Saturday, February 11, 2012

Living and loving Paris....more and more...

No matter how romantic, cultural, sophisticated Paris is, in my thinking, it's a shame that Parisians hardly speak any English. I came to realize how much effort it takes them to communicate in English with visitors hence they are regarded by many as unfriendly and unhelpful. This is just so misconstrued! This awareness brings me to then wonder why the Malaysian Education system insist in converting everything we learn in school in English to Bahasa Melayu (Malay). Speaking good English during our travels in Europe (and elsewhere) has proved extremely beneficial for us. We were treated and regarded with great respect and so to say "educated" or bluntly "well-bred". Imagine being Asian, small, brown and speaking lousy English, what does that do but keep us insignificant, brushed aside! "Oh, don't mind them, they don't understand a thing"..that's exactly what they say. When you speak good English, you can at least insist to be heard. I am what I am, a good English speaking Malaysian, why go reverse...why the need to complicate??? For something as simple as this, if you're a blogger like many people can you reach huh? Why build borders in a borderless world? Everything on this planet is in our fingertips....

Anyway, today Brabon does not have to drop me, he gets a free day (in truth he's suppose to do our laundry :) I mean we are into our 8th day in Paris), Corrine will pick me at our apartment (she has a meeting in the city) and she will show me another route to take to Serves. So, easy morning, lots of time to skype and facebook and load more photos! Looking at Brabon, he's still kind of under the weather but nothing too serious. At about 1.40 pm, Brabon and I hung around downstairs of Rue de la Huchette while we wait for Corrine. It was getting busy as usual.    

Our favourite Greek takeaway - Gyro sandwich with meat, onions, tomato and tzatziki sauce - absolutely yummy!


opposite shops

Tourist shop as you come out of our building
Corrine showed up at 1.50 pm all cherry and cheerful and clad in pearls, she looked lovely. As for me, I've since given up on the idea of a fashionable summer in Paris, I didn't care if I looked like a tourist anymore, I needed to be in my sneakers and dress to the temperamental weather. We left via the metro from St Michel to Montparnasse Station where we took the train to Serves. The ride was very pleasant, Corrine and I got the chance to get better acquainted during our 15 minute ride. As we chatted I ask if anyone else was joining us today and Corrine said no, I had forgotten that I had requested for a one on one class. She told me about a very nice lady from South Africa who was actually keen to join us. She was among the group who went with Corrine to Lyon for a cooking vacation earlier in the week. This lady had recently lost her love of her life and has been travelling around Europe for a while now, healing. I decided and said "call her and ask her to come". Corrine did and she made her way to join us. We arrived in Sevres at another exit point, closer to the outskirts I think, a lovely residential area. This is what I like about moving around with local folks, you get to enjoy seeing and experiencing places that otherwise you would not have given the circumstances. We walked to Corrine's car and drove off to our destination. Le Grenier a Pain!

After some coffee and pastries, seeing that we had to wait a bit for Corrine's guest, Chef Patrick and I decided to start off by preparing all the ingredients we needed for today. It was just the two of us, again, Chef Patrick spoke to me in French and I spoke to him in English, we smiled at each other a lot. About 15 minutes into our work Corrine and Genevieve arrived. Genevieve was a beautiful blond, owner a lovely persona, spoke amazing British English and perfect French (I'm sure she spoke others too). We got to know one another and I gathered that she owned several estates and plantations in South Africa, attended "Tuscan Women Cook" which was what I soooo wanted to do in the first place (she claimed "it was amazing") and was prayerful. She shared with me that every year she and her husband would come to Paris for their break and visit this beautiful church called St Catherine Laboure on Rue du bac that was unknown to many, she insisted that we visit this church before we leave. I then shared with her that Brabon and I were going to Lourdes on Sunday. Turns out, like Mrs Pechidot (our landlady) and Corrine and Chef Patrick's wife, she made me promise to light a candle and pray for her. That we happily did as you will see later.    

Corrine and Chef Patrick's wife

Genevieve from South Africa getting our ingredients ready while I take some photos - Genevieve owns a macadamian farm, tea plantation, etcetera, I would love to visit her one day!

Sous Chef in the background...

Pipping choux fingers aka eclairs

Choux rings


Choux buns

sprinkle with cheese
sprinkle with sugar granules
Financiers - sprinkling some pistachios, chocolate chips and walnuts while chatting

adding shapes

Close up
adding raspberries

almost there...
getting there

Piped rosettes of Hazelnut praline cream
So...we got to make several desserts out of choux pastry, choux fingers aka Eclairs, Profiteroles which are Cream Puffs in English, choux rings similar to Paris- brest that is just larger and some savoury choux buns. We also experimented with Clafoutis, Madeleines and Financiers. here is a quick run down of what I know them to be.

