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Sunday, November 22, 2009
The Madeleines were once chosen to represent France in the Cafe Europe in 2006. Such is the iconic stature of these little sponge cakes. Proust,of course had further immortalised it for most of us in his novel, Remembrance of Things Past where he described Madeleines as "little shell of cake, so generously sensual beneath the piety of its stern pleating..." - sigh, the sensitivity of a novelist.
I have always wanted to make Madeleines but did not have the mold for it. I tried it once half heartedly out of the request of my sister who has little sensitivity for pastries - "Just use any mold, I don't care". I used a friand mold and made it hurriedly without letting the batter stand overnight. Needless to say, it was neither 'sensuous' nor scrumptious. I had insistently wanted to get a metallic mold but had not been able to find one in Singapore. So,this naturally became my top shopping item when I went to E Dehillerin. And as I had mentioned earlier in 'Postcard From Paris -Part 1' - I spent a bomb on it (30 euro) - still baffled why it had cost so much.
Anyway, I just couldn't wait to use it when I got back. An appropriate baking choice to remember my trip with, I suppose. I chose to work with the Chocolate and Lemon Madeleines Recipe from Chococlate Desserts by Pierre Herme written by Dories Greenspan.
The Madeleine, when properly done,I understand, would have a light crust and tender crumb. Of course, when executed correctly, it should manifest a characteristic bump in the center. The overnight rest in the fridge is what gives the madeleines the bump.
I followed Pierre Herme's recipe diligently but bolted at his instruction to stick the pan into a 220C preheated oven before immediately reducing the heat to 180C - the rest of the baking done by sticking a metal spoon in between the oven door to keep it slightly ajar. I have seen similar instruction for macarons before and I truly disliked it. Anyway, since this is my first proper attempt at baking the Madeleines, I decided to follow the instructions - and failed my first round of baking. The bump was missing, the crust stuck to the pan... undoubtedly due to the overly low temperature. Luckily, I had more batter and for this second round, I decided to just bake at 200C throughout with the oven door closed! Elation, bless the knobby bump!
I do not know how it was decided that the Madeleine should come with a bump or that the macarons should have 'feet' but the French are undoubtedly serious and passionate about their food. I have had some 4-5 meals in Paris - painfully expensive - each meal easily cost 30-40euro for one. One of the most memorable meals I had (apart from the Beef Tartare I wrote about in Postcard from Paris- Part 2)was lunch at Le Relais du Parc, a restuarant created by Alain Ducasse situated at Renaissance le Parc Trocadero, where I stayed. The set lunch at 37 Euro was really reasonable by Paris standard for that area and setting. The restuarant actually has a nice courtyard but was somewhat closed that day when I went. The menu featured simple and tasty cuisine that are reminiscent of family meals.
I chose to start with a soup, Cepes En Fin Veloute d'autres Cuits et Crus (Cepe Mushroom Soup); had Fricasse de Volaille Fermiere with Macronis au Beaufort for mains (Free range poultry and macaroni with Beaufort cheese) and a Mini Sanit Honore for dessert.
The Cepes Mushroom soup was velvety but not heavy, I suspect they foamed it a little to keep it refreshingly light. The Macaroni with Beaufort was decidedly the best Macaroni and Cheese I've ever had. I was seized by the urge to reproduce this myself - taking note of the Beaufort cheese(I bought some just before I headed to the airport! Yeh! One step closer to success! :-P) and... the stick straight Macaroni. The closest I remember seeing back home is the Tortiglioni which is a straight tube but shorter. The chicken, served in a cast iron Le Creuset Casserole was delicious and wholesome. I cleaned the pot by soaking up all the gravy with bread. By then, I was so full,I couldn't finish the dessert. The Saint Honore had a Vanilla flavoured Chantilly Cream instead of Meringue. The chef had been generous with the Vanilla which made the Chantilly Cream absolutely heavenly and of course the custard cream filling was top notch.
Sigh, I have said this of Rome but I think it applies to Paris as well... you would have to be very unlucky to get bad food!
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Continuing from where we left off in part 1... As you would recall, I had some difficulty finding E Dehillerin and it was while I was walking around aimlessly that I spotted La Bovida which was about 200m from E Dehillerin. Shopping at Dehillerin is an amazing experience, because it makes you feel like you are part of the industry, almost... just almost at the same level as the professionals in the circle. The store was dusty and most things are displayed for your view only. Prices were not displayed hence, every time you see something, you have to approach the boisterous shopkeeper to ask for the price. Upon confirming your intention to purchase it, he will scribble your order down on a piece of paper and send someone to get it for you from the warehouse.
La Bovida, on the other hand is a more modern set up. It is what you would describe as a kitchen ware boutique. The variety of products is no doubt smaller but they do have some interesting products that I found to be reasonably priced. I got 3 mini Le Creuset casseroles which I honestly love to death now. 2 of them were mat black and I got an additional beige coloured one.
