Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pierre Herme

As we neared the end of our stay in Paris, our diet had consisted wholly of baguettes, sandwiches, croissants, crepes (not pictured because it was pouring rain when we bought them), pita sandwiches, madaleines, and yogurt, but I was holding out to purchase chocolates and macarons from the best.

Pierre Herme is arguably the best pastry chef in the world and we finally made it to his patisserie an hour before they closed, on our last day in Paris. Talk about close call, but I was able to get everything I came for and more.

There are two Pierre Herme pastry shops in Paris, one in the center of the city which I have heard gets quite crowded, and the other a bit farther from the center and not as crowded. On our way to pick up gifts to bring back home, we stopped at the Pierre Herme on Rue Vaugirard which was brightly lit and cheerful with its orange and yellow counters.

I admit that I was afraid the salespeople would be pretentious about the fine products they sell and scoff at my faltering French language skills. On the contrary, the young gentleman who helped me was extremely pleasant (probably because of the large quantity of expensive goods I was purchasing) and very patient as I asked several questions and surveyed the delicacies on display. My experience at the pastry shop was so welcoming that as soon as I stepped outside, I decided I needed even more chocolates and macarons, since I wasn't sure the next time I would return to Paris. The young gentleman assisted me again when I immediately reentered the shop and this time gave me two free macarons, one for myself and one for Devin.

Pierre Herme pays strict attention not only to his edible treats, but to the presentation of his shops and the packaging, which were both elegant in their simplicity.

The chocolates melted very smoothly in my mouth. They are delicate and chocolate is the forefront flavor, unlike cheap chocolates which rely on sugar to deliver some remnant of flavor. When the chocolate first hit my tongue, there was a cool sensation, even though the chocolates were never refrigerated. A lot of the chocolates are raspberry or strawberry flavored, making them quite tart. They're very delicate and some of the best chocolates that I have eaten.

Macarons are very delicate cookies consisting of two meringue wafers sandwiching a ganache filling. Biting into the fragile meringue wafer of Pierre Herme's macarons gave way to intensely flavored cookies which were lightly sweetened by the ganache filling. Similar to the chocolates from Pierre Herme, the macarons relied on the fine ingredients to provide flavor instead of relying on massive doses of sugar.

These are what the macarons looked like after carrying them from Paris, back home to Tustin. The flavors include: chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, passion fruit, vanilla olive oil, salted caramel, ispahan (rose, lychee, and raspberry), and rose.

I was very excited to try the vanilla olive oil macaron and was surprised to find a salty olive in the middle of the macaron. The flavor was quite unexpected and I'm still not sure that olives belong in desserts.

This is Pierre Herme's signature creation, the ispahan. His ispahan macaron consists of rose flavored meringue cookies with lychee cream and raspberry jelly.

Rose flavor can sometimes be overwhelmingly floral, but the rose meringue cookies lightly hinted of rose flavor. The tartness of the raspberry jelly was cut by the sweet lychee cream. The combination of flavors complimented each other well and from the care that Pierre Herme puts into his creations, it is no wonder he is at the top of the pastry world.

Unfortunately, our trip to Paris ends bitterly because I was supposed to receive the security deposit back from the apartment owners almost two months ago and I am still waiting for it. Both she and Lodgis, the company I used to find the apartment, have been ignoring my requests for the security deposit to be returned. So it is with haste that I prepared this final post on our trip to Paris because I don't want to think about the way I have been cheated out of a very much needed sum of money.

Pierre Herme
185 Rue Vaugirard
75015 Paris, France

Saturday, May 10, 2008

La Croissanterie

After a rainy day visiting Versailles Palace, we were enchanted by the colorful array of sandwiches showcased at La Croissanterie.

La Croissanterie is a chain of cafes found primarily throughout France, with locations also in Portugal, Ireland, and Italy. They offer sandwiches, croissants, teas, coffee, pastries, and cakes, and provide a warmly-lit place to stop and rest after a busy day. There are indoor and outdoor dining areas and there is also a to-go window. Many of their menu items are made ahead of time, so service is very quick and efficient.

I had the Oceanique sandwich because I was lured by the poppy seed encrusted baguette. This marine-themed sandwich had thin slices of smoked salmon, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and dill weed. After sitting in the case, the baguette was gummy and a bit soggy, but the poppy seeds helped the sandwich maintain some crunch. The dill cut the saltiness of the salmon and the tangy mayonnaise helped blend the flavors together. The Oceanique had many flavors that complimented each other and was pretty good for a premade sandwich.

The Campagnard was made on ciabatta bread and had ham, tomatoes, eggs, lettuce, Swiss cheese, and mayonnaise. Devin really enjoyed the addition of eggs on this sandwich.

La Croissanterie
168 St. Germain
75006 Paris, France

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Haagen Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee

Although I am not finished with my series of Paris posts, I wanted to mention how good I felt about the last pint of Haagen Dazs ice cream that I ate, not only because it lasted five days (instead of the usual hour to an hour and a half), but because purchasing one of Haagen Dazs' "Honey Bee-dependent Flavors" helps fund honeybee research.

