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From Paris, With Love

Here’s the thing about Paris: It’s as wonderful as you imagine it to be. It’s even as wonderful as the glossy travel brochures promise it will be. People really do bicycle down the street with baguettes poking out of their backpacks and their baskets filled with brightly colored greens and truly ripe fruit. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Louvre are as inspiring as they’re meant to be. The cafes are as charming, the bistros as cozy, and the bars as friendly as you’d hope them to be. And, yes, there are couples kissing on just about every street corner at just about every hour.

So, when people tell me they’re heading for Paris and ask what they should do to make their trip romantic, I’m at a loss for what to tell them, because the way I see it, there’s nothing more romantic than just being in Paris, even if all you do is stroll the enchanting streets.

But because it’s Valentine’s Day, and Paris can be pretty chilly this time of year, here are a baker’s dozen of other things to do in the City of Love, each of which I find romantic in its own special way:

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  • Go to a crowded bistro and pretend you’re the only people there. You can try this out at two of my favorite places, Fish La Boissonerie and Le Bistrot Paul-Bert.
  • Take time to have tea. Have a grand tea complete with piano music and stunning flowers at the Hotel George V; tea made from first-rate tea at Mariage Freres (they import and blend it themselves); or tea with a little pastry upstairs in the blue velvet and silk room at Laduree on rue Bonaparte.
  • Walk around the Luxembourg Gardens, magnificent at any time of year (the circuit is only about a mile, so it’s doable no matter the weather), and finish by stopping into a cafe for a vin chaud, mulled wine. (I like to stop at either Au Petit Suisse, across from the park and the Odeon Theatre, or Cafe Tournon on near the Senat.)
  • Have a big plate of oysters at the tiny Huitrerie Regis (where they only serve oysters), or splurge on a towering seafood platter at Le Dome. Eat with your fingers, slurp the liquor from the oyster and drink Chablis, Sancerre, Muscadet or lots of Champagne with your feast.
  • Watch the sun set from the Pont des Arts.
  • Have a leisurely lunch. Lunch is such a luxury, especially if you’re a tourist with a long to-do list, but there’s nothing lovelier than stopping in the middle of the day for something sybaritic. The two most romantic splurges for lunch are the Jules Verne, Alain Ducasse’s restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, and Le Grand Vefour in the gorgeous gardens of the Palais Royale. Le Grand Vefour is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Paris and it’s beautiful, the service is perfect and every seat is named for a patron of the past. Once I was seated at the Empress Eugenie’s place (which meant my husband would have been Napoleon III) and another time I was in Colette’s seat (be still my heart). A stroll down the garden’s tree-lined allees is the perfect way to cap lunch. For a far, far less extravagant lunch, my favorite place is Le Comptoir. but it doesn’t take reservations — aarrgh.
  • Buy chocolate-covered marshmallows at Pierre Marcolini or something with praline at Patrick Roger, two of the city’s best chocolatiers.
  • Drink hot chocolate every chance you get. The richest chocolat chaud is at Angelina’s.
  • Have anything–oh, if only you could have everything–at Pierre Herme, hands-down the best and most exciting patissier in Paris and no, I’m not impartial. If you’ve never had the Ispahan macaron–rose, raspberry and litchi–you must.
  • Have a glass of Champagne for no other reason than because you can.
  • Buy a bag of (the absolutely fabulous) chocolate-covered Sauternes-soaked raisins from Da Rosa and eat them in bed.
  • Visit Sartre and de Beauvoir’s tombs at the Montparnasse Cemetery, which is a fascinating place, or go see Proust at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, another beautiful place (but much larger, so you might want to wait until the weather’s a bit warmer).
  • Set off without a map, get thoroughly lost and celebrate your freedom at the closest cafe.

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And whether or not you can get to Paris to do any or all of these things, you can celebrate the holiday by making Pierre Herme’s Milk Chocolate and Passion Fruit Truffles.

Milk Chocolate and Passion Fruit Truffles
From Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme
Written by Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 50 truffles

Everything about this truffle is unusual, starting with the passion fruit. Passion fruit is an exotic fruit with a tang that’s only slightly soft around the edges. It has a startlingly bright and fresh flavor, not one you’d readily think to pair with chocolate. But Pierre makes the passion fruit-chocolate match easily and perfectly by bringing in another unusual ingredient, milk chocolate. Beloved in America, milk chocolate is not frequently found in French recipes. Yet here it is the ideal chocolate because it is mild, slightly sweet and amenable–it will soften the passion fruit and, in turn, allow the passion fruit puree to give it a little pucker. To make both the contrasts and complements more notable, the truffles are smoothed with a touch of honey, studded with tiny pieces of sweet-tart dried apricots and rolled in confectioner’s sugar.

Ingredients
14 3/4 ounces milk chocolate, preferably Valrhona Jivara, finely chopped
8 moist, plump dried apricots, cut into tiny dice
2 tablespoons water
Scant 2/3 cup passion fruit puree
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 4 pieces
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Method
1. Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl that is large enough to hold all of the recipe’s ingredients; set aside.

2. Stir the apricots and water together in a small saucepan and place the pan over gentle heat for a few minutes, until the apricots are moist. Pull the pan from the heat, drain the apricots, if necessary, and pat them dry between a double thickness of paper towels.

3. Bring the passion fruit puree, cream and honey to a full boil in a saucepan or microwave oven, then pour it into the center of the chocolate. Working with a spatula, gently stir the cream into the chocolate in ever-widening concentric circles until the ganache is homogeneous and smooth.

4. Allow the ganache to rest on the counter about 3 minutes before adding the butter. When all the butter is blended into the mixture, fold in the apricot pieces and pour the ganache into a baking pan or bowl. Put the pan in the refrigerator and, when the ganache is cool, cover it with plastic wrap. The ganache should chill for at least 4 hours, although it can stay in the refrigerator overnight, if that’s more convenient for you.

5. When you are ready to shape the truffles, have a parchment-lined baking sheet close at hand. Remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator and scoop up a scant tablespoonful of ganache for each truffle; put the dollops of ganache on the paper-lined pan then, one by one, roll the dollops between the palms of your hands to form a ball. Don’t worry about making them even–they’re supposed to be lumpy. As you shape each truffle, drop it into the bowl of confectioner’s sugar. Toss each truffle in the sugar so that it is well coated, then very gingerly toss the truffles between your hands to shake off the excess. Alternatively, you can roll the truffles around in a sieve to encourage them to shake off their extra sugar. As each truffle is finished, return it to the parchment-lined pan.

Keeping: The truffles can be served as soon as they are coated or they can be stored in the refrigerator, shielded from foods with strong odors.

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DORIE GREESPAN is the author of the James Beard Award-winning cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours. She’s also the author of Baking with Julia, which won both a James Beard Award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Award; Desserts by Pierre Herme, which was named IACP Cookbook of the Year; and Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, which won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for best foreign-language cookbook. Currently she’s a special correspondent for Bon Appetit magazine and is hard at work on a book about simple French cooking titled Around the French Table.