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There is a thing that I have whenever I am in Paris-- a phrase I use as if I were there often, when in fact it has now been eight years, and who knows when I shall return. It is a croissant dough, wrapped in a spiral, studded with raisins, and the seams filled with baked custard. I'm sure it has a name, a simple name; it is a simple thing, a humble thing, and I usually pick (er, picked) it up at a local chain of coffee stands-- this is like having nostalgia for the bagel at 7-11. Yet it was wonderful, and as basic and ubiquitous to the French breakfast assortment as it seemed to be, I have never found its precise equivalent in North America. And I do mean North America, because I even tried in Mexico:

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As I wrote then: I keep searching on this side of the Atlantic for raisin croissants filled with custard like you can find every ten feet in Paris, they're the most ordinary thing there, like a sesame bagel is here, and yet no one I know of quite gets it right in this hemisphere (including the St. Roger Abbey-- believe me, it was the first thing I checked!) This got closer than most, but it still didn't have the custard center.

Speaking of the St. Roger Abbey (has anyone been there lately?), here's theirs, which looked much closer to the real thing:

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Yet alas, as I noted then: a pain aux raisins (actually raisins sec, my wife pointed out, since "raisins" are grapes)... Pretty authentic tasting, though the pain aux raisins lacked the custardy center of the ones I always buy and revere on the streets of Paris, and they were all, I suspect, day old or even two days old as the bakery nuns probably didn't work yesterday [the Solemnity of Mary].

It's the custard no one seems to get. Even Au Bon Pain had a perfectly decent croissant studded with raisins, but just glazed to a carnauba wax sheen, no custard for miles. Why doesn't anyone just make the damn things like they make them in Paris?

A few mentions of M. Henry's new bakery and food shop in the past weeks suddenly made me realize, if they're whipping out authentic brioche and so on, maybe they... so I swung by there this morning and got this:

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They call it a brioche du fromage. Well, brioche rather than croissant was getting further away from the goal, but fromage, if they meant a sort of cheesy custard a la cheese danish, that could be promising... having fully documented it, I bit in.

Fromage? I tasted no fromage. Puffy brioche dough, raisins, a glaze, it tasted fine for what it was. But it was not the raisin croissant of my dreams.

My search goes on....
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Mike G wrote:TBut it was not the raisin croissant of my dreams.

My search goes on....

Mike,

Don't be disheartened, it took me 20-years to find the apple fritter of my dreams, I'm sure your tenacity will be well rewarded.

Enjoy,
Gary
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Considering ... Montreal and all that, even Toronto has exemplary French bakery
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Mike G wrote: There is a thing that I have whenever I am in Paris-- a phrase I use as if I were there often, when in fact it has now been eight years, and who knows when I shall return. It is a croissant dough, wrapped in a spiral, studded with raisins . . .

I'm not sure how they'll compare with your Parisian benchmarks but I enjoy the pain aux raisins at Bonjour.

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Bonjour Cafe Bakery
1550 E 55th St
Chicago
773-241-5300
Tue-Fri 7am-7pm, Sat 7am-6pm, Sun 7am-5pm
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Damn, that looks awfully close (but so did some of the others...)

Thanks for the tip, I will find a reason to be there, soon.
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I'll be curious to hear if they're similar. Other things I like at Bonjour include the morning roll (at its best early in the day), lemon-pistachio cookies, and Sumatra coffee (if it's brewed correctly). Skip the breads; go to Medici Bakery (1331 E 57th) instead. Bonjour has some outdoor tables in a pleasant courtyard so you can eat there. Unfortunately the cups and plates are paper or plastic.
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You might try Vanille patisserie (2229 n. Clybourn). They make outstaning croissant (esp. chocolate) and sometimes do raisin .
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Mike, the correct name is Pain aux Raisins, btw, just as what is sold here as a chocolate croissant is a Pain au Chocolat.

Croissant being French for crescent, you see and being more indicative of the shape. The only filled croissant is the Croissant aux Amandes which is crescent shaped with almond paste and slivered almonds. Most of the other breakfast pastries, though not all, are considered filled breads and called Pain (the Palmier being the other exception that comes to mind).

