A Walk up French Bread Street or Chocolate Street?

I promised you another walk around our Paris environs, didn’t I? Last time we were macaroned on French Impressionists’ Island. Today it’s a lovely day, so let’s take a stroll around my favourite town up the road, St Germain-en-Laye.

Château de St Germain-en-Laye

We’re only walking up one street today: rue au pain. With a name like Bread Street, you can imagine the smell of boulangeries, right?  Wrong.

Bread street? Pain! It’s all chocolate.

This street should really be called rue au pain au chocolat, as it has chocolateries, confiseries, and pâtisseries. Oh, why do I get such a lovely shiver when I say these words?  This confiserie, La Petite Cousine – which is rather expensive – is totally worth it: their mendiants (chocolate palets with candied fruit and nuts), guimauves (marshmallows), pâte de fruits and chocolate selections are all rather exquisite.

chocolateries, confiseries, confused?

Rue au pain is also the birthplace of one of my favourite composers, Claude Debussy.  He was born in rue au Pain on 22 August 1862.  They’re currently refurbishing the museum (which also houses the Tourist Infomation point), so I’ll show you it when it’s finished. It’s spooky to think I used to play so many of his piano and flute works (my first BBC radio flute recital was featuring Debussy) and one day I’d end up in the same town; just as eery when I suddenly put on radio classique and Debussy plays as I’m driving around the town, looking for a parking place.

Debussy by the American sculptor, Mico Kaufman

This is all in the space of a 5-minute walk – although given that you’re licking the windows (as the French say for window-shopping), or even buying these sweet treats, then it will take you more like 25 minutes.

This chocolate shop is only a few doors away from Jeff de Bruges and they give them tough competition: usually their window is dressed in seasonal chocolate sculptures and many a time, there’s a chocolate fountain enticing passers-by to pop in. Here they’re luring us with crêpes and real melted chocolate – if you want Nutella you get the cheaper ones around the corner!

Pâtisserie Grandin have recently refurbished their boutique to showcase their pastries and macarons…

My personal preferences are in the other streets (you can perhaps tell by their look, ahem. You see why I make them myself?) I’ll show you my favourite Pâtisseries later, as it deserves another post. And now for the final stop at the very top, facing rue au pain: Patrick Roger.

This is one of the latest branches of Patrick Roger’s Parisian chocolate boutiques.  Every few weeks he changes the giant chocolate sculpture in the window; from Gorilla, to Grizzly. I wonder if he could do Kaufman’s statue of Debussy in chocolate? Just an idea, Patrick!

Grizzly sculpted in Venezuelan chocolate

At la rentrée – the return to school – children were greeted with gigantic chocolate pencils and glistening chocolate marbles presented in pencil-cases.  Is that not an easy way to instantly become the teacher’s pet, brimming with a packet of mini pencils and marbles?

He’s a MOF – Meilleur Ouvrier de France, but of course. I already showed you his pumpkins – it’s a better photo since it was taken inside, without the reflection and it means I could actually buy something, but what?

The elegant assistant always lets me taste one of their chocolates and I never take a photo of it, as it disappears too quickly. Chocolate-basil was the last one I tried. But my personal favourites are his passionfruit caramels – plus I love the chic green bag!  It makes up for him not making any macarons.

Add a touch of red colouring to your chocolate shells

What?  No macarons? So back home, I’m inspired by something chocolatey this weekend.  Don’t forget to add a touch of red to your chocolate macaron shells (just one of the many tips in the book.) You don’t see it but I can assure you when you add it, there’s that instant professional look!

Hm. I wonder what chocolatey flavour we could have this time?  What macaron would you prefer?

Macaroned on French Impressionists’ Island, Chatou and Macaron Pointillism

Somehow I just couldn’t write, ‘mac-arooned’. They’re not macaroons but macarons, right?

