Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Small Splurge in Paris

E. Dehillerin on Rue Coquilliere, Paris

One of the highlights of my time in Paris was visiting E. Dehillerin on Rue Coquilliere. I had read about the store on another blog and it was also listed in the travel guide I had borrowed from a friend. It was raining that day and I was headed to the Louvre, but decided to make a detour and find the store.

It's bright green exterior and yellow lettering made it hard to miss, and the tall windows displaying pots and pans beckoned me. This cookwares store is very different from the Sur La Tables and Williams Sonomas here in the US. It's an old store with creaky wooden floors and very dark on the inside. I don't know if this is the original location, but they have been in business since 1820. If cooking is your religion, this place is your 500 year old church. I strolled through the dark and compact aisles of wares. I felt as if I was holding my breath so not to disturb anyone. The selection was not immense, but it was serious. They had every size of De Buyer crepe pans you could imagine. I kick myself for not buying the tiny baby sized one I eyed. I could have spent a lot of money in this store, but had to remind myself of the limits of the suitcase I was traveling with. However, I was set on buying a fitting gift for myself before leaving this store.

Opposite of the cookwares section is the bakewares. Ceiling high shelves of tart pans, charlotte molds, mixing bowls, and the newer silicon molds. My weakness has always been miniature things, and E. Dehillerin's selection of tiny tart pans and Petit Four molds was staggering. I started picking out a few pieces (these would fit in my suitcase just fine). I had a handful before I knew it, and was wondering to myself how much they were going to cost. I know how expensive they are at Sur La Table, and I knew I wasn't getting a discount here. As I headed towards the cashier to inquire on the price, I noticed on a shelf just about eye level, a small round plastic container holding almost all the same pieces I had in my hands. A set! I returned my selections to their places and picked up the plastic container and continued to the cashier feeling extremely pleased with my find.
The Box of Petit Four Molds

The gentlemen in the store were very helpful. I had a short exchange with them in French, asking the price of the set. 50 Euros.... I didn't even want to think about the conversion rate, I was already attached to them and thinking of what I was going to make as soon as I got home. The set was taken from me, a bill was presented and I paid. Then another man carefully wrapped my treasure in brown paper, secured it with tape, placed it into a bag and presented it to me. What fabulous service! I thanked them and then reverently made my exit.

The week following my return from Paris, I had an assignment due for my seminar class. For three weeks we had been studying fruits, spices and herbs. On our last class we had to turn in a recipe for a dessert or savory item that included a not commonly used fruit, (we were given a list of fruits we could not use as our main ingredient) a spice, and an herb. I was looking forward to this assignment. The fruit part was easy; lots of possibilities. Even the spice part wasn't too difficult. But throw an herb in there and that is where it got complicated. I started paging through the Flavor Bible, a great book I got for Christmas, looking for compatible combinations. I found a little inspiration in Paris after eating a Grapefruit and Wasabi macaroon from Pierre Herme. It was fantastic.

Along with the inspiration and my little splurge from E. Dehillerin, I came up with Grapefruit Curd with fresh Cilantro in a Cardamon crust tart. They turned out to be nice, light and refreshing little bites in a perfect Pate Sucree shell. I took some to my class the night I turned my assignment in, and my instructer and fellow students enjoyed them. Yesterday our recipes were handed back to us and I'm happy to report, I got an A.

Grapefruit Curd with Cilantro in a Cardamon Crust

The Grapefruit curd was made following a lemon curd recipe, but I substituted the Lemon juice with fresh Grapefruit juice. Once the curd had started to cool, I stirred in some finely chopped fresh cilantro and saved a little to sprinkle on top as a garnish. The crust was made with a basic Pate Sucree recipe. I worked a little Cardamon into the crust before rolling it out, and then sprinkled a little more Cardamon onto the crust once it was in the tart shell before baking it. Once the shells cooled, I piped the curd into them and let it set. The curd contains gelatin, so this could easily be made into a larger pie sized tart and served in slices.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

French Cakes Week

The Citron

I wish I could say the delay in my posting this week was because I've been incredibly busy, but in fact I haven't. I've been sleeping, drinking tea and eating homemade chicken noodle soup. I some how managed to escape the cold and flu bugs till now, which is amazing considering my crazy schedule the past few months.

