Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Macarons, crêpes & more in Paris, France

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Macarons, Pierre Hermé

Arabesque (apricot and pistachio), passion fruit, and coffee macarons, Pierre Hermé

I vacationed in Europe for 10 days at the beginning of the month, and three of those days were spent in Paris at peak springtime bloom. Brilliantly colored flowers seemed to show up everywhere we looked, and I have to believe that made the food taste even better.

One of my Parisian goals was to sample some authentic French macarons, and Pierre Hermé was consistently recommended as the best. From the first bite, I knew these were unlike any I’d eaten previously. The delicate domed exterior gave way to a chewy interior, where rich fillings took on the purest form of passion fruit, coffee, and other flavors. These macarons were so good that we went back to Pierre Hermé twice more – once to a different location in Paris, and once to the London outpost (so that we could tote macaron boxes on our return flight that were only a day old).

Ham and cheese crêpe, Chalet du Grand Palais

Ham and cheese crêpe, Chalet du Grand Palais

Another Parisian mainstay is the crêpe, served street-side in a cone shape for maximum portability. This one was from a kiosk that we came across as we began our stroll down the Champs Elysées. The classic combination of ham and (lots of) cheese was definitely the right way to go – simple savory snack perfection.

For dinner, we took our Airbnb host’s recommendation for a typical French bistro and landed at Bonvivant. Their take on steak frites involved rare ribeye and compound herb butter flanked by salad and thick-cut fries. It was hearty, but still elegant enough to pair with a glass of dry rosé.

Steak frites, Bonvivant

Beef ribeye steak with meat jus, house-made fries, and herb butter (and a glass of rosé), Bonvivant

For breakfast, the croissants from aforementioned Pierre Hermé also somehow managed to outshine the rest of their pastry competition. Isaphan is the patisserie’s best-known flavor combination: rose, raspberry, and lychee, and the croissant version infused those flavors into the filling, glaze, and candied petals on top. It was so uniquely delicious that I was genuinely forlorn about taking the last bite.

Isaphan and chocolate-pistachio croissants, Pierre Hermé

Isaphan (rose, raspberry, and lychee) and chocolate-pistachio croissants, Pierre Hermé

Quiche lorraine, Maison Eric Kayser

Quiche lorraine, Maison Eric Kayser

Another morning, I tried a typical quiche lorraine from another bakery chain, Eric Kayser, and the texture was even creamier than I expected. There was also no shortage of bacon, which made it especially filling.

Coffee is a must in Paris as well, and we’d read about Le Peloton, an especially charming bike-themed café in the Marais neighborhood. The generously sized cortado was worthy of a break from exploration.

Cortado, Le Peloton Café

Cortado, Le Peloton Café

Because the spring weather was so pleasant, we picnicked at the Jardins du Luxembourg one afternoon with sandwiches from nearby bakery Gérard Mulot. My sandwich was simply dressed: lettuce, juicy tomato, sliced chicken, and tarragon mayonnaise, which all sunk into the pillowy seeded bread. The sandwich was perfectly balanced on its own, but rounding out my lunch with a pear and a small bottle of rosé certainly didn’t hurt. The macarons at Gérard Mulot had also been highly recommended, so we selected a colorful variety for dessert. My favorite of the bunch was the aromatic pineapple-ginger, whose vivid yellow color blended right into the flowers.

Chicken sandwich, Gérard Mulot

Chicken sandwich (with rosé and a pear), Gérard Mulot

Chocolate, grapefruit-rose, pineapple-ginger, and Amaryllis (raspberry buttercream and jam) macarons, Gérard Mulot

Amaryllis (raspberry buttercream and jam), pineapple-ginger, chocolate, and rose macarons, Gérard Mulot

On our last night in Paris, we timed our evening so that we could see the sparkling Eiffel Tower lights at nighttime. A lacey, piping hot crêpe stuffed with Nutella and bananas made the view that much more magical.

Nutella-banana crêpe, Le Kiosque des Fontaines

Nutella-banana crêpe, Le Kiosque des Fontaines

The details: Pierre Hermé at Publicis Drugstore, 133 Avenue des Champs Elysées, and at 72 Rue Bonaparte; Chalet du Grand Palais, 9 Avenue des Champs Elysées; Bonvivant, 7 Rue des Écoles; Maison Eric Kayser, 13 Boulevard Diderot; Le Peloton Café, 17 Rue du Pont Louis Philippe; Gérard Mulot, 76 Rue de Seine; Le Kiosque des Fontaines, Place de Varsovie; all Paris, France.


