Garrett’s caramel corn for breakfast…
Some people love it, and others leave it.
It’s White Chocolate, that controversial melange of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk (more on that later). Often there’s vanilla, or vanillin (a synthetic vanilla-like substance) added as well.
Many people will say they don’t like white chocolate, citing a preference for the dark side.
“It’s not chocolate!”, you’ll hear.
Well, no, it’s not. It’s different. A different kind of chocolate.
Dark, or bittersweet chocolate, contains cacao mass (the ground beans), sugar, cocoa butter, and sometimes vanilla and lecithin.
White chocolate has none of the cacao mass, hence the delicate, ivory-like color, which it gets from the cocoa butter. Instead it’s rich with cocoa butter, which gives it that suave, subtle taste, that I find compliments dark chocolate desserts and bolder flavors. I make White Chocolate Crème Anglaise and pour the cool custard alongside a dark chocolate cake. Or I steep fragrant fresh mint leaves when making White Chocolate Ice Cream.
Cocoa butter is derived from the chocolate-making process, or more specifically, when cocoa powder is made. To make cocoa powder, roastedcacao beans are ground into a paste, known as chocolate liquor, then the paste is pressed through a powerful hydraulic press, which separates the cocoa mass from the cocoa butter. The cocoa mass comes out as a solid block, which is grated into cocoa powder (which is why cocoa powder is always unsweetened and relatively low-fat) and the soft, rich cocoa butter is extracted. I’ve been to factories and watched the process, and the smell of warm, fat-rich cocoa butter is intoxicating.
The valuable cocoa butter is often sold to the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry, since it has the perfect melting point for things like lipstick…and why chocolate melts and releases its complex flavors like nothing else when you pop a piece in your mouth. But it’s also that reason that true white chocolate tastes so good and is loved by many pastry chefs.
Here’s some tips and facts about white chocolate:
I ain’t Mr. Organic.
I’m one of those people where “local-trumps-organic”.
And taste trumps everything.
But I do generally prefer to buy from a local grower if possible, rather than from someone far away. (Unless it’s Target…then all bets are off!)
That’s what I like about daily life in Paris, those things are still important. You need to know the boulanger, the butcher, the fromager, the waiter at your local café, and, of course, the most important person in France: The Pharmacist.
(Next time you’re a guest in someone’s home in France, check out the bathroom. Holy Mother-of-Merck! The average French person gets 80 prescriptions per year.)
In many cities in America, organic has become all the rage.
Fine restaurants and their chefs are touting how organic they are. Boasting about which farms they buy their lavender-colored turnips from, and how tiny can they get their lettuce leaves to be. Branches of baby thyme are carefully draped over free-range quail eggs from birds that only eat peeled (organic) grapes. Everyone’s so chummy with their farmer, smiling from the pages of Food + Wine magazine, but do we really need to know which farmer grows the most special, rarest species of Japanese blueberry blossoms to be dehydrated and sprayed over diners while they’re spooning up their Smoked Lemon Sorbet?
American cuisine seems to be touting organics so much so that several French chefs have come up to me and asked,
“Why is everyone in America so into organic produce?”
I usually respond with something along the lines of “Organic is better since you often buy direct from the grower, there’s no chemicals, it’s better for the environment” etc…
On more than one occasion, their response was,
“Well, in France, we use very little chemicals.”
“Er…um, really?”, I think to myself.
I’m not an agronomist, but I’ve been told the opposite. And just like anywhere else in the world, including the US, I am sure that most commercially-grown fruits and vegetables are sprayed with something or other to make them as perfect and blemish-free as possible.
But eventually I realized that organic here is associated with bourgeouis or upscale. Most organic products are more expensive, and of the two organic markets in Paris, the one on the Boulevard Raspail is full of snobbish clients, pushing you aside with their strollers while they reach for their precious organic turnips (like the SUV-driving folks who run stop signs racing to get to yoga, shoving you aside in the aisles of Whole Foods while they chat on their cell phones, drinking their chai lattes, oblivious to anyone around them.)
But in Paris, the little shops are the most interesting, since you get to interact with the owners and they still take pride in their merchandise and often they like to talk to you. Each shop is like entering someone’s home. A few days ago I was walking down a street near Oberkampf, and passed a nifty little bio shop, an organic shop so clean and modern. Displayed in the window were lots of interesting products and some chocolate bars, but I was in a rush and I kept walking.
But then I stopped, turned around, then went back.
I found inside a small, but rather interesting array of chocolates on offer and I am always looking for new and unusual chocolates. So I picked up a few bars while the owners offered me strips of delicious dried mangoes.
Chocolate, or cacao (the beans ground to make chocolate), is generally grown in very underdeveloped regions quite close to the equator. The climate is inhospitable and the jungles can be very rugged. I would presume that in many of those places, the people are not treated very well who pick cacao pods, nor do they make much money, hence the interest in Fair Trade, where the growers are said to get paid a fair wage for their products. Some of these products are organic, while others are not.