The staff at La Bovida were friendly and helpful but it was at KitchenBazaar the next day that I had the most delightful shopping experience. (for some reason, the webpage does not work, Chic Cityrats has a better picture of the shop)
I was on my way to see the Eiffel Tower which was a 7 mins walk from the hotel I was staying at when I got lured into the KitchenBazaar.
KitchenBazaar has a network of shops spread around France. This is again a more modern kitchen specialist with more user friendly gadgets that we will generally find useful and practical in our kitchen. You will also be able to find interesting little knick knacks that you can wow your guests with at your house party. They also have the prettiest Le Creuset Mini Casserole Set that comes in Mauve, Purple and Pink. I almost wanted to buy these but restrained myself as I had already purchased 3 the day earlier at La Bovida. (Warning, be very careful when you shop for kitchen supplies. Make sure you have enough luggage allowance at the airport - I almost busted my limit and had to remove stuff from my check in luggage!)
It was at the store that I met 2 of the most friendly store managers , Matteo and Florence. Florence does not speak English and it was Matteo who manages another store at rue Croix des Petits Champs(10mins walk from La Bovida) that shared with me alot of valuable information about the kitchen supplies scene.
Interestingly, the main kitchen supply stores are all located within a radius of 300m from each other at La Halles. Dehillerin is 100m from La Bovida while Mora and A Simon are just across the street from La Bovida and Kitchenbazaar is another 10mins walk from La Bovida. It's crazy - almost like going on a kitchen supplies shopping binge. The reason for the concentration of these shops at La Halle is because the area used to be a big fresh produce wholesale market. Resturants and smaller grocery shops will come to La Halle to procure their supplies. As such, dotted around its peripheral are amazing restuarants as well as restuarant supplies wholesalers. The market has since be moved out of La Halles but some very good resaturants and wholesaler stores still remain. I was really lucky when Matteo had offered to buy me lunch at one of these restaurants in the area.
This is a quaint but cosy little restaurant situated opposite the KitchenBazaar store at Rue Croix des Petits Champs which incidentally,is a really pretty neighbourhood. I loved its 'restaurant-in-a-hole' atmosphere which makes it really endearing. I was also told that the sexy Italian actress, Monica Bellucii lives in the neighbourhood with her director husband and frequents the restuarant quite regularly.
Matteo and Chef
Matteo is very familiar with everyone at the restaurant so it was fun. I even got to go into the kitchen. I was suprised that it was so small (smaller than my own kitchen!) but with 3 chefs working there, they were turning out 200 meals every day. For the longest time, I have been complaining about the size of my own kitchen - it was really a humbling experience.
I had the house special Beef Tartare for lunch. This is actually ground raw beef and I know there are many people out there who feel queasy about it. I've had Beef Tartare before - always at very good French Restaurants in Asia. I have been told by my French colleague that it is not easy to make a good Beef Tartare. First of all, the beef needs to be of top quality and the way you season and prepare it is also of utmost importance lest they turn out mushy and 'raw'. The beef tartare I had at this restaurant was actually very good. It was cut coarser than what I've had before but the meat was so tender and seasoned so well that you forget you are eating raw beef.
This was my second visit to Paris - the first time was a whirlwind 1.5 days. This second trip was another 2 days 'by the way' kind of arrangement. I have not been to the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower. L had teased me that that's because I had all my priorities mixed up - that I should see the sights first, then buy stuff, then have lunch with stranger....(strictly in that order. Of course the last one is never to be encouraged). However, I have enjoyed myself most thoroughly though it was wretched that I had to lug back so many things - definitely not a chic traveller.
For those who are eager to check out the Kitchen Supply scene, please check out the links provided above. I encourage you to start at E Dehillerin. The easiest way is probably to take the subway Line 4 to Eteinne Marcel . Along Rue Eteinne Marcel, look for the big post office and walk towards the general direction of Rue Montmarte. At the junction of Rue Montmarte, make a left turn and you should see E-Dehillerin at the corner. La Bovida is just at the intersection of Rue Montmarte and Rue Eteinne Marcel.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I had been somewhat dreading the trip to Europe before I set out. The thought of spending the whole week in Munich, attending to the exhibition was not really enticing. Normally, for such events, one will be on one's feet the whole day, talking almost non-stop to potential customers. These usually start out at 9am and does not end until 6pm in the evening. This would normally be followed by dinner meetings with business associates... they never end. In any case, if you are, like me, not quite a party animal, Europe would very much be a ghost town after 7pm. The only thing one can do in the evenings and on Sundays would be to eat and drink.I had rushed deparately to Dallaymr, the famous traditional delicatessan store twice only to find myself shut out. (Well, more of that in a separate post. I really ought to have started with Munich first but I am in Paris now and it is best to write about my adventures here first before they turn stale...)
In any case, I decided to reward myself with a 2 days stop over in Paris, with a few clearly defined money splurging objectives :
1. To shop for kitchen utensils at the E- Dehillerin, the only kitchen specialist shop I knew before I came over... and now I have discovered more.
