Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Best Icecream in Paris?

I had a little bit of a revelation over the last two months in Paris: Berthillion isn't the best icecream in Paris. In fact personally it doesn't even come close. Here are three places that do:

La Maison du Chocolat

Sure, not a big selection of icecream, but when you have a chocolate sorbet this good, who needs choices? And if you felt the need to veer off the path of pure unadulturated cacao, then the caramel with fleur de sel would be an excellent bet, as would the apricot with rosemary.

Eric Kayser

Icecream isn't the only reason you want to come here: the fruit tarts are pretty great too, as are the quiche. But the pistachio icecream knocks out any competitors. An iridescent green, and with little nibs of pistachio studded through the icecream, it is fabulous, rich and creamy.


I haven't had a better fruit sorbet. They also have the benefit of being pretty competitively priced at 2 euros a scoop: this may be the best deal there is in Place du Madeline. My two favourites are the strawberry and the fig, neither is too sweet and taste purely and cleanly of ripe fruit. Come here for a kick of summer.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

La Boulangerie Veronique Mauclerc

This is simply the most beautiful little boulangerie in Paris. I've been here two months now, and I've eaten a lot of bread, from baguettes, via sourdough, to little brioche feuillette noisette, but this is the best. That's saying something. There are a lot of boulangeries in Paris. Chi chi little ones with gleaming stainless steel counters, so-so ones with baguettes that don't do it, bobo ones with cereals, snobby ones where you wonder if really a macaroon is that difficult to make (it is), but this beats them all. It is simple and honest and fantastically good. It lends itself to a lazy day and a late brunch. It is personable and relaxed. Sure, its way out, but then so am I. All the way out of Paris to be exact, past the peripherique and in Ile de France itself. Or Le Pre Sainte-Gervais. So for me Veronique Mauclerc is just a hop over the peripherique (or actually under), and into the 19th, at 83 rue du crimee. And yes, that may be a schlep for you, but its really worth it.

For a start it has a wood fired oven, and if you google it then you'll find that makes it only one of four in Paris, and its all the way out here because you can't move a wood fired oven. I was intrigued by the woodfired oven, to be sure, and of course, it makes the bread great, and different, especially if you add the organic flour and sourdough. But for me this isn't the selling point. Rather it is the obvious love and care which is lavished without pretension, on both bread and customer, which makes it simply lovely. Its homely and relaxed, while being stupendously good. You sort of wonder if they know how good...

We went for brunch, which is 10.90 euro (a veritable bargain in Paris), and comes with the choice of sucree or sale. Both involve tea or coffee, and orange juice, and the sucree gives you a choice of venoisserie followed by a choice of fruit tart, with a selection of sweet breads and jams, while the sale gives you a choice of quiche, followed by choice of fruit tart with a selection of savoury breads. We chose one of each, and both were excellent. One deceptively light chocolate croissant for me, a wonderfully rich slice of quiche with potatoes and reblochon for A. Then a chocolate, pear and walnut tart for me, and an apple and raisin tart for A. Great pastry, the chocolate pastry on the pear tart being a particular revelation. But oh the bread. For A. a great basket of sourdough studded with mushrooms (which was amusing because mushrooms are one of his only dislikes). But my basket of sweet breads more than made up for it. A chestnut flour, honey and hazelnut bread was a particular favourite, all deep and woodsy, but the walnut and raisin bread was also fantastic, while the saffron brioche with walnuts and orange flour water was light and ethereal. Neither of us was a fan of the chocolate, banana and pineapple bread, but that was more a personal preference. Of course we couldn't finish all this, but were very helpfully sent home with what remained.

I returned a few days later, in search of the chestnut flour bread with honey and hazelnuts. Though they didn't have the same bread I tried a much lighter chestnut floured bread with praline, all sweet and light and almost brioche. To go with it a savoury sourdough studded with a profusion of pistachios, hazelnuts and almonds, which was fantastic with goats cheese for lunch.

