Thursday, January 12, 2017

Boulangerie Julien, Paris

While in Paris, I ate plenty of pastries.  Some for dessert, some for mid-day treats, some for breakfast.  At one point, I decided I wanted an amazing almond croissant, so I did research into the "best almond croissants in Paris".  I found a blog post that painstakingly reviewed a bunch of almond croissants, comparing and contrasting.  I was eager to seek the top ones out, but alas, the weather failed me (so much rain!), so I opted to stay nearby the hotel and settled for things like mediocre croissants from Liberté, rather than venturing further to the top choices.

But finally, the same came out, and although fairly cool, I headed towards one of the top places: Boulanger Julien.

The distinguishing characteristic of this almond croissant was supposed to be that it wasn't the style where they use a day-old, slice it in half, fill it with frangiane, and re-bake.  Instead it is fresh made, light and fluffy, and still very flaky and risen like a fresh croissant, rather than mushed down like a traditional re-baked almond croissant.  Or so I read.

I was pretty confused when I arrived what I saw didn't match what I read about and anticipated.

It turns out, the blog post I read talked about "Boulanger Julien", which is what I looked for on Google Maps.  Where I ended up was "Boulangerie Julien".  They are not the same.  But it turns out that Google Maps wasn't quite wrong here.  The real name of the place I was supposed to visit is Nelly Julian.  Yes, a boulanger, but called Nelly Julian, not Boulanger Julien as the article said, so Google Maps found me the closest match, Boulangerie Julien.  Doh.

It was made even more confusing because I did actually browse Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews for the place I wound up (not the one I was supposed to be going to), and people mentioned the service, the awards they have won, and the chocolate almond croissant.  The awards were displayed.  Service was what I expected.  People raving in reviews about a chocolate almond croissant at a place with a great almond croissant seemed fitting.  SO almost everything matched up ... except my croissant itself.  Still, I pushed forward and ordered it on that first visit.

At least I didn't wind up somewhere totally random, this place had its own accolades..  They were awarded "Best crescent Paris" by Le Figaro in 2005.  And an award for "Best chocolate bread" in 2007."   I visited several times.

They have 3 locations (although I think one has transferred ownership), but I always visited the same one, closest to my hotel.

The Space

Boulangerie Julien is clearly a local's place.  No one but me stopped to look around at all.  Everyone else rushed in, went straight to register, ordered, and was out within less than a minute.  The line always moves lightening fast.  Oh, and not a single word of English has ever been spoken when I've visited.

I knew to expect this, since I had actually read reviews of the correct place, and everyone mentions how efficient they are.  Once I made up my mind, I stepped into line and ordered my croissant the best I could, and tried to smile and be nice, and was quickly delivered my prize before I could even blink an eye.

I did appreciate the experience of going to a real locals place, stepping outside the more comfortable tourist-ville.  And the prices were incredibly cheap.
Storefront.
Like many Parisian boulangeries, the storefront was adorable to me, just a big sign that said "Boulangerie" an an awning.  No seating.
Ordering Counter, Register, Bread.
Inside was narrow, with glass display cases along the side with cakes, tarts, and savory items.

The bread and pastry line up was behind the register at the front, where everyone orders and pays.

Packaging

As with several other boulangeries and patiseries, I was intrigued in the packaging mechanisms.
Wrapper.
Most impressive was the packaging.  Not because it was fancy like many patiseries I visited, but because the worker did it in one swift motion in literally less than a second.  She grabbed a paper, used it to pick up the croissant, folded it around it, and twisted it up, I think even with one hand, as she rang me up at the same time.  Woah.

The paper was totally saturated in oil by the time I got back to the hotel, less than 20 minutes away, even though this was just an almond croissant.

On another visit I ordered a cheesy savory treat, and that paper actually became translucent, quickly turning into an oily mess.  Um, this paper doesn't exactly do its job.

Sweets

Macarons, Verines, Cakes.
On my first visit, since it was breakfast time, I looked past the decadent line up at the first counter, beautiful small cakes, verines, and macarons.
Cakes, Eclairs, Tarts, Flan.
And I had to skip past the next section, with even more cakes, eclairs in more flavors than I could imagine (including a speculoos one!), and assorted fruit tarts.  Oh, and flan (in 3 flavors) with a flaky pastry crust.  OMG.  These items looked amazing.

Moving past these goodies was really quite hard, and I vowed to return at a time more fitting for flan (sadly, I never did).

Savories

The next section contained savory items (pizza, sandwiches, salads, quiche).  I'm not normally one to pay attention to the savory lineup at boulangeries or patiseries, but at Julien, the goods really did look tempting, and on one visit, I got a savory to take for later.
Pizza, Sandwiches, Salads.
Nearly everything in the savory area did look appealing.

The pizzas had great toppings, and, since from a boulangerie, the crust must be amazing right?

