23 April 2014

Patisserie Discoverie | Nid de Pâques

Happy Easter, everyone. 

I swear I walked into the boulangerie fully intending on buying the prettiest patisserie there. But, as in many a quirky rom-com, intrigue outweighed beauty and I went home with an open-faced box filled with brains.
Perhaps my craving for ramen has begun to cloud my judgment. Or the dream I had two days ago about worms taking over the world traumatized me more than I thought. Whatever the explanation, I can't believe I paid three euros for Justin Timberlake's hair from the 90s.
I should have seen the signs when the woman at the boulangerie walked around waving the box on its side, almost certainly smashing half the patisserie. ...Isn't half the price of a patisserie for the aesthetics? By the time I got home, it looked like someone had been overly enthusiastic about patting Justin on the head. He is a pop singer with a penchant for eight-minute-long loops of a single chorus, not a dog (seriously though, "what goes around comes around" - we should have known he was singing about song structure).

This patisserie just confuses me so much. It looks like off-color noodles, so my brain prepares for saltiness. And...noodles on cake? Is that a good idea? And then I think, what tool did they use to pile the noodles on like that? And then I think about how it's all really just a pile of cream that looks like separate strands of cream, but when you eat it it's just cream, and my mouth goes numb and I can't feel my tongue anymore.
At least the eggs make up for it by adding a spot of color to what otherwise looks like processed noodles, right? Wrong. The "eggs" are jellybeans with a hard candy shell, like the lovechild of jordan almonds and Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans no one asked for...and one of them was licorice, the one flavor that needs to disappear from the face of the earth.

I ended up eating all the jellybeans first to get them out of the way, because the mixture of jellybean and coffee cake was bizarre and way too sweet. May I suggest chocolate eggs next time? The cake itself was soggy coffee cake layered with cream and then topped off with a nest of cream (now there's a phrase I never thought I'd say). The creamy greasiness and the mouth-numbing sweetness with a hint of coffee overpowered my taste buds. And the almonds along the side added unwanted texture to the whole affair - now I know what it feels like to have a million tiny leaves in my mouth.

There are not many things I would avoid eating - licorice, bitter melon, fruits of unknown origin...but Nid de Pâques can now join that merry band of misfits. I'm not sure if I should apologize for it, because I'm afraid of anyone who takes pleasure in eating nest-like things and thus identifies with large rodents. Chinese people do eat actual nests, but I still feel slightly nauseous when I think about that time I had to pick feathers out of swallow's nest soup for three hours for my grandparents. Filial piety, man...


11 April 2014


As I wrote in my encounter with the edible brick, the Carolo, I visited Charleville-Mezières several weekends ago. Birthplace of Rimbaud, home to a major puppetry festival, an aging population and a parking crisis - I was there for an urban studies project so this is the information you're going to get. 

But being neither in need of parking nor in possession of an aging population (if you don't count my brain cells), I found Charleville to be quite a charming lens into the everyday goings-on of a small French city. We saw an exhibition of artwork by mentally disabled artists, the puppetry museum's (terrifying) clock giant that puts on an hourly puppet show, the restored Place Ducale, the Meuse River, a tree monster reaching to pluck the moon from the sky...

If you listen carefully, the wind in Charleville goes "Carololololololo..." As do the birds.


07 April 2014

Patisserie Discoverie | Carolo

Carolo sounds like a name I would give one of my Sims. It's a slippery slope, Carolo, because if you're not careful you could find yourself going Carololololololo...and so on for eternity. 

I hadn't heard of the Carolo until I found myself in Charleville-Mezières, a small city about an hour away from Reims, for a class project on municipal elections. A friend was kind enough to host me for the weekend while we went about interviewing candidates and taking photos of emptied storefronts, and twas she who made this patisserie known to me.

I let myself get a little too medieval there...
The Carolo is a specialty of the city, so special in fact that the only information I could find on it was on French Wiktionary:
"Specialité pâtissière de Charleville-Mezières."
Thank you for that, French Wiktionary. You're a true poet.