Madeleine is a versatile cake cookie, of late. These days there are many variations to it, however it was traditionally lemon-scented, light texture, flavourful and terribly easy to whip up. The batter is usually made better a day ahead or at least 4 hours and chilled. Chilling helps the batter develop its characteristic crown, known as the hump or bump. In our case, we glazed some in chocolate, I prefer them plain like the ones we made at Chef Myriam's in Liege. Those was super awesome!

The Clafoutis we made initially appeared to be somewhat similar to the Madeleines, when I tasted it, I found out otherwise. They were definitely heavier, owned a crumbly edge and the center was custard like. Caramelizing the fruits also added another dimension to it, I loved it. I understand there is version straying away from tradition, a specialty of the Limousin region of France where the Clafoutis is a tart, baked in a tart shell with Pate Sucree. It is known to be always made with fresh unpitted cherries, the pits are thought to give the fruit more flavour. This pariticular famous Clafoutis can be found at an upscale pastry boutique called "Patisserie Gerard Mulot" on rue de seine at St Germain.

Financiers pronounced feeNAHNseeay are really simple little almond cakes, tiny sweets that are served during tea and at the end of a meal at upscale restaurants. It was invented in France more than a 100 years ago by the baker, Lasne, whose bakery was on Rue Saint Denis, close to Bourse, the financial center of Paris. The cake was said to be named for the financiers who frequented the bakery, although the actual formula was based on the visitandine, a cake baked by nuns of the Order of The Visitation. Traditionally, financiers were baked in the shape of gold bars. Buerre Noisette (clarified butter) plays a significant role in the flavour of this pastry (refer to Rose Levy notes in her book - Heavenly Cakes). I had already made these little buttery cakes before Paris when I took part in The Heavenly Baker movement. There are many many varieties but my favourite are always the plain ones.      

Corrine, Chef Patrick and moi

And Voila!!!

And Voila!!!
Put them in a box for Brabon and me- yeap, remember the macarons, still in le  Frigidaire at our digs
It was already 7.30 in the evening when we finished and from what I noticed, Fridays in Paris are so to say sacred. Folks have strict plans for pleasure, leisure, outings with family or friends. As was, we said our goodbyes quickly (I grabbed another baguette for breakfast the next day) and Corrine with Genevieve dropped me off where Brabon was waiting (...patiently, in a warm cafe away from the wind). The ladies (all of THEM) says to me "Brabon, ah..such a romantic", "dropping and picking you up faithfully" "waiting patiently"....) and they really loved him for that.

We were seeing Corrine again on Sunday so Genevieve and I "au revoir"....

Together with our huge bag of "French pastries" and in our simple attire, we headed to our next destination "Domaine de Lintillac" for our much awaited "French Dinner" 10, rue Saint Augustin, Paris 2th. We arrived a little past eight without making any prior reservations, on a Friday night so pretty much we were taking risk; we felt apprehensive but still hopeful. What the heck, do it the Malaysian way right? Just TURN UP!

We waited outside....obediently following the written instructions displayed outside.."WAIT HERE".....also we had to like quickly quickly and discreetly scan the menu and the prices that came with it. Don't want to end up washing the dishes and scolded in French, do we? Ahh...Thank goodness the menu and prices were written clearly on the chalkboard for all to see and choose. 10 minutes past......nothing happened...we took turns.....straining our necks, stretching our torso as long as we can....peeping in.....they saw us......but nothing....5 minutes past....Brabon and I looked at each other...lifting our heads and eyebrows upwards...(the silent "so how")? "Masuk saja la" I volunteered "apa hal"?..."bukan juga diaorang keluar? So, we went in, it was a full house, I took a deep sigh, I looked HARD at the manager, he looked HARD at me...then went about his work! I took another deep sigh and turned to Brabon and said "Full, wait outside la"! As I turned to leave I saw that 2 couples at a nearby table were getting ready to leave. So, we waited patiently...straining our necks and torso every now and again. All of a sudden..I saw the manager coming towards us.... I straightened up "He's coming I whispered loudly to Brabon". "Bonjour" I greeted him sweetly.."table pour deux" with two fingers up (like the sign of PEACE) and a smile. "English....Korean....Chinese"...he volunteered slowly. "English" I said quickly (frankly, I didn't know what the hell he was referring to). "See the table there'? he continued....I nodded...."When they go, you sit". "Oh, thank you" I replied smiling with my entire face.