A few little things. Though they are open all through August and July, its best to call to check that they are serving brunch. We waded through some unseasonable rain to try brunch recently, only to find that the lady serving was all alone, and therefore unable to serve food to eat in. So check, especially if its raining and you were planning on warming up in front of the bread oven. Also, don't expect it to be anything but rustic: the first day we went they had run out of butter for the bread (not that it needed it), and you get coffee and lait chaud not expresso or cappuccino. But that is the charm of the place. On a sunny day Parc des Buttes Chaumont is just over the road and a beautiful little place to take breakfast.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Sunday Organic Market

I have been remiss - I spectacularly failed to take pictures of my outing here. But it was lovely, so lovely that it reminded me more of little villages in the south than the hustle and brazen bustle of Paris. In fact it was really only the Parisian prices that reminded me where I was... Boulevard Raspail right in the 6th arronissement.

More misshapen but beautiful tomatoes have not been seen, in a rainbow of orange, yellow, green, purple and red, some diminutive, some huge and swollen like a bruise. Little bunches of onions, papery shallots, the wonderfully bulbous pumpkins and winter squash beginning to make an appearance, the last of the summer squash being sold off cheap. Wonderful milk, cream, creme fraiche and yoghurt, goats cheese and sheeps cheese and a comte which was sublime. These are just some of the many reasons you should go, shop, eat, and that I should have brought my camera.

Raspail Organic Market, between rue de Cherche midi and rue de Rennes
Sunday Mornings, from 9am to 2pm (earlier in bad weather)

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Goats cheese and fig salad

Not really cooking, not even really a recipe. But my time in Paris has been peppered with little things like this, be it a simple green salad, some lovely charentais melon, or a perfect slice of terrine.

I adore figs, and at home they are an expensive treat. But at 2 euros a kilo salad becomes a distinct possibility, and with a little mild goats cheese and a few walnuts lunch is complete. If you feel like it a drizzle of olive oil or, if the figs are not particularly sweet, honey go well, but really all a lunch like this requires is good bread, and perhaps a small glass of wine.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Courgette and Mint Salad

I had a lovely afternoon wandering around the chocolate shops and patisseries in the sixth arrondisement yesterday afternoon. I meant to take photos, really I did. I was sure I'd brought me camera with me. So sure, in fact, that when it wasn't I panicked and reported it to the police as stolen, which made me feel very foolish when I came home to find it lying on the table. Foolish, but also relieved.

In the morning I had dragged myself out of bed, and to the market downstairs. It really tarts itself up for Saturdays, with flower stalls, more butchers, a lovely little cheese place and a stall heaving with olives that I meant to return to but forgot. Also it was packed, I presume in preparation for Bastille day on Monday, and there was a roaring trade in artichokes, asparagus and cherries. The stall that sells mainly herbs and salad had some lovely little courgettes, so I joined the elderly women to slyly sift through to find the smallest, most delicate ones. With a big bunch of mint and a bulb of garlic that was me set for supper.

I can't claim to have invented this, indeed a very good friend once cooked it as one of a number of warm dishes to eat over Sunday lunch, soaking up the sunshine and wine. It was, and is, simply brilliant. A lovely, light and very interesting dish which banishes all horrible childhood memories of courgettes cooked to oblivion.

I say salad, but really it could act as a side vegetable to some lovely fish, on its own or with a number of little plates to pick at as we did. I like it best warm, but it needn't be hot, and you shouldn't worry about it coming to room temperature over the course of the meal, or indeed as you cook the courgettes. In fact it is far more important to fry the courgettes in small batches in order to get the right texture to them, than to make sure its piping hot.

garlic (about one clove per person)
olive oil

Slice the courgettes lengthwise about half a centimetre thick. Heat the olive oil (be generous) and when it is sizzling lay the courgettes in the pan, spread out so that they do not overlap. If you put in too many, they will take too long to cook, and will turn out limp and insipid. Brown one side on a medium to high heat, then flip them and brown the other. You want a nicely coloured exterior, but not to cook them for too long: they should still have some bite. Cook them in batches, and as you near the end of the last batch, throw in the garlic finely chopped. You want it to cook, in order to take some of the fierceness out of it, but you don't want it black. Pour the garlic and olive oil over the cooked courgettes, season with salt and pepper, and liberally scatter with chopped mint.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Macaroni with Fennel and Lardons

