Just recently my mother celebrated her 75th birthday in style (she’s a heroine as far as we are all concerned, having won the captain’s prize at her golf club a few weeks earlier).
My brother Rory was also celebrating a landmark birthday, so the family once again decided to all chip in to give both birthday people a weekend in Paris as a special treat.
There are now 12 direct flights from Cork to Paris every week so one can pop over for a few days or a weekend.
Finding accommodation in Paris that’s reasonably central and won’t break the bank, needs time and energy. We used the Alastair Sawday Guide to Paris Hotels and eventually got rooms for seven people in Hotel de la Tulipe on 33 rue Malar on the Left Bank. This was a sweet little family run hotel with a courtyard and lots of small, simply furnished rooms. As ever one pays for location rather than luxury – we were just around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, Louvre…
Breakfast was fine, and Poujaurain which sells some of the best croissants and pain au chocolat in Paris was just around the corner. Michael Chanden’s chocolate shop was at the end of the road and one of the ‘must visit’ restaurants on my Paris list L’Affriole was 4 or 5 doors down from the hotel. We had wonderful crisp Autumn weather. We walked and walked, stopping at our favourite café to relax and watch the Parisians strutting their stuff.
Café Flore or Deux Magots or St Germain are a must. I love the Croque Monsieur and Welsh Rarebit and Salade Landaise at Café Flore. One can sit for hours watching the world go by but there’s never time enough – always so much to see.
For the most sinfully gorgeously rich hot chocolate, seek out Angelina on rue de Rivoli, this legendary salon du thé is just across the street from the Jardin des Tuileries. Don’t miss Julien on Rue du Faubourg St Denis either.
One should certainly take in a museum or two and pop around to check out the latest exhibition at the amazing Pompidou Centre. We had a delicious lunch at George on the top floor – good service and a commanding view of Paris.
Cooks and foodies should seek out Dehillerin, the legendary kitchen shop on rue Coquilliere, attach yourself to Gascon or Mimi and they will guide you through the labyrinth of kitchen gadgets and then handwrite your bill in an old-fashioned courteous way.
There are food markets virtually every day in some part of Paris, but if it’s a weekend trip you may want to get up early and go to Marche Enfant Rouges on Rue de Bretagne or Marche St Germain. . Check out Marche aux Puces de St Ouen for antiques
My favourite is the organic market on rue Raspail on Sunday mornings. Over the years I’ve watched this market grow from a few scraggledy stalls to the vibrant thriving market it is today. Since I last visited less than two years ago, it has virtually doubled in size and was simply teeming with purposeful shoppers. The quality and variety was a joy to see.
The longest queues were at the stall which sold raw milk, thick crème fraiche, yoghurt and homemade butter. There were wonderful farmhouse cheeses, an abundance of organic autumn vegetables, chunks of pumpkin, organic beef and lamb, pork and poultry. One stall holder was selling cooked chickens stuffed with fresh herbs, directly from a spit oven in the market. Another young man was doing a roaring trade in hot muffins. He too had an oven and a generator, he was offering many different types of muffin, both sweet and savoury which were being snapped up like the proverbial hot cakes.
Yet another stall was selling potato rosette pancakes and of course pancakes with various toppings. I inquired where I might buy the best boudin noir from the lady who does pickled salmon and salads, she pointed me in the direction of Monsieur Lepic who had lots of pottery terrines of country pates but was by then sold out of his speciality boudin noir. I also bought lots of little new season’s prunes and a pot of prune fool.
We were on our way to the 17th Century gardens of Versailles so we picked up some delicious things for our picnic, crusty breads, saucisson, a roast chicken, roast red and yellow pepper, a carrot, lentil, potato and avocado salad. The latter was mixed with finely shredded seaweed. We also bought my favourite salmon and pink peppercorn seviche from the lady who has been trading in the same spot in the market for 20 years. The atmosphere in the market is quite fantastic, a strong bond of trust and affection and respect has developed between the customers and the stallholders – shopping was a joy, not a chore.
3 tablesp. unsalted butter
12 small, thin slices of good quality white yeast bread, not sliced pan
7 ozs (200g) or 6 thin slices of best quality cooked ham, cut to fit the bread
4½ ozs (125g) Gruyere cheese, grated
Preheat the grill.
Butter each slice of bread on one side. Place a slice of ham on each of the buttered sides, and cover with the remaining bread slices.
Place the sandwiches under the grill and grill on one side until golden. Remove the sandwiches, turn and cover each with grated Gruyere. Return to the grill and grill until the cheese is bubbling and golden.
Puff Pastry (see recipe) made with:
8 ozs (225g/generous 1½ cups) flour
8 ozs (225g/2 sticks) butter
pinch of salt
water, approx. ¼ pint (150ml/generous ½ cup)
4 ozs (110g/1 generous cup) ground almonds
4 ozs (110g/generous ½ cup) castor sugar
1½ ozs (45g) melted butter
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
2 tablesp. (2 American tablesp. + 2 teasp.) double cream
1 dessertsp. (2 American teasp.) rum (optional)
Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8. Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than ¼ inch thick, cut into 2 circles approx. 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter. Put one onto a damp baking sheet, chill and chill the other piece also.
Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl until smooth. Put the filling onto the pastry base, leaving a rim of about 1 inch (2.5mm) free around the edge. Brush the rim with beaten egg or water and put on the lid of puff pastry, press it down well around the edges.
Make a small hole in the centre brush with egg wash and leave for 5 minutes in the refrigerator. With the back of a knife, nick the edge of the pastry 12 times at regular intervals to form a scalloped edge with a rose petal effect. Mark long curving lines from the central hole outwards to designate formal petals. Be careful not to cut through the pastry just score it.*
Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then lower the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake
for 30 minutes approx. While still hot dredge heavily with icing sugar and return to a very hot oven or pop under a grill (Do Not Leave the Grill) – the sugar will melt and caramelize to a dark brown glaze. Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.
Note: Gateau Pithivier is best eaten warm, but it also keeps well and may be reheated.