Thursday, January 21, 2016

Paris: A Chocolate and Pastry Tour

“‘Ave you been to zee Eiffel Tow-er yet?” the shop assistant behind the pastry counter asked me, while wrapping up the rather large collection of toffees and pralines I’d assembled - I’d just told her that it was my first time in Paris. “Nope,” I replied, “I only have a few days in the city and there are quite a few other places I’d rather visit”. She looked utterly horrified - although to her credit she tried very hard to hide it. Well, I’m sorry that I’d rather eat my bodyweight in macarons, eclairs, croissants and baguettes than waste an entire day looking at a metal structure (which I’ll remind you, CAN’T be eaten!). Luckily, after clarifying that I was on my very own pastry and chocolate tour of Paris, her face lit up and she hurriedly scribbled down her list of favourite pastry shops in Paris. It was, I’d later find out, the best advice I’d ever received!

But let me back up a bit: fellow South Africans, I don’t need to tell you what our poor old rand is worth against the Euro for you to know that traveling to Paris can be pricey. But, that doesn't mean you can't experience the city! I managed to clean France out of it’s pastry, on a budget, and here’s how I did it:

The view from the tiny little apartment we rented in Le Marais
#1: Rent an apartment with a kitchenette in an up-and-coming area
An apartment is not nearly as expensive as a hotel and makes you feel like you’re living like a true Parisian. I stayed in Le Marais (in the 3rd arrondissement) which is a vibey, young area within walking distance of some really good pastry shops and restaurants. From Le Marais, it’s a short train or bus ride to every pastry shop you need to visit.

#2: Avoid eating out in restaurants
Be warned: dining out in Paris is NOT as affordable as it is here in South Africa. A simple 1 course bistro meal for 2 and bottle of cheap wine will easily set you back €100 (do the math - if you dare!). Eat in and you’ll save heaps of cash (or be able to spend more on chocolate and buttery delicious flaky things). Having a kitchenette meant that for a week we happily lived off the gorgeous baguettes, cheese, pate’s and were able to cook simple meals from the beautiful produce we found at the markets. If you must eat out, tuck into the much more affordable street food! [Speaking of street food - check out the interview WebJet did with me on my favourite street food of all time here.

#3: Order and drink your coffee at the bar - always!
You WILL be charged for sitting down and enjoying the view - don’t say I didn’t warn you! Same goes for pastries. Don’t be tempted to sit down in the pastry shop and enjoy the atmosphere - they will charge you for the air you are breathing and the fact they have to wash your plate. Instead, take your pastry to go and enjoy it on the streets of Paris!

#4: Pack your stretchy pants, people - you’re going to need them!
The best way to experience the Paris pastry/chocolate scene is to walk everywhere - that way you’re far more likely to stumble upon hidden gems and obviously there’s also the added benefit of walking off all that butter you’re consuming! While I went to Paris with a few places I wanted to visit plotted on a Google map, we ended up walking FOR DAYS! When you add up all the ‘it’s just a 5 minute walk away’s and you’re visiting 8 shops a day..? The kilometers are too much to comprehend. But hey, I’ve always said the only time I exercise is if cake is waiting for me at the finishing line, and look at that - I stuck to my word!

So you want to hear about THE BEST thing I ate on my trip?! Of course you do! 
(Just promise not to hate me for it!) 

What the heck are Merveilleux, you ask? They are light-as-air meringues sandwiched together with more light-as-air flavoured whipped cream and then 'cos that's not enough the entire thing is covered in more cream and rolled in chocolate shavings or crushed up meringue. Side note: I NEVER queue for food - but this? This was worth queuing for. These are no ordinary meringues, people! It tastes like you're biting into a ridiculously delicious cloud that evaporates onto your tongue leaving nothing but happiness behind - and you can quote me on that! 

VISIT Au Merveilleux
24 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 Paris, France
TIP Grab a box of the mini mixed flavours - Spiced biscuit, Coffee, Dark Chocolate, Cherry and Almond-Hazelnut - then stroll over to the Seine, grab a seat along the banks of the river and waft into a delirious creamy coma. 

Marveilleux are best enjoyed on the banks of the Seine! 
Here’s a list of all the other incredible things that contributed to me no longer fitting into my jeans:

Best Baguette
Now let’s just get this straight, even the baguettes at corner shops in Paris are amazing - none of that airy poofy tasteless 'bread' we get here. So this baguette? It was so good butter would ruin it! Tip: when there’s a sign like this outside a bakery (Translation: Best Baguette in Paris 2015)? You know it’s good!