Many people think I live in Paris. I used to live there for 7 years before the children were born. It was wonderful. Another chapter. But truth be told it’s just as wonderful living outside the City of Light. It’s close enough to Paris but far enough to feel out in the country.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll give you a taste of our environs. Today let’s kick off with a walk along the River Seine in nearby Chatou. It’s only 10 minutes west from Paris in the RER commuter train (from Charles de Gaulle’s stop at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.) For me, this is just around the corner from my orthoptiste. Would you believe all this work on the computer means I now have to have vision therapy? At least there’s a progressively less blurred view en route.

boat on the Seine

Along the banks of the River Seine, Chatou

Chatou is one of the towns by the River Seine where the Impressionist painters settled down their easles and impressive palettes. Auguste Renoir took Claude Monet to discover this area and they painted together a set of pieces around the “Grenouillère” just near this spot, where Parisians would flock on the weekend to bathe in the countryside (more on that later, since this deserves a separate post.) The neighbouring towns have about 30 reproductions like this below, to mark the Impressionists’ route.

Renoir paintings on the Seine

Les Canotiers à Chatou, by Renoir (1881)

This is one of my favourite spots in Chatou: the Île des Impressionnistes. The hamlet on the Impressionists’ island was a popular hang out of artists and poets. Thankfully it was restored recently to include the original Fournaise restaurant, a museum, and a boating workshop.  One of the most famous regulars was Auguste Renoir, who was often here at the Fournaise Restaurant.

Maison Fournaise Chatou Impressionists

Maison Fournaise Chatou

Do you recognise this painting?  It’s amazing to think that the scene of Auguste Renoir’s masterpiece,”Le Déjeuner des Canotiers” is just here on that balcony.  Amongst his friends in the painting, the lady clutching the dog on the left ended up becoming Madame Renoir a few years later.

Le Déjeuner des Canotiers by Renoir (1881)

Today nothing much has changed.  The light changes dramatically, reflecting the different seasons. The restaurant is still lively and next door, you can now visit the Fournaise museum.

Maison Restaurant Fournaise Chatou

The day I took these shots, the place was deserted. It was almost spooky.  It’s as if you could hear faint laughter of a bunch of artist friends sitting around a table of fruit and wine up on that balcony.

Maison Fournaise Renoir Balcony

Renoir was watching from that balcony

I’m not an artist, although some family members may disagree when it comes to “wine tasting”. The nearest I get to playing with paints is flicking food colouring on macarons. It’s great fun. It’s best to do this once the macarons have aired and are ready to go in the oven.

What’s your impression?

Personally I think it’s dabbling with Pointillism.

spotty macarons

spotty macarons

Have you been going dotty with macarons lately?

French Poppies: A Macaron Impression

Think of French poppies and often Claude Monet’s impressionist painting comes to mind, n’est-ce pas?

Monet painted Camille and Jean strolling amongst the poppies near Argenteuil – not far from where we live.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Monet’s impression of the poppy field as we took a drive to the country recently. En route, poppies were out in all their glory – fields upon fields – to say bonjour.

There was this urge to make French poppy macarons as soon as I got back home.  I had found an intense poppy essence (arôme coquelicot), which was like tasting pure bonbons as a child.

As the poppy flavour was so sweet – and it’s still the rhubarb season – I added a touch of rhubarb compôte.  A classic is to pair poppy with strawberry, but the rhubarb just gave that tiny touch of tartness that brought out all the memories of poppy coquelicot sweeties.

Some poppy macarons with a touch of rhubarb

As you can understand, I’m not allowed to publish my macaron recipes on the site.  So, to make the filling, grab a copy of the book and use the recipe for orange blossom macarons on p.77.  Simply replace 5 tbsps orange flower water with rhubarb compôte and use 1 tsp of the poppy extract and follow the rest of the recipe as in the book.

french poppy macarons by the Seine by Jill @ Mad About Macarons

 

And what better way to eat them?  Sitting in a poppy field with Parisian poppy macarons in a basket, served with a chilled bottle of fizz: fizzy water – or what about Macaron Prosecco?

There’s perhaps some things missing:  the easel, paints and Monet’s pipe.  Let the dream live on: wear a panama hat. That way we can take our hats off to all Dads out there and wish you all a very Happy Fathers’ Day on Sunday.

Cheers to your good health!


