Sunday, January 29, 2012


Practically every night that Camila has been here she has somehow mentioned that perhaps we should just go get a slice of pizza, or maybe we could just go pick up a pizza and eat at home. At first I thought she was just trying to be frugal and easy but eventually I got the feeling that she actually really wanted pizza. This was something that I completely understood considering that the last month all I have wanted was a decent hamburger. And that's essentially what I've ordered every time I've gone out. They aren't cheap, and they aren't as good as an American burger, but just as a cheetah craves a gazelle, I have been craving burgers.

French food is wonderful. It's decadent and dripping in delicious, creamy, butter sauces. There's tons of duck and pork with melting fat and crispy skin sitting atop a mound of mashed potatoes. There's tons of foie gras and lamb nestled next to buttery and garlicky haricot verts. The fact that the food here is delicious is without debate. But eventually you want to sink your teeth into something that isn't, well, French.

While I was still working at Pain de Sucre my angel from upstairs, Irina, recommended a pizza place for me. Since most of the pizza in france is more than disappointing, I was desperate to find the wayward piece of paper I had scribbled this crucial information on. I scoured through my bags and desk and bookshelves looking for the tiny notebook I used to keep in my chef pant's pocket in the Pain de Sucre kitchen. After creating a disheveled mess, I finally uncovered this little book and was happy to see that the page hadn't fallen out. There in the back in Irina's chicken scratch was written Briciola, so I typed it into google and numerous pages touting its excellence immediately popped up.

I was pleased to see that not only was it recommended but that it was also within walking distance to my house. If fact, it's just around the corner from Jacques Genin. We took the crooked path to Briciola and were happy to see that it was packed. Well, happy because this was a sign that it was tasty but a bit concerned that we would have to wait. We put our name in and even though it seemed like the waiter would forget about us in all the commotion they did, in fact, have a system. We only waited about fifteen minutes before being seated and as we did so were able to feast our eyes and noses on the beautiful plates that the other patrons were eating.

Not only did everything smell tantalizingly delicious, but there was no doubt that this was the most beautiful looking pizza I'd seen while in France. I know it isn't Italy, but considering the proximity of the two countries to each other, I would expect a bit more from French pizza. But in reality it often falls so flat it leaves a crater of disappointment in its wake. But this pizza had a beautiful paper thin crust with large blackened bubbles blistering around it. There was a nice skinny layer of cheese as opposed to the gobs and gobs of chewy mozzarella so many other french pizzas are afflicted with. Large leaves of basil, big thin slices of saucisson, and a beautiful array of vegetables topped pizzas to and fro and I was more than anxious to order and dig into my own slice.

I went for the caprese, which was good and though my stomach was begging me to stop I finished the entire gigantic pie. Elze, Camila, Sandra and myself took our time eating and continued to drink wine and cluck away the night while our fellow customers finished their meals, paid their bills, and went on their way home. Before we knew it the entire place had cleared out and the poor waitress was sweeping around our table and overflowing pile of purses and jackets. Her male coworker kindly asked us if we wouldn't mind moving toward the bar where we joined the only other patron still in the joint. We were more than happy to oblige. We certainly didn't want to leave since it was one of Camila's last nights with us and we were hoping to savor it as long as possible.

The stranger at the bar was clearly friends with our male waiter and the two chatted while the stranger pulled his own personal bottle of red wine from behind the counter and helped himself. He had obviously been here multiple times before. Being the only people left in the place it didn't take long for us to strike up a conversation with this man at the bar and it took even less time for us to be completely enthralled by him.

It just so happened that he was a food journalist and knew everything there is to know about great places to eat in Paris. As with most writers he certainly loved to talk and considering that we are not at all a quiet crowd he was able to compete with us brilliantly. We hung on almost every word and I even pulled out the same little notepad I had previously been so desperately looking for so that I could scribble down all of the restaurants he mentioned, knowing I could not trust my memory to store them securely for future reference, and when he gave me his business card and told him I could email him whenever for recommendations, I practically burst into tears of joy.

We chatted the night away with our new found friend until, sadly, it was time to go home. By this point in the night Sandra had already departed because she was trying to be somewhat responsible and make it home by a "reasonable" hour for she had to work the next day. But Camila, being the miniature, energetic bolt of lightning that she is, insisted that we go to a bar. Elze, however, had to work in only a few hours and certainly was not in any position to indulge Camila in such a request. I, myself, was suffering from a formidable headache, or what is better known as a hangover, and was not in the mood to be dragged by tipsy Camila to a bar about to close just to shell out ten euros for a cheap beer and watch as all the men trampled over me just to speak to her.

