Results tagged Brittany from David Lebovitz

Pimping My Crêpes

pimp my galettes

Turn on the television any night in France and chances are excellent that you’ll land on a program, held in a brightly-lit studio, where celebrities, authors, and other French luminaries mingle, chat, and talk about issues—or whatever they feel like.

For some reason, though, they don’t run a banner at the bottom while the person is talking, like they do incessantly on American television. And because of that, I usually have no idea who all those overly-made up people are.

So I’ll ask—”Romain…who is that?”

folded galette

He’ll be surprised, really surprised…”You mean you don’t know who Valérie Lemercier is? She is a very big star. Très, très connu!” I always hate bursting bubbles, so I’ll nod kind of half-heartedly, although I’m not so good at keeping a poker face and hiding my feelings.

Continue Reading Pimping My Crêpes…

Buckwheat Crepe Recipe

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the age-old question: “How did you start cooking?”

My usual wise-guy answer?
“Well, I turned on the stove and put a pan on it.”

In reality, I probably should acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Anna Maria Albergetti who got me on this whole obsessive measuring-thing, hawking those carefully delineated bottles for mixing up Good Seasons salad dressing. But I also think some of it began at our local mall, at The Magic Pan, one of those crêperies that popped up everywhere in the 70’s. In the dining room, women in puffy-sleeved dresses stood over a open-flamed, circular crepe-cooker, presiding over a bevy of hot skillets that turned slowly over the flames, frying crêpes as fast as they could.

Wanting to be just like the girls at the mall, minus the puffy-sleeved dresses (which would come later in life), I bought one of those worthless numbers; a Taylor and Ng crêpe pan with a rounded bottom where you dipped the underside of the hot pan in a big bowl of batter, praying it didn’t stick before you could lift it up and flip it over to continue.

And apologies to my family for all those crêpe-filling experiments, especially the chicken in cream sauce, which, in my impatience, I madly kept adding spoonfuls of flour to until it thickened—which I presumed should take all of about 20 seconds.

The result?

Continue Reading Buckwheat Crepe Recipe…

Kig Ha Farz: Breton buckwheat dumpling recipe

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Kig Ha Farz is a homely, but absolutely delicious, Breton specialty that few French people even know about. It’s highly-unlikely that you’ll ever find it served in a restaurant although I’ve heard reports of one Breton crêperie near Montmarte which makes it one day a week, but I haven’t investigated further. But if you travel through Brittany, some old-fashioned stores sell the simple sacks which are used to cook the kig ha farz, which means ‘meat’ and ‘stuffing’ in the Breton language, and you can make it yourself at home, like I do.

When we rented a house by the north coast of France last summer, the retired owners who lived next door offered to make us a stack of galettes au sarrasin, the buckwheat crêpes the region is well-known for, as a nice welcoming gesture.

Continue Reading Kig Ha Farz: Breton buckwheat dumpling recipe…

Allegedly The Birthplace of Kouign Amann

Anyone who uses iPhoto probably remembers your first thrill of plugging in your digital camera and magically, with no effort at all, having your photos automatically downloaded for you. Then they’re neatly filed on your computer so you can view, cut, or paste your memories until your heart’s content.

It’s great for the first few times, but once you’ve hit a certain number of photos, in my case the 1k mark, things start to slow w-a-a-a-y down, making it necessary to either burn them onto disks like the old days (iPhoto’s dirty little secret, forcing us to resort to ‘outdated’ technology…bad Apple!)
Or sadly, just to delete them.

So I spent my weekend going through my older photos and realized that I never wrote about one of the most special places in France: Locronan, allegedly the birthplace of my beloved Kouign Amann.

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Note I used the word ‘allegedly’.
I’d been told by several French folks that the town is famous as the lieu de naissance of this buttery cake. But when I asked at the Office de Tourisme, the woman there had no idea what I was talking about. And wasn’t all that interested in pursuing it with me either. So I’ll let someone out there do the research since I’m too involved in burning photos onto disks all weekend. But even though Locronon may not the be the birthplace of this famous Breton Butter Cake, it’s certainly become the epicenter for lovers of butter & sugar bound-together.

