Baking Crossroads.

I am at a point where I can’t decide what to bake. I have four things in mind, and each sound fantastic in their own way. Each are also very different – some more sweet, some more savory; some more dense, some more fluffy; some look pretty, some honestly, kinda don’t. Three of them I’ve made before; one I have not. One was a request, the others are just because. So…what should I do?? Maybe you can help.

Here are my four options:

#1: Irish Soda Bread.

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This is one I’ve made before (actually twice before). It’s rather light, not overly sweet, kinda crumbly, and full of raisins. It’s also timely, with the pending arrival of St. Patrick’s Day. Did I mention how tasty it is?

#2: Beer Bread.

bread of beer.

bread of beer.

This one I’ve also made before, but apparently have never written about it. I was sure I had posted it when I made it last, although that was about 3 years ago, when I was just starting the blog, so I suppose it was overlooked. So that’s actually giving it an edge here. Also, my boyfriend is obsessed with fancy beer, so I have plenty of fun options to get creative with this time around!

#3: French Macarons.

the mac daddy.

the mac daddy.

I have definitely made these before AND posted about them. I also ate a bunch of them while on my Paris Patisserie Tour, back in the summer of 2012. I haven’t made them since then, and I’ve never made them in colors – only vanilla and chocolate in their natural state. I think because in Paris, they tasted so completely heavenly and looked so beautiful, I’ve been intimidated to make them ever since. I mean, come on – look at these:

the real thing.

the real thing.

Can I do that?? I’m not sure. But maybe it’s time to find out. PS – this one was the request. I do love baking something I know someone really wants…

#4: King Cake.

I have never made this, so i have no photo to provide. I have eaten it, and I have loved every bite. I have researched recipes, but they all seem pretty different, so I’m a little lost at where to start. The one that I’ve eaten and savored sort of reminded me of a cheese danish. But some recipes don’t even have any cheese products in them – so what am I to do?? I did come across one recipe that sounded like it would yield a very close result to the cake I call King. And I love a good experiment. So there’s that.

So, there you have it.  Four very deliciously different paths to head down, all leading to very equally appealing results. What’s a baker girl to do?? Help!

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Long time, no post.

Sorry about that. I’ve been kinda….busy. But I have been baking, albeit not as frequently as I had been in the somewhat recent past. But that’s beside the point. Here I am now, writing a new post, about one of the things I actually did bake – Lemon Pistachio Mini Cupcakes.

little. yellow. different.

little. yellow. different.

I actually made these for the Cupcake Smash competition I participated in a couple of weeks back. Although I did not win, I had a fabulous time, made some new baking friends, and received much positive feedback on the cupcakes themselves!

a winner in my book.

a winner in my book.

As far as what went into them, I started off with my Best Vanilla Cake Ever recipe, but instead of using vanilla extract, I used Lemon. I topped them with my New and Improved Lemon Buttercream. But that’s not all – I filled them each with grape jam, and sprinkled them all with crushed pistachios. I titled them “Pistachi-o-baby,” however, as my setup at the event wound up having a Parisian theme, in hindsight I should have called them “Pistachi-ohh-la-la!” That would have been much more fitting. I probably would have won with that. 😉

sur le table.

sur la table.

The good news was that I wound up with a bunch of extras, so I brought them to work, and everybody loved them. So really, we all win in the end.

The Brussels Chocolate Shop Tour, Stop #7: Wittamer.


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I walked out the door of Passion Chocolat (Stop 6#), turned right, walked a few steps, and BAM! There was Wittamer. They were so close, I was completely caught off guard, and a little bummed – this did not give me much of a walk to burn off any chocolates eaten thus far.( I’d come to find that I’d definitely make that up later on.) But I was content nonetheless, to enter my next destination on the list…

Stop #7: Wittamer.

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Wittamer was pink. That was the first thing I noticed.

pretty in pink.

pretty in pink.