Sadly I only attended one class session this week. Tuesday afternoon I sat on the couch with my tissue box debating if I should go to school of not. My roommate advised me not to. "But I want to go to school", I whined. However, I finally decided it was in my classmates best interest that I not show up that night and share my germs with them. Thankfully this week's classes were very similar and I didn't feel I was going to miss out on too much.

Monday, before I gave in to being sick, I made two cakes; the Citron and the Triomphe. I also took charge of making the French butter cream for the cakes that night. I'm fascinated by how fluffy eggs can get if you just leave them in the mixer and let them whip while boiling the sugar syrup for the butter cream. The butter cream turned out nice and fluffy, though a little soft. We used it to mix with lemon curd and caramel extract for each cake that night. Both cakes have a base of Genoise and layers of mousse topped with a glaze. This mixture of Genoise and mousse creates a cake that is light and melt-in-your-mouth good. This is why I can no longer eat grocery store birthday cakes. They just don't compare. Don't believe? Ask my friends whom have also been ruined by my cakes.
The Triomphe

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pastry Pains

Blueberry Cheesecake

I don't know if it is because I am just back from my wonderful vacation in Paris, but this week has been challenging. I was actually looking forward to getting back to school, getting into the kitchen and learning more. Despite my enthusiasm, it was tough. Probably the toughest so far. I am glad to say I made it through, I learned and I am by no means giving up. I am ready for a challenge and now actively searching for my first industry job, no matter how small or insignificant.

Monday's class was focused on Butter Cakes. Feeling refreshed, I decided to take on one of the most challenging recipes for the evening: the Gateau Basque. The Gateau Basque was raved about by our instructor for the evening, and I, myself am a lover of all things almond cream. This cake is actually more like a pastry we made a few weeks ago called a "Tourte". It is made with dough similar to Pate Sucree but also has almond flour and Rum in the mixture. It is then molded into a cake ring, filled with Almond Cream and topped with a round of the dough. Then it is egg washed and a fork criss-cross pattern is applied to the top. Sounds simple, right?

The dough is the trick. It has a very high butter content and practically melts in your hands, making it difficult to work with. After a very laborious hour (at least) I managed to turn out 9 rings, with the help of my instructor. I filled them with the Almond Cream, topped them, egg washed them, traced the fork pattern, and placed them into the over. Looking back now, it doesn't seem so horrible....but then they started to over flow. I was a little ill advised on how full to fill them, and should have gone with my gut instinct. After they had finished oozing and they turned golden and crusty, I removed them from the oven.

The Gateaus turned out alright, just a few looked as if they had developed tumors. I left school feeling a little frustrated at barely completing 2 recipes, while my classmates accomplished 3 or 4 each, and also felt I had nothing pretty to show for my frustration. I still haven't tried one yet, but I've been told they were good. I'm thinking it may be my breakfast tomorrow morning.
Gateau Basque

Tuesday was another story. After a long day at work, and still feeling the lingering frustration of Monday night, I hoped for better results with my cheesecakes. I started with the Alsace cheesecake recipe. This recipe is more of a souffle like cheesecake. It is made with Fromage Blanc and has whipped egg whites folded in at the end to produce a much lighter cheesecake. I was looking forward to it. My batter was beautiful, my Pate Sucree crust was nice, soft and buttery. The rings went into the top oven to cook for 15 mins at a high heat and then would be moved to the lower oven to finish baking at a cool 200 degrees.

Then disaster struck. Chef pointed out that my cakes were cracking and turning brown; two things you want to avoid when making cheesecake. My heart sunk; not this again. We adjusted the temperature, but they continued to brown even more. The oven was too hot. Finally we just pulled them from the oven and watched their little cracked and browned tops collapse sadly into themselves. I moved on to my next recipe, feeling a little deflated myself.

