Franco File Friday: Dorie Greenspan

There are two things I recall vividly about cooking with my mother as a child. Between the clangorous sounds of pots and pans, utensils and slamming cabinets, she’d bellow warnings for me to stand out of the way so as not to get trampled. Instead, (first memory) I’d observe the chopping, pouring, mixing and roasting from a safe distance, making frequent trips to the mini television hanging above the marble counter to raise the volume – noisy dinner preparation muffled the voice of our mentor Julia Child. She was always on, always instructing with wry humor and always acting as a sort of cooking companion to my mother, in and out of the kitchen (second memory). In retrospect, learning of her love for France and her rich ties to the food, culture and people subconsciously contributed to my desire to explore all things French as I grew older. She was a regular guest in our home. That was then.  

When I rediscovered my love for baking as an adult in Paris, it was no longer Julia I looked to but someone who has forged a similarly disarming legacy of demystifying French cooking for the American masses while putting her own modern spin on classic recipes. It could be none other than Dorie Greenspan - award-winning cookbook author, natural teacher and inspiration to aspiring home cooks everywhere. An impassioned Francophile, Dorie has straddled the Atlantic for over 15 years, darting from New York to Paris as often as her packed schedule allows where she cooks, researches, dines and rubs elbows with friend and mentor Pierre Hermé (with whom she collaborated on two books) among other fellow food luminaries. Dorie has anchored her distinct style through a combination of encouraging, spirited storytelling and infallible recipes, amassing legions of loyal fans along the way (myself included).

She’s currently working on her next book on French baking, slated for a fall 2013 release, which I can only hope is a companion compendium to her previous masterpiece, Around My French Table. And the trips to Paris? Never frequent enough, she says. 

It’s a tremendous honor for me to feature Dorie in this series and having just met her yesterday, I can say with certainty she’s just as warm and affable as she appears in print.

Describe what you love about France in three words. 

La Vie Française.  Since I can barely say hello in under 150 words, I want to add a few words to the all-important three. 

I was going to answer the question with the words joie de vivre, but this wonderful expression really only describes one of the things I love most about French life.  I love that no matter the situation, most French people (well, at least those who are my friends), find pleasure and joy in no matter what it is that they’re doing, and even more joy if the doing involves eating, drinking, cooking and sharing food with friends.  I love the rhythm of French life.  Unlike in my New York life, where days whiz by, French days seem long enough to do most of what I want to do: there’s time for work, time for coffee at a favorite café, time for a glass of wine with friends and always time for a long dinner with lots of good conversation.

Your go-to spot for a reliably good meal in Paris? 

Another tough question -- I’m not good at choose-only-one-thing queries.  I’m always happy – and comfy – at Le Bistrot Paul Bert (happiest when there are frites on the table).  I can’t pass L’Avant-Comptoir without squeezing my way in for a glass of wine and croquettes.  And it’s a treat for me to have oysters at Regis – actually, for anyone who loves oysters, I think they’re always a treat and the ones at Regis are infallibly pristine, plump and perfect. 

Favorite French sweets (and your favorite spot to get them in France)? 

Pierre Hermé Macarons

I’m a fan of just about anything in the Ispahan family, sweets created by Pierre Hermé using rose, raspberry and lychée.  I’m particularly fond of the plain Ispahan Cake, a loaf, and the Ispahan jam that Christine Ferber makes for Hermé.  The “why” here is because of the perfect marriage of flavor, fragrance and texture.

And, while I’m talking about Pierre Hermé, whom I adore, I have to mention his kouign-amann, a compact round of croissant-like dough layered with sugar that caramelizes to a crunch in the oven; his miniature kugelhopf, a yeast cake that, chez Hermé, has a stretchy texture that you usually get only in the best brioche; Plentitude, an inspired combination of dark chocolate, caramel and fleur de sel – I love how the salt gives the chocolate and caramel even more flavor; and any of his macarons, because of their flavor and texture, of course, but also because of their proportions: each layer is the same thickness and so each bite has the ideal amount of ‘cookie’ and ‘cream’.

I’m fascinated by Sadaharu Aoki’s black sesame éclair, because of the surprise and the haunting flavor of the sesame.

La Tarte Tropezienne, which is not a tarte, but two layers of brioche-like cake sandwiching cream, is a favorite as much for the fact that it was created for Brigitte Bardot as for it’s fabulousness.  The best place to have it is in Saint-Tropez, of course, at La Tarte Tropezienne.


Madeleines from Blé Sucre
Apple tartelettes from Poilane
Apple Chaussons from Du Pain et Des Idées
Canneles, associated with Bordeaux and made famous by Baillardran
Old-fashioned (non-meringue) macarons, specifically those from Mme Blanchez in St. Emilion
Grapefruit tart from Hugo & Victor
Paris Brest from La Pâtisserie des Rêves

Something you never leave France without bringing back home with you?

I always carefully double-wrap several plackets of salted butter to take back with me, specifically beurre demi-sel from Jean-Yves Bordier, because I haven’t found an American butter quite like it.  The butter is rich and the salt is bold and when the last bit of it is gone, I know it’s time to return to France.

Invalides, Paris
Most amusing interaction with the French? 

This is an impossible question for me, since I feel like something amusing happens to me every day that I’m in France.  And so I’m going to change the question – I hope you don’t mind – and tell you about an experience that I think back to every time I’m in Paris.

My husband and I were coming into Paris from the airport.  It was just after dawn and the traffic into the city was horrendous.  As we approached the Place de la Concorde, the crazy circular intersection with a panorama of the Tuileries, the Champs Elysée, the Assemblée Nationale, the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, the taxi driver, who just seconds before had been cursing his fellow motorists, sighed and said: La vie est dure, mais la ville est toujours belle/Life is hard, but the city is always beautiful. The pull of the city’s beauty is powerful and it wasn’t lost on this man, who sees it everyday under conditions that could make it look anything but belle.

A heartfelt thank you to Dorie for sneaking me into her packed schedule while in Paris and for sharing a few of her French favorites. If you're up for a culinary challenge, join French Friday's with Dorie or the blog/baking group Tuesdays with Dorie.  Follow her updates, travels and delicious creations on her eponymous blog, Twitter and Facebook

{Photos: Author photo, book cover + baking molds courtesy of Dorie Greenspan; macarons + Eiffel Tower: Lindsey Tramuta}

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