Archive | January, 2011

3 must be my lucky number

30 Jan

I always thought 35 was my lucky number, in honor of the late Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis.  But thank goodness it didn’t take me 35 tries to successfully accomplish macarons! Yesterday I made coffee macarons and the baking Gods were watching over me.  I adjusted the temperature up to 180 degrees Celcius, from 150 as was previously recommended, and switched to parchment paper over the use of a silicone mat. I finally produced good looking, good tasting macarons that actually came off the cookie sheet!  YUM…now I’m on to other flavors. We need taste testers folks…come to Paris, or please comment if you actually live in Paris! Otherwise, Chris and I are going to get a wee bit pudgy or end up with Diabetes. We really don’t want either of those things to happen.

Du Pain et Des Idees

28 Jan

Yesterday we visited a bakery called Du Pain et Des Idees (Bread and Ideas), our third stop in our neighborhood bakery tour, located in the 10th District of Paris. We chose to visit this bakery because it’s history spoke to us, on a personal level. Du Pain et Des Idees was founded by Christophe Vasseur, whom at the age of 30 quit his successful career as a sales executive, to be a baker. And not just any baker, Christophe Vasseur was named the best baker in Paris in 2008, only 6 years after he opened the doors of Du Pain et Des Idees. His bakery is a restored 1889 bakery, where he kept much of the decor the same. If you can take your eyes off the croissants, you admire the mirrored walls and baroque hand-painted ceilings. In my opinion, this bakery is going to be the one to beat and we arrived at it so early in our bakery tour! I’ll be revisiting this one, and taking visitors here…not just for the great story and the beautiful interior.  Simply put, the best bread and breakfast pastries I’ve ever had. They were all traditional and exceptionally made, but this bakery puts their signature on things that I think sets a standard and makes it personal.  The brioche is flavored with orange flower oil, and the pistachio and chocolate escargot (“swirlie”) was unlike anything I’ve seen before.

In just a few short weeks of being in Paris, leaving our life and careers behind temporarily to pursue something in the world of baking, Chris and I have been on a roller coaster of thoughts and emotions about our decisions that have lead us here.  Bakeries like this one certainly inspire us, but also leave us overwhelmed. We aren’t exactly sure where this journey is going to take us, but we are definitely going to enjoy the ride.

Macarons…Round 2

25 Jan

Noticeably absent…Round 1. Although my flattering husband was singing my praises in the world of baking, I think he is just being a good husband.  I am writing today a defeated baker. These french pastry chefs are not messing around with the delicate, crunchy on the outside but chewy on the inside, meringue-like cookie made mostly with almond flour and egg whites called macarons. Do not confuse these with the coconut meringue cookies called “macaroons” you can find in the States. These little cookies are kicking my ass in the kitchen. I’m not happy about it…but my failures (yes, twice) are my motivation.

In my first attempt, I kept it very basic and just went for the bare-bones almond macaron (no colors or flavors added to make them look pretty). Keep in mind that I’m translating these recipes from French, and I’m looking up every other word in the dictionary (or asking Chris to read to me). On a positive note, since I’m not feeling very positive about my baking skills at the moment, I am getting pretty good at reading macaron recipes in French…not getting much better at the real-life social interactions on the street, but beggars can’t be choosers. Anyhoo…summary of round 1 is that the cookies looked a little flat and I was having much trouble getting them off the silicone mat used to cover my cookie sheet. They tasted quite good, so I think I was following the recipe correctly and it was a good recipe, but I think my problem had to do with oven temperature (maybe not hot enough??). Still not sure.

So on to round 2. This time, I jazzed it up a bit and went for lemon macarons, filled with lemon curd. Once again, following the recipe, perfecting the piping technique (seen below), and being quite pleased with myself as they came out of the oven and saw this (2nd picture)!

Look at that lemony yellow color!

Don't get excited like I did.

They looked so pretty and perfect.  I thought to myself, wow, I can do this macaron thing. And then…after they cooled, DISASTER. I couldn’t get them off the silicone mat.  The crunchy tops just lift right off, leaving a gooey uncooked mess on the cookie sheet. So sad. They taste good, in a raw-batter kind of way, making me think that the recipe is not the problem. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I think that maybe I’ve got the oven temperature and timing wrong. I’m going to tweek the recipes I’m using, and I’ll post soon on how Round 3 goes.  In the meantime…if any of my readers have attempted and accomplished this beast, your suggestions are very much so welcome.

Baking for Dummies

24 Jan

Maybe we aren’t quite dummies.  Amy knows quite well what she’s doing in the baking world, while I’ve spent the past year plus in restaurants, cooking and managing.  Baking is an exact science; however, at this point in time, it feels more like an experiment.  First up, I tried a mixed starter bread, a denser and wheatier version of a classic french baguette.

My mixed starter bread is adapted from a recipe published in Baking with Julia.  I started with a homemade pizza dough (thank you Pupatella!) and stored a small piece of pizza dough (starter) for use in the bread dough.  After three stages of mixing, rising, and kneading (about 24 hours later), my dough was ready for pre-shaping.


After a quick rest (2o minutes), I shaped the dough into baguettes.  Now, we have a small oven, so the size of these baguettes are definitely a bit smaller than usual.  With the use of my newly purchased couche, I let them rise, yet another time.

final shape, rising

A couple hours later it was finally time to bake.  Twenty minutes…tick..tick..tick.  Well, look at that…a dark, crackly, and tasty bread!

