Tag Archives: patisserie

Relaxing in Rio

25 Aug


Rio from my B&B

After two weeks of darting about around the Rio region I was finally – on my last day – able to see a little more of the city. I’d been visiting Rio de Janeiro for the ICOM Triennial conference, an interpretation of (or whatever the correct collective noun might be) international museum professionals gathered together to discuss museum issues from how to engage the next generation to collections management.  As part of the ICOM Costume Committee most of my conference was spent with like minded colleague talking about dress; we heard fascinating papers from Brazilian colleagues which offered a sartorial window into this vibrant and diverse country and those from committee members shared their latest exciting research and exhibition projects.

IMG_9250The ICOM Triennial at the Cidade des Artes, Rio de Janeiro

The conference was held in a vast and striking building, the Cidade des Artes, well able to cope with the some 2,000 museum professionals and the venue for a great performance of Brazilian music and dance on the first night.  But the Cidade des Arts is in Barra da Tijuca, a neighbourhood of Rio to the far south west which meant that getting to the city centre to see actual museums and Rio itself was no easy task.  The Costume Committee is always eager to see dress collections in the country we’re visiting but this time round there was little time during the formal conference for us to really see anything, especially with all the difficulties of distance.  It was my trips out to Petropolis and Vassouras to see the dress collections in their museums which was really rewarding.  Brazilian colleagues greeted me with warm hospitality and generously shared both their collections and experience.  Caring for dress in a climate where those twin museum object enemies, bright sunlight and high humidity, is a challenging experience yet I was treated to beautiful examples of clothing that were sensitively cared for and ingeniously stored.

With one day left in Rio and now staying in a lovely B&B in Santa Teresa, the hilly neighbourhood in the heart of Rio, I wanted to head out to see more of the historic city instead of the high rise apartments and shopping malls that characterise Barra.  After a visit to the beautiful Portuguese Royal Library with its delicately dark carved wood shelves and endless rows of book raising to a dramatic stained glass ceiling I happened upon Confeitaria Colombo, the perfect place for a mid morning break in my explorations.

IMG_9901What a beautiful library in which to work!  The Royal Portugeuse Library


The stained glass ceiling of the Royal Portuguese library

The café lies on the bustling but otherwise unassuming Rua Gonçalves Dias.  The street is so narrow that there’s little of a frontage to see but I fell upon the wide open arches that lead directly to the grand mirrored interior behind.  Showcases lining the arches are filled with treasures from the café’s history illustrating its key role in the pastry culture of the city.  Black and white photographs depicting 1920s diners enthusiastically eating and talking in its art nouveaux hall, businessmen snatching a cup of coffee in the café bar while clinching a deal, original china and silverware and cake tins from the café’s early 20th century hey day.

IMG_9905A little bit of Colombo history.  You can still buy tins of their homemade gaufrette (made to a recipe dating from the 1920s) to take home

It didn’t take loon for my eye to be drawn away from this museu de café to a sumptuous counter of cakes and tarts.  Presented like precious stones in a jeweller’s shop they were meticulously arranged by colour, with the golden yellow of custard rolls and tart au citron carefully nestled under the gleaming brass and glass.  Mounds of chopped walnuts sat atop individual tartlets next to creamy bronzed merginue peaks and eclairs glistening with rich brown chocolate icing.  Round the corner pyramids of airily light biscotti balanced delicately on white cake stands.


IMG_9917Edible delights at Colombo

IMG_9919Biscotti at Colombo

Before coming to Brazil cakes hadn’t really been on my list of local cuisine to try.  I’d been ready to tuck into meat, fruit and seafood and been well treated to all three during my stay.  Yet I soon discovered that Brazil does great cakes.  Whether it was the coffee break accompaniments at the conference or the pick-me-ups we enjoyed when travelling around the cakes had light, moist sponges which were deliciously flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon.  One of my favourites was the piece of apple and cinnamon crumble cake that Paola and I found in the Barra Bakery.  Sitting among the shopping malls and impenetrable flats along the Avenida des Americas this busy and lively eatery had an impressive display of cakes, both small individual pieces and cakes that could be bought by the kilo, like our crumble cake.  It was a classic interpretation of the recipe; a soft cinnamon sponge, topped by thin apple slices and a crunchy sugary crumble topping.  Barra might not have been the most picturesque of Rio suburbs but the Barra Bakery was a definite highlight.  Yet other similar displays of impressive variety could be found across the city, often with the ubiquitious lanches, Brazilian savoury snacks, nestled alongside.