My idea of comfort food is pasta in any kind of creamy sauce. Be it a plain carbonara, mushrooms with garlic, parsley, or petit pois and bacon, liberal cream takes the worries of the world away. The market below my apartment had the sweetest diminutive fennel: two nestled in the palm of my hand and seemed an appropriate supper for one. Indeed it almost seemed a shame to slice them: if it were not the middle of summer I would have been tempted to braise them whole in cream, butter and parmesan as my father used to as a side dish for roast pork or chicken when I was a child. As it was the sweet aniseed of the fennel complemented the crisp lardons perfectly, and made what is usually a heavy dish lighter.

creme fraiche
bay leaf

While the water for the pasta was boiling I fried a little pancetta until crisp with a bay leaf and some thyme, then added the thinly cut fennel. Into the boiling water (well salted) went the pasta, and when this was done, the fennel was cooked. A few liberal spoons of creme fraiche and some grated comte went in with the fennel, and then the sauce was ready for the pasta.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008


is where I'm living for the next two months. Proof see?

My first icecream of many was a sorbet from Hediard. The lightest, freshest, most summery strawberry sorbet a girl could wish for. And hard earned from a morning of lugging too much luggage (books, all books) from London.

After my walk through the louvre and tuileries relaxing on the steps at Place du Madeline amid a gaggle of American tourists was about all I could manage.

Monday, 9 June 2008

When the temperature starts to soar...

It is searingly hot outside. Cooking is simply out of the question, and were it not for the fact that I have tons of work to do, I would be sitting in the shade, fan aimed at me, drinking lemonade and reading a rubbish novel with my feet stuck in a bucket of water. Unfortunately all that work means I'm just settling for lemonade and shade.


3 Lemons
A big jug
sugar to taste

Juice two of the lemons, and slice the other finely. Put the juice and lemon in the jug, with water and sugar to taste, and lots of ice. If you want to make it more interesting a little lemon verbena torn roughly and popped in goes very well.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Globe Artichokes

Globe artichokes beat jerusalem artichokes hands down. They may not be fashionable, but they're the best. Just as Jerusalem artichokes signal that you're in the dead of winter and there isn't much in the way of vegetables that aren't roots, globe artichokes hail that eating outside with your fingers on long sunny afternoons has arrived.

I'm boring with artichokes. I boil them and then serve them whole for everyone to peel off the petals to eat dipped in butter. This is no work at all for the cook, but a little taxing for the diner. Good conversation, good wine, or both are required. They are plenty of other lovely things to do with them, but I think simplicity is all. If you don't then there is a lovely recipe in one of the Moro cookbooks for artichoke hearts braised with peas, mint and sherry which is fabulous, subtle and interesting.

Friday afternoon and lots of reading to do seemed the perfect excuse for a solitary artichoke lunch with a glass of white bordeaux and a cardigan to keep away the chill outside.

To cook artichokes peak off any mangled outer petal, or any that look particularly tough and cut the stalk at the base. Boil a large pan of salted water, and add the artichokes. The time they take to cook varies enormously with size, anything form 20-45 minutes I find. They are done when you can easily peel off an outside petal, but the flesh on the inside of it still holds bite. I like a little pat of butter on the side of my plate, to smear the petals over, but a vinaigrette made with lemon is also good.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

If you're not into Marmalade...

...then Orangettes are the way forward. I got a lot of lovely bitter Seville oranges from Riverford, and since Marmalade only needs to get made every five years or so in my house, I've started making them into the candied orange peel needed for Orangettes. I'm a big fan of candied orange peel dipped in chocolate at the best of times, but the Seville oranges make all the difference. As in Marmalade, they give a deep, zesty taste which just isn't achievable with normal oranges. And of course it goes perfectly with good dark chocolate.

It raining outside was the perfect excuse for this kind of project.So I've peeled, removed the pith, and chopped the peel into fine strips, boiled it in water three times to remove too much bitterness, and boiled it again in sugar syrup until it was sweetly edible. The house is filled with an uplifting smell that reminds me of christmas, and I'm covered in a thin film of sugar (as is the kitchen).

But my orange peel is now drying in long stripes on the kitchen counter ready for dipping in tempered chocolate tomorrow.