Culinary school flashback: sweet memories of baking & pastry

Since I’m often asked about what culinary school was like, I’m periodically re-posting “flashbacks” from the blog I kept during my certificate program at Le Cordon Bleu (2009–10).

Piping cookies in baking & pastry class

Piping cookies in baking & pastry class (photo by Adriana Willsie)

Baking & Pastry ended up being my favorite class in culinary school. I really liked the chef, I was refreshed by the precision of the recipes, I got to partner up with my closest friend for most of the assignments, and it was just a lot of fun to learn to make more elaborate desserts. Here are a few snapshots from the six-week course, including the sugar-laden practical exams.

The first thing that’s very different about baking is scaling out ingredients instead of more roughly estimating. We measure everything in ounces using digital scales, so no more rough cups or pints or anything like that. We’ve learned that correct scaling is absolutely essential in order for a product to turn out right. Since we get all the formulae (bakers’ term for recipes) beforehand, we can start scaling before class, and there’s something oddly calming and fun about precisely measuring each ingredient and putting everything in its little container, grouped by product. Maybe this isn’t your idea of a good time, but I’m enjoying it.

The most eye-opening process so far has been making a croissant. Now, most people know that croissants are high in butter content, and know that because they’re so flaky and delectable, there has to be some kind of catch. Well, here’s how you start making croissants. Once you have a square of dough (about 12″ square and 3/4″ thick), you flatten out a pound of butter into a slightly smaller square, and set it in the middle of dough at a diagonal. Then you fold all four corners of the dough in so you have what looks like one of those paper fortune-teller things. So yes, you just wrapped up a nice package that hides a POUND of butter inside your dough. Then, you roll it out into a thinner rectangle, so that you can then fold it into thirds (like a letter) and turn it a quarter-turn…You do three turns total, letting the dough rest for 20 minutes between each one. By the time you’re done, you’ve folded tons of layers of dough and butter, so that once you cut/shape them and finally put them in the oven, the butter melts and the steam that’s created makes the layers puff up into the croissant we know and love. Fascinating, right?

…And that brings me to last night’s first round of exams! For our practical, we each had to make buttermilk biscuits, tea cookies and baguettes. The first two I felt fairly confident about, but our whole class is still having trouble getting the hang of the baguettes, especially when it comes to shaping and proofing and slashing them correctly. So my biscuits were going along fine, and I was all ready to pipe my tea cookie dough using my new pastry bag…until I realized that the tip I had was too small. I had a decision to make: Try to pull out that tip through all the dough and put in a new one, or move the dough into someone else’s pastry bag with the correct tip already intact. I chose the latter, but ended up losing enough dough in the process that I barely had enough to pipe the required 12 cookies. And let’s just say a few of them were less than perfect, so I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t have enough for extras. Alas, I just had to go with it. And then, to the baguettes. Oh, the baguettes. I thought I had shaped them just fine and had loaded them onto the long pizza peel to put them in the oven. There were a lot of other people waiting to put in their baguettes as well, so they were gathered on either side, watching as I was about to slide them in. For some reason, I started pulling out the peel way before I was supposed to, so the baguettes were only half in, and then when I tried to push them in, they basically became S-shaped. I was mortified. Chef was also standing there, and of course jumped in to tell me how to fix them. I tried to tap them back into place myself, but I was so flustered that it wasn’t working. Thankfully, Chef came to my rescue and took matters into his own hands to get them mostly straight again. But I knew my grade would suffer for my misshapen baguettes, and I was not feeling too good about myself. Once I had everything ready for grading, Chef didn’t go too hard on me, and said he could tell there were a lot of perfectionists in this class. I told him I learned all about that at Northwestern 🙂 But his advice to relax and not be so hard on myself was much needed.

…Behold, my final platter:

My final practical exam for baking & pastry

My final practical exam for baking & pastry

In case you can’t read my scrawled pink captions, that’s nine each of chocolate brownies, tea cookies, chocolate-raspberry tarts, vanilla cheesecake, carrot cake and macarons (French spelling) with raspberry filling — all in petit four size. I was pretty proud of putting this together over our 2-day practical, and though Chef wasn’t a fan of the whipped cream garnish shapes on my cheesecake, or of my over-mixed macarons, everything else was to his liking. But rest assured, I did NOT eat all those treats! Instead, since we were all on sugar overload and couldn’t bear eating any more sweets, a group of us took three big trays of desserts to a favorite bar, and let all the other patrons feast on our final product.