The entire walk home she shouted at the rooftops that she just wanted, "ONE BEER!" and to go to a, "Baaaaaaar!" I tried to reason with her, I tried to empathize with her, I tried to ignore her, but none of it was doing any good. And then, without warning, she tripped on the curb as she crossed the street because she had either had one too many glasses of wine or was focusing too much on trying to guilt me into escorting her to a nearby bar to think about walking. Either way, she was now a crumbled giggling mass on the ground which Elze was trying hard to scoop up. I, at the very least, was happy enough that we were now all laughing at Camila's wipe out (and the fact that I now wasn't the only one of us this week to drunkenly fall in the street) and not talking about the beer, or the bar, or how un-fun I am. But this distraction was minimal and short lived and Camila was quickly back to demanding I show her a good time.

Little did she know but shenanigans such as these really wasn't warming me up to the idea of going out with her. For just one beer I didn't see how the hassle of supporting this little and excited drunken guatemalan would be worth it. But she was determined and though she may be small she most certainly is not lacking in spunk. It took both Elze and myself to wrestle her into our apartment building but somehow during this altercation she had managed to wriggle my keys from my hands. As she threatened me with putting them in our mailbox (which would have been horrible indeed considering they had the only set of the mail key on them), I held her back and Elze scrambled through her bag for her own keys and opened the door.

Threats, wrestling, and prying uncomfortably ensued at the bottom of our apartment stairs until, eventually, we were able to have both sets of keys and begin on our way up to our apartment. I cannot imagine that climbing Everest would be more rewarding than when I finally reached the top of our complex and walked through the door to my home. We were all tired, panting, and sweating. And even better, it seemed that the physical altercation had drained Camila of a sufficient amount of energy for her to at least only quietly plead to be taken out. And when we pulled a cold bottle of beer from the fridge and handed it to her, I knew that her excited glistening eyes were a sign we had won the fight.

Just as I had pulled on my pajamas, however, round two of the melodrama began. Camila was looking for her little red purse and it, unfortunately, was no where to be seen. As with most women in this predicament, she began to panic which, as we know, never helps the situation and if anything means that it is less likely you will quickly recover your precious bag and other goodies contained within it. Camila's gasps of concern, her exasperated huffs of worry, and her tiny coos of sorrow followed her as she looked from point a to point b for her purse.

"It's lost!" she said with such a convinced and defeated tone that I could tell her eyes were welling up without looking at her. "It's gone! And I don't...whimper...have have my dad cancel my card!" She dragged her feet and drooped her head and shoved her arms down pathetically at her sides.

"It's probably just downstairs from when I wrestled you to the ground on the stairs." Elze said trying to hold back her unsympathetic chuckles.

"No! It's NOT!" Camila cried back, "and it's not funny Elzaaaah," she finished sharply. "I dropped it in the street when I fell and it's probably gone." And as she said this she went and pulled her shoes and jacket on which both went beautifully with her pink cupcake pajama bottoms. And then I knew it was time for me to do the same. I felt guilty for not giving into her request to go to a bar and knew that I couldn't let her go out to aimlessly scour the streets of Paris for her bag. I also was fairly certain that it was, in fact, at the bottom of our stairs.

In the elevator I hugged Camila and told her that it would all be ok, we would find it and even if we didn't it wouldn't be the end of the world. She sniffled sweetly and when the elevator reached the ground floor its doors opened up and reveled a bright red bag with beautiful caramel colored leather handles slumped at its sides. At such a sight I couldn't help but say, "Can we laugh now?"

"Yess..." Camila admitted and the two of us giggled and went back upstairs. As we ascended in the elevator Camila went through all of the belongings she thought she had lost. And then it really became hilarious. "I would have lost both my credit cards, and my...sniff...sniff... memory... sniff...card on, camera! Sniff... sniff...I would've lost my camera too!" Tears were sprinkling down her face and I hugged her and laughed and said, "Yes Camila but why are you crying? You didn't actually lose them! They were here the whole time."

She shrugged her shoulders and laughed a little bit and we then went through the whole hilarious song and dance a second time when we got into the apartment and Camila told Elze about all she could have been without. I know that most of her overreaction was probably because, in her slightly drunken state, she had worked herself up so much that crying seemed to be the only way to release any emotion at that point. I also think the sadness of her upcoming departure from France, from us, and from her adventure abroad was looming so close to the surface that it was more than happy to take this opportunity to squeak through.

And today, as we all gave tearful, sad goodbyes to Camila before her departure from Gare de Lyon, I, myself, cannot help but be filled with the same slight depression that this journey is almost over. We may have two months left here, to long months, but it seems like practically nothing. We have all become so close and I know that these will be friends I will love and cherish for a lifetime, if not longer. I hate to think that they will not physically be there with me every other step of my life. I am only lucky to know that in this modern time of technological magic that we can still keep in touch easily and often. And I also know that my life and my heart will always be fuller for meeting these incredible people from all over the world. Pastry school was incredible and I learned so much. Paris has been beautiful and revitalizing and I know I will miss my time here. But I know, without doubt, that I would be happy to sacrifice everything else here for the friends I have made. They, by far, are the greatest thing I have gained from my year abroad.