Cinnamon Buns

My mother used to make cinnamon buns for breakfast for us when I was a child with relative frequency. She'd use tons of butter, but convince herself they were healthy because of the brown flour she used. I loved them: there isn't anything as good as sticky cinnamon buns, and I'd hack the burnt buttery sugar globs off the bottom of the pan and spread them on. The one or two left over made an excellent mid-afternoon snack, especially spread with yet more butter and accompanied by a hot mug of tea. It's only now I'm older and life is filled with the hectic everyday chores of filling in applications and paying the gas bill that I realise quite how fantastic and organised it was to have hot cinnamon rolls ready for breakfast on a regular basis. Somehow when she made then I just tripped down the stairs and into the kitchen, and was not in the least surprised to find the table laid, coffee made, orange juice poured and the sweet smell of sugar.

Though A. is a dab hand with the expresso machine in the morning, he isn't a breakfast person at all. And when he is it's protein he's after not refined carbohydrate. Few people can eat there way through a batch of cinnamon buns alone, so until now I hadn't made them. But this afternoon the wind howled, and it rained all over my washing, and somehow all this added up to a deep desire to bake something warm and sweet and satisfying. So I halved the recipe. And it turns out I can make a pretty good dent on half a batch of cinnamon buns, even when eating alone.

(this recipe will make a full batch, but you can reduce the filling by half and bake half of the dough into plain bread rolls)

For the bread:
500g white bread flour
3tbsp of yoghurt
1 egg
75ml milk
200ml water
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp sugar

For the filling:
125g of butter
4tsp cinnamon
50g of muscavado brown sugar
a handful of chopped walnuts
a handful of raisins

My breadmaker came in handy here. All the bread ingrediants simply go in and get kneaded on the dough setting (1 1/2 hours). Alternatively if you're making this by hand you want to add the liquids into a well in the dry ingrediants, stir until combined, and then knead thoroughly. Then let the dough rise for 1/2 hour and when its risen knock it back.

Once the dough is out of the breadmaker, or has been knocked back, you make the filling. The measurements here are rough - mum used her eye and so do I. So feel free to up the sugar, lower the cinnamon, and generally play around. Finely chopped apple makes a great addition, or you can use dried figs instead of raisins. Mix the sugar, cinnamon and butter to a paste. Roll out the dough into a long, thin rectangle. Smear the butter mixture over and sprinkle with the fruit and nuts. Now roll the dough up like a swiss roll, so you have a long sausage filled with a pinwheel of cinnamon butter. Seal the join with a little water.

At this point you can slice off rounds to create individual buns or join the ends of the sausage together to create a ring. Either way put the dough on a baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for half an hour in a warm place. Heat the oven to 200oc. If you've made a ring you then need to slice into the ring almost to the centre all the way around, so you have a sun shaped loaf, and leave it to rise for 15 more minutes. If you've made buns they can go straight in the oven. Depending on the oven, and the shape of your buns, these should take 25-35 minutes. Make a cup of tea or coffee while you wait. When the buns are golden brown take them out of the oven. Leave them to cool ever so slightly (hot butter and sugar burns!) and then tear into them.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Birthday Cake with Raspberry Macaroons

My best friends birthday was on Thursday, and as she loves Macaroons, particularly those from Laduree, I decided her cake just had to be decorated with them.

Now I've tried at various points over the past year to bake the perfect macaroon, but success has been elusive. They are currently my baking holy grail, but thus far I haven't even managed to get a recipe that gives consistent results, and I've tried a few.

I'll share with you the most successful recipe at the end, but first I have to have a little rant about Gordon Ramsey. Now, Ramsey is pretty successful over here in Britain, and mostly I like his recipes, but his recipe for Macaroons is just wrong. Not only did the results not look like macaroons (no feet see?) but they didn't taste like anything approximating a macaroon. While my trouble with most recipes was that I'm a perfectionist, and they didn't give me macaroons with crumbling feet and shiny tops, Ramsey's Macaroons tasted like eating cardboard. Perhaps this is the beginning of the fall of the empire...

All this macaroon baking meant the cake supporting them had to be pretty simple and quick to bake. A victoria sponge filled with more raspberries and cream seemed a simple foil for the macaroons, and countered their sweetness nicely.

