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.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day Twenty-Three: Crème Brulée, Mon Vieil Ami

Mon dieu. Shield your eyes. Keep the children back.

The unthinkable has indeed come to pass. I have had my first terrible Parisian dessert.

Let me start by saying Mon Vieil Ami is a lovely restaurant. The service was courteous, and while they have two seatings (and we - yeah, the two couples with kids under 5 - were in the first) they did not by any means make us feel rushed. They place a strong emphasis on vegetables, ensuring they are always high quality and in season. My pâté en croûte was perfectly seasoned, my skate with roasted winter vegetables delicious. The decor is lovely, the ambiance relaxing, but... my dessert was awful.

Let's begin with my acute embarrasment in even having to post this photo (notice for the first time I am pasting it further down in the post, to give you time to prepare yourself emotionally for the visual). I wish I could blame my Canon Elph, which due to perpetual "goldeneye" and poor focus I daily long to chuck out a bus window or slide under some doggie's tush. But really, the fault is mine. I don't know what I was thinking, ordering creme brulée with pamplemousse sorbet and sliced pamplemousse (grapefruit). I wish I could chalk it up to a booze-infused mis-order (we've all had those), but we were without warning pressed to order our desserts at the beginning of the meal, before the wine had really started flowing. I also acknowledge that creme brulée is not a pastry, but the alternative was tarte au chocolat, which as you know I made, ate and posted yesterday, so... several minutes of panicked menu scanning later, I heard a voice somewhat like mine, but more like Jennifer Tilly's, ordering the creme brulee with pamplemousse, and the rest is, as they say, "dis"tory.

So no - you do not need to adjust your televisions, the brulée did arrive with this slightly greenish tint, topped with what looks unsettlingly like the specimens we saw suspended in formaldehyde at the Musee d'Histoire Naturelle earlier today and malheuresement, the problems didn't stop there. This is when I step up and take some responsibility (see, look what logging hours of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew has done for my psyche) for my own choices. What was I thinking ordering a vanilla custard with such a strong, acidic citrus fruit? They just do not go together. Or at least, this brulée and this grapefruit did not. On the contrary, they were about as believable a pair as Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen. The sweet, vanille custard only made the pamplemousse taste more sour (even the sorbet!) and vice versa. And compounding the symbiosis (or lack thereof) issues was the distinctly yolky taste to the dish - the kiss of death for any brulée, because it means the eggs had scrambled during preparation.

I'm such a nice Midwestern girl at heart that it pains me to post a negative review about anyone - all I can say is, MVA caught a break when my husband smartly passed over this dish in favor of the (excellent, lovely) roasted pears with Chantilly cream and caramel beurre salé. Hubby is an unapologetic brulée snob and would have sent it back in a heartbeat. Instead, he mocked my kryptonite-colored bastard cousin of a brulée along with everyone else at the table.

I hold Antoine Westermann in high regard (our meal last year at Drouant is in our top five, no question) but this old friend needs a new creme brulee recipe. To quote Simon Cowell, "It just didn't work for me. Sorry."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day Twenty-Two: Tarte au Chocolat, Paule Caillat (inspired by Joel Roubuchon) et Moi!

I've just finished the most relaxing, inspiring day I've had in recent memory. Dear husband kindly stayed home with - these days - incredibly trying daughter so I could finally take a cooking lesson with the oft-lauded Paule Caillat (she is not related to Colbie, I asked). The day began on Rue Montergueil (a fabulous pedestrian shopping street near Les Halles) at Stroher, a traiteur (caterer) and pâtisserie on that's served up delicious pastries, savory treats, and chocolates for nearly three centuries, where we met our market "promenade" guide S, along with Paule's intern A. My fellow students J and K were terrific guys from D.C., with whom I (of course) share at least one mutual friend. S took us to a poissonerie, a boucherie, a fromagerie, and a boulangerie/patisserie, teaching us along the way what to look for, how to order, what to buy in season, all information I could have used a year ago, but hey - better late than never.

After our market walk we journeyed to Paule's sunny, welcoming loft in the Marais for our day of gastronomic discovery. Paule fixed us up with aprons and knives and put us to work chopping, peeling, and "sweating" leeks. We made watercress velouté with scallop carpaccio and twice-cooked veal shank with a delightful sauce. We then took a break from cooking for a wonderfully informative cheese course, learning about terroir, appellations and wine pairings. Paule then showed us what I believe to be an idiot-proof (but we'll see when I try it next week!) tarte au chocolat with raspberry coulis, making today's pastry a creation by moi! Well, ok, all I really did was stir chocolate into hot cream, but it's a start.

The tarte, inspired by Joël Robuchon's recipe, starts with a homemade pate sucree (the Caillat family crust, which Paule made appear effortless) and a filling of 63% Cacao bitter chocolate mixed with hot cream and egg. Paule also showed us how to make a raspberry coulis to decorate the top of the tarte. Shocker: it was actually enjoyable to make!