Egg Yolk Recipe Series

I am so proud to welcome my talented guest, Nami from Just One Cookbook.  Just in case you missed it, see what she has prepared for us, using 4 egg yolks: a gorgeous recipe for Crème Caramel, or Japanese Purin.   This has to be the best crème caramel I’ve ever seen.  Thank you Nami for sharing this with us!

Visit to Pain de Sucre Pâtisserie in Paris with ParisPâtisseries

Join us on our mad macaron adventure at Pain de Sucre Pâtisserie in Paris.  I recently went with Adam Wayda of Paris Patisseries fame, to watch them making macarons using their new macaron-making machine.  Please don’t forget that this is on a large scale (about 2000 macarons a day) and don’t let that put you off making them yourselves at home.  Remember, they are a lot easier than you think!

Pain de Sucre making macarons Part I

Pain de Sucre making macarons Part II

I’m so inspired by Adam’s photography and so many of my blogger friends’ photos, I’m trying to work on enlarging my own just now, as they are all too small on the site (you’re right, Thoma ;-)).  This last photo is blown up but have no idea how it will look on your screens (possibly too big?)  By next week, I’ll have it sussed – I hope.

Bonne semaine and macaron making!

If you go down to the woods today

School holidays are wonderful.  The kids love them.  Who wouldn’t?  Before the Easter holidays, however, I did my usual secret panic attack: how was I going to keep my dynamic girls occupied for two whole weeks? Sure, we live half an hour away from Paris with SO much to do.  But sometimes, we just don’t feel like going to the big city. On a gorgeous day we’d rather not be in traffic jams, or metros, or trains; we’d much rather be with nature.  The garden was depressing, though.  It was shouting at me to look after it after such a long winter. The easiest option was to run away.

So, the three of us grabbed some rubber gloves and bags, and ran off to the forest…

This tree looked like it was looking at us!

Did you know that The Three Bears was a Scottish fairytale?  There were no berries in sight yet, though.  We were here to forage stinging nettles for our supper.

The forest of Saint Germain-en-Laye has a regal feel to it.  The forest is also part of the grounds of the Château of St Germain-en-Laye. It’s spooky to think that Louis XIV could have been hiding behind that tree, targeting some game for a royal dinner.

The nettles were far too small, lucky for them

Last year, we picked bags and bags during the Easter holidays: but this time, the nettles were far too small.  They were still stinging, though.  Just after I snapped this photo, Lucie jumped up screaming, “I’m stung, I”m stung!  Whah!”, and so Mum had to find some dock leaves quickly to calm her before getting home.  So, the project this year fell completely flat.  But it didn’t stop the children having a good run around and to play spook.

Pick the higher leaves and don’t forget the gloves!

A few days’ ago, however, the children were at school and I was just sick of the computer.  The sun was out in all its glory and so I returned as goldilocks to the forest.  This time the nettles were perfect: beautifully tall and with plenty newer leaves to pick at the top.  Why do you pick them at the top?  They are less bitter than the tougher leaves and most importantly, you don’t want nettles that could have been sprayed by foxes or dogs on their walks, for example. 😉  Also ensure you never pick nettles next to the roadside, as they risk being sprayed by herbicides.  You want them as pure as possible, as nature intended.

As I was picking them, a shocked passer-by asked, “Vous cherchez.. les orties?” When I explained I was picking them for supper, he took to his heels.  Did he think I was making up some magic potion, or something? Anyway, walking out of the forest, you arrive in the castle grounds.  At the end of this avenue, you have a look-out to La Defense with the Eiffel Tower in the background.  The weather is so glorious, that everyone is hiding on benches in the shade.

Back home, still armed with the gloves, it was time to give them a good wash and soak. I had heard that nettles are good for you, but on reading up on their health benefits, they contain a high amount of iron and many other vital vitamins and minerals, including magnesium. OK, my excuse for eating dark chocolate for magnesium can perhaps be substituted this week for nettles.

Back to keeping the children occupied: while I blanched the clean nettles in boiling water for a couple of minutes (to take away the sting), the children were having fun making some fresh pasta.

They love making pasta so much, there is always a fight who gets to turn the handle.

