…but that’s my kinda bakery!
BabyCakes NYC (Website)
BabyCakes Cookbook (Amazon)
This probably isn’t the kind of bread that visitors come to Paris to experience, and while I like baguettes, I really, really crave breads loaded with grains. So when I was recently in Bazin to pick up my usual Bazinette aux Graines (seeded baguette), I noted a rack of these loaves lined up in the corner.
As usual, I was waited on by my favorite saleswomen. And I have to admit that her and I have a certifiable crush on each other and we always find more things to talk about than bread. When it’s my turn, we make googly-eyes at each other and engage in small talk like teenagers in love, oblivious to the long line of customers growing behind me.
I feel like I deserve a majority of the credit (or blame…depending on how you look at it) for the cupcake craze. I was eating them decades ago, when no one gave them a second thought. And now, as someone who teaches baking told me, making and selling cupcakes in America is like printing money.
I’m not much for trendy foods, but for some reason, mid-day yesterday, right in the middle of my Japanese bento box lunch of chicken katsu and seaweed salad, I was seized with the overwhelming desire for a cupcake.
I’ve been trying to convince my French friends that yes…marshmallows do go atop sweet potatoes.
But only once a year. And only on Thanksgiving.
Maybe more than Americans, French people do like marshmallows. A lot. You see them in many bakeries and pastry shops, often in long strands, on display either in lengths or tied into knots, in apothecary jars. It’s a tradition that goes back, before the advent of gelatin, when marshmallows were made with mallow extract which was (and still may be) considered good for your respiratory system.
Nowadays the French eat lots of marshmallows, not necessarily on sweet potatoes, but as a candy or le snack. And my local pharmacy still carries them…although I don’t think they’re covered by my health insurance.
As you probably have guessed by now, I’m quite different from the other Parisians. Aside from my less-than-stellar command of the language and a rather bizarre desire not to walk right into others on the sidewalk, I don’t buy that many baguettes.
It’s not that I don’t like them. (Baguettes, I mean—although I like Parisians too…except when they walk right into you.) It’s just that we eat so much bread around here and I have a preference for heartier, more rustic breads, often loaves riddled with seeds, and heavy with les multigrains. And lately Apollonia Poilâne has been spearheading efforts to wean Parisians off baguettes too, although from the looks of things, she’s not having much of an impact: Locals still line up before lunch and then return before dinner for their fresh, crackly baguette at their local boulangerie.
Did you know the word ‘baguette‘ means ‘stick’ or ‘wand’ in French and if you want chopsticks in an Asian restaurant, you ask for “les baguettes, s’il vous plaît”? And I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve been to where the discussion about which bakery, and where, has a better baguette caused nearly violent disagreement. There’s even a contest with a Grand Prix in Paris to come up with a winner every year.
Truth is, I don’t eat croissants very often for the simple reason that I don’t like to get dressed until I’ve had my morning coffee & toast. So having one is a relatively big deal for me, since croissants are only good early in the day: I refuse to eat one after 11am if I can help it. Like anything made with copious amounts of butter, they don’t get better the longer they’ve been out of a hot oven.
Although stories abound, no one quite knows who invented le croissant. It’s believe to be in an invention of the Austrians, who created a crescent-shaped pastry to oppose the Ottomans, who had invaded their country. They symbol of Turkey is a crescent, and granted, who doesn’t like to eat Turkey?
Except maybe vegetarians. So maybe croissants were invented by and/or for vegetarians?
Aha…a new theory emerges…this is how rumors get started on the internet, folks, and perhaps people will be quoting me decades later: “David Lebovitz says croissants were invented for Austrian vegetarians!”
But today, I think few would argue that the croissant is most closely associated with France and in fact, one rarely comes across a bakery in Paris that doesn’t offer their own version. If you need further proof of their proprietary alliance with French gastronomy, ask yourself when was the last time you heard the words das croissant?
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.
85, Boulevard Malesherbes
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.
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.)