After our amazing luncheon - the soup was fresh, delicious, perfectly seasoned, the veal tender, juicy, the sauce a rich and tangy puddle of perfection - we (I!) decorated and served the tarte. It was still warm, the chocolate melting on the tongue, the crust crumbly and delicious, the coulis a tart and fruity complement to the rich chocolate. In my book, cinquante times better than the tarte from Thevenin!

I've participated in several walking tours, wine tastings, and classes in my year in Paris and every time I do, I wish I had the time to engage in more academic and culinary pursuits. I can never decide which I love more: getting to see Parisien(ne)s in their natural habitats and learn their shopping, drinking, cooking and eating secrets; or meeting other really interesting ex-pats and/or tourists and learning their stories, what brought them to Paris...always engaging and enlightening - and vaguely familiar - in some way.

I left Paule's full of energy and inspiration - hubby met me back on Rue Montergeuil for a coffee and a pastry (from Strohers, bien sur) and I dragged him to Dehillerin to purchase a stainless (my first!) saucepan and stock pot and various culinary gadgets and tools to take to Bath. I may be leaving Paris, but I'll be taking a little of Paule's spirit and some damn fine cookware with me. The dream goes on!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day Twenty-One: Tarte Tatin, Prego Bistrot Italien

Today's report - and pastry - come from the road! Jeff took the day off and we hopped in a rental car and motored up to Chantilly, an unforgettable chateau and village just an hour's drive from Paris.

Recommended in Annabel Simms' terrific guide, An Hour from Paris, Chantilly has something for everyone: the art lover (the Chateau houses the Musée Condé, an impressive collection of Flemish, French, Dutch, and Italian art, including a tingle-your-toes Raphael); the history nerd (the estate was held by the same family from 1386 to 1897, the house razed during the Revolution and rebuilt); the literature snob (Molière, Marcel Proust, Madame de Sévigné, M. de la Fontaine all frequented Chantilly); and, bien sûr, the green thumb (the grounds were designed by world-class landscape architect Le Nôtre in the 17th century and contain numerous gardens and hamlets). It is certainly worth a trip if you are staying in Paris for an extended period; be sure, as Simms recommends, to jump onto a (French, sadly for us) guided tour, as it's the only way to see the Chateau's private apartments.

Sadly the weather was not ideal for wandering the grounds (and not much blooms in France in early March anyway), so after our tour we headed to the town center to scrounge up some lunch. As pizza is one of the three foods dear daughter will currently mange, an Italian bistrot seemed the perfect choice. And it was great, actually, really fresh pastas and pizzas, a Euro 7.50 kids menu, and high chairs. Though we were quite full, partaking of the region's famed Chantilly cream - allegedly developed by the Chateau's maître d’ in the 17th century - is apparently mandatory, so we ordered a tarte tatin with Crème Chantilly.

Tarte tatin is a favorite chez nous: an upside-down tart of carmelized apples, apparently invented par hazard in the late 1800s by hoteliers and sisters Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin. Pâtisserie legend says that one day Caroline, overworked and overtired, accidentally burned apples in butter (finally, a culinary skill I've actually mastered!) , and in an attempt to rescue the dish plopped a pastry crust on top and shoved it in the oven. The result is a French classic. Or, an Italian classic, as Prego's tarte tatin (though they may well have procured their desserts from one of the several amazing-looking pâtisseries in town). The crust is flaky, tricky given all the apple juice and sugar it has to absorb, the apples are perfectly browned (yes, I can taste the butter), and the goo quotient is spot-on.

As for the cream? I mean, it's delicious - obviously, it's cream - slightly sweet, but I can't say it's memorable or really reflects the terroir, like, say, Champagne, or Alsatian choucroute, or Cretan olive oil. Still, it complements the tarte quite nicely, bringing a sweet end to a memorable visit.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day Twenty: Le Baiser, Ladurée

Well, I think I logged about three miles in pursuit of today's pastry, which is probably a good thing because it contains approximately 1,837 calories. My lovely friend C (I love how my friends are getting into this and making suggestions, even taking me to their favorite haunts!) kindly passed along a suggestion from "Chocolate and Zucchini" author and blogstress Clotilde Dusoulier about Baillardran, the renowned Bordeuax canelé maker relatively unknown Parisian outpost, tucked away on a platform "facing Track 13" at the Gare Montparnasse, no less.

So, after finally seeing the Doisneau exhibit at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (small, but lovely! no bisou at the Hotel de Ville though), I began my quest by hoofing it over to the imposing Gare and searching the platform. Not seeing much besides a Quick (kind of France's version of Hardees), and a newsstand, I went to the information desk. The pleasant station worker told me Baillardran had closed. Zut! I don't know what a canelé is (do you think it's like a cannoli?) and I guess I never will. Racking my brain, I remembered a place David Leibovitz had recommended on his blog; couldn't remember the name but did remember the address, 76 Rue de Seine. Another nice, 20-minute walk, at the end of which was....shuttered. That's right, Gerard Mulot (right, that's his name) is closed on Wednesdays, to honor children who have the day off from school. Zut deux, Boogaloo electrique!

