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Archive for the ‘Pâtisserie Delights…’ Category

I like to think I have become somewhat of a macaron connoisseur during my time in France. I most certainly judge the quality of an establishment based on their macarons. Does the person behind the counter use white cloth gloves or tongs or only their bare hands to serve them? Brown paper bag, cellophane bag with a ribbon or a box? Are they too crunchy, too soft, too much filling or of indistinguishable flavours?

(I work less than 12 hours a week: I have a lot of time on my hands to ponder such matters.)

I like the perfect symmetry of a macaron and the smooth, unblemished surfaces. But mostly, I like feeling like Marie Antoinette.

I also love that macarons hold the same cheering-up qualities as a square of good dark chocolate. I think that’s quite impressive for a biscuit, albeit, a biscuit steeped in history and cultural icons. After I spent €250 on a pair of beautiful Italian leather boots and left the shop in near hyperventilation, the only way to come to terms with my gross over spending was to buy 6 macarons from the nearest patissière and eat them one after the other while I waited for my train, looking like a girl on the verge of a mental break down. I felt much better after that.

I remember the first time I tasted a macaron. I was 17 and on holiday with my family in Paris and blindly unaware of celebrated French institutions like Fauchon, Ladurée and Pierre Hermé. We treated ourselves to a box of Ladurée macarons and ate them walking around Place de la Concorde. I remember the pistachio flavour the most clearly as it was like nothing I had ever tasted before: salty and sweet and the most unusual shade of green.

At about €4 for one macaron (compared with the average .80c elsewhere) I will have to content myself with only taking photos of Ladurée...

Macaron tree anyone?

At Angelina's in Paris

I include the above photos as an apology to the macaron forefathers for the confession I am about to make. Last weekend I bought 6 macarons from a McCafé. And I admit I was pleasantly surprised: clear cut flavours, bright colours and they even came in a box. It is true that the romantic luxury of Marie Antoinette had diminished, but maybe I should stop being such a macaron snob…

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I realised that I have not written about any delightful pastries of late. I conveniently came to this realisation as I walked past the boulangerie… Some super human force sucked me in and, in the name of cultural and gastronomic research, I bought a millefeuille.

Also I have a tingle in my throat, spring daffodils are here, I have 4 weeks left of work, it is pay day next week and a multitude of other excuses, all warranting a millefeuille.

Golden flaky pastry, butter yellow custard, pastry, custard, pastry and sweet swirled icing. A thousand leaves of happiness, of ambrosial delight, of sickly goodness. Is it a bit much?

You have to be prepared when eating a millefeuille. Don’t expect to look dainty and delicate gently nibbling at your pastry. In my books, a millefeuille is not nibbling material, it is messy and you must be prepared to catch globules of custard in your hand and pastry flakes on your chin.

There is a strategy here. You will need a big plate and a sharp knife. Chop the millefeuille in half. This is not so you can save half for later, what kind of wimp are you?

As you lightly bite down on the pastry, the custard will begin to squirt out. At this stage, move quickly to the side and clean up those messy edges. Alternate this action from side to side, trying to take time to chew in between mouthfuls.

Take a short break in between halves, maybe have a sip of water, or wipe the pastry from your front (see big plate above.) Savor the cream and the crunch and the slightly cloying icing with the mellow custard. Now it is time for part two. Devour it wholeheartedly, do not worry, the slightly ill feeling will pass…

I sometimes see sparrow-like women eating these in the salon de thé with a tiny cake fork and I wonder how they do it. Maybe it is genetically encoded and if I lived in France long enough I would develop the same poise and skill. But, I ask myself, are they having as much fun? Are they feeling the rush that all too soon the pastry could end up on the floor?

A millefeuille is probably my favourite item in the patissier’s cabinet, partly for the taste, but mostly for the fun of eating it. For fear of extradition from France, I would never eat a millefeuille in public. Instead, I confess, I have become a closeted millefeuille eater.

I am sure there is a group for that.

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This evening I stood at my kitchen window and watched the sunset over my (bare, i.e. no snow…) mountains. We get a lot of sunsets here in Bonneville and they are by no means your average sunsets. Tonight the sky was the colour of ruby red grapefruit. I could tell it was going to be a beauty before I even vaguely faced west. The bare rock face of the opposite mountain was tinged ruby red. It kind of looked like it it had been sun bathing…

I stood at my kitchen window watching the sunset eating my latest pâtisserie delight: un Royal. It looked beautiful: a little rectangle of chocolate mousse covered in a thick layer of cocoa on a lightly sugared crunchy base. Both the sunset and the Royal were photograph worthy but I was feeling a little selfish.

However, the Royal did not live up to its name. I should have known better; it is a lesson I learned a long time ago. When it comes to most sweet indulgences I am more of a vanilla/citrus/berry girl. I find chocolate in anything other than its pure and natural form nearly always leaves a little something to be desired… That’s not to say I don’t find the rich darkness and bitter sweet qualities alluring, I’m only human after all. But, seriously, can you ever go past a perfect pain aux raisins or tarte citron?


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galette des rois aux pommes

Today is the day when it is perfectly acceptable to buy a ridiculously expensive, ridiculously massive pastry. Today is l’Epiphanie, a Christian festival where the three kings are to be added next to the crib of a Jesus nativity scene. This festival dates back from the 1400s when Pope Julius II declared the 6th of January a day of religious importance. Now days, we just eat cake…

The cake originally was made to lure the three kings to the crib and while its roots remain here, the importance and associated symbols have changed over the years. During the late 1600s the cake was believed to have pagan origins and associated with gluttony and over indulgence so the festival was banned by the Church. The French are truly passionate about their patisseries so to avoid the ban they made the cake in early January to promote good neighbourly relations. During the French Revolution the cake changed names again and became the cake of equality as kings were not a terribly popular image at this time!

Since the 1800s the baker has put a little surprise in the galette. Originally this was a bean and the person who found the bean in their slice was crowned King or Queen for a day. To ensure fair play the youngest person should crawl underneath the table before the cake is distributed and say who they would like to receive the first piece. They have made this galette tradition slightly more festive and instead of a broad bean you will now found a ceramic or plastic ornament. This can be anything from a cartoon character to an animal to religious symbols. Or in my case, a funny little blue fox. Artisan patisseries continue to use hand crafted ceramic ornaments and these can fetch quite a price as collectors items.

at least he is ceramic...

Another tradition associated with this pastry stems from the good neighbourly relations story. Your local patisserie will kindly tell you how many people the galette is designed to serve. When I read 4/5 or 6/7 or 8/9 I thought the patisser was maybe being miserable with portion sizes but I later learnt that the extra person refers to an old ideal of giving a piece of the galette to the first poor person you come across. As I live practically next door to the bakery I could rush home and savour the galette all for myself. At €10 a bop, I wasn’t sharing this baby with anybody!

In the south of France the “King cake” is a brioche in the shape of a ring, like a crown, and is known as un gâteau des rois. In the rest of France the galette des rois is made from puff pastry and generally filled with an almond cream called frangipane. The galette I bought is filled with apples and my goodness, I think it is the best apple cake/pie/tart I have ever had. The apples are slightly caramelised yet creamy. This may sound painfully obvious but they taste as if, yes, they did once grow on a tree… The pastry is deliciously buttery. I’m talking artery clogging quantities of butter. And I love it!

Hmm, galette for dinner and dessert? I think so….

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