Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day Thirty: Le Rosemary, Pain Du Sucre

As promised, for the final day of the Pastry-a-Day Project (which was actually yesterday, but as noted I was just too too full after dinner at Cave de L'Os a Moelle to eat or blog) I trekked over to the Marais to investigate Pain du Sucre. Far too many people both French and expatriate, had insisted it was not to be missed to, well, miss it.

I easily find the shop, on a wonderful stretch of Rue Rambuteau, chock-full of food shops, notably a fresh-pasta-and-deli called Little Italy. Not surprisingly, I once again join a long queue of Dorrie Greenspan and Clotilde Dusoulier acolytes, which gives me time to browse the gorgeous patisserie cases and even chocolates! I also see their famous scented marshmallows.

Finally, it's my turn, and I ask the salesclerk, in my halting French, which is the very best pastry? He answered - bien sur - "all of them." When I asked him to hone in just a bit, he suggested the "Rosemary," a lovely panna cotta with a raspberry and sprig of rosemary on top. I do love me some rosemary, so, intrigued, I bought it, and photographed it in its natural habitat, on a bench next to some hipster twentysomethings daintily eating fro-yo.

Blah blah, too much dinner, blah blah fast forward to today, when I opened the Rosemary for a taste. I had (wrongly) assumed my frigid, unheated kitchen would help the pastry keep its shape; it had definitely fallen and oozed a bit. My bad! It was nonetheless fresh, light and yummy - very interesting. I noticed a few of the Pain du Sucre reviews mentioned their unusual flavors, combinations of sweet and savory, etc. In this case, the rosemary, infused throughout the panna cotta layer somehow manages to taste sweet, certainly blending very well with the raspberry creme layer underneath as well. The crust is flaky, very neutral so as not to overpower any of these subtle flavors. Very unusual! And not in a bad way (you know, like how we Midwesterners say we don't really care for something by saying "that's... different"). A nice way to (sniff) end this project.

But must the project end? Yes, because I've gained six pounds. But must the blog end? Let me rack my brains for ways to fill the page going forward. Maybe each day I'll share one of my favorite things about Paris... which could evolve into general expatriate observations of life once we land in Merry Olde England. Hmmm. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day Twenty-Nine: Un Petit Pause

So, I promised that I would blog a 29th day with a pastry from Pain de Sucre, and I will... but I absolutely can't tonight. I'm just back from a gluttonous evening with friends C, S, M, M and C at Cave de L'Os a Moelle, and I can't eat another bite nor write about no eats. Except to tell you that Cave is lovely, like eating at a French farmhouse (or what I imagine one might be). We sat at a large communal table already tricked out with slaws of every color (rapees, as they call them here, carrot, beetroot, celeriac), gorgeous country bread, roasted cauliflower, cornichons, 2 different terrines. On the wall behind are wines of every region and every price range, organized like a wine store, actually, and you just choose what you like and they open it right up for you. Amazing!

After gorging on these appetizers for 45 min. or so we sauntered up for the mains, which were served in big pots on a vintage stove: beef tripe, pork stew, and fish soup, all delicious. Well, the second two were... still not brave enough to try tripe on my best day. After another 45 minutes of that nonsense we staggered over to the dessert buffet - about a dozen different offerings, but as full as I had become I settled on a lovely chocolat-banane pot au creme. I even had to pass on the incredible-looking cheese board she put in front of us, then looking somewhere between miffed and nonplussed when she took it back again, nearly intact.

The best part... even with the 2 bottles of wine it came out to 30E each. What a bargain! And of course, to sit elbow-to-elbow with great friends, drinking and gossiping and eating real French fare, really priceless, isn't it?

