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.

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