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The Return Of Salted Butter

Forget everything you’ve been told about salted butter.

Ok.
There, I hope that was easy.

(Now forget my last column.)

I’ve recently reconverted to salted butter.
Most recipe-writers like myself call for unsalted butter because it’s easier to gauge how much salt will be used in the recipe and everyone seems to be on an exactitude kick when baking. Lighten up, home cooks. If people followed traffic rules with the same methodical precision they followed recipes we’d all be a lot safer.

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Kouign Amann took me a few years to learn to pronounce (although I tried to describe this to a French person) it’s pronounced like “shwing” from Wayne’s World, which lost something for better or worse in the translation. It’s perhaps the best known dessert of this region. Driving through villages and cities, you’ll find them piled high in the window of bakeries. Layers of flaky pastry cooked with obscene amounts of salted butter and sugar. When cooked right, the combination of melt-away pastry and salty caramel is unbelievable.

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However since I wrote the last column on getting larger, I figured I’d better hold back on further descriptions of Kouign Amann and switch to gâteaux Bretons and palets Bretons. Both are basically buttery shortcakes with that lip-coating-just-near-the-ocean saltiness that cuts the richness of the butter.

Palets Bretons are small, cake-like confections (shown piled above) that have the consistency of rich cornbread with the exact blend of tender-toughness that Clint Eastwood is beginning to aspire to. Gâteaux Bretons are larger cakes made of rich better, poured into a cake mold, scraped with a fork, then baked until golden brown. When done right it’s perhaps the most delicious thing in the universe. The picture that you see here means that a lot of people will get to experience that delicious-ness themselves.

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My favorite place for palets Bretons is C. Ferchaux on the rue Général de Gaulle in Ploubazlanec (Bretons have a different language, and many of the names and places are full of “z’s”. You should have heard me trying to give directions.) I practically died walking in the bakery. The overwhelming smell of butter was greater than that of a butter farm I once visited. On the countertop was a big pot of rice pudding that the woman informed me gets cooked in the oven alongside the bread for 4 hours. I took a picture, but it would take a better food stylist than me to get rich pudding to look unctuous in a photo, so I skipped it in favor of the cakes.

Why French Women (and Men) Do Get Fat

Just about everyone coming to Paris asks me if I’ve read “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.
No, I haven’t read it, and I’m kind of sick of hearing about it, because many of the answers just seem all too obvious. Especially one of the reasons; it’s because they smoke.

Is the alarming rise in American obesity aligned to the fact that about 20 or so years ago, people in America began to quit smoking? If you’ve been to Europe, you realize lots of people still smoke. (And I’m not sure any government wants too many to quit smoking, due to the huge taxes on cigarettes.)

But to say that there’s something that the French women know that American women don’t is rather silly. In America, people drive just about everywhere. Think when was the last time you walked to the store to buy groceries (and lugged them home?) And think about the staggering array of candies and fast-food available in ‘drugstores’ in America. And just how many calories are in that jumbo smoothie? (Answer: About 50% of your daily requirement.)

But for some reason, I wonder why Americans think there is some magic reason for the French being so slim? True in cities worldwide (and in American cities as well) many are preoccupied with appearances. But in America, the question remains why diet books are so popular, gyms are everywhere, and none of us are getting any slimmer. I loved the look on a friend’s face here in Paris when I told her that people get up at 5am in America to work out at the gym.

So here are some observations why French women, and men, are (sometimes) in better shape than their American counterparts:

1. There is more of an emphasis on quality, not quantity. Unlike in American, in France, fast-foods and soda are very expensive while fresh foods and wine tend to be cheaper. It’s expensive to eat healthy in America.

2. Meals are much lighter; there is often only one large meal per day. Many French people will have soup or a salad for a meal, unless dining in a restaurant.

3. People walk a lot. Even if you take the métro, there’s plenty of stairs to contend with. For example, these are the stairs to my apartment. Imagine lugging 4 bottles of wine, 6 liters of Badoit water, and 10 kilos of flour up there!

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(Ok, those aren’t really my front stairs…)

But just imagine how much more exercise you’d be getting if you walked to the gym (to use the treadmill) or walked to work (to sit behind a desk all day.) Still, it does add up.

4. Quantities are smaller. I’ve seen French people cutting up a single chicken wing with surgical precision, taking all the time in the world.
And consider a container of yogurt. French yogurt is about 4 ounces, half the size of their American counterparts. And for the most part, French people eat whole-milk yogurt ‘nature’, with no sugar added. Portions in America are huge.

5. There simply isn’t the culture of ‘always eating’ in France. I recently read an article about fast-food restaurants inventing new things for Americans to eat while driving. Are we all that busy? Cookbook author Marion Cunningham once said to me, “Everyone’s always telling me that they’re so busy..but I’d like to know what’s everyone so busy doing?”

6. And finally, people are not all the same size. Thankfully, most women don’t resemble Paris Hilton (scary!) or Anna Nicole-Smith (scarier!) Still, even in France, there’s more and more people that could perhaps walk a bit more, and consume a bit less.

I’m often asked how I manage to stay in shape eating all the fabulous foods around me. Well, for the most part, when I indulge in a croissant, for example, I’ll eat the best croissant I know of (the ones at Au Levain du Marais at 28, blvd Beaumarchais near the Bastille come to mind.) If I want chocolate, I don’t bother with a big, rich chocolate dessert. I’ll eat a few squares of the very best, most bittersweet chocolate I know of.

Ok, off for a walk to Berthillon for ice cream…

Welcome to my web site, DavidLebovitz.com

It’s finally up, my new blog. (Actually I’ve been blogging before it was cool, beginning in ’99) but new software is making this much easier, or so I’ve been told.

We’ve been working months on getting things ready with a vivid new design.

You’ll find lots of new postings, sometimes daily, mostly about things I’m finding to eat, recipes, places I visit, and more.

There’s also a place for readers to post comments, which I read and respond to.

Please be patient with this site for the next few weeks as I learn how to post text and pictures (it’s ain’t as easy as making brownies…)

There may be typos, misspellings, accents missing, and general chaos, but once I get things up and running smoothly, you’ll want to visit often.

Thanks, and ‘a bientôt’

David

Springtime In Paris

There’s plenty of clichés about Paris in the springtime that are true. But what I really am happy to see are the return of the radishes. I love radishes, and by the looks of things, so do Parisians…

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Wow!
I can’t get enough of them and I always get two bunches, since I eat one right away, dipping each crisp, spicy radish in a bowl of fleur de sel.

One radish vendor told me eating radishes will make you sleep better.
Lars, a German friend, told me to save the leaves and make soup (which sounds icky), and Chinese medicine practitioners eat daikon white radishes to ‘cool’ down. I remember as a kid, in my first (and only) garden I planted radishes, which actually grew!… unlike much of the other things I planted. I discovered it wasn’t much fun pulling weeds when everyone else was playing, so the garden was abandoned after the first radish harvest.

Luckily radishes are in abundance right now, and I can buy them weekly at my local market in the Bastille, and I’m using them as much as I can. Aside from dipping them in salt, I thinly slice radishes and toss them with coarse frisée, toasted hazelnuts and hazelnut oil; a terrific salad served with a round of fresh or aged goat cheese. Trimmed radishes, split lengthwise, are tasty served alongside Tapenade.

DavidLebovitz.com 1999-2005


October 1999