Archive for the 'French desserts' Category

09
May
13

Michel Richard knows his way around a dessert

Napoleon a la Michel

Now that’s a napoleon (mille-feuille)!

A while back, I had the good fortune of stuffing my face at a work lunch at Central in downtown DC, a Michel Richard joint. The chef’s known for his playful turn with foods (as well as looking a lot like Santa Claus).

A profile of Richard that ran in The Washington Post many years ago revealed one of his culinary inspirations: KFC’s fried chicken. Yup, his haute cuisine is inspired by the Colonel. That gives you some insight into why his creations, sweet or savory, are big on contrasting textures and often have a crispy element.

Michel's crunch bar from Central

Those of us who didn’t order Michel’s crunch bar were jealous of those who did.

Without further ado, here’s a rundown of the 3 Central desserts we tried.

The restaurant’s best-known treat is Michel’s chocolate bar, the chef’s Kit Kat-inspired happy ending. This was chocolate-y without being cloying, and had a nice crispy texture. If you’re unsure which dessert to try, go with this one. It was the all-around favorite.

The gimungous size and presentation of my napoleon made for some envious looks around the table. But the layered pastry and cream, while delicious, needed a little kick. A drizzle of chocolate or fruit puree, or even the traditional napoleon icing, would’ve made for less monotonous eating. It’s unusual that I don’t finish a dessert, but I left some of this on the plate.

The disappointing lemon bar from Central.

The lemon tart didn’t find many fans at our table.

My comrades in gustatory indulgence who ordered this lemon tart weren’t super happy with it. It’s a layer of shortbread topped with bland lemon mousse topped with meringue. Next to the more showstopping dessert options, this one’s a dud.

A peek at Central DC's kitchen.

Central’s kitchen, where the pastry magic happens.

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10
Nov
12

A couple do-it-yourself Trader Joe’s treats

This chocolate-peppermint loaf certainly doesn't taste like it came out of a box.

Around this time of year, my grocery bill at Trader Joe’s usually doubles because there are so many seasonal goodies to try. One of them is this chocolate-peppermint loaf mix, which I may have to stock up on because it’s that good.

This loaf (I wish they’d call it something else) certainly doesn’t taste like anything you’d typically get out of a box. My only disappointment with this mix is that they skimped on the mint-chocolate chips. So I added an additional 3 ounces of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips before baking. The final result is a rich, dark-chocolatey loaf with a pound-cake consistency.

The almond croissants from Trader Joe's take minimal effort--and give many patisseries a run for their money.

These almond croissants were even easier to make than the mix. You lay them out on a baking sheet the night before so they can rise at room temperate into fluffy pillows, then stick them in the oven in the morning. That’s it. These were tastier than many almond croissants I’ve had at bakeries (although nowhere near the gold standard of the genre from Tout de Sweet in downtown Bethesda). Generously filled with almond paste and fresh from the oven, they make a tasty breakfast. Not a healthy one, but might as well eat the rich stuff earlier in the day to kick start your metabolism, right?

You leave these Trader Joe's almond croissants out overnight at room temperature to rise.

From frozen, these almond croissants quadruple in size overnight.

27
May
12

Macaron Bee opens. Georgetown becomes even more dangerous for the pancreatically challenged.

Not only are there a bunch of ice cream, pie, and cupcake places in Georgetown, but also more than a handful of European cafes (Paul, Patisserie Poupon, Dolcezza, Kafe Leopold) pushing buttery pastries. Last weekend, Macaron Bee entered the fray on Wisconsin Avenue. It’s a tiny boutique that sells only French macarons, like Macaron Cafe in NY.

Macaron Bee offers classics like coconut, chocolate, and pistachio--plus more exotic flavors like blood orange, lavender chocolate, and gianduja.

My haul from Macaron Bee. They carry about a dozen flavors every day, ranging from the expected (chocolate, pistachio) to the exotic (blood orange, chocolate lavender).

The owners are an Asian couple who seem to know their stuff when it comes to this fetishized French cookie. For $1.75, you get a macaron with just the right crunch, giving way to chewy centers and not-too-sweet fillings. The cookies’ consistency and flavors held up in sweaty 90-degree weather–even after a day in the fridge.

Macaron Bee is a few doors down from Patiesserie Poupon in Georgetown.

The store is a bit of a schlep up Wisconsin Avenue, a few doors north of Patisserie Poupon.

I do have a small beef with the fillings, though. For instance, I want a salted caramel filling in its namesake macaron. These had more of a buttercream, which threw me off. Macaron Bee fares better with the fruit (jelly) fillings and chocolate fillings, where the consistency doesn’t remind me of biting down on a pat of Land O’Lakes.

The inside of Macaron Bee is a macaron fan's wet dream.

Rows upon rows of macarons greet you as you enter the tiny store.

I was impressed with the attention to detail that went into making these cookies. The gianduja had chopped hazelnuts adorning the outer cookie; the salted caramel, salt granules; etc. Minor detail, but this helped me figure out which flavor was what when I left the store.

The owners’ meticulousness is also obvious in their packaging. The adorable boxes are made for gifting–check out those bees leaving a trail of macarons in their wake (above).

Macaron Bee offers your standard flavors, and some more exotic ones.

Flavors, clockwise starting at 9 o’clock: salted caramel, blood orange, chocolate lavender, coconut, raspberry, pistachio, blood orange, and milk chocolate passionfruit.

02
May
12

Los angeles dessert haikus

A bit of wisdom served up on Santa Monica Pier.