My other recipes of the evening included a Strawberry Sundae cheesecake and a Blueberry Cheesecake. Both turned out much better than the sad little Alsaces. I took one of the Alsaces and drizzled it with Raspberry glaze. It may not have looked pretty, but it sure tasted good. I hate to throw anything away, so chef and I started pushing the tops of the cracked cakes down into the rings, compacting them into little disks. A nice layer of Blueberry glaze and some fresh fruit later, you couldn't have guessed they were not perfect to begin with. This cheered me up quite a bit.
Alsace Cheesecake with Strawberry Glaze

I felt slightly better when it was discovered that someone, who will remain nameless, had been turning the oven up, instead of down in an effort to save my cheesecakes from destruction. It's just nice to know that we are all human, we all make mistakes, and they are not always mine. And sometimes good things come from mistakes, that is how we got Tarte Tatin.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cooking in Paris

Sunday Market on Boulevard de Grenelle

You might think with all the baking I had been doing leading up to my week of vacation and with all the great food to taste in Paris, that I would welcome a break from the kitchen. If that is what you thought, you don't know me as well as you think. Part of the agreement with Romain was that I would cook for him in return for his gracious hospitality.(Even though he warned me I might be disappointed with his kitchen) I brought my measuring glass with me, and a card with a few recipes.

Walking Paris and seeing all the shops selling fresh fruits and vegetables, the cheese shops, the butcheries, just inspired and made me yearn to create a meal with the available ingredients. We visited the Sunday Market before our excursion to Versailles, and I wanted to buy some food stuffs and go back to the apartment to whip up some great meal....but Versailles was waiting.

I did make a nice batch of crepes for our breakfast that morning. The kitchen was tiny and only had a two burner cook top and a toaster oven. I made do with what I had and they turned out delicious. Romain and I had a great time taking turns tossing the crepes into the air to turn them over in the pan. I'm glad to report none landed on the floor.

The basic ingredients

Making Crepes for Breakfast

Just waiting for Nutella and Jam

It was decided Friday evening after dinner at La Porte-pot, that I would cook dinner for Romain, Edouard, and Remi on Tuesday evening. Tuesday morning I took a thorough inspection of the kitchen to see what I was really up against to make a decent dinner for my friends. I formulated my menu and then headed to the local Monoprix to buy the needed provisions. Later in the day I got a message from Romain asking if two more friends could join us? My philosophy has always been the more the merrier, and there was still time to run to the Monoprix to pick up more chicken; so I repsonded, "pas du problem". When Romain arrived home from work he informed me the 2 additional friends had now become 3, no pressure......

I managed to produce a lovely batch of Gougeres from the toaster oven shortly after he arrived home. He then assisted with the assembly of a basic fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad.
The main entree was chicken cutlets with lemon and green olives, lightly seasoned with cumin, salt, and pepper and served over rice. For dessert I made Crepes Suzette. I'm pleased to say there were no leftovers and everyone seemed to enjoy the meal. The one mistake I did make, was to not buy some bread. In my American way of thinking, the Gourgeres would have been enough carbs. Ha, carbs?, the French obviously don't care. I was forgiven, but it is a mistake I will never make again.

Caprese Salad

Chicken with Lemon & Green Olives

Crepes Suzette

Friday, March 13, 2009

Paris, Je t'aime

First day in Paris; the Tour de Eiffel

I'm back. My visit to Paris was Fantastic. I have over 400 photos of the city, the food, the friendly people, buildings and monuments. One week was not enough to do it all, yet I did a lot. Romain was an excellent tour guide, a wonderful host, and the only person I could imagine exploring Paris with. (Since the first time we met he gave me grief about having never been to Paris)
Testing our self-photo taking skills

Highlights include: Going to a soccer game at Stade de France to see Lille defeat Lyon 2-0. Having a personal tour of the kitchen at the Le Cafe du Commerce (Thank you Remi!), eating snails and foie gras, getting lost in the Louvre, eating macarons from 3 different patisseries, going to Versailles, visiting Montmartre, and just sitting in the cafes with Romain enjoying a lunch or c0ffee and taking it all in.
View from our seats at Stade de France

