Shops & Markets

Galette des Rois, the 2007 Edition

Galette des Rois Arnaud Larher

Looking for a recipe for galette des rois? See this post.

And this year’s galette des rois (read more about the galette des rois tradition) was brought to us by Arnaud Larher, a thirty-something pastry chef and chocolatier who opened his own shop in Montmartre ten years ago, after honing his skills at Fauchon under Pierre Hermé’s direction.

I called the day before to order une galette pour six — ordering is not mandatory for such a standard size, but I sleep better if I do — and went to collect it in mid-afternoon. As I walked home and dropped by a handful of other shops for my dinner-making needs, the paper bag bearing the pastry chef’s coat of arms elicited much commentary from these neighboring vendors, whose facial expression (corners of the mouth pulled down, chin jutted forward, eyes semi-closed, head nodding slowly) indicated their respect for the artisan, and their approval of my choice of purveyor. I hurried home for the wind was picking up, and the threat of rain was a dark omen for my fragile disk in its not-even-remotely-waterproof paper house.

Although Arnaud Larher makes a chocolate galette that can’t possibly be anything but very good, my dinner companions and I all prefer the classic version. In Larher’s case, classic means a moist mattress of frangipane* lightly flavored with orange zest — a subtle and tasteful twist — between two sheets of extra-fresh flaked pastry. The ensemble was neither overly buttery nor overly sweet, and was much enjoyed by all.

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Favorites of the Moment

Sables Blancs

Barbie dolls didn’t do much for me when I was little, but I had a passion for plush animals. Each of them had a name and a set of personality traits (often refined by my father, who would improvise bedtime shows for my sister and me, with voices and everything), and they felt more alive than I think grownups can really remember. A direct consequence of this was that, even though I had preferences, naturally — I remember a black crow I’d won at the Jardin d’Acclimatation: it was ugly, it smelled funny, and I couldn’t bring myself to really love it –, I forbid myself to even admit these feelings, for fear of hurting theirs.

But now that I’m more or less an adult and have a pretty strong hunch that inanimate objects can’t get upset, I feel comfortable listing a few of my current edible and drinkable favorites from recent food shopping excursions. (If, however, the rest of my pantry turns sour all of a sudden, I may have to remove the post, I’m sure you’ll understand.)

~ Beurre au sel fumé (smoked salt butter) by Jean-Yves Bordier

Bordier can be described as the butter darling of the French gastronomic scene. His hand-beaten, hand-shaped butter is indeed outstanding, and his latest creation (yes, we now live in a world where the line between the artist and the artisan is blurrier by the day) is unlike anything I’ve tasted before: it is a butter that’s flavored with a mix of salt and spices — I understand this smoked salt follows a Norwegian technique — to give it smoky, almost earthy notes that reveal themselves in the back of your palate, in the aftermath of the rich yet refreshing butter kick.

It is splendid on fish and steamed (or mashed) potatoes, it can be spread on rye bread to eat with oysters, and I had such interesting results using it in a mini-batch of shortbread, that I must try it in salted butter caramels.

I buy my Bordier butter from Les Papilles Gourmandes, a neighborhood shop I’ve mentioned before (they also stock the unsalted, salted, and seaweed varieties), but it can also be found elsewhere in the city (La Grande Epicerie, Da Rose, Fauchon, Pascal Trotté’s cheese shop…) and, of course, right at the source in Saint-Malo.

Jean-Yves Bordier Map it!
9, rue de l’Orme – 35400 Saint-Malo
02 99 40 88 79

Les Papilles Gourmandes Map it!
26 rue des Martyrs – 75009 Paris
01 45 26 42 89

~ Sables blancs, a lightly flavored white tea from Le Parti du Thé

I like Mariage Frères as much as the next girl (though probably not as much as this next girl) but these days I am much more excited about the teas at Le Parti du Thé. This independant tea seller was recommended to me by Valérie Gentil of Beau et Bon (a quirky food shop I just as heartily recommend), and the first time I visited I had to physically restrain myself from buying a bit of each of their varieties — since they have over three hundreds, you can imagine why restraint is important.

The three kinds I’ve liked best so far are the Sables Blancs (“white sands”, a Pai Mu Tan Imperial white tea with discreet notes of coconut and vanilla, pictured above), the Oolong Fleurs d’Oranger (semi-fermented tea from Taiwan with orange blossoms; Beau et Bon carries it), and the Pousse-Pousse (a mix of semi-smoked teas).

Le Parti du Thé / Map it!
34 rue Faidherbe – 75011 Paris
01 43 72 42 04

Beau et Bon / Map it!
81 rue Lecourbe – 75015 Paris
01 43 06 06 53

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Algerine Pastries

Algerine Pastries

Walking through the Oberkampf neighborhood this past Friday on my way from one appointment to the next, I glanced at my watch and gleefully realized I had just enough time to drop by La Bague de Kenza, a luxurious Algerian pastry shop on rue Saint-Maur.