VISIT Huré (Winner of the Best Baguette in Paris 2015)
18 Rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris, France

Best Croissant
With it's trademark chocolate swirls (how do they even DO that?!), perfect flakes and oozy chocolate praline filling it's no surprise it won Best Croissant in Paris last year!

VISIT Laurent Duchene
238 Rue de la Convention, 75015 Paris, France

Best Marshmallow
Marshmallows are big in Paris and by far the most delicious one I had was a Salted Butter Caramel Marshmallow from Pain de Sucre - butter IN a marshmallow?! I can't even.

VISIT Pain de Sucre
14 Rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris, France

Macarons are still big in Paris and fill every pastry shop window!
Best Macarons
Oh dear, this might start a civil war! I had two amazing macarons during my trip. The first was from the famous Pierre Hermé (aka the god of Macarons) who was arguably the first pastry chef to create the fussy, difficult-to-recreate perfect macaron as we know it today. I had a white truffle (as in the funghi) macaron that blew my face off. It was AMA-ZING! *sigh*

VISIT Pierre Hermé Paris
18 Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, 75004 Paris, France

The second macaron came at the suggestion of the Meert pastry assistant - remember the one who I so deeply offended with my Eiffel Tower comment?! - she claimed that Pâtisserie Viennoise is the place to go to taste what the macaron was before it became the refined, multi-coloured, multi-flavoured pastry it is today. And she was right! The two macarons couldn't be more different; the one heavy, nutty and substantial - the other light and airy. But try them both and you can decide which is your favourite. For the sake of peace I'll keep my opinion to myself ;) 

VISIT Pâtisserie Viennoise
8 Rue de l'École de Médecine, 75006 Paris, France
TIP Order an espresso with your macaron (they're big!) to cut the sweetness.

Best Authentic Patisserie
While the shop assistant at Meert was horrified I had no love for the Eiffel Tower, the list she gave me of pastry shops to visit was the cherry on top of stumbling upon this quaint, picturesque boutique. Meert is a 250 year old shop specializing in pastries, chocolates, sweets, caramels and it's famous gaufre (thin buttery waffles sandwiched together with various fillings). I felt like I'd walked into an old French movie and when she tied my package of sweet goodies with an old-fashioned ribbon I thought I would die!

VISIT Meert Paris Saint-Germain des Prés
3 Rue Jacques Callot, 75006 Paris, France

Best Chocolate
While we boast 3 bean-to-bar chocolate makers here in Cape Town, Paris has just one - famed Parisian chef Alain Ducasse now makes his own chocolate and my word is it good! After selling a kidney, I left with a dark 75% bar with a chopped pistachio filling that altered my life figuratively and literally (mostly because I'm still living off salticrax to pay it off!)

VISIT Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse
40 Rue de la Roquette, 75011 Paris, France

Remember those pick 'n mixes we had in supermarkets? This is one dedicated solely to the most delicious handmade chocolate bon-bons of your LIFE! And while you pile kilos of chocolate into bags, you can marvel at the intricate chocolate sculptures that adorn the shop. 

VISIT Maison Georges Larnicol
132 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France

Yes, that is a waterfall of chocolate!
And if you still have a kidney to spare:
Michael Cluizel
201 Rue Saint Honoré, 75001 Paris, France

Maison Pierre Marcolini
89 Rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, France

Patrick Roger
108 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris, France

Best Eclairs
Eclairs have been the new macaron in Paris for a few years now (the trend should hit South Africa any day now) so they are everywhere! My favourite was actually the eclair's less trendy cousin, the choux. Odette Paris is the place to go for the best version - buy a few then pick a park bench in the Square René Viviani nearby and gaze at Notre Dome in the distance. 

VISIT Odette Paris
77 Rue Galande, 75005 Paris, France

My other favourite is L’Eclair de Genie who have managed to turn an oblong pastry eclair into a tiny edible work of art. The flavours are punchy and the glazes totally lickable! After selling my remaining kidney, I managed to buy two and when the shop assistant told us to "Wait 15 minutes before you eat them", we thought he said 'Walk for 15 km before you eat them" (French accents!) and so we marched an absurdly far distance before stumbling upon - I mean we didn't MEAN to, it just kind of... happened! And that's how we ended up sitting on the grass, devouring the delicious eclairs, under the... Eiffel Tower. 