However I’ve been told by one of my most reliable sources for all things chocolate, that most cacao is not sprayed with chemicals and is, for the most part, organic. (In many places ‘organic’ is a term that can only be used if the products are certified and tested, which often requires a hefty fee to be paid. Hence, farmers will often choose to label their products as ‘transitional’ or ‘unsprayed’ even if they are indeed organic.)
But what I like about these organic or Fair Trade chocolates is that the labels are chock-full of information; the region where the chocolate’s grown, the climate, how it’s harvested, what the growers had for dinner last night, how often they go to the bathroom, etc…
It’s all very interesting, and is good for consumers who imagine that chocolate is from some big factory full of test tubes and scientists formulate bars, so it’s nice to see a picture of the happy natives on the packaging.
The chocolates I purchased were interesting, although they were geared more for mass-appeal rather than the rarified palate that someone such as myself has cultivated. (just kidding…)
The Oxfam chocolate bar is made in Belgium. It has 48% cacao mass and it was a bit sweet, but had a nice fruity aftertaste and it would be great for baking. The chocolate is from Ghana (hence the black woman).
Another curious chocolate bar I found was made with quinoa.
Quinoa is an ancient grain, very high in protein. The grains are puffed and toasted, then embedded into the chocolate bar. I liked this one.
The chocolate is from the Dominican Republic, from an organization of 9000 little cacao cultivators. The chocolate was nice and dark (60 percent, for those of you into numbers) and had a nice snap. There was not much of a ‘finish’, no long-term aftertaste, and I wish there were more crunchy bits in there.
Still, what a wacky thing to find: chocolate with puffed quinoa!
Here’s some interesting places to check out on the web about organic or Fair Trade chocolates, with information where to buy and taste some of the products mentioned, as well as a few other brands, some that are available in the United States.
Oxfam Fair Trade chocolate in Belgium.
Dagoba organic chocolate from the United States.
Green and Black’s Organic Chocolate, made in England, available worldwide.
Max Havelaar chocolates and other Fair Trade products online.
Some of the chocolates shown, such as the bar with quinoa, are available here.
A baker takes advantage of the sub-zero temperature of Paris…
Roquefort cheese is produced in the southwestern region of France and is designated as AOC, the first product ever to do so in 1925, and is a designation meant to denote quality and provenance from a certain region made in a certain manner. Cheese experts (and me) agree that Roquefort is one of the top, all-time-greatest cheeses in the world. And I was excited to explore using it in this delicious ice cream.
Roquefort is a raw-milk cheese, aged between 3 to 9 months in caves. It gets its unique flavor and mold as a result of some very old rye bread; jumbo-sized loaves are baked, then left to sit for two months, during which time they become encrusted with mold. The mold is scraped, then introduced into the caves, where the cheese becomes encrusted by the greenish powder, then inoculated with the spores (called penicillium roqueforti) by resting the wheels of cheese on spikes. That’s why often you see ‘lines’ of mold in Roquefort, as in many other bleu cheeses. But unlike other bleu cheeses, Roquefort has a very special, sweet and tangy flavor that lingers and excites.
Roquefort goes very well with winter foods, such as pears, dates, oranges, toasted nuts like walnuts and pecans, sweet Sauternes, or with bitter seasonal greens like frisée, radicchio, or escarole. A simple winter salad can be made with chunks of Roquefort, slices of ripe Comice pears, leaves of Belgian endive, and a drizzle of good walnut oil. But sometimes Roquefort’s best enjoyed just smeared on a piece of hearty levain bread…and that’s lunch.
When you buy Roquefort, it should be moist and creamy without any red mold and the cut surface should glisten with milky freshness. It usually comes with a piece of foil around its exterior, and whether or not to eat the rind underneath is entirely up to you (don’t eat the foil…especially if you have lots of dental fillings.) If the rind looks dark and funky, skip it. It’s probably going to be too pungent and dank-tasting. But most of the time it’s fine to eat and as delicious as the rest of the wedge.
In France, there’s a few brands of Roquefort to choose from. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a Roquefort that was not wonderful, so it’s hard to go wrong when buying from a reputable cheese vendor. You can also use a nice bleu or gorgonzola cheese in its place.
Here’s a recipe of mine that will surprise you: Roquefort and Honey Ice Cream.
Try roasting some pear slices in the oven with some strong-flavored honey and spices and maybe a strip of lemon peel. Serve warm, with a scoop of this ice cream melting alongside. I also like this with a spoonful of dark honey on top, with a sweet dessert wine, like Barzac or Sauternes, to accompany it.
Roquefort and Honey Ice Cream
One quart (1l)
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop (Ten Speed Press)
- 6 tablespoons (120 gr) honey
- 4 ounces (110 gr) Roquefort
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- a few turns freshly-ground black pepper
1. In a small saucepan warm the honey, then set aside.
2. Crumble the Roquefort into a large bowl. Set a mesh strainer over the top.
3. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.
5. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
6. Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon.
7. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cheese. Stir until most of the cheese is melted (some small bits are fine, and rather nice in the finished ice cream.) Stir in the cream and the honey, and add a few turns of black pepper.
8. Chill custard thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Related Posts and Recipes
Americans often wonder how French people some know we’re American before we even say one word. It used to be our sneakers; they were the dead giveaway. Nowadays, wearing sneakers, or les baskets, is as French as carrying a baguette.