Although the town is teeming with tourists who come to gawk at the granite buildings and churches, the town is also teeming with other fans of the sweet-stuff: les guepes, or yellowjackets.

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Every bakery had swarms of the lil’ stingers flying all around, hundreds of them are everywhere, feasting their wings off on the sugary treats and tartlets for sale, like the rhubarb ones above. The women who work in the bakeries must’ve made some top-secret pact with the bees since they showed no fear of them and would swat ‘em away while packing up tarts and cakes. We decided to use the bees as a guide and follow their advice, since they’d probably know which was the best Kouign Amann in town. Like truffle hunters use pigs and dogs, this pastry-hunter decided to follow the bees, and I reasoned the places with the most yellowjackets would have the best pastries.

Continue Reading Allegedly The Birthplace of Kouign Amann…

The Buzz On French Honey

When I take folks into épiceries in Paris, I invariably drag them to the honey aisle. I start explaining how the French love honey, and buy it based on what varietal it is…rather than just stopping in the supermarket and picking up a jar of that vaguely interesting looking syrup that you know is going to leave an annoying sticky ring from the bottom of the jar in your kitchen cabinet that you’re going to have to get a damp sponge and clean up, and then when you start cleaning that up you’re going to notice that maybe you haven’t cleaned your cabinets in a while, and since you have the sponge already in your hand, you start emptying out the cabinet, pulling everything out jars and bottles of everything, etc…etc…(then there goes your morning).

Still, I hope to engage them, get them as excited as I am for honey. But mostly they respond with a somewhat glazed-over look, similar to the look that perhaps I had when I tried to read the road signs to the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes, in Brittany.

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But I love honey and it’s become my habit to enjoy a slick spoonful on my morning toast, which I saturated with beurre au sel de mer, or butter with crunchy grains of sea salt, that I buy from the big, golden mound at my cheese shop. So now my job is to convince at least a few of you to give honey another look.

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I’ve fallen so much in love with honey, that I’ve become a bit of a collector and when I travel, I try to scope out unusual flavors of honey, like Marshall’s Pumpkin Blossom honey, collected from hives in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I go to Italy, I bring back jars of tiglio, made from linden flowers. But my absolute favorite honey in the world is collected at the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes, on the north coast of Brittany.

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Last summer I met Martine Prigent, who sells her honey at various outdoor markets in the region and has quite a following. At least at my breakfast table, she does. When we visited for the first time, my friend was raving about her honey, and we made a beeline for her stand. I tasted a few of them, asked a lot of questions in between contented lick-smacking, and bought as many jars as I could schlep (and afford). But they’re definitely worth their higher price and when I went back this year, I bought a whole lot more. Enough to get me through to next summer.

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Curiously, she offered me a sample of something I’d never had before: honey made from bees which buzzed around the wild thyme flowers in the nearby dunes of Keremma, an ocean-front site under national protection. This particular honey has an unusual graham cracker-y, buttery-nutty quality and one little taste was so scrumptious that she had to close the container to prevent me from double-dipping. But boy, was that good, and I’d never had any honey with such a deep, complex, curious flavor, and a few jars went into my shopping basket tout de suite.

Having a particular affinity for very dark, flavorful honey, I gravitate towards flavors like sarrasin (buckwheat) and châtaigner (chestnut).

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Can you can see the difference between the two? The honey in the back is the ordinaire buckwheat honey, and the one in the front is the superb honey from Martine. Quelle difference! I also like very much châtaigner honey which is so bitter than many people can’t eat it plain. I couldn’t the first time I sampled it. But drizzle chestnut honey over buttered-toast, or plain yogurt, or vanilla ice cream, and it’s instantly palatable. I also like bourdain honey too, which is called ‘black alder’ in English.

