Earlier this summer, I finally put the baking mixes I bought during my two (!!) trips to Paris this year to good use. They sat on my baking shelf, waiting patiently, pleasing and threatening at the same time for months on end. Perhaps it’s because the directions were in beautifully indecipherable French, or perhaps it was because I was impossibly smitten with the cute packaging, but, for a while there, it looked as if they were more decoration than food.
You may be wondering — I know I most certainly would be — what possessed me to buy French baking mixes. They’re not light. They’re not toss-them-in-your-suitcase and stuff-your-underwear-in-them types like French yogurt jars. What they are, however, is shocking. Having a baking mix for treats as finnicky as macarons and brioche is so perfectly incongrous that I knew I couldn’t possibly live without tasting the final product.
First, I tackled the brioche, hoping that maybe I would finally be able to make something roughly akin to the beauty from Bakeri. The directions were easy enough to follow, sans translation. You simply tossed the dry mix into a bowl, added some milk, stirred, let it rise for a bit and then whacked the shaped in the oven. While I didn’t get a gorgeous rise — the bread barely fit my American-sized loaf pan — I was happy with the results. It was far from the best brioche you’ve ever eaten (see above re: Bakeri), but it had a flavor that was as French as that indescribable Italian flavor. My parents and I agreed that we’d probably buy this brioche if it was sold at a nearby bakery.
The macarons — while not quite up to Pierre Herme standards, let’s be frank, not even close — were shockingly delicious. If they sold these at a New York bakeries claiming to sell macarons (or Parisian macaroons), then we’d all be happier. The baking process was similar, though with the extra snappy step of whisking up the ganache to sandwich in between the two meringues.
You take the packet labelled number one out of the box, dump it in a saucepan with some milk and stir, making a type of puddingy-custard. The cookie is dumb-easy, involving a trio of egg whites whipped to stiff peaks folded with the contents of the packet number two. From there, you put the meringue mix on a baking tray and shove that into an unpreheated oven. You quickly turn on the temperature and then raise it after a few minutes. The resulting macarons are not be picture perfect, but they’re delicious in a homey way. I wonder if mothers bake these for their children’s birthday parties in France? Or am I the prime customer?
Buying baking mixes and other random foodie items when traveling is a fantastic, light-hearted way to take a bit of your trip home with you. Using these purchases and sampling them afterwards, I was transported to the moment I bought them in Monoprix and La Grande Epicerie, respectively. They may not be a substitute for real French pastry, but they’re a fantastic mini-escape when you can’t make a trip for it.
What’s your favorite random buy to bring back from your travels?