One of the great things to do in Paris is to wander. I’ll often catch a film, search for a monument, of just mètro to a far-off neighborhood…then walk.
The 13th arrondissement of Paris is a real cross-cultural quartier.
Part of it is the quartier Chinois, where there’s huge and small shops selling exotic Asian fruits and vegetables, as well as unidentifiable cuts of meat (that are perhaps best left unidentifiable…)
Many Asians set up shops and restaurants in the area during the 1970′s, when the neighborhood was neglected and rather dingy. But now there’s much to be said for this area: there’s the little village of Butte aux Cailles, a tiny village with convivial restaurants, and cafés and there’s a fabulous natural-source piscine (swimming pool) where I’ve cooled off on more than one swelteringly hot summer afternoon in Paris. (Bathing caps are mandatory in public pools in Paris…even for men…even if you’re bald!)
On a recent stroll through the neighborhood, I stopped by one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries, Le Grenier à Pain and found these whimsical chocolate-covered Pain d’Epices…
Almost before I could get out of the shop, I ripped into the sack, plucked one out, and took a bite. And boy, were they superb! Chewy and spicy-brown cake, fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, all enrobed in a thin layer of bittersweet dark chocolate.
I turned around, considered getting another bag but instead spotted a beautiful loaf, le pain aux ceriales, on the wooden rack behind the counter.
Of course, when I got it home I immediately sliced into the irregularly-shaped loaf. It was excellent and just like I imagined it would be. Rich with whole-grains, deeply-flavored with sour levain, and a firm crust, and wonderful paired with an assortment of cheese I had just selected from the fromager. I smeared the slices with a luscious and dangerously unctuous Délice de Saint-Cyr, a triple-cream raw milk cheese from the region of Brie I’d just selected on the excellent recommendation of my favorite fromager.
Le Grenier à Pain
52, avenue d’Italie
M: Place d’Italie or Tolbiac
Tel: 01 45 80 16 36
(Other locations throughout Paris.)
Sometimes I feel like I must be walking around with a sign on me that says…
“Even though it’s obvious from the way I’m holding it, I’m carrying a fragile dessert that I’ve spent hours making…
…But please feel free to walk right into me anyways.”
Yes, that was me trying to navigate Paris, tranversing the sidewalks and mètros of Paris, hoping to make it safely to the New Year’s party I was invited to with my Almond Tart.
As those who read this blog regularly may recall, I’m a target for Parisians when carrying fragile cakes and tarts down the street. For some reason, they’ll just walk right into me.
But this time, I got wise to their antics and thwarted their efforts to derail me by remembering a favorite recipe from my past, Lindsey’s Almond Tart, one of the all-time great desserts that I made almost every day at Chez Panisse for years and years. Once baked, the tart is bullet-proof: and as anticipated, the disk of firm caramelized almonds successfully withstood both the Line #1 and #14 mètros.
I made it safely to my New Year’s Eve fête with the tart. I did get body-checked by a Parisian in the Bastille mètro, forcing me to crash into the tile wall, and heard the loud “Thwack” of the porcelain cake plate it was resting on.
“Zut!, I thought.
But the tart arrived safely and after dinner, everyone nibbled on it happily along with the last of the cold Champagne along with the Chocolate, Sour Cherry, and Toasted Almond Bark that I made with fleur de sel, which was equally a big hit.
So here’s a few resolutions for my life in 2006…
-I’m going to avoid the black tar as much as I can…
-I’m going to perfect my Madeleine recipe…
-I’m going to cut back on the amount of chocolate I eat…
-I’m going to get to work on my next cookbook…
-And I’m going to become a true Frenchman and no matter how impeccably or fashionably dressed I am, I’m going to wear the wackiest socks I can drum up…
I will avoid socks with images of Homer Simpson or Asterix, though, so popular with the men here in France, though. Even I have my limits.
Sleepy-eyed after a very long night of wining & dining, I crawl out of bed and pour myself a steaming hot bowl of café au lait and toast slices of pain au levain…
The beginning of another year in Paris.
I bring the bowl to my lips and take a comforting sip.
I slather butter on my warm toast. It melts and forms little buttery puddles in between the delightfully irregular bubbles revealed each time I slice and toast another slab from the hearty loaf.
I drizzle it with bitter chestnut honey. Delicious.
The sweet, creamy smear of butter and the sharp, amber honey pair feel just right this morning after a night scraping briny oysters from their shells and washing them down with endless flutes of icy Champagne. After we polished off several platters of les huitres, our next course was tiny roasted quails, expertly roasted with root vegetables, accompanied by the smoothest puree of potatoes, mounded alongside, bathed in a delicate sauce made from the savory pan juices.
Afterwards, a long sleep was in order while all of Paris closed up for the night. My re-entry to the world begins when the late winter sun peers out from behind the curtains. A few slow, tentative movements as I slide out of bed, and I find myself back into the world.
That wonderful luminosity of Paris!
The sun peering through the grey still of winter.
The heater buzzes softly in the corner, the only sound, except for the faint patter of traffic on the street down below.
The gentle quiet of a slow morning, as Paris begins to wake up. Curtains are tentatively opened in buildings across the way. A queu begins at the corner bakery, Parisians exiting with slender baguettes tucked under their arms and warm, buttery croissants enclosed in stiff bakery paper.