In France, honey is not just eaten for flavor but each variety of honey is reputed to have specific health-giving properties for what ails you. For example, bruyère (heather) honey is said to be good for your urinary tract (no, I’m not obsessed…), lavender honey is taken for respiratory ailments, and chestnut honey is taken to improve circulation. Sapin, fir-tree honey, is said to be good for your throat, and aubépine is a relaxant.

And what can you do with honey? Try puddling a bit of it on a creamy, pungent wedge of Roquefort as a sweet counterpoint, or atop a round of fresh goat cheese with some dried fruit or pomegranate seeds. I spoon honey over fruit that destined for the oven. When baked, the honey forms a lovely, syrupy glaze for the warm, delicate fruit. Swirl honey over hot oatmeal and add a bit to a glaze for roast pork. I also like to poach dried apricots in a honey syrup, adding a splash of sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes or late-harvest Riesling. I serve the honey-rich apricots with my favorite Almond Cake.

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So if you happen to find yourself in Brittany near the north coast…and can read a Breton road sign while your French-speaking partner tries to make sense of you frantically try to give directions and mangle incomprehensible Breton words with lots of z‘s and pl‘s, like Trégarantec and Plounénour-Trez, it’s certainly worth a visit to Martine and her husband, Pascal.

They offer weekly tours of their miellerie, just 200 meters from the ocean, which are quite popular (call for availability in off-season). Inhaling the odor of the fresh, breezy, salty air, you can watch them demonstrate collecting honey; scraping the thick beeswax from the hives then separating the delicious syrup from the chunky wax. There’s an amazing boutique with floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with all kinds of honeys and locally-baked spice bread, known as pain d’épice, dark brown and fragrant with various spices and a good dose of honey.

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So instead of buying bland honey at the supermarket, why not start trying some of the locally-produced honeys collected in your area? And believe it or not, I recently discovered that there’s even honey collected right here in Paris.




Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes
Prat Bian
Plouescat
Tél/Fax: 02 98 69 88 93
(Offers weekly tours on Fridays, and will ship internationally)

Their honey is available at the outdoor markets in Lesneven, Saint-Pol, Saint-Renan, and in season at Roscoff, Plouguerneau, and Plouescat.

You can find a limited selection of honey from the Miellerie de la Côte des Légendes in Paris at:
La Campanella
36, bis rue de Dunkerque
Tél: 01 45 96 08 92

(Update: This honey has become quite pricey in this shop. It’s very good honey, but be aware of a recent price spike.)

Locally-collected honey in Paris:
Union Nationale de l’Apiculture Francaise
26, rue des Tournelles
Tél: 01 48 87 47 15

In the San Francisco Bay Area, visit Marshall’s Honey, which is sold at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market, and is collected from bees buzzing around unusual places in the region.

To learn more about honey, two of my friends have written books on the sticky stuff: Covered In Honey by Mani Niall, and Honey: From Flower to Table by Stephanie Rosenbaum, aka the Pie Queen.

Salted Butter Caramels from Henri Le Roux

le roux caramels

I’d like to introduce you to Henri Le Roux. And if you don’t know who Henri Le Roux is, it’s time that you did.

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Le Caramelier; Salted-Butter Caramel Spread

There’s a lot of very talented chocolatiers and pastry chefs in France. Some are quite famous, and some just go to work everyday and do their jobs well. A few have rather large egos, others are more humble, preferring the lights of the kitchen to the ones in the television studio. (I was at a recent event with another food blogger who correctly noted that all the famous chefs mostly talk about is one thing: Themselves!) But if you mention the name ‘Henri Le Roux’ to any chocolatier or confiseur in France, they stand silent for a moment. Then nod agreeably. He is perhaps the most respected and admired pastry chef and candy maker I know.

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The famous C.B.S. caramels in assorted flavors, including lime, black tea, orange-ginger and, of course, chocolate

I first met Monsieur Le Roux when I went to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris with my Thierry Lallet, who has an excellent (and highly-recommended) chocolate shop in Bordeaux, Saunion, one of the best in France.

