Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition: La Baule 2016

Some of you saw the live videos on Facebook but I’ve been itching to tell you in much more detail about this exceptional pastry and chocolate weekend! To start, I was bowled over to be invited by Christophe Roussel to join the French jury for his Annual Pastry Competition Final in La Baule (Loire-Atlantique) on France’s west coast.

Open to budding amateur pastry chefs, five talented finalists were chosen in September via their tantalising patisseries and descriptions on Facebook, all based on this year’s défi (challenge), first announced in July.

As the event wasn’t open to the public, I feel duty-bound to share this with you, patisserie and chocolate lovers. So fasten your seat-belts for a bumper post!

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Annual Pastry Competition

What was the Défi Patissier‘s CHALLENGE this second year?

TO REVISIT an OPÉRA cake, using the famous Fleur de sel de Guérande as an imposed ingredient and during the final, include Christophe Roussel’s new signature Bahiana® chocolate from Brazil.Sounds easy? An Opera pastry has to be one of the most difficult in the French pastry repertoire!

With the competition’s early morning start, Christophe and Julie generously helped relieve any night-before stress by hosting a welcome dinner on La Baule’s beach. Dessert was, of course, by Christophe himself.  If anyone had forgotten his style and needed to tweak their dessert next day, now was the time. The desserts set the tone…

fleur d'Asie of Christophe Roussel

Luckily I had lovely Lucie by my side who works with Christophe, so she could suggest two out of the FOUR desserts! The Fleur d’Asie, or Asian Flower, is a delicate combination of apricot and the Asian Osmanthus (Devilwood) plant which has scents of apricot and peach. I love his hidden Fleur de Sel which gives that unexpected crunch – fantastic!

A First in France: Signature Chocolate

Chocolate-lovers will love the Fleur de Bahiana, the upcoming Bûche de Noël (festive yule log) made with the new signature Brazilian dark chocolate (69%), Bahiana®. It’s from the Pêtrolina cacao farm in the Bahia region, a family-run plantation, and made exclusively for Christophe Roussel in partnership with Valrhona – a first in France.

Intense in chocolate with floral and fruity notes, I found it so warming, almost like tasting a chocolate-vanilla pastry version of a velvety hot chocolate with playful textures. To top it, it wasn’t overly rich but left a lovely round satin touch on the palate.
But I digress – back to the competition!

christophe Roussel pastry competition

Meet the Finalists

From left: Catherine Brug (Besançon: Opera-Cube), 18-year-old Laurie Lacoviz (Saint-Maur: Opéra Rock), Anne-Sophie Donnard (Montmorency: Comme un Air d’Opéra), Émilie Chrysostom, (Paris, Min’Op), and Arnault Buisson (Luxemburg, Opéra Spirit).

The finalists - christophe Roussel pastry competition

Meet Christophe Roussel

Ever since I walked into Christophe Roussel‘s welcoming boutique when it opened 5 years ago in Paris’s Montmartre, it was special. As I say in my book, Teatime in Paris, Chef Christophe must be one of the most genuinely friendly and approachable pastry chefs in France. His credo is sharing, pleasure and a little bit of madness – and add to that an incredible generosity.

After setting up his first pâtisserie in La Baule in 2004, he decided to steer away from the traditional route of adding a boulangerie and instead devoted the rest to chocolate-making. Now with an impressive business with around 44 employees and 7 trainees, Christophe Roussel, part of the prestigious Relais Desserts group, is the star of the French west coast with two boutiques in La Baule, Guérande, Pornichet, Paris, and has just opened another in la Pornic. Together with his wife, Julie (pictured far right below), they make the perfect duo créatif.

Only the HIGHEST QUALITY PRODUCTS are used to create his gourmandises, notably sourcing local produce – one of which is the famous salt, the Fleur de Sel de guérande, just a few kilometres from his laboratory in La Baule (pronounced la-bowl).

Jury for Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

The Jury

Meet the rest of the jury with Christophe Roussel. You can imagine why I was so honoured to be a part of such a prestigious line-up!

