Friday, October 30, 2009

The dessert course at Cafe Panique

To say that Paris knows its desserts is like saying King Louis XIV had a tendency for flamboyancy. Just when you think you’ve been wowed by one patisserie window, you stumble upon another with more elaborate pastries, more vividly imagined cakes, more mouth-watering puffs of prettiness and decadence.

I don’t often order dessert when I go out for dinner. Usually, I snack on so many pastries during the day that I’m just not able to indulge in another sweet course. But I recently ate at Café Panique, an adorable and delicious restaurant in the 10th arrondisement that offers only a three-course menu at dinner. So I was forced into dessert. Totally against my will. It was horrible.

I had two dining companions and we took pains to all order something different. Each was divine. And through too gorgeous to eat, we did just that.

There was the praliné and raspberry sablé.

Poached pear with fresh cream and vanilla.

And caramel tiramisu.

I loved this dessert not only for its generous portion and rich creaminess. But the Carambar wrapper that adorned it was the perfect example of the sophisticated playfulness that made Café Panique such a wonderful experience.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cakes to cheer you up

Ten years ago, Arnaud Delmontel opened on Rue des Martyrs. In 2006, he won Patisserie of the Year, followed by Best Baguette of the Year in 2007. Michael told me this right when I moved here this past spring and we were catching up over dinner at Hotel Amour, just down the street. Proving to be both a good neighbor and an astute business, Hotel Amour serves Monsieur Delmontel’s bread. So smitten and curious was I that I immediately journeyed to the patisserie to properly explore its cakes and viennoiseries.

I first fell for the patte d’ours (bear claw), a fresh, flaky pastry filled with pistachio almond paste. The pain au chocolat isn’t so bad either. Tasty macarons, too. I’ve sampled many pastries there over the past seven months. But not once have I indulged in one of his exquisite cakes.

Not the raspberry, the cassis or the yuzu cube.

Not the white chocolate, dark chocolate ganache or pistachio.

Not the tarte tatin, tarte citron or the millefeuilles.

Most days, it’s enough to just go in the patisserie and admire. But one of these days soon, I’m going to have to decide which one of these lovelies comes home with me.

39, Rue des Martyrs

25, Rue de Levis

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweet Freak’s irresistible cookie diet

Six cookies a day, plus steamed vegetables for dinner? Sounds totally sensible to me.

For anyone looking for a local alternative to Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet, it’s your lucky day. Be sure to follow this highly addictive New York regimen—don’t be afraid to walk, jog or bicycle from bakery to bakery—and watch the magical transformations occur.

1. For your first, most important meal of the day, Sweet Freak recommends you start with something substantial in your belly. Like a six-ounce dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookie from Levain.

2. Do good for the environment as your do good for your waistline. Birdbath’s coconut cookies are refreshing, buttery, delightful reinforcements.

3. Bigger is better. Thus the cookie diet, friends. Sashay up to Petrossian for a chocolate chunk cookie as big as your head.

4. Momofuku’s compost cookie. With “everything” inside, you’ll ingest extra vitamins and other good stuff.

5. Craving chocolate? Go ahead, you’ve earned it! Go straight to Max Brenner for a rich, chunky double chocolate chip cookie.

6. The protein inside City Bakery’s peanut butter cookie will give you that little stamina push you need to fight the mid-day slump.

7. Seeing as you have a sensible dinner ahead of you, keep things light: skip the dairy. This Chick Bake’s vegan ginger molasses cookie is spicy, cakey and oh-so-delicious.

And now you have dinner to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Be still, my beating…

Voila, Le Coeur from Coquelicot.

This little heart-shaped, strawberry-flavored dense and delicious cake is one of my favorite things in the City of Looooove. Who knows what makes it so dense and pink and full of flavor. I have a feeling it’s one of the few desserts here in Paris that’s filled with ingredients I’d rather remain ignorant of.