Back tomorrow with my review of Pain au Sucre. My unheated cuisine is so cold I know the pastry will keep beautifully until demain!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day Twenty-Eight: Adagio, Eric Kayser

Firstly, let me reassure you, gentle readers, as my onetime neighbor Judith "Miss Manners" Martin would call you, that today is not my final post. I was told by numerous patisserie experts not to miss Pain du Sucre in the 3eme, which is closed on Wednesdays - making tomorrow my sole day to go and my final blogging Leap day (on this topic anyway, absolutely necessary as I have already gained five pounds).

Today's pastry comes from another of our household's essential shops: Eric Kayser. Since we moved to Paris Master Kayser -usually the branch on the Rue du Bac near the Musée d'Orsay but more recently his new shop on Rue de Sevres as well - has provided us with sustenance via delicious sandwiches, dozens of "baguettes Tolbiac," brownies, cookies, and patisserie. Kayser opened his first Paris boulangerie in 1996 and owns multiple shops around Paris and around the world, where they offer 80 varieties of bread and 50 different pastries.

You can therefore imagine how difficult today's task is: to choose a pastry that truly represents Maison Kayser and everything this wonder bread has meant to our Parisian experience. That choice is the gorgeous Adagio: White chocolate squares over dark chocolate fondant over chocolate mousse over raspberry ganache over chocolate cake. Need I say more?

Well, of course I will anyway. I have sampled many chocolate creations during this project and this one certainly ranks near the top. The fondant is rich, only slightly bittersweet, enough to tickle the back of the palate. The chocolate mousse is a bit too sweet for my taste, but only a bit, and as it is likely intended to balance the more bitter fondant I excuse it. The raspberry ganache is tart, a terrific complement to the intense chocolate flavors. The chocolate cake layer is a bit bland and dry, but it's really my only complaint, and given the richness of the other layers it's more an observation than a criticism.

I've heard from those in the know that pâtissiers make terrible bread and boulangers make terrible pastries. I have to say if that if this is indeed generally true, Eric Kayser is a notable and wonderful exception. His delectable baguettes and nuanced pâtisserie are among the Parisian delights I will miss most.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day Twenty-Seven: Le Cheesecake, Secco

As much as I've loved living on our side of the Septieme - it has many perks, including proximity to the Louvre and D'Orsay, not to mention the Latin Quarter and shops on the Rue du Bac - but for fooding, part of me is always envious of those who live on the Champs-Mars side. Dear daughter and I spent our morning, as has become tradition, with design guru-stylish Brit friend C and her daughter, who live on that lovely, neighborhoody, western side of the 7th. After two lovely hours trolling design websites, poring over catalogs, downing multiple lattes and dishing, we left to pick up C's son from preschool. C offered to take me to one of her favorite spots for today's pastry - Secco off Rue St. Dominique.

Once again, I am at once dazzled and heartbroken to be discovering a place like Secco just weeks before our departure from Paris. The tiny shop - divided into two smaller shops, actually - is jammed with quiches, sandwiches, a bubbling pot of potage, salads of every design, and - of course - desserts. I skim over the options - a glistening tarte au citron, a luscious-looking tarte au chocolat, macarons - finally settling on the cheesecake, which C has highly recommended. I can only describe it as adorable (don't you agree?). Perky, tucked into a perfect crust, gorgeous raspberry nestled in the center.

I spent the afternoon - also on Catherine's recommendation - at the Jeu de Paume, a terrific gallery opposite the Orangerie known for cutting-edge photography and multimedia expositions. This month's offerings include a retrospective of Lisette Model, a photographer born in Paris and best known for her observations of New York nightlife, Paris' streets and the Cote d'Azur. It's a relatively small but wonderful exhibit - my favorite part was a story she shot for Harper's Bazaar about the 1944 elections and the potential power of the women's vote; I make a mental note to go home and contribute to EMILY's List. Feeling inspired, I walk through the Tuileries and take some shots of the trees, benches, pools. All working up a terrific appetite for...