* This post is dedicated to Camila, the petite, gregarious, animated girl from Guatemala whose energy I am envious of, whose spirit is unstoppable, and who will always be one of the best people in my life. I love you, you little thing, and can only pray that it won't be too long before I am lucky enough to have you bouncing circles around me again. 

Friday, January 27, 2012


So this wasn't exactly something I came up with on my own. You see, for some time now I have wanted to go to Jacques Genin for chocolat chaud and pastries with a friend. I get the feeling that no one ever listens to me because very little of what I recommend or suggest seems to come to fruition. However, after much pestering, whining, and bitching, I finally got Camila and Elze to agree to go with me. It's hot chocolate desserts for heaven's sakes, it's not like we were getting our teeth pulled.

Jacques Genin's shop is shockingly large and empty, considering that this is Paris where space is as expensive as it is sought after. So to see a place so big without being crammed to the ceilings with stuff is a bit out of place in this city. But the shop is undeniably beautiful. The little salon is in one corner and it's nice to sit there and sip your chocolat chaud (which was some of the best I've had).

This was the first time I actually realized how insanely expensive this place is. And it's no wonder with all the dancing room they have. Since I've only bought eclairs and chocolats there, I haven't really had to feel the pain in my wallet of purchasing anything else. But all the same, we ordered a chocolat chaud for each of us (though there is plenty for two per order) and three desserts to share.

Thank God for Camila because she requested we order the honey caramel and walnut tarte and she said so in such a way that it was less a request and more a demand. We then went with a caramel eclair, because I knew they were the best in town, and a millefeuille.

Though all the desserts were mind-blowingly perfect and delicious, the little walnut tart was by far the best. It practically knocked our socks off and is something I would be more than happy to kill for just so I could eat one every day. So we can all thank Camila for the inspiration of this week. I just had to write about this little tarte and so decided that other non-fruit tartes also needed some discovering.

Sadly, I wore some shoes that were a bit too high and drank a bit too much a few days ago and ended up tripping on these damn cobbled streets they have inconveniently strewn about the city. As such, one of my ankles is about five sizes too big and hurts like mad. So I only made it to two stores other than Jacques Genin. But three is a nice, neat little number, and I hope you don't blame me too much.

Jacques Genin: Tarte au Caramel-Miel et Noix (winner!!!)

Oh what I would give to have as much talent in my little finger as Monsieur has in his whole being. To be gifted with such an ability seems hardly fair. But at least we commoners have the luck of indulging in such masterpieces as this tiny, humble tart.

The few times I've been to Jacques Genin's I've seen this little guy peeking up at me from the counter behind the display case. I don't know why there is never one actually in the case, since it's one of the best things I have ever had in my life. No joke. I'm talking top ten here.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about this tarte, aside from it's completely perfect flavor and ability to conjure up tears in my eyes, is how sweet and demure it is. There is no flashy gold leaf. No gigantic mound of caramel or a large whole walnut dipped in platinum on top just to grab your attention. Nothing about this tarte says, "Eat me! I'm decadent and incredible!" except for the shiny caramel and beautiful walnuts glistening at you from underneath.

The tarte shell is perhaps one of the best I've had in my life. It has it's own rich caramel flavor that walks around your mouth and set's up shop. It lingers beautifully and has such a warm and nutty flavor to it that I would be happy just eating piece after piece of the tarte shell alone. But really, when there is the option of eating it filled with such deliciousness as Jacques Genin's perfect caramel and this rare and beautiful walnuts, why settle for anything less?

The caramel is beyond heavenly as it oozes just ever so slightly so that it lures you towards it but without spilling messily from its tarte encasement. The flavor is strong with caramel but not too dark nor to sweet. It compliments the walnuts beautifully, which have such a clean and pure nutty flavor to them. So many times walnuts can taste a bit dirty and plain, but apparently these walnuts are from some secret ninja forest where Jacques Genin orders them especially for these tarts. It may sound a little neurotic but why mess up his perfect creations of caramel and tarte shell with your everyday, run of the mill walnut?

For those of you who like Pecan Pie, this tarte could possibly kill you. It goes beyond almost anything I've ever tasted and makes me weep because I get to enjoy it, because it's so beautiful, and because I know I will never be this talented.

No matter the expense, I plan on returning to Jacques Genin and having something knew until I've tried ever dessert in the shop. There aren't that many, so it really shouldn't take too much time at all. Plus with the upcoming arrivals of my sisters, nephews, and the wonderful men lucky enough to marry into my family, I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities!

Arnaud Delmontel: Tarte Chocolat 

This was my first time to Arnaud Delmontel and I was more than happy to walk through the adorable little neighborhood that it's in. Right at the Pigalle metro you get to go from strip clubs, sex shops, and Moulin Rouge to sweet little cobbled streets filled with trees, flower shops, and cute clothing stores. It feels like an old Parisian neighborhood and Arnaud Delmontek fits right in. It sits on a corner and has a charming pink store front. You can see all the goodies from the window and it certainly welcomes you inside.

