The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City (4 page)

I don’t recommend flushing meringue down the toilet, especially if you live on the top floor where the water pressure may be less than optimal. I speak from experience since I tried it with a batch when I was testing this recipe, and the fluffy egg mass refused to budge for a couple of days. In frustration, I finally took a knife to it, and the meringue disappeared once and for all.

But I got it right with this version and it’s so good, you won’t want to throw any of it away.

Crème anglaise

4 large egg yolks

1½ cups (375 ml) whole milk

¼ cup (50 g) sugar

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Meringue

4 large egg whites, at room temperature Pinch of salt

⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar, optional

6 tablespoons (75 g) sugar

Caramel sauce

1 cup (200 g) sugar

¾ cup(180 ml) water

Toasted sliced almonds or chopped pistachios

  1. For the crème anglaise, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and a bit of water. Nest a smaller metal bowl inside it to hold the crème anglaise. Set a mesh strainer over the top.

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Heat the milk, ¼ cup (50 g) sugar, and vanilla bean in a saucepan. Once warm, very gradually pour the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, until the custard begins to thicken and leaves a clean trail when you run your finger across the spatula.

  3. Immediately pour the custard through the strainer into the chilled bowl. Pluck out the vanilla bean and add it to the custard, then stir gently until cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

  4. For the meringue, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Very lightly oil a 2-quart (2-L) loaf pan. Set the loaf pan inside a shallow roasting pan.

  5. Start whipping the egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed or by hand. Add the salt and cream of tartar (if using) and beat until the mixture is frothy. Increase the whipping speed to high and when the whites start to hold their shape, add the 6 tablespoons of sugar one spoonful at a time. Once you’ve added all the sugar, beat for a few minutes, until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

  6. Spread the meringue into the prepared loaf pan, being careful not to create any air pockets, and smooth the top with a damp spatula. Add enough warm water to come three-fourths of the way up the sides of the roasting pan.

  7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the meringue from the water bath and cool on a wire rack.

  8. To make the caramel, spread 1 cup sugar in an even layer in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Cook over medium heat until the sugar begins to liquefy at the edges. Use a heatproof utensil to stir the sugar slightly to prevent the edges from burning.

  9. As the sugar melts and begins to caramelize, stir gently (which may
    cause the sugar to become crystallized, which is fine) until the sugar is a deep bronze color and begins to smoke slightly. Remove from heat and add the water, being careful of the hot steam that rises.

  10. Return the pan to the heat and stir until any pieces of molten sugar are melted. You can strain the caramel to remove any stubborn bits.

SERVING:
Chill individual serving bowls. Put about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of crème anglaise in each bowl. Run a knife around the edges of the meringue to turn it out onto a platter. Using a thin, sharp knife, slice the meringue into six portions and place them on top of the crème anglaise. Drizzle with a heaping spoonful of caramel sauce and sprinkle with toasted nuts. (You can also use the Candied Almonds, page 51.)

STORAGE:
The crème anglaise can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to three days. The caramel, which will be more than you need for the recipe, will keep for several months in the refrigerator and can be used to garnish another dessert. The meringue can be made one day in advance and refrigerated, loosely covered. The crème anglaise should be very cold and the caramel should be brought to room temperature for serving.

CLAFOUTIS AUX PRUNEAUX-FRAMBOISES
PLUM AND RASPBERRY CLAFOUTIS
MAKES 8 SERVINGS

No matter how
faible
(feeble) your kitchen is, clafoutis is easy to make and requires no special equipment: just an oven, a bowl, a whisk, and a baking dish. It’s not a fancy dessert—it’s meant to be homey and simple, and it’s a no-brainer when marvelous summer fruits and juicy berries are in season.

Especially good to use are
quetsches
, which are known as Italian prune plums
in the United States. They’re generally available late in the season, or you can substitute fresh apricots, which become pleasantly tangy when baked.

4 tablespoons (60 g) salted or unsalted butter, melted, plus more for preparing the dish

1 pound (450 g) firm, ripe plums

1 cup (115 g) raspberries

3 large eggs

½ cup (70 g) flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup (100 g) plus 2 tablespoons (30 g) sugar

1⅓ cups (330 ml) whole milk

  1. Position the rack in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F (180 C).

  2. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 2-quart (2-L) shallow baking dish. Halve the plums, remove the pits, and place them cut side down over the bottom of the baking dish. If the plums are quite large, cut them into quarters. Scatter the raspberries over the plums.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth. Whisk the butter and flour into the eggs until completely smooth, then add the vanilla. Whisk in ½ cup (100 g) of the sugar, then the milk.

  4. Pour the custard mixture over the fruit and bake for 30 minutes.

  5. After 30 minutes, slide out the rack that the clafoutis is resting on (rather than lifting the clafoutis and breaking the tenuous crust that’s starting to form on top) and sprinkle 2 tablespoons (30 g) of sugar over the top.

  6. Continue baking the clafoutis for about 30 more minutes, until the custard feels slightly firm in the center and the top is a nice golden brown.

SERVING:
Serve warm or at room temperature. Clafoutis is best served shortly after it’s baked. I prefer it without any accompaniment, as it’s traditionally served, although I’ll allow you to serve vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream alongside.

THE MOST IMPORTANT WORDS TO KNOW IN PARIS

So you’re in Paris and you need something.

Let’s say you’re shopping for, I don’t know—a pair of gloves. Or a hammer. Or shoelaces. A new battery for your telephone. Or just a
baguette ordinaire.
Whatever. It doesn’t really matter how large or small it is. You step inside a shop, but can’t find what you’re looking for, so you ask the salesperson who ostensibly is there to help you, the all-important customer.

