Want to know what’s it like to visit one of the finest chocolate shops in Paris?
258, blvd St. Germain
Tél: 01 45 55 66 00
Want to know what’s it like to visit one of the finest chocolate shops in Paris?
258, blvd St. Germain
Tél: 01 45 55 66 00
Once upon a time, I worked in a restaurant that was well-known for using ingredients of exceptional quality. The most magnificent fruits and vegetables would come barreling through our kitchen door every day, from plump, rare black raspberries to teeny-tiny wild strawberries, fraises des bois.
While I can’t really guess the psychology behind it, we would often treat these marvels like precious jewels, reserving them for the perfect moment.
Or we’d just forget about them, then throw them away.
Unfortunately, because they were so fragile, they’d often last no longer than a day or so, and we’d arrive the next morning to find they hadn’t been used the previous evening and had to be tossed. While I don’t want to apologize or make excuses for this inexcusable behavior, restaurants are odd places full of strange people acting unusual…and no, it’s not just the customers. There’s mis-communications, too much going on all at once, and frankly, things don’t always happen like they should. And don’t tell me that you haven’t let something accidentally spoil in under your eagle-eye either.
Because I’m not buying it.
So one day, one of the other cooks started to dub things as they came through the door, “Too good to use.”
He used the phrase to refer to things that were so special, that we just couldn’t bear to use them. And soon, the rest of us picked up the phrase too, and when something beautiful would arrive, it became the joke to label it as being something that was “too good to use.”
So, last year when I led an Italian Chocolate Tour through Tuscany and Torino, we stopped at Slitti in the tiny town of Monsummano Terme. Although Slitti started out in 1969 as a coffee-roasting company, Andrea Slitti (the son of the founder) started applying his roasting expertise to chocolate-making and now Slitti is regarded as one of the top chocolate-makers in the world. After our visit, on the way out, Palmira Slitti (Andrea’s wife who runs the shop) pressed a jar of their Crema da spalmare al Cioccolato Fondente ricca di nocciole into my already loaded-up bag of chocolates with a cheerful ciao bella.
When I got home, I put the jar on my kitchen shelf so I could admire it, and it sat there day-after-day. Each day I would gaze up, all glassy-eyed, imagining the chocolate-y goodness through the glass of the jar, and I could practically taste the tiny bits of roasted Piedmontese hazelnuts, embedded in a rich, dark chocolate paste that were speckled throughout.
One day I decided it was no longer “too good to use” and abruptly pulled the jar down from its perch, opened it up, and with knife poised, got ready to spread.
Instead of dipping into the tasty spread, I peered inside first and saw that the entire surface was covered with green, dusty mold. Ick! So at 6:30am, I had the unenviable task of cleaning moldy chocolate. Not a pretty thing to wake up to. I managed to get all visible signs of mold off, then I poured in a shot of Jack Daniels (which around here is definitely not too-good-to-use) and swished it around to kill any microscopic traces of green hairiness.
Thankfully I didn’t toss it, and the hazelnut-chocolate paste was the best I’ve ever tasted. Unlike commercial hazelnut and chocolate spreads, this crema da spalmare from Slitti was made from the best, just-blended chocolate imaginable, studded with the world-famous Piedmontese hazelnuts from Langhe. And I’ve been enjoying it for the past few weeks, the warm weather in Paris makes it the perfect spreadable (ie: heap-able) consistency for my morning toast.
So maybe you have something in your cabinet, something you picked up on a trip that you’re holding on to. Or do you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Or is there something else that’s so special that you can’t bear to open it?
Do you have something that’s “too good to use”?
Cioccolato e Caffè
Via Francesca Sud, 1268
“Can I bring it back?”
Answering many of the questions visitors have about what’s allowable to be brought back into the United States (legally), here are some articles and posts about what can and can’t be brought back into the United States:
- Think Twice Before Stuffing Your Suitcase (USA Today)
-Travelers Bringing Food Into the US for Personal Use (US Customs & Border Protection)
(Please note that rules and regulations are subject to change and revision, and it’s always best to consult with the US government websites for the most current information.)
Unless you live in an almond-growing region in the US, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s rather unlikely you’ll come across green almonds in your market. They don’t seem to be as popular in America as they are here in France. And right now in Paris, they’re heaped up in big mounds at the outdoor markets.
In San Francisco, I would find green almonds at certain markets, and they were plentiful and abundant in the late spring. What is a green almond? They’re unripe almonds, picked before the shell has a chance to harden, and before the almond has had a chance to become crisp and mature (I’m still waiting for both, myself. Does that make me ‘green’ too?)
