Spotlight On: Chausson au Speculoos

IMG_20160226_084304248The croissant is so passé. My social media feeds this week (I’m looking at you in particular, Facebook) have been clogged with supposedly scandalous chatter of straight vs curved croissants. It’s pure semantics. Anyone who knows their butter from their margarine knows that the croissant was not created equal. So while we wait for the online world to straighten out their knickers, let’s put the spotlight on some of the more unusual pastries that you can find in a Parisian boulangerie.

This morning, I tested a chausson au speculoos. It caught my eye because it’s not something you find very often. A chausson aux pommes, yes. Literally in French, it means a “slipper of apples” but more commonly, we’d say an apple turnover.

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The twist here is the addition of speculoos. If you’re not familiar with the word “speculoos” – first of all, why not?! – you may know the taste from those little brown sugar biscuits that tend to accompany your coffee.

Speculoos, also occasionally spelt “speculaas“, is Belgian speciality. It combines sugar and butter with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom. In short, pure deliciousness in the form of a paste or a shortcrust biscuit.

-> Yes, you can find a spreadable Speculoos paste to apply liberally to your morning toast! 

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Anyway, back to the chausson. It’s a really good pairing. Whilst not over-powering the apples, the addition of speculoos provides a substantial kick of cinnamon. It’s like taking the classic American apple and cinnamon pie filling, putting it in a French butter casing and giving it a Belgian accent.

Using crumbled biscuits as a topping is an interesting addition. It gives a satisfying crunch to the pastry which contrasts nicely with the smoothness of the apples. Definitely recommended!

So where can you find this chausson au speculoos, you ask?

At La Badine de Martine on rue Crozatier in the 12th. (n.b. closed Thursdays.)

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Du Pain et Des Idées , 75010

I woke up in a cold sweat this morning as it dawned upon me that I am yet to write about Du Pain et Des Idées on this blog. It’s a rather shameful confession, I must admit.

Christophe Vasseur is one of the best bakers in Paris. His shop, Du Pain et Des Idées, is where the geeks go. It’s very common to see people queueing – even in freezing temperatures – to get their hands on his baked goods.

If you’re the kind of person who gets excited when you hear words such as organic flour, sourdough starters and super-long fermentation times, this will become your mecca.

Must try: the croissant au beurre (of course!) and the Pain des Amis… oh and pick me up an escargot chocolat-pistache while you’re there! It’s the most divine thing I’ve eaten recently. No kidding.


Essential Information 

Address: 34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010
Telephone: 01 42 40 44 52
Website: Du Pain et Des Idées 
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 6.45am til 8pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Festival des Pains de Monsieur Habhab, 75020

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Just ten minutes from the hustle and bustle of the busy city, there lies a relatively unknown quarter of Paris and it feels like you have stepped into another world.

We talk about Saint Germain and the Marais having a neighbourhood feel… but unless you’ve lived there for the last twenty years, chances are that you’re seeing a neighbourhood that’s wearing a full face of make-up for her visitors.

Stand outside the Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix on a Wednesday around midday and you’ll see a true neighbourhood. It’s in the 20th arrondissement; situated near Belleville (known for its large Chinese community) and Ménilmontant (where the number of lively nightlife spots has exploded in recent times) but it is neither one nor the other.

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The church was finished in 1880 and – fun fact – it is the third longest church in Paris!

The streets are largely pedestrianised and as such, you’ll have to dodge the kids zooming around on their trottinettes. Wednesday is a particularly good day to stop by because the schools typically finish at midday and so you’ll see many families going about their daily business.

It is very much a residential area. It doesn’t boast the same gastronomic richness as the more central arrondissements but you won’t starve here either. For lunch, I’d suggest fashionable Italian restaurant Dilia (who offer a midday menu of entrée-plat-dessert for 18€) and then in the evening the local dive bar Demain, C’est Loin.

Around this particular square, there are a couple of smaller cafés – perfect for watching the world go by. On a warmer day, you can escape the crowds by winding your way up to the beautiful terraced Parc de Belleville or alternatively, finding a shady spot in the Père Lachaise cemetery.

I generally don’t find boulangeries labelled Festival des Pains or Banette particularly noteworthy, although I admit they can make decent local options. Personally, I believe that if you’re going to make the effort to go to a special bakery, make it an independent one.

That being said, the sheer number of people pushing open the door of this particular boulangerie piqued my interest. It was still fairly early in the day and I hadn’t had anything to eat yet.

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It is common knowledge that I have a chronic weakness for a good croissant. Just check out this tag “Croissant Competition” to see the scale of my addiction!

