Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monsieur Mulot is in the building

I might as well admit to you now that I've always been a groupie. In college, I was a groupie of Robert Palmer. I was addicted to the Addicted to Love guy. After a show at Radio City Music Hall, I managed to sneak backstage for his post-concert party. I sat next to him on a settee for more than half an hour before coming up with something really charming and witty to say ("um, I really liked the show"). I then got up and left. I never said I was a good groupie.

So when I was at Gerard Mulot yesterday, and Gerard Mulot himself emerged from the kitchen, familiar feelings - Robert Palmer feelings - kicked in. Oh my God, there he is! It's him! It's GERARD MULOT!

Gerard Mulot is a very tasteful and expensive patisserie in the 6th. Chocolates cost about $100/kilo (Just for comparison's sake, a pound of Fannie May Mint Meltaways runs you about $22.99). I've had my eye on Mulot for more than 15 years. His is one of about ten standout patisseries in Paris that always get mentioned in New York Times articles about standout patisseries in Paris. And there he was, on a Sunday, tending to things in his shop.

Thankfully, he didn't look like Thierry Lhermitte,

a French comedic actor with devastating blue eyes, or I might have left my husband on the spot. Monsieur Mulot is more of a Tim Kazurinsky type - slight and spectacled and persnickety. He had a discussion with one of the patrons, a well-to-do woman who was asking about a cake. I tried not to stare, and I certainly wasn't going to take a picture, and risk looking like the groupie that I am. Plus, he was no Thierry Lhermitte.

We got a few jambon sandwiches to go, some pate de fruit (fruit jelly candies rolled in sugar), and two gateaux, a delicieux and an opera.

As we spent the day at the Jardin du Luxembourg, doing things French families do, I thought the cakes were safe in their cute, pink Gerard Mulot box. But when we got home, a different story emerged (see sad photo at the top).

The delicieux and the opera had collided. The opera - a classic French pastry with layers of genoise, coffee buttercream, and chocolate ganache - took the brunt of it. My Mulot masterpieces were Mulot-perfect no more. But even in its devastation, it's quite lovely, don't you think?

Thursday, July 22, 2010


On Friday, I'm heading to the pastry motherland, with a quick 6 hour layover in Queens. I haven't been to Paris in 15 years, so I haven't spoken French in as long. The performance anxiety is setting in, the fear of being an ugly American is palpable, and I hope to God we can figure out the metro map. I have places to go and things to do and gateaux to see.

I love Paris in a fawning, slightly embarrassing kind of way. I love how Parisians, and French people as a whole, revere food, and I don't at all mind how arrogant they are about the fact that they revere it (and we don't). I love how important pastry is to them, and bread, and butter, and croissants. I love that there are no Dunkin Donuts in France. And I love that baguettes are regulated by the government. Take that, Tea Party Movement.

I have a list, but by no means an exhaustive one, of places to go, and by places, I mean restaurants, cafes, boulangeries, patisseries, and marches that house fromageries, charcuteries, and chocolatiers. On this trip, I'll have two kids with me, one of whom only eats five things. It's a good thing three of them - bread, chocolate and cake - can be found on every street corner. Is it possible to get juvenile diabetes in a week?

Someone told me there are a lot of museums in Paris. I guess we'll try to fit a few in, between the trips to Berthillon (the best ice cream in Paris) and L'As du Fallafel (the best falafel in Europe, and maybe the world, according to the New York Times) and E. Dehillerin, a venerable cookware store where the salesmen wear long aprons while they fetch your copper sauteuse. The euros are at the ready.

And then there's La Maison du Chocolat, a Willy Wonka-like wonderland where the carpeting, the walls, the perfectly wrapped boxes of cakes, candies, and those macarons - all of it is suave and chocolatey. It is literally breathtaking. Not to brag or anything, but I'll be there next week. I'll also try to stop into Poilane for some apple tarts and walnut bread. Perhaps a little carb heavy, but the two together make a fine lunch.

I will hopefully be posting from France, assuming the technology Gods don't pull a fast one. Of course, if they're French, they just might.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The case for lard

When I think of the word "lard," it's virtually impossible for me not to attach the word "ass" to the end. Nothing says sedentary housewife from Iowa like the word "lard-ass" and nothing contributes more to lard-assism than lard. At least that's what my inner judgmental self says.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a lard-ass is a person who is not only useless but who also weighs a ridiculous amount. So it's pretty clear how lard got its unflattering reputation. Lard is the evil fatty substance that gives women, especially those from the plains states, their big, jiggly butts.

Ironically, nothing makes a better pie crust, and I now know this from experience. Exhibit A: my first pie of the season, above. A beauty, with sour cherries from the sour cherry capital of the world, Michigan, and the best crust I have ever made. That's a pretty ambitious statement, considering how many crusts I've made in my life (I'm counting all the tart and puff pastry shells, too, because crust is crust). Hundreds? Maybe thousands. But never with lard. And I have to attribute that to a fear of lard, and the pronounced dimpled ass that goes along with it.

But the nutritional data doesn't support the fear. Butter has more saturated fat and cholesterol than lard, assuming the lard is not hydrogenated (more about that later). Lard, in case you don't know, is pig fat. It's rendered, or melted down, and then strained of the lingering bits. It is then refrigerated to solidify.

When lard is processed, however, evil corporate scientists hydrogenate it (a chemical process that improves shelf life), and this makes it an enemy of your arteries and ostensibly your hiney. But pure, high quality lard is available via mail order. It's generally called leaf lard. If you're at all squeamish, now's the time to skip to the next paragraph. Leaf lard is the fat that accumulates around the kidneys of the pig. Not very appetizing, but surprisingly healthier than its processed cousin. The fat is rendered, strained and then chilled or frozen.

My pie crust was dreamlike in its flakiness with nary a taste of the barn. It stayed flaky for a couple of days, even in the warmer weather. And it was easy to work with. When you have two children, the last thing you need is a pie crust with an attitude.

Lard is also said to reign supreme in the deep fryer, producing a virtually greaseless, crispy crust. I am completely unashamed to admit that I am now lard's number one fan and I will be aggressively pursuing perfect fried chicken in the days ahead, once my $18.00 leaf lard arrives. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Once again, America saves the world

Gosh, I'm proud to be an American. It isn't just that we're clearly better than everyone else. It's the incredible number of useful contributions we've made to society in the past 234 years. Without our homespun American ingenuity, there would be no all-you-can-eat buffets. No loaded potato skins. No cheese that sprays out of an aluminum can, much like another iconic American invention, Silly String.

But in the past few years, there have been murmurs around the globe that maybe, just maybe, we are losing our competitive edge. Well, people of the doubting persuasion, I have two words for you:

Cheese tessallation.

In geometric parlance, tessellation is a collection of plane figures that fill a space so there are no gaps, much like the correct placement of jigsaw puzzle pieces. So when Subway announced this week it would start tessallating the cheese slices on its sandwiches, I was more than just excited. Now, rather than overlapping, the slices will be placed point up, point down, point up, point down (see photo above - an unfortunate example since there are big gaping holes between the slices. But you get the idea).

I am particularly proud of the R & D people who turned this pie-in-the-sky notion into something real we can all experience every time we order a $5 footlong (are they still $5?). I'm so glad we're using our best and brightest for life's important endeavors. I know there are other matters that need tending, but continuously perfecting the Subway sandwich will keep this country a step ahead of the India's and China's of the world who are noisily knocking on progress' door.

So for all of you doubters, we'd like you to meet the tessallated cheese sandwich. It's big, it's bad, it's red, white, and blue, and it's proof that we, the United States of America, aren't going anywhere.