La Maison du Chocolat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Related Links:

Papabubble (New York City)

Le Furet Tanrade (Paris)

REGIS Chocolatier (Paris)

Jacques Genin Opens (Paris)

The Pâtisseries of Paris

A Visit to Bernachon Chocolate (Lyon)

Eye Candy (Paris)

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux (Brittany)

Concert…Exceptionnel?

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The Goofus and Gallant of Chocolate

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

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

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

Fine.

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

Incredibly tacky. Oui?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate Tasting With Jacques Genin

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

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

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

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

Is that wrong?

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

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

Financiers from Kayser Bakery, Paris

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If you’ve never had financiers before, prepare yourself for a treat. But even if you’ve had them, you’ve likely never had financiers from Kayser bakery. Each little moist button is the perfect taste of ground almonds and French butter. They’re available in a few flavors, such as dark chocolate, and nature (Almond). I can never resist getting a little bag of them at the bakery, and I consider them one of the best things in Paris.

While you’re there, check out his wonderful chocolate-chip cookies, which rival anything in America, as well as his extraordinary pain aux céreales, a lovely, crusty loaf studded with lots of grains and seeds.

Eric Kayser
85, Boulevard Malesherbes
and
8, rue Monge

(Many other locations throughout Paris-check website for other locations.)



For other tasty Paris addresses, check out my Paris Pastry App, a guide to over 300 of the best pastry and chocolate shops in Paris. The Paris Pastry guide is also available for Kindle devices and as an e-book, compatible with Android and other devices.

No Man Is As Island. Except Me.

When I decided to move from San Francisco, the two places I narrowed it down to were Honolulu or Paris. The beauty of living in Hawaii is…well, the beauty of Hawaii. Lots of warm beaches and surfing, alarmingly-fresh sushi, tropical fruits galore in your backyard, and an accumulation of frequent-flyer miles from trips to the mainland.

Paris, on the one hand, was France.

So I moved to France.
Here I am, going about my everyday life: in line at the boulangerie waiting for my baguette, negotiating with the fromager for the most interesting cheese of the season, and sitting in cafés all afternoon reading Kant and Kafka.

So this year I won a blog award, and was thrilled that my prize was being donated by ‘Ono Kine Grindz from Honolulu. The prize turned out to be two oversized, heavy cookbooks on Hawaiian cuisine. So instead of the books (one of which I had), Reid offered to send me a selection of tasty Hawaiian products instead.
“Awesome”, I thought, “I can’t wait.”

But wait I did.
And wait some more, did I.

Then then I waited some more.

I know it’s kinda rude to ask, but I finally shot him an email asking him if he had indeed sent it, which he had way back when.
Now I don’t know if it’s La Poste or the US Post, but living in the US I always received packages, most arriving relatively quickly. But in just a few short years in Paris, the arrival rate for packages is hovering at about 26.4%. I mean, where are they going? Are they sitting in some warehouse? Are they being pilfered or stolen? Do packages just simply vanish?

(Note: If any French people have anti-US Postal service stories, post the link to your blog entry in the comments section. Similarly, if anyone works for La Poste and would like to anonymously give some clues as to the whereabouts of my other packages…no questions will be asked. And I promise never to write anymore about lost or stolen packages.)

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So even though I didn’t move to the island of Honolulu, I realize that I’m living on an island right here. One that is impenetrable when it comes to deliveries.

Anyhow…so my second package from Reid managed to arrive this week, and I was so happy when I unwrapped all the fabulous things:

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Loose-leaf Pacific Place Tea, which I am busy brewing. This dark, long-leaf tea is beautiful, scattered with colorful little petals of marigold and cornflowers, with tropical fruit aromas as well. I hope it’s not sacrilegious, but I’m brewing up some iced tea with it.

A sack of real Kona Coffee! Most of the time if you go to Hawaii you’ll get served something called ‘Kona’ coffee, but if you look at the percentage of real Kona coffee in it, you’ll find it’s blended and the actual amount of Kona beans in it is around 10% (my delivery rate is better than that!) I was at Peet’s coffee once and was served true, 100% Kona coffee. And it was amazing and well worth the lofty price tag.
And mine was a gift!

I screwed open the jar of Kiawe White Honey and stuck my finger in the blank-colored, crystallized honey. Boy, was that good! This very rich organic honey is made from the flowers of the kiawe tree which grows from the volcanic soil of Mauna Kea.