2. To make my pilgrimage round at the various sacred temples of pastrydom.
3. To get to Mariage Freres to check out their tea and accessories collection.
4. To eat good French food.
I checked into the Renaisaance Le Parc Trocadero shortly after midday and immediately got stuck in a teleconference for more than an hour. By the time I left the hotel, it was already after 2 and my first meal in Paris was a Citron Tartlette at a lovely patisserie round the corner. A La Petite Marquise, situated at Victor Hugo near the Metro entrance tempts you with its wide window display of beautiful pastries. I lingered at the window, walked in to stare at the fine pastries, walked out and finally decided to turn back to have a quick bite. The quick bite comprised of a citron tartlette and a cup of hot cocoa. I have nothing to nit pick on the pastry. It was good but it did not blow me away - but I would be most happy if only I can produce something close in my own kitchen. Customers are constantly streaming in and a short line forms easily hence, I believe it must be quite popular in the area.
After alot of walking, alot of asking for directions(all futile) and finally 2 phone calls to E-Dehillerin, I arrived at the store 40mins to its closing time. E.Dehillerin is exactly what it claims to be - 'Le Specialiste Du Materiel De Cuisine'. This is a heavy weight wholesaler, situated in where historically used to be the biggest fresh products market/ wholesaler in Paris before it was moved out. E-Dehillerin feels and looks every bit like the grand old dame of the kitchen supplies wholesaler. The old fashioned warehousing layout has the place chock a block with every imagainable item required by the restaurant industry. The musky dusty atmosphere and the brash but friendly shop floor manager just serve to reinforce the importance of the store within the industry.
I thank fellow blogger Moises who had introduced me to E Dehillerin. I bought a dozen canele molds at less than half the price I would have to pay for back in Singapore. I had also been waiting out to get a Madeleine mold and I found a rather expensive one at E Dehillerin. It was around 30euro. There were other cheaper ones but...when you travel all the way to Paris, you start to throw out all sense of restrain and deep down in my heart, I am wishfully harboring a hope that maybe, just maybe with the more expensive mold, my Madeleines would just be so much closer to being perfect and heavenly... women, aren't we all cursed in that way?
I promise to post new instalments about my discovery of other kitchen stores... it can only be in places where people take their food seriously that you can find so many quality kitchen supply stores.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
As October gives way to November, that non-plussed 'it's ok, we still have time' easiness gets a jolt from reality. The head starts to throb as the year to date sales is still 40% behind budget, the business calendar is still filled with travel plans all the way to 20th Dec and the imminent loom of 2010 sends a cruel reminder that I will be turning into an ancient hag....
It is still a little early to take stock of what I have done with the year but just about the right time to experiment with Christmas treats. For giveaways, cookies have always been my favourite choice - they keep longer and are easier to scale up. I remember working with Linzer Cookies and Guimauves last year but was less skilled at baking then. Blogging over the last couple of months has made me more meticulous when I bake/cook as I terribly want my food to look good for the photos. So hopefully, this year, my treats will be more presentable.
These Apricot Oatmeal Bars are adapted from the very talented Joycelyn Shu's Christmas Cookie Class. Joycelyn's creations have always filled me with awe. She is uber meticulous and is amazing with details but she also has a tooth that is so saccharin sweet that I half suspect that she was an ant in her previous life.
Apart from cutting down the amount of sugar in the oatmeal crumble by a whopping 70% , I also chose to make my own Apricot filling. I had liked Pierre Herme's treatment of the dried apricots in his Apricot Passion Fruit Chocolate Tartlet. I had liked the way he steeped the dried apricot in a mixture of lemon juice, a dash of honey and a pinch of freshly ground pepper.The steeped apricots pureed beautifully into a thick paste and offers a healthy substitute to bottled preserves and jams.
The end result is a scrumptiously crumbly oatmeal bar filled with the natural sweetness of dried apricots. I can't wait to test them on my colleagues tomorrow!
130g All purpose plain flour
90g Quick Cooking Oats
40g Light brown muscovado sugar
120g Unsalted butter chilled and cut into small cubes
70g Chopped Pistachios
170g Dried apricots
1/2 cup Water
3Tbsp Lemon juice
Dash of freshly ground pepper
1. Place all ingredients of Apricot filling into a heavy saucepan and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10minutes. Remove apricot from heat and let it steep for at least 1 hour. Pour content into a blender and puree to paste.
1. Preheat oven to 180C
2. Mix all dried ingredients of crumble except for pistachios to well combined. Rub in chilled butter cubes with finger tips until mixture resembles sandy grains.
3. Divide crumble into 2 equal portions. lay a well oiled 8inchx8inch square pan with one portion of crumble.(A baking pan with removable base will make removal of the baked slab easier) Spread the crumble evenly across base of pan and press to compact the crumble. Bake at 180C for 15mins. Keep the other portion of crumble in the chiller.
4, Cool the first layer of crumble before spreading the Apricot filling evenly over it. Add chopped pistachios to the second portion of crumble. Spread this over the Apricot layer. Lightly press to set the top the layer. Bake at 180C for 30mins.
5. Cool baked bar completely at room temperature. Further chill this in the fridge until firm. (at least 2hours)
6. Demould and cut to size.