It’s fun to be an observer, and partial participant, in a foreign country. You get to sit in cafes, unhurried by those needling things like work (though, from the sights of the cafés, this luxury is not limited to tourists) and watch someone else’s world from behind your cafe creme. Except, it is all so much more exciting to you. Everything in France tastes louder: the milk, creamier; the coffee, richer; the chicken, so much more “chickeny” kind of like when Julia Child had her first meal in France, sole meunière (“a morsel of perfection”) and was bowled over by the fact that it tasted so much more like itself. And their butter, oh baby… well, we’ll get to that soon.
It is never fun to have to come home–I myself was kicking and screaming through Charles DeGaulle Airport, not only because my Suitcase of French Goodies weighed a ton but because American Airlines had unceremoniously canceled our flight. And people think the French are rude!
But do you know what helps? Having a delicious scheduling mishap with your apartment swap partners and having them home when you get there, ready to put out some pate and a French baguette and pour the Sancerre. And while it may be rude to say “even better, after they left…” it is actually true because that was when I finally opened the refrigerator and hot damn. They put Paris in there! Or, at least the Paris that I care about: comté cheese, homemade apricot jam, an apple from one of their parent’s backyard, sausage, coffee and some Poilâne bread and a seeded baguette in the freezer. I thought I had died and gone to a very well-stocked heaven.
Oh, and then I found the pack of Le Beurre Bordier. THUD.
One of my biggest French obsessions is salted butter caramel. Sure, we have it here now–heck, even Starbucks is in on it!–but they make it differently there. Much differently. The French always seem to cook their caramels longer, to a dark copper color, none of those golden browns we see here. This is, if you ask me, the secret to great caramel. The lighter colored ones just taste sweet and sticky but the dark ones are nutty and complex with a trace of bitterness. It is amazing what an extra couple minutes of cooking will do.
After have the most incredibly delicious, rich caramel sauce at the Breizh Cafe Tuesday night–Bretons are famous for both their butter and the dark caramels they make with them–I swore that I would eventually show you all how to make it at home, with or without Breton butter. When I saw that Buerre Bordier in the fridge, “eventually” became “right this very moment.”
And here we are! I’m not going to go into a lecture about how to make great caramel, because my friend David Lebovitz has already done so better than I ever could (see Ten Tips for Making Caramel and How to Make Perfect Caramel). Instead, I will tell you what you could use this batch for, which is, in short, everything: crepes filled with jam or chestnut creme (you know, if yours hasn’t been confiscated by airport security, not that I am bitter or anything), spread between cookies or, you know, this:
Just a thought.
[Update] Where we ate in Paris: Since a few have inquired about where we ate, I put the list of restaurants we checked out on a separate page. See it here.
Full album of Paris photos: (Not viewable in RSS)
Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce [Sauce au Caramel au Beurre Salé]
Makes about 1 1/3 cups
1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter, the better you can get, the better it will taste
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
Melt the sugar over medium to moderately high heat in a larger pot than you think you’ll need–at least two or three quarts, whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in, before turning off the stove and pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; this is why you want the larger pot.), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce.
You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 60 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.
Serve over everything.