Best of January

Chouquettes at the park.

I am keeping my nose to the grindstone (not as painful as it sounds) finishing up the manuscript for my new cookbook Tasting Paris, which is an ode to all the good things one can eat in Paris, and there are very many. I am stoked to announce that the photography will be done by the amazing Nicole Franzen, and I cannot wait to see my recipes and my home city through her eyes.

I have to get back to writing headnotes and processing feedback from my fabulous recipe testers and tying up all sorts of fun loose ends (“check weight of average orange,” “why is rue des Écouffes called rue des Écouffes,” “look into the biography of Arlette Lenôtre,” “OK to recommend as hangover food?”) so I will leave you with these quick notes from January:

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Best Eats in Strasbourg, From a Local

Photo: Philippe de Rexel

Itching to travel again in the spring? I want to make sure you see and taste the best France has to offer! When it comes to Paris I’ve got you covered, but there are many other cities with exciting and delicious things for you to experience. So I’ve asked a team of French bloggers from different cities to share their favorite spots, and I am offering them to you in this new series.

Frédérique In Strasbourg, Frédérique recommends…

After leaving Paris 25 years ago, Frédérique spent 15 years in Alsace and seven in Strasbourg itself. This European capital is a goldmine for a gourmet like her. A textile creator by trade, her motto is to “beautify daily life” and she beautifies her own by spending most of her free time in the kitchen! She shares this culinary passion with the readers of the blog she keeps to document life in her workshop. Where will she take us today?

A market or food shop: The market on Boulevard de la Marne

Marché Strasbourg

In the XV-Orangerie neighborhood, this is the largest market in Strasbourg, set up along the Boulevard de la Marne. It’s an authentic, colorful market, filled with an abundance of vendors selling a wide variety of items: produce and food vendors (selling fish, meat, charcuterie, and cheese), stands with honeys, spices, flowers and plants, clothes, shoes, baskets, and kitchen utensils (such as kougelhopf molds and cookie cutters for the traditional Christmas sablés). The market is open on Tuesday and Saturday mornings.

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My Paris Wedding

All photos by Fabien Courmont.

On December 22, 2016, twenty years to the day after our first date, Maxence and I got married.

It was a small wedding — just our parents, siblings, sons, and closest friends — that we decided on and planned in just two months, because we’re crazy like that.

It was, quite suitably, the most magical, the most romantic day of my life, and I kinda want to do it again this year, and the next, and the next (with the same man, obv.).

One of the benefits of getting married when you’re thirty-seven years old and you’ve been together for twenty, is that you know yourself and the other person very, very well. You can make swift and easy decisions that feel 100% you, and you can flow through the planning in a way that is joyful and exciting and a celebration of your relationship.

In that spirit, I want to share with you some of the choices that added up to create the perfect day for us.

If you don’t give two figs about weddings, I’m not offended in the least; I was firmly in your camp up until three months ago, so click away, my friend, click away.

But for those of you who geek out on this kind of stuff, here goes. (Also, I have put together this mini-guide of 10 Romantic Ideas in Paris that is free to download!)

Bride & groom's hands

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Homemade Galette des Rois

If you’ve ever been in France during the month of January, surely you’ve noticed the blossoming of galettes des rois in the window of every bakery and pastry shop. A puff pastry pie garnished with a buttery filling, it is the traditional confection with which the Epiphany is celebrated*; I have written in more detail about this tradition in this post, so I invite you to go and read that first. I’ll wait right here.

La galette, and the fun ritual that determines who will be king or queen for the day (allow me to insist you read this post if you don’t yet know about the fève thing), bring back many a happy childhood memory for me. Aside from the two years I spent in California, I have partaken of at least one galette a year for as long as I can remember.

My first homemade galette des rois!

I used to buy them from the pastry shop, like most French people do, but I started making my own a few years ago.

My deep attachment to this confection should have compelled me to do so years earlier, but the Epiphany is theoretically celebrated on January 6 — though this is extended to the whole month of January nowadays — and I always felt a bit too tuckered out after the holidays to tackle the project.

But that inaugural year was different. We were celebrating my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary one Saturday, my sister, brother-in-law and nephew were visiting from London for the occasion, and my mother had asked if I could bring the dessert for our celebratory lunch. It seemed the perfect opportunity to share a galette with my family, and I had just enough time to make it myself.

My initial intention was to make my own puff pastry, using this easy puff pastry formula, but I didn’t quite have it in me so I decided to use store-bought puff pastry. Not just any store-bought puff pastry, mind you, but Madame François’ puff pastry, which is produced in Sologne with butter from the Charentes, farine de gruau (fine wheat flour) and zero additives. I got it from G. Detou, where it is sold in slabs of 3 kilos, ready to be divided, shared and/or frozen; it can also be ordered on their website**.

What’s inside a galette des rois?

The stuffing was crème d’amande, not frangipane. There is a lot of confusion between the two, so here’s the difference: crème d’amande (almond cream) is a simple mix of butter, sugar, ground almonds, and eggs, more or less in equal parts. Frangipane, on the other hand, is a blend of crème d’amande and crème pâtissière (pastry cream), which in turn is made with eggs, milk, sugar, and flour or cornstarch.

Most galettes sold out there are filled with frangipane rather than crème d’amande — the production cost of frangipane is a lot lower, since the almonds are the most expensive ingredient in there — but my preference goes to crème d’amande, which makes a more delicate, less eggy, more flavorful filling.

As for the all-important fève (read here to know what that is), I had wisely saved the one Maxence got when we ate a galette des rois at my cousin’s a week before: it is a little porcelain tower of some sort that seems like the tip might pierce the roof of your mouth if you’re really out of luck, but this is France, where people don’t really sue one another for that sort of thing***.

Mini Cookbook of French Tarts

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5 Tips for Fabulous Homemade Soups

You know the feeling. This time of year, you’re simply dying for a bowl of something warm, comforting, and full of vitality. But as painful experiences may have shown you, good intentions and a throw-whatever-vegetables-you-have-into-the-pot approach doesn’t always work so well.

For a simple, clean-out-the-fridge soup, I will point you to my Everything Soup. It’s the ultimate guide to soup improv that you can tweak to your heart and fridge’s content, with recommendations for optimizing flavor profile, plus must-haves and must-nots.

Once you have these basics down, here are some more tips for fabulous homemade soups, which will turn any pot you make into a seductive winter dish that will have your spoon quivering with excitement.

Stay in season

It’s not just about the carbon footprint, the mood of the weather, or the tradition, though of course these things count. It’s also that in-season vegetables taste significantly better, and if you want a soup that shines with flavor, you gotta have good vegetables to begin with.

And as luck would have it, winter vegetables are perfect candidates, with their starchy textures and sweet, earthy notes. Can’t remember what’s in season? I have a free seasonal produce guide for you.

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