First, let's get the hardware out of the way. I was on the hunt for something very specific. And very French.
A few months back I attended a baking class with L'atelier des Chefs and our teacher (also French) taught us how to prepare macarons. He used a special type of fine sieve to sift the ground almonds, ensuring the macarons would have a smooth shell.
I have searched...and searched...and searched...for this damn sieve with no luck. I found a teeny-tiny version at Daiso (Dubai's version of a dollar store with all the goodies imported from Japan) which would have taken ages to sift the almonds through, seriously it's about 4 inches in diameter. But I bought it anyway. You know, just in case. One can never have enough teeny-tiny sieves, am I right?
But I was convinced Paris was THE place to find this thing. And I was right. But there was a catch (of course). I had to buy a macarons 'kit'. My husband actually spotted it before me. We were inside Mora (one of the famous pastry and cookware shops in Paris known for its endless variety of chocolate molds among other necessities one cannot travel back home without) and he says to me, (I had my back turned to him, searching through miles of tart pans) 'hey here's a macaron kit with that thing you're looking for' I slowly start to say 'I don't need a kit I know what I'm doing' (hah) but as soon as I turn around and see this 'kit' I already had it in my hands and was walking to the cash counter.
I mean come on, look at those accessories! I just adore the cheat-sheet non-stick rubber mat. One thing our teacher pointed out while piping the macaroon shells was to be sure that they are very similar in size so they'll 'sandwhich' properly. I am horrible at eye-balling anything, so this rubber mat looked like it would save me from crooked, lopsided cookies. Who wants that?
My next find was a double broiler from La Bovida. I thought these things were only folklore. Seriously I have never been able to find one. I'm not sure what I was excited about more, the fact that I actually finally found one, or the fact that the guy at the store spoke perfect English and was able to explain to me in detail how to use it.
I typically use the glass bowl over a simmering pot of water method, which is totally fine. However, sometimes I do find that the water evaporates somewhat quickly causing you to scorch the bottom of the pan. With the double broiler, the steam cannot escape so you are ensuring an even temperature when melting chocolates or cooking custard, for example. I cannot wait to test drive this baby. This is probably my favorite vacation purchase.
Last, but certainly not least is the USA cookie cutter (also from La Bovida). Gotta love those Frenchies. I'm sure they know only a sucker of an American like myself would spend 7 euros on a cookie cutter. But I did. And I love it.
Now onto the good stuff. First, I apologize for the quality of the following photographs. We'd buy the pastries while out walking during the day, then savor them at home in the evening. I probably should have waited until the morning when there was better light to take the photos. But can you imagine sitting in an apartment waiting until the sun comes up to eat pastries in Paris? I knew you would understand.
Our first purchase was from a neighborhood bakery called Aux Désirs de Manon. Their shop front made me stop dead in my tracks. Look at those colors! Closest to the glass are their buche de noel (yule logs).
I purchased two little pieces of art from their shop. The one of the left is a pistachio macaron filled with pistachio filling and raspberries. The other is a lemon tart filled with sponge cake and lemony custard. The colors are what drew me in, so vibrant and shocking...very fashionable, I just loved it. I wanted to wear then as a broach, you know? I hated to even eat them, but yeh I got over that quickly.
Our next stop was Jacques Genin. For one to understand the magnitude of gloriness this shop exudes, you could only compare it to the Disneyland of pastries.
And then there were the lines. People waiting in lines. All kinds of lines. In one tiny shop. Oh this had to be good.
One line for caramels. One for pastries. One for fresh fruit jellies. One for chocolates. And one line to dine in and eat (because you're just too tired to wait in line anymore).
Jacques Genin is somewhat of a French legend. After investing a small fortune in a sampling of his menu, we can understand why.
We first tried his Paris-Brest...although I'm not quite sure what the English translation is, I would assume it to be something to the effect of 'mountain of hazelnut happiness.'
I saw this chocolate tart and knew immediately it was mine. I fell in love with the simplicity of the design. No fuss, no muss. No swirls. No whipped cream. Just pastry and chocolate. Straight to the point sin, I can dig it. Oh, and a side a caramels AND vino of course.
Even Mateo's interest was peaked with the fresh fruit jellies. This is probably one of my favorite photos of him. Like mother like son I guess.
I've saved the best (or at least my favorite) for last. The pièce de résistance of Paris has to be Laduree.
Here I am eating a salted caramel macaron outside the shop. Was the best damn macaron of my life. The filling wasn't a typical soft creamy filling, jam, or ganache. Nope. It was filled with straight up thick salted caramel. The shell was crisp on the outside, soft and delicate inside. Ultimate perfection.
Laduree has been in business since 1862. Suffice it to say, they are THE pioneers in the macaron industry. And with every season, Laduree creates new flavors to keep up with the trends. Since the line to the counter was literally out the door, they were kind enough to post a macaron 'menu' throughout the shop so as soon as you landed at the counter, you weren't over-whelmed by the rainbow of colors and flavors.
Here's a sample of the menu:
Thankfully Paris is a walking city and you'll burn calories just as fast as you inhale them.
And finally, just a P.S. to anyone curious about FRENCH fries...they are way, way, way better in Paris, especially if you're sharing with someone you love! Happy 2013!