Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the gold standard

So I finally got around to eating a croissant today! I stopped by Eric Kayser's boulangerie and snagged a baguette, a petit pain de mie and two croissants. The croissants looked beautiful but were slightly under-proofed. Take note: if the center of the bread or croissant looks a bit dense or wet, the item was not given enough time to rise before baking. The baguette was crunchy, chewy deliciousness, though, and the pan de mie, a buttery white loaf, was just as good.

Chris and I headed to Berthillon today, too, my new gold standard for ice cream. I had caramel (laced with crunchy, dark caramel shards) and strawberry (a light, slightly tart sorbet) and Chris had chocolate (the way I like it, dark and bitter) and vanilla (good, but tasted a little like Breyer's vanilla to me for some reason). They were all so creamy, so rich.

The ice cream and bread made up for the miserable lunch we had at Restaurant Paul Bert. I'd read such good things, most recently in the April issue of Bon Appetit, that I was prepared for something amazing. Not so , unfortunately. The worst offender was the Paris Brest I had for dessert. This is a classic French pastry: a ring of choux (the same stuff used to make cream puffs) cut in half, filled with a praline mousseline, and topped with sliced almonds and powdered sugar. It is the perfect union of salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy. Instead I was served rubbery choux with a mess of pasty, goopy cream in the middle. Shame on them.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

stop the presses!

Today we visited Pierre Herme's shop and I have to say, his pistachio macaron was better than the one from Lauderee! Chris agreed with me and was tempted after eating two of the small macarons to go back for the jumbo version that they offered. I also tried olive oil, and thought it was tremendous. And Ant, I got the macaron book! Who can resist that cover?

We ate lunch at Restaurant Helene Darroze. One of the desserts was a layered parfait of jellied Poire Williams, ginger panna cotta, pear granite and clafoutis crumbs with pop rocks. Yes, pop rocks. I didn't really understand what they brought to the dish, though I'm biased because I 've never been a fan.

Also, meet my souvenir. Still deciding on a name.....

Monday, March 29, 2010

sugar rush

Aren't these gorgeous?

When I used to work at Lucky magazine as a graphic designer, an advertiser sent the beauty department a gigantic box of Lauderee pistachio macarons. They shared some with the art department and I immediately adopted pistachio as my favorite flavor. Naturally, getting to Lauderee was high on my list now that I'm in Paris. I got the assorted box of 10 (the box is actually a little music box which is cute). Flavors: lemon (Chris' request), pistachio (but of course), bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, rose, raspberry, bergamot, cassis violet (a salute to you, Karin!), red fruits, salted caramel. The salted caramel was incredibly buttery and the bergamot was delicious as well. I was disappointed with the rose macaron----the flavor was just too strong.

I also purchased a mini kuglehopf though I didn't get a pic of it. The cake was soaked in sugar syrup then dusted with more sugar to make it sparkle. It was delicious and provided enough of a distraction that I was able to get the macarons back to the hotel---without eating any---to photograph them.

A note on the hotel. I asked for a better room (the one we have had a problem with the shower) and the man at the front desk was clearly offended by this. He offered to show me the other available rooms though he made a point of disparaging the other choices. My favorite comment was that one room with no view and tiny windows was "a perfect place to commit suicide." seriously?

Friday, March 26, 2010

occupation: pastry cook

I have been making lots of petits fours tart shells lately (abbreviated at work as p-4 shells). So many that I've been developing theories about the fastest way to make them. The tricky part is that you have to reserve some empty shells to top the filled shells when they bake so that the shells retain their perfectly flat bottoms (pastry technical term: blind baking which is to bake a shell without a filling). I fill larger shells with dried beans when they bake but these shells are too small for beans so I just fit another tart mold on top, making a little tart shell sandwich.

Back to the theories. Theory 1: "halfsies." Divide number of molds in half, fill half and use the remaining half to top them. This makes approximately 144 tart shells. I would need to fill and bake the shells twice in one night in order to make enough for the next day. I've found that really hard to do each night, so Chef introduced me to theory 2: "shell-a-thon." Fill as many shells as possible, leaving only 25 or 30 for tops. With this method, I shape as many shells as possible at once, which saves an enormous amount of time. I simply transfer the tops of the batch that comes out of the oven to untopped shells I keep in the refrigerator, bake them off, and continue transferring. This makes 216 or more shells at one shot.

I've gotten a little obsessed with the numbers involved. I can fit 216 p-4 shells in 18 rows of 12 on a full sheet pan. By the end of the night, I should have at least 2 1/2 full sheet pans, or 540 shells. On my best night, I had 756 shells total, which unfortunately fell 40 short of a co-workers all-time high of 796. Arg.

Of course there is the time aspect as well. I keep checking with co-workers on how quickly they do certain tasks so I know what to aim for. I can shape 216 p-4 shells in under 20 minutes, which isn't bad but could be better. I can scoop a recipe of bacon biscuits (these will be the death of me) in 15 minutes and a recipe of regular biscuits in slightly under 15 minutes. You get the idea. It's all about becoming faster and more efficient.
My next post will be from Paris----au revoir!