Archive | June, 2011

I’ve got nothin’ (but some silly photos)

26 Jun

We only have two more districts to visit in order to complete this 6 month long bakery tour, the 20th and our own arrondissement the 16th. Unfortunately, after coming all this way, our goal may not be achieved. After consulting our 3 trusty bakery guides, the only option for us in the 20th was an ice cream shop called Ice to Ice Gelateria. Evidently, they are not big bread and pastry eaters in the 2oth!

Yesterday, the weather forecast told us it was going to be 80 degrees and we were headed to a jazz festival in the nearby Bois de la Vincennes anyways so we thought…why not? Gelato in the 20th on the way to hear some jazz sounds perfect….cheating a little bit, but oh well. Unfortunately, cheaters never win. After roaming up and down Boulevard de Menilmontant for what seemed like 40 minutes in search of our heaping cones of gelato, we came up short. Perhaps Ice to Ice Gelateria has gone out of business, or maybe they moved to a better local, but it wasn’t at the address we were in search of. Slightly disappointed, and now seriously craving some ice cream, we admitted our defeat and found a grassy spot in Bois de la Vincennes listened to some jazz and drank some wine. We did buy a tiny ice cream cup from a vendor at the festival, but it didn’t quite live up to our expectations.

Well, here are the silly photos (obviously after the wine).

La Maison Kayser

19 Jun

While Amy and I have had no difficulties finding artisan bakeries in Paris to visit on this tour of bread and pastries, we finally managed to hit a snag with the 14th district.  Our guide books lacked interesting options, so Eric Kayser’s bakery on Rue Didot became our destination on another cloudy June morning in Paris.  Eric Kayser is considered a master baker and one of the best bakers in France.  He opened his first bakery on Rue Monge in 1996 and became an overnight sensation.  He now owns 18 bakeries in Paris alone and a total of 80 worldwide. 

It is hard not to have preconceived notions on breads and pastries from a bakery boasting 80 worldwide locations.  To me, the little shop around the corner making everything by hand has a much better chance of selling high level products than one of Kayser’s many bakeshops.  Maybe this is why, although Kayser’s bread and pastries were quite good, they weren’t as tasty as others we have tried these past six months.  Our purchases at the bakery were simple…a baguette, a small loaf of naturally leavened bread, one croissant, and one chocolate almond croissant. 

All very good.  But nothing that made us want to return the very next day, nor anything we’d want to replicate at home.  Overall, one must salute Kayser for his huge success, but also decide whether baking is about making millions of dollars or producing the best quality product.  Is it possible to do both?

Le Cordon Bleu

11 Jun

Founded in 1895, Le Cordon Bleu is arguably the world’s most renowned culinary arts institute, with famous graduates including Julia Child, Ming Tsai, Giada De Laurentis to name a few. Paris is home to the first Le Cordon Bleu, and over the last century it has grown into a huge network of over 40 schools in 20 different countries. Chris and I enrolled in a one day course in viennoiserie today, specifically croissant and brioche doughs and many of their derivatives. After completing the day, both Chris and I wished on the way home that we had pursued culinary school as either a first or second degree when we were younger. Oh to be 18 years old again…I’d do it a little differently.

But, what we learned in our one day course was invaluable and we can’t wait to tackle these items again at home since they had been giving us a bit of trouble previously. Our fearless leader was Chef Nicolas Jordan, a very knowledgeable and experienced French baker. As always, the pros make the hardest and most complicated things look tres facile! But, step by step he showed us the secrets to croissants, pain au chocolat, brioche, chocolate chip brioche and kouglof. And finally, success! Everything looked and tasted delicious. With our new skill set, we are motivated and confident we can accomplish these items at home. 

Nutella vs. Speculoos

5 Jun

Round 1 – Fight!

We all know about Nutella.  A hazelnut chocolate spread to be eaten on just about anything sweet, but most likely found slathered on a large slice of crusty baguette.  Little french kids and even adults eat these tartines for breakfast or “gouter” (France’s mid-afternoon snacktime).  My brother and I were known at a young age to demolish a little jar in very little time.  Amy and I have no problem doing the same!  However, at the grocery store, we stumbled upon a spread called Speculoos.  Having never heard the name, we bypassed the caramel colored spread time and time again for the classic Nutella.  Eventually, we decided to give it a shot, and I must say it instantly became a house favorite.  Speculoos is actually a shortbread cookie from Netherlands, Belgium, and Northern France made with a variety of spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and cardamom.  It is often served with coffee.  Fortunately, Lotus, a popular brand of speculoos cookies, decided to make a speculoos spread.  And it is fantastic!  At some point, I even deemed it better than Nutella.  Certainly better than peanut butter, although Amy disagrees with me wholeheartedly.  I presume food memories play a large role in deciding which spread you prefer.  Having thought more on the subject ( I am fully aware we are talking flavored spreads and not peace in the Middle East), Nutella may still have the upper hand.  But speculoos may take this fight through 12 full rounds!

Lazy bloggers

5 Jun

How is it that two unemployed people can become such slackers, even with their blog? I guess it was bound to happen with 80 degree days, more visitors in town, and Paris starting to feel like home. We will try to post more often in the coming weeks especially since we are nearing the end of our bakery tour. It is hard to believe, but we only have 3 more stops to complete our 20 district carb-fest.

Last week, prior to friends and family coming in town, we visited La Boulangerie Julien in the first arrondissement. The 1st is notoriously lacking in quality boulangeries and patisseries, which is a shame since it is right in the center of Paris with lots of tourist attractions (precisely the reason why I suppose). However, this bakery was a pleasant surprise and we were happy with our simple choices of a baguette and croissant, yet a little disappointed with our risky selections including a slice of apricot-pistachio tart and an almond turnover. The tarts looked really delicious in the window, but the flavors in the one we selected were somewhat boring.

What was most impressive to us was the line in front of us, which must have been full of restaurant staff coming to pick up their daily bread order and leaving with bags full of 50 baguettes each! Obviously, Julien is the bread supplier to all the neighborhood restaurants. Not a bad business idea.