If you go to their website , you can see their seating arrangements and the second table on the far left was where we sat and luckily for us, a beautiful English speaking waitress attended to us. Remembering that our purpose was to sample what was recommended to us by Chef Myriam ,Chef Patricia and her student at Versailles, Duck and only Duck (BTW, did I mention that we don't eat DUCK) was the very reason we were here. We had the works, wine and all (we couldn't finish the wine), we started with a salad each, Duck Confit and Confit Cassoulet for our mains and one Creme Brulee and one Homemade Ice-Cream for dessert. Oh and Cafe au Lait!

salad with cold meats
salad with cheese
Crispy Duck Confit
Piping Hot Confit Cassoulet (with white-bean and sausage)

Creme Brulee
Homemade Ice-cream with liqueur , nuts and cream

I have to say that this was to be my favourite meal of all throughout Europe. It's not to say that the other meals were not at par but its just that I really really fell in love with Duck Confit and both the duck dishes at Domaine de Lintillac were sooooo unbelievably delicious. It is up until today that I'm crazy for Duck Confit and it has become my passion to perfect this dish. That night, I swore that I was going to buy at least one can and bring it home and I don't care if I have to drag it all over Europe for the next two months AND Brabon will just have to deal with it...and I did...the next day...our last day in Paris!     

Monday, January 30, 2012

Le Grenier a Pain Une autre boulangerie, Chef Patrick and moi!

Just like cupcakes, Macarons caught up fast here in Malaysia. Everyone wanted a taste of it, everyone wants to buy it at least once, wondered what was the real thing; and if you listen really carefully (it's a Chef's secret in many parts of the world), many were having a tough time getting it right every time. If you ask me, it's really so easy, rather time consuming and you will get it wrong most of the time.

Nevertheless, it was my mission to taste-test it at "Laduree", find out about "The Real Mccoy", learn about it in Paris itself; and make and bake it in Paris. And I did!

The French Macaron is a feather-light, elegant sandwich cookie re-created time after time by passionate Pastry Chefs. The base of the cookie crumples during baking and is called "the foot" while the top crust is domed and more fragile than an egg shell. The base ingredients are egg white, ground almonds, powder sugar and castor sugar. There are a variety of flavours, classic to dark chocolate, vanilla, coffee, pistachio, passion fruit, mango, raspberry, salty caramel, rose, (to name a few) and sandwiched with buttercream, ganache, curd or thick preserves. So far, real macarons are also hard to find here in Malaysia, I have yet to come across anything quite similar to the ones I've tried in Paris.

I chose to learn this Parisian Macaron  (which by the way is best made with Italian meringue) at Le Grenier a Pain Boulangerie Patisserie located at Serves taught by Executive Pastry Chef Patrick Morin. I was to meet up with Corrine Preteur, CEO of Cooking and Lifestyle Vacations France at the front entrance of Darty Store, exit of rue de Bellevue. My class was scheduled for 3 hours, 2.30 to 5.30 pm. As planned, Brabon was to "drop me off" and "pick me up" accordingly and we were gonna head down to "Domaine de Lintillac"          for our "French Dinner". Well, that was the plan.

We waited for a bit, Corrine arrived, introduced ourselves, spoke a little, met another American couple who were joining the class, Brabon left and off we went. 

We arrived at the Boulangerie, had a really nice cup of coffee and some petite choux pastry, met Patrick's wife, some folks who worked there, sat around and took some shots. 

This is the kind of Boulangerie and Patisserie I'd like open here  in  Malaysia
Le Grenier a Pain - famous for their french baguettes
Large Meringues
I love french tarts...pity there's no demand here in Malaysia...I just love to make them!
of cookies and cake loafs
all sorts of breads fashioned by hand....
and cakes, eclairs...
The American couple
Our class took place in the heart of the boulangerie, in a vaulted basement. There is something magical about  the space, the heat from the oven, the aroma, the coolness from the stoned walls, and the cloistering embrace of the low arched ceiling. How lucky I was to be there, with a french chef!

I got to really like Chef Patrick, he seemed old fashioned, warm and very comfortable to learn from. He spoke to me in French and I spoke to him in English! I say old fashion because while other chefs used their thermometers (like me) to test for softball (116-118 degrees) or hardball (125 degrees) characteristics for sugar syrups, he showed me another way. Pick up the syrup with your fingers! People, please don't try this at home.... 

see what I mean??? Awesome!

Except for the Italian Meringue, everything was made by hand, imagine my tiny delicate wrists, half dead! Consistency, consistency, arrgghhh! And colours...oh my God...he is sssooo drops..paste!



"the foot"
See what I mean about the walls and ceiling!

Rose, Vanilla, Dark Chocolate, Pistachio
from Napa Valley, Calif
As you can see how easy it is to make....and also screw up over and over again!!! Yeap, happens all the time even to me. Anyway, by the time we got out it was past 7 and windy and cold, poor Brabon! We found him waiting ever so patiently - out in the chilly air. "Quickly, let's go for hot coffee and warm you up" I said. After our coffee, I looked at him, he got the chill. "Come, let's go back...dinner can wait"...