A visit to France is a special time, and what better to mark that occasion than taking back a bit of France with you. We often get questions on what might be great typical French gifts to return with, either for yourself or others, and naturally tend to like those that are culinary related. Let's face it, the wonderful thing about our world getting smaller is that you can find most anything, most anywhere...but that also means those special gifts that you can 'only find here' are hard to come by sometimes. And first and foremost, getting a special gift in Paris is more about the memory you are taking back rather than the item. For those that are looking for special items, here are a few ideas for those goodies that are either non-perishable and/or easily transportable. In either case, whether you use them right away, or pull them out of your cabinet months later, they certainly give a smile every time they are put to good use !
Piment d’Espelette Given it is the only spice made in France, it is probably on top of our list of specialty items that we love to travel with. Bright orangish-red, it is a multiple purpose spice from the Basque region of France – think of it as a lovely combination of cayenne and paprika with a ‘warm’ rather than ‘piquante’ flair. It’s a staple in the average French pantry and you can buy in any local grocery store. Here at the school, we get ours from a very high quality small producer that we love.
Fleur de Sel, again, another wonderful item to return with, it is the 'creme de la creme' when it comes to the salt world. Carefully harvested from the top of the sea bed along the coast of Brittany and Normandy, this salt is best as a finishing salt - a little sprinkle atop your favorite dish and you will get that delicate salty crunch you are looking for. Whether or not you can get it back home, nothing beats a gift carried over (with love) by hand.
French Mustard is usually in the bag with us - and we either like to go a little fancy with Edmond Fallot and the many lovely flavors they produce (they also happen to the only Mustard 100% made here in France!), or we love to go the other extreme with a simple jar of Amora. Some times simple is best, but if you don't believe us with how great it is, take a look at David's write-up. If you are a mustard fan in general and want to have ideas of what to do with it when you get back home, we did a little piece that you might enjoy, take a look here.
A French style rolling pin – No handles…and we love them. We get our rolling pins at our partner E. Dehillerin who has a vast selection to choose from, several different types of wood, and marble are available. While there, you'll certainly be tempted by their extensive copper selection.
We like to also take home a French made 'Torchon' (dish towel) — perfect for any kitchen. Here at the school, we carry a number of torchons, all 100% cotton and all made here in France.
Eiffel Tower Cookie Cutters are always on our list – and we love those produced by Gobel, one of Frances’ high quality equipment producers – we also love that they are made here in France
For our breakfast loving friends, we love to grab a Toque Oeuf. It’s a specialty tool that allows you to perfectly remove the top end shell of your soft boiled egg – the perfect accompaniment for your Breakfast à la Française. It also allows you to easily dip your toasted bread ‘soliders’ in to some gooey yolk! Adding to all of the 'pluses' of a gift like this is that should you offer it to someone, chances are you can enjoy having them guess for hours what its function is!
Not necessarily easy to come by, but one of the things we LOVE to get our hands on are those fun antique cuisine items you tend to find at 'Vide Greniers' ('Attic clean out' = equivalent to a Rummage or Garage Sale). Our absolute favorite find is the Ancienne Saucière Gras et Maigre. Along with being super practical with one side dispensing rich gravy, while the other side dispensing a thinner less rich version, hence the 'M' (Maigre = Lean) and 'G' (Gras = Fat) noted on each spout, it is a great conversation piece and they fancy up any table !
For those that love beverages you have tons of choices.
Speaking of Breakfast, for our tea drinking friends, we are always certain to pop in to Mariage Frères. One of our favorite blends to pick up as a gift is ‘Paris Breakfast’, a delicious blend of black teas with hints of chocolate and citrus.
If you don't feel like carrying a bottle or two over with you, but want to continue indulging in specialty French Wines, you'll want to take a look at our friends at the Paris Wine Company - they'll help keep you thinking of your France travels with a monthly delivery straight to your home of fine french wines (restrictions apply).
It's hard to combine a visit to France with out coming across a Macaron or two. For those that are Macaron baking enthusiasts, we have not forgotten you ! The allure to those beautiful Paris gems is often their bright vibrant color. If you are baking Macarons at home and looking for the best colorant to use, we highly recommend that you use color in the version of a powder - which if you have taken a Macaron class with us, you will see that our classically trained pastry chefs will have a mild heart attack if you use anything other than a powder! One of the main reasons that the pastry chefs insist on powder is that Macarons are very sensitive to humidity, so gels and liquids (if not carefully introduced) can have a negative impact on your shells. Powder colorant of course gives you those brilliant hues, without the humidity issues. Depending on where you are from, it can be very difficult to get your hands on powder colors, so it is certainly something you want to take back with you. In any case, not matter where you are, if you are needing a little help realizing the perfect macaron recipe at home, take a look at our little trouble shooting guide.
If we are looking for something a bit ‘sucre’ to take along with, we pop in to our favorite pastry boutiques with items can endure the travel!
We love to bring it to others, but if we find that we do not have time to stop by one of their boutiques, we love that you can get international shipping from one of our favorite bread stops, Poilane.
If you know you can be extra careful and resist the temptation, then we love to try and bring back chocolates from Larnicol – some of their figurine creations are just so creative! If we are concerned that the chocolate won't travel well then we get a selection of their Kouignettes….pure butter and sugar delights and they are divine when they are heated!
Continuing on the praline train, the next stop will take us to Mazet – the king of everything praline (and it so happens they have the original recipe of France's oldest candy, praline). They are sold in beautiful packaging and travel really well. While there, we might be convinced to enjoy a little sweet pause (the l’heure goûter) with a visit to their Chocolate Fondue bar!
You can never go wrong with Caramel – we love caramel au beurre salé in all of its forms and you can find plenty of options from soft and gooey to hard candies and more at the store of Café Breizh, and for those that want to get their hands on a few more, it is always worth a visit to Jacques Genin (while there, be sure to enjoy a pastry in the beautiful tea salon).
Certainly not an exhaustive list of items, there are still so many more ideas (and memories) to collect, this is just a start. Why not turn your Paris visit to a treasure hunt of goodies? Just think of all the calories to burn and memories to collect along the way.