los Angeles, you could call that afternoon and likely get a spot. During dinner I told my dining companion that if this was in New York, there would be a line out the door…and around the corner.

Never An Empty Glass

I began the complex task of choosing from one of the wines from the shelves. Each has the price written across the neck of the bottle since Le Verre Volé doubles as a retail establishment. To drink it there, they add a modest 7€. I scanned the shelves and chose a red Mazel from the Ardeches (18€) that was very light and fruity. A bit ‘fresh’ when first opened—once it sat, it gained complexity. I was happy that it was the perfect choice for the warm evening and hearty food. During the evening, practically every three minutes, someone would roar up on their scooter, disembark, and rush in to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.

We shared a jellied terrine of oxtails (5€). The finely shredded meat was gently molded with some spring asparagus and peas, all barely held together with jellied beef stock that was light. It was served with pickled, vinegary capers on their stems and dressed salad greens.

All the main courses were meaty: blood sausage with roasted apples and potatoes, andouillettes de Troyes, and veal Marengo. Not being much of a fan of ‘variety meats’ (as they’re politely called in America), I chose the caillettes ardechoise (10€), a patty of well-seasoned pork ground-up with tasty and still-chewy beet greens and spinach. It was roasted until searingly-crisp on the outside, and when I split it open, a moist cloud of steam erupted revealing fork-tender meat within.

One could also make up a meal composed of lots of the appetizers, like the roasted eggplant caviar, salt cod-stuffed peppers, or platters of various meats and cheeses.

The genial young men who run the place managed to keep the small crowd happy. One took orders and opened wine, while the other stood behind the tiny bar and dished up salads and roasted meats and sausages in the small ovens. Behind the bar is a glass door leading to an air-conditioned room, a jumble of boxes and bottles of wine.

I’ll see you there.

Le Verre Volé
67, rue de Lancry
tel: 01 48 03 17 34
Métro: Jacques Bonsergent

UPDATE: In late 2010, Le Verre Volé remodeled and put in a real kitchen and additional tables. I still like the place, however it did lose the impromptu feel that it used to have after the transition. And having a kitchen has made the menu a little more “ambitious”, which I’m not sure is necessarily a good thing. (I miss the copious cheese and charcuterie boards, for example.) It has also become quite popular so it’s best to book well in advance if you want a seat in this still relatively small dining room. On my last visit, our reservation was in their reservation book, but they told our small group that they couldn’t give us a table because they didn’t have room for us. The did give us the name and phone number of a restaurant in the 20th arrondisement that they recommended.



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The Grainy Breads of Paris

Bread from 134RDT

I’ve dedicated a healthy portion of my life walking the streets and boulevards of Paris to find grainy bread here. In a city where there’s a boulangerie on every corner, you can get excellent baguettes or a nice loaf of pain au levain just about anywhere. But it’s hard to find a loaf of bread with lots of seeds and stuff in it. Maybe it’s because the breads in Paris, like Parisians, are so refined. And as much as I love all the breads in Paris, it’s the grainy breads that I find especially appealing.

Here are some of my especially favorite grainy breads from various bakeries across Paris. These are the sturdy, hearty breads that I enjoy most. And the ones that I’ll happily walk across town for one.

Grain Bread

Norlander Bread
Christian Voiron
61, rue de la Glaçiere

I learned about this bread from Clotilde’s explorations and it’s a favorite. Tight and compact, Norlander bread is the heaviest bread I’ve found in Paris. And it’s also small, making it the perfect bread for a little afternoon snack with some contraband peanut butter, which a friend smuggled out of an American army base in Switzerland.

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Pain Nordique
Le Grande Epicerie
22, rue de Sèvres

I’ve been told the Grand Epicerie makes over 80 different kinds of bread underground, beneath this enormous food emporium. This is a lighter, airy bread, yet full of lots of sunflower seeds and a good amount of oat flakes. It’s excellent sliced-thin and toasted. But get there early: for some reason, by mid-afternoon they start feeding all the Pain Nordique loaves into the slicing machine and bagging them up.

Last time I was there, I was in the slowest line in the world, and as the lone saleswoman waited patiently on some madame that was bickering over the prices or freshness of a single roll or something. Meanwhile the other salesperson was tossing the brown loaves into a slicing machine as fast as he could. All I could do was stand there helplessly, hoping that my turn would come soon, before he could finish slicing all the loaves. I ended up getting the last two. Whew!

Pain aux Cereales
Eric Kayser
8, rue Monge

This is one of thes best breads in Paris, period. I don’t know how Eric Kayser does it, but each loaf comes out encrusted with golden sesame seeds. Slice it open, and you’ll find a delicate but full-flavored bread studded with crunchy grains of millet, sesame and sunflower seeds, with a naturally sweet taste. I used to walk across Paris to his shop on the rue Monge for a loaf (actually, I always get two and freeze the other.) Kayser has opened bakeries across Paris – and even one in New York City – so it’s easy to find this bread. It’s got a lovely lightness, along with the crackle of the grains, and is perfect with cheese or swiped with butter and honey for breakfast.

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Tradigrains
Au Pain de Saint-Gilles
1 bis, rue Saint-Gilles

When the quality of the baguettes of my local boulanger, Au Levain du Marais, slid downhill after their month-long summer vacation a few years ago, I agonized over the loss for weeks and weeks. I was torn. In France, your live your life according to your local bakery. You know when the loaves go in and come out of the oven, when the baker is off, and how to get the baguette cooked just the way you like it (bien cuite, svp!) You adjust your life, since most bakeries are closed two days of the week, so you need to plan your schedule and meals around those two days.

My supreme disappointment lasted for months until I discovered this grainy Tradigrains loaf at Au Pain de Saint-Gilles in the Marais, just a few blocks from chez David. Now this is proudly my baguette of choice. Do you see why?

Millet, poppy seeds and flax seeds ripple through the interior of each loaf. I can barely get out the door of the bakery without ripping off the end, called le quignon, and devouring it (a French tradition, after any baguette purchase…I think of it as an immediate quality-control check.)

[The loaf pictured at the top is from the 134RDT at 134, rue de Turenne.]

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