Are you certain it really is a custard filling, though? My impression in 30+ years of visiting Boulangeries was more that it was a trick of the dough somehow resulting in a a very soft, almost mushy consistency in the center (custard sounds more appetizing, though it is tasty). But I admit Pain aux raisins is not my favorite, so I could certainly be wrong. The point is that adding custard may, in fact, have been a non-traditional tarting up of the pastry so you are looking for someone else who cheats the same way. (Be careful if you find them :wink: )

I do love a good Boulangerie.

It has been a while, but the Swissotel on Wacker used to offer decent pastries, inclduing Pain aux Raisins - there was a stand in the basement concourse where one could buy them to go.

There is some sort of Jesuit outpost in the near west suburbs whose sisters like to bake and have taken to selling their products in the Lisle Farmer's market on Saturday mornings this year. They make good bread, pastries and excellent fruit tarts both in single serving and full sizes. I have not seen a Pain aux raisins there, but I will ask them when next I stop by, which should be next week. Sorry to be vague about the place, but the labels they use contain nothing more than a 708 phone number and I have not paid enough attention to the name when visitng with them.
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dicksond wrote:It has been a while, but the Swissotel on Wacker used to offer decent pastries, inclduing Pain aux Raisins - there was a stand in the basement concourse where one could buy them to go.



Which reminds me the Penisula has some very good French style morning pastries as well. Best, after 4 PM, they are half-priced, and at 4 PM, you have just enough time to enjoy them by breakfast the next morning.

Another good croissant place, if ya wanna know, is the new Sino-Franco bakery, can't remember its name on Argyle.
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I have nothing to add to this other than the fact that, for some reason, I can't stop chuckling to myself at the title of this thread....I mean seriously, I just can't help it....must be the heat...
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Thanks, Park LaBrea. (I think that was a compliment.) When I wrote it it reminded me of one of my favorite bits of goofy mistranslation in a Hong Kong movie, from one of the first ones I saw here in Chicago, Peking Opera Blues. (HK movies are famous among fans for the bizarre phrases that creep into the subtitles.) A character was asking if there was any leftover sukiyaki, but the title as translated was "Where is the potato of yesterday?"

Where, indeed. In the end, aren't all of us here searching for the potato of yesterday?

Dickson-- honest to God, I'm going to change the slogan here to "LTHForum, the Chicago-based culinary chat site where we spend an inordinate amount of time correcting each other's French, Portuguese, Old Church Slavonic and !Kung." If you'll notice, I use the correct term in my actual post. And by the Jesuit place, do you mean the St. Roger Abbey I reference above? Or is there another one out there somewhere? (I confess to not knowing whether Algonquin is west or north or northwest in the common parlance.)

That said, you may well be on to something in suggesting that what I love is the cheap trick designed to tart something up. Well, wouldn't be the first time, I suppose, and it would certainly go some ways to explaining why I'm not finding that style in places outside France who would be looking to make them according to a more traditional model. Anyway, thanks to all, I have some new ones to check out, which is the best part.
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I did a brief recipe search for Pain aux Raisins, and found a recipe on Food Network (from Jacques Torres) that includes almond cream, and a number of other recipes here and there that were without any cream or custard. So those results are inconclusive.

M - I was unclear from your post as to whether you knew the right name or not, and I admit that the use of the word croissant here to refer to such a broad range of pastries (I believe the US definition of croissant is now "Any pastry of french origin not normally eaten as a dessert") aggravates me. Interesting note, btw, in the French definition of these things, the Croissant and Croissant aux Amandes are pastries, while these other things are bread. But I am sure eveyone's eyes have now glazed over, so enough of that.

Sorry if I offended, but I also took it from the first line of the post that you were looking for confirmation of the correct name.

No, I doubt that my Jesuit place and yours are the same, since the area code for Algonquin is 847, and the one thing I know about my Jesuits is that their area code is 708 which implies it is near west or somewhere to the southwest. Not Algonquin. They speak pretty good French, though...