  • Thierry Bamas MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France) and world champion for frozen desserts, he’s the star of pâtisserie based in the Basque region, between Biarritz and Bayonne. Like Christophe, he runs pastry and chocolate-making classes.
  • Cyril Carrini, winner of the last 2015 Meilleur Pâtissier on French TV’s M6 Channel (The French equivalent of the Great British Bake Off), and winner of the best of the winners. He’s a policeman near Bordeaux who also runs pastry workshops.
  • Mercotte is to France what Mary Berry is to the UK. A most adorable, down-to-earth TV celebrity for the Meilleur Pâtissier on M6, and The French Patisserie Blogger at La Cuisine de Mercotte, with four recipe books.The Pastry & ChocolateLAB

The Lab

Hitting the starting block at 7.30am, the finalists cracked on with their 3-hour pastry challenge. As it was the early stage, we had the opportunity to visit the immense lab.

Christophe Roussel labWhat an Ali-Baba maze! It was hard to resist a peek into these enormous vats of babas steeping in rum syrup as we explored each chocolate and pastry-making workshop. Everyone was quietly and dynamically working on each creation: from chocolate moulds of Peppa Pig, Calimero, and chocolate kisses destined to be exported to Japan, to his assortiment of macarons – of which about 25 tons are produced a year. There’s even a room assigned to edible decor – spot his pastry signature above (top left).

religieuse pas très catholique christophe RousselBack to the buzzing competition room, just to keep us going, we taste Christophe’s Coffee Réligieuse – Pas Très Catholique (meaning a bit doubtful), with lively notes of two different coffees and a chocolate craquelin crumble topping for le crunch. Incidentally, this was the inspiration behind the recipe for the salted caramel choux snowman in Teatime in Paris!

THE Challenge

The classic Opéra isn’t an easy pastry … and on top of it, personal variations made it a particularly interesting challenge. Cubes, balls, discs, giant spheres, logs, tuiles … they’d all thought it out so well.

Christophe Roussel pastry competition opera challenge

All aspects were taken into consideration: such as respect to the classic recipe (e.g. right dosage of coffee coming through, enough chocolate, right textures; their interpretation; clean workspace; no waste (Christophe made frequent bin inspections), respect to time, visual aspect, and so on.

While all was being filmed on camera, we were additionally going around filming and snapping shots on our phones: everyone was spontaneously interviewed on Facebook Live by the bubbly Mercotte (we were all impressed with her mega battery!). Apparently I speak French like Jane Birkin, ahem…  Thierry Bamas and Cyril also caught the online interviewing bug as the stress and COUNTDOWN started.

Discussions behind the finalists didn’t put them off – and although there was the odd hand trembling towards the finishing touches, everyone showed their talent of being calm and collected, plus it was a good team spirit if someone needed to borrow equipment from each other.  Not every competitive spirit is prepared to do that.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule 2016

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and STOP!  Et Voilà: their finished results. Now we could think of the visual aspect. Great job – and totally resembling what they submitted online.

Finished operas - Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

By now finished, the finalists took off their aprons for a well-earned break.

Jury Salon du Chocolat la Baule

Photo courtesy of Michel Orion, Ouest-France

Salon du Chocolat, La Baule

Meanwhile, we were given the added job of tasting our way through 3 different themes of chocolates over at the Castel Marie-Louise, as part of the Salon du Chocolat in La Baule, hosted by the Casino Barrière. Our challenge was to pick the best in each category before announcing the winners – including the pastry challenge – at the Salon later.
chocolate-jury-la-baule

Our group tasted 12 chocolates on a dark chocolate and citrus almond paste theme. The unanimous winner went to Vincent Belloir (Goût du bonheur, La Roche-Bernard). It was best for the visual sheen on the chocolate, the clean cut without losing it’s shape, the smooth texture, the bouquet on ze nose, and of course, the taste!

Olivier Grimault (Créat-shop, Les Sorinières) won the chocolate bar category with dark chocolate and Matcha, … and winner of the third category went to Christophe Roussel for his dark chocolate and pink peppercorn!  Also congratulations goes to Amélie Giraud for her chocolate sculpture, who is also part of Christophe Roussel’s team!

A few glasses of water later – and all before lunch ….!

Pastry Competition Tasting & Verdict

This is when I appreciated when Mercotte took me under her wing. Although the group agreed on the same issues and were discerning on each aspect, my marking was slightly too high for each finalist – so now I can put it down to experience!