However, I hate this set-up which so many shops have. You can see all the pastries so well from the outside display, but once inside you feel like you're towering over them. It makes me feel as if I've just walked in on someone going to the bathroom, uncomfortable and awkward. However, this was only the beginning of the problems I found with the shop. Though it was adorable and welcoming from the outside, the inside was quite the contrast. The girls in their pink outfits were disheveled and looked even less happy than your average counter person. The desserts, while obviously beautiful at some point, also looked messy, as if they had been moved from one place to the next without much thought or care. There were also samples of macaron and some other jam bar thingy near the cash register, and while I love free samples (they're free, after all) the way these were presented was neither appetizing nor doing the shop any favors since the uneven way they were cut coupled with the massive amounts of crumbs they sat on added even more of a scruffy effect to the shop.

But a good dessert can help me forgive any other sin. However the tarte chocolat that I purchased did not carry enough weight for me to forget such things. It was pretty enough, certainly one of the more put together desserts in the case.

The chocolate was nice enough but there was nothing particularly special about it. This is Paris, and the Parisians are the first to tell you how wonderful they are at everything, especially the food. With such expectations I would imagine getting some of the best chocolate tarts I've ever had, but this certainly was not one of them. There was no imagination, no personal flourish of Arnaud Delmontel. It was your average chocolate tart.

While the chocolate was nice but nothing to make your knees buckle either, the tarte shell was quite disappointing. After eating so many tartes here in Paris, and being flabbergasted by the incredibleness that Jacques Genin, Pierre Herme, and Ble Sucre presents in their tarte shells alone, the bar has been set pretty high. And sadly, Arnaud Delmontel just could not compete. It disappeared in the chocolate and wasn't flakey or crumbly enough. Practically flavorless, it added nothing to the chocolate filling and resulted in the dessert being flat overall.

Arnaud Larher: Tarte Vegas (honorable mention)

I don't exactly know why this tarte is named after sin city. It is sinfully delicious but it has more glamour and purity than Vegas. It also isn't exactly fruit-free, but the fruit is not the main element either, so I thought that it would qualify.

Arnaud Larher is in another wonderful little spot of Paris. It's on the hill of Montmarte and is so petite and sweet I am going to make a point of looking up nice restaurants and cafes in the area so that I can return on a regular basis. And considering that I enjoyed Arnaud Larher's shop and tarte, I'm sure I'll return for another mission at some point.

Arnaud Larher had the same horrible case set up as Arnaud Delmontel, but because the rest of the shop was clean and precise, I could look past such things. And obviously some people enjoy it since so many shops have it so perhaps it's my own personal quirk of disapproval.

The Tarte Vegas has a small layer of cassis coulis, creme d'amande, and vanilla mousse, topped with a cassis macaron. It's sweet looking, but I wasn't exactly thrilled to buy it. Something about pure vanilla desserts just don't excite me too much. But it was the only tarte they had that wasn't purely fruit based.

I took it home and cut into it, happy to see how light and fluffy the vanilla mousse was with innocent little dots of vanilla bean dappling its cloud like appearance. I was also happy to see that the cassis was only a small, petite, minute little layer of cassis so that it would fit in perfectly in with the other two tartes in this grouping.

Happy with the appearance, I was even happier upon tasting it. The vanilla mousse was a light and delicate as it looked and reminded me of a top of the notch vanilla ice cream since it melted almost as beautifully. The flavor was a nice strong vanilla flavor but not assaulting either and I was thankful for the tiny hint of cassis which cut through the sweetness and gave a much needed tartness to the tart.

Though the tart shell didn't make me shake and quiver in excitement, envy, and indulgence like Jacques Genin's, it wasn't the let down that Arnaud Delmontel was either. It had a sweet buttery flavor that complimented the vanilla nicely. The consistency was adequate being strong enough that it held together but was also easy to bite into and crumbled in your mouth.

I will certainly have to look further for a good tarte chocolat, though I already have some idea of where I may be able to scrounge one up (eh heh, Jacques Genin...), but as such I found this mission quite fun and fulfilling. I absolutely love tarts and find them much lighter and more satisfying than other desserts. Plus they are they're own entity made just for you! And when they are in some of the best shells I've had the pleasure of eating, I am practically putty on the ground.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Only a few days after arriving in Yssingeaux for our French Pastry Arts program, we were introduced to our two chefs, Chef Baccon and Chef Leroy. Aside from the fact that they were both wearing chef coats and tokes, and aside from the fact that they were both trapped in this tiny nothing town to teach us pastry, there are probably no two people less alike.

