Finally, I am back. What. a. trip.
We should probably start where any good Parisian story would begin: pan au chocolat. I never had a bad pastry while in Paris, but I had a pretty spectacular flaky chocolate creation from the Boulangerie de Papa, on the way to climb the steps of Notre Dame.
It was a chilly morning, but I sat outside and drank an allonge, or a drawn out espresso (from the French word allonger), and ate buttery pastry filled with little pockets of rich chocolate. After climbing 387 steps and hanging out with the gargoyles and chimeras of Notre Dame, it was off to the Ile Sainte Louis for some ice cream. After all, it wasn’t that cold.
Berthillon is indisputably the most famous glacier in Paris. One small cornet of the luxury ice cream and I was officially a convert. I had a scoop of the caramel au berre sale—which was true to its buttery namesake—and one scoop of marron glace, a candied chestnut variety. It was then that I had a revelation: we in the States don’t eat nearly enough chestnuts. When was the last time you actually sat and snacked on some chestnuts roasted by the fire? (My guess is probably not since 1946.)
You can still find them sold by Parisian men on street corners, wrapped in newspaper cones on the cobblestone walkways of Paris. I am nearly convinced that quality of life increases proportionally to the amount of chestnuts one consumes. I usually only have them in chestnut stuffing at Christmas time: my dears, that is not nearly enough. And so I am bringing ‘chestnut back.’ Stay tuned.
My Parisian Tour de Food continued with a macaron marathon, taste testing macarons at Laduree and Pierre Herme—among others—and having no less than a baker’s dozen. I must say, I preferred Laduree; they had a better contrast of textures, though the macaron fillings of Pierre Herme were vibrant. Laduree is credited with inventing the French macaron, after sandwiching two crisp, airy disks between a gorgeous creamy filling. Truthfully, either brand is not to be missed. Though, I am suspect that Pierre Herme is secretly trying to win me over because a few days ago amazon.com e-mailed me a ‘suggestion’ to buy Pierre Herme’s book, Macaron. Creepy amazon, creepy.
Now, you can’t discuss Parisian sweets without mentioning A La Mere de Famille, an old-fashioned candy shop that has been around since the 1700s, located in the 9th arrondissement of Paris. They have marzipan frogs, candied violets and roses, caramels worth the jet fuel to Paris, and candied fruits almost too pretty to eat.
They also introduced me to callissons, an ancient diamond-shaped confection that people in Provence used to eat in hopes of warding off the Bubonic plague. They are made from an almondy dough; come in flavors like citron, cassis and mirabelle et framboise; and have a delightfully chewy texture that makes you say, "bring on the black death."
“Like a kid in a candy store” took on a whole new meaning at A La Mere de Famille. I am not usually one for scooping up candy to snack on, I tend to prefer cheese or some salted nuts. However, I left with no less than 50 euros of candy that day, my dear friends. Talk about buyer’s remorse. Luckily, I had enough sugary confection to assuage the guilt. It also helped me come to the conclusion that you can’t possibly feel grim while eating a marzipan mouse. I think marzipan could solve more problems than most people realize. Are your friends having trouble conceiving? Suggest a marzipan baby. You can’t go wrong.
Unfortunately, my trip wasn’t all marzipan and candied roses. It rained a lot, which even in Paris starts to lose its charm after a few days—no matter how cute the word parapluie sounds (or how many macarons one eats). It was also much colder than I had anticipated, which only made me further up my almond-ante.
In the end, the sweet side of Paris won me over. (Like there was really any other doubt.) I came home with a renewed commitment to increase my dessert making. In hard times, it can’t hurt to have some pastry-making skills. Think of what it would have done for morale to have some pan au chocolat during the plague. Or at the very least, some pockets full of candied posies.