Jury tasting Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

Photos courtesy of Michel Oriot, Ouest-France news

Pastry Competition Winners!

Our winners were also announced on Saturday evening at the Salon du Chocolat.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition winners

Congratulations to the winner, Anne-Sophie, a school teacher and French pastry blogger at SurprisesetGourmandises. She wins a Gourmet Luxury Weekend in La Baule and a day of pastry-making with Christophe Roussel.
Bravo to Catherine Brug who came a close second, and a huge round of applause to Arnault, Emilie and Laurie. Each of them were not just great bakers but lovely, sensitive souls too.

finalists Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Lucie Henaff, thanking everyone, even prepared framed momentos of their Opéra creations, a lovely keepsake of their tremendous talent.

A Gourmet yet Light Weekend

After all the excitement, the chocolate, the opera cakes, lunch, more various dessert tastings, there was … another gourmet dinner!

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition Castel Marie-Louise La Baule

For everything we ate, however, all was impeccably light. Spoiled by Eric Mignard, Michelin-starred chef for 30 years at the Relais-Châteaux Castel Marie-Louise, he took us through local seafood and fish menus, including a memorable dish of tartar scallops with passion fruit, pineapple, daikon, and salsifis chips with grilled almond oil. I’d need another few pages to discuss the rest!

Christophe Roussel dessertsj

On to the DESSERTS, all prepared by Christophe Roussel, each one was immaculate. They’re airy, full of surprising textures (he has fizzy chocolates too) and each ingredient has its own punch to say, “Taste me – I’m here too!”. The finale – made especially for the occasion – of Tahitian vanilla mousse with mango and that nesting ball on top is full of exploding salted caramel. It was the closing firework display to an exceptional weekend.

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition

Do keep an eye out for the 2017 competition on Christophe Roussel’s Facebook page. If you or anyone you know is a real fan of making French pastries, then you’ll have witnessed that this is an extremely special competition indeed. I hear there will be even more surprises for next year’s Défi challenge. How can you beat that?

Christophe Roussel Pastry Competition La Baule

I’ll finish with Christophe Roussel’s popular chocolate kisses from La Baule and say a big Cheers, Santé to you, Chef! Bravo to such an extraordinary and successful weekend, the opening of your new boutique in La Pornic, the new signature Brazilian chocolate, for such a wonderful, dynamic team you’ve inspired – and, above all, for your generosity.

christophe Roussel Pastry Challenge

Christophe Roussel Duo Créatif

6 Allée des Camélias
44500 LA BAULE

5 Rue Tardieu
75018 PARIS

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour

Welcome to my delicious Do-It-Yourself guide: your own Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour, the second part of my series on Day Trips Outside Paris.

As I mentioned in my introduction to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, it’s where I live. There are about 400 shops in the royal historical town and, if you tend to look in the sweeter windows, then I have selected my particular favourites in the centre of town for your very own DIY tour, all within easy walk to and from the RER train station, opposite the castle.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Grandin

Patisserie Grandin

Since Grandin opened in 1822, this pastry shop has been an institution on Rue au Pain, the oldest medieval street of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Michel Pottier, member of the prestigious Relais Desserts group, has continued with traditional French pastries from the Opéra cake to a legendary Baba au Rhum – but they also have three house specialities.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour grandin

Known primarily for their Saint Germain cake (individual versions seen above in the foreground), it’s made with ground almonds and topped with a boozy rum glaze.

Le Debussy pays hommage to the composer, born in the house just across the road (now Tourist Information), with a hazelnut sponge, praline mousse, rum and raisins, all glazed in dark chocolate.

The Saint Germain chocolates (both dark and milk) are filled with a good dose of Cognac. They were created for the opening of the new railway line from Paris to Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 14 August 1847.