We’ve been on blog break because we were eating our way through LA, trying sweets from various restaurants and bakeries. While we had some good ones (the coconut bavarois from Red Medicine is now a fond memory), most were unspectacular. We also tried one patisserie (Jin in Venice) that made us all-the-more grateful for Bethesda’s Tout de Sweet. As much as I wanted to like Jin–Asian owner, picturesque outdoor seating, tempting selection of lunch options–the goods just didn’t deliver.

A rundown of the sugar tour:

 

Red Medicine:

Coconut dessert

In a tropical ant farm

Reluctant to share

Bitter chocolate

Ruined by string of butter

Pastry chef misstep

 

Gjelina:

Famous pot de creme

JELL-O pudding on steroids

It’s salty! It’s sweet!

Strawberry rhubarb

A crisp more like a pot pie

Overly soupy

 Jin Patisserie:

Macarons and cake

A feast for the eyes, not mouth

Post-dessert remorse

Lavender-almond

Sesame-peanut cookies

Jin redeems itself?

 

Tender Greens:

Caramel cupcake

Like midget banana bread

Icing overload

 

Cake Monkey:

Two kinds of cookies

Both chocolatey sandwiches

Unmemorable

11
Apr
12

What the hell are canelés?

They’re not as fetishized as macarons, as common as croissants, or as dunkable as madeleines. But they do hail from France (the Bordeaux region, specifically). And they are worth introducing to your taste buds.

Canelés are basically baked custards that looked like they popped out of a tiny 70s jello mold.

They haven’t been on my radar for a long time. I rarely (never?) see them at DC-area French bakeries. The last time I found these was in the Trader Joe’s frozen case. Those ate like rubber. (Aside: I’m guessing that chewy texture is authentic to canelés and comes from the special baking mold they use. I just don’t like it. See my rant on mochi.)

Then last week, Smack was featured on a recent Tasting Table email. They described theirs as having a special crunch. I was willing to take a risk, ordering an assortment of 25: plain, lemon, chocolate-dipped. (They’ll deliver them to your door for an extra $6.)

When I emailed Smack about leaving the box at my front door, they were concerned about the canelés losing their crunch if exposed to the whims of the weather. This company is definitely a labor of love. Not just because of their concern with the quality, but also the presentation. The caneles come immaculately packaged in a gift box with a giant bow.

BTW, they were spot on about the importance of the crunch. That’s what made these little babies so good. They were just sweet enough, fragrant with vanilla and rum. The dark chocolate ones were the best. Tip: after refrigeration they lose their crunch around day 3, so order only what you can eat while fresh.

19
Mar
12

Get a free macaron on March 20

Free cupcakes are a dime a dozen in this town. But free French macarons? Not so easy to come by.

Behold the Early Grey, salted caramel, and coconut macarons from Tout de Sweet, who makes some of the best French pastries in town.

So tomorrow, head over to Tout De Sweet in Bethesda (a few doors down from Tastee Diner). For those of you in the Capitol Hill/Eastern Market area, the Sweet Lobby is giving out free macarons all day until 5 PM. Just mention that you’re celebrating Macaron Day to get your tiny treasure.

I didn’t realize this was an actual holiday, but I’m all for it. Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé started the tradition 7 years ago. Not only do you get a freebie, but participating businesses donate a portion of their Macaron Day proceeds to charity.

21
Oct
11

A taste of La Boulange & Samovar, before the mad dash to the airport

One day on our San Francisco trip, we got off from an overcrowded cable car sweaty and ravenously hungry. I needed to get some food down my gullet, and quick. There was a Taco Bell nearby. Tempted as I was (yeah, I know I’m in in the minority as far as being a Taco Smell fan. But I’d still consider eating their taco supremes even if I found out they were made with Alpo. I said consider.), we were in the city of tasty foodstuffs, so we felt obligated to try harder. That’s how we ended up at La Boulange.


While I was in line, a glass case of pastries and macarons stared me in the face. Since I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days, we made a point to stop by again on the last day of our trip.

The almond croissant–while topped with lovely roasted almonds–was stingy with the filling. The pastry, not as flaky as we’d hoped. Solid showing, but not a stunner.

As for the macarons, the poor things endured a 12-hour trip back to the East Coast, including a layover in Dallas. They were in a dilapidated, soggy state by then. Luckily, we took these photos while they were still presentable.

The other place we tried on our last day was Samovar, a “tea lounge.” Because the online reviews of this local chain were mixed, we were on the fence about making the effort. But I’m glad we did.

The Yerba Buena Gardens location is in a serene spot overlooking the gardens. On a nice day, it’s probably a prime place for getting cozy with a kettle of tea. We sat inside, where the air was heady with incense–the smell actually turned my stomach a little.

This rosewater-tinged Greek yogurt combined some things I’m not crazy about: dates and walnuts. Yet it was so, so good: spoonfuls of Middle-Eastern flavors perfectly melding together.

Mr. X-sXe had the quinoa waffles, which are described as “pillowy” on the menu. That, they were. The syrup that came with it almost tasted of molasses, but our waitress said it was made of palm sugar. Either way, it had a caramelized flavor that made us want to do shots of it.

The tea at Samovar is pricey, but we shared a pot of pu-erh that the nice waitress kept refilling with hot water. The earthiness of the tea was a nice complement to our treacly breakfast dishes.

It’d be pretty accurate to say we left our palates in SF. All our food choices after we got home to DC seemed just blah. *Sigh*