Archive | March, 2011

Recycle Renew Reuse

30 Mar

Lately, Chris and I have been toying with the concept of mixing French and American style baking to create delicious pastries using classic French doughs that the American customer would find exciting and familiar. A while ago, my sister started talking about a bakery in Brooklyn that sold homemade Poptarts and I was intrigued. How could we remodel the American Poptart and give it a French twist? And, yesterday…BINGO! I knew what I’d do with the remaining homemade puff pastry I had left in the freezer. I made nutella-filled and apricot preserve-filled puff pastry and they were really, really yummy.

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back to work

28 Mar

Thanks to some family connections, last week I started working in a boulangerie learning secrets of the trade.  It’s not glamorous, certainly not when the work requires 5am wake up calls, an hour long trip to the Paris suburbs, and ten hours of physical work. It just so happens this is exactly what I came here to do.  The bakery I’m working at is far from the cute neighborhood boutiques we’ve been frequenting on our bakery tour.  This is a warehouse, a baking business that ships its product out to hundreds of green markets throughout France daily.  It churns out more than a thousand kilos (2,200 lbs) of dough on a good Saturday, resulting in an estimate of five thousand total pieces of various traditional french breads.  The bread is high quality and is made by hand, the technique of veterans.  I work with two bakers, one 62 year old retired career baker who does this for fun, and a young man about my age who is passionate in his work and strives to improve.  Both have surprised me with their willingness to teach.  The retired baker owned his own bakery for 25 years, started at the age of 13, and remembers the day when bread was kneaded by hand.  He also enjoys rabbit pate, steak, cheese, and two glasses of wine at 4 am before work.  Only the French! I have learned a lot in only 4 days…and I’d like to think it shows in the pictures below.

brioche

 

one seeded baguette w/ rye flour, one master

lots of bread

oven

Paris or New York?

26 Mar

Chris has been occupied for a few days this week, so I’ve been on the streets of Paris alone (holy terror!). Just kidding. I actually haven’t gotten lost once, and in general I am able to Franglish my way out of most social interactions. I’ll let him update you on what he’s been up to in a separate blog post. However, I thought I’d share my recent stroll through the Canal St. Martin and Oberkampf neighborhoods that made me question if I was still in Paris, or if I had been somehow transported to Brooklyn.

Annika, thought you'd enjoy this one!

Ok, sure it still looks like Paris. But, these neighborhoods are full of vintage clothing stores, up-and-coming design and art studios, live-music venues, a young, urban bar scene, and perhaps what I was most excited about…ethnic food! Everything from Vietnamese, to Indian, to Cuban….whatever it is you are looking for, chances are you can probably find it here and you can also afford it. Don’t get me wrong, I love French food! However, in a city as populous and worldly as Paris, it sometimes surprises me that in many neighborhoods you will only find bistro after bistro with very similar menus and very high prices.

Canal St. Martin and Oberkampf aren’t on most tourists checklists of places to visit in Paris, but I’d highly recommend a leisurely stroll along the canal and the bar scene on Rue Oberkampf. Chris was sad he missed it, so I think we are going back this weekend!

#5

22 Mar

Anybody remember Lou Bega’s eurotrash hit Mambo #5?  I spent quite some time in Austrian nightclubs back in the day dancing to that ridiculous one hit wonder.  Good times…I must note that top 40 music in Europe hasn’t changed much.  It’s still a mixture of house, trance, electro, and pop cheesiness that rules the airwaves.  Good for one laugh and then gives you a headache shortly thereafter.

Anyway, the point of this blog is to present the latest installment of our bakery tour occurring in the 5th arrondissement.  Spring is in full effect in Paris, and we took the opportunity presented by the sunshine to slowly make our way to Boulangerie Bruno Solques.  We stopped for a short visit at Shakespeare and Company, maybe the coolest bookstore in the world.  I’ll let photographs paint you a picture:

