Sunday, May 8, 2011

Paris Patisseries: Pierre Herme - Round Two.

This Pierre Herme patisserie is in a slightly swankier part of town than the first one I went to and looks very different. While the front of the other one is all glass and the inside is bright and colourful, the window of this one serves as a display case, which is filled with pitihivers.

The interior of this one is much darker, all the fittings and fixtures in a dark brown wood. Another difference - the first store was happy to let me take pictures, this one, not so much. I managed to snap a couple of photos as I walked in the door before someone asked me to stop. Booooo!

I want one of everything, but neither my wallet nor my stomach could handle that, so I settle on three individual sized pieces:

~ Ispahan: rose macaron, rose cream, raspberry and lychee
~ Infiniment vanille: pate sablee, vanilla white chocolate ganache, vanilla mascarpone cream
~ Infiniment citron: pate sablee, lemon cream, candied lemon zest, lemon jelly

It's cold and rainy back on the street, so I jump on the Metro and head for the hostel so I can get stuck into these little beauties.

Being that in the past year or so I had become more-than-normal obsessed with the wonderfulness that is lemon, I go for the lemon tart first (Infiniment citron). Pierre Herme's lemon cream is the stuff dreams are made of. It's smooth and tangy and I want more. Actually, I want to dive into a sea of the stuff. Come to think of it, that is how I want to go out - drowning in a sea of PH's lemon cream. How big does a body of liquid need to be to be considered a sea?

Next up, is the Infiniment vanille.

I love this one. I know plenty of people say vanilla is, well so vanilla, but not so. Vanilla, when done right, rocks. This is done right. A short pastry, creamy filling and a beautiful vanilla perfume throughout. Hellooooooo lover.

And finally, the Ispahan.

This one is the prettiest of the bunch. It comes in a little gold fluted case and it looks just lovely. The flavours and textures of this one just go so well together. The raspberries are tart and juicy which is good alongside the sweet lychee (I'm still in awe of how good all the produce that I came across was in France, don't even get me started on the mandarins I had over there). You get the smooth from the rose cream and the crunchy from the macaron shell.

Happiness is....

Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Australian Girl in Paris - Part Deux: More Sights

This morning gets off to a slow start. My partner-in-crime is still under the weather and I've had a somewhat unstable nights sleep. You see, sometime in the middle of the night I rolled over and some of the slats on my bed came off their frame and I ended up half on the floor. Since I couldn't really fix it without power tools I was forced to try and sleep like this for the rest of the night. That didn't happen.

We're going to tour Paris by double decker bus today. We've rugged up accordingly since the best view will be on the top of the bus, which is all open.

Pretty much every building in Paris is photo worthy. To avoid making my few readers feel like they've been invited to a boring slide night, I'll keep it to the biggies.

The Louvre

Did you know that there are 2 Arc de Triomphe's in Paris? I didn't. There is the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, below, which right near the Louvre. The big mama (twice the size of this baby) is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris, if not the world. It's full name is the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile. I must admit I did a double take on this thinking for a second that it was 'the one', but then remembered that 'the one' was at the end of the Champs-Elysees and we weren't there yet.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

So, thoughts on the Louvre:
1) it's freakin' huge
2) you'd to come here every day for a year to see everything properly
3) wow, 17th century painters really liked religion and boobs
4) my feet hurt
5) I'm so glad I did that.

Smack bang in the middle of what has to be the worlds biggest, scariest and craziest round-a-bout, the Arc de Triomphe stands in the middle of Place Charles de Gaulle, the meeting point of 12 (yes, 12) avenues. There are no traffic lights, no pedestrian crossings and apparently, no rules. I've heard horror stories of family trips to Paris with dad driving, mum navigating, kids in the back getting stuck on this thing for ages. I'm sure driving around it has caused more couple fights than IKEA furniture assembly.

Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile

Louis Vuitton on Champs-Elysees

Now, I'm not really one for churches, but Notre Dame is absolutely spectacular. It's huge and the detail is just incredible. It took almost 200 years to be considered fully completed and boy, it has seen some action over the years (including being desecrated during the French Revolution, after which it underwent a restoration).

