Sunday 19 October 2014

Whirlwind 22 Hours in Paris Sans Gluten

A couple of weeks ago I spent an amazing 22 hours in Paris. Over the past year I have heard news that gluten free has worked its way to Paris. Not just your bog-standard chocolate brownie and long life loaf of bread either. I’m taking about a completely dedicated gluten free patisserie, gluten free bakery and an entirely gluten free restaurant! This meant gluten free cakes, pastries and desserts – what more of an incentive did I need to book my ticket to Paris!

I went with my friend E who is also coeliac. This was perfect as it meant two highly excited gluten free girls in search of as many gluten free goodies as we could lay our hands on. Due to time constraints we were only able to stay in Paris for one night, which meant getting a 6am train from Sheffield to London and then catching the Eurostar from London to Paris. We arrived at 2:30pm one day and left at 12:30pm the following day. 22 hours to see and eat as much as possible – we were up for the challenge!

Not wanting to miss a second of our time, we strode off the Eurostar in Paris and headed straight to our first destination, a gluten free patisserie called Helmut Newcake. It took us a while to find as it’s a tiny place and we only had vague directions. Plus as didn’t want to waste time going to the hotel first we were on the hunt laden down with handbags, cameras, coats and suitcases too. We got a few odd looks, but we took not notice. Move out the way we were girls on a mission.

All I can say is that it was worth the hunt. We were greeted by a display case filled with the most AMAZING looking delicate tarts, choux buns and cakes, and all gluten free!! We were greeted by a very handsome French man who enquired if we wanted something savoury to start, some soup or salad maybe? “Non merci. Nous sommes ici pour les pâtisseries” He nodded and led us to a table with a smile. We spent about 5 minutes just gazing at the range of patisserie. We couldn’t decide what to have and ended up getting 3 to share in order to get a good range of pastry types and bakes. A passion fruit tart, a slice of Opera cake and a Paris-Brest.

The passion fruit tart was almost a thick shortbread case with a layer of hazelnut frangipan and a passion fruit curd on top. The shortbread was very crumbly and I felt it was a little too thick a crust but the hazelnut flavour was lovely and I loved the passion fruit curd on top, really zingy.

The Paris-Brest is a French classic. It’s a ring of piped mini choux buns filled with a smooth nutty crème patisserie. It was divine! The crème filling was so good! The choux pastry was a little firm – but it had been kept chilled due to the filling, so this was expected. Ah, so so good.

Finally there was the Opera cake, which was thin layers of moist almond sponge sandwiched with alternating chocolate and coffee ganache and topped with a layer of crisp chocolate. WOW! This was so rich and indulgent. You could really taste the quality. I’m glad we shared it, it was so rich but so good. Nice dark bitter flavours. I expect too dark for some people but I loved it.

Sugar high and pastry filled we headed to our hotel for a rest before heading out to dinner. E wanted a nap but I decided to head out and explore the area. I spotted a green square on the map called Square Montholon, wrote down directions and set off. I got a bit lost (naturally) but found it quite easily. It was a park with a few trees and a nice statue in the middle. I then took the scenic route back to the hotel. There are so many interconnecting streets and walkways – they all look the same!

After a quick shower and change we were ready for dinner at Noglu, which is an entirely gluten free restaurant.The restaurant was hidden along a very busy main road down an alleyway that was more of an arcade, all lined with restaurants and cafes with a glass roof, which gave it an almost exciting seceret location. It was a tiny place, with kitchen downstairs and around 5 tables upstairs – thankfully we had booked weeks ago.

The menu is small with only 3 starters, 4 mains and 3 desserts to choose from, but all meant to be fresh, seasonal good quality food. While we looked at the menu we had complimentary gougers to start (cheesy choux buns) in place of the usual bread or breadsticks you often get in restaurants. These were nice. A crisp outside with a mild but flavoursome cheesy flavour.

We decided to go with just mains and desserts. I had a mixed salad selection whicb included smoked purple potato salad, beetroot marinated veg, mixed leaves, herb oil and some very fancy peeled purple and yellow carrots. It was delicious and beautifully presented. Very smoky and woodsy but not overpowering. E had lasagna which had chunks of potato instead of pasta – clever but she was a bit underwhelmed.

For dessert E chose a strawberry & plum crumble and I had a Sable with cream & fruit. I asked if they had any gateaux as I’d heard they also ran a bakery, but it turned out their bakery is only open during the day and they said they only had the dessert options on the menu. I was a bit disappointed but throught the sable sounded nice. However it was terrible. Dry and biscuity with a mountain of kiwi on top (the only fruit apart from half a raspberry) I’m actually allergic to kiwi so this wasn’t a good choice. We both had a taste but it was so dry – like eating wood shavings – that we left it and shared the crumble which was much better.

The crumble was very sweet but the fruit was chunky and full of flavour. It was a massive portion so perfect for sharing. It wasn’t really a crumble as it had an almondy pastry/cakey top layer. Nice though. Noglu was quite expensive and due to a couple of disappointing dishes we weren’t sure it was worth the money. Maybe we were just unlucky.

The following morning we headed out for breakfast at a gluten free boulangerie called Chambelland Boulangerie. It was quite a trek from our hotel and again located down a winding back alleyway, but what a wonderful place. It didn’t open until 9am which for us is quite late for breakfast but by 9:40am we were seated outside the bakery on an unusually warm sunny morning enjoying some treats. It was a lovely little café with a few tables.

The breads and pastries are all beautifully presented and laid out in rows, with the menu displayed on a large blackboard behind. They has huge paving stone sized slabs of bread which they cut chunks off, then a range of tarts and cookies. Everything looked stunning and very artisan.