Apparently you can get a pain aux raisins with custard here: http://sfreporter.com/articles/publish/total-pig-061406-totally-baked.php

Road trip?
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I was just funnin' ya, D. Real-time correction in over 47 languages-- just another feature that makes LTHForum the best culinary chat site!
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Mike G wrote: "LTHForum, the Chicago-based culinary chat site where we spend an inordinate amount of time correcting each other's ... !Kung."


uh, Kung-Ekoka, Mike. Just FYI.
:P
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dicksond wrote:There is some sort of Jesuit outpost in the near west suburbs whose sisters like to bake and have taken to selling their products in the Lisle Farmer's market on Saturday mornings this year.


Well. As long as we are correcting each other's facts and nomenclature, I think it would be news to the Society of Jesus that they have nuns now.

Giovanna "no, I can't say that in French"
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And Mike, if you want to get back to Paris, the first week in December is cool but usually clear, hotel rates are down (you can get a room for two in the premier arrondismenet for $100 a night), restaurant reservations are quite easily obtained, and airfare from Chicago is around $400. At least that was the case last year, and a friend who goes to Paris this time every year says it's the norm. (He goes so often, the hotel where he stays in Paris has redecorated his room to his tastes. So while my experience might have been an abberation, I think that his greater experience lends credibility to the observation.) You could bring back a couple of raisin rolls and see if a convenient bakery can't just duplicate them.
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Yes indeed Mike, it was a compliment......it's the sort of things that will flash again through my mind for several days (probably just as I'm swallowing a sip of beer this weekend...get the napkins!)
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Tags bakery in Evanston, on Central Street about a block west of Green Bay often has these. They don't have them everyday and they seem to go fast, I never see them if I go in the afternoon.
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aren't all of us here searching for the potato of yesterday?



Mais ou sont les patates d'antan?--Francois Villon, c. 1460
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dicksond wrote:No, I doubt that my Jesuit place and yours are the same, since the area code for Algonquin is 847, and the one thing I know about my Jesuits is that their area code is 708 which implies it is near west or somewhere to the southwest. Not Algonquin. They speak pretty good French, though...


FWIW, St. Roger Abbey also has a location at 502 N Central Ave., p: 773-261-0101. I'm still bummed that they've abandoned the Saturday market at Nettlehorst school on Broadway & Melrose. Of course, since I'm in Lakeview, it doesn't make their shop on N Central or in Algonquin any more convenient for me to get to.
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chgoeditor wrote:FWIW, St. Roger Abbey also has a location at 502 N Central Ave., p: 773-261-0101. I'm still bummed that they've abandoned the Saturday market at Nettlehorst school on Broadway & Melrose. Of course, since I'm in Lakeview, it doesn't make their shop on N Central or in Algonquin any more convenient for me to get to.


I was under the impression that the abbey on Central is the Fraternite de Notre Dame, as noted by David Hammond in this thread. At any rate, the Forest Park French market is worth exploring for French baked goods, if maybe not for the perfect pain aux raisins.
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I feel the same way about Falafel sandwiches; nobody in town does it exactly quite right compared to where I fell in love with them, Tel Aviv. I had the closest Israeli approximation of a Falafel sandwich, actually, about a month ago in New York City during a street fair on 40th that I happened upon; freshly fried falafel, stuffed to the gills, spicy sauce, under $3, served from a vendor in tinfoil - none of this fancy, wait for 15 minutes to have it served over rice for $7, which you'll find at the local lebanese places.

Le sigh... it's the little things that you miss from overseas trips, isn't it?
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Last edited by alessio20 on April 29th 2007, 1:04pm, edited 2 times in total.
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jonjonjon wrote:I feel the same way about Falafel sandwiches; nobody in town does it exactly quite right compared to where I fell in love with them, Tel Aviv. I had the closest Israeli approximation of a Falafel sandwich, actually, about a month ago in New York City during a street fair on 40th that I happened upon; freshly fried falafel, stuffed to the gills, spicy sauce, under $3, served from a vendor in tinfoil - none of this fancy, wait for 15 minutes to have it served over rice for $7, which you'll find at the local lebanese places.

Le sigh... it's the little things that you miss from overseas trips, isn't it?