Honeybees help pollinate about 30% of the fruits and vegetables that we eat. Additionally, they help pollinate the foods that are fed to the animals which many people eventually eat. Unfortunately, honeybees are quickly vanishing in large numbers due to what scientists call Colony Collapse Disorder. The problem is particularly mystifying because the honeybees are simply vanishing; honeybee keepers afflicted by the disorder simply open their hives to find them absent of worker bees.

Haagen Dazs has a vested interest in maintaining the honeybee population because their products are made from all natural flavors, many derived from fruits pollinated by honeybees. In addition to their line of "Honey Bee-dependent Flavors", Haagen Dazs has donated $250,000 to both Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Davis to fund honeybee research, particularly the Colony Collapse Disorder.

Purchasing select Haagen Dazs flavors won't just make you feel good about your contribution towards honeybee and sustainable pollination research, but you'll feel good about ingesting something quite delicious too. I picked up the Vanilla Honey Bee Haagen Dazs flavor and while I am used to the heavy swirls of ingredients found in many novelty ice creams, I was deceived into thinking the ice cream would taste mostly of vanilla with little honey flavor.

The Haagen Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream is white in color, but a single spoonful has intense honey flavor. The amount of honey is mellow enough to still taste the pure vanilla that Haagen Dazs uses. I am an economic shopper, but luckily Haagen Dazs was recently on sale at the grocery store. Unlike the other ice creams I usually purchase, I didn't have to use my spoon as an ice pick because the Haagen Dazs remained soft and creamy the five days that it lasted. Although the smooth texture was largely due to the fat content of the total six ingredients (cream, skim milk, honey, egg yolks, sugar, natural vanilla), this was a very worthy splurge financially, health wise, and especially environmentally.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


To get to the Metro from our apartment, we passed this boulangerie, so it quickly became our stop to grab some breakfast on the way to see the sights.

Banette is actually situated right in front of a Metro stop (Cardinal Lemoine), so it was often quite busy when we stopped in. We noticed that the busier a boulangerie, the better the goods.

The baguettes here are very long and narrow. I often had to break the baguette into three pieces to get it to a manageable size where I wasn't jousting people as I walked down the street. The baguettes have a delicate and thin crust that easily tears to reveal soft and fluffy innards. Compared to the baguettes from Eric Kayser though, this baguette was just air.

Alongside the baguettes, croissants are a staple found at boulangeries. When my eye caught an almond croissant at Banette, I made an executive decision to forgo the plain croissant I was going to get and instead try their croissant aux amandes. The first thing I noted about this croissant is its shape. Plain croissants have beautiful lines as they spiral inward, but this croissant was lumpy and had no defining lines. I might not have known it was a croissant except for the small sign in the pastry case. But do not be deceived by its exterior, as a treasure lies within! As I was handed my almond croissant, the second thing I noticed was the weight. This was a hefty croissant, heavy from the almond filling. The almond croissant was very moist and instead of the airy layers of dough found in plain croissants, this croissant was filled with a sweet almond paste whose nutty flavor went well with the buttery dough. It was a luscious treat that we tried to savor, but as all good eats, it was quickly devoured.

In the deli case, I saw a variety of meat sandwiches, so I asked the woman helping me whether she had any vegetarian sandwiches available. She offered to make me a sandwiche de crudites, to which I happily agreed. Before our trip, I was afraid that I would have trouble requesting vegetarian meals, but the woman helping me was very accommodating and I waited as she went in the back to make me a vegetarian sandwich. The sandwich that I later unwrapped had lettuce, tomatoes, and boiled eggs, which aren't necessarily vegetarian-friendly, but luckily I subscribe to a very liberal vegetarian diet and eat eggs in addition to dairy and fish. The creamy egg yolks acted as a condiment to flavor and moisten the sandwich. Although with its total of four ingredients this was a minimalist sandwich, it was made with flavorful vegetables and freshly baked bread, making for a great sandwich.

On a visit the next day, I again requested a vegetarian sandwich and was given a camembert sandwich. Like the crudite sandwich of the previous day, this sandwich had few ingredients, this time only slices of soft camembert and a baguette. The plain baguette was the perfect vehicle upon which to enjoy the creamy and slightly salty camembert.

It's good fortune that the first macaron to grace my tastebuds was one that I enjoyed as we walked through the Tuileries Garden towards the Louvre. The French macaron is not to be confused with the coconut macaroon that is very familiar in the United States, as this macaron consists of ganache encased between two meringue cookies. The fragile exterior of the meringue cookies gave way to a vibrant green interior that was moist and very sweet. Accompanied by the thin layer of pistachio ganache, this macaron was pretty tooth-achingly sweet. It had a nutty flavor that was only background to the heavy amount of sugar.

46 Rue Cardinal Lemoine
Paris, France