Results tagged bread from David Lebovitz

Moisan: Ficelle Apéritif

A ficelle is a small baguette, whose name actually means ‘string’. But in French bakery lingo it means a thin little crusty baguette. A ficelle makes a perfect petit snack, especially one like this that’s crusted with lots of poppy and sesame seeds.

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One of my all-time, tip-top favorite breads in Paris is the ficelle apéritif baked at Moisan bakery. Although primarily known for their large rustic pains biologiques, breads made with organic flour, these slender little loaves boast a prime ratio of crust-to-crumb, with a golden, crackly crust enclosing an earthy, slightly-tangy mie within.

But what makes this little devil so appealing to me is the heavy-hand the baker lavishes it with sea salt.

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Each little bit I rip off has a generous amount of seeds. Not just a measly few, but just the right amount of coarse sea salt—enough to taste each grain but not enough to be overwhelming or salty.

(Which is a good thing, since salt can lead to thirst and thirst leads to water and…well…we all remember where that leads in Paris.)

Continue Reading Moisan: Ficelle Apéritif…

Ble Sucré: The Best Madeleines in Paris

The best Madeleines in the world are right here in Paris.

Well…duh. You don’t need to visit my blog to know that, do you? I’ve never been one of those people who waxed poetically about Madeleines, invoking Proust’s name whenever I can.
(As if I’ve even read Proust.)

So although I don’t have nostalgic ties to Madeleines, I do like the idea of something a bit buttery, with a gilded crust, relatively portable, and not too-sweet for my afternoon gouter, or le snack, as it’s often referred to around town.

But most of the time I’m disappointed. The Madeleine I buy is either too dry, too floury, or worse, has the acrid taste of baking powder. But then the skies parted one day when I was at a new bakery in Paris, blé sucré, in the vastly pleasant, but out-of-the-way Square Trousseau. This new boulangerie and pastry shop is owned by Fabrice Le Bourdat, who worked with Gilles Marchal, the pastry chef at the esteemed Bristol.

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Madeleines are the proverbial ‘little something’ that goes well with tea. But to be honest, there’s nothing that makes me cringe more than when I read in the headnote of a recipe in a cookbook, “This goes well with tea in the afternoon.”

I mean, what little sweet thing doesn’t?
And if that’s the most exciting thing you can say about your recipe, then what the hell’s it doing in your cookbook?

Continue Reading Ble Sucré: The Best Madeleines in Paris…

Browsing in Paris

Yesterday, I decided that since I was the last person in the world to be using Safari as a web browser, I should switch to Firefox. Everyone says it’s better and since I use Movable Type for the blog, Firefox has little buttons to make things bold or to italicize, so I don’t need to type in a bazillion symbols everytime I do that.

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About twenty years ago, which I hope means the statutes of limitations has run out, when working in that vegetarian restaurant I mentioned, someone brought in something for us to, er…well…let’s just say, it was something that was designed to change your perception of reality if you took it.
So of course, we did.

When you work in a restaurant, you develop a rhythm, especially when it comes to setting up your statio in preparation for the rush of customers. If you have a fixed menu and you’ve been working in the same place for a while, when you arrive, you can almost work on auto-pilot to make sure everything’s in place (called mis-en-place), so when the rush comes, you’re full-organized and never get buried under orders (or as they say, ‘in the weeds’). If you’ve done it right, the evening runs like a finely-tuned Swiss watch. If not, you’ve got no business in a restaurant kitchen.
And your night will be a catastrophe (not to mention the customer’s as well).

So one evening, someone brought in something which we ingested that was terribly strong and radically alerted our ‘perception of reality’ (yes, even vegetarians have their vices). As we started our work, though, the owner arrived and surprised us with a brand-new menu, full of items we’d never seen before. So we had to completely change our set-ups and prepare all new dishes.
It was a massive bummer, to put it mildly.

It’s like your computer crashing, taking everything with it, and you need to re set-up everything again. To make a long (long) story short, once the customers arrived, it was like your worst dream coming true, the kind where you’re running towards something, but the faster you run, the farther away it gets. So as the order tickets started coming in, we all panicked and found ourselves seriously in the weeds (in more ways than one), and the evening was a catastrophe.

When I installed my new browser yesterday, everything changed on my little Mac.

