July 2012 For a number of years, I've been doing chocolate tours of Paris. I don't know if other people were doing them at the time, but when I arriv

       
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July 2012

lausanne

For a number of years, I've been doing chocolate tours of Paris. I don't know if other people were doing them at the time, but when I arrived, I was leading people through my favorite chocolate shops and bakeries in this city, world-renown as the best destination for everyone's favorite treat. I did these half- and full-day tours for a while, and we visited and tasted our way through a lot of shops. But instead of just tasting squares of chocolates, filled with creamy-smooth ganache or crunchy hazelnut praline, I wanted to show why (italic) these chocolates were so special.

So I decided to concentrate on behind-the-scenes visits. Because Paris is a tight city, most of the laboratories are small, and because they are working kitchens, they're not open to the public. Fortunately I made friends with several of the outstanding chocolate shops that I particularly admired, and I realized that the only way to really see these places was to spend a full-week, rather than a few hours, which gives us the time to really explore what these masters of their craft do.

lime tart

The Perfect Lime Tart at Jacques Genin

Last month I had the pleasure to doing another tour, which included Lausanne, Switzerland (one reason is at the top of this newsletter - check out that spectacular view from our hotel!) with folks coming from Norway, the United Kingdom, and North America. We visited the workshop of Jacques Genin, who is obsessive about his chocolates and pastries; each one has to be the picture of perfection in order for it to make it into his swanky boutique. (Whenever I go, he hands off samples of things with tiny, imperceptible scratches, which I scarf down.)

Jean-Charles Rochoux is another favorite and his classic chocolates are the quintessential Parisian bonbon – a thin enrobage of chocolate might conceal a filling of liquid Cognac or Grand Marnier, chocolate bars surprise – and delight – with caramelized hazelnuts embedded in the deep, dark bittersweet chocolate. (I always find it charming when French chocolatiers say "black chocolate", which is the literal translation into English of "chocolat noir." But I don't correct them because now I understand when French people say they find my gaffes amusante as well.)

And at Fouquet, one of the oldest confectionery shops in Paris (you can watch my video of them in action here), the team in the newly updated kitchen works hard, caramelizing Italian hazelnuts and transforming them into crunchy paste to enrobe in black…er, I mean, dark chocolate. Sour cherries get pitted by hand, each pit plucked out by a loop of metal affixed to a wine cork. And, of course, there are my beloved chocolate-covered marshmallows, which they keep high up on a shelf in the kitchen, away from my prying hands.

I was having lunch afterward with the owner of one of these place and he was telling me that he likes when I bring in my guests, because it gives him a chance to show people what they do, and what makes them so special. It's not necessarily the usual attitude, where things are hidden, and secrets are closely guarded. People like Jacques know that even if he gives away his recipe for Tarte au citron vert (lime tart), he's not in danger of being upstaged by someone else making it. Unless you want to go through the fourteen steps it takes to make each chocolate-covered rectangle of hazelnut croquant, Fouquet doesn't have anything to worry about. And although folks were clamoring for the recipe for Monsieur Rochoux's fabulous praline paste, it's impossible to get the same results at home – unless your kitchen is outfitted with a giant granite roller, capable of crushing caramelized nuts to an absolutely smooth paste without any trace of grittiness.

It's also nice for me to go to these shops, because it's easy to take for granted all the bakeries and treats that we have such easy access to in Paris. It's a welcome respite from the sometimes surly bureaucrats who make you pry the information out of them, banks that refuse to accept deposits on days that end in the letter "y", and seeing trails of trash and dog dropping on the streets, and focusing on what's lovely about Paris. It's not just walks along the Seine, marveling at the Eiffel Tower, or scraping poopy off the bottom of your shoe. It's about seeing people hard at work, who are experts at their craft, confident of their abilities to produce the world's finest chocolates and confections. And, of course, for the rest of us – it's nice to enjoy them, too!

-David

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ganache, caramel, meringue

Chocolate Ganache, Meringue, Salted Butter Caramel

Favorite Posts from June

Savoy Cake: This light spongcake was a favorite from The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth, one of my favorite food books from all time.

Ice: I didn't realize the amount of commentary a little ode to ice would draw in.

Why I Don't Hate Starbucks: As someone who remembers when the coffee in America was our national shame, I'm here to defend (a bit) the mermaid, who prompted some of the changes.

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Paris Booksigning This Month

readyfordessert

I'll be doing a "pop up" - style book signing at La Cuisine culinary school in Paris on July 14th from 5:30 to 7:30pm. It's a bit of a pop-up 'ish' event because it's summer, so it's more challenging to do a full-on event with food and drinks, as we sometimes do.

But if you want to drop by and get a copy of Ready for Dessert, just stop ini! You can find full details and a map at the Facebook event page.

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cuisine

Some folks have been clamoring for updates, and those of you who have gone through it (and it seems like anywhere you go, our stories are similar) – and things took longer than expected, and didn't exactly go as planned. Nevertheless, I am confident that someday it'll all be done, and I will be able to say that I lived to tell the tale.

I am very fortunate to have a good-sized kitchen although as you can see, I haven't put things away and I'm still figuring out where everything is going to go. Coming from America, where big kitchens are pretty standard because there's so much space, I had to adjust to cooking and baking in a cramped kitchen in Paris. So it's nice to have space to spread out in, and really work. I can't complain, because if I do, my friends with teensy Paris kitchens (many don't even have ovens or counters) will chide me mercilessly. But I do remind them that for me, the kitchen is a live/work space, and that my refrigerator – which is the size of a Smart Car, isn't a luxury, but a necessity. Even the ice-maker.

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What's Coming Up

At the end of June, I made a trip to Israel, which I'll likely have some stories from. I plan to buckle down and get to work on a book project that had to get shelved (gggrrr!) while I dealt with less-interesting stuff, and I'm hoping that the rain that's showered down on Paris incessantly since last fall will have subsided, so that I can enjoy a few of those walks around the Seine. Or better yet, a picnic or two!

flowers in Vinzel

Vinzel, Switzerland

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