This week we’re going to take a journey to France – as I did this past weekend. Having long heard praises of French food, I was eager to get my hands on croissants, crepes, café au laits…and Paris didn’t disappoint. Its streets were lined with artisan food shops: fromageries, boulangeries (bakeries), patisseries, chocolate shops, all brightly displaying their goods.
But first, the coffee. As it turns out, French coffee isn’t all that good. This article explains why: http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2005/06/how_not_to_drin.html
Essentially, the French use lower-quality Robusta beans from their former African colonies (as opposed to the high-quality Arabica beans used in Italy and in all quality coffeeshops). This leads to a nasty cup of coffee (or, espresso, which is what the French – and generally all Europeans – predominantly drink). The beans are the base of a coffee drink, but other factors go into brewing a good cup – which I will explore more thoroughly in a later entry.
So, Heather, the friend I was visiting, and I took it upon ourselves to find good coffee in Paris. The good news? It does exist.
Verlet, located at 256 rue Saint-Honoré is tiny and pleasant. They roast and sell their own beans, and serve freshly prepared coffee and pastries, and beautiful dried fruits arranged around the store. I ordered my long-desired café au lait (or, café crème), which is prepared essentially the same way they prepare “café con leche” in Spain: a shot of espresso and a little pitcher of steamed milk poured into your espresso right in front of you. Yum.
Cafes Amazone, located at 11 rue Rambuteau is very tiny – one table tiny — and its main business is beans. They did offer shots of espresso for one euro, so Heather and I both got one, and enjoyed the pleasing taste of a well-pulled shot.
I’m saving the best for last, of course, and that place was La Caféothèque (52 rue de l’Hôtel-de-Ville) (http://www.lacafeotheque.com). An espresso here will run you three euros, a cappuccino, five. But is it worth it? I think so. I watched approvingly as the barista artfully pulled a perfect shot, steamed a smooth pitcher of milk, folded the milk into the espresso, creating lovely “latte art”. And it tasted as good as it looked.
Conclusion: great coffee in Paris does exist, and is easily findable with a little bit of research.
Next up…crepes! I’ve long been a fan of crepes…as a kid my favorite meal was breakfast, and it’s a small leap from there to come to love crepes. Crepes originated in the northwest region of Brittany, but have spread to become a national dish. They come in two basic varieties: sweet (made with wheat flour) and savory (made with buckwheat flour). Typical fillings for sweet crepes include: simple dusting of sugar, jam, Nutella, Nutella and bananas… Savory fillings include: spinach and cheese, ratatouille, different meats.
I visited a couple creperies during my brief stay in Paris. Creperies can either be traditional sit-down restaurants, or take away places. I ordered my crepes at take away places, and watched as they made the crepes. Here’s how: with a ladle, they pour the liquidy batter onto a flat circular hot plate. The crepe quickly cooks, at which point it’s flipped over to cook the other side. The ingredients are then added (I had raspberry jam with my first crepe, and Nutella and bananas with my second). The crepe is then folded, wrapped in a little paper thing, and handed to you. Tres bien!
Finally, I present to you a recipe from my friend Noemie, we met in Madrid, but she hails from Lyon, the (quoted) “gastronomical capital of France”.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
First you put the flour in a bowl, then the salt, eggs and butter, you mix everything with a whisk, make sure there are no lumps. Pour the milk little by little, with one hand, while you keep using the whisk with the other hand. Add milk or flour if it’s too thick or too liquid.
It has too be much more liquid than a pancake dough.
Cover it and let it sit for an hour.
Using a ladle, pour the dough in a pan that you rubbed with a paper towel dipped into oil before.
Then you just do the crepes, side by side. When it gets brownish and doesn’t stick to the pan anymore, you can return the crepe to cook the other side, with a spatula if you are a coward, or holding the pan in one hand and with a small twist of your wrist, throw it in the air (like a backflip), which is actually the French way.
I recommend chestnut spread to eat it with, very French, or with powder sugar, jelly, chocolate…