I had the most marvelous Christmas present from my Partner Terry this year: a trip to Paris for Valentines weekend ! I have not been to paris since 1979 when I went on holiday with my dad & sister to a holiday campsite in the south of France. We went all the way by coach ! It took 24 hours ! We had a stop off in Paris & all I did was have a pee up the outside urinals at Notre Dame cathedral before we set of on our trek to the sunny south of France for two weeks of sun-watching randy holiday reps dipping in and out of different tents, and eating nothing but baguettes and boursin.
So now, 32 years on, I hope i’m bit more cultured then I was then as a gangly 12 year old. I was embarking on a trip to the city which has inspired me throughout my career, through the books of the chefs who originated from this culinary metropolis. Also every pastry chef’s food glossary is in French. It’s the only part of the Language I speak fluently ( to my shame I have to say.) So I was also visiting the Spiritual home of my profession.
I will just take you on a tour of a few of the bakeries and food shops I visited. I cant go through them all. You cant walk for more then 500 yards with out tripping into a boulangerie with a huge display of macarons and financiers, with a glistening Tarte au citroen catching your eye !
My first visit was to a rather new inspiration of mine, The Rose Bakery. An Anglo French collaboration by Rose Carrarini (English) & her Husband, Jean-Charles (French) which opened in 2002. It takes the best of British food and adds a Parisian twist. I was inspired by their book “Breakfast Lunch Dinner” which friends bought me for one of my birthday’s, and I have tried most of the recipes. Its very different to most bakeries in Paris: not so chic but with a charm of its own, selling british classics like sticky toffee pudding, fruit cakes, scones to name a few. These were all alongside traditional French tarts with some nice salads thrown in for hungry Parisian workers during their lunch break. It has a very urban/rustic feel, & I felt a tingle as I entered as I spotted many different things from the book, including their famous pink fridge ! 🙂
Next on my list was the famous Laudree Patisserie, home of the macaron. Laudree is credited for bringing the double decker macaron to the world and was founded in 1862. We tried to get into one store but it was too crowded, and seeing as it was Valentines weekend it wasn’t surprising. We did get to pop into a smaller store in St Germain to see its marvelous pyramid displays of macarons. The flavours of the day seemed to be anything pink for Valentines: so it was rose, raspberry and strawberry all around. There were a few chocolates on show too with a line of scented candles thrown in.
Pierre Herme is one of the most respected pattiserrie chefs in the world. He started his trade at the age of 14 and probably can challenge Laudree for the best macaron crown. He used to work for Gourmet store Fauchon, before opening his own boutique shop in Rue Bonaparte and then others followed, including one in tokyo. we tried to get into the shop on Rue Bonaparte , but it was packed due to the fact it was Valentines day and there was queue up the street so couldn’t – much too my disappointment as he is really a true food hero of mine and I have most of his books, His Pistachio and raspberry macaron recipe is amazing and one I have used a lot in the past.
Whilst looking at our guide I spotted an area of Paris called Place de la Madeleine, home of the famous little cake of the same name, Madeleines. The large square is famous for its food stores and is a gourmets paradise, with shops dedicated to specific items like mustard, or the Maison du truffle, dedicated to the luxury pig snuffled delicacy. When you walk into the Maison du truffle the aroma is so pungent in an almost after sex sort of way- you like it but not too sure if you should, but it makes your mouth water anyway 😉
The most striking store is Fauchon with its pink and black decor. It’s like walking into a contemporary boudoir, & it’s here you can see the French connection between food and “l’amour” I expected a saucy but classy french madame to pop out from behind a counter and give me a tickle with an ostrich feather. It was an amazing visual treat with rows of handmade chocolates, candied fruit, teas, coffee’s and the famous Madeleine’s. There were amazing gift packages, obviously intended for Valentines, and if someone bought one of those for their loved one they would have been on a promise for the rest of their lives. Down in the basement was a selection of fine wines which was Augustine Fauchon’s original passion when he founded the company in 1886. There was an amazing variety of confitures (jams) in different flavours. I bought a rose petal jam to play around with in the kitchen at some point 🙂
Just across the square is Hediard, a little more formal then Fauchon, but none the less still full of amazing delights. Founded in 1854 it houses some of the finest wines and specialises in vintage brandy’s with some dating back too the late 1800’s and selling over the 1000 euro mark ! They, like Fauchon, had an impressive display of handmade chocolates, & added to that a beautiful selection of desserts and pastries. They also had a fine display of candied fruits in their window arranged in an impressive tower.
Hediard has a bespoke coffee selection: huge sacks of coffee beans with a towering grinder behind, so you can choose your own blends and have the staff prepare them for you. Amazing aroma I can tell you !
Unlike Fauchon, Hediard was a bit more stuffy. I felt a bit conspicuous taking photo’s: there was a rather stern looking woman in her 50’s behind the chocolate counter. I was expecting her to march me out of the store by my ear like a stern Parisian governess. She didn’t though, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time looking around the store soaking up the aromas like a foodie whore 🙂
The rest of our trip around paris saw us stumble across some amazing places, like the colourful confectioners La Cure Gourmande in the charming Ile saint Louis, a natural island in the Seine with narrow streets full of boutiques and ice cream parlors. La Cure Gourmande is what I could imagine Willy Wonka coming up with if he experimented with narcotics ! There were marvelous biscuits, and confections of such colour that I expect evolution is still trying to catch up where our retinas were concerned so we can see the full array. I sure was taken with their chocolate olives !
All in all it was a successful trip, Paris is a truly inspirational city for people with creative minds-with its beautiful architecture adorned with filagree like iron work, and above all its history of fine wine and food.
Not a bad Christmas present I would say 😉
© The cake-shaker 2011