Chef Leroy was undeniably french. He had salt and pepper hair and a small gut poking at his chef white's buttons. Non-ironic facial hair dappled his face and culminated into a poorly manicured goatee at his chin. He had spectacles and a slight hunch in his back, most likely from bending over a kitchen counter. He had a thick french accent and failed to say numerous english words correctly, but in an endearing way. He seemed to take himself very seriously and certainly gave off the impression that we should do the same.

Not long into the program did we realize that this was mostly a front. He was, to be kind, sitting on a throne of bull-shit and lies, but he was, at the very least, a kind king. His heart was in the right place and he wanted to teach us as much about everything as he possibly could. The only problem with that was that he really didn't seem to know what he was talking about and his teaching abilities were even less impressive than his pastry ones. I eventually dubbed him Chef Lefrog because it was hilariously and light-heartedly disrespectful and because he was dripping with french-ness.

Midway through the course we wanted him fired. By the end of it we all left him with hugs and tears. Hey may not have been top of the top in much, but he was so sweet and had bonded so deeply with us that we couldn't help but love him. He had taken a personal interest and commitment to finding us all decent internships even though he had very little background information on where was good to go. Still he tried his best and his eyes welled up with tears as we said goodbye.

Then, there was Chef Baccon. Though her surname exudes french, it is simply because her husband, the devilishly handsome chef with boyish good looks that could make any girl blush, was french. She, herself, was Korean and so stunningly beautiful and petite it was almost as if some fairy or pixie had stepped out from a childhood story and donned a chef's uniform. And her phenomenal ability to create breath-taking desserts that exceeded perfection seemed to support this.

My first impression of her that was she was very serious, and very intentional. I doubted that anything she ever did was a mistake. She stood perfectly straight and had long double jointed fingers that exceeded reality in how they could bend, move, and manipulate whatever they were holding. And while she seemed to be a master of everything to such an extent that I was always in shock and awe, she did so with such a kind, light-hearted and sometimes a downright jokester attitude, that we all fell madly in love with her.

She would create these masterpieces and then ask us to do the same, and I couldn't help but laugh out loud in overwhelming amusement. Sure she made it look easy but there was no doubt in any of our minds that the magic she created was not, in any way, easy. But we tried and as we blundered and went down in flames, she would giggle at us in such a way that we didn't feel defeated but instead reveled in the hilarity of it all.

The contrast of Chef Leroy's bumbling and emotional french attitude to Chef Baccon's fun flawlessness was almost comical. And, at the very least, it made us appreciate our heaven-sent angel of excellence, Chef Baccon, to the fullest.

While we grew to love Chef Leroy and left him feeling that we were bettered for meeting such a man and that through it all we had learned a thing or two, for me leaving Chef Baccon was exceptionally difficult. She had taught me mountains, heaps, loads of things. I knew that for at least a short time I had been lucky enough to stand next to excellence and absorb as much as I could. And amidst all this brilliance she was still so sweet and grounded that I wished she could be in my life always. I wanted to show her off to my family and friends back home like some celebrity that just a proximity to somehow makes me cooler.

It has been months since we left our mentors, but we have kept in touch either via email or through facebook stalking, and just recently our incredible Chef Baccon competed in the Pastry Queen Event, a global event that takes top female pastry chefs from all over the world to represent their country, sort of like the Olympics, but with dessert. We were all so anxious to see how she did, though none of us doubted her abilities. She, of course, did well, coming second in the world overall and scoring the best in sugar sculpture, cleanliness, and technique. First place went to the Italians who hosted the event and who some of us suspect may have bended the rules for their own to take home first. We, of course, have nothing to back this up but also cannot believe that anyone in the world could be better than our Chef Baccon.

While I may not be lucky enough to bring Chef Baccon home with me in my luggage (though she is tiny enough to fit) I at least will have her with me in other less tangible ways. From now on whenever I make dessert I will ask myself, "Is this something I would be embarrassed to show Chef Baccon?" Whenever I use tempered chocolate I will remember her and how easily she could tablage all chocolate to perfect tempered perfection, and how she showed me how to make the most beautiful and magical chocolate flowers.

If I ever become anything impressive or successful I know that it will have a lot to do with Chef Baccon and what she taught me about food, technique, skill, and how to handle yourself in the kitchen and in life. I will be reminded of Newton who said, "If I have seen further it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants," and though Chef Baccon physically may be no giant, spiritually, emotionally, and skillfully, she dwarfs all those around her without breaking a sweat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Finally, a goat cheese! The entire top shelf of my little fromagerie consists solely of goat cheeses and I picked one of the larger creamier looking ones of the bunch. It looked like the normal type of goat cheese that we get in the states but I anticipated it would taste even better. I am in France, after all.

This was one of the goat cheese's that I bought but didn't remember it's name, so I tucked in quickly to my fromagerie and looked to see what it was called. The entire two blocks home I said to myself quietly, "Clos de josse. Clos de josse. Clos de josse..." to ensure that I wouldn't forget it again.

