Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hidden cupcakes...

Cupcakes are spreading around Paris pretty quickly these days. Two stores are climbing up Montmartre into one of Paris' most tourism-laden districts and profiting from the trend. Berko has opened up a new boutique on rue Lepic as of February, and Miss Cupcake has just opened one around the corner on rue Vieuville.

Berko offers the same cupcakes and cheesecake available in their original Marais location on rue Rambuteau. Still decidedly French-inspired, the cakes promise to sell well just a few meters from the cafe that Amelie worked at, a tourist stop in its own right.

Miss Cupcake is an American-inspired boutique with a few small tables located on a sunny corner right by where rue des Martyrs ends. Cutesy and pink, the shop offers American flavors like peanut butter and chocolate alongside classics like coffee, chocolate, and vanilla (see image). While nothing surprising, the cakes are akin to Synie's on the Left Bank with less charm, refinement, or titillating flavors.

Montmartre, check. Marais, check. St. Germain, check. Bastille, check. So, who's next?

Whoopie!!!

Well, cupcakes are far from over in Paris, but the new thing to have reached London via New York has squeaked its way into Paris ALREADY. The WHOOPIE pie is here!

The "What?" I know, it didn't click immediately with me either...

From my home state of Pennsylvania, the whoopie pie is a tradition among the Amish people, the Dutch farmers known for avoiding excess. Maybe that's why, according to lore, farmers would scream "Whoopie" when they found a pie with the lunch packed by their wives. While it was never a huge thing to eat as a kid, it's funny to see the resurgence of this dessert. Who actually DID eat whoopie pies as a kid? I remember buying them at the New York farmer's market at Union Square as a wee college student, but mom never made them, that's for sure.

Nevertheless, Magnolia's in NY and Hummingbird in London have made room on their shelves for the whoopie pie, and Paris is not one to be left behind. During an impromptu trip to Cupcakes&Co near the Bastille neighborhood I was shocked to see what I thought was a giant brown macaron in the glass case. But no, the ladies behind the counter introduced me to Paris' first whoopie pie. Weirdly out of place in Paris but at home in a cupcake bakery, I have my doubts...

Is Whoopie Pie & Co. the next big company to open or is this just a cute addition to American baked goods in Paris, headlined by the cupcake? I have huge doubts. Either way, the pie was pretty good, simple to make, and has almost as modifiable as the cupcake. But it's essentially just an inside-out cupcake, and not as cute. The Times in London calls it manly, but it's called a whoopie pie...I don't know that manly is the first thing I think about...

Cookies, brownies, cheesecake, cupcakes, now whoopie pies...what will be the next food trend to be thrust onto the international scene? Cupcakes have barely started to catch on among normal people in Paris so the whoopie pie seems a little forced and rushed, and definitely doesn't represent the best that we have to offer. Still, kudos to embracing new things, Paris!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Breaking eggs to break ice...

So when an American is invited to meet a French significant other’s family member (not me, lest the rumors begin) for the first time, the stress runs high. How to make a good impression on this family member? What to wear? What to talk about? What to bring to the picnic?

I can answer none of these, except for the last one. When it comes to bringing a food item for a picnic, any American in Paris should have a “duh” moment. Make cupcakes. Or, better yet, get your friend to make them for you and bring a box of them. And so a friend came over tonight and we (read: I) made cupcakes. Trying some new recipes inspired by another talented cupcake baker, we did some floral flavors and some ganache, straying from the usual flavors and buttercream that we all love and hold so dear.

Voila the results. I thank my friend for her ganaching skills and congratulate her on her newfound talent for pastry bagging (that sounds dirty…). The lavender cakes are floral, springy goodness. The vanilla cakes with dark the dark chocolate covering are exquisite and classic, like mom’s. Well, I imagine if my mom made ganache, it would have tasted like this…

Anyway, yum!

I hope they succeed in impressing the family member tomorrow, or else there is no hope of an eventual engagement ring…

Paris Cupcake Crawl...Version 1.0

Cupcake Crawl 2010! It happened! With my love of cupcakes rubbing off all over the place, it seemed natural that those closest to me would start to catch on. One of my closest French friends certainly got the fever and joined me on a cupcake crawl of Paris one fine April day. We met at Bon Marché to browse the baking goods and cupcakes in the pastry section. Mildly disgusted by the cakes we saw, we took the Vélib public biking system across the city to the Bastille neighborhood to Cupcake & Co, Paris’ first cupcake boutique.


The vendor seemed a little on guard when she realized I was a cupcake connoisseur (she said my accent gave it away). We chose our cakes and took them to the park across the street. My friend’s pistachio with strawberry interior was pretty good, except that the strawberry fell out.My violet cake tasted like soap. All in all, I am happy that this was the first but certainly not the last cupcake shop in Paris.

Next stop, the Marais! We hopped on the bikes again (to burn off the slowly digesting overload of calories) and we made it to rue du Temple. We skipped gleefully, high on sugar, to Berko, the bakery that operated since 1998 but has only been offering cupcakes at this new storefront on rue Rambuteau since 2008. A box of 6 mini, yet large, cupcakes for under 10 euros was enough to satisfy us. We tried the poppy, cherry, marshmallow, classic vanilla, rose, and Speculoos (think graham crackers) and we had a good time enjoying each flavor. Far from being blown away, we were happy that none tasted too much like soap. Fun and whimsical, we ended the 6 cupcakes with a slice of cheesecake.

Just for good measure.

Laden with butter, cream, and sugar, we grabbed bikes and shot towards Saint Germain, back by the Bon Marché. glish baker who pumps out classy looking cakes with a taste to match. She’s only been open since late 2009, but she’s been baking for ages (she told me). We sat down to our Kusmi tea with a red velvet and a strawberry cupcake. Delight ensued. The cake was moist and delicious and the icings surprising (the strawberry had a meringue icing – so not American). All in all a good way to wrap up the crawl.

Now if only I could find out a way to end this sugar high so I can fall asleep….

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Seafood that didn't make me vomit...

So after a whirlwind weekend in St-Malo and Mont St-Michel at the end of March, I ended up in the hospital with a case of horrible food poisoning. OK, so maybe it was the oysters, maybe it was the live shrimp we plucked out of the bay and ate raw (read: live), maybe it was the salted lamb. Whatever it was, it was horrible and I puked it out like no one's business.

When I went to the Ile de Re last weekend, right by La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast, I was skeptical about eating anything that wasn't dead, processed, packaged, and sealed. Still, I couldn't turn down a tasting of some of the region's finer, yet raw, products: sea urchins. Les oursins in French are those prickly little echinoderms that, when cut in half, produce a lovely little appetizer. Paired with sea snails and shrimp, I was more than skeptical. I was ready for the hospital again.

Fortunately the tasting ended in smiles and not IVs. The urchins were salty and savory. Not too slimy but definitely fishy enough. The shrimp were...well...shrimp. The sea snails were actually delicious with a little bread and it all washed down nicely with some white wine. Would I do it again? Yes, but not in a heartbeat. Nor would I actively seek out raw seafood anytime soon. The thought of ripping off that shrimp's head in the bay of Mont St-Michel and eating it still turns my stomach. At least I have only fond memories of the urchin. Granted, it was still moving when my plate arrived, but I like a little animation with my meal. And in lieu of a piano player or stand up comedian, I guess flailing echinoderm arms will have to do.