I’ve been craving popcorn for quite a while.
Then Heidi came along and posted a recipe for spiced caramel corn, one of my favorite treats. I scoured the ethnic shops in Paris to track some down and…violà!
Because of the congés d’été, almost every boulangerie in Paris shuts down for one month of vacation. Luckily it’s carefully coordinated with the other bakeries in each neighborhood so that Parisians never have to go too far to find fresh bread daily, one of life’s necessities in France.
I see it as an excuse to leave the confines of my quartier and try other bakeries. Now that the weather in Paris has cooled down enough so that taking a stroll is possible without ending up feeling like you just crossed the desert, ending up drenched in sweat, I mètroed across Paris to a bakery on the rue des Martyrs which Clotilde confided had the best baguette aux cereales in Paris.
But as I arrived (after having to exit the first mètro due to a breakdown, then taking one bus and two mètros, which took about an hour including the time it took me persuading each driver and station agent to let me through using the canceled ticket I’d validated at the first mètro), the window shades were drawn and on the door was the all-too-familiar sign “Fermature pour les Congés”.
So yesterday, I hiked up towards the Pantheon to the rue Mouffetard, a rather well-known market street that I generally avoid since it’s rather pricey. Nevertheless, there’s some great places on that street and I wanted to return to le Boulanger de Monge.
(Update 10/08: Both Octave and Xavier Quere are now closed.)
On page #1 of Le Guide des Boulangeries de Paris, there are only three bakeries in Paris given the lofty 3-star status, and le Boulanger de Monge is one of the lucky few. It’s located at a busy intersection and there’s generally a queue of locals waiting for their daily bread. My first visit was a few months back with my friend Frank, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t won over.
In the window was a multi-layer cake, similar to a Napolean, with alternating layers of puff pastry and cream. Draped across the top were the broken end-shards of the cakes, which I suppose were meant to be decorative, but was suprisingly clunky and amateurish. The tarte aux pommes looked better, but tasted somewhat sec and not-really-all-that-interesting (especially in a city full of very interesting tartes aux pommes.) Perhaps it serves me right for ordering apple tart when apples aren’t in season. But since Frank wrote the book on apples, it just seemed like the right alignment of elements.
But what I came for was the bread.
Le Boulanger de Monge is an open bakery. The bakers are right there beside the patrons making the bread, everything in plain view; the organic flour, the bakers (dusted with organic flour), and the wood-fired ovens with crackly, fresh-baked bread emerging every so often. I loved the look of the levain bread, which is slashed prior to baking so comes out with a crusty sunburst baked into the surface. It’s perhaps the most beautiful bread I’ve seen in Paris. But when I got home and tasted it, I missed the sourdough-tang characteristic of my favorite levain bread from Poilâne (which deserves the 3-stars it got from the same guide), as well as the Bay Area’s Acme bakery. The bread also had a cake-like texture that crumbled when you cut it, rather than gluten-y nooks and crannies and holes, the appeal of well-crafted bread.
Yesterday I thought I would try their pain aux cereales, since as many of you know I am smitten with hearty breads chock-full grains and seeds. It cost a whopping 2.60€ for the small loaf they bundled up for me. From the looks of the exterior, I didn’t have high hopes for the loaf but ordered it anyways. When I hurried home and sliced it open, there were so few grains that I wondered where they got off calling it aux ceriales?
I suppose that I should have simply ordered a baguette, since that’s how these bread guides judge bakeries in Paris, so perhaps I need to go back since the third-time may be the proverbial charm. They did have beautiful looking little round cakes, which I will try next time; the chocolate ones in particular look rich and tasty.
Le Boulanger de Monge
123, rue Monge, 5th
M: Les Gobelins or Censier-Daubenton
tel: 01 43 37 54 20
(They have a few other addresses in Paris as well.)
Since I wrote the book on chocolate I realize that I should be blogging more about chocolate, but all the answers to many of your chocolate questions can easily be found in The Great Book of Chocolate. This book is the ultimate guidebook to the world of chocolate and a wealth of information with delicious recipes. If you’re like me and can never have enough chocolate, this is the book for you.
Want to know the difference between bittersweet and semisweet chocolate? What’s the difference between Venezuelan and Ecuadorian cocoa beans? Which country produces the best chocolate? Which chocolatiers worldwide produce the most interesting and scrumptious chocolates? All the answers, and everything else you’ve ever wanted to know about chocolate, can be found in The Great Book of Chocolate.
