149, rue de l’Université (map)
01 47 53 74 40
Michel Chaudun (in Japan)
Pardon, Monsieur Linxe, but I disagree.
At a recent tasting at La Maison du Chocolat, I sampled at least eight chocolates—not to mention passion fruit ganache, chocolat chaud, plus two of their newest summer flavors: melon and star anise.
It was a lot to get through, let me tell you. I normally avoid any hot chocolate that’s offered in those kinds of situations, because I find that’s the tummy-buster, the stuff that puts you over the edge. And when faced with a plate of such fine chocolates, I want to enjoy and savor every chocolate-dipped bite. A warm cup of silky-rich chocolat chaud alongside? That’s just dorer le lys. (Gilding the lily.)
My favorite chocolate at La Maison du Chocolat is Rigoletto Noir.
There’s a nifty guidebook to the bakeries, chocolate shops, and tea salons, called The Pâtisseries of Paris. This handy little book is full of great addresses and tips, and is just small enough to slip in your shoulder bag when hitting the streets of Paris, should you come to Paris on a mission for sweets.
I was surprised at how in-depth this guide takes you. Naturally, the usual suspects, like Ladurée and Stohrer, are in there. And chocolatiers like Jean-Charles Rochoux and Patrick Roger are always a stop whenever I’m on the Left Bank, so I was happy to see the nods toward them.
There’s few places that aren’t quite worth the calories. Such as Au Panetier bakery, where the pastries don’t make up for the glorious art nouveau tilework, although it is gorgeous.
Last week, when I had to go into my local France Telecom office, instead of the usual dread, a thought flashed through my mind: “Well, at least this might make a good story for the blog.”
But I want to spare you all that stuff so you can concentrate on the glories of Paris rather than the indignities that we citizens of the state must suffer under a regime that seeks to oppress the masses of the working people, who pay exorbitant prices for mobile phone service (and scallions…but that’s another story), who under the guise of state-run socialism are actually in cahoots with the only two other service providers that France Telecom will allow them to compete with themselves (yes…you read that right) so that we can pay 35 centimes a minute to make a call.
I don’t know what one has to do with the other, but thanks for letting me vent. Oh, after I left their office I stepped a big mess on the sidewalk…the first time in three years.
However I’d like to stay focused, if I can, and talk about the Chez Panisse Almond Tart.
I’d like to introduce you to someone you may not have heard of: Véronique Mauclerc. But I hope on your next visit to Paris, or if you live here, you’ll make the trip to see her gorgeous and very special bakery.
Early each morning at Véronique’s boulangerie in the 19th arrondissement, the bleary bakers start mixing the organic flour at 2am after torching-up the wood-fired oven, only one of four in Paris (and there’s only two people that know how to fix it in the city.) So if you’re wondering what you’re doing in the middle of nowhere, it’s because an oven this special just can’t be moved.
And what a magnificent oven it is! As the morning continues, and perhaps the coffee kicks in, the bakers start adding wood until the temperature of the oven’s just right for baking bread, 275C (about 530F). Then each hand-shaped loaf is baked off to crackly-crusty perfection.
Her incredibly beautiful oven can hold up to 100 loaves at a time, but you’d never know she could reach such capacity when you see the small, carefully-crafted loaves of bread on display in the bakery, which is listed as a historic monument in Paris.
There’s a new face in the Marais: Gérard Mulot. Sure there’s lot of shoe shops, sunglass boutiques, and questionable “art” galleries in the Marais. But there’s a dearth of bakeries and pastry shops.
So imagine my surprise and delight when one not-particularly-good bakery near me closed (the surprise part), then re-opened the other day as…Gérard Mulot! (the delight)
For those of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, Gérard Mulot is most famous for his Left Bank shop on the rue de Seine, where he turns out magnificent fruit tarts, from simple to architectural, buttery pastries which include a rich-rich-rich chocolate coconut fondant that’s barely finish-able (if that’s a word), and an impressive selection of hearth-baked breads for the appreciative crowds that are always oogling the pastries in the shop.
(A few months ago I was fortunate to visit his workshop and watch his chocolatier make all sorts of things, as well as the rest of the staff, who demonstrated how they make their rather colorful macarons.)
His new shop is just one block from the places des Vosges, so if you’re exploring the Marais or the Bastille, you’re not far from pastry paradise.
And even better…now I am too!
76 rue de Seine (6th)
Tél: 01 45 26 85 77
93 rue de la Glacière (13th)
Tél: 01 45 81 39 09
If you’re thinking about becoming a professional cook, whether or not to go to school may be the ultimate question for you to ponder. There are some very good culinary schools, but in general, I think it’s worth getting some experience either in a restaurant kitchen or bakery before you decide to invest a lot of money in education. Perhaps the work is far more challenging than expected, or the pay is going to be far (very far) lower than what you’re making as, say, an anesthesiologist.
Should You Go To Cooking School?
Over the years, I’ve gotten number of inquiries for people thinking they’re like to cook professionally. Perhaps much of the interest began when the ‘celebrity chef’ craze took hold in the 80’s and people began thinking it was exciting to work in a restaurant kitchen. I know, since I was one of those people. I loved restaurant work (well, most of the time) and it can be lots of fun depending on where you are. I’ve had some of the most exciting times of my life working in restaurant kitchens, but it can also be a living hell.
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.
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.
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.