Cheesecake. One of my favorite desserts. One of the few desserts I can actually make fairly well. One of the few desserts I've really missed while living in Paris. Diving into this Secco confection I'm immediately thrilled with my choice (thanks, C!). The crust is absolutely delicious - one of the better basic vanilla crusts I've had throughout the project. The cheesecake itself is delightfully light and fluffy - due, I read in a pastry article, to the use of 0% fat fromage blanc in the filling - and infused with a very delicate lemon flavor. Despite the cheesecake's lightness, I feel satisfied after half of this rich-tasting, creamy dessert and offer the rest to dear husband.

I don't know if this is, as one website cited, "the best.cheesecake.ever" (I vainly hold my own peanut-butter cheesecake in pretty high regard) but it's the best I've had in Paris (sorry, Pierre Hermé ...yours melted). Now I'm not only bubbly, I'm officially pro-Secco.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day Twenty-Six: Le Tonka, La Grande Epicerie

Egads! Hubby was a bit late getting home from work tonight, leaving open only La Grande Epicerie. While typically their patisseries are not our favorite, this gives me an excuse to wax poetic about the gastronomic epicentre that is our neighborhood grocery store. I ran the block and a half over to find the patisserie cases still nicely stocked at 8:15 p.m. Torn between the Opera and the Tonka, which looks like a chocolate bombe, I chose the Tonka.

But first, a moment about La Grande Epicerie. Affiliated with (and attached to) the Bon Marche Department Store, it is truly a culinary wonderland, and I shop there at least two or three times a week. From day-to-day essentials like rice, canned goods, dairy products and - hard to find in Paris - flavored coffee, to a gorgeous, partly-bio fruit and vegetable section, to a "traiteur" section including a range of hot and fresh foods in a wide range of ethnic flavors (Chinese, Middle Eastern, Alsatian, Japanese, Indian to name just a few). There's a wine section - always offering tastings - stocked with vintages from every region in France, a huge uber-gourmet section of foie gras, caviar, and smoked fishes; a fully-stocked fromagerie, a boucherie, an amazing charcutier, and a fishmonger who will prepare a variety of fish to your needs. It's the place you're comforted to know is there - just in case you're suddenly charged with hosting cocktails or need to pick up a delicious and gourmet dinner for eight.

And of course there's the patisserie counter. Our beef generally has been with the macarons and chouquettes - both slightly chewy and "not-so-fresh" tasting. Always an optimist when it comes to dessert, my hope is that the Tonka is different. And... it's not bad at all!

The outside chocolate fondant layer is creamy chocolate noir - its richness amplified, I am guessing, by traces of the mysterious Tonka bean (banned in the U.S. for use in food because it contains the anticoagulant coumarin). Inside, a double layer of cream: milk chocolate and vanilla. And holding it all up, a crunchy, buttery crust. Top to bottom, the bombe produces the perfect bite, and a slightly dizzying chocolate euphoria.

If I had to rank the top five things I will miss about Paris, the Grande Epicerie would be one of them. I already dread the first Friday night that I can't send Jeff over to pick up the dinner I didn't have time to make, the first Valentine's Day that I can't buy him those perfect fruit jellies he loves, the absence of 50 different kinds of yogurt and fromage blanc. Ain't life grande...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day Twenty-Five: Tarte aux Cerises, Boulangerie Jacky Milcent

We're lucky -- we discovered the best boulangerie in the area, Jacky Milcent, very early in our Paris stay. So for nearly sixteen months we've enjoyed the Septième's best baguettes, galettes des rois (according to many, the best in Paris), terrific sandwiches, roses de sable (chocolate-covered cornflake no-bake cookies) and more.

Last summer I took a fabulous class on the History of Paris at the American University of Paris, and, in order to pick up my student ID, I -- hilariously -- had to go through Student Orientation. It was largely geared of course towards college students, many of whom were visiting Paris for the first time, but the orientation leader did say something that stuck with me -- something to the effect of, "You'll want to know, where is the best baguette in Paris? Where is the best croissant in Paris? The answer is, the best baguette is the one you love the most, and the best patisserie is the one you find the most delicious." That was actually really wise - and so true. Jacky Milcent bakes many of our favorite things.