Now I like pink. Just ask anyone who knows me. This place was super pink. I’d even call it Super Pinky. I didn’t mind. For most of us, pink = sweet = desserts. And Wittamer sure had some good ones. In fact, this was the first shop that had actual desserts other than chocolates. There was a whole display case dedicated to pastries incorporating chocolate in some form.

it's a pastry party.

it’s a pastry party.

I teetered along the fence of getting a straight up piece of chocolate or going with a full on pastry. The tour was technically a chocolate shop tour so I should probably get some chocolates, but the pastries had chocolate in them and I’ve eat nothing but chocolates for dessert for like, 24 hours now….

I went with the pastry.

hello, happiness.

hello, happiness.

I selected the Nid Marron.  I had no idea what was in it. I’d never seen anything like it before. I could not wait to get back to the hotel and try it out. I carried it around to two more shops and about 20 tourist locations before finally going back and digging in.

make her open the box.

make her open the box.

I placed the box on my little balcony table and delicately opened it. I could not believe how beautiful it was up close. Not to mention, it’s heavenly smell.

c'est bon!

c’est bon!

I took a bite. I hadn’t planned on eating the entire thing, but after that first bite, there was no turning back.

as beautiful on the inside.

as beautiful on the inside.

I still didn’’t really know what I was eating. I tasted a little chocolate….something nutty….whipped cream….custard? It was flat out fabulous! I needed to know what made this pastry hands-down one of the best I’ve ever had. So I started googling. I looked up “Nid Marron Pastry” and found a recipe entirely in French and some photos, all from the same blog post,  also in French, which showed various versions from different shops in Paris (some of which I visited on the  Paris Patisserie Tour, but I did NOT see this bad boy anywhere – I would have remembered).  What I did learn from this French blog was that this dessert was apparently also known as a “Mont Blanc.” So…I googled that and there it was.  And there were even some recipes, in English!

Hallelujah! Mont Blanc, here I come!

Next up, way out on the other side of town – Stop #8, Zaabar: the Ikea of chocolate shops.

The Brussels Chocolate Shop Tour, Stop #6: Passion Chocolat.

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Practically dancing as I left Stop #5: Pierre Marcolini, thanks to the disco ball and the “wink,” I twisted and twirled my way right across the street and into the Grand Sablon.  It was beautiful – from the statuary, to the perfectly coiffed gardens, to the enormous old church – the Église Notre Dame du Sablon.

come on in.

come on in.

I decided to take a short break from the tour, and explore the grounds. The light dusting of snow really made it all the more magical.

stone cold and lovely.

stone cold and lovely.

It didn’t hurt that I appeared to be the only person walking the grounds. I guess I get up earlier than most tourists.  I crossed over to take a few shots of the front of the church, and while doing so, I was stopped by a woman and asked for directions – in French. I guess I didn’t look like a tourist after all. 🙂

Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon.

Eglise Notre Dame du Sablon.

At this point, I realized I had no idea where I was going myself, so I broke out the map and tried to find my next destination:

Stop #6: Passion Chocolat.

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I totally could not find this place. I thought at first I must have passed it and didn’t realize, so I back tracked down the road I had just come from. Nothing. I started wondering if in fact it was located on the other side of the Sablon, so I walked around the church, and headed back down the other side, but not before capturing my favorite picture from the entire trip – the picture I felt captured the classy and whimsical vibe of the city of Brussels  – a red plastic tree “growing” in the small side yard of the old the Église.

i could live here.

i could live here.

The universe must have meant for me to see that image, because immediately after I snapped the photo, I turned around and  there was Passion Chocolat, right behind me. I swear it wasn’t there before. How could I have missed it, with its giant red and gold pyramid at the entrance!

magic pyramid?

magic pyramid?

I walked in, and it was small. And bright. But warm. I liked it. The woman behind the counter was unpacking boxes (I think I may have been the first customer – I swear it was not THAT early).  She stood up and came over when I walked in and said “Bonjour” and asked if I she could help me (in French). I said “Bonjour” back, trying to be polite, and she then launched into something fast and French that I couldn’t understand. I then said, “Je ne parle pas francais,” to which she replied, in English, “you should have said that up front! How was I to know you did not speak French!” She wasn’t necessarily angry or rude, but she did seem to be in a bit of huff, as if this happens often. It took everything in my power not to giggle. I decided to focus intently on the task at hand, which was to select some chocolates for my taste-testing journey.

little shop of chocolate.

little shop of chocolate.