I, however, was unable to find a single thing on this cheese online. Perhaps it's just a big secret. Or perhaps it's just not extremely popular. And after tasting it I would have to go with the second option. It was, somewhat, disappointing.

The Clos de Josse came in a little round and was exceptionally white and soft. I spread it on some bread and bit into it, tasting a smidge of disappointment. It wasn't anything bad, but it was certainly nothing too exciting either. It had a faint goat cheese flavor to it and reminded me more of cottage cheese than anything else. It was exceptionally creamy and mild and while it may have been nice, it was lacking on personality. I would be afraid to eat it with anything else because it seemed like it would easily be overpowered. I did put it in one of my salads and while it added a creaminess to it and was nice with tomatoes, it also didn't add much flavor beyond that.

It was tasty and perhaps with some salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of honey, it could come out and shine. It would certainly be favorable to those who don't like their cheeses too pungent, but for people like me, it may be just too weak to be worth the money.

Monday, January 23, 2012


It's insane to think that just 5 months ago I was still in Yssingeaux, anticipating my arrival in Paris and my internship. And now in only a few months I will be leaving Paris, ending my year abroad, and returning to the states and back to real life! Here is one of the email's I wrote to my family wrapping up the last few weeks of my pastry program and describing my excitement for my internship. 
Bon Jour!

So I just finished my last week of labs and now we are moving into review and final exams. Here's hoping it all goes well! I have finally secured my internship at Pain de Sucre where I will start on the September 15th. Very exciting stuff. Of course I am terrified. Firstly, I return from California where I'll be visiting my wonderful sister and her beautiful family to have some key bonding time the day before I start my internship. Can you say, jet lag? But hopefully I'll be able to time my sleeping on the flight and train so that I won't be in a complete zombie state. Second, I am going to be surrounded by Parisians speaking french and starting a new job where I have absolutely no idea what is going on. I hate the first few weeks at a new job anyway and I'm sure that adding a nice dose of lost in translation won't make it any easier. I have accepted that the first month will probably involve a lot of confusion, feelings of stupidity, and tears, but it's all a part of life in the culinary world. C'est la vie. I'm going to have to come up with a positive mantra. But I'm sure that by the time I leave I'll be sad to go, and hope that I will make some deep connections with my fellow coworkers. 
I have also found an apartment in Paris after many long hours of searching. Nothing in France is all that efficient and so looking for an apartment may have started as a fun little adventure but it quickly moved into a realm of annoyance and frustration. Paris is in no way cheap and so while I may not always play well with others I decided that having a roommate was essentially unavoidable. So Christy, my friend from Indonesia, and I will be living together for five months while I spend the last two months in our apartment alone. Everyone here is convinced we will kill each other but I am sure that as long as I set down, I mean we set down, some house rules things so be just fine. Plus we have completely different work schedules and so we will mostly be two ships passing in the night. Our apartment is a charming 1 bedroom with a separate living room that I will be converting into my bedroom. Nothing a privacy curtain and bed won't fix. It's much better than any of the one bedrooms I was considering and is only a 20 minute walk from my pastry shop. It's in the eleventh arrondissement on the corner of tree lined boulevard and avenue in a newly popular part of town. Apparently all the hipster kids hang out in this section and it's art, music, and chill bar scene has blossomed within the last few years. It snuggles right up against the Marais which is a very popular area but is much less expensive as far as rent goes. 

I cannot believe that I only have two more weeks here in Yssingeaux. I am happy that most of my close friends will be coming with me to Paris and so it won't be too hard to say goodbye. I will definitely appreciate an atmosphere with a bit more life in it than this po-dunk little town. Paris will be quite the 180. I know I will miss Chef Baccon and some of my friends but I am fairly certain that we will end up visiting each other while we are still in France. 
I have attached some pictures of the last three weeks of production. We had a week of viennoiserie with Chef Baccon's husband, Mr. Chef Baccon, who was absolutely lovely! They really are a power couple and are both extremely talented chefs. It doesn't hurt that they are adorable, too. We made a bunch of beautiful breads with him including some perfectly flaky croissants. My favorite were the croissant purses with passionfruit pastry cream inside. I ate about four of them throughout the day and continued to eat the leftovers the entire week. Sugar sculpting was a bit more of a challenge though I found it to be quite fun. It's hot stuff and you have to wear dishwashing rubber gloves in order to work with the molten sugar. Luckily a past of manual labor mixed with a genetic predisposition towards dry creepy lizard hands made me ideal for the job and I was one of the only ones to come out without blisters on my fingers. We had to make a double cake stand and while I find sugar sculpture (especially in the form of cake stands) to be a little kitsch I still enjoyed it and I can see myself making sugar flowers and ribbons in the future. The ribbons were especially beautiful. 