I was wanting to make some nettle ravioli with Corsican brocciu cheese.  That’s for the next time.  The quickest solution was to whiz together the blanched nettles with garlic, parmesan, olive oil and toasted pine nuts for some stinging nettle pesto (see recipe for nettle pesto).

This has to be my favourite dish in the world in the Springtime.  It’s also THE dish I love to serve when we can finally sit outside for dinner.  Sun shining, glass of wine in hand, plate of fresh tagliatelle and pesto? Forget everything else in the world!

Serve with deep fried nettle leaves

Now, I wonder if you were expecting a stinging nettle macaron?  OK, I may be mad about macarons, but I’m not blooming crazy, either!  Although, perhaps it’s not a bad idea…

A Dose of Good Chocolate – A Taste of France

We’ve started eating our chocolates early this year for Easter.  I mean, we have NO patience.  Who am I kidding?  Stop.  What’s with the Royal “We”?  OK, it’s me.

I’m a squirrel with little stocks of good quality chocolate, hiding conveniently well behind the tea tin until reached upon for a quick, quiet, knee quivering nibble.  After all, it’s good for you and full of magnesium, right? I’m a firm believer that your body tells you when it needs something.  Right now I’m feeling tired and run down with a flickering eye.  When the chemist explained my eye was reacting to a lack of magnesium I took the box of supplements but deep down I was thinking, “I just need more chocolate!”

Anyone for a milk chocolate poussin?

Walking past our local Chocolateries, seeing their beautiful windows decorated for Easter, I have been stocking up on my private “little” stocks.

A hen or the traditional French Easter bells?

In the UK children hunt for Easter Eggs which have been left by the Easter Bunny.  In France, it’s the bells chimes that have come from the Vatican in Rome so that’s why you also see chocolate bells on display here, too.  My children somehow manage to get the bells, the bunnies, the eggs, the hens and the chocolate fish.  And that’s when they’re in France.  This week we’re in Scotland visiting family and I know that when we come back our suitcases will be laden with British chocolate.  I’m not complaining BUT…

A frozen chocolate cream egg from Picard

Since coming to France, my tastes have changed.  Chocolate is definitely one of them.  The chocolate I grew up with in Scotland is just not the same any more.  Last year I bought myself a Cadbury’s Creme Egg for old times’ sake.  Jings.  I bit into it and my teeth hurt.  It was far too sweet!  The quantity of cacao in the Easter eggs is just so little that there’s more sugar in them than anything else.  My children still love them but it’s not until you have some chocolate from the likes of Pascal le Gac that you realise the difference.

Break open the shell and you get a chocolate praline egg

For a start, their chocolate egg is a real egg shell filled with the most intense dark praline chocolate…

Pascal le Gac Chocolatier

Pascal le Gac is reputed to be one of the 9 best chocolateries in France.  When I popped in to his chocolate shop in St Germain-en-Laye the other day to get a few bags of friture (the sea-shell/ fish chocolate shapes) and mini Easter eggs (and a few of their exquisite macarons too, just for more “research” ;-)), the chocolate aromas wafting out of the bag into the car were just incroyable.

Licking the chocolate shop windows

You just don’t get that with a giant mass-market commercial Chocolate Easter Egg, n’est-ce pas?  Call me a chocolate snob but it’s true.  Did you know that to go window shopping in France is called “Lécher les vitrines“?  It’s so poetically put and realistic in this case!  Lécher is the verb to lick…

So, when you’re making your chocolate macarons, my friends, please ensure that you use good quality cooking/pâtisserie chocolate.  At least 64% cocoa solids does the trick.  You’ll really taste the difference and even the chocolate. 😉

Dark chocolate macaron anyone?

Hm.  Did I mention Royal earlier? Don’t forget that if you are making special themed macarons for the Royal Wedding on 29 April, then please send me your photos to jill(at)madaboutmacarons(dot)com.  I’ll be showcasing your macarons to share our decoration ideas (could be colour themed) and flavour ideas (could be a typical British flavour).  Come on, get creative, folks!  Let’s have some fun…

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter, full of wonderfully intense, knee-quivering chocolate!