My beloved bookmarks, which I’ve spent years collecting, I cherished as your grandmother cherishes her Hümmel figurines, were gone. And the look of my blog platform changed: Yes there were those terrific little buttons that add links, italics, and what-not, but each time I used one, it jumped up to the top of the document, meaning I had to re-scroll back to where I was typing, prompting a mad dash to find where I left off. So like coming down from a bad high, back to my familiar reality, I’ve returned to Safari.

I guess old habits die hard. Like my love for rustically grainy breads, and had a chance to return to one of my favorite bakeries in Paris yesterday when I had a doctor’s appointment on the other side of the city.

Continue Reading Browsing in Paris…

Boulangerie 140

At last count, there are 1263 bakeries in Paris.

On just about every street, there’s at least one, if not two, or even three bakeries. Some of them are very good, a few are perhaps not so fabulous, and several are excellent. Parisians eat a lot of bread, far more than their American counterparts.

Visitors often wonder, “How come we don’t have bakeries like this is America?”

“Because people won’t eat bread in America anymore. Everyone’s afraid of it.” I respond

Tragically, most nod in agreement.

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Luckily there’s not too much of that nonsense here in Paris. From early in the morning, until the last baguette de levain is handed across the counter for dinner, you’ll find folks en queue, lined up impatiently waiting to get their daily bread.

And for some reason, I’m always in front of the most impatient one, who firmly keeps nudging me forward. My strategy against those Parisian pests is to gently innocently start backing up, which kinda freaks them out and invariably causes a chain reaction, since the person behind them is usually pressed up against them as well, nudging them forward too.

It causes a certain amount of shuffling and mild hysteria, but tant pis.
Anyone who wants to get that close to me better buy me a drink first.

Or at least a loaf of bread.

But when there’s a bakery as good as 140 in town, Parisians have good reason to get pushy about their bread. And neighborhood residents buy stop here once, or even twice daily to get theirs. And like many of them, I’m happy to stand my ground for a crisp, golden baguette de campagne that feels crisp and warm when it’s handed over the counter to me. Or for the buttery-mouthful of a flaky croissant that shatters into a gazillion crackly shards when you bite into it.

These are some of the daily rituals that go on around here, of which I’m frequently guilty of taking part.

(The pushing part I’m still getting used to.)

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Although I don’t live close enough to 140 to go two or three times a day, it’s one of the handful of bakeries here that I’ll happily scamper across the city to visit. Aside from their numeric name, which always gives me a chuckle, they bake some of the best breads in Paris. And recently, I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes of this top-notch boulangerie.

Continue Reading Boulangerie 140…

le Quignon: Bazin Bakery

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.

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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

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.

Bazin
85, bis rue de Charenton
Métro: Ledru-Rollin
Tel: 01 43 07 75 21
(Closed Wednesday and Thursday)

French Beignets

Since we’re on the subject of beignets, I spotted these enticing looking pastries at one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries in Paris.
It must be a global trend.

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Boulangerie au 140
140, rue de Belleville
Paris
Tel: 01 46 36 92 47

Métro: Jourdain

Parisian Pretzels

The best bread in Paris isn’t made in any Parisian boulangerie, it’s made chez Christoph, the home of an affable German fellow who stunned me at a party a few months back when I savored more than my share of his excellent, hearty, homemade multi-grain bread.

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He told me that each Saturday, he bakes just two loaves of multi-grain bread to last him through the week in his tidy Parisian kitchen, overlooking the Pantheon. A biologist during the day, I envision Christoph tinkering in the kitchen until he got his bread just right (he said it took him years). Although I offered to come by on next week to buy bread from him, he brushed me off with a hearty laugh.

(Hey, I wasn’t kidding. I never joke about anything as serious as my pursuit of great bread.)

Working as a pastry chef for 25 years, eating all that chocolate and butter and sugar, I crave all-things salty. And I can’t think of any better vehicle for crunchy grains of coarse salt than chewy, puffy pretzels.

Luckily I was invited to come, roll, and twist away!

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When I arrived, he’d already made the dough (very sneaky, presumably guarding the recipe!) So we kneaded the mixture a bit, then divided up little rounds of the soft dough, rolled and pulled them into snake-like ropes, making sure to keep a moderate bulge in the middle, which he said would help them keep their shape better during baking

Once the dough is rolled, he swiftly gathered the two ends, twisted them twice, then folded them over the chubby dough, creating the classic pretzel.

