What's Cooking, Neighbor?
RUTH POUPON, PATISSERIE POUPON
Whenever I'm feeling a little blah or beat, I treat myself to lunch at Patisserie Poupon. I never waiver on menu choices. I have have-to-haves. At one of the tiny corner tables in the rear of the attractive bakery/cafe, past the gleaming showcases of fancy French pastries, next to the specialty coffee bar, I rejuvenate with a healthful crudités salad composed of a variety of select fresh vegetables and a sandwich of yummy country pâté with cornichons on buttery brioche. A perfect pairing. In minutes, any troubles fade away.
The owners are husband-and-wife team Joe and Ruth Poupon, pastry chefs who met at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. Joe is a native of Brittany in France and Ruth hails from College Park, Md. After working in restaurants for several years in Washington and New York, together they opened their flagship Patiserrie Poupon take-away bakery in Baltimore in 1986. The Georgetown location opened in 1998. In late March, a third location – Cafe Poupon – opened as a 30-seat eatery and bakery four blocks from the Inner Harbor on Baltimore’s historic Charles Street.
"The new place, it's just gorgeous," says Ruth Poupon at an impromptu pastry tasting in her second-level office above the Georgetown location. "The building is a former Masonic Temple, built in 1866, with lots of French and Italian Renaissance-inspired detail."
At all Poupon locations, there is something sweet for everyone. The shop's many French-born customers order a wide variety of favorites, including breads, cakes and pastries. "In particular, they like our Paris-Brest," she says. The doughnut-shaped, almond-topped pastry is split and filled with a praline-flavored buttercream. American-born customers are less adventurous and "tend to go for just a few things," like the luscious strawberry cake, cream-filled and chocolate-covered éclairs and the classic, crisp, layered Napoleon.
The bakery's large Middle Eastern following "loves our croquembouche for any kind of celebration," she shares. French for "crisp in the mouth," the decorative dessert (order in advance) is made with bite-size custard-filled cream puffs, coated in caramel and stacked into a tower shape. For a theme party, the sugary puffs may also be fashioned into the form of, for example, a baby stroller, train or teddy bear.
The preparation must be exacting. "There can be no air in the filling and the caramel cannot be dark and bitter," she says. The weather also comes into play. "On a humid Washington summer day, the caramel can get sticky and melt. I say, this time of year, get a cake. We are pastry people who believe in what we do and want to do it well."
For a "perfect day" on the 1600 block of Wisconsin, she suggests dropping the car off at Detailz Fine Auto Cleaning for the works, inside and out, followed by an appointment at the beauty destination IPSA For Hair. "They are the very best," she says. "Then you have time for a little clothes and antiques shopping nearby. Then, have lunch with us."
Patisserie Poupon, 1645 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-342-3248 (patiserriepoupon.net)
Makes 15 individual-sized puffs
Ingredients for the pâte à choux:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
8 ounces butter (one stick)
A pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, plus 1 for brushing
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking trays with parchment paper. Combine the water, milk, butter and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball. Remove from heat and beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Use a pastry bag or spoon to transfer the dough onto the baking trays in balls approximately 1 1/2 inches wide. Beat the extra egg and brush the tops of the dough balls with a soft brush. Score the tops gently with a fork. Bake until golden brown all over and under, approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
Ingredients for the diplomat cream 1 1/4 cups whole milk 3 egg yolks 1/8 cup all-purpose flour 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 vanilla bean 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped 2 pints fresh raspberries
Directions Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk along with the pod. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, beat the yolks and sugar until thick and fluffy, then beat in sifted flour and cornstarch. Temper into hot milk by adding a ladle of hot milk to yolk mixture. Whisk and add to pan, stirring constantly over medium heat. Bring to a boil, simmer for a minute, pour into heatproof bowl and cool. Once cool, refrigerate (can be made a day in advance). To serve, stir and smooth the cold pastry cream and gently fold in the whipped cream. With a sharp knife, remove the tops of the pâte à choux. Fill each pastry with the diplomat cream. Top with fresh raspberries and dust with powdered sugar.
The Georgetowner family was shocked and saddened by the recent loss of food writer Walter Nicholls (see obituary on page 8), who created “What’s Cooking, Neighbor?” We will miss his presence dearly in the paper and in the neighborhood he loved.