When I was younger, I had the pleasure of spending two summers working in Paris. During that first summer, I didn’t explore the city as much as I would have liked to. The second time, however, I made sure to block off days which I dedicated to simply wandering around that fabulous city, happily exploring as much as I could. Paris’ metro system is so good that I knew that no matter where my feet (and tummy) took me, I would always be able to find a metro station within 5 minutes walking distance.
That summer, I had subletted a tiny studio apartment on Rue de la Sante, which sits squarely between the 13th and 14th arrondisements, from a friend who was partying her way across Eastern Europe. It was a walk-up and the studio was on the sixth floor. You can’t imagine how loudly I would curse on the occasions when I’d leave the building only to realize I’d forgotten something important in the apartment. On the ground floor of the building, there was a cute little bakery. Its smells would waft up to my open windows (it was summer and like many French apartments, the studio had no air-conditioning) early each morning. Next to the bakery was a humble Moroccan restaurant. It was a great place to grab a simple and satisfying meal after work. It was that summer and at that restaurant, whose name now evades me, that I first began to really enjoy cous-cous and the cuisines of North Africa. Even today, when I think of Paris, I think just as much about good cous-cous as I do awesome confit de canard and Pierre Herme pastries.
Living at the edge of the 13th also meant that good Asian food was a hop, skip and a jump away. I punctuated my early forays into cooking (I was working my way through Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food that summer) with occasional visits to various delicious Vietnamese restaurants in the Place d’Italie area (doing my best, of course, to avoid those horrid places that advertise themselves as an all-in-one Asian, “Vietnamese, Chinoise, Thailandaise”).
While it’s culinary culture is (in my humble opinion) nowhere near as diverse as a city like New York, Paris does has a very good and well-developed non-French food scene. Which makes a book like the newly-published The Ethnic Paris Cookbook worth reading. I was recently sent a copy of this attractive and cute book, authored by Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije and published by DK. It’s fun as a recipe resource but also useful because it offers addresses for many of the restaurants, cafes and shops that inspired the authors, or whose chefs loaned the authors their recipes. I was particularly excited by the North African section, both because of the recipes but also because S and I are planning a trip to Paris in a month and a half. A couple of the restaurants listed are now on my must-try list.
S was most excited by the section of Japanese food, or rather, the subsection on pastries as re-interpreted by Japanese wunderkind pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki. While I was eager to make “cous-cous royal” a la Taghit restaurant, S decided that the first recipe I would test from this book would be green tea madeleines. (And of course, this fat fella was not about to disagree with his sexy spouse.)
Making these madeleines was pretty easy. However, the cooking temperatures and timings suggested in the book didn’t quite work for me on my first attempt. On a second attempt, I decided to trust my instincts and the madeleines turned out perfectly. I was very pleasantly surpised by how light and fluffy they were. Personally, I like my baked treats sweet, so when I try these again, I may add a little more sugar or honey. But S thought they were fine (she blames my American upbringing for my penchant for very sweet desserts) and liked both the balance of tastes and the subtlety of the green tea flavour. Because madeleine batter must be made ahead of time and chilled, serving these evocative little cakes as dessert at a dinner party is fun and easy. You just preheat your oven when everyone is finishing up their main courses. When ready to serve, you just have to scoop the batter into the pan and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes. Since these are best served warm, your friends will be thrilled. (While The Ethnic Paris Cookbook instructs you to simply grease and flour your pan, I like to butter mine and freeze it for a couple hours before using it.) Below, you’ll find an adapted version of the recipe. I hope it works as well for you as it now does for me.
Green Tea Madeleines
115g all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon green tea powder
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon honey
115g butter, melted and cooled
Butter a madeleine pan (use one for 12 large madeleines) and place pan in the freezer.
Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and tea powder together twice to mix thoroughly. Place the eggs in the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer amd beat for 30 seconds. Add the sugar and honey and beat on medium speed for 5-8 minutes, or until pale and thick. This is an important step–do not underbeat. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and beat just until incorporated. With the mixer running, slowly add the butter and beat until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180 Degrees Celsius. Take the madeleine pan out of the freezer. Fill each cavity two-thirds full with batter. Place in the oven. After 9-10 minutes, when the madeleines have risen well and the edges are golden brown, take out. Invert the madeleines onto a wire rack and serve warm or at room temperature.