Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coconut sugar and maple cream - new ingredients on my shelf

It's hard to believe that it's already been two whole weeks since our return from Paris.  It took a bit of time to get back on schedule and catch up with the odds and ends of daily living, but catch up we have and we're movin' forward!

We're seeing some beautiful fall colors and are currently enjoying sunny skies, balmy breezes and temps in the 70s.  We'll take it, since we know what's coming just around the corner.  It is Michigan after all.

Now let's get back into the kitchen OK?

Before we left on our France adventure I had purchased some coconut sugar as a result of perusing the various sugar choices on the grocery store shelf. The package info tells me that the coconut blossom is the source for this unrefined, sustainably grown and harvested sugar which tastes nothing of coconuts but has its own subtle taste.  It's touted as being great for baking as a 1:1 replacement for white sugar.  

In addition, my sister Mary had sent me a jar of Tonewood maple cream as a birthday gift, and it was just waiting to be used.  This stuff is made in Vermont by cooking and whipping pure maple syrup to a state of creamy goodness.  What's not to like.

First the coconut sugar.  I'm tweaking my shortbread flavor list for the upcoming holidays and decided to do a lime coconut version, so I substituted half of the sugar in the recipe with coconut sugar.  It looks like brown sugar and actually tastes like it too - toasty, caramel-y and very pleasant.  

It did give the dough a slightly darker hue than usual . . . 

and the cookies baked up more browned and toasty looking.

There was really no difference in the flavor - still tasty - so for me it's simply a matter of using an unrefined sugar in place of a refined one.  I've been doing this for some time with unrefined raw cane sugar which gives a pleasing crunch to shortbread cookies or as a topping for things like financiers.  

In a nutshell - coconut sugar seems well suited for general baking uses - you decide!

Next up - maple cream.  Maple walnut shortbread is one of my faves.  I typically reduce the amount of cane sugar in my recipe, add maple syrup and then brush the warm, just-out-of-the-oven cookies with more maple syrup. Hey! I'll use maple cream instead.

This stuff is delicious - wonderful maple flavor and a texture that can't be beat. I used it in the shortbread dough just as I would maple syrup.

Once the cookies were baked I brushed the tops with maple cream . . . 

and popped them back in the oven for a couple of minutes.

Bubbling, glistening and divine.

Tonewood's web site describes the maple cream as "the perfect spread over toast or pancakes or used as a dessert frosting".  Cost is $16.99 for a 9 ounce jar.  There are pages of recipes available on the site as well, many of which call for maple sugar and maple syrup as opposed to maple cream.

Suffice it to say, one could slather this stuff on pretty much anything - how about a day old croissant, nicely toasted? Or add some to your hot morning oatmeal? Or drizzle some over toasted nuts and enjoy with a nice sharp cheddar cheese?

Don't be afraid to use your imagination - come up with your own ideas!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Saying goodbye to Paris

We had a wonderful adventure this go around, starting with our visit with the MacDs in Lille, our WWI sites tour with Richard and Pauline and finally 10 days in Paris focusing on cemeteries for Steve and pastries for me.  And of course we were able to do a fair amount of flaneur-ing as we strolled around some of our favorite spots.

Our last day in Paris was a beauty - 60s, sunny, breezy and oh so lovely.

That morning Steve had a cemetery visit to make and I visited the new LCB Paris. We then connected at metro Sèvres-Babylon and strolled to rue du Cherche-Midi for lunch at Cuisine de Bar.  For years I've been enamored of this spot for dejeuner, right next to the Poilâne boulangerie, but this time we were unimpressed.  The  main server didn't seem able to get his act together, even though this is a small place and it wasn't very busy.  Finally we were served our tartines (open face sandwiches) made with Poilâne bread and, in our case, topped with a curry chicken.  It was tasty I must admit, but the place has lost it's appeal, and I suspect we won't go back again.

We meandered over to Saint-Sulpice with its impressive statue and fountain . . . .

and then wandered over to the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the best places to hang out in Paris if you ask me.  Since it was such a beautiful day many people were sitting in shorts and shirtsleeves soaking up the autumn sun in an attempt to extend their summer tans.

So many beautiful flowers!

We headed back to our apartment so I could start tackling the packing before going back out early in the evening for an aperitif and then dinner on rue Saint Anne, the Asian restaurant hot spot in Paris.

And finally we just had to finish up on the Trocadero to see the Eiffel Tower in all its twinkling glory!

