Book Reviews: Paris

by Matt on August 30, 2010

I’m off to Paris and am leaving you in the mighty fine hands of Kristina Gill. She regularly covers book reviews here and this week it’s all things Paris! Take it away, Lady K!

Despite my hourly contact with Matt on a daily basis, it was way after the fact that I learned that he and Adam would be taking a trip to Paris this September. And actually, I have been thinking about what books I could put together in a round up that would be a bit of a Parisian experience for people going and/or returning. What food is it that people love? What “institutions” do they love? Well, in the past year (and earlier) several books have passed through my hands and this round up is all on how to get your Paris on -before, during, and after. I know many of you will have other titles to add. I admit, France is in my “to build up” category on cookbooks. So please please please share all your recommendations!

Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes by David Lebovitz (2010 Ten Speed Press; photography by Maren Caruso; food styling by Christine Wolheim). It’s kind of cheating to start this list with David Lebovitz’s newest title because it’s not really about Paris. But when I think of Paris and I think of my sweet tooth, I think of David. And I think that his perspective and experiences in Paris are a good way to prepare for any trip. So, what of his book? It is full of elegant yet achievable desserts for the home baker. The kind which look even better when they are imperfect. You’ve got everything you need from cakes to tarts, ‘spoon’ desserts, frozen desserts, cookies and candies, and sauces. You also have detailed notes on technique. If you love fruit in your desserts, you’ll really love this book. As I glance over at my baking shelf, I realize that David’s book stands out among the crowd. Perfect for anyone who wants to have many options in one volume without ever getting bored.

Paris Patisseries: History • Shops • Recipes foreword by Pierre Hermé (2010 Flammarion; photography by Christian Sarramon) This isn’t really a cookbook, although there are a few recipes in the back. It is instead exactly what the titles suggests: a book about the pastry shops of Paris, their history, and explanations about Parisian pastries (mille feuille, tarts, macarons, etc). It is a nice picture book and an interesting read. It’s perfect for someone who is taking the dream trip of their life to Paris, to make sure they don’t miss out on those Parisian institutions we hear so much about.

Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City’s Best Pastry Shops by Dorie Greenspan (Broadway Books 2002; illustrations by Florine Asch) So once you’ve eaten your way around Paris, thanks to help from David Lebovitz and the Paris Patisseries book, you are back home and don’t want the trip to be over. Enter Dorie Greenspan. She wrote this book to help us all keep the dream alive. It includes recipes for the home baker which replicate the gateaux, tarts, flan, tarte tatin, éclairs, the works. Dorie is an expert baker and her books are always a treat to have. If Paris means good desserts/sweet treats to you, you should consider investing in this small but wonderful illustrated volume.

La Maison Du Chocolat by Robert Linxe with Michèle Carles (Rizzoli 2001; photography by Christine Fleurent; food styling by Marie-France Michalon) Another oldie but goodie. Robert Linxe is a master chocolatier who founded La Maison du Chocolat which specializes in, yes you guessed it, show stopping chocolate desserts. And while I have baked a couple of things from this book, it’s really hard for me to evaluate chocolate recipes because I find that chocolate lovers believe that all chocolate desserts are good, some are just better than others. Therefore I can tell you that although this book is divided into chapters on types of desserts, throughout the book, flavors that are paired with the chocolate are highlighted: orange, ginger, pistachio, almond, coffee, citrus, etc. It is exquisitely presented, almost intimidating. However, if you love chocolate, you can’t avoid diving in and trying whichever recipes look the most inviting. Another thing I’ve learned from baking for chocolate lovers: they don’t care about presentation. No one will EVER notice the desserts don’t look like the ones in the pictures, because they won’t be around long enough!! Definitely a book for chocolate lovers and perfectionists.

Mariage Freres French Tea: Three Centuries of Savoir-Faire by Alain Stella (Flammarion 2003/2009) I love tea. I buy tea just about everywhere I go. A stop at Mariage Freres tea house in the Marais is a mandatory stop for me on every trip to Paris. Although the Marais shop opened in 1985, the history of the tea maker is much older, and this book tells the whole story. There are a few recipes in the back of the book, notably for matcha tea pound cake, however, this is not a cookbook. This is a wonderful coffee table book gift for a tea loving friend. The outer case into which this hardback book slides is all black and mimics the tins in which the teas are sold.

Comme Au Resto by Trish Deseine (2009 Marabout; photography by Dierdre Rooney; prop styling by Elodie Rambaud). This book is in French, and while I could fumble my way through it, I have not yet. I do, however, have 110% faith in the recipes because I know Paris-based Trish Deseine is an impeccable author and food expert. Why on earth do I have the book, you may ask?? Well it just happens to be one of the most breathtaking books I have seen in years. Elodie has done an amazing prop styling job, Trish has done an amazing food styling job, and Dierdre has captured it all perfectly. The book is all about recreating “restaurant food” at home–simply, but with the WOW factor. I can never get enough of looking at this book. Ever. Anyone who loves beautiful photography– regardless of subject– should have a look at this. If you love food photography, food styling, prop styling, textures, you should have a copy of this book. And of course there’s the food inside.

Matt asks: Do you have any favorite French titles? Leave them in the comments, I’d love to know!