The very first chocolate that caught my eye was a white chocolate pyramid – a small, edible version of the one outside the entrance.  I definitely had to get that. I came to find out later there was a hazelnut ganache on the inside. Mmm hmmm. I selected a few others – one that looked like a chocolate covered orange slice, one dark chocolate with small coconut flakes on top, and a couple more that appealed to me. She packed them in a dainty little bag (similar to the ones I saw in some of the shops the day before – these must be the prime packaging for chocolates in Brussels), and I grabbed a business card, paid and was on my way. I have to say, their logo was definitely my favorite – it fit the name perfectly.

it's all about branding.

it’s all about branding.

I ate the pyramid first, and it was perfect. As a lover of white chocolate, it actually wound up being my singular favorite piece on the tour. The others were delicious too, but the pyramid really made the grade. If I were to create my perfect piece of chocolate, that pyramid would be it.

a wonder of the chocolate world.

a wonder of the chocolate world.

Hang in there and keep on keepin’ on to the next stop on the tour, which, was literally a hop skip and a jump away – Stop #7, Wittamer: where chocolate fantasies come true…

The Brussels Chocolate Shop Tour, Stop #4: Chocopolis.

DSC_0828I was starting to grow a tad weary after tour stop# 3, Leonidas, mainly due to the complete lack of sleep the night before, having arrived in Brussels at 6 am from New York, dropped my bags off at the hotel, had a coffee (or three) and breakfast, and dove right into the tour all before 9 am. It was now around 1, and I was quickly losing steam. I considered just returning the hotel at this point, taking a long overdue shower and nap, and heading back out afterwards, but as fate would have it, my proposed stop #4 just so happened to be on the way back to the hotel. And as I walked up to the entrance and was greeted by the large faux chocolate elephant, I realized there was no way I was just gonna walk on by. So, I decided to make one last stop for the day at:

Stop #4: Chocopolis.

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Appropriately named, Chocopolis was big – a chocolate metropolis for sure. I walked in and immediately to the right, were a few gentlemen around a hot chocolate station, sipping cups and chatting away in french. Behind the giant counter in the center, two women were actually making some chocolates, and encouraging folks to gather ’round and watch while they demonstrated their craft.

chocolate theatre?

chocolate theatre?

I grazed around the counter, while a third woman flitted about, tending to customers and asking me if I needed help (in french). Nothing had been calling out my name as of yet, so I declined politely and continued my perusal. It wasn’t until I began cruising the perimeter that I saw it – glowing like a full moon on a dark winter’s night, beckoning me to come closer. As the gravitational pull of awesomeness drew me, I reached up for it, the perfect combination of Belgium’s two greatest natural resources: Chocolate Beer.

the dream we all dream of.

the dream we all dream of.

Now I’ve had chocolate beer before, but it was a chocolate flavored beer – not a beer made out of chocolate. As I picked one up off the shelf, I was momentarily disheartened as I discovered these chocolate bottles were not actually filled with beer. I still thought I’d buy one, just because they were way cool. But as I began walking away from the shelf with bottle in hand, I started having second thoughts. There was no way I was going to eat this entire beer bottle in two days, especially with 6 more chocolate shops to sample! And carting it around Europe for the rest of the week or even eventually back to the states just seemed unrealistic. So, I placed the bottle back on the shelf, and hung my head. While looking down, I happened to notice a shelf of mendiants just below and to the left. I never see mendiants at home, and I loved them when we made them in pastry school, so…I picked out a mixed bag (white, milk, and dark chocolate) and was on my way.

it's in the bag.

it’s in the bag.