Notre Dame de Paris

And here is little old me doing the shameless tourist shot. Just be thankful I wasn't holding a gnome or doing that finger perspective thingy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Paris Patisseries: Pierre Herme - The Maiden Voyage.

Pierre Herme - Le Roi de Macaron. A fourth generation baker who began his apprenticeship at the age of 14. Legend in the world of pastry.

I've spent countless hours reading about him and his creations on the internet and in books. I searched for months for his out of print 'Macaron' book and jumped for joy when I finally found one that I could afford (and it is still probably the most expensive cookbook I own, and using it requires translating first, since it is entirely in French).

There are two Pierre Herme patisseries and for my first trip I head to the one on rue de Vaugirard in the 15th arrondissement.

The store is gorgeous. The display cases are modern and colourful and hold the beautiful works of pastry art that Herme is famous for. The back wall is is covered in the names of the creations and the ceiling is wallpapered with the logo. It's spectacular.

I see some difficult choices in my future.

The pastry case

The chocolate case

The macaron case

I'm not entirely sure I'll get one of these through customs.

Decisions, decisions. My head hurts. I think the cure for that might be a box of 12 macarons. I get one of every flavour and double up on a few that I know will be winners. They are:
~ Milk chocolate & passionfruit
~ Salted caramel
~ Rose
~ Chocolate
~ White truffle and hazelnut
~ Chestnut and matcha green tea
~ Coffee

I already know that I'm going to be visiting the other Pierre Herme patisserie so I decided that this enough for today - I don't want to overwhelm myself.

Now for the verdict. The trip to the patisserie itself was fantastic. It's so pretty and my little bag of goodies from there just felt so precious to me. Too precious to just crack them out on the Paris sidewalk. I waited until we were back at the hostel later that day before I try my first macaron. I've heard so many good things about the milk chocolate and passionfruit one, so it was always going to be my first. Can I just say for a combo that I had never thought of together - holy crap it was good. The shell was so light and crisp and the ganache was so smooth and packed some serious flavour punch. It was so good that I had to let someone know about it, so instead of selfishly keeping the other for myself, I made Libby eat the other (she loved it).

The other clear favourites are the salted caramel and the rose.

It took me a while to get through them all (since a couple of days later I added to the pile with some from Laduree) and I'm still munching on macarons when I get back to Toronto!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Australian Girl in Paris - Part Une

Today's post title is brought to you by Sex and the City.

So, as much as I enjoyed Amsterdam and despite the fact that we've had to wake up at a very uncool hour of the morning, I cannot (and will not) hide my excitement at the fact that today is the day I will arrive in Paris. Yes, Paris, France.

I've got a list of places I want to hit as long as my arm. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to fit it all in (both time and stomach wise). Not to worry, I'll just have to come back again (and again) to see the things that I don't fit into this trip.

We're on the train bright and early for our 2 hour train trip to from Amsterdam to Paris. We end up sitting opposite a really nice guy from New York, Jonah, who is also headed to Paris. Jonah runs a charity back in New York, working with kids in the city. He's heading to Paris to attend some courses and for a bit of a holiday. We chat for most of the trip.

We arrive in Paris, say 'au revoir' to Jonah, transfer to the Metro and head for our hostel. Located in the 19th arrondissement on Quai de la Seine, St Christopher's Hostel is brand-spanking new and has quite a view. The Quai de la Seine is a 900m long dock located along the Bassin de la Villette (part of the Parisian canal system). So, while we're not overlooking the Seine, we're pretty happy with our digs and the view.

It's mid-afternoon by the time we're checked in and ready for the adventure to begin. We jump on the Metro and head to the 4th arrondissement, which is both the gay and the Jewish area of the city. I've heard there is an awesome felafel to be had at 'L'as du fallafel' and going by the size of the line out the front I'm not the only one. They are so busy that there is a guy walking up and down the line taking orders before you even get to the counter.