I had my dear British copine and her daughter and new baby over all afternoon, so I asked dear hubby to pick up today's pastry. He headed right to Boulangerie Jacky Milcent (though I confess I never knew the name until I looked it up on the internet), which is on his way home from work. The popular place was nearly sold out, but he brought back an amazing baguette tradition and a cheerful Tarte aux Cerises.

I think the Tarte was probably terrific earlier in the day, and in some ways it still was. The crust was crumbly and just-sweet-enough, and the vanilla custard was delectable. The crumble on top was sweet, but a little soggy, and the fruit flat, nearly sour-tasting. But it is still a sweet end to a long day, and does nothing to deplete my love and affection for the Boulangerie. Nor, of course, for the cutie who brought it home.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day Twenty-Four: Les Macarons, Pierre Hermé

I know... macarons again?

After a frigid afternoon watching the marionettes (a fairly trippy version of Pinocchio, complete with dancing mushrooms, a ravenous lion whose tail is amputated by the title character, uh, puppet, and creepy goblins that spring at random from beneath the stage) with husband and daughter at the Luxembourg Gardens, we shuffled, teeth chattering, over to nearby Pierre Hermé. Along with the Ispahan about which I posted earlier in the project I had also brought home a couple of macarons, which hubby had loved. My plan was to show him the lovely shop and pick him up some macarons with a fancier patisserie for me, but after waiting in a loooong line that ran out the shop's door, we finally squeezed in to find the patisseries nearly cleaned out. A couple of Ispahan creations and macarons were all that remained. I say "all" - with more than a dozen flavors ranging from traditional (caramel) to exotic (jasmine), there are certanly worse dregs with which to be left!

On the way home dear daughter begged for a "baneee" (her version of "vanille"), the vanilla macaron which she is accustomed to getting on the way from the Grande Epicerie or any long string of errands that require a bribe. Pierre Herme's small macarons on offer today were for the most part exotically flavored - the tamest flavor I'd gotten on this trip was the Arabsesque, which is an apricot-praline macaron covered with pistachio dust. We had to pause and laugh, watching our two-year old daughter, reclined in her stroller and smacking contentedly on a world-class patissier's Sunday wares. "You know what, kid? You've got a pretty nice life," dear husband mused.

After a dinner of Ina Garten's roast lemon chicken (thanks to the Barefoot Contessa) and one of the last remaining bottles from our Loire visits, a punchy Borgeuil from Jacques Druet we bring out tea and the macarons. We both ate a hearty dinner, so we just try a few. I've sampled the rose macaron a few times now, so I'm prepared for the burst of rose flavor and creamy filling that explodes in my mouth. My friend M and I will fight our Laduree vs. Hermé battle to the bitter end, but for my money these are the best rose macarons in Paris. I pause and pledge to give her a blind taste-test the next time we are together in Paris (I think somehow that there will be more macarons together, even after I move). Husband tucks right into the grande macaron vanille I got him (afraid his cautious palate would be overwhelmed by the more exotic flavors) and proclaims it "terrific." I snag a quarter of it and agree - the middle tastes almost like homemade buttercream vanilla frosting (in a good way), the outside is perfectly crisp, the vanilla flavor full without being supersweet.

I also sampled the metallic-dusted Jasmine macaron - yet another floral flavor, this one is much more subtle than the rose, but almost as delicious. Next was the Magnifique, flavored with raspberry and a hint of wasabi - I was prepared to be smacked in the face with the latter but really it was just a slow burn on the back of the throat, long after the raspberry note. I could have used a little more zing, but overall the flavor is tangy and refreshing.

I'm saving Mogador (passion fruit and milk chocolate) and Chuao (chocolate noir with cassis) for tomorrow.... maybe I'll even give one to that lucky kid o'mine.