There was  even one super cool one that looked all outer spacey. I ate that one first, but all three varieties were slammin’. I just wish I could find mendiants more easily at home in New Jersey. I guess I’ll just have to start making them. I could start the next big dessert craze.

i got this.

i got this.

At this point, not even the best chocolate in the world could keep me awake. As I laid in bed, I drifted off to sleep while visions of fine Belgian chocolates danced in my head. Sweet Dreams, indeed.

Stay tuned for Day 2, which begins relaxed and refreshed at Stop #5: Pierre Marcolini – three floors of “club chocolate”.

All is Quiet…

Happy 2013, folks! It’s New Year’s Day – time for reflections, reorganization, and resolutions. I always believed that the tone of New Year’s Day laid the groundwork for the tone of the coming year. It could very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but either way, it does seem to hold some truth. So if this day, today, is in fact any indication of the coming year, I’ve got some things to look forward to! 2012 was a good year – a learning year; full of positive changes and some real quality time getting to know myself (allow myself, to introduce…myself).

It’s funny, but the first half of last year seems like a lifetime ago. The year really seemed to take shape for the good around mid-summer (which I aptly have nicknamed “Summer New Year’s), right after my return from the Paris Patisserie Tour. The trip changed me. It showed me that I can wander around a foreign city and be perfectly fine; it showed me that I don’t need my cell phone/laptop/facebook nearly as much as I thought; it showed me that I would be good whether with or without someone; it showed me that I really do have some actual writing and photography skills and that maybe the dream of being a writer was not so far-fetched after all; and most of all, it showed me that the world is a beautiful place and we are all in this together.

I went to Paris looking for pastries, and found myself.

I went to Paris looking for pastries, and found myself.

After I returned, I wound up facing three of my biggest fears before the year’s end: two by choice, and one by force of nature (enter Hurricane Sandy). I’d say that 2012 was a benchmark year.

Last New Year’s Day, I danced around the house and sang raucously along with “You Get What You Give” and vowed to make that my intention for the year. Today, I didn’t dance quite so raucously, but I did get a little groove going, and thought about the pure and simple things in life, and how they are really what makes it all worthwhile.

dreams come bouncing in your head...

dreams come bouncing in your head…

So here’s to a peaceful and harmonious 2013, full of love and greatness, pure and simple every time.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Paris Patisserie Tour, Stop #6: Cafe Pouchkine.

So this was it – the last leg of the tour. And from the looks of the map, my last stop was very close to my previous one, Pierre Hermé. So I walked, and looked at the map; and walked some more, and looked at the map; and walked some more, and turned the map in all sorts of directions. I could not for the life of me, find this place. I walked back and forth up the same street. It started raining (but I really didn’t mind, after all I was in Paris). I started wondering if the map was wrong. Clearly I was on the right street at this point. I happened to look over and even saw a street number. So i counted in my mind where the cafe should be, and found nothing but a giant department store. I walked past the store and reached the end, and knew I’d gone too far. I didn’t come all this way and get this far on the tour to be thwarted. So I headed back and gave it one more try. I walked back, counting numbers again, and reached the corner where the cafe “should” be. I happened to glance down the street, and lo and behold, there it was – hidden on the side street, with not-so-eye-catching signage. Regardless, I had found it, and I practically ran through the rain to finally get to my last stop on the tour:

Stop #6: Cafe Pouchkine.

you can’t hide from me.

I made my way inside – they did have an adorable little sidewalk cafe seating area, however it was raining steadily at this point, so I decided to go in, and at least dry off while I ordered. Turned out, they also had a counter with seating inside, however it was somewhat cramped. There seemed to be a couple of empty seats though, so I thought I’d try to snag one. I ordered a Tutti Frutti, which at first I thought was a fruit tart, with frozen pieces of fruit piled on top.

Bop bopa-a-lu a whop bam boo.

