Sunday, March 28, 2010

March Tour: Sweet madeleines, savory pâtes and all kinds of deliciousness in between

Just as there are many under-the-radar restaurants that pepper the 11th and 12th arrondisements—Bistrot Paul Bert, Le Square Trousseau, La Gazetta, to name a few—there are also some killer sweet spots straddling le Faubourg Saint Antoine.

Start your sweet explorations with the most notable on the list, Blé Sucre (7, rue Antoine Vollon), founded by ex-Bristol patissier Fabrice Le Bourdat. The patisserie is petit but it has a massive selection of viennoiseries, cakes, chocolates, breads and other douceurs that make the decision of what to try very painful. I ended up settling on the madeleine, which—moist and light; dense but crispy along the ridge; coated with a thin layer of sugar glacage—seemed like the right choice.

A couple blocks to the east, La Ruche à Miel (19, rue d'Aligre ), a North African patisserie/salon de thé offers a small selection of very small sweets. The Cigare, for example, flavored with almond and orange, is shaped like a cannoli, but can be put away in a mere three bites. Maybe that’s why the giant pâtes de dattes caught my eye. Heftier than an American Pop Tart, it was as savory as it was sweet, with a course and exotic texture that I found addictive.

Venture north into the 11th, where the scent of chocolate will greet you inside Pause Détente (98, avenue Ledru-Rollin). There's a whole case of bonbons in the back—milk and dark, ganache and praline, vanilla, cassis and mint—but to get there, you have to pass all kinds of other delights, including macarons, viennoiseries and beautiful, elaborate gateaux.

Finish with a tinier, but no less lovelier, piece of gateau at Cupcakes & Co (25, rue de la Forge Royale). With over 20 varieties, split amongst buttercream and cream cheese frostings, fruity and savory toppings, and several cake flavors—all made with natural and organic products—it’s next to impossible to choose just one treat. Coffee and hazelnut? Poppy seed with orange cream cheese frosting? Vanilla bourbon cake with glazed figs and pine nuts? An impossible choice, indeed, but one we could all be so lucky to have to make.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Breakfast of certain champions


Chocolate-raspberry sweet bread from Boulangerie Julien.

This is one of two killer boulangeries near the office. I often get une demi-baguette (still warm, award-winning, amazing) on my way home from work. And each time, I gaze longingly at viennoiseries such as this one.

So once in awhile, I feel it’s my responsibility to dip in, to know just how good they are.

They are really, really, really good.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

47 macarons later

I did it. Today was Pierre Hermé’s Jour du Macaron, and, oui, mesdames et messieurs, I did the full circuit. I could have returned chez-moi with a ridiculous cache of 53 macarons. But because I’m a woman of restraint, and I came home with only 47. Actually, 43, since I ate four along the way.

So the premise of le Jour du Macaron is you can go to any one of Pierre Hermé’s six boutiques in the city, and get three free macarons of your choice. (While there, you’re encouraged to drop some coins into a box for a couple different charities—a very nice gesture.) But if you go to all six boutiques, and get a card stamped to prove it, you’re rewarded with a box of 35 macarons. What does one girl do with 35 macarons, much less 53?! Well, I’m eating as I type, for one thing…

I intended to do something like the Tour du Chocolat and Velib to all six boutiques. But they’re spread pretty well across the city so I alternated between bike, foot and Metro.

At 10:15, the madness began. There was already a line out the door of the rue Bonaparte location, having just opened at 10.

I started there because I knew it would be the craziest, being Hermé’s first boutique and being in Saint-Germaine. But after a relatively swift move through the line, I got my three: milk chocolate and Earl Grey tea, vanilla and le Magnifique: raspberry and wasabi.

Yes, they are as delicious as they sound.

Then I pedaled onto the rue Vaugirard location. Not as crazy, not at all. My three choices?

Pistachio, caramel and an unbelievable mélange of peach, apricot and saffron.

A few metro stops later, I was in the 16th arrondisement, at avenue Paul Doumer.

There, I scooped up chocolate, the mind-bending white truffle and hazelnut and apricot and pistachio.

At Publicis Drugstore, my fourth location, there was a pretty serious line and the employees were coming through it to stamp cards. Once my stamp was added, I decided to save myself the 10-minute wait in line and forgo those three free macarons. Really. How gluttonous can one be?

The next stretch of the circuit was fun as it took me on my old commute from the Champs-Elysée down to the first arrondisement. I pulled right up to the Velib station in front of the rue Cambon location and hopped in line.

By now, it was after noon and the waits were taking awhile. But I figured I was still on target to finish by 2.