13 rue au Pain
78100 Saint Germain en Laye

Tues-Sat 8.30am-7.30pm and Sunday 8.30am-2pm

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour osmont-patisserie

Patisserie Osmont

Originally in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine since 1987, the Osmont family spread their wings and opened another boutique here in 2009. The business is now run by the son, Vincent, who trained with Thierry Atlan at Lenôtre and with Pascal Caffet in Troyes.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Osmont-pastries

Their bestseller is the Bois-Mort, the pastry that earned father Jean-Marie Osmont the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France. It’s a crunchy meringue with hazelnuts interspersed with chocolate-hazelnut and dark chocolate mousses.  Other highlights seen in the above photo are the Tropique (lemon & mango caramel with coconut sponge), the Alliance (mint pannacotta with red fruit compote), and a Vanilla Profiterole Chocolate Tart (which inspired one of my recipes in Teatime in Paris).

There’s such a vast choice – including 15 macarons and a perfect Président pastry that thankfully never has to change.

3 rue des Coches
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Tues-Sat 10am-7.30pm and Sunday 10am-1pm 

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Gontran Cherrier

Gontran Cherrier Boulangerie & Patisserie

Since 2013, Gontran Cherrier has tranformed this spot as an ex-garage into The hang-out just about 40 baguette’s length from the market place. After the Ferrandi school, Gontran Cherrier trained with Alain Passard at l’Arpège and Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton. Now he’s surprising us locals with a range of exciting breads, viennoisseries and pastries.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour gontran-cherrier-croissants

Here you’ll find me grabbing my favourite croissants during the morning market (Tues, Fri, Sun) – and if it’s teatime, a Cape and Cape African tea with a yuzu cheesecake just to travel far. Don’t forget to pick up either a mustard baguette or a squid ink loaf, both rather sensational – and more croissants!

rue de la Grande Fontaine
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Chocolate Shops

As it’s the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour, let’s turn to the chocolate shops. As you can see, we’re rather spoiled.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour pascal-le-gac-chocolaterie

Pascal le Gac Chocolatier

This gem of an address is classed as one of the top 7 chocolatiers in France.

After working at La Maison du Chocolat for 24 years and reaching the accolade of Creative Director, Pascal le Gac set up his own boutique in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 2008.

He favours excellence over appearance, simplicity and lasting tradition over passing trends. Just peeking in the window, glistening classic pastries such as éclairs, moelleux au chocolat, truffles, macarons, millefeuilles and opéras all allure the Saint-Germanois to open that door.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Pascal-le-gac

Step inside and smell that chocolate. Ganaches from miel (honey), spices, to even Mango & Sage – where dark chocolate and mango play together – but a subtle herby sage says a cheeky bonjour in the aftertaste.

The chocolate bars are all particularly accessible. I say that since sometimes chocolate makers can make chocolate dry, earthy and complex that it can be difficult to appreciate. Here I thoroughly recommend a bar of Equator 68% which is delightfully fruity, and the more intense Venezuela 81%. Pascal le Gac also does a 100% cacao chocolate bar.

Before you go, taste at least a couple of macarons – the salted caramel and dark chocolate are my personal favourites.

61, rue de Pologne
78100 Saint Germain-en-Laye

Tues-Sat 10am-7pm and Sunday 10am-1pm

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Nicolsen

Nicolsen Chocolatier

Each time I see Nicolsen’s thin chocolate discs or palets, it reminds me of Sulpice Debauve who was pharmacist to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and lived here in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Of Debauve & Gallais fame, the oldest chocolate shop in Paris in rue de Saint-Pères (where I normally start my chocolate pastry tour in Paris), chocolate discs were flavoured with ginger or coffee and the likes as a form of royal medicine.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Nicolsen

Mr. Debauve was the great grandson of David Chaillou who was first to set up a chocolate drinking house in rue de l’Arbre Sec, near the Tuileries Palace in 1660 under Louis XIV.

Nicolsen, based in Chavanay, are easy to spot in summer as their ice cream cart is popular outside the shop, selling the famous glaces Berthillon. I hear they’ve decided to continue their famous saffron ganache, a house speciality.

19 rue au Pain
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Tues-Sat: 9am-7.30pm and Sunday 9am-1pm

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Patrick Roger

Patrick Roger, Chocolatier

Last but certainly not least is the famous Patrick Roger, the chocolate sculptor who thinks well outside the chocolate box. A Meilleur Ouvrier de France for his house speciality: Amazone, a bright green dome of chocolate lime caramel which takes around 24 steps to obtain this look without using any colorants. If you’re looking for a taste sensation, try the Delphi for a blind tasting and let me know what you think is in it.  I personally love to stock up on Beijing, his large chocolate gingers.