In lieu of a response, you’re met with a
réception glaciale
, and on your way out, you wonder, “Why are Parisians so nasty?”

It’s probably because you’ve insulted them—deeply—which you might think is strange, since all you did was ask them a question. And that’s the problem.

It is imperative to know the two most important words in the French language—
“Bonjour, monsieur”
or
“Bonjour, madame”
—which you absolutely must say first thing to the first person you make eye contact with. Whether you step into a shop, a restaurant, a café, or even an elevator, you need to say those words to anyone else in there with you. Enter the doctor’s waiting room and everyone says their
bonjours.
Make sure to say them at the pharmacy, to the people who make you take off your belt at airport security, to the cashier who’s about to deny you a refund for your used-once broken ice cream scoop, as well as to the gap-toothed vendor at the market who’s moments away from short-changing you.

If addressing a single woman, use
“Bonjour, mademoiselle.
” When I asked a Frenchman how one might discern the difference, he told me to use
mademoiselle
to address women who haven’t had sex yet. I don’t know how one can tell, but he assured me that Frenchmen can.

The exceptions to the rule are
les grands magasins
, the multilevel Parisian department stores where the service is generally worse than wretched. The customers aren’t seen by the salesclerks as guests or visitors, but as a nuisance that gets in the way of the text message they’re composing. Or the chat they’re having with their coworkers about their breakup with a boyfriend. Or their interminable wait between trips outside for their next cigarette break.

Yet Americans are forever fixated on the notion of how impolite the French are. Whenever I travel in the States, the number one question I’m asked is, “Do the French really hate Americans?”

No, they don’t. But they don’t like the rude ones. (I don’t blame them; neither do I.) If you don’t want to be considered rude and want to be treated courteously, you must practice the rules of politesse, which sometimes seem awkward to Americans who are used to breezing into stores, and splitting without greeting anyone. Nowadays when I’m in the States and exiting any store at all, I make sure to say goodbye to each and every
person, including the cashiers, stockboys, and clerks in the film department, as well as the security guards lurking about, which I need to stop doing. In Houston, a thinly veiled all-out alert was issued over the loudspeakers at Walgreens a few moments after I entered and said my usual “hellos” to everyone manning a register.

In Paris, the most unbelievably rude thing you can do—and believe me, I seem to have done them all—is to not acknowledge a salesperson.

One day, I was shopping in a fancy chocolate shop on the uptight Left Bank when an American couple walked in wearing shorts, untied sneakers, and baseball caps (mercifully, not turned backwards), toting hefty
venti lattes
from the nearby Starbucks. In Paris, this is like someone hauling a gallon jug of milk into the middle of Tiffany on Fifth Avenue and taking swigs from it. Their attire, coupled with the way they shoved the door wide open and jammed it into place, would have been bad enough. But they said absolutely not a peep to the shocked saleswoman, who greeted them as they entered the shop and breezed right past her. On my way out, I apologized profusely on their behalf since I have a vested stake in improving the image of Americans around here.

This behavior can feel awkward at first, so it helps to think of shops in Paris as someone’s home. Imagine if someone came into your house as a guest and just barged past you at the doorway. I wouldn’t want to share my chocolates with them either. Those latte-toting folks weren’t being rude intentionally; they were just acting casual, like we normally do in America, where anything goes. Heck, I’ve even see people wearing sweatpants while doing things like taking out the trash back there—if you can believe it.

GATEAU THERESE
CHOCOLATE CAKE
MAKES 8 TO 10 SERVINGS

Every Frenchwoman I know loves chocolate so much she has a chocolate cake in her repertoire that she’s committed to memory, one she can make on a moment’s notice. This one comes from Thérèse Pellas, who lives across the boulevard from me; when I first tasted the cake, I swooned from the rich, dark chocolate flavor and insisted on the recipe.

Madame Pellas is fanatical about making the cake two days in advance and storing it in her kitchen cabinet before serving, which she says improves the chocolate flavor. And the Brie she keeps in there as well doesn’t seem to mind the company. (For some odd reason, the cake never tastes like anything but a massive dose of dark chocolate.) She uses Lindt chocolate, which is widely available and very popular in France—and whenever I see her out and about, I notice there’s always a telltale bit of foil wrapper sticking out of her purse, indicating she’s also squirreling a bar away for snacking.

9 ounces (250 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

8 tablespoons (120 g) unsalted butter

⅓ cup (65 g) sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

2 tablespoons flour

Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) loaf pan and line the bottom with a strip of parchment paper.

  2. In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, heat the chocolate and butter together just until melted and smooth.

  3. Remove from heat and stir in half the sugar, then the egg yolks, and
    flour. (You don’t need to measure the half-quantity of sugar exactly. Just pretend you’re a Frenchwoman cooking in her home kitchen and don’t worry about it.)

  4. Using an electric mixer or a whisk, begin whipping the egg whites with the salt. Keep whipping until they start to form soft, droopy peaks. Gradually whip in the remaining sugar until the whites are smooth and hold their shape when the whisk is lifted.

  5. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until the mixture is smooth and no visible white streaks remain.

  6. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smooth the top, and bake for 35 minutes, just until the cake feels slightly firm in the center. Do not overbake.

  7. Let the cake cool in the pan before serving.

STORAGE:
The cake can be stored for up to three days. Madame Pellas keeps it in her cabinet, but you may wish to put it under a cake dome. It can also be frozen, well wrapped in plastic, for up to one month.

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