So long Paris. Until next time.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A visit to the new Le Cordon Bleu in Paris

It was our last day in Paris before heading back to the US of A - what to do, what to do.  Steve had a cemetery investigation project on his hit list, and I had been wanting to visit Le Cordon Bleu, so off I went to do just that.

I had learned not too many months ago that LCB Paris had built a brand new facility on the Quai André Citroën in the 15th arrondisement, right down the street from the Eiffel Tower and in sight of the Statue of Liberty (the French have the original you know) sitting in the middle of the Seine.

Lady Liberty

I found the school without difficulty, although it is a bit of a metro ride on the 10.  A quick walk down Quai André Citroën and I was there.

Somewhat spaceship like in appearance, it's a far cry from the old LCB with its unassuming facade and entryway.  My, those were the days.

One enters via the stairway next to the orange structure you see above.  The space inside is light, spacious and airy with a friendly woman at the reception desk asking how she could help.  When I explained that I'm an alum and would love to see the new school, she promptly called to see if someone was available to give me a tour.

Philippe Rocheron is the school's public relations man and served as my guide.  He and I had actually communicated by email some months ago when I was expressing some interest in their new Diplôme de Boulangerie.  It was nice to put a face with the name.  

There weren't any classes actively in progress for us to visit, but there were a lot of students sitting out in the open areas having their lunch before going into the practical kitchens a bit later.

I was particularly interested in the boulangerie kitchen and was impressed by the wooden topped work tables (my favorite surface on which to work with dough!) and the well equipped space.  Ahhhh - maybe someday.

On the main level there is a small cafe that sells goods made by the chefs at LCB.  As the students become more savvy about production and become more accomplished at things like laminated dough, their end results also go into the case.

My how things have changed - and for the better I might add.

Thanks for the tour Philippe!

Monday, October 3, 2016

A walking tour of Montmartre with Clotilde Dusoulier

For those of you who aren't familiar with Clotilde Dusoulier, she is a Parisian food blogger and author extraordinaire who has been writing the blog "Chocolate and Zucchini" for 13 years now (not to mention her other numerous contributions to the food world).

Back in 2009 on a 2 week trip to Paris Steve and I used Clotilde's book "Edible Adventures in Paris" as our sole guide for all things food related - restaurants, bistros, boulangeries, pâtisseries, épiceries, chocolateries etc.  Each spot we either visited or dined in was absolutely up to par, and nary a disappointment in the bunch.

I've also emailed Clotilde a couple of times over the years with various questions, and she has always replied promptly and cheerfully.  Whenever we see her picture, we think of a pixie - smiling and friendly.

Sooooooo . . . . . When we decided to make this trip to Paris, we thought what better time than to meet Clotilde in person.  We booked a two hour food related walking tour of Montmartre with her, and here's the story.

We met her at the Abbesses metro stop and set out from there down rue des Abesses.  At various stops Clotilde purchased goodies for us to sample.  Nice.

Our first stop was a fruit and veggie vendor where everything was set out artistically, full of color and variety.  We tasted fresh green and purple figs - perfectly ripe, as sweet as honey and oh so good.

Our next stop just a little way down the street was a boulangerie/pâtisserie that has won the "best baguette" or meilleure Baguette de Tradition de Paris competition not only once, but twice!  It turns out each year's winners can't compete again for four years, so after a win in 2010, the chef entered again in 2015 and won a second time!  Pretty unheard of according to Clotilde.

We sampled one of the baguettes and experienced a just-right crisp crust, an open almost buttery interior with a certain softness (NOT doughiness) to the crumb (you had to be there!) and a delicious, natural flavor.

From there we wended our way over to rue Caulaincourt and the pastry shop of Gontran Cherrier.

M. Cherrier holds the prestigious honor of winning the meilleur croissant de Paris award and so, of course, we had to sample one of his croissants absolument!

I'm not quite sure how to describe this.  Perhaps because I've spent so much time researching croissant recipes, trying different butters, tweaking my folding techniques and resting times and sampling different finished products, my mind has become cluttered with the characteristics of a really, really good croissant.

For me, there has to be that cascade of crispy shards from the exterior as you pull it apart or bite into it.  The interior should be buttery, but not too, with a texture that's a cross between bread and flaky pastry, with perhaps a hint of chew but not too dense or heavy.

