LOS ANGELES – Frédéric and Fabienne Souliès have mastered crusty baguettes and flaky croissants at their Downtown LA boulangerie, Pitchoun, opened in April. But there’s much more coming out of their ovens. Here, Fabienne offers a coast-to-coast tasting tour of unsung French favorites—many brand-new to American palates.
Kouign-amann “It’s a bomb of calories! Kouign-Amann [pronounced Queen-ah-mahn] means ‘butter cake’ in Breton, the Celtic language of the Brittany region. Made with croissant dough enriched with butter and sugar, with a dash of salt sprinkled on before baking, the cake comes out with a thick, savory-sweet, caramelized crust. It’s not easy to make, but worth the effort.”
Tarte Tropézienne “From the chic Riviera village of St.-Tropez comes its simple and tasty namesake dessert: a halved brioche cake topped with sugar crystals and filled with a pastry cream. Alexandre Micka, a Polish pastry chef, sold the gateaux from his shop on Place de la Mairie in the ’50s, and it’s believed actress Brigitte Bardot suggested the name: The Tart of St.-Tropez.”
Pan-Bagnat “This petite sandwich is popular street food in Nice, made with tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, radishes, hard-boiled egg, green onion—no lettuce, no mayonnaise—on a specific round bread. The name in Niçard means ‘bathed bread,’ and it’s often misspelled using the French pain rather than pan.”
Merveilles “Called merveilles (wonders) in the southwest of France and bugnes in the southeast, this fried dough is thin and crunchy. It was once eaten during carnival time (February), though now it’s found throughout winter. We make them according to my mum’s recipe, with orange blossom and lemon, sprinkled with powdered sugar. So yummy!”
LONDON – Indian cuisine relies on a medley of spices that, like an orchestra, must work together to bring each dish to life; no one flavor can play too loudly, or the whole balance is thrown off. Nowadays, mixologists are beginning to explore these bold, aromatic flavors—cardamom and clove, coriander and cumin—in cocktails that are every bit as complex as the dishes that inspire them.
At London’s Anise, a bar attached to the Indian spot Cinnamon Kitchen, Gianni Albanese relishes the challenge of creating cocktails with aromatic spices. “Sometimes it can take a few months to fine-tune a recipe that includes cumin, fennel and cloves,” he says. “But if used correctly and in minimal doses, the results can be astonishing.”
In his white rum–based Devonshire Express, the intensity of cardamom balances perfectly with the richness of espresso. And the Allspice Strawberry Bellini gets its robust, warming notes of cinnamon, clove, star anise, nutmeg and cardamom from Bitter Truth Pimento Dram, a Jamaican-inspired allspice liqueur.
At Bangkok’s Charcoal Tandoor Grill & Mixology, Joseph Boroski created the 1947: Independence cocktail, named for the year India became free from British rule. He credits the drink’s creation to his time spent exploring India’s spice markets. “They’re a heaven for someone like me, who thrives on the bright colors, titillating smells and constant shouting of vendors,” he says. The cocktail pairs mace-and-clover-infused vodka with pomegranate and housemade hibiscus syrup.
To make the Golden Elixir, at Spice Affair in Beverly Hills, Jeremiah Caleb mixes saffron-infused vodka with housemade agave syrup spiced with ginger, cinnamon, star anise and clove. “The beauty of Indian spices is that just a small pinch is sufficient in flavoring the drink,” he says.
Yields one drink
Chill a martini glass. Crush cardamom and add to a shaker with ice. Muddle rum, Kahlúa, espresso and sugar with the back of a wooden spoon. Seal and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Strain into the chilled glass. Garnish with a small piece of orange zest.
ILLINOIS – A curious list of ingredients appears on the beer menu at Scratch Brewing Company in Southern Illinois: sassafras leaves in a saison, elderberries in an ale, cedar in a stout. The hyperlocal botanicals—which also include nettles and hickory, maple sap and meadow wildflowers, even tannin-rich white oak leaves, depending on the season—didn’t have to travel very far from nature to tap. In fact, most were plucked straight from the woods outside.
“We get a lot of fascinating flavors and aromas by using foraged ingredients,” explains co-owner Marika Josephson. Appropriately, she describes these flavors as the “terroir of southern Illinois.”
The trend toward foraged beers is catching on nationally. At Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton, North Carolina, brewmaster Todd Steven Boera plucks five pounds of flower heads for each batch of dandelion saison, and he gathers ramps—a highly prized variety of wild onion—to add to a cream ale.
“When beer drinkers try our beer, they are literally getting something they won’t find anywhere else on the planet,” says Boera, “because the ingredients we use reflect the region where they were grown.”
“Foraged beers are the gems worth trying,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Colorado-based Brewers Association. “If you spot one on tap, order it.” The appeal, she believes, is part industrywide obsession with constant experimentation and part consumer demand for farm-to-bottle brews.
While you might assume this literally homegrown trend is popular only among microbreweries, wilderness-inspired beers are also capturing the attention of bigger, more established brands.
New Belgium Brewing Company, for example, released a limited-edition plum-lavender bock made with products found around the Fort Collins, Colorado, property. And Portland’s Deschutes Brewery won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Sage Fight, made with wild juniper berries and sagebrush leaves collected in the Oregon high desert.
There’s even a new program, open to the public, called Beers Made by Walking, which leads guided hikes in cities such as Denver and Seattle to gather wild botanicals. In 2014, founder Eric Steen worked with 56 breweries to create more than 60 beers crafted from foraged ingredients.
But not all ingredients found on the trail are as odd as, say, sagebrush. In fact, Chris Haas of Salt Lake City’s Desert Edge Brewery turns to nature to source a beer-making staple: wild hops.
“There are lots of interesting hop varieties in Utah that aren’t commercially available,” he says. The flavor powerhouse grows wild on public lands around the state, and during the summer months, self-described “hop head” Haas fills a cargo van with the foraged vines to produce 1,000 barrels of beer.
His flagship brew, Radius, is made exclusively with ingredients found within 150 miles of the brewery. Haas hunts for hops for the same reasons other brewers head into the woods for wild edibles. “It makes damn good beer,” he says.