My rudimentary self-taught French was better than I thought, and I had a lot of great interactions. The yound lady at Pierre Micolini was so sweet. I didn't understand much of what she said, but I could tell she was very enthusiastic about the chocolate. The cheese lady at Monoprix was very helpful in trying to find Mozerrella for me, and even the gentleman at Thevenin was forgiving of my lack of French speaking skills and had a good laugh at me once I left, I'm sure. (silly American girl taking a cold tartine for lunch)
Tartine of smoked salmon, tomato & cheese from Thevenin

I haven't weighed it yet, but I'm sure I brought back several pounds of chocolate. I visited La Maison du Chocolate, Jean-Paul Hevin, Pierre Herme and Pierre Micolini. I also bought a few commercial bars from Monoprix. Of the Macarons I consumed from Laduree, Dalloyau, and Pierre Herme, I liked Pierre Herme the best. Dalloyau came in second.
Laduree Macarons

I didn't have a single bad meal, but the ones that stand out were: Bruch at Mariage Frere, dinner at La Cafe du Commerce, Sushi delivered to Remi's apartment (very good quality), and dinner at Kong my last night in Paris. I have a new respect, and dare say love of snails and foie gras. Marco's dessert at La Porte-pot was fantastic, and it was a tragic mistake that I did not take his advice and order it also.
Eating snails at La Cafe du Commerce

There is soooo much more to share but I need to unpack, work on getting re-adjusted to Eastern Standard time, create a recipe for my class next week and study for a quiz. I'll be posting photos to my flickr account and will post a link for them once they are ready. There will probably be a few more posts on my adventures in Paris as well.

Monday, March 9, 2009


Hello from Paris.  It has been quite a busy and fun filled trip so far.  Lots of good food and pastries!  This post is going to be short because I am not very adept at using a French keyboard, and the sun is shining in Paris so I need to get going.  I'm taking lots of notes and even more photos to share when I return.  

à bientot!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Ugly Cigarette

I love watching makeover shows. Often on a Friday night when I don't feel like doing anything, I'll sit and watch repeat episodes of TLC's What Not To Wear. I like seeing how ordinary people can look extraordinary with a little help. Even when it comes to pastry, I try to see the beauty in the less fortunate products.

One of my classmates made cigarettes last week. Named so because they are intended to be rolled up like a cigarette, but can really be shaped in numerous ways. They are fun to make because you can mix color into the batter and do fun things like giving them spots or writing your name in them (see last photo from last weeks post). At the end of the evening, my classmate declared the blue and yellow cigarette to be ugly. I looked at it and immediately saw blueberries and a bright yellow sauce. To me it was a work of art that needed to be put in context. Voila!
White Chocolate Mousse with Cigarettes,
Blueberries & Mango Coulis


This weeks classes started with Italian cookies. Lots of nuts and almond flour. I had a rematch with the Tuilles in the form of the Florentine cookie and am proud to say I was victorious. I also made Pistachio Paves; little chewy squares made of almond and pistachio paste and then topped with a sorbet glaze and chopped pistachios. What out marzipan, pistachio may be my new favorite.
Pistachio Paves

Last night's class was the beginning of Genoise cakes. Light spongy cakes that we baked and then wrapped up for the freezer to be used in an upcoming class. We did assemble one lovely cake last night; The Poem. Fresh strawberries, thin layers of Genoise, Buttercream, Pastry cream, and hints of Kirsch make up this work of art. They say a picture is worth a thousand words....
The Poem

I'd love to sit here and write more about my classes. School is progressing great. I'm still loving it. I find it hard to believe 8 weeks have already flown by, and I keep wondering where I will be when it is all done. Next week is Spring Break, a week off from school, but definitely not a week off from Pasty since I'll be enjoying some of the world's finest in Paris. Speaking of which, I need to go finish packing. My flight leaves tomorrow, but stay tuned for some tasty Paris tidbits.

Au revoir!