Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Cannoli!

This month, the Daring Bakers decided not to bake - instead, we would deep fry! I must say, I prefer baking. I wasn't ever crazy about cannoli, and I don't think I ever will be, but I'm still game to try anything.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

I decided to make a plain cannoli dough and, after frying, to dip them in chocolate and garnish with orange zest. The ricotta filling was a bit too dense, but it made for a nice taste combination.

I made stacked, flat cannoli, since I am in Germany and couldn't get my hands on cannoli forms even if I wanted to. Okay, now you can tell I am a grouchy baker. Working with a million conversions (oz to grams, F to C to gas oven numbers, etc. etc.) and two not-so-successful Daring Baker challenges (and recipes, in my opinion) have made me a bit grumpy. But hopefully December will be a different story!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Der Philosophenweg

There's a hiking path across the river from the Old City called "The Philosopher's Way." Part of it weaves through gardens and orchards and gives great views of the castle and the city. Part of it dives into the forest, with tall, tall trees and little undergrowth . . .

It starts out on a winding alley, called the Snake Path, going up, up, up the side of the hill.

Mounds of moss are magical woodland worlds in miniature.

At the tail end of autumn, the path is littered with leaves. Night falls quickly, and within just a few minutes we were plunged into darkness amidst the trees. Suddenly it felt as if we could be in any century - there were no lights, no sound. It was easy then to understand why people once venerated and feared the forest, why they told stories of beasts and horrors creeping out from it, why the glow of a village could be so comforting. This was the first time I felt that the "Old World" felt really, really old. This hadn't happened while looking at ruins or old city walls. Instead, I felt it in the forest, in something that has evoked fear, awe, and worship for time out of mind.

Thankfully, there was some respite from the darkness - there's a small vineyard at the end of one path. Here, in the clearing, we could see the old city in the valley below.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Eating My Way through Paris: Macarons part 4

Well, after reviewing macarons from three patisseries and trying my own hand at making them, I finish this macaron series with Monsieur Macaron Himself, Pierre Hermé . We visited his shop (one of two in Paris) located on a quiet corner in Saint Germain des Prés. I was allowed to take precisely and only two photos inside of the store. Here they are:

Lovely, perfect pastries on display.

The famous macarons themselves! I had a hard time getting all the flavors straight -
my French is really abysmal, and I am too proud (sometimes) to speak in English!

After haphazardly choosing a variety of mini-macarons, we headed out to the fountain and park area next to St-Sulpice to enjoy ourselves.

As far as I can remember, the flavors are (clockwise from top right):
mint, cocoa, raspberry and something-or-other, and olive oil-vanilla.

We couldn't miss the famous Ispahan concoction - a giant macaron filled
with raspberries, lychees, and rosewater-flavored cream.
This is Hermé's signature pastry.


The flavors of rosewater, raspberries, and lychees melded together elegantly - and I am always gratified when lychees are used. I feel that they are such an under-appreciated - or, rather, unknown - fruit. But, really, they are so sweet, light, and lovely.

But . . . as amazing as Pierre Hermé and his store are, I must announce the winner of the macaron taste-off to be Fauchon. For us, Fauchon's macarons had not only perfect texture but also the most delicious flavorings, and the best balance of sweet, salty, fragrant, and rich. This is not to say that ANY of the patisseries we tried were lacking (although one of the Hermé maracons was slightly too chewy, almost - gasp! - stale). Fauchon was just more perfect. But, of course, I'm always willing to go back to Paris and try everything again!