If you’ve ever wondered how French pastry shops make cream puffs with that distinctive decorative crackly topping, look no further. (If you’ve never wondered, you can skip to the next entry.) The topping is called craquelin, a simple dough that’s easily put together and is a nifty little trick to gussy up ordinary cream puffs.
Results tagged butter from David Lebovitz
When it comes to baking and desserts, one doesn’t necessarily think of salt as a flavor. But more and more, I keep considering, and reconsidering, the role that salt plays in just about everything I bake. And because I keep both salted and unsalted butter on hand – I can’t imagine my morning toast without a little salted butter spread over the top – I’ll sometimes reach for the salted variety when tackling a baking project or making dessert.
I wasn’t the first person to put salt on dessert; people from various cultures have been sprinkling salt on fresh fruit for ages. And many pastry chefs, as well as some big chocolate companies, have gotten in on the “salt in chocolate” act as well.
But I’ve gotten so used to sprinkling it on sweets that sometimes if I’m having my last course in a restaurant and I think the dessert needs a little perking up, you’ll find me looking around the table for a little bowl of flaky sea salt. Salt is so important to me that I’ll sometimes carry a little wooden box of fleur de sel, which when I’d bring out in restaurants, my co-diners would give me a look as if I was being pretentious. (Then – of course – they’d ask if they could have a pinch too.)
No one’s been quite been able to explain the popularity of canned corn in France to me. But the explanation of why fresh corn isn’t familiar – or eaten – is that fresh corn is considered animal feed. Which still doesn’t explain how something isn’t fit for human consumption if it’s raw, but if it’s cooked and canned, that’s another story. And when it’s in that sloshy, soggy state, it’s often found in unfamiliar places – like scattered on pizza or piled up in a salade niçoise.
(Which gives people in Nice fits, because it’s pas respectueuse – you’re only supposed to use raw vegetables in a salade niçoise.)
On the other hand, we Americans can’t get enough fresh corn and come August, most of us living in France who’ve been perfectly content to consume wonderful cheese, bread, and wine for the past eleven months, well, suddenly our seasonal clocks collectively kick in and we develop insatiable cravings for plump, fresh tomatoes and corn on the cob slathered with butter and salt.
So how excited was I when a friend took me to Grand Frais, a giant supermarket near where she lives, which specializes in produce, and I was faced with mounds of fresh corn for just €1,50 ($2) for three ears? And if you bought three, they threw in the fourth one for free. Of course, I couldn’t resist (the corn, and the bargain), and proudly exited the store with a big sack containing a dozen ears of corn.
I hate to tell you this. But not everyone in France gets five weeks for les vacances. While it’s true that most people in France get a five weeks of vacation, I am not quite there yet. Nor am I at the point where I get 7 weeks of vacation, as a few of my friends do. (But that’s what I continue to aspire to*.) Take, for example, this summer my vacation time is less than twenty-four hours.
In French, les vacances is/are almost always plural. Perhaps it’s because everyone just does it en masse. So I’m not sure if I have to right to call my twenty-four hours vacation, in the plural. But who has time to quibble over grammar (French or English) when I am this close to collapsing.
Fortunately a neighbor who works with Les Étangs de Corot took pity on me sweltering in my office during the heatwave, staring at words on a computer screen for hours at a time while fusing to the plastic of my office chair, gulping ice water, and invited me to come to the hotel and spa for the night, knowing that even the hottest American – the one who is remaining in Paris (not necessarily the one with the hottest backside) – needs a break.
One of the things that most excited me most about coming to Stockholm was to visit Pärlans Konfektyr. The moment I heard about it, I knew I had to go. I mean, a small shop that makes artisanal caramels, in one of the best dairy-producing countries in the world, with a wink-and-a-nod to traditional Swedish charm? Count me in.
So I asked if I could come and watch them make caramels. When I walked in, I got the usual cheerful Swedish greeting, and I realized I was surrounded by caramels in an array of flavors – some traditional, others less-so, and some beautiful jars of sauce which, after I tasted a sample, had me seriously consider risking getting busted for trying to smuggle a few home in my carry-on. I didn’t, although I’m sure the agents at the airport would have been very, very happy to confiscate them!
The beautiful logo, the warm welcome with a lilting “Hej!” (“Hi!”), the rows and rows of wrapped caramels, and jars of sauces with “l”, “J”, “Å” and Ö”-heavy names I could barely pronounce. Judging from the steady stream of customers – many with kids in tow (and towheaded kids, at that – after all, it’s Scandinavia), it seemed to be an obligatory stop in the neighborhood.
After a few moments of admiring everything, the folks at Pärlans invited me into their pristine kitchen and I felt an air of happiness as the workers diligently cut up butter, boiled up sugar syrups, measured out fruit purees, and were hand stamping wrappers for caramels.
I’ve been a busy boy the last few weeks, hunkering down finishing a project that’s I’m working on night-and-day. And unfortunately, it’s not even allowed me time to go to the market to do much food shopping. Quelle horreur! So I’ve been raiding my freezer (which is actually a good thing…) and rummaging through my cabinets in search of things that I can sustain myself on.
I had a couple of bags of beautiful stone-ground polenta that I got in Gascony last fall and decided that I’d cook up a big batch to keep on hand. When I lived in California, I ate a lot of polenta because I am a major fan of anything and everything with cornmeal. It’s not as common here and while you can find it in most supermarkets, it’s often the instant variety. And while some people say it’s pretty good, I tried it once and it’s like comparing mashed potatoes made with those powdery dried flakes that come in a box with mashed potatoes made from real, honest-to-goodness potatoes. To me, there’s just no comparison.
I love my everyday bowls, which were gifts from my friend Kate who lives in Gascony. They’re from a semi-local potter which makes cassoles, the bowls for preparing Cassoulet. But I’ve loved these little fellas forever and use ‘em for my daily soup and noodle bowls. I’ve posted pictures of them on the site and folks have asked me where oh where they can find them. (Here’s one site.) But because they’re somewhat fragile to ship, and rather heavy, you might want to consider hauling them back from France yourself if you don’t live here*. However I came across them at the J’Go stand in the Marché Saint Germain des Près in the 6th. If you want them, and are coming to Paris – bring bubble wrap! (And some extra cash; they’re €24 each.) They also stock cassoles in multiple sizes at La Tuile à Loup, a great French pottery shop in Paris.
Somehow, I have a lot of fat. Fortunately most of it is in my freezer. I love duck fat and if you haven’t tried potatoes cooked in duck fat, I urge you to step away from the keyboard, go buy yourself a duck, render the fat, pluck some potatoes from your rooftop garden (if you live in Brooklyn), and fry them up. Then…Oy!… as anyone is likely say when they taste them.
But in spite of its slippery, unctuous qualities, fat isn’t necessarily a sexy subject to publishers. Niche subjects often get bypassed since they are always looking for the “market” for a subject or cookbook. And schmaltz? When was the last time you did a search for a cookbook on chicken fat? Yet certain things need to be written about, and I’m sure no one was all that interested in the dictionary before it was published, or a book about religious folks wearing flesh-cutting devices under their frocks, à la The Da Vinci Code.