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The dough rested for a while, then was refrigerated.
Afterward, he told me to be careful, as he took a suspicious little vial from his cabinet, which contained milky-white little pellets.

“It’s sodium hydroxide”, he said. “It will eat a hole in your clothes.”

and we’re going to eat this?”, I’m thinking.

He dissolved a handful of pellets in water by stirring briskly, then floated the unbaked twists in this solution, apparently this is what gives pretzels that familiar shiny coating.

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A few large grains of salt are sprinkled over, and into the oven they went.

Minutes later….

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For some reason, we had to wait a while to eat them.
I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was my American urge to have-it-all-and-have-it-now. It was torture.

After about 30 minutes of watching them resting on the counter (and about 10 unsubtle hints from me…) he finally got the hint and let me sample one. Still slightly warm, yeasty, with that inviting little crackle of salt, they were the perfect pretzel.
Then I had another.

Soon the other guests arrives (I’d already consumed 3 pretzels beforehand, since I have a habit of eating more than my share) and we had a big feast of German food: sauerbraten, Hax’n, Cucumber-Feta Salad (which a woman from Norway brought. It wasn’t very German, but it was tasty), and Alisa’s Mandelbroten.

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And I brought a towering German Chocolate Cake for dessert, attempting to navigate through the crowded buses and hectic sidewalks of Paris. I didn’t have much success, but no one seemed to mind. There wasn’t a crumb left, and when no one was looking, I got to lick the lid.

Links:

Homemade Soft Pretzel Recipe (Alton Brown)

Pretzel Croissants (City Bakery)

Soft Pretzels, Refreshed (Smitten Kitchen)

Chocolate Pretzel Recipe (Derby Pie)

Panzanella Recipe (Bread and Tomato Salad Recipe)

God forbid you don’t buy fresh bread every day in France. And I love bread, so it’s not unusual for me to come home carrying more than I should. So the problem is, it’s rather difficult to eat all that bread.

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So what to do with all that lovely leftover bread? I make Panzanella, a Tuscan salad designed to use up lots of leftover bread, which we ate this weekend during an outing in the countryside. Tuscans don’t salt their bread, which goes back to a long-standing rift between them and the people from Pisa, who controlled the prices of salt many years ago..and they say I hold grudges!

(But if you’ve ever had unsalted bread, you perhaps can understand why they have so much leftover.)

You can use any firm-textured bread you have on hand. I prefer levain bread, which is dense and won’t fall apart when tossed around. But you should use what you have leftover as long as it’s not too airy. And in spite of what everyone tells you, it’s not vital to use pricey heirloom tomatoes:marinating them in copious amounts of fresh herbs will infuse ordinary tomatoes with summertime flavor. And feel free to use lots of chopped fresh herbs as well. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, and fresh mint are all wonderful mixed in.

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Panzanella

About six servings

Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz


In traditional panzanella, the bread gets soaked first. However I find tossing it in a copious amount of liquid from the tomatoes, and the dressing, does the same thing and adds lots of flavor. Interestingly, I’ve read that tomatoes were supposedly not used in panzanella until 1928. But like most foods, origins are often mired in controversy.

  • 4 cups torn pieces of hearty, country-style bread (approximately 1-inch/3 cm pieces)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup best-quality olive oil
  • 8 medium tomatoes (1½ pounds/750 grams)
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeds scraped away
  • 3/4 cup pitted black olives, preferably kalamata
  • 1 cup packed (80 grams) coarsely chopped mixed fresh basil, mint, and flat-leaf parsley

(Note: I don’t precisely measure herbs for this, so feel free to use lots and lots. The more the better!)
½ pound (250 grams) feta cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC) degrees. Spread the torn bread pieces on a baking sheet and toast until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Stir once or twice as they’re toasting. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper, garlic, and vinegar. Add the diced onion and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Stir in the olive oil. Remove the stems from the tomatoes and cut into 1-inch (3 cm) pieces. Cut the cucumber into ½-inch (1½ cm) pieces.

3. Add the tomatoes and cucumbers to the bowl with the dressing. Add the bread, olives and fresh herbs and toss well. Taste, and add additional salt, oil, and vinegar to your liking.
Crumble the feta over the top in large chunks and toss briefly.