Seeing as we’re always hungry, we hurried out of the bookstore and made the twenty minute walk to the bakery.  Many french bakeries and restaurants bear the names of the chef/proprietor.  This must be to distinguish itself from the intense competition in the neighborhood and perhaps to lend a familial aspect to the store.  Nonetheless, we find it hilarious to think of a bakery back in DC named, “The Bakery by Chris & Amy Deutsch.”  It just wouldn’t work.  Having said that, Bruno Solques has earned the right to name his bakery whatever he wants.  A classically trained pastry chef, Solques has eschewed the rows of perfectly formed classic french pastries and rejects tradition by offering rustic unusual options.  We found his shop exquisite.  Manning the store all by his lonesome, you get the sense that Bruno had been up since the crack of dawn manning the hearth stone oven.  And now was the time to serve his clientele.  Can one person run an entire bakery by himself?  It sure looked like it.  Amid a myriad of choices, we settled on a leek and cheese tart, a mango and berry tart, an orange flower blossom brioche, and a baguette.  The baguette would never be considered for the cover of Gourmet magazine, but it sure tasted great.  We managed to eat all of this, sitting in the sun at the nearby Jardins de Luxembourg, another beautiful park in central Paris.  Not a bad day!

Adventures in puff pastry

21 Mar

I took on the exciting challenge of making puff pastry this week. In France, puff pastry is called mille feuilles, or “a thousand layers.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, since the real deal is actually only 944 layers of pastry, separated by 943 layers of butter! Puff pastry uses no yeast; it is made with only flour, salt, water and butter. It is actually the butter in between each layer of pastry that gives it the PUFF. I read through about six different recipes, and all of them used plenty of scare tactics, saying this pastry is the most difficult to accomplish. However, if you follow directions carefully and are willing to spend the better part of half a day, it really is not all that difficult to achieve really yummy puff pastry which can be used in numerous ways afterwards.

I decided to make palmiers, sometimes known as elephant ears in the States, and individual rustic apple tarts with my puff pastry. The exciting thing is that I actually only used half of the pastry dough! The other half is safe in the freezer for more adventures in puff pastry at a later date. Check out the results below, I’m pretty excited about the results if you can’t tell.

Look at those layers!

Second time around

17 Mar

A few weeks ago we trekked all the way out to the 19th arrondissement to visit La Boulangerie par Veronique Mauclerc but unfortunately it was closed. We made it back there today to enjoy some bread and pastries. This bakery is particularly famous because it is home to one of two remaining wood-fired ovens in Paris, dating from 1902, and it is owned and operated by one of the only female bakers in France, a primarily male profession. Obviously, this isn’t the famous Veronique Mauclerc in the picture below, but this is the oven. The wood-fired oven is known to give her bread a wonderful golden crust and deep flavor.

The shop had many varieties of breads, all organic and naturally leavened, as well as numerous pastries. After taking an inventory of all the delicious options, we decided on a piece of the Pistachio, Hazelnut and Almond loaf, a piece of the chocolate-mint brioche feuilletee, and an almond croissant. The loaves of bread are sold by the kilogram, and you can tell them how big of a piece you would like to purchase. Evidently, this is how all breads used to be sold in France. We quickly discovered this method of pricing to be the most expensive we have seen in Paris. Although the price was a bit steep, everything was really delicious, especially the chocolate-mint brioche feuilletee. Neither Chris or I had ever seen this type of brioche before and we rushed home to do a bit of research. It is made with a classic brioche dough, and before allowing it to rise, it is actually treated like a croissant dough to create a layering effect, therefore allowing chocolate and fresh mint to be interspersed throughout the pastry. AMAZING. It’s good to be back in Paris!

Flour + Water

16 Mar

Although I haven’t blogged much about our experiments in the kitchen lately, I’ve been making bread two to three times per week for the last two months.  While some have been definitely better than others, I think we’ve managed to eat most of it, allowing us to focus mostly on pastries when visiting bakeries in Paris.  Although, I do like to purchase bread made by professionals for comparison.  Direct method baguettes were my focus early on, but lately, after building up a sourdough starter, I’ve been busting out huge loaves of sourdough.  Only three ingredients are needed:  Flour, water, and salt.  After a week long feeding of flour and water at room temperature, I had a bubbling living thing giving off some strong odor.  My first attempt was a whole wheat boule, and while the flavor was there, it ended up weighing about 20 pounds and the crumb was extremely dense.

I stuck with simple T55 flour (France’s all purpose flour) recently and created possibly my best loaf of bread yet, although far from perfect.

I’m hoping to get some professional training sooner rather than later; look out for a post on that front soon!