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Freshly-made C.B.S. caramels studded with hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts

Before that day, I thought that caramels were caramels, and until that point, I’d tasted so many things in my life that there was little left that would deeply impress me. M. Le Roux is a very kind man, who basically changed the way pastry chefs, glaciers, and bakers everywhere think about caramel: he created caramel-buerre-salé (caramel-salt-butter), which he simply calls C.B.S.
And they are truly divine.

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The 55-year old candywrapping machine barely keeps up with the demand for M. Le Roux’s caramels

Henri Le Roux, whose Breton father was a pastry chef (and lived in New York for 5 years, cooking at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) started making caramels in the seaside town of Quiberon in 1976, located at the tip of a dramatic peninsula in the south of Brittany, where the best butter in the world is found (the first chapter in his book, is called “Le Rideau de Beurre”, or “The Curtain of Butter”. He decided to open there, selling cakes, candies, and ice creams. But like warm, buttery caramel, word of his candies spread and he stopped making cakes and tartes to concentrate all his energy on candymaking. Just 3 years later, in 1908, M. Le Roux won the award for the best candy in France, Le Meilleur Bonbon de France at the Salon International de la Confiserie in Paris.

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Salted-Caramel Buckwheat Florentines just-slathered in bittersweet chocolate

M. Le Roux was kind enough to let me explore his workshop with him when I paid a visit during my August vacation in Brittany. As he raced from room to room, he flipped open bins of almonds from Provence or hazelnuts from Turkey to give me a sample, later showing me how he grinds his own fresh nut pastes in his broyeuse with massive granite rollers which keep cool, while metal rollers would heat the nuts too much, losing some of the flavor. And a rarity in the pastry field nowadays, M. Le Roux uses true bitter almonds in his almond paste, which he sources from the Mediterranean. Almond extract is made from bitter almonds, even in America, but they’re hardly used anymore since they’re difficult to find (and those pesky toxicity issues.) But in the land sans lawsuits, M. Le Roux makes that effort and blends a few into his freshly-pressed almond paste which tastes like none other I’ve tasted in France.

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Exceptional chocolates from Henri Le Roux, which were too good not to eat right away

I like to ask chocolatiers which chocolate they use.
Most are secretive, but M. Le Roux led me into a cool room packed floor to ceiling with boxes of various chocolates he gets from all over France and Belgium. He tore into them, breaking off chunks for me to taste and explaining how he uses some of each, blending them as he wishes to get the desired tastes he’s after. Valrhona and Barry-Callebaut are used, but he also sources chocolate from François Pralus, an artisan chocolate-maker located in Roanne, just outside of Lyon, who specializes in single-origin chocolates, as well.

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Henri and Lorraine Le Roux in their boutique, in Quiberon

I wanted to describe each and every chocolate in the box, but decided that that would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. (Actually, I ate them all and didn’t feel like writing down what tasted as I was eating as I went. As mentioned, I’m a lousy blogger.) But I remember Harem, a filling of green tea and fresh mint, Sarrasine, infused with blé noir (buckwheat), and Yannick, blended dark cane sugar, salted butter and ground crêpes dentelle, hyper-thin, crackly lace cookies ground to a crunchy paste.

Oh yes, there’s C.B.S. too, nutty salted-butter caramel enrobed in dark chocolate as well, which was my favorite.

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Le Roux
18, rue de Pont Maria
56170 Quiberon, France

and

1, rue de Bourbon le Château (6th)
Paris

(Will ship internationally.)

Henri Le Roux’s caramels and chocolates are also available in Paris at:

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine
Tél: 01 48 74 59 55
M: Blanche

Le Roux Chocolate bars

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Fleur de Sel

There’s been a lot of discussion about what is the best salt in the world. There’s lots of opinions, tastings, and scientific studies floating around.

But I’m here to tell you, my absolute favorite salt is Fleur de sel de Guérande. I think there’s no finer salt available anywhere.