To extract the almond meat, take a large knife and embed the blade in the fuzzy green outer husk. Lift the knife and the almond and crack both down with modest force on a cutting board, making sure your fingers are safely out of the way. The Italian woman at my market cracks green almonds using her teeth, a method countless dentists probably don’t recommend. Her teeth are not exactly a stellar advertisement for that method either. But do watch your fingers and keep them away from the blade of the knife. You’ll find typing very difficult with just 9 fingers.
Once split open, pluck out the little almond in the center with the tip of a knife and peel back the rubbery, shiny-smooth skin, a task which many people find pleasurable. I sprinkle green almonds over summer fresh-fruit compotes that include sliced nectarines, tart apricots, and juicy berries. They also liven up a simple scoop of ice cream as well, but I know many French people that just snack on them as they are, a nibble before dinner with an aperitif accompanied by a glass of icy-cold, fruity rosé.
If a French cooks makes you a gift of a jar of homemade jam, you’ll often find a few green almonds tucked in, as I did yesterday when I made a few jars of Peach Jam. If you’d like to taste green almonds, visit your local farmer’s market and see if they’re available. If not, ask any nuts farmers there to bring you some. Otherwise, you’ll have to come to Paris.
But don’t wait too long; the season is short and they’ll only be around another few weeks.
Wandering the streets of Paris, I feel fortunate when I stumble across a great boulangerie. In a city with 1263 bakeries (at last count) many of them are good, a few great, and some are disappointingly ordinary.
So when I come one that looks, and smells, like it’s gonna be a great one, I hurry inside.
Located on a plain, fairly-deserted side street in the vast 15th arrondissement, my nose filled with the unmistakable scent of yeast and wheat mingling in the air, tinged with an obligatory bit of butter, which I could smell from the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.Traversing the street (which is always a dangerous proposition, since no one seems to have told Parisian drivers that when you see a pedestrian, you’re supposed to slow down, not speed up) I joined the line of hungry Parisians queuing up for their daily bread.
While I waited, I craned my neck to look at their beautiful breads on display. In Paris, once it’s you’re turn in line, if you haven’t figured out what you want, you’re messing up the whole system, since indecision is not a Parisian trait. But I honed in immediately on this pain Auvergnate, a dense, dark loaf dusted heavily with flour. Sliced open, the dense mie, or crumb, smelled rich, sour and medieval. I would imagine it going well with a full-flavored mountain cheese, like Comté or Cantal, or a tangy, fresh goat cheese with a dribble of dark chestnut honey.
I also bought several palets Breton, crumbly butter cookies, a specialty of Brittany where butter rules…especially butter flecked with fleur de sel. Unfortunately I made a stop to visit a local chocolatier, who helped himself to my stash. And before I knew it, they were gone and I had nothing but a bag of crumbs (which, by the way, were rather good.)
Luckily, he made up for it in spades, which I’ll write about soon.
Le Quartier du Pain
74, rue St. Charles
Tel: 01 45 78 87 23
270, rue Vaugirard
Tel: 01 48 28 78 42
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.
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:
108 Blvd Saint-Germain
Tel: 01 43 29 38 42
47 rue Houdon
(RER station B: Seaux)
Tel: 01 47 02 30 17
(And Muchas Gracias to a certain señorita too!)
I thought I’d share this recipe for Dulce de Leche Brownies. I’ve had several jars of the dulce de leche in my refrigerator, waiting to be used. And since I happened to be craving chocolate brownies, I though, “Why not combine the two?”
In the past, I’ve used homemade Dulce de Leche in this recipe, although you can use store-bought. I think these brownies are really fun to make – who doesn’t like swirling caramel? Just be careful not to overdo it. You wanted big, gooey pockets of dulce de leche.
Dulce de Leche Brownies
Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway Books)
- 8 tablespoons (115g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup (25g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup (200g) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (140g) flour
- optional: 1 cup (100 g) toasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup Dulce de Leche (or Cajeta)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C).
Line a 8-inch (20 cm) square pan with a long sheet of aluminum foil that covers the bottom and reaches up the sides. If it doesn’t reach all the way up and over all four sides, cross another sheet of foil over it, making a large cross with edges that overhang the sides. Grease the bottom and sides of the foil with a bit of butter or non-stick spray.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the chocolate pieces and stir constantly over very low heat until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, then the flour. Mix in the nuts, if using.
Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Here comes the fun part.
Drop one-third of the Dulce de Leche, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter, then drag a knife through to swirl it slightly. Spread the remaining brownie batter over, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining Dulce de Leche in dollops over the top of the brownie batter. Use a knife to swirl the Dulce de Leche slightly.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The brownies are done when the center feels just-slightly firm. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
Storage: These brownies actually become better the second day, and will keep well for up to 3 days.
Related Recipes and Posts
Someone has a lot of catching up to do.