This croissant had beautiful, well defined laminations and a delicious flavor, but the exterior didn't have that shattering shard quality and the texture seemed just a tad dough-y to me.  But who am I to say?

Nonetheless, Steve and I finished it off with aplomb.

We meandered back to rue Lepic where we visited  L'Épicerie du Terroir, a shop full of all sorts of food goodies - oils, herbs, spices, specialty salts, peppers, nougats, mustards, jams and on and on and on. 

Clotilde suggested that this is a great place to pick up food gifts to take back home, however we weren't in the market for anything in particular so we simply looked and savored the possibilities.

Right next door was a fascinating tart shop, Les Petits Mitrons, full of rustic, simple tarts.  Unfortunately they didn't allow photos to be taken inside the shop, and the glare of the sun on the front window made it impossible to get a decent photo from outside. Bummer with a capital B!!

We did have a slice of the apricot-plum tart - basically fresh fruit baked on a sablé crust which is somehow coated in sugar and caramelized.  Clotilde is working on figuring out just how they accomplish this feat.  I'd certainly like to know!

Alas we'd already taken a few bites before Steve snapped this photo.  Delicious!

Throughout our strolling and tasting we chatted about various things, including my love of shortbread and tarts.  We were getting close to the end of our tour so Clotilde gave us the option of visiting a fromagerie vs. a biscuiterie (cookie shop for you English speakers).  Of course I was all for the second option, so off we went to the relatively new shop of Gilles Marchal known as Compagnie Générale de Biscuiterie Montmarte.  Now that's a mouth full!

We chose an assortment of delightful sablés, financiers and palets Bretons which were displayed simply in cookie tins.  One can buy mix and match flavors starting at a minimum of 100 grams (about 14-15 petite cookies) in a cellophane bag or choose a larger assortment lined up nicely in a tin.

The shop also has other types of biscuit already packaged up for sale - arlettes (caramelized puff pastry crisps), dacquoise, macarons rustique to name just a few.

This place is right up my alley.

After sampling just a few of our biscuit it was time to say goodbye.  We gave Clotilde our hearty thanks, strolled down rue Lepic to the Blanche metro stop and headed back to our apartment. 

We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the Parisian pixie from Montmartre.  Thanks so much Clotilde!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Succès class at Le Nôtre

Succès au praliné, a classic French dessert, was the subject of my third and final class at Le Nôtre Paris.  It requires some planning and make-ahead preparation, which stands one in good stead when it comes time to assemble this particular delight.

There were again three of us in the class. In addition to myself, a young 20-something Parisian woman (no English) who does a bit of baking at home and attended the class thanks to a gift certificate, plus a Japanese woman (no French) who makes pastries in Japan.  This was another interesting dynamic with the chef at times speaking English to the French woman and French to the Japanese woman - a bit confusing to say the least.

Nonetheless there were lots of smiles and head nodding going around as we worked our way through the recipe.

I recall making succès during pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu and having my crème mousseline improperly set and oozing out of the sides - not a pretty picture.

However this time the whole process felt pretty straight forward, something that 10 years of professional experience under my belt aided tremendously.

The base of this dessert is essentially a meringue made with egg whites, sugar, almond flour, powdered sugar and a bit of milk.  It's piped in two rounds and baked low and slow, resulting in a light, airy and crisp meringue.

It is filled with crème mousseline (blend of crème au beurre and crème pâtissiére) mixed with nougatine (chopped caramelized almonds).  Separate preparation is required for the various components, and it all comes together in the end.

A note on crème au beurre:  typically made with Italian meringue to which butter is added, Le Notre's recipe involves making a crème anglaise which is whipped until cool, then butter is blended in and finally the Italian meringue is added.  It makes for quite a light (believe it or not) and delicious mixture.

Below is the large bowl full of crème mousseline and the chef working on his assembly.

After the crème is sandwiched between the two rounds of meringue, the edges are coated with more crème and then covered with pralinettes (more caramelized chopped almonds - yum!).

Crème coating underway . . .   

and pralinettes going on!  Just pick up handfuls and press lightly.

We all assembled and coated our respective succès, dusted them with powdered sugar and that was that!

The amazing thing about this cream filled meringue, so full of butter, is how light in taste and texture it actually is. Incroyable!

And guess what?  Surprise, surprise, surprise - Steve loved it!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Les Tartes class at Le Nôtre

My second class at Le Nôtre's Pavillon Elysée was, of course, one of my favorite topics - tartes!

