I admit it. The scale doesn’t lie. I was naughty in Paris. Let’s not talk about the creamy cheeses and wonderful wines I indulged in. We’ll go straight to dessert for this post – something I’m not averse to when you’re in a city with the plethora of exquisite sweets that Paris offers. I ate pastries, cakes and ice cream at least once a day, sometimes twice a day. All of them were delicious and some of them were divine – including this raspberry creme brulee tarte from Mariage Freres, a place that holds sweet memories for me in more ways than one.
Mariage Freres has several locations in Paris, including its flagship store and restaurant in the Le Marais neighborhood, the one I’ve visited on past trips. The business started back in the 17th century when King Louis IV and the French East India Company dispatched a man named Nicolas Mariage to Persia to sign a trade agreement, while Nicolas’ brother traveled to Madagascar on behalf of the same company. Centuries later, other Mariage descendants opened the first retail establishment in 1984 and the tea is considered by many connoisseurs to be the best in the world. It’s where Claridge’s of London gets its tea and what Japan Airlines serves to its first class customers.
You know they’re serious about their teas when you’re handed a more than 100-page booklet of descriptions of the various teas to choose from.
The tins are lined up on a wooden shelf, resembling an old apothecary shop, while the waiters run back and forth to grab their orders from the tea-brewer.
The china teapot is delivered table-side inside a silver caddy to keep it at the perfect temperature.
Naturally, there are desserts to accompany the tea, including the raspberry creme brulee tart at the top. I’ve eaten it there before, but didn’t see it on the menu this time. When I asked the waiter about it, he produced it from the kitchen for me, providing me with another trip down memory lane. But truth be told, I did start with a more appropriate lunch – an absolute work of art that turned out to be the most expensive cream cheese and smoked salmon sandwich I’d ever eaten. But then again, I’ve never eaten bread made with green matcha tea or a smoked salmon sandwich decorated with fish roe and pansies.
Whether you simply have tea or eat lunch at Mariage Freres, be prepared to open your wallet. It’s not just a Lipton tea bag plunked into a mug. But the experience at Mariage Freres – from the service to the carefully prepared and presented food – is worth every centime. That’s why I’d like you to share in a bit of the experience with me and why I’m giving away a tin of one of Mariage Freres’ most popular tea varieties – Marco Polo. If you read French, you can read the description for yourself below. Otherwise, take my word for it that it’s a blend of scents of fruits and flowers from China and Tibet, and its extraordinary bouquet is one of the most mythic of all perfumed teas. Just leave a comment in the comment section of this post – and an email address so I can have some way to contact you if you win.
You can also actually order Mariage Freres tea from the company’s website (click here) and it will be sent to you from France. Some stores in the U.S. (like Williams Sonoma and Dean and Deluca) also carry a small selection of Mariage Freres tea. And if you’re not afraid of facing your scale and want to try to recreate that creme brulee tarte (’tis the season – be brave and forget the calories), here’s a recipe that will give you even more of the Mariage Freres experience.
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4- 5 T. ice water
For custard filling:
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1 whole large egg
1/4 cup sugar
dash of salt
For the bruleed topping:
1/4 cup sugar plus 2 more tablespoons sugar
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
In a food processor, place the flour, sugar and salt. Give it a whir to blend everything, then add the butter and pulse a few times. Add the ice water until it forms a ball, or nearly forms a ball. You don’t want to overwork the dough or it will be tough.
Roll it out on a floured board and place it inside a 12 inch tart pan, overlapping the inside edge to make it twice the thickness. Prick some holes in the bottom and place in the freezer for 20 minutes to a half hour. After you remove it from the freezer, blind-bake the crust at 350 degrees. To blind-bake it, place a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper inside the crust and weigh it down with pie weights or use beans and rice, as I do. Bake it for about 20 minutes with the weights inside, then remove the weights (carefully) and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until the shell is golden brown.
Let the crust cool. When ready to make the filling, line the inside of the tarte shell with the fresh raspberries. Cook the filling in the following manner: Split the vanilla bean down the middle and place it in a pot with the milk and cream. Cook them together at a simmer for about 10 minutes or until piping hot, then turn off the flame and let the bean sit in the liquid to absorb the flavor more.Whisk the egg yolks and egg with the sugar and salt. Slowly add them to the milk and cream mixture until blended. If you’re worried about any particles that may have formed, place the mixture through a sieve after everything is all mixed together.
Carefully pour the mixture into the shell over the raspberries. Place the tarte pan on a cookie sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for about 25 to 30 minutes or until it’s set but still wobbly in the center. It will set more after you remove it from the oven.
Before serving, sprinkle the remaining sugar on top and either use a blow torch or place it under the broiler for a few minutes, making sure to rotate the tarte to get the entire surface exposed to the flame until it’s browned and crunchy.