One of the best ways to ensure that baked goods will come out of a pan, especially sweet treats that tend to have sticky edges, it to line a baking pan with aluminum foil. Bar cookies and brownies are very good candidates for baking in foil-lined pans. I recommend using the heaviest aluminum foil you can find as the flimsy stuff tears easily. Here’s how I do it:
Results tagged butter from David Lebovitz
I’ve had a lot of visitors this season and everyone, of course, wanted me to pick a restaurant where to meet up. It was great to see so many long-lost friends, but since it was two meals a day for a couple of weeks, my “idea list” began to run dry. And while I have a bunch of places that I personally want to try, most visitors don’t want to “try out a new place” (and for some reason, no one wants to go out for pizza…), so rather than risk a so-so meal, they wanted me to pick something tried-and-true. Which I suppose is fair enough.
But after a while, I was tapped out. It got to the point where I had lunch one day at one place, then returned to their partner restaurant across the street for dinner a few hours later that same night. And I also learned that there’s only so much restaurant food you can eat. I used to wonder why food critics complained about their jobs, having to eat all the time. Yet by the end of my guest stints, I was starting to wave the white flag of surrender myself.
I did have a little break and went to a French friend’s home for lunch one day, and knowing both of us were pretty busy, and eating a little too much lately, we left the decision to whatever we felt that we’d be in the mood for that day. Then that day arrived, and neither of us could decide. At her suggestion, and in deference to our waistlines, and our pocketbooks (or in my case, my wallet), she invited me over for soup.
The French do a lot of baked goods very well. if you’ve been to Paris, you don’t need me to tell you that with over 1300 bakeries in Paris, it’s not hard to find a pastry or baked good on every block that will be more satisfying than you can imagine.
One of the rare baked goods that the French haven’t quite mastered are les brownies. If you see them in bakeries and try one, you’ll find they’re often on the pas humid side. I’m not sure why, because they’re simple to make, and don’t require any special techniques: You just stir everything together, scrape the batter into a pan, and bake them. The only astuce (cooking tip) is that it’s important to watch them like a hawk, taking them out of the oven at the point where they’re still going to be soft and crémeux à l’intérieur.
In August, we were visiting some friends who live on an organic farm in the Poitou-Charentes, and after dinner, Hélène, presented us with a large tart-like creation that looked like a big, flat chocolate cake that she’d baked up in between her other chores. I was told they were les brownies, but hers were different. In addition to a little bit of coconut that was added, which gave them a slightly elusive tropical flavor, they were moist and uber-chocolaty. I couldn’t keep myself away from them.
The French don’t usually snack with the same fervor that Americans do (Romain’s father was once shocked to learn that I ate between meals), but I spend a good part of my day picking at any and all desserts that are within arm’s reach. And when everyone else was out in the fields down on the farm, weeding and working on hedges, I stayed back in the house, reading in a comfy chair — and found myself circling back around and around the pan of brownies, cutting off une lichette (a sliver), to help myself.
I once told a crowd that I was preparing a dessert for, that I don’t like sweet things. I didn’t realize it would get such a big laugh – so I guess I should have worked on the delivery of that line a little bit beforehand. But I had to explain that I like things on the tangy and tart side, which is what happens to fresh apricots when baked. While they are great fresh, when cooked, the flesh takes on the puckery characteristics of the skin, which is my favorite part of the fruit (hmm, maybe there’s a market for apricot skins?) – and makes them even more spectacular-tasting in pies and tarts.
While apricots are in season right now here in France, I’m doing my best to use as many of them as possible; skin, flesh, and even the kernels. But I’m not the only one. I had a lovely apricot tart at Chambelland (gluten-free bakery) recently, a treat from the baker, who wanted to know what I thought of it. It was great – and honestly, better than many of the regular apricot tarts around town.
When I was got up to leave, and he asked me my thoughts, I was reaching to think of other things to do to an apricot tart, since we Americans like to do whatever we can to dial things up, adding flavors and textures to a dish, whereas the French seem to like things more singular, and are happy to have a pristine, little apricot tart, just as is.
At any given time, there are between two – and fourteen – nubbins of cheese in my refrigerator. Those odds and ends are the result of me getting too excited when I’m at the fromagerie, usually going with the intention of buying just one or two wedges. But after scanning the shelves, and seeing a few cheeses that also look worthy of my shopping basket, ones that I am sure need to be tasted, the friendly women who I buy cheese from wrap them all up neatly in paper for me to take home. The bill is always more than I expect, but it’s the one bill that I’m happy to régler (pay up).
As fond as I am of cheese, as are my fellow Parisians, they’re not quite as fond of loading things up with garlic as much as other folks. You rarely see anything heavily dosed with garlic (forty cloves, or otherwise) in Paris restaurants, nor have I ever been served anything with more than the barest hint of garlic in someone’s home. (I’m not sure why because there is so much garlic at the markets. So someone must be buying it.)
When I take visitors through those big glass doors of the La Grande Épicerie in Paris, the first stop may very well be the spectacular pastry section, where fanciful cakes wrapped with ribbons of chocolate, or covered with a spun-sugar lattice topping, are proudly displayed in glass showcases like jewels.
In the corner, less obvious, are the sweets for le grignotages, or snacking. (Which they also call le snacking, in French.) Among the sugar-topped chouquettes and scalloped madeleines, are squares of candied almond-covered shortbread, called miella. Although they don’t grab your eye with the same intensity as the surrounding pastries, they are my favorite thing in the showcase and I am borderline addicted to them. When I point them out to people, they rarely show the same enthusiasm as I do, being more transfixed by the rows and rows of colorful macarons and glossy éclairs. “Tant pis” (tough sh*t, or more politely “too bad”) as they say – more for me!
Fortunately, I am able to limit my consumption to the occasional trips across Paris, when I feel the need to do some damage at the grandest culinary supermarket in town. Not that I need an excuse to go there, but it’s probably best I don’t have easy access to those caramelized almond-honey squares. (And the three aisles of chocolate bars.) Well, until now.
Some say that the French can be very narrow in their definitions of things, which is why traditional French cuisine can be so simple, yet spectacular; because the classics don’t get messed with. Other cuisines, however, do get modified to local tastes, like les brochettes de bœuf-fromage, or beef skewers with cheese, at les sushis restaurants, popcorn available as salty or sweet (!?), and while sandwiches stuffed with French fries may be a sandwich américain, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one in Amérique.
Americans spend a fair amount of time defending certain dishes, and some things are (or should be) rightly forbidden, like raisins in cole slaw and dried fruit in bagels, and others are debatable, like beans in chili, sugar or honey in cornbread. (But it’s okay to stop with those football-sized croissants.)
A few years ago, a good friend who has sadly moved away, was kind enough to take me to Restaurant Le Meurice for dinner. The first memory of walking into the done-up dining room was the way the waiters brought her an Hermès stool for her purse, which was an Hermès Kelly bag. The second memory I have, was shortly after when we sat down and they asked if we wanted apéritifs. I’d heard about the house apéritif they were serving back then, which was famous, so I ordered one.