Our last week was entremets part two, which again is just a fancy word for cakes. We made a modern black forest cake with had chocolate mousse and sour cherry coulis filling on top of a brownie base, lauraget which had a cake base similar to angel food and was topped with mango and apricot mousse with a caramelized apricot center and the whole thing was coated in a chocolate hazelnut glacage. Then we had the fraisier moderne which was by far my favorite. Not only did I score the highest in the class on this cake because of my beautiful chocolate flower (what can I say, I'm gifted) but I also found it to be the tastiest. It had a pistachio financier base, vanilla bavarian cream and a center of raspberry cream mousse and strawberry coulis. There was also a framboiser modern which was very similar to the fraisier in that it had vanilla bavarian cream and a raspberry cream mousse center, but it had a rum cake bottom and was coated in a pink glacage. We also made a coffee charlotte with a layer of vanilla bavarian cream and layer of coffee bavarian cream topped with a mountain of milk chocolate curls. And finally we made a traditional opera cake. I especially enjoyed this because we had to trim the edges and the coffee buttercream, coffee soaked cake, and ganache made for a perfect breakfast snack. 

Opera Entremet

Raspberry, Strawberry, Pistachio Entremet 
with a Chocolate flower and Chocolate Decor

Cafe and Chocolat Charlotte with Milk Chocolate Curls

Foret Noir (Black Forest Cake) Moderne

I have definitely learned a lot and I am anxious to continue expanding my culinary mind at my internship. As scary as it may be for the first few days, or month, I know it is going to be an incredible opportunity and I hope that they will trust me enough to let me get my hands dirty. 

I miss you all and hope you enjoy looking at these photos (I know I enjoyed eating the cakes). 

Much love!

Oh what a cruel mistress reality can be! And naivete and youth are so often prime victims to such truths. All the same, optimism and excitement are wonderful states of being and I hope that, though I certainly was feeling negative and pessimistic while I was in the midst of it, I can be able to return to such states prior to my other future endeavors. C'est la vie! 

Friday, January 20, 2012


Entremet are so complex and with such a wide range of variations that I had to do another week of them. And yet again I found myself questioning what exactly an entremet is and I've decided that it's anything with multiple layers. Here in France that can often result in a lot of mousses, and while I love mousses, they can be a bit boring if that's all that's going on. I'm not elderly. My teeth are real. I don't need my meals mashed or my desserts soft and mushy just in order to get them down the hatch without choking. So really, folks, let's throw in some texture. Please.

I always go out of my way to avoid such blobs of boringness when purchasing these delicacies. None of them are cheap so there is no point in paying for something I know out of the gate I won't enjoy. And I was happy to see that all three of the entremet I devoured this week were not just scoops of soft mousse. For this week I went to Pierre Herme (because that man is a genius), and Des Gateaux et Du Pain, and Elze was sweet enough to bring home her favorite entremet from Hugo & Victor. All three were quite different and I found myself enjoying this mission for its variety, because sometimes eating plate after plate after plate of the same dessert can feel, well, like an actual mission.

Hugo & Victor: Hugo Marron 

While there are multiple things at Hugo & Victor that Elze finds scrumdiddlyumptious, she confessed to me that she does not revel in consuming most of their entremet. But there was one, she said, that she loved, and it was the Hugo Marron. So like a proud mother hen, she carried one home to me in one of Hugo & Victor's big black thick paper bags so that I could swoon over it and share it with my faithful readers.

The Hugo Marron is a domed entremet, covered in a milk chocolate ganache glacage. While you may remember my personal feelings of disgust towards glacage, I understand its purpose in desserts and as long as there isn't too much of it, I can put those feelings aside and still enjoy myself. However, with this glacage, I was more than happy to dip my finger into it and lick it clean. It was absolutely delicious. Like a blanket of chocolate the consistency of a gooey caramel, I found it not one bit gross or off-putting. What a wonderful way to start a dessert.

On the inside was Marron, or chestnut, mousse that was a light, fluffy cloud of heaven with a wonderfully fresh, nutty marron flavor to it, unencumbered by the artificial alcohol flavor one so often finds in marron desserts. This dome of mousse sat atop a hazelnut cake that had little hidden hazelnut treasures that crunched in your mouth like tiny bombs of nutty delight!

In the middle was a vanilla meringue which stood on a bed of creme de marron. The meringue sadly had absorbed so much moisture from the mousse and creme de marron that it had lost its alluring crunch which Elze informed me was lovely but required you eat it first thing after it is made. I posited the idea that the meringue be dipped in chocolate to protect it from the moisture and Elze perked up, giddy with excitement at my brilliance. I doubt this will be implemented, but I do think it would add for even more interest to the dessert.

Even with the soggy meringue the Hugo Marron was delicious. I just think that the added complexity of a crispy meringue center would make it exceptionally memorable, different, and intriguing. But I enjoyed it and appreciated the variety of textures it married together and the unadulterated marron taste with the graininess that comes naturally with chestnut.

