Cronuts

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Maya and I finally got to experience the real Cronut during our recent trip to New York City. The famous croissant and donut hybrids were sold out on our last visit, so we decided to make it our priority to get our hands on them this time around. We dropped off our luggage in Midtown and made a beeline to Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho.

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There was already a line, about 20 people deep, when we arrived around 9:00 a.m. We had to wait for about an hour just to get inside the shop, which was another 20 minutes or so. We were a bit surprised because we thought the Cronut fever has died down by now, especially with all the other donut shops and patisseries offering copycat treats, but that surely wasn’t the case. The lady in front of us, a regular, told us that the line is usually much worse earlier in the morning.

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The Cronuts were already packaged in a yellow box and stacked near the register to speed up the line. Maya ordered a cup of coffee and I grabbed a cup of Earl Grey tea and seated ourselves on a small table near the door.

Now, the moment of truth …

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What I liked:

The Cronut definitely tasted more like a croissant than a donut, unlike some imitation faux-nuts (or “do-ssant”) at neighborhood 24-hour donut shops. It tasted like a very sophisticated dessert. I enjoyed the slight chewiness of the dough as well.

What I didn’t like:

A little too much pastry cream in the middle. The flavor of the day was strawberry and although I enjoyed the sweet and tangy combination of the berries, the cream tasted slightly off to me. I would have loved to try the simple vanilla pastry cream instead.

The verdict: ★★★★☆

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Extra: We ordered bake-to-order mini Madeleines. They were good but weren’t eye-popping or anything.

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Sadaharu Aoki Cookbook

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My folks recently returned from spending two weeks in Japan and brought me back this book, among other Japanese goodies.  It’s part pastry book and part instructional guide, and hands down the best souvenir for a hard core Sadaharu Aoki fanaticbiggrin

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The only thing better is a ticket to Paris to taste the real thing.

Mini Strawberry Tarts

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There are so many different ways to reach the same destination when it comes to baking. Everyone and their mothers have their own version of how to make the basics – like pie dough, pate choux, and pastry cream. Navigating through baking books and online recipes can be overwhelming at times with countless variations to choose from, so I usually narrow down to these three experts to guide me through the process: Dorie Greenspan, David Lebowitz, and Martha Stewart.

This is not to say that I don’t seek other patisseries’ tutelage — I do. I have overflowing shelves full of baking books from other authors to prove it.  But when I’m in a need of an absolute fool-proof recipes for French-inspired desserts (and am not particularly in the mood to experiment), I go straight to Greenspan, Lebowitz, and Stewart, as I consider them to be the definitive authorities on the subject. Although they are all American, two formers live in Paris (I thinks Greenspan travels back and forth to Paris and New York) and their authenticities are certainly not lost in translation. And of course, Martha. Martha, Martha, Martha. Love her or hate her (and I happen to love her, clearly), there’s no denying that her recipes come out perfect, every. single. time.

When I was searching for the recipe for pastry cream for the strawberry tart, I compared all three. Greenspan and Lebowitz’s recipes were very similar, but Stewart’s used a few less eggs … and since I was down to just four eggs in the refrigerator (as opposed to six), I decided to go with the Domestic Queen’s version.

And the result? Fantastic, of course, sandwiched between the buttery pate sucree and fresh strawberries.

Pastry Cream
Makes about 2 ½ cups
Adapted from marthastewart.com

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped
Pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, cornstarch, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly pour about 1/2 cup of the hot-milk mixture into the egg-yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, until it has been incorporated. Pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard vanilla bean.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, and beat on medium speed until the butter melts and the mixture cools, about 5 minutes.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Just before using, beat on low speed until smooth (you can also whisk by hand).

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I used the same pate sucree (sweet dough) recipe as the Tarte Aux Pommes I made the other day (click here for the recipe). See, I told you I use other pastry chef’s recipes too!  lol

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I used the small brioche pans I purchased from William Sonoma to make these individual shells.

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I tried a few different ways to place the strawberries and this seems to work the best.  I put the whole strawberry, sans stem, in the middle, and arranged the sliced berries around it.

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I used the apricot jam and water mixture for the glaze.  Definitely take the time to do this final step, as it makes the tarts look more professional (and it tastes great).

Happy baking!