So finally here is the recipe that (finally) worked for me. Worked so well, in fact, that now I'm getting excited about all the other flavours I can knock out. I based my recipe on one which appeared in The Times newspaper, written by Lucas Hollweg . In making raspberry instead of lemon, I omitted the lemon juice from the macaroons, coloured them pink, and filled them with a buttercream flavoured heavily with strained raspberry puree.

For the Macaroon shells

200g icing sugar
100g of ground almonds
100g of egg whites (roughly 3 egg whites - but weigh it!)
A few drops of pink food colouring to colour
20g of caster sugar

For the raspberry filling

200g of raspberries, pureed, and the juice strained from them
50g of butter
icing sugar to taste

Blend the icing sugar and almonds in a food processor until fine powder. Sieve into a large mixing bowl.

In a large, very clean bowl (copper is best) whisk the egg whites until they hold their shape. Continue whisking and start gradually adding the caster sugar. Once they are stiff and glossy (a little like shaving foam) whisk in the food colouring until combined.

Now mix a third of the whites into the almonds and fold into a paste (it will be quite thick, but the idea is to make combining the dry ingredients easier to do without loosing all the air. Now gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. You want a well combined, smooth mixture, but not too liquid, it should still be able to form a ribbon on the surface of the mixture.

Fill a piping bag, and pipe into 2cm rounds onto a silicone baking sheet. You can use a spoon but the shape won't be as good. If you macaroons have little nipples on the top use a wet finger to smooth them down to make sure you create a smooth top.

Leave the macaroons to sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Little skins will form over the top of the macaroons - DON"T TOUCH!

Now heat your oven to 130oc. When the oven has reached temperature, put a tray of macaroons at a time on the middle shelf, and bake for about 12 -15 minutes. After about 5 minutes you should see the little feet form at the bottom of the macaroons. This is when you know the recipe worked.

Once done remove from the oven and leave to cool on trays. You may want to play around a bit with the time, depending on the temperature of your oven. Remember, the macaroons shouldn't colour, so if they start going golden brown either your oven is too hot, or they've been in too long. Similarly, they aren't meriangue - you want soft insides, neither gooey nor overly crisp.

While they are cooling you can make the buttercream for filling them. Cream the unsalted (!) butter with the strained raspberry puree, then sweeten to taste. Once cool sandwich the macaroons together with a buttercream filling.

Macaroon heaven.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Chinese Potstickers

The weather has been bleak recently: endless rain, and a grey dank sky. Uninspiring in fact. Life goes on, of course, as does cooking and eating, but not much of any interest had been cooked until I made these little dumplings on sunday. The recipe was culled from a number on the internet, and then made to fit with the contents of my fridge, and the shopping I had done before I looked seriously at any recipes. The result being that these are not very traditional, but they were nevertheless very good. I think they made a good approximation of the potstickers I have eaten in restaurants, but with the flavours playing a little fresher, which given the weather outside can only be a good thing.

With a bowl of boiled rice, and some steamed greens, what more could you need to perk you up?

A packet of round dumpling wrappers
200g of lean minced pork
4 spring onions
2 tsp of soy sauce
1 tsp of sugar
3 cloves of garlic
2 inches of fresh ginger root
1 tsp of sesame oil
Chicken stock or water
mixture of sesame and vegetable oil for frying

If frozen leave the dumpling wrappers to defrost for 3-4 hours.
Dice the spring onions very finely, and do the same with the ginger. Crush the garlic and add all three to the minced pork, with the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Mix to combine.

Place a large teaspoon of filling in the centre of a wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with water a fold it in half to join the two sides. It should end up like a half moon shape.

Now keep going until you run out of wrappers or mixture

Add a little oil to a frying pan which has a lid. When the oil is hot place the dumplings filling side down and leave to cook until that side is dark golden brown. Do not turn them over. When one side is done (the pastry will not be cooked) add about 100ml of chicken stock or water (carefully as the pan will spit) and cover. Leave the heat on and let them steam until cooked through. This will take roughly 10 minutes, but check to see the pan is not boiling dry, and if it is add a little more liquid.

Serve with steamed greens and rice. I also like them with a dipping sauce made of finely chopped root ginger mixed with rice vinegar and half a tsp of sugar. But they are equally good just with soy sauce.