Even the quiches really drew me in, and I don't usually like quiche because I don't like eggy things, but the flaky pastry crusts looked fantastic.  The leek one in particular looked great, with giant slices of leeks perched on top.

Oh, and what about the cheesy stuffed breads?  Or the cheesy hot dog in their housemade rolls?  I really wished that we had visited sometime for lunch, since they (optionally) warm all these items up.  
The only savory items I wasn't tempted by was the sandwiches, although I'm sure those were quite good on their obviously awesome bread.
Tarte Feuilletée: lardons, reblochon, pomme de terre.
One afternoon, I swung by to get something to bring back to hotel with us for later that evening.  I really wanted the pizzas, but I wasn't really sure I would want cold pizza (not that cold pizza is bad, obviously, but I wanted something more likely to be better cold).

So I went for a savory tart, not that different from pizza.  I'd still get cheesy, and I'd also get amazing pastry crust.  Even better than pizza!

Narrowing in on which tart to order was a hard choice.  The simple Provençal was tempting.  As was the one with onions, bacon, and Emmental cheese.  But I settled on the most unique one, Tarte Feuilletée, with Reblochon cheese.  Reblochon is a soft triple cream from France, banned in the US, so this was truly an experience I would not get in the US.  (Yes, I knew that this too would be better hot, but I thought it might still be good cold).

It was good, but I'm positive it would have been better warm.

The crust was everything I wanted it to be.  Flaky and rich.

The crust was covered in a layer of cream fraiche.  Because, Paris.  I'm not one to say no to pastry covered in cream!  So far, so good.

Next came a layer of potatoes.  Now these I could do without.  Maybe the potato would have been better warm?  But cold, soft, potato slices were not appealing.

And then ... the cheese.  I'm sure this is a cheese that is great when melty, but even cold like this, it was pretty good.  I liked the crispy nature to it, and the rinds, still included, were flavorful.

Next, lardons.  The bits of bacon were obviously nice, not fatty, crispy bits.

Overall, I'm glad I tried a savory item.  Without the potatoes, I really would have loved it.  Even so, it was flaky pastry, awesome cheese, and bacon.  Who says no to that?

Next time I'm in Paris, I need to carve out a lunch visit, so I can get something warm.

Viennoiseries

Most of my visits focused on the viennoiseries, located at the front register.  Many of these items came in two sizes, regular or mini.  The minis were 0.65€ each, and included croissants, pain au chocolate, pain aux raisins, and chocolate brioche.  I loved that they offered these, a perfect way to try a bunch of things, or to just have a little treat.
Cookies, Viennoiseries.
The viennoiseries took up two entire cases.

The top row held super caramelized palmiers, meringues, and huge cookies.  Below them was muffins, canneles, crepes, and sable.  The bottom row held sweet breads, beignets, apple turnovers, croissants, pain au chocolat, croissant aux amandes, and pain au chocolate aux amandes (the aforementioned chocolate almond croissants that everyone loves).

I almost grabbed a mini cannele, since I could obviously squeeze in a mini cannele, no matter what other treats lay ahead of me that day, right?
Viennoiseries.
The other side of the display held even more tempting creations, any of which I could totally pretend were breakfast, right?  Chocolate brioche, bostock, brownies, and more.

It is no wonder I was overwhelmed by decision, and just ordered the almond croissant, even though it didn't look anything like I was expecting.
Croissant aux Almandes. 1.90€.
As as I said, this wasn't what I was expecting.  It was clearly the style of a day-old croissant, split in half, filled with frangipane.  It didn't look great, flat like a pancake.

And it wasn't great.

It was loaded with frangipane.  As in, way too much actually.  You couldn't even see the original croissant shape in the final product, as so much frangipane spilled out that it turned it into a near rectangle.  The inside was also still loaded with frangipane.

Inside was moist from the filling, but the frangipane that was outside the croissant was crazy crispy.  This was actually kinda interesting, like an almond cookie/macaroon/etc.  Not what I wanted, but, interesting.

As for the croissant, due to the re-baking, it was basically burnt.  There were some bits on the bottom that really were black, burnt, very off putting.  I like crispy, but, the burnt taste was just too much.  It didn’t have any lightness to it, no airy, flaky croissant layers, it was dense, dense, dense and mushed down.

The top was absolutely coated in powdered sugar and there were tons of sliced almonds on top adding more crispiness.

Also, it was massive.  It weighed a ton.

So did I like it?  Well, sorta.   It was really was too heavy, too large, and didn’t exactly leave me filling great afterwards.  And it wasn't what I was seeking in the first place.  But, it was sweet and crispy, and interesting at least.

This monster was only 1.90€.  I wouldn't get this again, but, if I had even more time in Paris, I'd certainly consider returning, to try the chocolate almond bread that everyone raved about.
Mini Croissant. 0.65€.
On my next visit, I went simple, a croissant.  And, since I wanted to try a couple things, I opted for the mini.