I got my card stamped, excited that I had just one more stop, and ordered up the Médélice, lemon and hazelnut praliné; Fragola, raspberry and balsamic vinegar; and the much-acclaimed olive oil and vanilla. Trust me, it’s delicious.

I left the Galeries Lafayette location to last, which was a mistake: it was the craziest scene. I stood in line for 45 minutes, hungry for proper nourishment, having only eaten a banana and another macaron. I was anxious to have the circuit done. Still on track for my 2pm goal, but I hate waiting for food.

Finally, I got up to the counter and surprised the guy when I told him I’d skip the three freebies and just get to my free boite.

Have you ever created your own assortment of 35 macaron flavors? It was crazy. I just kept ordering more and more. And more.

Lemon, jasmine, coffee, milk chocolate and passionfruit, chocolate and cassis, just plain old chocolate, more vanilla, more pistachio, more caramel, two more of my favorites… more, more, more!

I have to find out how many macarons they went through today.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blé Sucre’s madeleine: best in the city?

Before I went to Blé Sucre, I trolled through the blogs to figure out what was a must-order. I had a big eating agenda before me and had to make every pastry bite count.

I arrived with a short-list: pain au chocolat, madeleine or financier. I figured I’d eyeball them and then place my order according to what looked most irresistible. Logical, right? Silly girl, logic doesn’t work in a Parisian patisserie.

Of course the pain au chocolat, madeleines and financiers all looked divine. But then so did the pain aux raisins, raspberry bressons and chaussons de pommes.

And so did the chocolates and other bite-sized treats.

And so did all the sweet little cakes.

After such decadent displays, would a modest madeleine suffice in sating my sweet tooth? Would it be enough? In a word, oui.

The cake was moist, light and airy. Dense with just enough crispness along the ridge. And, with a thin layer of sugar glacage on top, it was indeed sweetly satisfying.

Friday, March 12, 2010

New pastries to dream about

Six months after Philippe Conticini opened his exquisite and inspiring Patisserie des Reves in the posh seventh arrondisement, there’s a new kid on the block. Two, actually.

Hugo & Victor, a mere two-weeks old, was opened by Guy Savoy alum, Hugues Pouget, and Sylvain Blanc. And while Conticini’s conceit of displaying his modern-twist-on-the-classics cakes and pastries under glass domes was a PR dream, expect no less at this swanky new patisserie.

With its deep blue and gold facade, the storefront appears very contemporary and British, with clean, well-lit displays of chocolate, macarons and raw ingredients. I literally stopped in my tracks when I saw it. The treats inside are equally mesmerizing.

On one wall, desserts made with seasonal ingredients—pineapple, litchi, blood orange—are displayed. On another, the classics: chocolate, vanilla, caramel. With both, the raw ingredients are loaded up in glass cylindrical vases—clever in this day and age where we want to better understand where our food is coming from.

Then the real fun begins. Each ingredient is incorporated in three treats. “Victor” is the traditional character; “Hugo” is more avant-garde. So if you have a hankering for pineapple, you might opt for a classic millefeuille with chunks of pineapple nestled between the creamy layers.

Or you can get a contemporary combination of roasted and diced pineapple jelly with lime zest in a glass. Or you can get the irresistible looking pineapple-flavored bonbons. And, if you want to go all the way with your decadent tendencies, they offer a wine or champagne accompaniment. Genius.

How long before you’re hearing about Hugo & Victor everywhere you turn? Start counting sheep backwards. It will be before you reach…

40, boulevard Raspail 7eme

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Cupcakes take over Paris

First it was New York. Every new storefront seemed to feature pastel-colored, floral-decorated little pieces of cake. Some mini, some oversized, in flavors ranging from chocolate to banana, marble to red velvet. Then the creep spread westward. To Brown Betty in Philly to Holy Cow Cupcakes in Indiana to Sprinkles in sunny So-Cal.

In fall of 2008, cupcakes arrived in Paris when sisters Rebecca and Maggy opened their 11th arrondisement Cupcakes & Co, an absolute gem of a bakery specializing in only cupcakes, made from top-notch natural ingredients (vanilla bourbon with glazed figs and pine nuts, anyone?) And now, just like New York nearly 10 years ago, cupcakes are taking over Paris.

From biggies Berko and Le Bon Marché, to neighborhood patisseries like Moulin de la Vierge—pop, pop, pop—the cute little creations are becoming ubiquitous. I walked by Il Gelato, an artisanal gelateria on the Boulevard Saint-Germain that features fountains of chocolate and pistachio fondant and low-sugar ice cream, and what was in the window?

Bien sur, cupcakes.