The other way they can tell us-from-them is that Americans tend to smile. A lot. We are a rather happy tribe. And Americans tend to eat and drink while walking (or while driving, which I’ve explained to some of my French friends, but they look at me in disbelief). Even though in Paris it’s becoming a bit more common, it’s still unusual to see someone chowing down while walking on the street or in the métro. It’s just not done and people will definitely give you funny looks if you’re – say, cramming a Pierre Hermé pastry into your face while sitting on a sidewalk bench. Or shoving a sublime, cream-filled éclair au chocolat from La Maison du Chocolat into your mouth, trying to make sure not one precious drop of bittersweet chocolate pastry cream lands anywhere but in your tummy.
But one little nugget of Parisian tradition still amuses me every time I see it. It’s the yank, twist, and pull of le quignon.
You’ll see it 99% of the time someone leaves a bakery with a freshly-baked baguette. The moment they exit, they grab the crackly knob at the end of the loaf, le quignon, and yank it off. It’s a quick twist and snap, then it gets popped right it into their mouth as they hurry on their way. I tend to think of it as an instant, on-the-spot, quality-control check.
I usually end up with a mess of flour on my dark overcoat, since one of my favorite breads in Paris, le Bazinette, has a fine dusting of flour on it’s crackly crust, and permeating all the little brittle crevasses. If you’re lucky enough to get to Bazin early in the day, a favorite baguette of mine is available with a hearty mixture of grains; flax, sesame, and poppy seeds.
The one shown above is their baguette de tradition, a hand-shaped baguette, slightly sour from the addition of un peu de levain, natural sourdough starter, which gives the bread a hearty, earthy character and allows it to remain fresher longer than the usual 4-hour lifespan of a regular baguette.
Bazin is one of the prettiest bakeries in Paris too, overlooking what I am sure is the smallest (and most unnecessary) traffic rotary in the city. In order to get a Bazinette with grains, you need to get to the bakery early in the day, since they always seem to sell them out quickly.
85, bis rue de Charenton
Tel: 01 43 07 75 21
(Closed Wednesday and Thursday)
It’s perhaps not much of a secret anymore that some of the best places to eat in Paris are the wine bars. Unlike some of the ‘wine bars’ in the US (where that glass of oaky California Chardonnay will run you $14…not including tax and tip), Paris’ wine bars are gathering places, where people might stop in the morning after the market for a friendly chat with the counter person or in the afternoon for quick glass of red to get you through the rest of your day…not that I ever do that…
After work, the wines bars in Paris hum as people leave their jobs, and you’ll see businessmen in dapper suits (and the aforementioned cartoon-emblazoned socks) as well as sales clerks from the local shops propped up against le bar zinc, cigarette in hand, sipping a glass of red wine while thinking whatever it is they’re thinking as they focus their gazes somewhere off into space. It’s a skill I’ve yet to master.
One of my favorite wine bars in Paris is Le Rubis. Located just off the fancy-schmancy rue Saint-Honoré, Le Rubis occupies a little corner of this quartier, better known for handbags, jewelery shops, and all the other necessities of life for les bourgeoisie.
I like to go at lunchtime, especially in the cold winter months, where the friendly owners will squeeze you into a seat at one of the tiny tables covered with crisp white paper, a folded napkin, some utilitarian silverware, and an overturned wine glass, ready to be filled. After lunch of later in the afternoon, Parisians gather outside by the wine barrels covered with red-checkered cloth, drinking, smoking, and talking on their mobile phones, while absent mindedly polishing off a couple of glasses of Brouilly or Beaujolais.
Most of the wine bars in Paris that serve food keep it authentic and simple: peek into the kitchen at any of them and you’ll find most are the size of a phone booth. It’s all charming and convivial, reminding me of the old diners that have mostly disappeared in America (except the bottomless cup of bad coffee’s been replaced by red wine…and people still ask me why I live in France!)
Lunch can be anything from petit salé, braised salt pork on a bed of nutty green French lentils, or a rich wedge of tarte au legumes, a quiche-like slab of eggy-custard, baked with vegetables and diced smoked bacon, served with a mustardy green salad.
Of course, though, the wine is important here. But not so important that it draws wine snobs. Thankfully all he pretention from the neighborhood is left outside the door. I like to come in the afternoon when the place is empty. I sit with friends, or by myself, sipping a glass of fruity Chinon accompanied by a plate of their outstanding charcuterie, served on dark-crusted slices of pain Poilâne, from the nearby bakery of Max Poilâne. Country hams, fat-rich rillettes, and slices of dry sausage are always a treat, and a welcome accompaniment to the wine.
By the time I’m ready to leave, the table’s covered with bread crumbs, the paper table covering is stained with red rings from the bottom of the wine glass, and I’m feeling much better, no matter where I’m going afterwards.
Usually it’s straight home for une sieste, another jour perdu…
(UPDATE: Read more details about Les Rubis.)
10, rue Marché St. Honoré
Tel: 01 42 61 03 34
(Full-meals served only at lunch)