In full size, Boulangerie Julien offers two types of plain croissants: croissants ordinaires (the more curved, softer looking croissants made with margarine), and croissants au beurre (less shaped, pure butter, usually flakier and crispy).  But I just wanted a mini-treat, and the minis only appeared to be in one, unlabelled, form (in addition to chocolate version of course).

Which were these?  I couldn't be sure.  From the looks, they didn't look as crispy as the croissants au beurre, but their shape was less curved than the croissants ordinaires ... but if I had to guess, I'd say it was an ordinaire?

Also, in full disclosure, I picked this up late in the day, which is never when you are supposed to get a croissant.  Croissants are for morning only, and have a shelf-life of like 20 minutes right?  But I wanted just a little something one evening, and wanted something more exciting than just bread.  So, a mini-croissant it was.

It was fine.  The exterior wasn't crispy, it wasn't flaky, and didn't make a mess as I broke off pieces, so it certainly wasn't what some people have in mind as the perfect, flaky croissant.  Instead, it was softer, although obviously still a croissant, with laminated dough in layers.  I actually kinda prefer this style, as strange as that seems.  It had a decent chew to it, not spongy, not too dense.

Overall, actually, decent, but yes, just a basic croissant.  The mini size was just right too, bigger than traditional mini croissants, and plenty satisfying.  The 0.65€ price was fine, although a full size was only 1€.
Mini Chocolate Brioche. 0.65€.
A few days after my first visit, I found myself wandering by, just after consuming a giant pastry, but couldn't resist stopping back in.  I knew Boulangerie Julien sold minis, and I could eat a mini later, right?

The chocolate brioche looked more interesting than a simple croissant, but less sweet than a raisin snail, exactly what I wanted at that point in the day.  Rather than attempt to order it by name, I pointed, smiled, paid, and said "merci", and went on my way within just a few seconds.  I was getting the hang of things!

Sadly, I didn't like it.  The bread was a fairly eggy brioche, sorta like a choux pastry, which I'm really finicky about.  Too much egg.  And only a little chocolate.  Just not very exciting.

The 0.65€ price was in line with mini viennoiseries at other pastry shops.
Chocolate Brioche. 1.80€.
A few days later, I went back for another breakfast treat.  I wasn't in the mood for a croissant, and almost got a filled beignet (they had fresh, huge beignets filled with raspberry, or chocolate, or cream!), but I decided to get the more unique choice.  I could get a great donut in San Francisco.  But I hadn't ever really seen a bread like this chocolate chip one before, so I pointed, ordered, and went on my way.

It turned out to be the large size of the mini I had a few days prior, even though it really didn't look it.  Had I realized that, I obviously wouldn't have gotten it.

But what it looked like was a shiny, fluffy brioche, stuffed with a gooey custard, and chocolate chips.  Doesn't that sound great for breakfast?

And that is what it was, except, well, it was overwhelmingly eggy.  The bread was soft, but, eggy.  And the custard, which is really what drew me in, was really, really eggy.  There was tons of it, and if you liked the custard I'm sure it was great, but alas, this was not for me.  I did like the chocolate chips.

I also wish I had thought to ask for it warmed up (not that I had the language skills to do so).  I think the chocolate when a bit melty would have been awesome.

But alas, I did not.  I won't get this again.

Bread

Of course, this is a boulangerie, and thus they also have bread.  They have won awards for their baguette.
Breads.
The breads are located in baskets behind the displays at the front register.
Tradition, Demi.
One night, Ojan wanted to "be Parisian", and have baguettes with cheese (and butter!) for dinner.  I'm not a fan of just simple bread, but, I was happy for an excuse to swing back by Boulangerie Julien to get him a baguette (and me a little something else ...).

Of course, he didn't want a whole baguette himself (he's not *that* Parisian), so I was happy to see that they also offer half-sizes.  Or at least, it seemed like they did, as I saw full baguettes and half-baguettes behind the counter.  But it almost looked like those were just ones that had broken off?  I really had no idea, and didn't know how to ask for what I wanted.  I browsed the bread list, but couldn't even find "baguette" on it, so I was at a loss.

I observed as local after local came in, asked for "un tradition", and walked away with what I thought was a baguette.  Aha.  So, I don't order baguette, I order tradition.  And then I saw on the list a "demi", and all of a sudden my ancient ballet training came rushing back.  A demi plie is a half plie, right?  So a half-tradition, would be a demi tradition, and a tradition seemed to be a baguette.  So very uh, confidently, I finally approached, and asked for a demi tradition.  The correct item was handed over, and I was quite proud of myself!

That bread was fine, nice crust, good chew, soft interior.  But I'm just really not one to have strong opinions on bread, so, subtleties of how good it really was were lost on me.  Ojan enjoyed it loaded up with cheese, a nice simple meal in the hotel room.
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