My Favorite Macarons shop in LA: ‘Lette Macarons

I am a shameless bandwagoner when it comes to food trends. I might not be the first one to jump on the newest craze (and may not understand what all the fuss is about at times), but I’ve done my share of waiting in long lines at Sprinkles Cupcakes, Bread Papa’s, and Pinkberry when they first opened their doors to the hungry and curious public. I am surprised that I never got into the food truck phenomenon all that much, but my fiancé and I did fork out a fortune for the Korean BBQ tacos when we spotted the Koji truck parked in our neighborhood.

The current food trend that blows all the others out of the water is the macaron sensation. These delicate French cookies make this Francophile forget about all the warm and fuzzy feelings I once had for pint-size cakes and tangy swirly goodness. They are one of my favorite things in the world, and I know that my love for these little heavenly morsels will last forever, even when something new comes along and eventually takes over the pastry world.

My new favorite macaron shop in Los Angeles is ‘Lette Maracons. I tried it out for the first time over the weekend (at the Little Tokyo location) and fell absolutely in love. They tasted very close to the macarons I ate and loved in Paris, especially the Earl Grey Tea and Rose favored ones.

There are many, many debates on the blogosphere over who has the best macarons in town. I’m no expert in the maracon field, but what makes them perfect, in my book, is the impeccable combination of airiness and chewiness. I love it when the shells flake off and instantly melt in my mouth, while the sweet filling provides the perfect bite of luscious gooey-ness. These ‘Lette macarons provide the perfect pairing of both. It’s no surprise, from the first bite of its macaron, that Paulette Koumetz and Christophe Michalak, two magicians behind this operationare, are authentically French.

I can seriously eat these all day.

The only bone to pick with ‘Lette is this: Why is it that you charge $1.70 for one macaron but charge $10.50 for a box of 6? Shouldn’t it be $10.20?  The box is not worth $0.30.  I was hoping for a price break for buying the set, not realizing that I was paying extra for the box that I didn’t even need or want. Eeek.

‘Lette Maracons
Various Locations: Beverly Hills, Pasadena, and Downtown LA
★★★★★

P.S. Is it just me or does this Colombian Coffee macaron look very much like Baby Ike?

The Neighborhood Gem: Gerard Mulot

As I mentioned on previous posts, I stayed in the 6th arrondissement in Paris during this trip. Paris is divided into 20 small districts called “arrondissement” and each neighborhood has its share of charms. Understanding the layout of Paris can be a little tricky at first since the numbers spiral out from the center of the city outward, as opposed to in a grid-like fashion in, say, Manhattan. It took me a while to figure out why the 6th arrondissement is right above the 14th, etc., but once you figure out the general blueprint, navigating through the city is very simple. And the metro system in the city is simply amazing. You can get around anywhere by using the metro (subway) and a train system called RER. Think of RER (there are a total of five lines, A, B, C, D, and E) as main arteries and metro lines as small veins running through your body.

When I visited Paris five years ago, I stayed in the 10th arrondissement because the hotels were relatively less expensive than other posh neighborhoods but it turned out that there was nothing really happening in the area. I ended up “commuting” to St. Germain, a more fashion-savvy area full of exciting shops and legendary cafes in the 6th Arrondissement daily, and I promised myself then that the next time I visit Paris, I will make this place my home away from home. I think of the St. Germain neighborhood as something like Robertson Blvd. in Los Angeles, that is full of modern and artsy boutiques, as well as high-end brands.

As you can tell, I am a huge fan of this area and consider this to be the best neighborhood to stay in, even though the hotels can be little pricey. If you are a fan of Ina Garten, aka Barefoot Contessa, like me, you can find many shops that she introduced in her cookbook, Barefoot in Paris, as well as the Food Network special on Paris here.  In fact, her Paris apartment is located on the border of the 6th and 7th arrondissements, on Boulevard Raspail, only a few blocks from the hotel Maya and I stayed called Odeon St. Germain. Some of Ina’s favorite stores, such as Poilane, Gerard Mulot, Bethelemy cheese shop, Café de Flore and Pierre Herme, are a mere blocks away.

I was particularly thankful that Gerard Mulot, a pastry and deli shop loved by the locals and the tourists alike, was right across the street from the hotel.

Maya and I frequented this lovely shop almost daily, sampling from staples like Pain de Chocolate (chocolate croissant) and Croque Monsier (hot ham and cheese sandwich), and fancier offerings like Salmon and Avocado Mousse and several different types of quiche in buttery dough. And the macarons here, as you can imagine, are absolutely to die for.

