Saturday, May 3, 2008

Let's talk foot-long eclair, shall we?

If there is heaven for travel-loving, chocoholic, pastry-fanatics, the keeper of the gate would welcome us with an eclair from Bonbonniere De Buci on rue de Buci in Paris.

We first heard about what we now lovingly call "the Buci" from my fellow traveler/blogger Beth, who sent us the Breakfasts in Paris blog while we were researching our trip. On that blog, the blogger declared this to be the home of the foot-long eclair. Not shy about our pastry eating abilities, Dear Sister and I put it on the list of things to accomplish. And off we went.

I believe it was on Day Two of our trip that we made the 15-minute walk from our hotel in Latin Quarter, down Boulevard St. Germain to rue de Buci. We would come to know this walk well and learn that once we pass the post office on the right side of Boulevard St. Germain, heaven was only a couple of short blocks beyond.

Now let me explain to you this thing about patisseries (pastry shops) and boulangeries (bakeries for bread only) in Paris. The goods are fresh. I'm not just talking "made within the last 48 hours", I'm talking "made within the last couple hours and won't last the overnight". Since everything is indeed baked fresh and usually right there on the premises, there are no preservatives added, no "sell by" dates, nothing is even remotely stale. If you're eating it on Friday, which we were, it was made that Friday, and probably within a matter of mere hours of your consuming it. And nothing is held overnight, nor should it be. Indeed, we tried that once before in Germany and found that the German equivalent of a jelly donut had become an effective doorstop overnight. As a consequence, every time you eat bread or pastry in Paris, it's as fresh as the day is long, most likely. And it's not uncommon to see restaurant and hotel workers running out of their places of business to grab another bag of croissants or a 3-foot long, narrow loaf of bread, carrying it by a napkin wrapped around the center. This is not the land of Atkins, friends. Bread, and bread products, reign supreme.

On that first morning post-jetlag, we walked into Bonbonniere de Buci and were spoiled for choice. There were tarts, meringues, masses of chocolate-frosted somethings with crunchy coatings, pies, things called Paris Brests, mille feuille. But we were here for one thing and one thing only: the eclair. That particular day, there were no foot-longs in the display case, so we dismissed the foot-long eclair as an urban legend, a blogger's fanciful myth. Instead, we ordered up two chocolate eclairs "to go". The nice woman manning the counter suffered through my French and gently took two eclairs (the 6-inch variety) out of the case, put them on a small paper tray and proceeded to wrap them up tent-style with white wrapping paper and pink ribbon. My sister and I looked at each other in mock dismay, for our intentions were that these eclairs were not going to make it 10 feet past the doorstep of the shop. Our only hopes were not to have to use our orthodontically-corrected teeth to bust through the ribbon since any thoughts of actually having a Swiss Army knife to do such deeds were gone with 9/11.

So with a "merci beaucoup", we stepped outside with our delicately wrapped package. Dear Sister took a picture of me holding the package as if I had a combination of the Hope diamond and a time bomb in there. I gently unwrapped our gift (alright, it cost us 4.60 euro but still felt like a gift!) and revealed two exquisite eclairs (I believe there's a picture of this as well). I won't speak for Dear Sister, but mine was gone in three bites. It was almost too much to handle. For Bostonians who are used to the Boston-cream filling we are forced to endure in our eclairs here, you should be ashamed of yourselves if you allow yourself to be served one of those ever again! No Boston-plastic-like-cream in Paris, not at the Buci!

Follow me here:
Because it's so fresh, the pastry was tender with the slightest bit of crust on the outside, but almost fluffy inside. The "custard" on the inside was more like a thick, richer pudding that matched the flavor of the frosting on top. That's right, chocolate. This bullet of perfection was gone so quickly that it was almost unfair. But it was only Day Two of Seven in Paris, and we would be back.

And we were.

Day Three found us cutting back (slightly) on our hotel breakfast to leave room for patisserie heaven and hoofing it back down Boulevard St. Germain once again, banging that right on rue de Seine and then first left on to rue de Buci. And today not only did we have to decide whether or not to have the chocolate or coffee flavored eclair, but it was there, the foot-long eclair.

And with God (and Dear Sister) as my witness, my first words were "Oh my God, we CAN'T do that!" Now, I like my pastries, and we both already discovered that we love "the Buci" eclairs. But this was the grand-daddy of any eclair I've ever seen. In fact, I think it's actually false advertising on the blog we'd seen before our trip because the ones we saw, in person, were bigger. They are the adult version of the eclair we'd eaten the day before, not only about a foot long but also about six inches wide!

Post-trip, Dear Sister and I actually had the following discussion:

Me: "My only trip regret is that I didn't try the foot-long eclair."
DS: "Mine too. You know, if we tried to cut it in half and maybe did it that way, because cutting it in half would've been about three regular ones each..."
Me: "Yes, yes, I could do three."

Ah yes, the logic of the non-jetlagged sees the light, too late. OF COURSE we should have skipped breakfast at the hotel and cut one in half. But we didn't. But now we know that when we return to Paris we 1) must stay somewhere near rue de Buci and 2) plan ahead for the Big Buci.

So back to Day Three, where we once again had just one (each) of the chocolate "regular sized" eclairs, chickening out from the formidable challenge of the foot-long eclair. And once again, we were not disappointed. What a wonderful way to start our day! If only EVERY day started like this at home, we'd all be permanently happy (and 4 pounds or more heavier, but I digress...)

Day Four, with much regret, we left Paris for Auvers-Sur-Oise too early to make the trek to the Buci first. We did, however try an eclair at a small patisserie in Auvers and I even ventured to try the coffee-flavored one. Hmmm...interesting, with the coffee frosting on top and cream inside. I wasn't disappointed, but this didn't have the same softness and loveliness of the Buci. It was clear we were already waxing nostalgic for the Buci.

Day Five, our last day staying in the Latin Quarter, we were fully prepared for this to be our last day at the Buci. We walked in and a gentleman was just bringing a fresh tray of eclairs out from the back. We indulged in another decadent chocolate eclair and wistfully walked away, not knowing if our hotel near the Eiffel after we returned from Vienna would allow us the luxury of walking here again.

Before we left Paris, we had a type of eclair at Angelina's (the mecca of all things pastry and hot chocolate) and were slightly disappointed. And the morning we left Paris, we tried an eclair on rue Cler and were intensely disappointed (so much so that we had to have a crepe chaser to leave a good taste (literally) in our mouths!). So perhaps the Buci has ruined us on eclairs. I dare say that we won't ever eat another eclair around here, at least not without remembering the pastry perfection we found on rue de Buci.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I've been published!

As an aspiring travel writer, I think I've just inadvertently achieved my first milestone: I've been published. You see, I post frequently to Fodors' Travel Talk forums (my trip reports are linked here below right). They have apparently chosen to quote some of my Amsterdam-related comments for their 2008 hard copy Amsterdam guide. Once I get my complimentary copy or make it to a Borders store to check it out, I'll report back on what made it in.

Yay! Doin' the dance of joy!