I ordered, and as I was paying, I asked if I could sit at the counter. At first, the madame behind the counter seemed agreeable to this suggestion; until she offered me a drink, and I declined. I could see her face change – it was as if I was breaking a cardinal rule of counter-sitting by eating and not drinking. Reluctantly she pointed me over to the counter, and eventually delivered my Tutti Frutti. I will say that it was delicious – however it wasn’t a fruit tart. It was more like a slice of cake, with a gelatinous blob of melon-y fruit filled with strawberry syrup on top, piled high with frozen fruit globes.

inside edition.

I ate the entire thing, without drinking, and left. It was tasty and refreshing, and really was the perfect ending to my tour, even if the cafe itself wasn’t  the most personable. I’d definitely go back for the desserts – and just hope that Miss Congeniality was off that day. Or maybe, next time I’ll just order a drink.

So, this concludes my Walking Patisserie Shop Tour of Paris. It was worth every step and calorie. My only regret was not getting to all 11 original shops on the list. That just gives me a really good reason to go back (as if I needed a reason). 🙂

Bon Appétit!

The Paris Patisserie Tour, Stop #5: Pierre Hermé.

As I sipped my Angelina’s famous hot chocolate, I meandered through the streets of Paris toward my next destination, enjoying the sights, sounds, and most importantly – the taste – of the city. I eventually found my way to 39 Avenue de l’Opéra, which was not only a few blocks from the famed Opera House of Paris, but also home to:

Stop #5: Pierre Hermé.

reflections of…me in my sneakers.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t pick favorites, but that was before I stepped foot into Pierre Hermé Paris. The shop itself was stylish, clean, and classy – If i hadn’t known any better, I would have guessed it was a  high-end jewelry store – on the very high end of high-end. The employees were dressed in suits and ties; yet were warm and friendly, and welcomed all patrons equally. The macarons were just like you’d imagine – a gorgeous rainbow of colors, displayed impeccably under the counter, with each unique flavor sounding more decadent than the last. I was, of course going to sample them, however, I noticed the word “glace” on the front of the shop – my weakness for ice cream combined with the fact that I hadn’t had any for days made my decision easy. The salesman approached me, and I pointed to the sign behind him, and said only one word: “sorbet.” He smiled, quickly spun around and reappeared with a sorbet menu. I had never heard of combinations such as these – plus they were all sorbet sandwiches, with the “bread” of the sandwich being a large macaron. Oh, yes, you will be mine.  Sadly, I don’t recall exactly what flavor I ordered. But I did also order two macarons, and I do remember what flavor those were – rose (pink) and creme de menthe (green). After taking my order, the salesman disappeared momentarily; then returned, with the most exquisite presentation of purchased desserts I’d ever imagined.

they say you eat first with your eyes – and this made my eyes water.

After soaking in the presentation for a few moments, I paid for my desserts, and exited the shop (it was getting a bit crowded). I couldn’t wait to eat my sorbet sandwich, so I popped open the box the second I walked out the door. What I found inside, was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen.

the lost ark.

It was at this point, I had a perfect moment: I walked along the Avenue l’Opera, eating my Pierre Hermé sorbet sandwich, heading directly toward the Opera House.

sing once again with me.

It was a very good day.

To be continued in the next post: Stop #6: Cafe Pouchkine – the final frontier.

The Paris Patisserie Tour, Stop #4: Angelina.

After a successful first day, I woke up even more pumped for day #2! I had a long walk ahead of me to reach the next stop, which was perfectly fine, and even welcome, since I knew it would be another day of eating pretty much nothing but desserts. I decided I should at least the start the day with some “real” food, so I had an orange along with a cup of delicious french coffee, and headed out to:

Stop #4: Angelina.

As I walked and walked and walked and walked, I enjoyed Paris more and more. I highly encourage exploring a foreign city on foot whenever possible. I also did not realize that Angelina was right down the street from the Louvre, until I saw the giant architectural masterpiece looming ahead of me on the other side of the street, in all its museum-like glory.

i louvre you.

.Once past the Lourve, I reached my destination and was ready to enjoy some pastries along with Angelina’s famous hot chocolate I’ve heard so much about. It was so lovely inside – with a dining room full of lovely people sitting at lovely little tables enjoying the most lovely pastries. I loved it.

it’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.