One of the most common misconceptions about appreciating chocolate is that you should base your opinion on the percentage of cacao in the bar. The was reinforced this week when a close friend came to visit, and brought me a tablet of the fantastic chocolate from Cacao Sampaka in Barcelona, which I profiled for Saveur magazine last year in their 100 Best issue. Like everyone that I bring into chocolate shops, he was raving because the chocolate tablet that he graciously brought me (albeit half-eaten) was 71%! (…insert his enthusiasm here.) Like lots of people, everyone seems to expound upon the theory that the higher the better. (…insert everyone’s question here… “But what about anti-oxidants?…)
I like my friend very much and he may be reading this and if he is, I want him to continue to bring me care packages from Target and Trader Joe’s on his return visits so I don’t want to make him feel cuplable (well, maybe a little.) But I feel compelled to get folks to understand that the exact percentage of cacao in the bar is truly unimportant to the taste or even the bitterness. I’ve had chocolate bars that are 99% cacao that were palatable and other bars that were 80% cacao that were bitter and inedible (and I like very bitter chocolate.) I’ve had 90% bars that were amazingly good and smooth, while others were 60% and were crumbly and mushy.
So quit throwing your nose up in the air and saying, “I only eat chocolate that’s at least 75%.” To me, the numbers are, um, interesting, but not what I look for when evaluating chocolate, since by muddy chocolate-colored logic, that argument means that the 75% chocolate is inherently better than a 70% chocolate. It’s amazing with this analytical mind that I didn’t make my mother proud and become the lawyer (or better yet, the doctor) that she always wanted in the family.
Look what I have. Two Italian chocolates from Baratti & Milano in Torino:
One is 65% and the other is 80%. Does that mean the 60% is the worse of the two and should be avoided at all costs? You’ll also notice one is made from beans from Ghana and other from beans from Grenada. Quick: which one is better?
It means little to judge a chocolate based simply on a number (or origin, but that’s information that can be found in the book.)
The percentage doesn’t take into account…
The variety of beans,
The quality of the beans,
The careful roasting of the beans,
The blending of the beans by the chocolate-maker,
The sweetness of the beans themselves,
The acidity of the beans themselves.
I think part of the reason many of us Americans are hung up on high numbers (which is why we never adopted the metric system) because It sounds so much better to say, “Oh my gosh! It was 105 degrees today!” rather than, “Mon dieu, it was an unbelievable 40 degrees today!”
John Scharffenberger of ScharffenBerger chocolate says to pretend you’re Helen Keller when tasting chocolate; Don’t read the label and don’t listen to what others tell you. Taste the chocolate and judge for yourself. If you like it, it’s good chocolate!
Recently the proliferation of heirloom tomatoes at greenmarkets harkens back to the days of yore, when tomatoes were beautiful and irregular and presumably so full of flavor that after one bite you could boast about how good it was for the remainder of your life and try to make everyone feel like you know something that they don’t know and how much richer your life is than theirs because you’ve had this amazing tomato experience and they haven’t.
Nowadays the marketers and growers have gotten smart. It’s fairly easy to come across tomatoes sold ‘on-the-vine’ that look old-fashioned. But when you get them home and slice them open, they taste negligibly better than any of the other tomatoes at the supermarket…and cost twice as much. They just have a redder color and come with their stems attached.
Here’s an excellent recipe for encouraging flavor and sweetness from any tomatoes, even ones that are less-than-ideal, using a technique called making a confit. The slow roasting with olive oil concentrates and sweetens flavors, making ordinary tomatoes boast-worthy.
Confit of Tomatoes
Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris
1. Buy some tomatoes, just about any variety will do. 2 pounds (1 kg) is a nice amount.
2. Wash and dry them, then slice them in half. Pour enough decent-quality olive oil in a baking dish so that it just covers the bottom of the dish, somewhere between 1/4 cup (60 ml) and 1/3 cup (80 ml) should do.
3. Sprinkle in coarse salt and freshly-ground black pepper, add a few branches of fresh thyme and/or a few sprigs of rosemary. Then line the bottom of the baking dish with the tomatoes, sliced-side down. Don’t be bashful; it’s okay to really pack them in.
4. Peel and slice 3 or 4 garlic cloves, slice them in half lengthwise and tuck them in the gaps between the tomatoes. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a bit more salt and a small sprinkling of sugar (less than 1 teaspoon) and add a few bay leaves.
5. Bake the tomatoes in a 350 F (180 C) oven until they are soft and cooked throughout (a paring knife should pierce them easily), which should take at least 45 minutes.
6. Once they’re soft, remove them from the oven and let stand until room temperature. You can scrape the tomatoes and juices and herbs into a container and refrigerate them for up to 4 to 5 days or use them right away. They will actually improve as they sit.
Use them to toss into pasta, slightly chopped, or warm them and spoon them whole onto hot garlic toasts, perhaps with a few filets of good anchovies, and shower them with lots of fresh herbs. They’re also nice served alongside a summer salad with some goat cheese, all drizzled with a bit of the tasty olive oil and juices.
Related Links and Posts
Canning Tomatoes (NCHFP)
Just an hour or so from Paris is the medieval market at Le Neubourg where each wednesday locals crowd the market, choosing their fresh fruits and vegetable, regional raw-milk cheeses and just-churned golden-yellow crocks of butter, along with meats and hand-stuffed sausages from the jovial local bouchers, doling out crispy morsels of sautéed charcuterie.