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Poha Berry Jam. Poha berries are related to what are called physalis in France and Cape Gooseberries (or Ground Cherries) in America. Poha Berries resemble tomatillos with their papery leaves hiding the dull-orange fruit inside. At the market recently, a Frenchwoman told me they were called, “les feuilles d’amour”, the leaves of love, in French.

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I remember reading about Lilikoi Curd from Planted by the river from Heidi. I adore anything with passion fruit in it, one of my favorite fruits ever. This jar of curd has li hing mui, dried salted plums added. I’m thinking of making Heidi’s Lilikoi Passion Fruit Curd Cake but I fear I’m going to eat it all for breakfast instead. (In fact, I’m certain I will.)

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Being a baker, I am avidly interested in vanilla and always looking for unusual pods to sniff and bake with. Vanilla beans are the most labor-intensive crop in the world, hence their price and scarcity. In 1998, Hawaiian Vanilla began planting vanilla orchids in Hilo, and now they sell vanilla beans and extracts, all cultivated and made in Hawaii. When I pulled the pod out of the glass tube and gave it a sniff, it was sweet and fragrant, one of the best-smelling vanilla beans I’ve had. I’m going to use it to make some Vanilla Ice Cream, plain and simple.

Mahalo to Reid at ‘Ono Kine Grindz. Go visit his site.

Two Milk Chocolates

While I was teaching chocolate classes at Central Market stores across Texas last month, in my free time I would wander the aisles of the store. I don’t think I’d ever been in a place that had such a terrific selection of chocolates from around the world. It was a chocolate-lovers dream!
I was particularly intersted in these two, which I had never seen before and was eager to sample.

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In the US, to be called ‘milk chocolate’, the chocolate must contain a minimum of 10% cacao solids.(Cacao solids are the ground paste made from pure cocoa beans.) In the European Union, the legal minimum hovers between 25-30%, although some companies get around it by calling their tablets ‘family chocolate’ or ‘dairy bar’, which is somewhat misleading since people often grab the bars thinking they’re getting milk chocolate when they’re getting something else.

So I’ve taken it upon me to re-name these higher-percentage bars of milk chocolate as ‘dark’ milk chocolate. Both bars shown contain about 35% cacao solids.

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The first bar, the darker and thinner of the two, is Santander milk chocolate, made from Columbian beans. I found the chocolate to be a bit peanutty and malty. It was sharp and acidic but left little lingering aftertaste. It had a nice snap when sliced and had a faint butterscotch finish. I would imagine this would be good for chopping and substituting the pieces for chocolate chips in your favorite recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies. I’m going to use mine to make a batch of Dark Milk Chocolate Ice Cream.

The lighter of the two is Caro milk chocolate. This was far ‘milkier’ tasting with a very creamy taste and texture. It looks a bit whipped and its flavor was somewhat elusive and candy-like. I have to admit that this one left a rather funny taste behind and I wasn’t eager to eat more. Still, it was interesting to taste the two side-by-side.

I’m going to do the David Lebovitz Let-Them-Sit-In-My-Apartment-And-See-
Which-One-Is-Left-By-The-End-Of-The-Week
Test®.

Wish me luck.


The Best Paris Guidebook

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Paris is reported to be the most popular tourist destination in the world. Each year people come from all over the world for their vacations. I’m sure they spend months and months making arrangements, searching the internet looking for a charming, affordable hotel, scouring web site for decent airfares, and searching my blog for places to eat.

So after all that, what do most people depend on to get around this most fabulous of all cities? The free maps from Galleries Lafayette that the hotels give out. Not that there’s anything wrong with those maps.

Ok, yes there is.

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Let’s face it, Paris hasn’t changed much in the past 100 or so years or more, and it ain’t gonna be changing much in our lifetime either. So next time you come, on your very first day, stop by a Presse, or newstand, and buy one of these booklets. They cost about 5 to 7 euros, and are available in various sizes and formats. Few Parisians leave the house without this handy little booklet in their handbag or man-purse. It easily slips inside a coat pocket as well.

Mine lists all the outdoor markets in the city by day and location, addresses for all the attractions in Paris, the location of gas stations and taxi stands, where all the big department stores are, schools and universities (ok, you probably don’t need those), and a complete overview and map of the extensive métro system. And the last kicker: you can use it each and every time you come back to Paris. No need to buy a new one.

Related posts and links:

Paris Dining and Travel Guides

My Paris

Two Delicious Dining Guides to Paris

The Pastry Shops of Paris

French Menu Translation, Made Easy