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When I was invited to visit the salt marshes and learn to rake the highly-prized, precious crystals of fleur de sel, I decided that the Guérande, in Brittany, would make the perfect place to begin my August vacation. Brittany is a rugged part of France that faces the Atlantic and is unspoiled by tourists. The coastline is gorgeous: large rock formations are piled everywhere, giving one many opportunities to ascend the boulders and enjoy the magnificent views in all directions. The ocean was a bit too cold for me to swim in, but Bretons have no trouble diving right in.

(Trust me, it’s freezing cold, which meant no swimming at the beach for me…especially the naturist beaches!)

But there’s also lots of buckwheat crêpes and sparkling apple cider to keep your spirits up as well, just in case you get stuck in one of the rainstorms, as I often did. And although the Guérande lies in the south of the region, and in spite of Breton flags everywhere, I was curiously told by the locals that the Guérande was actually part of the Loire-Atlantique, not Brittany.
Like the numbered roadway signs that lead to nowhere (locals told us not to follow the signs since they’re wrong), and in spite of the magnificent Michelin maps, driving in France provides its fair-share of frustrations.

Still, we managed to make it, and by the time we arrived I was ready to throttle someone. Yet looking out over the marshes did indeed have a calming effect—perhaps they can build a salt marsh in Paris, visible from my apartment?

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Le Marais Salant of the Guérande.

These are the salt marshes of the Guérande, les œillets.
They’re so prominent, that they’re visible on the Michelin maps of France, although when I got home and tried to look on Google maps, viewing the region was prohibited. Perhaps there’s a military installation nearby, since it’s on the coast. The exceptional salt from the Guérande is justifiably famous since it tastes like no other salt in the world. Although the words ‘fleur de sel’ have been bantered around and used as marketing tools for many salts being promoted (nowadays you find salts labeled as such from Portugal, Italy, and elsewhere) nowhere else on earth does the salt have the same fine flavor and delicate crystals of Fleur de Sel de Guérande.

Continue Reading Fleur de Sel…

Where to Get the Best Crepes In Paris

making crêpes

People that come to Paris commonly request “Where can we get a great crêpe in Paris?”

For street crêpes, in the area around the gare Montparnasse in Paris, there are a plethora of crêperies since the trains departing and arriving from that station go to Brittany and the immigrants set up shop there once upon a time. In an area crowded with crêperies, the one that stands out is Josselin. It’s noisy, bustling, and lots of fun.

galette

But no matter where I go, I’m a fan of the classic complète, a buckwheat galette (crêpe) enclosing a fine slice of jambon de Paris, grated gruyère cheese, and a softly-fried egg resting in the middle waiting to be broken to moisten the whole thing. I like my galettes crisp at the edges, with the earthy taste of real, freshly-ground buckwheat. Alongside, there’s nothing better than cider, such as Val de Rance, brut, of course, which is the driest of the fermented apple ciders. For dessert usually get just a simple galette smeared with salted butter and a puddle of honey, warmed by the galette.

One bit of advice; a regular crêpe made with white flour is called a crêpe, and one made with buckwheat flour is called a galette, or sometimes crêpe au blé noir. Some menus list both, so you can choose between them. Desserts are usually served on regular flour crêpes, but you can often ask for buckwheat ones.

Here are some favorite places to indulge. Several are popular, so be sure to call and reserve if you can.

My Favorite Addresses for Great Crêpes in Paris

Josselin
67, rue du Montparnasse (14th)
Tél: 01 43 20 93 50

Crêperie Bretonne
67, rue de Charonne (11th)
Tél: 01 43 55 62 29

Breizh Café
109, rue Vieille du Temple (3rd)
Tél: 01 42 72 13 77

West Country Girl
6, passage St. Ambroise (11th)
Tél: 01 47 00 72 54

Little Breizh
11, rue Grégoire de Tours (6th)
Tél: 01 43 54 60 74


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