Once again I proved that curiosity and hunger are a wicked combination. A minute later, I have a croissant au beurre – this boulangerie still makes margarine croissants so it’s important to make the distinction – a pain au chocolat and a baguette de tradition, for good measure

It’s quite possibly the most phallic looking croissant I’ve come across so far. And even though I’m sure no one else was paying even the slightest bit of attention to me, I still decided to tear the croissant in half, before putting it in my mouth.

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But whaddyaknow, the croissant was actually surprisingly good! It was flaky and crisp; the layers of pastry were well formed and retained their shape. Unfortunately, it didn’t unravel like yarn around a bobbin – which is a sure-fire way to make me dizzy with excitement – but it was cooked evenly throughout and had a good flavour.

In short, this neighbourhood is a fun, multi-cultural, vibrant area to wander around. It could not be further off the typical tourist track… and now you know that you won’t go hungry!


Essential Information

Address: 5 rue Julien Lacroix, 75020
Telephone: 01 43 58 65 18
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 7am til 1.30pm and 4pm until 8pm. Closed Monday.

La Petite Marquise, 75116

I find the line 2 métro fascinating. Of all the different lines, it is peut-être this one which covers the widest range of Parisian communities. Starting off at Nation, moving through the Chinese communities in Belleville and Ménilmontant, you see the hoardes of sunbathers getting off at Jaures and heading for the Canal Saint Martin. There are the Indians and Pakistanis in La Chapelle, the usual ragamuffins at Barbes-Rochechouart, the wide-eyed tourists at Anvers and those who consider themselves at the next level up because they’re off to see the Moulin Rouge at Blanche. Then there are the more upmarket areas around the Parc Monceau, Courcelles and Ternes. Office-workers, suited and booted, having one last cigarette before facing the reality of another day’s work.

After that, you have the Charles-de-Gaulle-Etoile and all that goes with. Beyond, you have Victor Hugo and Porte Dauphine, two of the most luxurious residential areas within the city walls. I remember – aged 18 – staying for a couple of days with a friend who had a chambre de bonne on the avenue Victor Hugo. I was in awe at how broodily the Arc de Triomphe loomed at the end of his street but bizarrely, my strongest memory was the horror of unwittingly overhearing a gaggle of BCBG* self-absorbed teenage girls gossiping at the local Starbucks about how cool they were.

This morning I was back on that same street corner to chase up some bureaucrat. It’s not a secret how long administration can take in this country… and my new favourite way of getting anything done is to go in person.

Having finally accomplished what I set out to do, I decided to treat myself to a pastry. La Petite Marquise is a fantastic spot in the 16th arrondissement for the baguette de tradition. They came 8th in the 2014 Best Baguette in Paris competition, and 6th in 2012. I spent a reasonable 1€20 to try it for myself, and let’s just say, I was not disappointed! I also got a croissant au beurre (1€.) As you might know if you’ve followed this blog for a while, I have a penchant for really good buttery pastries and this one was super.

As it was almost lunchtime by the time I left, I spotted two servers putting out some mouth-watering sandwiches for the working and/or picnic crowd. There’s also a salon du thé towards the back of the shop, where you can sample their delicious creations on-site and wash it down with a cup of coffee or tea. Perfect for those with more time on their hands.

An extremely good address to have up your sleeve if you’re in the area.

*Bon Chic, Bon Genre: literally Good Style, Good Type. Not derogatory, the term first came about in the 1980s to describe well-dressed people with a style that now we expats have come to think of “typically Parisian”. Not to be confused with BoBo (Bourgeois Bohemian.)

 


Essential Information

Address: 3 place Victor Hugo, 75116
Telephone: 01 45 00 77 36
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday from 7.45am til 7.45pm. Saturday from 7.45am – 7.25pm. Closed Sunday.

Au Duc de la Chapelle, 75018

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The expression “I was lead to believe…” most commonly translates into French as “j’ai cru comprendre que…” It’s curious because in English we say that ‘you’re lead to believe’ whereas in French ‘you believe to understand.’ It would appear that the English mindset is already offsetting the blame onto someone else, whereas the French are using the emotional to justify the rational… gosh, I clearly have too much time on my hands!

However, if you were to follow what everyone says, you certainly wouldn’t expect to see a master boulanger working out of this far-flung spot in the 18th arrondissement.

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Between Porte de la Chapelle and Marx Dormoy, there’s little of note besides the Piscine Hebert, the Marché de l’Olive, a very sizeable Chinese community and the man to whom I pay my taxes on the rue de Boucry. However, there’s also Anis Bouabsa, an accomplished baker who, in 2004, turned heads by becoming the youngest MOF for boulangerie.

Then, after coming third in 2007, he sent shockwaves through the baking community by winning the prize for the Best Baguette de Tradition in Paris in 2008. With this competition comes the much-coveted contract of supplying the French President with his bread for a year. As you can imagine, his baguettes really are very good – the perfect balance of crust to soft dough for my taste – but his croissants also deserve a special mention.

