Results tagged levain from David Lebovitz

Five Books on French Cuisine

The Whole Fromage

The Whole Fromage

Look, I like cheese a lot. But didn’t think I could get into an entire book on the subject. And as I read the first few paragraphs of The Whole Fromage, my suspicions were almost confirmed and I was considering putting it down because, like cheese (which I’m surrounded by on a daily basis – and I’m not complaining!), a well-edited selection is usually my preferred way to enjoy it. Fortunately I kept going and found myself completely absorbed in the book on les fromage, the subject of Kathe Lison’s obsession. And her book is a series of interesting essays as she traveled around France, visiting cheese producers, from the mountains of the Jura to the caves of Roquefort.

It’s hard to write about cheese because the scents and flavors that come to mind, used to describe the taste and smell of les fromages, aren’t often very appealing; barnyards, cattle pens, rotting milk, and the laundry bin in men’s locker rooms after the big game, often come to mind. But Kathe Lison visited some of the most intriguing cheese regions in France – from Langres to Beaufort, and recounts her visits cheese caves, curd tastings, meetings with artisan cheese producers, and an occasional brush with a cranky character or two.

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How to Find a Good Baguette in Paris

Baguette

There are a lot of people who come to Paris and can’t wait to get their hands on one of the amazing baguettes that are packed in baskets and lined up on flour-dusted bakery counters seemingly on just every street corner. (And people still ask me why I moved here?) Well I have good news and bad news for you – there are plenty of great baguettes in Paris, and unfortunately a few not-so-great ones out there as well.

BaguetteBaguette
BaguetteBaguette

You just can’t assume that every bakery makes great bread, just like not all wine companies make great wine or all restaurants serve good food. Paris is a large city with lots of bakeries of various quality. And in Paris, a baguette generally isn’t something worthy of great adulation or bread that someone would take two métros to buy – a baguette is simply part of everyday life and something you’d pick up on your way home from work for dinner. And they come in all different sizes, shapes, dimensions, and colors.

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La baguette

baguette

Some time ago I switched my allegiance to grainy bread. Perhaps it was because I was thinking, “If I’m going to eat all this bread around here, I should at least be eating grainy bread.” Or perhaps I got bored with the one-note flavors of white bread, and began enjoying the fuller flavors of whole grain loaves. But over the last few weeks, while I’ve been in between kitchens (and toasters), I now wake up each morning with the sole goal of scoring a fresh baguette for breakfast.

I’m often asked what I would miss about Paris when I’m not here, and although you can pretty much get anything you want nowadays anywhere in the world (thank you, internet…well, I think…), the bread in Paris is still pretty great. Not every bakery makes a good baguette, but when you get a perfect specimen, one that crunches audibly when you bite through the crust and the inside has a creamy color and a slight tang from a bit of levain – save for a swipe of good butter or a bit of cheese – anything else is simply unnecessary.

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La Pâtisserie

 croissant

When you live in Paris, you tend to stick to pastry shops in your neighborhood. Not that there aren’t “destination-worthy” places in all twenty arrondissements – with many notable ones on the Left Bank and in swankier districts. But with young chefs opening bakeries in various neighborhoods, catering especially to locals, one doesn’t necessarily need to go all that far to find extraordinary pastries and confections.

La Pâtisseriepain au levain
baba au rhum at La Pâtisseriekouign amann

Cyril Lignac is a chef who is hosts popular television programs in France, and a few years ago had purchased Chardenoux bistro, an aging warhorse of a place where I once went to meet a good friend who was in town for a month. As I waited for him at the table, the place – and the waiters – looked so tired (both looked ready for a much-needed retirement), when he arrived, I quickly convinced him that we were probably better off going to a corner café for a salad. So it was good to hear that the bistro had been taken over by Monsieur Lignac and just across the street, pastry chef Benoit Couvrand was turning out stellar pastries and breads.

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Poilâne

pain Poilâne

I don’t think about this so much anymore, but one of the reasons I moved to Paris is that I could, whenever I wanted to, go to Poilâne and buy myself nice chunk of pain Poilâne. Just like that. Although I’m from San Francisco where there are quite a number of excellent bread bakeries, there’s something special about the bread at Poilâne – it has a certain flavor, just the right tang of sourdough, dark and husky but with an agreeable légèreté that makes it the perfect bread for sandwiches, to accompany cheese, or as I prefer it, as morning toast with little puddles of salted butter collecting in the irregular holes and a thin layer of bitter chestnut honey drizzled all over it.

Pain Poilâne

A week after I moved to Paris, a friend and I were invited to lunch with Monsieur Poilâne and his wife. Both were lovely people and Monsieur Poilâne was animated and still excited about the bakery he’d owned seemingly forever, which was (and still is) considered the best bread in the world. (I’ve never met a bread baker who didn’t use Monsieur Poilâne’s pain au levain as a reference point for excellence.) He took out a piece of paper and a pen, and wrote down a list of places that he wanted to take me, which I thought was odd – yet rather generous – since the man had just met me.

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Nopi, in London

scone and doughnut

I was a big fan of Ottolenghi even before I stepped into one of their restaurants. When I got a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s first book, I was blown away by the photographs of gorgeous dishes, heaped with generous amounts of fresh chopped herbs, irregularly cut vegetables often seared and caramelized, and roasted, juicy meats accented with citrus or unexpected spices, usually with a Middle Eastern bent. The bold, big flavors came bounding through the pages and appealed to me as both a diner and a cook.

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Sunday Paris Market

apricotspoulet fermier chèvreboulangerie

Summer was kind of a bust in Paris this year. True, I did spend three weeks away. But from what everyone told me, Paris was just like the city I came home to; gray and overcast. One of the rewards of living in Paris is summer. After surviving the bleak, cold winter, the payoff is sitting in outdoor cafés drinking cold rosé in the heat or engaging in un pique-nique with friends by the Seine, taking advantage of the extra long days.

crustacean

Most businesses in Paris shut down for summer holidays, usually beginning around the end of July and re-opening later in August. In the past few years, since the economy hasn’t been so fabulous, more and more places have stayed open. Another factor is unrest in many French-speaking countries outside of France where the French have traditionally taken their vacations. Plus the weather hasn’t been so great in the rest of France either. So spending a few weeks on a chilly beach in Brittany or under the clouds on the shores of la Côte Basque isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. And as you know, many Europeans wear Speedo-style bathing suits and, well, let’s fact it – not many men want to be lounging around on a very chilly beach in a soul-baring swimsuit, myself included.

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My Baguette is Back!

baguette

Disappointment can take many forms.

Some people are unhappy with their lawmakers. Others experience unemployment, infidelity, natural disasters, wrongful arrest, declining stock prices, or social injustices.

And then there’s the poor folks that face cultural challenges on a daily basis, and have to deal with disagreeable bank tellers, reams of bureaucratic paperwork, and a France Telecom form promising a refund, but with absolutely no information on where to return it to.

Me?

I’ve got bigger problems around here. Much bigger.

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