I am now, having produced tasty bread with my own hands, addicted to bread baking.  In the next few days, I’m attempting a real french baguette.  You can rest assured you’ll read an exciting blog about this experience as well!

Le Marais

21 Jan

Our second bakery tour installment led us to the 4th district, often called Le Marais (The Marsh).  It is also home to one of Paris’ largest Jewish communities.  Our decision to visit this neighborhood revolved around a strong desire for fallafel!  I know, it has nothing to do with pastry, but we wanted some damn fallafel!  We read about a restaurant named L’As de Fallafel (The Ace of Fallafel), which has often been referred to as the best fallafel in Paris.  It was also noted as being extremely busy, which, as we found out, was quite accurate.

We were surprised to be quickly shown a table for two and handed menus.  There wasn’t much of a decision to be made.  One fallafel sandwich, one lamb shawarma, and one assiette frites maison, s’il vous plait!  The food was absolutely delicious.  Probably the best fallafel I’ve ever had.  However, I was most impressed with the restaurant’s management.  It was quite simply run by true professionals.  Two men ushered customers from the street into the restaurant.  A woman showed us to our seats.  Swarms of waiters moved quickly throughout the restaurant, tending to their customers.  Our food arrived to our table in a matter of seconds.  It was obviously a cool place to be, seeing as it was packed with both a Parisien and touristy crowd.  Now, I am absolutely not a foodie blogger, so you will rarely, if ever, see pictures of our food ordered at restaurants.  So no sweet pics of the fallafel or shawarma.  You will only see pictures of food made at home or purchased for take out consumption.  Sorry!

After stuffing our faces, we walked quickly in the cold through the streets of Le Marais to Boulangerie Malineau.

Boulangerie Malineau is known for tasty pain au chocolat with raspberries.  We were unfortunately too late as they were sold out!  So we settled for one tuile, a cookie shaped in a curved tile, a butter cookie with chocolate chips shaped in a heart, and a florentine.

I really enjoyed the simplicity of these cookies.  Not too sweet with great texture and quite eye catching.  We really think the butter cookies with heart-shaped chocolate chips would be a hit with little kids (or people like Amy) back home, or anywhere for that matter. From our days of cookie baking at home, Roscoe developed an astute cookie stealing reflex whenever you turned your back to the kitchen counter.  Amy and I almost didn’t get to taste these cookies as we caught Roscoe, front paws up on the counter, going in for the kill. We caught him just in time!

Stocking the kitchen

18 Jan

When you aren’t spending 2-3 hours a day in your Honda Fit on the Circle of Hell, aka the Capital Beltway, you have a lot of free time on your hands.  It’s fantastic! Chris and I have been reading cookbooks and blogs on pastry and bread making non-stop.  Chris is focusing on bread, I am determined to conquer french macarons (pictured below).

We measured the size of our little oven (15 inches wide x 14 inches deep) and set out yesterday to purchase a few baking supplies that we were missing so we can stop reading and start making these items. Practice makes perfect, right? We read about two cooking supply stores in Paris, within a few blocks of each other, that carry the best quality cooking and baking supplies and we set out on our way. Our first stop was E. Dehillerin, supplying kitchen equipment to French chefs since 1820. The first thing I noticed when we stepped into this dimly lit, warehouse-like store, was I’ve never seen so many different whisks in my life.  Jokes aside, there were probably 50 different whisks organized by size. The largest whisks were approaching the size of my head…obviously, this size would be needed to stir the pots that were big enough for me to fit in. A little too big for our petite oven!

We found mostly everything we needed except one item, une couche, or that’s what we thought it was called! We had read that “une couche” is a linen cloth used in baking bread for maintaining the shape of bread loaves while they rise. Like this:

Chris asked the store owner for this item, and he replied, rather smugly “A couche is for a baby.” So, we left the store, couche-less, a little embarrassed and confused. We lucked out at the neighboring kitchen supply store, Mora, and found what they called a “Couche ourlee.” Our handy French-English dictionary later told us that une couche is also a word for a nappy or a diaper. Doesn’t get more classic than that…we are thinking to ourselves, rude Frenchman! And, no doubt the shop owner was thinking to himself, stupide Americains!


14 Jan

Yesterday, we made our first stop on our neighborhood bakery tour of Paris.  We chose the 6th arrondissement (district) to visit because Poilane is known as the Mona Lisa of bread.  The bakery is famous for their sourdough bread, pictured above, called Miche Poilane.  In addition, they are reknown for simple butter cookies called Punitions (pictured below), because it is punishment to have to wait for these cookies to cool after baking. The bakery has a basket of these cookies on their counter for customers to taste while choosing their treats.  We bought a box and cannot stop eating them!

The loaf of bread is enormous!  A whole loaf could probably feed 20; the bakery sells quarter/half/or whole loaves.  It is reported they make 5000 loaves a day and ship them worldwide.  The loaf is quite dense but at the same time airy.  The taste is exquisite.  We bought a half and are still working our way through it, even at this very moment!

The bakery itself is extremely simple.  It sells just a few varieties of bread, the aformentioned cookies, and pastries such as croissants, pains au chocolat, and chaussons au pommes (apple pastries).  Amy and I were both intrigued with the decorations hanging in the windowsills.  They were actually the same butter cookies, in different shapes, hanging from string.  This bakery represents quintessential Paris; simple, yet delicious.