In a moment like this, there's only one thing to do: pick oneself up, and head directly to the nearest Ladurée , which fortunately for me was only about 6 blocks away on Rue Bonaparte. I waited in a typically long and crushing queue of tourists and Parisiens alike, finally settling upon a Baiser, because as my Laduree-lovin' friend Michelle can attest, we always stare at it, saying "What the Halles is that?" These big, luscious lips stare up at you from the case, and you just expect them to start purring, "Voulez-vous..." When informed it contained chocolat blanc, blah blah, framboise, yada yada, vanille, I was sold.

When I opened the box chez nous I was appropriately mocked by my husband (I mean really, this is Paris, admit you're dying to stick a cigarette in the center), but when we cut it in half to share, he stopped laughing. A crisp, white-chocolate coating held two layers of raspberry ganache interspersed between layers of macaron biscuit (which explains the perfectly chewy consistency), and crème mousseline, which added lightness and just the right amount of sweet to a very rich combination.

Wow, really delicious and something different from Ladurée. If you can get past the goofy, puckered lipsh, and order it with a straight face, over the raised Parisian eyebrows, you won't regret it for a minute. I didn't get my bisou from Doisneau, but Ladurée sealed my day with a kiss. Mwooah!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day Nineteen: Le Ceylan, La Pâtisserie des Rêves

Today I used a lovely playdate at one of our favorite playgrounds on Rue de Bac as an excuse to return to La Pâtisserie des Rêves (translation: Pastry Shop of Dreams. And is it ever). The beautiful weather had clearly drawn out the Septieme's carboholics; the place was fairly cleaned out. Still, I spotted somethin I had not previously seen or heard of: the Ceylan.

The salesclerk was sure to, beaming, display the pastry to me before she closed the box, and now I know why: I would never see it so perfect again. After two attempts to adopt Conticini pastries, the verdict is in: despite their best efforts (pretty neon toothpicks anchored in styrofoam, attempting to hold the pastry in place) Patisserie des Reves' creations just do not travel well. I should have photographed the poor Ceylan in the store, because just look at it now...

Anyway, smooshes and all, I dig right in. God this Phillippe Conticini is a master. This isn't just dessert, it's a multilayered patisserie event. The outside is pulverized white chocolate, just covering a light, fluffy layer of creme patisserie cream. Next, another layer is patisserie cream with an interesting flavor, which I'm guessing is ceylan, followed by a layer of chopped noisettes (hazelnuts), a layer of gateau citron, then a nutty, crunchy praline layer, and a final, rich, lemony gateau citron layer. Lots of different flavors, but they really work together, like... well, like tea with lemon, I guess!

Another exquisitely rich and layered creation from Conticini. I really hadn't planned to eat the whole thing, but... uh oh.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day Eighteen: Les Macarons de Christophe Roussel

Jeff is traveling (his last trip! hooray!), so it's girls' night. Tara has given me a reason to more intensively explore a Parisian classic - one which we've just touched upon here: the macaron. Or rather, 12 reasons - and 12 macarons to be exact.

I know -- you're likely to mutter to yourself, "Macaroon? What's the big whoop? Coconut dipped in chocolate. We eat them at Passover every year." Ah, but you would be so, so wrong. Les macarons Parisiens are a universe away from those supersweet holiday munchies of affliction. The best are light, slightly crisp on the outside, giving way as you bite in to some delicious filling of cassis, caramel, or even something more exotic. I'll just quote David Leibovitz on the origin of the sinful little orbs made famous by Bakery-to-the-Stars (rent Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst and you'll see what I mean) Ladurée:

"Ladurée gives credit to Pierre Desfontaines, a distant cousin of founder Louis Ernest Ladurée, who they claim first joined two disks of crisp macarons together with buttercream and ganache fillings in mini-sandwiches to create the now-classic Ladurée."

My first Parisian macarons were from Ladurée - I'll never forget that first bite, still standing inside the storefront on the Champs-Elysees with college (and still dear) friends Melissa and Michelle. We returned two days later for a dozen each. A lasting and fond Parisian memory is spending my last afternoon before my flight just walking up and down the Champs eating macarons. I probably mentioned in my Dalloyau post that rose is my favorite flavor. Word to the wise: you can get me to do just about anything with a rose macaron.

But Tara has not brought me macarons from Ladurée - she has brought me an eclectic selection for a chocolatier/patissier named Christophe Roussel. Thankfully, we have 2 other friends to share the interesting flavors - ginger/caramel (sweet, yet with a slight burn from the ginger in the aftertaste), chocolat-banane (very banana-ey, and not in a Wonka-candy kinda way), lavender/apricot. Each is delicious and that great combo-of-crisp-and-chewy consistency - and goes fabulously with champagne. As I continue to eat my way through the sampling I am hoping the collection includes one of his famous foie gras macarons!

Roussel is also apparently a rising star in the chocolat market - so I'll have to stop by his shop before we leave Paris...