How could it have happened? The spire of Notre Dame burned. Our greatest achievements are fragile. These photos – most taken in Notre Dame’s neighborhood a week before the fire – remind me that we must treasure beautiful things because they are impermanent. I will try to appreciate the beauty of the classics, like Strawberry Tarts, even more. With echoes of cathedrals and chateaux, the patisserie tradition in France includes symmetry, elegant precision, and sometimes a flash of whimsy. Gargoyles, candy ferris wheels, chocolate ducks, fruit tarts, decorated eclairs (fancy! a new trend), macarons, and classic cakes are all part of the artistry of Paris in the spring.
No matter how much time I devote to loitering in front of patisserie shop windows and drinking too much cafe in the cafes, my research on the glory of French patisseries is never done. Early spring in the 8th Arrondissement, where flower buds are visible on the trees but they haven’t quite popped, a cool hint of winter in the mid-day air, is just where I want to be. Coffee and pastries in the morning, then a visit to Domaine de Chantilly (home of the famous Chantilly Cream, which is featured many times in A BAKER’S PASSPORT, the new book based on this blog)…that is a quality agenda.
The shop windows, full of classics like Tarte au Fraises and petite St. Honoree Gateaux, have a seasonal element, too. This makes the advent of strawberry season all the more important. My favorite spots are the small neighborhood patisseries and cafes – the ones you stumble upon on your way somewhere else and you discover THAT butter croissant. Yet, who could pass up a visit to the A-listers (Pierre Herme, Laundree, Cafe Pouchkine?) Especially now that they are all aligned under one sumptuous roof at Printemps near St. Lazare if you need a one-stop tour of the best patisseries and chocolatiers. Otherwise, here are a few guides to get you heading to some beauties:
To bring those classic pastries home to you, let’s start with the Strawberry Tart. Even now, after decades of pilgrimages to the cafes of Paris, this is the dessert that makes me wonder how anything so simple can taste so good. It does, every time. This recipe from A Baker’s Passport will bring the French patisserie tradition right into your kitchen starting with a classic Pate Sucre, the sweet pastry crust; then you’ll make a Creme Patisserie loaded with vanilla beans, and strawberries. It is almost strawberry season. Now you are ready!
Equipment: medium bowl, electric mixer, 1 (9-inch) tart pan, rolling pin pastry brush
Time: 2 hours
Yield: 1 (9-inch) tart
For the Tart Dough (Pate Sucre):
2½ cups (12 ounces) cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks/8 ounces) butter
½ cup (4 ounces) sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Pastry Cream (Crème
1½ cups (12 ounces) whole milk
½ cup (4 ounces) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
½ cup (4 ounces) sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
⅓ cup (2 ounces) cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
For the Strawberries:
4 pints ripe strawberries, trimmed
½ cup (4 ounces) apricot jam,
melted and strained
Bon Voyage and Vive La France.
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