There is a reason why, in the city where you can find wonderful pastry shops virtually in every corner, this place is considered the best in Paris. It’s a pretty impressive reputation, where even the not-so-good shops are probably ten times better than the best ones in the states!

Gerard Mulot
76 Rue de Seine, 6th arrondissement, and other locations
Metro: Odeon or Mabillon

Thank you, Maya, for taking some wonderful pictures used here!

My Sweet Religion: Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki

After we grabbed a quick but wonderful lunch at Cuisine de Bar, Maya and I headed over to Patisserie Sakaharu Aoki for another round of dessert. I am not over-exaggerating when I say that this Japan-born and trained pastry chef, who now runs an extremely successful pastry business in France with numerous store locations in Paris, as well as in major department store like Galleries Lafayette, is the reason why I now am obsessed with sweets. I have not had the honor of trying his famous pastries until this trip but it’s the concept of incorporating wonderful Japanese ingredients like matcha green tea, yuzu (Japanese citrus that is slightly more bitter than orange), and goma (sesame) into French classics that inspired me to do the same in my little kitchen.

The moment Maya and I reached the store on Rue de Vaugirard, a 10-minute walk from Cuisine de Bar, I almost kneeled down and cry. Okay, that’s a little melodramatic, but I felt a powerful energy rush through my body, like I have finally arrived to my culinary mecca.

The shop was everything that I had imagine – a very simple, white and black / silver interior, with rainbow-colored macarons and chocolate- and green tea-inspired cakes filling the showcases. There were many kinds of confectioneries, like candied orange and other heavenly morsels lined up against the wall.

I had to fight the urge to buy up the entire store, and settled on the following: Bamboo, a green tea opera cake; Fuwafuwa Fraise, a soft and airy sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries (“fuwa fuwa” is the term Japanese use to describe something airy, like a cloud); Citrus Tarte; Green Tea Eclaire, and five different kinds of macarons. I tried matcha, hojicha, jasmine, chocolate, and wasabi. I know that wasabi-flavored macaron can sound a bit strange for some, but it was one of the greatest sweets I’ve ever had – along with all his other creations.

Because there was no indoor seating, Maya and I “smuggled” our purchases to a nearby café, where we sat and enjoyed hot beverages with our cakes. It started to rain but we got the best seats inside a tent, under a warm lamp, overlooking the beautiful St. Sulpice church. The waiter didn’t mind that we brought in our own desserts. In fact, he looked more curious as to what we were about to indulge! And if any of you are wondering, yes, we ate all the dessert in one sitting!

I am so glad that I had the chance to experience the wonder that is Sadaharu Aoki. He made me fall in love all over again with pastries and Paris, the birthplace of all things wonderful.

Patisserie Sadaharu AOKI Paris
35 Rue de Vaugirard and other locations
Metro: St Sulpice or Renne

Sweet Nostalgia: Cream Puffs

mothers-day-002Cream puffs (or we call them “Choux Cream”) have a very special place in my heart, and probably in many Japanese kid’s as well. They were one of those special snacks that you only get on special days in Japan – birthdays, graduations, or when your mother’s rich friend visits (the guest either brings them as a gift, or your mother goes out to buy them to show off). Even now, I get pretty nostalgic when I make cream puffs, remembering the colorful rows of French-inspired puff pastries in a glass showcase in an upscale department store and wishing that I can have a piece.

Despite the sophisticated exterior and image, cream puffs are one of the easiest desserts to make. I’ve tried several recipes and liked them all, but decided to go with Martha Steward’s recipe from Baking Handbook this time for the first time because her version used a total of eight eggs between the pate a choux and the pastry cream, which was exactly the amount I had in a refrigerator (I was too lazy to run out to the store).

mothers-day-flowers-and-puffsI didn’t follow the recipe exactly and altered it slightly. Instead of using the recipe for Cream Puffs, I used the recipe for Pate a Choux and the Pastry Cream and combined them together to make my version of Cream Puffs. I added fresh strawberries to add a touch of spring to the dessert.

And look at the beautiful bouquet of flowers my boyfriend brought for my mother for Mother’s Day. They were beautiful and the wonderful floral scent, coupled with freshly baked cream puffs, filled the entire room with sweet nostalgia.