We went for the breakfast special which included bread, jam, hot drink and complimentary fresh juice of the day. There was a choice of plain or seeded bread, which came in long thick batons, almost like giant thick breadsticks. You couldn’t have made a sandwich or filled them in any way, but they were great for slathering in jam. We selected one of each so we could share. These came accompanied by strawberry and apricot jam. The bread had quite a soft sticky bubbly inside texture, almost like a crumpet, but the crust was very thick and crispy. It had a fantastic chew to the crust, not something you usually see in gluten free, but so delicious. The jams were good too, sweet, but you could really taste the fruit. We had tea (mint for me) and E had coffee along with the complimentary fresh juice of the day which today was a mix of orange, mango and peach. It had a great flavour and they served it in mason jam jars which was fun.

After the bread it was pastry/dessert time again. I know it was still only breakfast time but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try some of the stunning selection. We couldn’t have taken them with us on the train very easily. The other French patrons sitting nearby were all happily tucking into sugared pastries and brownies so we didn’t feel out of place. We shared a lemon tart and a chocolate ganache tart. Both fantastic quality and again packed with flavour

The lemon tart was piled high with a mound of torched meringue. The pastry was thin and crisp with a lovely thick tangy lemon filling. The meringue had the merest hint of crisp outer curst and then pillowy light meringue underneath. It just dissolved on the tongue. The chocolate ganache tart again had a good crisp crust and then almost a set chocolate custard filling with a layer of glossy ganache on top. It had a good intense chocolate flavour. The French really know their chocolate.

We left feeling a little sick and sugar high but oh so worth it. We bought a slab of focaccia bread, a peach muffin and a chestnut muffin to share for lunch on the train.
The focaccia was nice but a bit disappointing. It was incredibly oily and the middle bit of my half was doughy and raw. I couldn’t stomach any more sugar at that point but when we arrived in London we split the muffins. The peach one was quite crumbly but nice enough. The peach slices were almost semi dried as they were very firm and sugary rather than soft and juicy as expected. The muffin itself was studded with fresh mint which was a nice surprisingly flavour and quite strong. The chestnut muffin was a very soft close textured sponge made with chestnut flour. It was sweet and earthy but I loved the flavour.

I ate so much sugar and desserts in 22 hours that I returned with a real craving for vegetables, I felt I needed to re-vitaminise. We arrived back in Sheffield quite late. It had been a long day and a crazy 36 hours involving 14 hours travelling and only 22 hours actually in Paris but it was so much fun.

I would highly recommend both Chambelland Boulangerie and Helmut Newcake. Both so good and you wouldn’t know everything was gluten free. The UK is certainly lagging behind in their artisan patisserie, especially gluten free!

My only purchase from Paris was a whole half a slab of bread from Chambelland Boulangerie. I spotted them slicing some that was stuffed with fruits and nuts and really wanted to try it. I got a half slab as I hoped I would like it and knew I couldn’t exactly go back and buy more. I had some for tea when I got back home and it was fantastic. A slightly sour tasting bread absolutely packed with whole hazelnuts, juicy raisins and large chunks of dried fig. The crust was so thick and chewy I could hardly slice it with the bread knife. It was amazing!

Was an amazing sugar overloaded, gluten free pastry filled, long whirlwind of a trip to Paris. I was actually in Paris less than 24 hours but think I managed to consume 10 different pastries/desserts in that time! I’d love to go back and see some more of the traditional Paris sites, (I didn’t even manage to spot the Eiffel tower) and eat more patisserie! J'adore pâtisseries françaises!


Unknown said...

Hi I'm Coeliac and agree with you Helmut Newcake is a fab bistro place... I also think you were bit unlucky as we had great meal at Noglu we went a week ago to both.
I have just purchased their book Good without gluten.
I even found gf sandwiches in M&S for lunch on the go in Paris La defense. I cant get them here in UK, tried Notts, Derby and London.
UK are lagging behind with these wonderful places to eat, no one would ever know they were totally gluten free.

Gluten Free Alchemist said...

So pleased you got to Paris and managed to sample so many gluten free treats Katie. Walking into Helmut Newcake is such a mouthwatering, eye-popping experience after the UK!

The Caked Crusader said...

Lovely pics - that glossy ganache looks amazing. What a great selection of cakes

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

This is an awesome post Katie! I always thought that gluten and Paris were synonymous but I will pass this onto friends and readers that are GF! :D

Emily said...

Look at all of those delicious pastries! I would love to try one of those Paris-Brests. Yum

Johanna GGG said...

What a fun adventure - I love the craziness of going to paris to visit Gf patisseries - I confess my visits to paris have focused on the iconic buildings rather than the patisserie and now I feel a little shame faced to admit you have probably eaten more fancy pastries in your brief visit than I have in a few trips to paris. Something to plan for on my next trip :-)

Choclette said...

Oh Katie, what an amazing whirlwind 36 hours. those patisseries both sounded amazing and I'd love to go to either gluten or no gluten. Shame about the restaurant though - I wonder why it has such a good reputation. So glad you had such good time and got to try lots of pastries ;-)

Kelly Michelle said...

Helmut Newcake is just amazing - I think they have two branches now (the new one is a bit more tourist friendly) and I spent over 20 euros buying cakes! Such a shame about the other places, I'm so glad that France is catching up with their gluten free offerings. Off to Marseille next month so fingers crossed there were be no sans gluten tears ;-) xx

Unknown said...

Wow! I'm off to Paris on Friday. Can't wait to try these out ;) thanks for the post