Yeah -- I've never had falafel as good as that first time in the market in Jerusalem. I think there is a degree to which the first way we have anything becomes for us the "right" way, whether it's mom's tuna salad or the fish amok at the Jasmin restaurant in Cambodia. Of course, there are some times that a dish can be said to be the right way -- Fettucine Alfredo at Alfredo's in Rome is certain to be the correct recipe. But on the whole, it is that first shock of joy when we discover that new dish, that new flavor combination, which with repeated exposure becomes the comfort of the familiar, that is hard to capture elsewhere. Of course, now that you've gotten me started on this, innumerable flavors are flooding into my memory, reminding me how many of those "shocks of joy" I've had (from my first Rueben sandwich when I was in my early teens to a recent dinner at Alinea). Happy life. And I am grateful that I live in (or, rather, near) a place like Chicago, where, even if I can't recapture precisely a few of the past joys, I have a veritable Elysian Field of culinary adventures available to provide new shocks and comforts.
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alessio20 wrote:Just to be extra pedantic: in French "Raisin" means "Grape", and what we call a raisin is a "raisin sec" (dried grape). I believe the true French name is "pain aux raisins secs", although "pain aux raisins" might be used both here and there to an extent. It's not like anyone would be confused if you left out the "secs" part.


Even if you are quite wrong. They are called, universally, Pain aux Raisins. You are correct that they are literally pain aux raisins secs (or is it seches - feminine or masculine?), but that is not their name. Darned French, misnaming their food like that!! The confusion is understandable, though.

And yes, I am sure of this, and will provide my francophile bona fides, if requested. For this purpose, let's just assume they include visits to, I don't know, hundreds of boulangeries on thousands of occasions over a period of longer than 30 years.

As Amata can testify, I accept my corrections when I am wrong, which is not infrequently. But not on this. Good point, Giovanna, I admit to being vague about the pagan practices of christian cults - just guessed they were jesuits. I do promise to figure out where they hail from.

And to respond to the Villon, let me say - Sommes nous tous devenus les patates d'antan?

Or more seriously:

O souvenirs, printemps, aurores,
Doux rayons tristes et rechauffants...

Victor Hugo, I believe.
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I defer to you and google, Dicksond. 30,000+ hits in French for "pains aux raisins" to a mere 422 for "pain aux raisins secs". I shall hope to never err so egregiously again. :-)
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alessio20 wrote:I defer to you and google, Dicksond. 30,000+ hits in French for "pains aux raisins" to a mere 422 for "pain aux raisins secs". I shall hope to never err so egregiously again. :-)


No prob, and I promise to err so egregiously soon, alessio20, so you may have the pleasure of returning the favor.
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Cynthia wrote:Yeah -- I've never had falafel as good as that first time in the market in Jerusalem.


i'd had it before, but always as a side dish in "combo meals" at places like pita inn. but my first REAL experience was walking through the outskirts of tel aviv with my co-worker to a tiny little falafel shack, where all the customers were soldiers. quite an experience :) and then a few days later, exercising the extremes of my command of hebrew at another stand ..."ehad felafel... salad.. ken.. toda!" (translated - "one falafel, salad, yes, thanks!")

ah, memories.
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jonjonjon wrote:Le sigh... it's the little things that you miss from overseas trips, isn't it?


That's what my clients from Paris always used to say about cheeseburgers and Porterhouse steaks. All just a matter of perspective, isn't it?

(Say. Wasn't this thread about raisin bread? :roll: )
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kl5 wrote:
chgoeditor wrote:FWIW, St. Roger Abbey also has a location at 502 N Central Ave., p: 773-261-0101. I'm still bummed that they've abandoned the Saturday market at Nettlehorst school on Broadway & Melrose. Of course, since I'm in Lakeview, it doesn't make their shop on N Central or in Algonquin any more convenient for me to get to.


I was under the impression that the abbey on Central is the Fraternite de Notre Dame, as noted by David Hammond in this thread. At any rate, the Forest Park French market is worth exploring for French baked goods, if maybe not for the perfect pain aux raisins.


I got the info straight from the nuns' mouth, so to speak. :) At last year's Nettlehorst Market, I picked up a St. Roger Abbey business card from the nuns with their Algonquin address, and they told me, "This doesn't have our other location on it, but let us write it down for you, since it's closer..." Maybe they were about to jump ship? ;)
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