A wider range of his chocolate sculptures are on show at his boutique in Place de la Madeleine in Paris.

2 rue de Paris
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Tues-Fri 10.30am-1pm; 2pm-7.30pm and Sat 10.30am-7.30pm

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Cakes

Have I at least whet your appetite to jump on that train from Paris?  It only takes 20 minutes on the RER A line from Charles de Gaulle Etoile station (Arc de Triomphe) and you’ll discover even more chocolate shops (such as Jeff de Bruges, deNeuville) and many more boulangerie/pâtisseries (Eric Kayser, Goulay, Maison Hardy, Paul, Fabien Ledoux, etc.), biscuit shops (La Cure Gourmande) and even a new American-style cupcake shop, Daisy Cake, which I still haven’t tried yet – I’ll leave that to you.

However, how could I finish a Saint-Germain-en-Laye Sweet Chocolate Pastry Tour without stopping for a cup of tea?

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Chez Alice

Chez Alice Salon de Thé

Hidden off the pedestrian precinct of Rue des Coches, Chez Alice’s tearoom is a quiet haven where you can secretly be decadent with a marshmallow hot chocolate and cream, a Champagne lunch, brunch on a Sunday (reservations a must) or a most civilised teatime with a selection of teas retrieved from one of the oversized Compagnie Coloniale tea caddies.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Chocolate Pastry Tour Chez Alice Tearoom

Alice is not only one of the most adorable French women I know, but her cakes – all made by herself and her mother – are such a special treat to enjoy while escaping the hustle and bustle of everyday routine. In fact, I wish I could make it a routine to come here more often!

Chez Alice Salon de Thé
10 rue des Vieilles Boucheries
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Tues-Sat: 11.30am – 6.30pm and Sunday 12 noon-6pm

Saint-Germain-en-Laye: Paris Day Trips

Next time you’re in Paris and want to avoid the typical tourist route, take a day trip to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The town is only 20 kilometres west of Paris and 15 km from Versailles.

It couldn’t be easier to travel from the City, as it takes only 20 minutes on the RER A line from Paris direct to the terminus of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. As we live five minutes away from this Royal Burgh town, I’m finally proud to present it to start off my new series on interesting day trips out of Paris.

St Germain chateau and park

Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Not to be confused with the quarter of Saint Germain-des-Prés in Paris, the town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is perched on the edge of a forest of 3500 hectares and today has a population of about 43,000. It’s home to the Paris Saint Germain football (soccer) team but before it was a Royal town, home to the Kings of France. Close to my Scottish roots, it was also where King James VII of Scotland (II of England) died in exile. His shrine to the Franco-Scottish Auld Alliance is in the church opposite the castle. The town even has its own tartan, such is the Auld Alliance with the Scots.
Update: I forgot to mention that the town is twinned with the Scottish town of Ayr!

Chateau and church of Saint Germain-en-Laye

This French Royal Burgh has been a market town since King François I, who decided as of 1526 that there should be two market days.  Today there are THREE legendary MARKET DAYS: on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings (check out my Instagram feed, as you’ll see me regularly shop here!)

I joined Victoria’s weekly guided weekend walk, organised by the Tourist Office, tracing the influence of King François I on the town.  He stayed in Saint-Germain-en-Laye for over a thousand days – the longest for a monarch choosing between a wealthy choice of fairytale French castles. He left the town with its layout, a pentagon-shaped castle and a centre for trade.

Bread Street (Rue au Pain)

The tour (in French and English) meets up on Bread Street, at the Tourist Office which houses the Claude Debussy Museum upstairs, birthplace of the composer in 1826 (the museum is free of charge).

Rue au Pain, the town’s oldest Medieval street, supplied bread to the castle. Today it’s still home to a bakery, chocolate shop, Pâtisserie and fromagerie. As we’re taken along pedestrian-only cobbled streets, passing boutiques and mansion houses from the 17th and 18th centuries, we learn fascinating facts from taxes to the gradual increase in population. The King had put Saint-Germain-en-Laye on the map.

chateau saint Germain

Today the castle is home to the National Archeological Museum and is currently undergoing renovations. Certain parts now look so pristine, it could have been build last year!  The castle dates from Louis IX in 1235, with the oldest part of the castle that’s left, the Royal Chapel, inspired the Saint Chapelle in Paris. Look up and spot numerous reminders of François I’s (F) symbol and the invincible salamander; N for the Napoleon III empire; and R symbol of the third Republic.