I had no idea what to order! I knew I wanted hot chocolate – but this tour was about sampling pastries, so I had to get some type of pastry, too. I contemplated dining in what may have been the most french-looking dining room I’ve ever seen – but I really had to be on my way. I was worried that I would not be able to get a cup of hot chocolate to go, so I decided to purchase a bag to take home, along with a white chocolate praline that looked like a piece of the moon.

praline in white.

The girls behind counter were all lovely as well, and although they did not speak english very well, they were more helpful and courteous than many english-speaking shops I’ve had the privilege of giving my business to. I asked for a cup of hot chocolate, and I thought she said that I couldn’t order it here – she pointed behind her to a hot chocolate machine that appeared to be out of commission, and then said something about the other room. I was already anticipating this, so I was glad I bought the bag to take with me. I paid, and turned to walk out, when the girl called to me “madam – your hot chocolate!” and she went running into the other room with a cup. Then it dawned on me – she said she had to go into the room to get me the cup of hot chocolate I ordered. Now that’s what I call service. As I anxiously awaited my hot chocolate, I happened to look up, and noticed just how beautifully detailed this shop actually was.

let the sun shine.

Well the world was right – the hot chocolate was by far, the best I’ve ever had. As for the praline, I’m pretty sure it must be illegal in the US, because I’ve never had anything quite like it back home – it just melted in my mouth the instant it touched my tongue. My only regret was that I only bought one.

To be continued in the next post: Stop #5:Pierre Hermé. Nobody does it better. Makes me feel sad for the rest.

The Paris Patisserie Tour, Stop #3: La Boulangerie Jean-Noël Julien.

I’m not gonna lie: La Boulangerie Jean-Noël Julien was not on my original list. Stop #3 was originally intended to be at Philippe Gosselin. After wandering around in circles searching for Rue St. Honore for what had to be at least 45 minutes, I finally found it, but I was of course, blocks away from Philippe Gosselin. So I headed down the Rue, and along the way, happened to pass La Boulangerie Jean-Noël Julien. I was intrigued, and thought about going in, but as it was not on my list and had I not been lost for so long, I decided to just keep going.

Well, I did finally reach Philippe Gosselin….and it was closed. Now, I couldn’t tell if it was closed for the night or forever, but it looked pretty abandoned. I hung my head in defeat. All that wandering around in circles for nothing! I turned to leave, and then suddenly, I remembered the bakery I passed and almost stopped in just a couple blocks earlier! All was not lost! I put on a happy face, and headed back towards my new

Stop #3: La Boulangerie Jean-Noël Julien.

I liked this place. They had bread – a lot of it. The first two shops had no bread. And I love bread. I’d marry bread, if that were legal. Anyway, I couldn’t decide what to get – and they did not speak english here, which was ok – I knew the names of all the pastries/breads from school, and really, that was all the info I needed. The breads were all really big though – and I was only going to be there for another 24 hours, so purchasing an entire loaf just seemed like a waste. Then I saw it, there, glistening under the glass, whispering to me in french – “Jeanine! Achetez-moi!”. Thankfully, my name is the same in french and english, so I knew it was talking to me. I approached the counter. “Un palmier,” I spoke softly, in practically perfect french (but pointed to it, just in case).

big, buttery, and beautiful.

It was big. Light, but big. There were no seats in this shop, so I had to take it to go, but they wrapped in the perfect pastry paper. I almost saved the wrapper, I liked it so much.

Parisian pastry paper.

Anyway, I carried the giant palmier all the way back to the cafe next to my hotel, and wound up eating it for dessert after my dinner, which, because I had eaten so many pastries was rather scant. Yet, so very french.

 

olives and wine: it’s what’s for dinner.

The palmier was delicious, by the way. I ate the entire thing, and it was flakey, and sweet, and ended my first day of the tour on a high. So it’s true what they say – when one pastry shop closes, another one opens. And you should always be sure to go in.

To be continued in the next post: Stop #4: Angelina. Hot chocolate is not just for kids anymore.