All I know is that whenever I’m in Montmartre, I find an excuse to stop by the Rue des Abbesses bakery and indulge.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October Tour: Saint-Germain’s rich and dreamy chocolate trail

In honor of the Salon du Chocolat (which I didn’t go to this year) this month’s walking tour takes you to some of Saint-Germain’s best chocolatiers. After all, you can toss an M&M in any direction in the sixth arrondisement and hit a world-class chocolatier—especially now that Patrick Roger has opened two new boutiques there.

Start at one of them, 91 rue de Rennes, and see what magical window displays the creative chocolate genius has whipped up. After admiring the fantasies and inhaling the smells, select a few of his unusual bonbons to sample—perhaps the Jamaica, made with ground Arabica coffee beans; the Jacarepagua, a blend or tart lemon curd and refreshing mint, or the Phantasme, made with oatmeal.

A fun and under-appreciated spot awaits just around the corner. The tiny and whimsical Jean-Charles Rochoux (16 rue d'Assas) is cluttered with chocolate figurines and sculptures—everything from fist-sized bunnies, squirrels and alligators to imposing nude busts. While Rochoux works in his basement kitchen, a lovely vendeuse, donning a lace glove, will pluck the pralines, nougats and truffles of your choice. Don’t miss his signature Maker’s Mark truffles.

A quick jaunt east, you’ll find Christian Constant (37 rue d’Assas), a small but slick shop filled with decadent cakes and fragrant teas. In a case tucked along the right-hand wall, you’ll find delicious chocolates with spicy and floral notes such as saffron and ylang ylang.

On your way back into the heart of the shopping district, skip the long line snaking out of Pierre Hermé (72 rue Bonaparte). While his macarons and cakes are to die for, his chocolates, try as I might, aren’t as good as the others. Instead, make your way to another Pierre—Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini (89 rue de Seine).

Marcolini’s boutique is as elegant and refined as a luxe jewelry store. Study the display cases to choose your bonbons of choice. My recommends: the Pavé de Tours Fondant, an uber thin milk chocolate, filled with sugared almonds, hazelnuts and puff pastry cake, and the Coeur Framboise, dark chocolate ganache with raspberry puree, enrobed in white chocolate.

Is there anything better than chocolate??

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumn is pear season

This I know because I went to Maison Baron-Lefèvre in Nantes and had pear crumble for dessert.

Crumbles are one of my favorite things to eat. (But for the record, what is the difference is between a “crumble” and a “crisp”?). This French version had the added bonus of a thick eggy custard in addition to the delicious pear morsels, the sweet crumbles and the light vanilla bean ice cream.

With every bite, I kept promising myself that I wouldn’t finish (this dessert was the third course of a very decadent meal, after all). But, what can I say? It was too delicious. It being pear season and all.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gelato for all moods

I have no problem paying six euros for an exquisite pastry or gateau, no matter what its size. But I can also be horribly cheap.

The other day, I was feeling sorry for myself and wanted to throw a big ole pity party with a little bit of ice cream. But just a little. So when I saw the petit, petit carton of Ben & Jerry’s—basically the size of those Dixie cups of vanilla and chocolate you used to get in grade school—at the corner robber, I grabbed a container of chocolate fudge brownie and brought it to the cash register with glee. Until he rang it up for five euros. Five euros?! That’s $7.31. For about 8 ounces of ice cream. Trop cher pour moi.

Especially when you can go to a gelateria like Deliziefollie and get two homemade scoops of rich and decadent flavors for half that price. Don’t get me wrong—I love my Ben & Jerry’s. But I also love my hard-earned centimes. And pressing my nose against the glass display case of such deliciousness.

Rum raisin, cinnamon, hazelnut...

Mango, mint chip, banana...

Fleur de lait, black cherry, toasted almond...

Gelato: the ultimate mood enhancer.

7, rue Montorgueil

Friday, October 02, 2009

Two bites to euphoria

I’ve learned the most essential trick to pastry euphoria in Paris and maybe even the secret to happiness in life: When you go to a boulangerie, ask which pastries are still “un peu tiede.” It’s as simple as that.

If a pain au chocolat—with infinite layers of buttery, crispy pastry dough and just a touch of dark bittersweet chocolate—is a thing of wonder, then a warm pain au chocolat is a joy for life.