Our summer holidays this year were spent in Paris, because why not? Well, apart from the cost, and the heat, and the fact that I have been promising my husband a holiday in Berlin for years now. I love Paris, so that’s where we went. Everything I love most in life – butter, things made with butter, wine – is so much better in French.
We saw the Robert Crumb exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo, the Richter exhibition at the Pompidou, I ate Berthillon ice cream on the banks of the Seine and tried to find a free set of chairs in the shade in the Jardin de Luxembourg. We walked so far every day we all got blisters and I came home a few pounds heavier rather than a few stone. I had a proper buckwheat galette for the first time and I managed to accidentally order raw fish, probably not for the first time. My far more cultured holiday companions took me to galleries and I took them to Fauchon and Angelina’s. We drank in some excellent bars and because there was no-one to judge me I ordered strawberry margaritas and so much Côtes de Provence rosé wine, sometimes accompanied by a midnight snack of nutella crepes.
On our last day I took Mr Cute on a tour of a few of the famous patisseries of the Left Bank, which he later admitted he enjoyed much more than he thought he would. Especially once we got back to the flat and ate all our souvenirs.
First up was Sadaharu Aoki, who blends French techniques with Japanese flavours like matcha, black sesame and ume to great effect. Apparently his pastries, particularly his Napoleon, are among the best in France but the weather was so blindingly hot that we didn’t think they would last the afternoon. After several minutes of deliberation while being observed disapprovingly by an impossibly beautiful sales assistant, we settled on two macarons, one flavoured with wasabi and the other with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit similar to lemon. Both were fantastic, although somewhat crushed by the time we ate them. The wasabi in particular elicited lots of interested faces, although I can’t stand anything wasabi-related so didn’t partake in that one.
On the way to the next stop we passed the Jean-Charles Rochoux chocolate shop. I’m not sure if I mentioned the heat yet, but some of the incredibly intricate chocolate sculptures in the window were actually starting to melt, including a smooshed cat that looked like it had been run over. I didn’t think any chocolate would last until the end of the street, let alone the end of the day, so I didn’t even go in for fear of accidentally buying a box of truffles I would have to eat immediately. I am including this mostly for the picture I took outside, in which you can almost see in the far left my favourite piece in the display, a hand sculpted chocolate male torso. Oh yeah. Apparently this is a funny joke as abs are not called ‘six packs’ in France but rather ‘tablets of chocolate’. Never say the French don’t have a sense of humour.
On to Le Bon Marché, in which we spent far too long, partly because we got lost in the women’s fashion department (I had to keep reminding Mr Cute not to touch anything, and to stop exclaiming when he saw the prices; he’s terribly uncouth), and partly because it was air conditioned. Sweet sweet air conditioning. The patisserie stand here was good, but completely over shadowed by things like pasta in the shape of the Eiffel Tower and the biggest, best butchers I have ever seen. Feel free to think I’m psychotic after this, but raw meat makes me salivate. We picked up a few gifts for people back home here, including some Angelina chocolate flavoured tea, which I am happy to report is actually really nice. La Grande Epicerie is basically the food hall of my dreams, and the supermarket of choice for when I finally win the lottery.
Next on the map was Poilâne, which is one of the most famous boulangeries in France. They make these incredible sourdoughs, which you can see at the top right of the photo below. They’re bigger than my head, and we neither had time to eat one or space in the suitcase to bring it back. The huge apple tarts looked wonderful too, and interestingly far more rustic than anything else we saw in Paris. We picked up a tiny box of punitions here, which are perfect little rounds of thin, buttery shortbread-like biscuit. I predict, though cannot confirm, that they would make excellent ice cream sandwiches. If anyone has tried that, get back to me!
A little further on was Pierre Hermé, whom I love unreservedly. Last time I got one of his famous Ispahan, a rose, raspberry and lychee flavoured macaron. This time I was very tempted by the Yasamine, with jasmine tea, mango and grapefruit, but in the end I chose a Montebello, a pistachio dacquoise with a creamy pistachio mousse and fresh raspberries. Such a simple combination of flavours (compared to his seasonal specials such as lemon and caramelised fennel), but executed so perfectly. The dacquoise was crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft inside in a way that was both feather-light and also comfortingly squidgy. The mousseline was silky and the raspberries bursting and fresh. Neither pistachios nor raspberries are terribly sweet so the flavours in the end are very delicate, with the dusky bitterness of the pistachios playing well with the slightly tart raspberries. Fundamentally this wouldn’t be too difficult to replicate at home either, maybe in the form of a jacked up pavlova-like affair. I’ll have to wait till next summer for the good fruit, but watch this space.
So much cake and nothing savoury. Next on my list was Eric Kayser, who makes awesome bread. I was a bit out of it when we got here, and all my French suddenly abandoned me, so I can’t tell you much about the shop itself. The man behind the counter was very patient, and the ‘rustique’ loaf, which is made with buckwheat flour and natural leaven, was fantastic and went very well with lots of butter, some aged comté and a poultry liver terrine with madeira wine we got from Fauchon earlier in the week. Actually, ‘went very well’ is some kind of bullshit understatement. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life. This photo is also proof that I once wore shorts.
Last was one of the true greats, Ladurée. I never made it here on my last trip so I was beyond excited to finally visit, and they didn’t disappoint. The place was full of tourists, predictably, and because I couldn’t choose we ended up with a lime and basil macaron and a raspberry and rose religieuse (though I was tempted by a cassis and violet one in a lurid shade of purple). The macaron was a tiny revelation – basil in sweet things! – but the religieuse was my favourite. It’s basically a big profiterole with a smaller one on top, which is supposed to resemble a nun’s habit. This one was filled with rose crème patissière and fresh raspberries, and topped with rose fondant. My husband wants to point out that the sheer volume of rosy custard made it very difficult to cut into four equal pieces, but I’m not going to mark it down for that. In fact, that’s a plus in my book. I basically inhaled it, so the subtle complexities were probably lost on me but it was awesome. Even now every time I think of it I get lost in a sweet, gooey reverie.
Special mention should also go to Coquelicot next to the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre. This was where we got breakfast most days and judging by the length of the queues we were far from the first to find it. If you’re ever in the area and need lunch they have the best croque monsieurs I have ever tasted. I also had a pain au chocolate that was the size of an A5 notebook and made almost entirely of butter and chocolate, held together by force of will.
Sorry for the lack of any photos of the actual cakes, but I was scraping up the remnants of crème patissière on my plate with a sticky finger before I realised that might have been a good idea. I leave you with a photo of a less organised shopping trip, that resulted in a bottle of Pouilly Fumé, a Côtes du Rhone Villages, a commemorative bottle of Chartreuse, a Paris Carette (almond and hazelnut pastry deliciousness), an Opera and a raspberry thing (both from Dalloyau), a strawberry millefuille and the requisite baguette from Coqueliquot. That was a particularly good night.
I found all of these through David Lebovitz’s Paris Pastry app. It’s a little buggy and had a frustrating tendency to crash at the least opportune moment but I really couldn’t have done without it. All David’s favourite places (over 300) are listed, with maps, opening times and tips. Most certainly worth the money.