There was a line snaking outside onto the sidewalk — it was still Ramadan then and many of the customers were buying sweets for the nightly fast-breaking feast — but this gave me time to be entertained by the verbal fight that broke out when one lady accused another of trying to cut in front of her (if you hadn’t eaten or drunk anything all day, you would be nippy too), and to admire the colorful multitude of picture-perfect delights filled with almonds, pistachios, walnuts, figs, or dates, and flavored with honey, rose water, orange blossom water, mint, citrus, or vanilla.

It’s okay not to know the names of all (or any) of the little guys: the staff often caters to novices, so you can just smile and point, or ask for an assortment. I myself ordered eight different ones: a pistachio skandriate and a lemon and vanilla cornet aux amandes (pictured above, top and right), a sugar-coated corne de gazelle and a walnut baqlava (pictured here, left and top right), a doigt de Kenza, a rfisse (a mix of semolina, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, date, and honey, ground into a marzipan-like, pleasantly grainy paste), and two more that I unfortunately can’t name: a piped round of almond and walnut paste flavored with orange blossom water and topped with an unpeeled almond (pictured above, bottom left) and a meringue round filled with pistachio paste (pictured here, bottom right).

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Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Zucchini

Courgette Bicolore

[Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Zucchini]

It’s probably safe to assume that I pay more attention to zucchini than the average joe, but if you had been walking by Joël Thiébault’s market stall* with me that day, you wouldn’t have missed these either: there, between the hostess-gift-worthy bouquets of fresh herbs and the off-white bulbs of hélianthi (a cousin of the Jerusalem artichoke with fewer knobs), was a basket of curvy-necked, bi-colored zucchini.

These zucchini were a little scratched, yes, as if they’d spent the morning playing in the bramble thicket, but they were thin-skinned and firm, they looked as if their bottoms had been dipped in pale green paint, and this was too pretty to pass up.

“Are they bi-flavored?” I asked the vendor, “Like Malabars?” (The Malabar is a French bubble-gum that was created in 1958, and comes in a bi-goût version — lemon and strawberry — that was hugely popular in my gum-chewing days.) He laughed and said, “Sure, vanilla and pistachio.” I bought two pounds.

Of course, once the zucchini is sliced — in my case, paper-thinly and served raw in a salad, with olive oil and a few drops of the stupendous 12-year-old balsamic vinegar that my friend Marianne gave me for my birthday — only you will know that it was bi-colored in the first place. But this doesn’t bother me at all; I like the idea that this chromatic oddity is for the sole benefit of the cook, a bit like wearing nice underwear when no one’s there to see it. (If you are intent on showing it off, however, you could opt to halve and stuff the zucchini, perhaps with two different colors of stuffing, to really get your point across.)

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The Best Baguette in Paris

La Meilleure Baguette de Paris

[The Best Baguette in Paris]

…and it’s not even me saying it, but the good members of the jury in the 2006 edition of the yearly Grand Prix de la Baguette Parisienne. The winner is Jean-Pierre Cohier, whose bakery is just off the Place des Ternes: this was his fourth time competing, and he received the distinction for his baguette called Tradition. He’s been making that baguette for twenty years, with flour from the French Beauce region, and it is a baguette that is hand-shaped and requires 24 hours of fermentation. The lucky guy will receive a prize of 4,000 euros, and the exclusive right to fill the daily baguette needs of L’Elysée, where the President de la République lives and works. (This all sounds very grand, but apparently it is just 25 baguettes a day.)

So what’s a Tradition baguette you ask? French bakeries usually offer several types of baguettes these days: a baguette ordinaire, which costs less than one euro, and one or more fancier (and pricier) baguettes, using a different quality of flour and a more elaborate production process — such as Cohier’s “Tradition” baguette. The latter category is usually more to my taste: ordinary baguettes tend to have a tougher and browner bottom crust (and I seem to have issues with that), a thinner interior texture (when I prefer the inside of my baguettes to be Rubens-fleshy), and they also go stale much faster. Great if you’re looking to make croutons for a fondue, not so great if you wish to enjoy it over a couple of days.

[As a side note, I would like to draw your attention to a frustrating void in the English language: correct me if I’m wrong, but there is no single-word way to say “the soft interior of bread”. There is in French: the word is la mie (pronounced “mee”), and it is pretty convenient for writers who want to describe bread using short sentences — not that short sentences are actually my forte or my ambition, but you get my meaning. As a side note to my side note (who says those can’t be nested?), and although there is no etymological connection between the two, ma mie is also a deliciously quaint expression which means “my darling” when said to a woman. It is more often found in literature than in real life, but we could certainly start a trend. Update: “la mie” apparently translates to “the crumb”. Although I don’t think it conveys quite the same idea or, more importantly, feeling — “crumb” sounds a little dry and sad, when “mie” evokes a more noble notion, a certain tenderness or softness, and not just of texture — I stand corrected and happy to have learned this usage.]

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