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It is not worth crossing all of Paris to come here – for there is hardly a dearth of really excellent bread in the city centre – but it is a rare pearl and, without a doubt, the best boulangerie in this neighbourhood.


Essential Information

Address: 32 rue Tristan Tzara, 75018
Telephone: 01 40 38 18 98
WebsiteAu Duc de La Chapelle
Opening Hours: Monday – Friday from 5.30am til 8pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday.

Le Blé Sucré, 75012

I had been tipped off by a local parisienne about this neighbourhood boulangerie that is totally worth going out of your way for. It turns out that, such is Le Blé Sucré’s reputation, it has those in the know salivating just at the mention of its name.

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[2011] Croissant Competition #18: “The perfect diamond shape, it was a darker colour than the not-so-aristocratic croissants and it smelt strongly of caramel.

Oh be careful – it will be very hot. It’s only just out of the oven,” said the boulanger. And she wasn’t wrong! There was a small waft of steam that came out as I tore the croissant open. 

It was crisp on the outside but silky soft on the inside. Believe it or not, silky soft isnt even an exaggeration, it was so buttery, it tore apart just like picking up a silk scarf. Yet, at the same time, it wasn’t tooooo buttery either – it left just the right amount of butter on my fingers, not like #3…

Even though from the photo above, the croissant looks practically hollow, what there was of it was chewy enough for me not to feel hard done by. This silkiness may well have been different had the croissant spent even just five minutes on the counter before I walked in and given it the chance to solidify, but who in their right mind has that kind of patience. In terms of taste, there was a sweetness to it that most other croissants dont have – probably linked to the toasted caramel smell when it was first handed to me.

This is honestly a god amongst mortals and mark my words: the next time I’m looking for a flat in Paris, I want to live just above le Blé Sucré and I’m fully prepared to camp outside until they give in. Alternatively, if I learn from Number 16, maybe I need to find a boyfriend who calls this his local!

It is, without a doubt, one of the strongest contenders for the title of Best Croissant in Paris.”

 


Essential Information

Address: 7 rue Antoine Vollon (Square Trousseau) 75012
Telephone: 01 43 40 77 73
WebsiteLe Blé Sucré
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday from 7am-7.30pm, Sunday until 1.30pm. Closed Monday. 
 

Eric Kayser, 75008

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[2016] The Kayser empire has expanded rapidly in recent years. On practically every street corner in Paris, you can find the now famous E.K. initials. It’s not entirely bad news – the quality is still there, but I’m less excited to see an Eric Kayser bakery now than I was five years ago.

Let me just say that the lunch deal – sandwich, pastry and a drink for 8 euros (the value of my ticket resto) – became my staple in 2012 when I was working just off the boulevard Saint Germain.

But I also had a tarte Monge last summer which made me violently sick. (Most likely because there was a secret ingredient to which I am intolerant – but I asked if and they assured me that there wasn’t any.)

[2011] Eric Kayser is one of the best bakers in Paris. He’s up there with Conticini, Hermé and Genin as men who could steal my heart in just the fold of a pastry. That’s not something I say lightly, but make no bones about it, his cakes, tarts and gâteaux are some of the most delicately delicious things I’ve ever eaten. That’s also something I don’t say often.

Monsieur Kayser comes from a long line of bakers. I think I heard it said that he is the fourth generation. He opened the first “Maison Kayser” in 1996 on rue Monge (near rue Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement.) There are now 18 shops in Paris, as well as shops in Lyon, Russia, Ukraine, Japan and Senegal! There are 80 in total apparently.

I went to his shop in the 8th, on boulevard Malesherbes a few days ago to try a croissant (see below) and I went back again today to get my fill of sugar.

The strawberry gâteau pictured above was divine – fresh, fruity, juicy… but I have to say, the one that stole the show was undoubtedly the tarte au citron. It was sour, sweet, tangy, creamy and crunchy, all at the same time. Gobsmackingly gorgeous!! Pair it with a brut champagne (like this one from Vouette & Sorbée) and I promise you’ll think you’ve gone to heaven!

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[2010] Croissant Competition #11: “It was clearly fresh. There was no question this croissant had spent less than 30 minutes between the oven and my greedy grubby fingers. It smelt delicious, the kind of smell that can stop you dead in your tracks as you walk past a boulangerie in France. And yet, despite it’s ‘youthfulness,’ it had to be torn apart with some force, my two hands having a tug of war with the rope of butter and flour. As you can see from the photos, it was practically a perfect diamond shape and one of the taller croissants I’ve had recently. However, it was let down on the taste…. well actually, the lack thereof. I think after my excitement from the gorgeous toasted butter smell, I was expecting more than it delivered and for that reason I was slightly disappointed. Not so disappointed that I didn’t scoff two within a few seconds nor that I wouldn’t rank this up with some of the best croissants in Paris, but I don’t think it was The Best.”