Pierre Herme: Plaisirs Sucres (co-winner!)

As usual, Pierre Herme failed to disappoint. It seems to me that everything that man touches turns to gold and whenever I sink my teeth into one of his masterpieces, I am instantly humbled by his genius. It makes me wonder how someone can be so in tune to one area of life, art, and food. Perhaps, like with Blues' artists, he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for complete knowledge of everything sweet. His desserts certainly are sinful enough. But I guess they could be described as heavenly as well. When I bite into them it does feel as if God himself has reached down and touched me. Either way, what he does is, no doubt, not of this world.

The Plaisirs Sucres was no different from every other Pierre Herme creation I've been lucky enough to experience. It is of course beautiful, with a thick dacquoise bottom, a liberal layer of praline, perfectly tempered sheets of gorgeous chocolate, and handsome tubes of chocolate mousse. I chose it more for its beauty than my craving for it because, to be honest, I am getting a little tired of the chocolate/hazelnut combination so popular here. I know it sounds sacrilege but it's true. You can have too much of a good thing.

However, the second I bit into this little devil I changed my mind. Pierre Herme can make me chocolate hazelnut desserts to indulge in every day for all I care. The man is a god. The chocolate mousse was so smooth it practically made me cry and, as if that weren't enough, it had the most decadent, rich chocolate flavor which made my palate tingle in captivation. The sheets of tempered chocolate added a playful crunch that mingled well with the flawless mousse. And then there was the dacquoise. Dacquoise is a meringue cake that is not easy to perfect. But, of course, Pierre has it mastered. It was so light with just enough of an essence of crispness to the outside. It had that wonderful chew that melted as it sat in your mouth, characteristic of meringue, but with the softness of a cake.

The praline was nicely done so that it enhanced the chocolate's natural richness, without becoming the main star of the dessert. Pierre Herme finds a way for all the flavors and textures to dance harmoniously, instead of bombarding your senses before falling flat. Pierre, I think I'll miss you most of all.

Des Gateaux et Du Pain: Poire Muscovado (co-winner!)

This was my first time into Des Gateaux et Du Pain, but I felt it was time for me to try something new. I, of course, left my little note with directions on the kitchen table at home so I had to walk around checking every shop from one side of the street to the other until I found it. I feel lucky that I did for its black store front certainly didn't pop out and shout, "Here! Here I am!"

When I went inside I didn't see a single pastry in the case. I was beginning to worry that I had gone into the wrong location, which I found odd since I was fairly certain that there was only one location. But then I saw, hiding in the back, the pastry case. It seems a bit odd to me that they would tuck these morsels back in a corner, but I didn't question it too much.

The woman who helped me was very sweet and aided me in my decision making. I wanted to know what this individual little domed dessert was and she described the entire thing to me in her beautiful french which I, surprisingly, understood. It was an extremely decadent tart, but she even used the word "entremet" to describe it and that was all I needed to hear. Into a box and back home on the metro with me it went.

There were multiple layers to this tart and I was excited to see how well they all played together when I finally took a bite. The top layer was a thick pear jelly followed by a muscovado cream mousse. Muscovado is a type of brown sugar with a rich molasses flavor, and I could certainly taste this when I ate it. It gave off such a lovely caramel flavor but was different enough to be thoroughly interesting. Next was a layer of pear morsels that were soft, but not so soft as to be insulting and mushy, and they added more textural diversity and interest. These all sat on top of creme d'amande and a perfectly rich and crispy tart shell.

The tart shell made me think of well baked christmas sugar cookies and was hard enough to hold together and let me pick up the whole thing and shove it in my pie hole, but not so dense that I couldn't bite into it either. The pear was so refreshingly delicious and the subtle and intoxicating flavor of the muscovado pulled me in and made me want to keep on eating it just so I could indulge in its wondrousness a few minutes more. It was so difficult for me to save half for Elze, and if she had not come home at precisely the moment she did, it is very likely I would've gorged myself on the last few bites and thrown away the evidence.

I know it may seem like a cop-out to have two winners, but there really is no way for me to choose. The Poire Muscovado and Plaisirs Sucres are both so perfect and so different that I can't pick one over the other. It all depends on what you're in the mood for. Today I was more than happy to abandon myself to the secrets that Des Gateaux et Du Pain's Poire Muscovado had tucked in its shiny folds, but if I were salivating for chocolate and hazelnut I know I would begin to fantasize over Pierre Herme's Plaisirs Sucres. For that very reason, I feel that this was one of my more successful missions. Not only did I uncover one of the many wonders that Des Gateaux et Du Pain has hiding behind it's black doors, I also was reawakened to the glorious combination of chocolate and hazelnut by Pierre Herme's undeniable genius.

So not a bad week at all. All three of these desserts were fabulous and certainly out-shined last week's entremets. They did such a stellar job, in fact, that I can see myself returning to any of these places just to get my lips around one of them entremet again.