The felafel is insanely good. The felafel balls are so crispy, the salad fresh and crunchy and the yogurt sauce is the perfect tangy topping. It's also a pretty good size and only 5 euros. Happy belly.

For the rest of the night we just walk. I know I'm far from the first and I definitely won't be the last to say so, but Paris is just gorgeous. I can hardly believe that little old me is finally walking its streets.

Hotel de ville

We wake the next day and Libby is sick as a dog. It's decided that she's not well enough to be out in the cold so I venture out alone. I really wanted to go and check out the equipment/ingredient shops on Rue Montorgueil in the Les Halles area and since Libby wasn't really all that interested in things like croissant cutters and weird and wonderful types of chocolate, it made sense to go on the day she was out of action.

I had been wanting to go to G. Detou since reading all about it on David Lebovitz's website. A bakers dream, stocking incredible quality chocolates, nuts and all sorts of baking goodies. Sadly, it wasn't to be. I arrived to find the roller shutters locked tight. I couldn't work it out, it was a Monday at 11am. Turns out, while it was the 3rd January, the 1st had fallen on a Saturday, so Paris was taking its public holiday on this, the following Monday. Bummer dude.

Most of the other shops of interest on Rue Montorgueil were also closed, but a couple of grocers and bakeries were open.

The bakery windows in Paris are amazing. There is such effort put into the displays and presentation. I could stand in front of them for hours, just looking.

The produce also looks spectacular. I can also confirm that it tastes pretty amazing too! Later that day I buy a few mandarines at another store and they are unbelievably good. I don't bother with mandarines back home since I rarely get one that is worth the effort of dealing with peel, pith and pips. I picked these up as I thought they'd be a good thing for Libby to eat with her cold. They didn't stick around for long!

After seeing all I can, consulting my map and thinking about what will be open, I settle on the Musee d'Orsay. I grab a sandwich from bakery chain 'Paul' for later and head off.

The Musee d'Orsay offers more disappointment. It's closed on Mondays. Jeez.

I cross the road and look out over the River Seine and consult the map again. I work out that if I follow the river I'll eventually end up at the Eiffel Tower. I have a plan.

On the way, I come across Pont Alexandre III, which is a beautiful arch bridge that crosses the Seine.

This has to be the most extravagant bridge in the world. Each side has these amazing lamp posts every few metres.

There is also the odd cherub, nymph and winged horse thrown in for good measure... You know, as you do.

And, just in case you didn't believe that I was really there, I conveniently have some photographic evidence!

Lunch - wooohoo!!!

After lunch, I continue my walk along the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower, catching little glimpses of her here and there and then all of a sudden...

It's huge, spectacular and very, very busy. It's a public holiday, a Monday and there is a comet set to zoom by any minute (OK, I made this last thing up, I'm still a little miffed that almost everything is closed) so it is possibly the only thing open. Since I know I'll be back I walk around a little and then keep moving to check out the rest of the hood.

The buildings in this area are particularly spectacular and I found the building where I'm going to live when I move to Paris. I'm sure rent is only about a billion dollars a week.

Can't you just see me out the front, red and white striped shirt, navy peacoat, baguette under one arm, walking a small white fluffy dog? One day.

All the walking and daydreaming has made me a bit peckish. Better stop for an afternoon treat. One of the greatest things about Paris and something that I didn't expect at all, is that there are so many patisseries and boulangeries. I mean there are the famous ones, Pierre Herme, Laduree etc... But there are also just the regular neighbourhood ones. Seriously, I would turn a corner and there would be another one. Every one that I happened to step into had quality stuff. I'm sure there must be a couple of dodgy ones, but for the most part, since there is a lot of competition, the overall quality is pretty high.

In this particular patisserie, a small raspberry tart caught my eye.

It's a sable breton base filled with creme diplomat and topped with fresh raspberries - absolutely delicious. The sweet treat recharges my batteries and I keep on walking until dusk. Another trip on the Metro and I'm back at the hostel to check up on Libby and make an action plan for the next day.