How wonderful to live in a city where breakfast inspires a photograph.
I finish the last, warm sip of my café au lait.
My clothes are draped carelessly over the sofa where I dropped them the night before. I gather them up.
Then I smell it.
That ever-present, overpowering smell.
My clothes reek of cigarette smoke.
The woman sitting next to me last night spent the evening chain-smoking. She went though an entire pack of cigarettes during dinner. No sooner did she finish one cigarette then she lit up another. The room became so smoke-filled that I had to get up several times during the night just to catch some fresh air in another room. My eyes burning with acrid cigarette smoke, at times I was barely able to breathe. Every so often, the room would clear of it’s grey, foul, heavy smoke…then someone else would light up, prompting everyone else to reach for their cigarettes and light up another.
My clothing will have to go to the cleaners.
I settle in at my desk to check my email.
My email doesn’t work, nor does my internet connection.
No email. No internet. Nothing.
I consider calling Noosnet Customer Service, then I remember the last time I tried that.
Four weeks later they re-connected me.
I shiver and wonder why it suddenly feels so cold? Why does it seem so dark inside?
I switch on a light. Nothing happens. I try another lamp.
The heater has stopped buzzing and the metal feels cold to the touch.
My electricity is off.
I begin to get chilly, thinking a nice, hot shower will warm me up.
I run the water for a few minutes.
The pathetic spittle of water that comes from the shower nozzle is barely tepid. I let the water flow for a few more minutes. It’s still cold, the water just slightly warmer than the now almost near-freezing temperature inside my apartment. I shiver and think about getting in, then turn off the sad trickle, putting it out of it’s misery. I decide to get back into bed, burying myself under my fluffy down duvet and crisp linen sheets, where it’s all warm and cozy.
“Bienvenue à Paris…let’s give it another year.”…I sigh to myself, before dozing off.
I wish you all a wonderful New Year and Bonne Année.
My New Year’s Eve celebration will be filled with fresh oysters from Brittany accompanied by slices of fresh rye bread smeared with salted butter, a coupe (or two..) of rosé Champagne, and a nice wedge of caramelized Almond Tart for dessert, a delicious reminder of my days at Chez Panisse. It’s bubbling nicely now in my oven, filling my kitchen with the luxurious smell of caramelized butter and toasty almonds. I can barely wait until it’s cool and ready to eat!
Thanks to all of you for visiting my site and for leaving your comments on the blog. Special thanks to those of you who are the proud owners of one of my dessert books, have visited Paris on a tour with me, or attended one of my classes this past year during one of my cooking tours in the states.
I look forward to you returning here to my site, where I’ll continue to write about my chocolate and gastronomic adventures here in Paris.
See you soon…a bientôt…
Something in Paris has turned horribly wrong. It’s called ‘the weather’, or to be more specific…winter has arrived.
Which means it’s gotten cold, gray, and dreary. In fact, it’s so cold that I refuse to go outside until spring. Believe me, all those romantic photos of Paris you see are taken during the spring and fall are very deceptive and although beautiful, it would take a mighty big levier (crowbar) to get me outdoors.
So when to do when you’re stuck indoors for three or four months? Make candy!
If you’ve never made candy, this one is really simple and incredibly delicious so there’s no reason not to try a batch. And truthfully, doesn’t it make you feel happier just looking at it?
My recipe for Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee is easy: You chop nuts, you make a syrup, and then you pour the syrup over the nuts. Sprinkle some chocolate over it, spread it out, and finish it with more nuts. That’s it. There’s no fancy techniques and the only special equipment you’ll need is a candy thermometer; they’re easily found online, and in most supermarkets. (Yes, really. Take it from someone who lurks in supermarkets, searching for things like candy thermometers, late at night.)
I like to add a sprinkle of fleur de sel, French salt, which gives it a pleasant salty edge which is divine with the dark chocolate and toasty nuts (any coarse salt can be used). Although you can use chips, you can also chop up a block of chocolate, instead.
When making candy, here are a few tips that will help:
Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop
- 2 cups (8 ounces, 225 g) toasted almonds or hazelnuts, chopped between 'fine' and 'coarse'
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/2 cup (1 stick, 115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- a nice, big pinch of salt
- 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup (50 g) packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 ounces (140 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips
optional: Roasted cocoa nibs and fleur de sel
1. Lightly oil a baking sheet with an unflavored vegetable oil.
2. Sprinkle half the nuts into a rectangle about 8″ x 10″ (20 x 25 cm) on the baking sheet.
3. In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, heat the water, butter, salt, and both sugars. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the thermometer reads 300 F degrees. Have the vanilla and baking soda handy.
4. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla.
5. Quickly pour the mixture over the nuts on the baking sheet. Try to pour the mixture so it forms a relatively even layer. (If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a spatula, but don’t overwork it.)
5. Strew the chocolate pieces over the top and let stand 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer.
If using, sprinkle with a small handful of cocoa nibs and a flurry of fleur des sel. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the chocolate and gently press them in with your hands.
Cool completely and break into pieces to serve. Store in an airtight container, for up to ten days.
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