Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Loving Paris in June

And let the summer travel posts begin...

Last week I spent two days in Paris on my way to Israel (I tell myself that this is a way to get used to the time zone, but let's face it, really it's an excuse to produce a post like this!), and the beautiful pastries wet my appetite for my three weeks in Paris in August.

This was a visit that, more than the others I took this past April or in May 2008, reminded me of the significance of my student days in Paris. Perhaps it was the time I spent in the Marais this time, or the long hours I took walking the city, but whatever the reason, these two days brought to mind the girl I was 9 years ago, just at the cusp of developing into who I am now.

The semester I spent at the Sorbonne in 2001 was a formative point in my adult life; in particular, I was at an important place in developing my sense of aesthetics. I was constantly struck by design throughout Paris - in the art museums, in architecture, in advertisements, in clothing, in the juxtaposition of the new and the old in an historic but modern city. I gathered pictures from magazines and ads until I had a notebook stuffed with scraps of paper, and I even tried to draw a little bit. Living outside of the U.S. allowed me to let go of my perceptions of what art is, and simply listen to my personal experience of sensory expressions - which brings me to the food in this post again.

My aesthetic sensibilities are at their happiest, perhaps, with beautiful food. I know I rave constantly about Pierre Hermé, but really, he is an artist. His medium is of the highest quality - no one could beat the textural and flavorful perfection of his macarons - while he also executes a creativity in flavor combinations and presentation that takes the technical work to a level of sophistication that is so pleasing to me. The photo above is of his Ispahan croissant; Ispahan is his signature "fetish" collection flavor that combines raspberry, rose, and lychee, with some almond paste as well in the croissant. Brilliant, right?

I devoured this croissant, and then ate the crumbs from the bag. Amazing pastry, striking filling, lovely sweet glaze.

And OF COURSE I got some of his macarons, in flavors I hadn't tried yet (except for the caramel): clockwise from upper left, Mosaïc (pistachio, griottine cherry, and touch of cinnamon), Mogador (passion fruit and milk chocolate), Arabesque (apricot and pistachio), and Infiniment Caramel (salted butter caramel). I am always surprised by the touches of bitterness or sourness he allows to remain in his flavors; the passion fruit was certainly on the sour side for me, and the caramel actually has a bitter edge to the burned sugar flavor. Few pastry chefs would make that gusty choice in the States! I think Mosaïc was my favorite this time.

I ran into this place while walking around town, and while its Asian-inspired flavors were interesting, I just had to buy... of these: a Chocoron, or Chocolate-Dipped Macaron. Oh yes.

Raspberry and chocolate isn't my absolute favorite combination, but I could not resist the colors of this amazing confection. Sadaharu Aoki's macarons in general had stiffer shells, which structure fit the chocolate dipping better than a soft Hermé would have done. It is truly difficult to look at this photo without being able to take a bite of one right now.

Berthillon's ice cream was a must-try, and I was glad I sat down to eat it at Ma Bourgogne at the Place des Vosges, even though it cost three times as much as getting a few scoops on Ile St. Louis. The honey nougat and the café dauphinois were fabulous with the gavottes that accompanied them.

And the final culinary highlight of the two days was this religieuse from Des Gâteaux et du Pain; I literally have wanted to try this for two years, and this time happened to be staying a few blocks away from the bakery. After this trip, I highly recommend staying in the 15th arrondissement for high quality pastry and baked good options.

Choux pastry (think cream puffs) filled with salted caramel pastry cream, coated in caramel icing, held together with caramel buttercream piping.

I don't usually talk like this, but...GET IN MY BELLY!

A bientôt, Paris!
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Brigitte's Rhubarb Crumble

Now that my academic year is over, I'm REALLY going to try to blog more regularly, both to catch up on posts I've been meaning to do for quite some time, and to share some of my summer travels with you! Before I get to the traveling bit, however, I've gotta get this summery crumble into your hungry hands.

This recipe is worth sharing for two reasons: 1. Very little work produces an incredible dish. 2. It was passed to me as a family tradition (a family into which I have been adopted, that is).

This year I have had the pleasure of getting to know the mother of a very good friend of mine: Brigitte is a spunky French woman who knows how to bake a mean dessert, and treats ingredients well in the happy French tradition that honors fresh seasonal ingredients. Through following my blog, she has occasionally offered me her own culinary ideas, and this is one I made almost immediately.

It is one of few recipes I have found that features rhubarb solo; it seems more American to me to pair it with strawberry, whereas in French grocery stores you will find rhubarb jam on the shelf next to the jars of strawberry jam. As a stand-alone flavor, it has a lovely tartness that is a refreshing complement to the sweetness in this dessert. I made this crumble for my sister's graduation from grad school, since she loves rhubarb, and it was a great hit.

The best part about this recipe, however, is that it came to me in a hand-written letter. Although I have Facebook contact with Brigitte, and she could have simply typed up a list of ingredients and instructions in a message, she hand-wrote a letter and told the recipe like a story. I could hear her voice speaking the words with a French accent as I read the recipe, and it made me smile. What a joy to have the privilege of receiving a family recipe, which merited the personal telling of a letter!

May you also enjoy this wonderfully tart/sweet crumble and the family care that comes with it!

Brigitte's Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb filling:
1 lb package frozen rhubarb (frozen fruit section of supermarket, near the ice cream)
2 T flour
2/3 C sugar

7/8 C flour
1/3 C brown sugar
4 tsp sugar
1/3 C salted butter

Defrost rhubarb in a colander; this may take several hours, so plan ahead. You want it to defrost well so that the excess water has drained away to prevent the crumble from becoming soggy.

Once the rhubarb is defrosted, mix it with the 2 T flour and 2/3 C sugar, and let sit in a bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Then, mix together the flour, brown sugar, and sugar for the topping ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter until the butter is reduced to half-pea-sized pieces.

Grease a 9-inch pie pan and pour the rhubarb mixture in the bottom. Top with the crumble topping, patting it down lightly. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the top is golden and the rhubarb is cooked (it may be bubbling around the edges).

Serve warm or room temperature with a cold crème anglaise, or if you don't want to struggle with the potential of curdling the crème like I did (I just strained it, it actually tasted okay), with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Merci, Brigitte!