Brazilian bakery offerings including (slightly surprisingly) at the lower left crisps sold by the kilo!

The Confeitaria Colombo, described by the Rio Times as ‘possibly the most famous café and patisserie in Rio’ and enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Rio in 1968, was established in 1894 by Portuguese immigrants Joaquim Borges de Meireles and Manuel José Lebrão.  Its decadent Art Nouveau interior, with jacaranda wood furniture, high ceilings and mirrored walls create an atmosphere of luxurious ease, perfect for sitting and whiling away the hours with talk, tea and cakes.  It was easy to imagine this opulent interior will with wide brimmed, feather trimmed hats, bobbing on heads discussing the latest gossip and news of early 20th century Rio. IMG_9910

 A leisurely lunch or a business deal – Colombo offers the ideal setting for both

I sat down to enjoy a deep, rich espresso with a signature Colombo chocolate and hazelnut tart.  The tart’s pastry was crisp and short, filled with the smoothest blend of chocolate ganache softly flavoured with hazelnut.  Around me others enjoyed more substantial meals with generously proportioned sandwiches, freshly squeezed fruit juices and the ever Brazilian lanches.  The crowd was mixed; Rio ladies out for lunch, a group celebrating a birthday, tourists resting their weary feet and all struggling to make a choice from the diverse and tempting menu.

IMG_9911My mid morning pick-me-up (unfortunately upside down for its moment of glory!)

I finished off my day by slowly climbing the steep street of Ladeira de Santa Teresa back to Santa Teresa and the beautiful and intriguing Parque das Ruinas.  At the heart of the park is the ruined home of Laurinda Santos Lobo, a 1920s/30s Rio social hostess, known as the “Marchioness of Elegance”.  Abandoned and looted after the death of its owner this shell of a house was turned into a cultural centre in the late 1990s with an intervention by the architect Ernani Freire which allows you to climb to the top and get what must be one of the best views of Rio, offering you a panoramic vista of the city.  Nearby lies Museu da Chácara, the elegant and fascinating home of the Brazilian art collector Castro Maya, with its though provoking assembly of European modern art alongside Brazilian topographical works and furniture.  I was lucky enough to catch a temporary exhibition of highlights from the museum’s print collection which included works by Matisse, Picasso and Derain with artists capturing 19th century Rio and Paris.

IMG_9923A place full of atmosphere – the remains of the home of Laurinda Santos Lobo

IMG_9922  IMG_9934The view from the top – a panorama of Rio

Finally it was time to wander back along the streets of Santa Teresa to prepare myself for the flight back home; my last day in Rio had  given me only a glimpse of this teeming, intriguing and nonstop city but it was one where I felt that I’d had more than a sense of what Rio had to offer.


Danforth Discovery

14 Dec


La Cigogne, a French patisserie in the heart of Toronto’s Greek town

Yesterday morning I took a journey east to an area of Toronto known as the Danforth.  I was meeting up with Dorie who like me has a passion for lace and a fascination with the processes and practices of lace in its contemporary form.  The Danforth is well known as being Toronto’s Greek town and as I walked from the subway stop I passed plenty of shop and restaurant signs with Greek lettering.  However I was heading to the French Patisserie suggested by Dorie, La Cigogne.  As their website points out the stork, la Cigogne, is the bird of Alsace and the patisserie focuses on Alsatian delicacies.  But I also like the custom they described; ‘The stork is a symbol of good luck – a marker of happiness and fidelity throughout Alsace. Regional folklore says that when a child wanted a younger brother or sister, he would place a piece of sugar on the windowsill to attract the stork, in hopes that it would leave a precious package in exchange for a sweet treat.’


A selection of the delectable cakes on offer at La Cigogne

I wonder how many hopeful older brothers and sisters would willingly give up their sweet treat?  I’m sure that they wouldn’t quickly part with any of the delicious pastries from La Cigogne.  It was hard for me to choose as there were so many tempting cakes and sweetmeats but after seeing their fresh almond croissant I felt that they needed to be tested.  It definitely rated as one of the best which I’ve had in Toronto.  The croissant itself was deliciously flaky and crisp and was generously filled with the rich almond paste which liberally covered the top.  It was finished with a scattering of flaked almonds and icing sugar, and I enjoyed it with a cup of black, French roast coffee.  Accompanied by chats on lace, contemporary textiles and life in Toronto it was the perfect way to spend a cold winter’s morning.


One great almond croissant