The chimney-packed castle roof is open to the public for visits too, on demand, from May-September.  I wasn’t lucky this year but as soon as May appears, let’s go up together when the renovations are finished.

Birthplace of Louis XIV

Saint Germain-en-Laye Pavilon Henri IV

The Pavillion Henri IV Hotel houses the small red-brick pavilion where Louis XIV was born and baptised in 1638. It’s all that’s left of the new castle (Château Neuf) which was demolished in 1776 at the request of Louis XIV’s brother, the Count of Artois. Rather than restore the castle that had run into disrepair while Louis had moved to the new royal residence at Versailles, the Count told the King he much preferred the castle in Maisons-Laffitte. So the people of Saint-Germain-en-Laye re-cycled the “new” bricks for their mansion houses.

It wasn’t just the King that was born here; the hotel is also famous for inventing the Sauce Béarnaise and Pommes de Terre Soufflées (puffed potatoes) after it opened in 1836.

saint-germain-en-laye-park-perspectives

The Park

The Grand Terrace, designed by Louis XIV’s favourite gardener, André Le Nôtre, is over 2km long. He worked on this before Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles.

For lovers of architecture, there are plenty of explanatory signs in English to learn more about the history and designs of the gardens.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Vineyards

Replanted in 1999, nearly 2000 Pinot Noir vines grow just under the Terrace to make the Vin des Grottes, although this isn’t commercialised. Instead it’s traditionally served at the harvest festival in September.

vines of Saint Germain-en-laye

Just look at this perspective, lined with lime blossom trees. Ready for a walk? Imagine in Louis XIV’s time this wasn’t paved or pathed, there was no grass and no railings with a drop of 13 metres. It was simply sanded so walkers may have felt slightly daunted…

Saint Germain-en-Laye Terrace

From the terrace, the cherry on the cake is this magnificent view of the west of Paris including La Defense: on clear days like this you can spot Sacré Coeur and the Eiffel Tower. Can you see them plus other Parisian landmarks?

view of Paris from Saint Germain-en-Laye

It’s a favourite spot for weekend walks, which leads eventually to the well-guided paths in the forest just outside the gates.

Forest of Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Let’s finish with a partial view of the park in Autumn (taken end of last October).

Add Saint-Germain-en-Laye to your bucket list next time you visit Paris. There’s so much to see just outside the City that’s within easy access. Just to whet your appetite, next up is a sweet tour of the town, including recipes, from gastronomic history to the wealth of award-winning chocolate and pastry boutiques.

saint-germain-en-laye park in autumn or fall

 

François I Tours: 3pm Saturdays (1.5 hrs) 9 April- 15 October
October-April: Various conferences, exhibitions & bigger group tours
For more information, tour reservations & visits, contact:
Tourist Office
Maison Claude Debussy
38 rue au Pain
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Tel: 01-34 51 05 12

Monkfish French Brittany Stew – Lotte à l’armoricaine

A deliciously easy French classic: monkfish stew or Lotte à L’Armoricaine

Luxury Italian Ice Cream by Il Gelato Del Marchese Paris

Queues for ice cream are inevitable when the Parisian summer sun heats up the City of Light.  But there’s a hidden corner of Paris where we can taste the highest quality Italian ice cream in style, right in the heart of Saint Germain-des-Prés.

Il Gelato del Marchese is tucked away on Rue des Quatre Vents, just behind the crossroads at Odéon in an area known as the Chocolate quarter, due to its high concentration of chocolate and pastry shops.

Il gelato del Marchese Italian luxury ice cream paris

On passing this pristine golden and white ice-cream parlour after it opened in December 2014, I remember first gazing in the window, wondering if the caped gentleman at the counter was the Marchese or Marquis, with such an alluring air of mystery.

