Saturday, October 18, 2008

Living in Baked Goods Heaven

Thanks to everyone for your kind wishes. I lit a candle for my friend at Monaco's St. Nicholas Cathedral yesterday, since her family is devoutly Christian. She is very strong and she's trying hard to recover and move on with her life, so, as an homage to her, I'm going to move on as well.

So! My Londonite flatmate thinks it’s hilarious that I call UK “The Land of the Most Wearable Flag”. I also refer to France with a number of endearments, one of which is Baked Goods Heaven, because there’s literally a bakery around every corner. I wonder how they can all stay in business because there is just so much competition, but my local friends assure me that France can support virtually any number of bakeries that crop up because it’s just their way of life. They happen to eat a ton of baked goods, and there will always be a demand for it.

But I realized that not all bakeries were created equal, because the ones that are labelled “Artisan(ales)” make much yummier stuff. There’s a huge difference between regular bakery products and artisan bakery products, and it’s completely obvious from the first bite. The first few nights I was here, I survived almost entirely on the exquisite baguettes from the Artisan Boulanger in Magnan, right around the corner from the hotel I stayed at. It was the most incredible stick of bread I had ever eaten up to that point – the crust was delightfully crispy and the inside was light as air – and I naively assumed that all bakeries here are that amazing, but I had a reality check when I started shopping around. It also helps to talk to and befriend locals, because that’s how you can get insider information on which bakeries specialize in what. For example, sometimes, a bakery that specializes only in bread may make their own bread but buy their pastries to sell.

I was delighted to discover that there’s a fantastic bakery right around the corner from where I live, called Le Chant du Pain, on the northwest corner of Andrioli and Rue de France. Originally, I was craving a brioche au sucre (a round, fragrant bun about the size of a palm, sprinkled with crumbly, coarse sugar), but when I walked in, this huge, lush confection caught my eye. It had about an inch-high layer of cream between two layers of pastry, and it was topped with crumbly sugar chunks – even better than just a brioche au sucre! The kind lady behind the counter told me that it’s called a tropézienne, and I just had to try it. I also bought a baguette to make a sandwich with for dinner, and on impulse, I also got a slice of apple pie.

Well, I never got around to making that sandwich, because I ate everything in a single setting; it was so good! The tropézienne was unbelievable – the sweet cream was rich, but fluffy and the layers of pastry were so buttery! And I must admit, I have a soft spot for crumbly sugar, because they just have the most lovely texture to bite into. And that baguette! It’s different from the Magnan one, but it’s just as good. I like it because it’s not super skinny, so it’s more versatile – you can spread things on it, dip it in soups and sauces, or you can make sandwiches out of it. And the beauty of thicker baguettes is that there’s more soft, fluffy stuff in the middle. The top was very crispy, the golden-brown bottom was crusty and flavourful, and the middle was smooth, soft and punctuated with big air bubbles. I buttered broken off pieces and finished it in the blink of an eye. The honour for Best Apple Pie, however, remains with that of J. Multari - there's one on Gambetta & Bottero and one downtown, as well. However, I'll definitely be going back to my local bakery, Le Chant soon.

I better watch it, because if I eat like this every day, I won’t be able to buy any of the gorgeous, European-sized clothes here!

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