But I am not so easily defeated. From what I gather(ed from my taste buds and my friend's mom), it's a meringue-based cake, with cream filling. There must be nuts involved too, there are always nuts involved - probably the filling is hazelnut cream. It's always hazelnuts.

Continuing in the trend of questionably edible things, the Carolo looks like an adobe brick with stubble. I also couldn't cut through it, but it was for crumbly reasons (and not suspicious end-of-the-day reasons)! It was also very sweet, to the point where having one would probably cover any Carolo cravings for a couple of months. 

All this sounds very negative - it was honestly quite good, and I appreciate its strangeness and brickishness (in a dog-eat-dog world, a patisserie's got to survive by any means necessary, and camouflage seems like a practical way to go about that). It's hard to be surprised these days (quiet, inner eighty-year-old!) so the Carolo was exactly why I started this patisserie discovery thing in the first place. No, not to stuff my face, although that plays a part, but to see what else is out there. 


05 April 2014

A Whole New World*

Just before Christmas, I had the chance to visit the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I went on a bit of a museum binge during that trip, and after a while all the artifacts started to grow kind of...well, old. But the cool thing about museums is that there's always a chance that, amidst the pot fragments and paintings of barely-clothed maidens in mid-gasp, you might come across something completely new.

So after I got over the giant red Christmas tree in the foyer, I entered V&A's Jameel Gallery for Islamic art and was pretty much blown away by everything in there. First of all, a lot of Islamic art plays with calligraphy and the Arabic language, which is right up my alley. Each piece was like, "hey, what if..." and my brain would explode, and then I'd do the Museum Two-Step to the next piece, and it'd be like, "hey what if..." Basically, the artists were unafraid to question and transform centuries-old traditions into something fresh. 

I finally came across one of the exhibits online, so I can now stop referring to it as the "weird rug exhibit." 
Artist Faig Ahmed models his carpets after traditional Azerbaijan carpets, but distorts them in a way that doesn't so much break from tradition as pull it in new directions. In person they are even more impressive, as you can see the point where the warps begin, the exact thread where tradition turns left instead of right. It's pretty cool. 

*And yes, I am just saying this because it's carpets and vaguely Arabian. 


01 April 2014

Patisserie Discoverie | Paris Brest

I had been eyeing the Paris Brest for some time, actually. I recognized its name, but it was never photogenic enough to be chosen. Until today, when a friend and I walked past the boulangerie on our way home. 

At the end of the day, it was slim pickings. Few patisseries left, just a bunch of grease marks on an empty shelf. A framboise macaron with half its framboises missing. Two deformed chocolate eclairs that could actually have been one cancerous eclair. I contemplated coming back the next day. But then:

"What about the poop?"
So here we are.

I walked inside and waited as a mother paid for her baguette. Her blond baby cooed in his stroller. She took the baguette and stepped aside but did not move her baby.

The lady behind the counter made eyes at the baby. The baby looked at all the shiny colors in his new non-amniotic world. They stared at each other. After a good three minutes, they finally broke their gaze and the mother stepped in to wheel the baby away (although after that display of laser eyes I'm not sure he was a baby so much as an alien overlord hypnotizing his way through the human populace; I can only assume the mother was his accomplice).

"Un Paris Brest, s'il vous plaît," I said, pointing at the poop. Please take the prettier one please take the prettier one - my joy was short-lived, however, for when she placed her fingers on the poop not a single grain of powdered sugar moved.

I ate it anyway, because questionably edible food reminds me of home.

When I dug my spoon into it, it wouldn't move. I had to hold the poop down and wrestle my spoon into the top layer of choux pastry. It tried to slide and flip over. But worry not - ten minutes later, I was approximately 100 grams heavier. Just call me the poop wrangler (that was a terrible idea do not call me the poop wrangler).
The poop is basically praline cream sandwiched between two layers of choux pastry, and then garnished with sliced almonds and a dusting of (inexplicably immovable) powdered sugar. In fact, the Paris Brest was created by a pâtissier of Maison Lafitte to commemorate the Paris-Brest bicycle race. It's not in the shape of a poop, as we heathens call it, but rather a bicycle wheel (let us compromise in the spirit of world peace and settle on calling it a circle).