Same place, same kitchen, same chef, different group.  My classmates were two women of similar vintage to myself, one Parisian and one American married to a Frenchman.  They had both previously attended classes with the same chef instructor so there was some chitchat about how they spent their summer etc. 

The class was pretty much all in French and, while I understood most, there were times when my head was in a fog and was putting up roadblocks to my comprehension.  But, all in all, it went well.

On the docket:  tarte tatin, tarte bourdaloue, tarte au chocolat.

Our first task was to peel and cut up apples and tuck them into a round pan that would ultimately go into the oven.  We could choose apple halves standing on end or, as the chef demonstrated, apple quarters in two layers.

Next the chef prepared a large batch of caramel which included a bit of pectin. This was a new twist for me, and the chef explained that it helps the caramel set once the tarte comes out of the oven. Interesting.

The caramel was poured over the apples and the mélange was baked for about an hour until the apples were nicely baked through.

Then a round of puff pastry was placed over the cooked apples and the whole she-bang went back into the oven for another 20 minutes or so until the puff was nicely browned.

We didn't turn these out of the pans until the end of class to avoid the puff from getting soggy whilst having caramel-y apple goo sitting on top of it.

Below are the final results. The top right one is the chef's - he did two layers of apple quarters, and I really prefer the look of that one.  Note to self!

Mine is the bottom left and should have had the apples packed in more tightly - too many gaps methinks, at least on the left side.

The tarte bourdaloue is a variant of the classic pear almond tart, the big difference with this recipe being that the almond cream filling also contains a hefty dose of heavy cream. This made for a much more liquid mixture so when we tried to artistically place our thinly sliced pear halves on the filling, they swam around a bit.

Once baked however, everything seemed to be in good position, so it all worked out in the end.  A bit of glaze and some toasted sliced almonds et voilà!

The tarte au chocolat was made with the same pâte sablée as the bourdaloue, first blind-baked then filled with a mixture of chocolate ganache, eggs and vanilla and baked until set. 

Once cooled we gave it a finishing chocolate glaze.

At the end of class we tasted the tarte bourdaloue which I found delightfully light with good pear flavor and a crisp crust. We boxed up our three 7" tarts for tasting at our leisure i.e plenty of dessert for several nights to come (Steve is in heaven).

The main thing I took away from this class was the chef's method for lining the open tart rings (which we did for both the bourdaloue and chocolat).  While hard to describe it here, it differed slightly from the way I've been doing it since the days at Pascal's, and I found it quite rewarding.  So three cheers for learning new techniques!  

That's why I continue to take classes when I come to Paris - even though the topic/recipes may be something I've made before, there's always a tip or technique I come away with that makes my baking life a bit more enchanting. And so it goes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brioche class at Le Nôtre Paris

Heading over to Le Nôtre's Pavillon Elysée from our 20th arrondissement apartment rental took a bit of metro planning but it worked out quite nicely.  A brisk 10 minute walk to the Alexander Dumas stop on line 2, change over to line 1 at Nation and take it to the Champs Elysée Clemenceau stop.

I love getting off there - you see the great Charles DeGaulle statue as you exit, then turn around to see the Grand Palais rising above you.  And then you see the Arc De Triumphe as you're crossing the Champs Elysée!  Not bad.

The Pavillon Elysée is easy to spot, and I learned that the angel sculpture on top is one of Gustave Eiffel's creations

One enters through an unassuming door . . . . .

and is invited inside by pleasant staff ready to serve you coffee, water or whatever.

The kitchen space is fairly small but well laid out for classes of 3-8 people.

My first class was Kouglofs et Brioches which was also attended by a young Japanese couple.  Chef Pierre Prevost was the instructor for the 3 of us.  There was a mix of English and French going around, but it all seemed to work out.  Interesting how that happens. 

We made two different brioche doughs, each with slight variations in the quantities of butter, sugar, yeast and water - one earmarked for kouglof with rum soaked raisins and one for brioche Parisienne and whatever other shape we might want to do.  

This is what we ended up with:  kouglofs individuel, brioche Parisienne and a pretty standard ring of brioche buns.

Pretty tasty too!

The new thing I took away from this one is the recipe for an almond syrup made by cooking a mixture of equal parts almond flour and powdered sugar (the French call this tant pour tant) in a simple syrup.  We dipped the warm kouglofs in this stuff and put them back in the oven for a minute or two to dry the syrup.  Deelish!

All in all a good day.