Monday, March 21, 2011


So, I've long been back in Sydney from my overseas adventure, but lately a few friends have commented (and not through me fishing for compliments) on how much they enjoyed reading my blog while I was away and that I really should keep it up. I had a look through my photos today and realised that I've only posted on San Francisco and that was only half my trip. The rest of the trip was also insanely awesome and deserves some props.

So, after a rather traumatic experience at SFO (note to self: never travel in North America 5 days before to Christmas day again) where I seriously thought I was going to miss my plane (there was running involved and a large amount of swearing), I was on my way to Toronto, Canada. A few hours later and I'm back in the T-dot jumping up and down like crazy person in the airport with my great friend Libby (who I hadn't seen in a couple of years).

The next 7 days is a bit of a blur. I know I got the flu and gastro and Christmas was tucked in there somewhere. Libby and I were heading to Amsterdam for New Years and there were a few nervous days where we weren't sure if we would be able to fly because Heathrow had shut down due to bad weather, but luckily everything went to plan.

We rock up to the airport headed for Amsterdam and it's packed. Post Christmas travel combined with them still trying to clear the backlog due to weather closures and our check-in chick asked us to "wait over there while she tried to find us some seats on the plane". We waited, nervously, to hear back from her. She bounced over after about 15 minutes with a big smile, and what I think might be the best thing I've ever heard "I've found you a couple of seats in Premium Economy." We thanked her profusely and then I said something highly inappropriate about wanting to have her babies (hey, I'd never been bumped up before). Next thing we know, we're seated on our flight and for once I'm on 'that side' of the curtain, which is soon pulled shut so we don't have to have our eyes or ears polluted those less fortunate than us in economy.

After a truly delightful flying experience we touchdown at Heathrow and change planes for the 40 minute flight to Amsterdam. This part was not so delightful. The flight over was super quick, but upon landing, something on the plane broke and we started spewing hydraulic fluid all over the joint. It also meant that our pilot couldn't steer the plane to get us to the terminal. We are stuck out on the runway and can't move until something comes to tow us. A few minutes later the pilot is back on the speaker telling us not to be alarmed by the fire trucks that are now surrounding the plane. Another 15 minutes pass and we're informed that we are, in fact, spewing out a hell of a lot of hydraulic fluid and it is a bit of a problem, our tow will be arriving shortly, but will be towing us out to the furthest point in the airport. While our pilot doesn't say that this is being done because we are now in danger of blowing up not only ourselves but everything around us, but we all know. Who would have thought there would be more danger on the ground than in the air? I'm glad both myself and Libby aren't nervous about flying. We're more annoyed that we've been up since some ungodly hour and we just want off the plane already.

Finally, we're out of the airport and we jump onto a train and a streetcar and we arrive at the Flying Pig Hostel and we're greated with a big hug from Alan, good friend and manager there. He shows us to our 4 bed dorm (I haven't hostelled in quite some time, and I won't be doing so again, I think, ever. Well, certainly not with drunk sleep-talking and snoring boys). Half an hour later, we're settled in and enjoying a beer in the bar (both handy and dangerous being inside the hostel). We have some dinner, more drinks and then we take a walk and I get my first proper look at Amsterdam. The streets are busy and still covered with dirty snow and it's cold out. Regardless, I'm enchanted. The buildings are so old and beautiful, the sky is clear and then there are the canals. At night, the water twinkles with the reflection of the street lights. This my first proper look at Europe and I like it!

Soon enough, it's off to bed for some serious rest. The next few days holds much partying and I'm still recovering from the germs Canada unleashed upon me, so I need my rest.

The next day starts with a big brekkie and lots of walking around Amsterdam. We head to Anne Frank house, only to be disappointed by a queue that goes up the street and around the corner. It's quite chilly out and we don't really fancy a 3 hour wait, so instead we head to the Amsterdam Museum instead and soak up some culture. We head back to the hostel in the late afternoon to await the second of the 'arrivals' (Libby and I being the first). A friend of Libby and Alan's, Jamie, is arriving from London to join the party.