The mystery was unveiled when I was happy to meet the lively Marchese himself, Renato. Together with his wife, Veronika Squillante Montoro, the dynamic duo with savoir-flaire have created a luxury brand in the heart of Paris’s 6th arrondissement and it’s already taking off with a boutique newly opened in Saint Tropez, a new larger laboratory in construction near the Canal Saint Martin, a recipe book due to be published in October and many more surprises in store.

Renato Squillante Montoro

Now certified Vegan, Il Marchese’s ice creams and sorbets are all made with top quality healthy ingredients using mineral water, unrefined sugar, and no colourings or preservatives are in sight.

Veronika provides that extra touch of elegance with her choice of porcelain and delicate glasses to complete the plush furnishings.

Il gelato del Marchese Paris

Thanks to my friend, Maggie, who insisted I taste a selection of savoury ice creams before the sweet, as I would never have normally dared at teatime – would you? What a revelation! Spoonfuls of delectable savoury ice creams to tickle the senses arrived with water, but imagine tasting these on mini toasts with a glass of Champagne or Prosecco in hand: Tomato-Basil sorbet, Artichoke-Walnut Cream, Olives, and Mustard ice creams.

They also whip up the most incredible salmon ice cream which is not only good on small toasts as an aperitif, but they suggest mixing it into hot tagliatelle pasta, as with their parmesan ice cream.

My personal favourites were olive, imagining it on the terrace in Provence with a glass of chilled Rosé (a refreshingly cold tapenade sensation), and the mustard which, like my mini curry macarons from the savoury chapter in Mad About Macarons, it provokes a spicy-sweet tremble!

Savoury Italian ice cream at Il Gelato dei Marchese Paris

When I first tasted the Marchese’s pistachio ice cream last year just after the book launch of Teatime in Paris around the corner, I admit that it has been hard act to follow elsewhere. Using the finest quality pistachios from Iran, it’s not just its exquisite taste that hits the spot but if anyone knows how I shy away from anything that says pistachio without the right natural colour (see my previous blog article), you’ll understand how this is such an important factor too.

Best pistachio luxury italian ice cream paris

As the tasting continued, the Sencha green tea was recommended as an ideal partner with all the ice creams and sorbets, a special selection by La Confrérie du Thé.

New flavours appear sporadically according to season and creative artistic flair. The day I arrived, the menu selection was a traditional but tremendously tasty Tiramisu, to an unusual – slightly tart – Ricotta Cacao; then a crunchy passion fruit sorbet, with a finale of chocolate sorbet using 70% dark chocolate from Italian chocolate makers, Domori, based in None – all served with the most delicate (albeit sweet) Chantilly cream, Matcha green tea cakes, light ginger biscuits, and mini cornets.

Italian ice cream teatime in Paris

The Marchese’s ice-creams pop up around Paris at the most luxurious addresses, such as at the Italian Embassy, Rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and now they have a pop-up boutique at La Grande Epicerie, part of Bon Marché’s Rive Gauche chic department store until 22 August, where I hear the Pear and Ceylon Cinnamon sorbet is melting customers.

Italian ice cream Embassy Paris

Artisanal cones (cornets) are made on the spot.  I never normally choose a cone but when they’re as good as this all the way until the last crunchy bite with its hint of honey, I’m not just going for a plain little paper tub to carry out!

Handmade Italian ice-cream cones in Paris

I couldn’t resist popping in for another dose with the family; this time pure sorbet in the weekend heat – a taste of mango and their new Detox Vegetal sorbet.  It reminded me of what Renato said:

It’s more than ice-cream; it creates an emotion.

I found myself giggling at such a surprise concoction of predominant cucumber and apple, with cheeky hints of lemon and ginger – were there herbs in there too? You have to try this refreshing cocktail and tell me what you think are the ingredients!

Best luxury Italian ice cream in Paris

To finish off your afternoon, walk up Rue de Condé to the Luxembourg gardens and sit at the Medici Fountain to complete the luxury taste of Italy in Paris.

Update 31 May 2016: Il Gelato del Marchese ice creams are now also available on the Champs-Elysées Terrace of the Hotel Marriott.

Il Gelato del Marchese
Italian ice-cream parlour/tea room or take away
3, rue des Quatre Vents
75006 Paris

Tel: 01 46 34 75 63

Open every day: 12 noon – midnight

Paris Tuileries Gardens: Summer Amusements and a New Terrace Café

This week sees the start of Paris’s popular annual amusement park situated on the left side of the Tuileries Gardens. The Fête Foraine des Tuileries is open free to the public between 25 June and 22 August (update: 24 June – 27 August 2017) with a choice of 80 paying attractions.