It’s the kind of market where if you ask the poultry person for a quail, they’ll stick their hands in a box, there’ll be a flurry of activity within, the unsettling sound of ruffling feathers and squalking…then calm. A few seconds later, your dinner will emerge. The medival market at Le Neubourg is the real thing and has existed for hundreds of years and some of the wares are not for the squeemish.
Nowadays you’ll find vendors selling crisp frites sprinkled liberally with crystals of sel de Guérande, cheery Arabic vendors hawking frangant olive oil soaps, and rubber-booted fishermen presiding over piles of glistening mussels from nearby Brittany.
Being a baker, I think (and hope), has good karma. No animals have been harmed in the making of any of my desserts.
So aside from the live birds and furry bunnies for sale, what wowed me of course was the abundance of berries on display. Juding from the sweet perfume of the raspberries and the plumpness of the currants (as well as the stained fingers of the farmers) they’d obviously just been picked.
Beginning with choosing teams for third-grade Dodgeball to food blog memes, I’m accustomed to being the last one picked. But then I get tagged twice in one week! Along came my new gal-pal Meg, from Too Many Chefs, who snagged me for the cookbook meme that’s been going ’round.
1. Total number of cookbooks I’ve owned:
Well, er, when I moved out of San Francisco, I packed them all in boxes for storage, and there are about 18 per box. And, um, there were about 30 boxes, so that would make around 540. And that number was considerably higher before I sold a few off prior to the ‘big move’. In my petit Paris apartment, I have about 35 cookbooks.
2. Last cookbook I bought:
Fine Chocolates, Great Experience by Jean-Pierre Wybauw.
Jean-Pierre was my teacher in Belgium when I went to chocolate school at Callebaut and he’s one of the great talents in the world of chocolate. He worked deftly (and never got a drop of chocolate on him…ever) and was so patient with all his students. His book explains much about chocolate including how to make chocolates, enrobing them, and extensive information about the fabrication of chocolate. Much of it is geared towards professionals, who are distraught, since many are having a hard time finding this book in the United States.
3. Last food book I read:
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. Harold spent 10 years updating his original book (which no one initially wanted to publish…but eventually went into 17 printings!) This book answers every question you could have about food and cooking. Every cook should have a copy of this revised edition in their library. I read it cover-to-cover.
4. Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:
In the last meme, I mentioned food writers who I admire, so I’ll list here 5 cookbooks that I actually use for everyday cooking…
Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
Naturally, I’ve made more desserts from this book than any other and my kudos were echoed by Claudia Fleming, who I considered the best pastry chef in the US while she was at Grammery Tavern in New York. She told me it was her favorite dessert book of all time.
From Tapas to Meze by Joanne Weir
This is one book that I cook from often. The Feta-Cucumber Salad is the greatest recipe, in my humble opinion, although there’s lots to choose from. I love serving all the salads and vegetables and small-dishes from the regions represented: Spain, Italy, Morocco, Lebanon, and more.
French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Loomis
Since moving to France, this cookbook helped immensely with the transition, as I learned about French ingredients and the way food is prepared here. Interspersed are informative stories about food production across France, as well as easy-to-follow recipes from farmhouses across the countryside, where the best traditional cooking is found.
Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich
Stop snickering. Just because the desserts are low-fat, doesn’t mean they aren’t fabulous. Nobody but Alice Medrich, the chocolate-guru, could create such amazing chocolate-rich desserts with reduced amount of butter and cream but no icky ingredients. It was here I learned when you adjust the amount of fat in desserts, you let the other flavors shine through. Everything I’ve made from this book, all these desserts, are winners, and not just the chocolate ones. The Chocolate Buttermilk Pound Cake is moist and has rich-tasting chocolate flavor and texture, and the Apricot Vermouth Cake is exceptional too. And that lofty Chocolate Souffle!
The Zuni Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Someday I will get around to making the justly-famous Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, but I have made many other things from this book with grand success. Judy has the rare ability to explain something like it’s never been explained before, sans the fluff. Her instructions for salt-brining have changed the way I cook; I’ve learned so much about food and cooking just leafing through this book. When Judy worked at Chez Panisse, she made me the best thing I ever ate in my life. Truly.
And you gotta love a book that starts off the dessert chapter with… “Dessert has the interesting duty of teasing out the last gasps of your appetite.”
5. Which 3 people would you most like to see fill this out in their blog?
Well, considering that last 3 people who I tagged with the previous meme aren’t speaking to me anymore, I’d better hit some ‘fresh meat’…
Lisa, aka the Amateur Gourmette
Stephanie, from Adventures of Pie Queen
The fine folks at Becks & Posh who may have already been tagged, but I like corresponding with them…so there!