VISIT L’Eclair de Genie 
32 Rue Notre Dame des Victoires, 75002 Paris, France

Ready to jump on a plane and eat your way through Paris already?! Head over to to book cheap flights, accommodation and car hire!

 This post has been created in collaboration with, an online travel agent offering you a total travel solution to help you plan your ultimate trip!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Condensed Milk Crunch Bars

It's a new year and that means some things are going to change around here. 
I've thought really long and hard about this and... I'm going on a diet, people. Yes, the time has come for us to be more healthy. I know, I know, I went kicking and screaming into this decision too! But we really need to suck it up and be strong. Channel that inner will-power and all. 

The new Kate Tin diet plan goes something like this; eat more nuts and seeds, more antioxidants, more cholesterol-busting ingredients, fruit, lots of fibre and all those healthy things. Yes, it is as terrible as it sounds - I even had to google the spelling of 'cholesterol-busting'!

But there's no use in fighting it, let's just get this over with, shall we?  The first diet recipe of the year is...

These terribly healthy Condensed milk crunch bars! They're packed with so many healthy things that after eating just 3, I immediately FELT thinner. True story!

Nuts and seeds TICK, antioxidants (also known as dark chocolate, by the way!) TICK, oats TICK, fruit TICK, fibre TICK. No, the condensed milk, butter and sugar don't count. They're cancelled out by all the good stuff - work with me here, people! They even LOOK healthy so no one will ever be suspicious that you're cheating (just be careful to make sure you don't look like you're enjoying them too much).

Although I can't guarantee that these bars will make you lose weight what you will lose is all sense of restraint because, they are probably the most addictive bars on the planet! The condensed milk gives them a smooth fudgey flavour that’s offset perfectly with the bitter chocolate and of course, all the crunchy healthy things make it okay to have 1 or two extra. And hey, if we really wanted to get technical about it, they could even pass as breakfast bars! ;)

Now, repeat after me: "I can do this!"

Condensed Milk Crunch Bars
Makes 24

125g butter
1 can condensed milk
1 cup raw oats
1 cup coconut
1 cup cranberries
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup almonds, roughly chopped
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup muesli or granola (or swop out with any other ingredients)
1 cup rice crispies, cornflakes or all bran flakes
125g good-quality dark chocolate (80%), melted

Lightly grease and line 20 x 30cm baking tray.  Preheat the oven to 180C.
Mix the oats, coconut, pumpkin seeds, almonds and sunflower seeds together in a large bowl then tip out onto a baking tray and toast in the preheated oven until the nuts start turning light golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Slowly heat the butter, sugar and condensed milk until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning.  It is ready when the syrup forms a soft ball when dropped into a small cup of tap water – also known as soft ball stage. Add all the remaining ingredients except the chocolate and mix well.  Quickly press into the prepared baking tray and leave to cool.  Cut into bars using a sharp knife then dip the bars into the chocolate. Allow to set on waxed paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Visit to a Cocoa Farm in Tanzania

 Youre going to eat so much chocolate, they said. Make sure to pack your stretchy pants, they said... It was about 2 hours into the (ridiculously bumpy) drive to the small (very rural) cocoa-growing village of Kyela in Tanzania when I realized that the likelihood of me devouring my bodyweight in chocolate on this trip was rapidly decreasing. This realization, however, did not dampen my excitement. Visiting a cocoa farm has been number one on my bucket list since I got my first sweet tooth and I desperately wanted, nay, needed to know how I could grow my very own chocolate tree back home in 
Cape Town. Permanent chocolate stash for life, anyone? 

Hills upon hills of cocoa trees, tea and bananas roll into the distance in the Kyela region in Tanzania

Is that a cocoa tree? What about that one? And that one? I asked my driver, whilst being completely aware of the fact that I was being an annoying tourist. I just knew he would go home that night and tell all his friends the hilarious story about the day he met the chocoholic who didnt know what a cocoa tree looked like!  

Tanzanian women drying cocoa beans in the sun outside their homes.

It was only after we drove past the third mud house in the village that I realized the plastic sheets of what I thought were hundreds of pebbles spread out in front of each home, were, in fact, cocoa beans drying in the midday sun. And the shade that a group of kiddies were playing under, was cast by cocoa trees.

