Swiss Chard Pie

Swiss Chard Pie

Spinach is one of the rare vegetables I will not eat. Possibly, this has to do with the green puke they were trying to pass off as spinach at summer camp. I did try real supposedly yummy fresh spinach, but could not take it. Bleh. The only form I can eat it in, is when it doesn’t taste like spinach at all, in spinach ravioli for instance.

Now, people tell me swiss chard tastes very much like spinach, so my taste buds must be a bit weird, as I seem to love swiss chard about as much as I loathe its cousin. I had been craving swiss chard pie all summer, so last week-end, when I saw big bunches of it at the produce store, I got one. It was so huge I had to cut it in two so it would fit in the fridge. But that was very easily done with my new extra-sharp chef knife. Heh.

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Chouquettes (Sugar Puffs)

Chouquettes

Chouquettes are little puffs of choux pastry, sprinkled with pearl sugar.

They can be bought by the weight in French bakeries, in a thin bulging paper bag. When you’re a kid, the best part is eating the sugar crystals that have collected at the bottom of the bag when the last of the chouquettes has been devoured. The proper way to do this is lick your index finger and gently pick up the crystals (be warned, you may have to fight your sister for them), until the sugar is crushed too finely and you give up, then just pour the remnants directly into your mouth, shaking the paper bag to get it all.

Chouquettes are also one of my boyfriend’s favorites, and he can tell you which bakeries around his office or in our neighborhood have reached the best standards in quality chouquettes.

When you’re a kid, the best part is eating the sugar crystals that have collected at the bottom of the bag when the last of the chouquettes has been devoured.

Having recently, and to my great delight, found a bag of the special pearl sugar that chouquettes require, Saturday afternoon found me happily setting forth on the project of making my own sugar puffs, sort of following the recipe given by this great cookbook Maxence (who knows me oh-so-well) gave me for my birthday last year, called “Les Gâteaux de Mamy” (Grandma’s cakes). I say “sort of” because I did compare this recipe with others I found on the web, and changed a few things around based on their recommendations, like I usually do.

The first batch was submitted to the test of the in-house expert, who declared them yummy. He did say they were a little moister and eggier tasting than bakery-bought chouquettes, and I decided that this was because they were a little undercooked, as our oven seems to run a little colder than it says (note to self, buy an oven thermometer, find out if this is true and quit complaining). Some websites recommended to leave them to cool down a little in the turned off oven, but I am Jack’s lack of patience, and I couldn’t resist taking them out right away, which did cause them to deflate a little (no incidence on taste, of course, just looks).

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

So the second batch was baked at a higher temp and for longer, leaving them inside for a little while this time. (The instructions below reflect this method.) This batch turned out to be just what our tastebuds hoped for : slightly crusty yet tender little pillows that melt in your mouth, contrasting with the delicously crunchy sugar crystals.

UPDATE 1. Below is a revised recipe, as it appears in Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, my book on Paris restaurants and food shops.

UPDATE 2. I have slightly improved upon the recipe with a couple of tricks: I now sprinkle the baking sheet with pearl sugar so the chouquettes are more evenly studded, and I brush the raw chouquettes with a sugar syrup to form a slight caramelized crust on top, and help the pearl sugar adhere.

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G. Detou: The Magic Baker’s Store

G. Detou

Last weekend, while I was in the 1st arrondissement buying kitchenware, I remembered my grandmother telling me about a professional baking supplies store she used to go to when she still had four sons to feed at home.

The store is called G. Detou, which happens to be a pun: “G. Detou” is pronounced like “J’ai de tout“, which means “I have a bit of everything”.

I couldn’t remember where the shop was so I looked up the address, and I was amazed when I finally located it, right in the middle of rue Tiquetonne, which I’d walked up and down countless times without ever noticing this jewel was there. I really don’t have an explanation other than that there is magic at work here — you know, this little nook of a place that thou shalt see only if thy heart is pure and thy desire to buy baking supplies in bulk is earnest.

G. Detou

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E. Dehillerin

E. Dehillerin

E. Dehillerin* is a renowned cooking utensils outlet located in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. It’s a totally no-frills store that has stayed pretty much the same since it was first opened in 1820, though I imagine they didn’t sell silicone baking mats then.

It’s open to individuals, but is mainly targeted at professionals. As a consequence, all prices are listed before tax (H.T., meaning “Hors taxes”), contrary to what is customary in regular French stores.

The sales people are helpful and knowledgeable, but they are definitely not the patient, shoulder-rubbing type.

When you step inside the store, the first thing that may strike you is how narrow the aisles are lined floor to ceiling with metal containers and coarse wooden shelves, the products stacked with no particular merchandizing effort. There is very little space to move around, and you keep having to make way for bustling sales reps checking the reference for sharpening stones, and for customers who are trying to get a closer look at the giant soup ladles right next to the stainless steel mandoline slicers you yourself are inspecting.

The sales people are helpful and knowledgeable, but they are definitely not the patient, shoulder-rubbing type. They’ll tell you which type of bakeware is the sturdiest, but they won’t hold your hand and nod along while you debate which size gratin dish you really need — if you’re looking for the French Williams-Sonoma, this is not it.

Beyond the sheer fun of trying to hold your ground in this beehive, wearing your freshest and most charming smile, the reward is this : top-quality, professional-grade gear at affordable prices, and good, no-nonsense advice. I love this store.

E. Dehillerin

On my recent visits, here’s what I got :

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Eggplant Rolls with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

Eggplant Rolls with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

Last night, Maxence and I threw a little dinner party for my two oldest friends, Marie-Laure and Laurence, and their respective boyfriends, Ludovic and Jean-Christophe.

After an apéritif during which we nibbled on sweet potato chips (bought at the African market) down with chilled white wine, we sat down to a first course of Eggplant Rolls with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts.

These eggplant rolls are super easy to make: more ingredient assembly than actual cooking. I get frozen eggplant slices that are perfect for this, but you could also go to your local Italian deli, or grill some eggplant yourself.

Such a light and fresh opener! I served three eggplant rolls per guest, with plenty of fresh baguette and some olives that Laurence and Jean-Christophe had brought back from Italy for us.

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