There is much drinking that follows, a brief walk through the red-light district and an interesting cab ride back to the hostel (which involves Alan yelling at the driver in Dutch not to rip us off).

The next morning is a late start (I'm in the best shape given that I only did the one shot of Jagermeister and said no to the Jagerbombs). I wanted to be semi-functioning during the days since I hadn't been to Amsterdam before and all the others had. While Libby and Jamie caught up over lunch, I braved the queue to the Rijksmuseum. Two hours and numb feet later, I'm finally in and it is well worth the wait and the possible multiple toe amputation that I will later have to undergo. I mean the building itself is spectacular (even though half is covered with scaffolding), but it is what is inside that is really special. I remember when I was young and my parents took me to see some of the Old Masters on display at the National Gallery in Canberra and for the first time I saw what I now know to be some of the most famous paintings in the world. While I still do this day remember the paintings I saw there, I wasn't able to fully appreciate what I was seeing and how special it was. This time, standing in the Rijksmusuem, in Amsterdam, in Europe, I was and I felt so lucky. Some people will only ever be able to see a picture in a book or on the internet of either Vermeer's The Milkmaid or Rembrandt's The Night Watch, but not me. I'm one of the lucky ones that has seen it in the flesh!

The next day I'm up for some serious touristy sightseeing. I'm disappointed that the only photos I have of Amsterdam so far have been all been taken in bars!

We hit the Anne Frank house yet again, only to find even longer queues. Instead, we hop on one of the many boats that tour the canals. As much as I like walking around new cities, it was kind of nice to boat around this one. Plus, I was told I had to save my strength for the arrival of something called a 'Giz'. You see, it was also New Years Eve, and the third of the arrivals was en route and apparently, I was unlikely to come out the other side alive.

The boat tour is great. There are 4 different loops you can take, so we change throughout the day and are taken to all four corners of the city.

Our chariot.

I love the houseboats that line the sides of the canals. Since my first visit to Sausalito a few years ago I've often daydreamed about living on one - they just seem so fun.

The building that holds the Amsterdam Science Museum is also a little bit awesome. It looks like a sinking ship.

Amsterdam's super schmancy hotel - the Intercontinental. This is one seriously beautiful building.

We also cruise past the Heineken Brewery, but didn't stop for the tour, since apparently they no longer actually brew the beer that they bottle and sell here. They only do token batches for the tour groups. Boooooo!

A couple of hours later, we put on our New Years Eve duds and hit the bar. After a few bevvies, Giz arrives and the festivities really begin. An agreement was made later that night that the photos we took from the evening would not be posted on facebook, and while I know this isn't facebook, I'm pretty sure that was meant to cover all forms of internet publication. How about I just post a couple of the 'safe' ones.

Our beer of choice and a shot of Jagermeister.

After a round of Jagerbombs.

OK, so they are the only 'safe' ones. Let's just say it was a great night. A New Years Eve that I will definitely remember! Moving on.

The next day we spend feeling very sorry for ourselves. A hearty breakfast (at about 2pm) perks us up a little. We spend our last Amsterdam dinner with Alan. We're all leaving early in the morning: Libby and I for Paris, Alan for Costa Rica and Giz for home.

I have to admit that before my trip, Amsterdam had never made an appearance on my 'to do' list. I've met many a glaze-eyed, knitted rasta cap wearing backpacker in my time and listened to their tales of smoking "so much weed, dude" and loitering around the red light district. It didn't seem all that appealing. Had it not have been for Libby's promise to friend Alan that she would spend New Years there with him (and asking me to come along for the ride) I know that I would still think of it as a city where backpackers go to legally get stoned. After seeing the beauty of the city of Amsterdam and learning a little about the rich history of the Netherlands, I can happily say that it is so much more than that. I only hope it won't be too long before I'm able to return and see more.

Another wonderful thing about Amsterdam? It's only a 2 hour train ride away from Paris. How convenient.