Paris Tuileries gardens

With excited, bustling holiday crowds and entertaining wafts of candy floss (Barbe à Papa), waffles (gaufres), toffee apples (pommes d’amour), doughnuts (beignets), and marshmallows (guimauves), there’s something for everyone – and for those of you like my daughters who love the high-sensation rides, you won’t be disappointed.  I find it hard enough to even watch them!

Paris Tuileries Gardens

As my teenagers are screaming to their heart’s pulsing content, you’ll find me strolling in the rest of the more civilised Tuileries Gardens. Did you know you can see Sacré Coeur from the raised part of the gardens on the Orangerie side? I can’t believe I missed this before.

Jardins de Tuileries Facts

The Tuileries Gardens were first landscaped under Queen Catherine de Medici (widow of Henri II), who began the building of the Tuileries Palace in 1561 on the right bank of the River Seine. The word Tuileries refers to the tile kilns that previously existed on the site.

Tuileries Gardens Paris

The Palace was the Parisian residence of the French monarchs from Henry IV to Napoleon III. Before then, it was the Louvre Palace, originally built as a fortress in the medieval period then turned into a royal palace under Charles V in the 14th Century until the Louvre became a public museum in 1793.

King Louis XIV transformed the Tuileries Palace residence in 1666, when he commissioned his favourite gardener, André Le Nôtre, to design a vast new park with elevated terraces around a central axis. It was opened to the public in 1667, while King Louis moved to his new Palace at Versailles.

Wooden sailing boats for the basins in the Tuileries Gardens

In 1871 the Tuileries Palace was set on fire and although destroyed in 1883, we continue to enjoy the splendour of the gardens today which is more or less as Le Nôtre designed it with its some 63 acres (25 hectares) and water basins.

Big wheel Concorde Paris from the Tuileries Gardens Paris

Summer is the perfect time of year to stroll under the regimented shady avenues of lime blossoms and fill up on their heady fragrance.

Tuileries-gardens-paris-summer

Heading towards the elevated northwest corner of the gardens towards Place de la Concorde, is the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, a museum of contemporary art. There are currently 3 photographic exhibitions taking place, including the works of Josef Sudek.

Jeu de Paume Contemporary art gallery Paris Tuileries

There’s also a café inside but their new terrace was beckoning …

Jeu de Paume Museum Terrace

The museum’s new terrace café, La Boîte à Images, has been open since end April and is a quiet haven to sit in the shade in the gardens for lunch or for an afternoon goûter or mid-afternoon snack.

hidden quiet Cafe for lunch near Concorde Paris

This is where the locals are coming for a civilised summery picnic lunch, weekend brunch, after-work plate of charcuterie, or just a glass of wine. I was invited to choose from their selection of popular large salads (including quinoa), fresh baguette sandwiches, tuna Bagnat, or large Croque-Monsieur on oversized pain de campagne with a choice of crisps or side-salad. Iced fresh apple & mint juice was welcome, as was just a taste of the chilled Sauvignon Blanc (well, I wasn’t driving!).

Terrace Image box Museum cafe Paris Tuileries

As my daughter and I sat down, we were enjoying the animated game of pétanque going on next to us.  The café can lend you the boules to play and join in the fun too.

playing boules at the Jeu de Paume Museum Tuileries Gardens Paris

And I would thoroughly recommend a sweet stop here, with a dark chocolate or raspberry tartlet and Earl Grey tea (with Angelina teabags). I also saw the most tempting ice creams and sorbets too without the well-known queues in rue de Rivoli!

Tuileries gardens Paris Concorde Side

So, what kind of flâneur or stroller in Paris are you?  Would you find a chair or two and opt for an afternoon nap, tease the wool with a regal view over the octagonal basin to the Orangerie museum, or would you be on one of those crazy summer amusement rides?

 

Terrasse La Boite à Images
Open same hours as the Jeu de Paume Museum:

11am-7pm Wednesday-Sunday
11am-9pm Tuesday