A little Tanzanian girl playing outside her house in the shade of a cocoa tree.

I was in chocolate heaven! So why was everyone just walking past those cocoa beans? The chocolate, it was just lying there, crying out to be gobbled up! I imagined falling into the cocoa beans face-first, devouring them all and then collapsing in a chocolate coma. Aaaaaah bliss!

A cocoa tree - in all it's oddness - the cocoa pods grow, bizarrely, straight out the tree trunk!

Cocoa trees grow here like weeds, sprouting up from the red-clay soil wherever the beans are dropped. In this area, every household has cocoa trees growing outside their door. I mean, there were cocoa trees growing wild outside my hotel! Totally casual. Not only do the trees produce cocoa beans which the families sell, but I spotted more than a few locals taking an afternoon nap under the cocoa tree growing in their front yard. Having a cocoa tree in my front yard sounds like an excellent idea - no wait, two trees! Ill put up a hammock, lie in it and day dream about chocolate, duh!

'Oh I think I'll just park my bicycle right here, under this cocoa tree growing in my backyard!'

Daydreaming however, is far from the minds of the cocoa farmers I visited. While the trees pop up everywhere, its still seriously hard work, which is ironic considering how easily I can polish off a slab of chocolate. Unlike most other plants where the fruit is ready for harvest at more or less the same time, a cocoa tree is constantly producing pods and they all ripen at different times. This means weekly and often daily harvesting. Its a 3-4 year wait before a cocoa tree produces cocoa pods and after 10 years, the tree has to be replaced; so planting new seedlings happens regularly to ensure a steady supply of chocolate for me - er, I mean, the world.

The cocoa pods turn from green to yellow, orange and are finally ripe when they turn a deep red colour. 

The farmers thought I was kidding when I explained that it was the first time I’d seen a cocoa tree but this only fueled their enthusiasm in showing me their cocoa plantations. Like most farmers, they are fiercely passionate about what they do - about as passionate as I am about chocolate! 

Cocoa farmers from the WACOTA business group - they are all third generation cocoa farmers.

The cocoa pods bizarrely grow straight out of the tree trunk and when I cracked one open, I discovered a sticky white pulp holding all the beans together inside. The farmers call this sticky stuff ‘cocoa ice cream.’ “Yes, finally!” I thought, “I’m going to eat chocolate!” Total let down. No chocolatey goodness; it tastes more like a pear and a pineapple had a baby. I mean, it’s a delicious baby. But not the same chocolatey-deliciousness that I was craving.

Sticky, sweet, fruity wet cocoa beans before they are fermented. 

The wet cocoa beans are collected and packed into large wooden crates lined with banana leaves where they are naturally fermented for six days in fermentation rooms (its a long wait but its a crucial step in making great chocolate). On the seventh day, the thousands of beans are scattered onto bamboo mats to catch a tan in the Tanzanian sun and dry out. Again the falling-face-first-into-the-cocoa-bean-dream! The lack of chocolate was definitely getting to me.

The wet cocoa beans are fermented in crates lined with banana leaves to develop the chocolate flavour. 

Im not sure where or how we got the idea that chocolate is actually made on a cocoa farm. Perhaps its because we think of a cocoa farm like a wine estate, where the grapes are grown, harvested and fermented into wine in the same place. This couldnt be further from the truth and the farmers literally packed up laughing when I explained this to them. Mainly because you cant even buy a chocolate bar in Kyela. The corner shops dont stock chocolate; it is considered an expensive luxury that no one can afford. In fact, most of the cocoa farmers I visited, have never even tasted chocolate.

Dried cocoa beans ready to be shipped off to chocolate-makers around the world.

I left the farms with a greater appreciation for the hard work that goes into making my favourite treat and vowed to bring a massive stash of chocolate back with me on my next trip for the farmers. I imagined us all laughing and feasting on ridiculous amounts of chocolate, while sitting under the cocoa trees… As we drove the bumpy road out of cocoa country past the cocoa beans spread out in the sun outside every home and the children playing under the cocoa trees, I realized that I still had one big question on my mind, how on earth am I going to grow a chocolate tree in my front yard?

I'm in a cocoa treeeee!
Note: This story originally appeared in Mango Juice Magazine. 
Grab a copy of Food and Home Entertaining's February issue for a more in-depth article about the cocoa farmers, their stories and how the chocolate we buy affects them.