Essential Information

Address: 85 boulevard Malesherbes, 75008
Telephone: 01 45 22 70 30
WebsiteEric Kayser
Opening HoursMonday – Saturday, 7am – 8.15pm. Closed Sunday. 

N.B. The original Eric Kayser is on rue Monge, in the 5th. 

Le Grenier à Pain, 75018

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In July 2011, I was living in le chic appartement, with its sleek white walls, old wooden floor and Haussmann features. Right downstairs was the boulangerie which had won the Best Baguette in Paris competition the year before.

There are actually a dozen Le Grenier à Pain boulangeries in Paris. I haven’t had the time or acquired a fast enough metabolism to check them all out, but I am very familiar with the two in the 18th arrondissement: the award-winning one on the rue des Abbesses and the less crowded rue Caulaincourt.

It happens to be my boulangerie of choice for an excellent baguette tradition, but it’s not half bad when it comes to the mighty croissant au beurre either.

Croissant Competiton #6: “The croissant is a relatively dark colour and a masterful diamond shape. Rather bizarrely, it didn’t crumple or flake when I pulled it apart – in fact, it was fairly tough, almost like pulling apart a doughnut. As a result, I’m actually very pleased to say that approximately 98% of the croissant reached my mouth, compared to the average percentage which I’d say is probably around 80-85%!

There’s definitely more bread than butter here at Le Grenier à Pain. It’s very chewy, without a doubt the chewiest (is that even a word?!) the most chewy croissant I’ve had so far. Especially compared to Croissant #5 which fell to pieces at the slightest touch, this is The Hulk of the croissant world. However, the yummy toasted butter aftertaste means that this was not just all muscle and no flavour, this is actually a very strong contender for the title of Paris’ best croissant.”

 


Essential Information

Address: 127 rue Caulaincourt, 75018
Telephone: 01 42 62 30 98
Opening Hours: Friday to Wednesday, from 7h30 til 8pm. Closed Thursday.  
 
Address: 38, rue des Abbesses, 75018
Telephone: 01 46 06 41 81
Opening HoursThursday to Monday, from 7h30 til 8pm. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
 
WebsiteLe Grenier a Pain

Au 140, 75020

One of the criteria I set for the croissant competition in 2011 was that the croissant had to be the first thing I ate that day. I believe occasion plays a massive part in the enjoyment of any sensory experience – and appetite is a crucial factor. Two identical croissants would taste very different if one were eaten on a full stomach and the other when ravenous with hunger.

For that reason, this morning I jumped out of bed, pulled on some jeans and a shirt, and didn’t even stop to browse at the flea market I was so impatient to jump on a vélib, thereby considerably speeding up the obtaining-breakfast-process. However, now I wish I’d had a glass of orange juice or something before I left the house for the extra energy. Last night I planned which boulangerie I’d try out for today’s instalment and yes it had crossed my mind that there may be a slight incline to get there…. however, it turned out that what I had to cycle up was no small hill and, man, I was so tempted to pop in somewhere else for some breakfast first!

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(You’ll hopefully be pleased to know that I had enough will-power to hold out!)

The boulangerie “Au 140” is located on 140 rue de Belleville in the 20th. I’d already heard good things about the place (from David Lebovitz) and topped with the knowledge that they’d won Paris’ best baguette competition in 2001 and (I believe) they’d also come second in Paris’ best croissant competition in 2006, I had high hopes.

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[2011] Croissant Competition #3:

Lots of care – almost an unreasonable level – was taken in getting my croissant au beurre fresh from the kitchen. There’s no hanging around on the counter getting more stale by the minute for the little pastry. No siree. The boulanger himself was lurking at the pass between the kitchen and the shop front and supervising every operation with hawk-like watchfulness.

The wrapping paper was very artfully twisted by someone who has obviously had plenty of practice in wrapping croissants. The croissant itself was a little bit floppy but I have to say, it was the perfect deep yellow/gold colour and it smelt gorgeous!

However, I’m a little bit sorry to say that it’s not the best croissant I’ve found in Paris. It was actually (and I don’t say this often) too buttery.

It was so buttery in fact, that I was having trouble gripping my handlebars and holding the brakes on my vélib as I was freewheeling down the hill on my way back.

Still, I would definitely recommend this boulangerie-patisserie. Take the métro to Jourdain, then take a vélib down the hill (and enjoy the great views of la Tour Eiffel as you go.) Alternatively, this place is worth remembering as a stop-off before a picnic on the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.


Essential Information

Address: 140 Rue de Belleville, 75020
Telephone: 01 46 36 92 47
WebsiteAu 140
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 7am-8pm. Sunday 7am-7pm. Closed Monday.