November 26, 2012 § 1 Comment
The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.
Before our Burkina Faso breakfast I knew just two rather trivial things about the country:
1) It has one of the most memorably named capital cities in Africa – Ouagadougou
2) Favourite French beauty company L’Occitane sources much of the shea butter (beurre de karité in French) it uses in its moisturising products from womens’ cooperatives in Burkina Faso.
I now know that it’s a landlocked country in West Africa, bordered by 6 different countries including sub-Saharan Mali to the North and West, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to the South and Niger to the East.
Burkina Faso, formerly known as Haute or Upper Volta was a French colony until 1960. The country gained its current name in 1984, thanks to campaigning by the then president, the so-called African Che Guevara, Thomas Sankara.
Sankara was assassinated in 1987 in a military coup organised by former colleage Blaise Compaoré who remains president of what the UN lists as the world’s third poorest country to the present day.
Finding out what comprises a typical Burkinabé (the colloquial name for the people of Burkina Faso) breakfast was tricky. I found this solitary sentence on the Burkina Faso section of website everyculture.com
“In the morning wooden kiosks offer customers a breakfast of coffee, fried egg, and fresh French-style baguette.”
This simple breakfast encapsulates the country’s recent history, the baguette being a legacy of French colonialism and the meagre eggs and coffee a reminder of the country’s relative poverty.
Here are the raw materials for our Burkina Faso breakfast, purchased inauthentically from our local supermarket:
Tim did the honours, frying eggs to order:
The end result though simple was really rather good, and I’m now reminded to buy more of those L’Occitane shea butter products in the future.
November 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
The melting middle chocolate pudding or moelleux au chocolat as it’s known in France is one of those dishes that pops up all over the place, from Masterchef to TV cookery programmes to the Marks and Spencer chilled section.
It’s now a recipe in my newly expanded repertoire of chocolate desserts following a trip earlier in the year to the Lenôtre Cooking School, the best place in Paris to learn about making fine pâtisserie at home. I’ve written before about attending classes at Lenôtre -see my post Le Vrai Macaron Parisien. For anyone interested in baking it has to be the place to come and learn tricks of the trade (though all the teaching is conducted in French so at least schoolgirl French is a must). Our group comprised 3 chic Parisiennes, a jolly baker from Lille up for the weekend to hone his skills, and of course me. We were instructed by the charming and surprisingly thin Gilles Maisonneuve:
Gilles is a hands-on kind of instructor, particularly if you are young and glamorous. Here he is instructing one of my fellow students.
Unlike baking at home that has to be done in a kitchen where family meals are cooked, homework done, laundry dried or whatever, the Lenôtre kitchen is gleamingly clean and empty and set up for baking action.
I love the way the finest ingredients are used here in industrial quantities – neatly labelled bins of best quality couverture chocolate, Madagascan vanilla powder, paste and whole pods in similar neat hoppers, different kinds of sugars, nuts, fruits, spices, flours. Then there’s the equipment – rack upon rack of prepared uniform size baking trays, tartlet tins, piping nozzles of all kinds. It just makes you want to get started on an ambitious baking project, and there’s even your own personal kitchen porter to whisk away your dirty pots. What bliss!
The name of this half day course was “Desserts Tout Chocolat” and we made chocolate tartlets, chocolate sorbet and the universally loved chocolate brownie (pronounced “Brooney” or “Bruni” in French – depending on whether your reference points are Manchester United players or politicians’ wives) as well as the moelleux au chocolat, but it is this last dessert that I’ll be concentrating on today.
I am so thrilled with this recipe – it works perfectly every time and is very straightforward – even my 14 year old son can knock out a batch of perfect puddings. It sits in the fridge quite happily for a few days ready to be baked and served withing 9 minutes – perfect for dinner parties. The puddings freeze well too though I think it’s worth defrosting them for, say, 2 hours at room temperature rather than baking straight from frozen. The recipe, though simple, does call for precision (and I mean to the nearest gram) in the weighing of ingredients, the portioning out of the mixture between the moulds and cooking temperature and time.
I’ve cooked these numerous times at home now and have tried rival recipes, specifically those in TV chef Rachel Khoo and Lorraine Pascale’s books. Sorry ladies, your versions just don’t cut it – too big, too sweet, wrong texture.
At Lenôtre we cooked our moelleux in individual disposal foil pudding basins which we buttered and floured then scattered a few flaked almonds into the base:
This is what the end result looked like:
Not bad huh? That said I’m not sure the flaked almonds add a great deal. The disposable foil basins are dead handy and you can pick them up in Lakeland and no doubt other places as well. Better still than the disposable foil basins are these perfectly sized non-stick metal dariole moulds, also available from Lakeland:
No need to grease and flour, the puddings turn out like a dream straight from the oven:
This brings me to the other piece of kit that you’ll need to make this recipe with ease, a disposable piping bag. You can buy these cheaply and easily in bulk from Amazon. They look like a roll of tear-off plastic bags which is exactly what they are but are triangular in shape to create a piping bag. I’ve found the best way to fill them cleanly is to stand them into a tall cylindrical container which supports the weight of the mixture as you spoon it in:
The most important ingredient in the recipe is of course the chocolate. We used dark couverture chocolate drops at Lenôtre. I think they favour the Barry Caillebaut brand and the recipe specifies a 70% cocoa content chocolate. The word “couverture” means a specialised chocolate with a high cocoa butter content for ease of melting. I’ve had unsatisfactory cooking results with some dark chocolates whic simply list a high cocoa solid count on their labels. My suspicion is that they’re stuffed full of cocoa powder rather than the more expensive cocoa butter which makes the chocolate dry and powdery.
I’ve used Valrhona chocolate drops in my recipe, purchased in industrial quantities from the excellent Chocolate Trading Company (see contact details below). I see from their website that they’re based nearby in Macclesfield of all places so I can even comfort myself with the thought that I’m buying local when I take my latest delivery!
Once you have the right kit and ingredients assembled it’s a straightforward task to melt the chocolate (over simmering water please), combine it with the softened butter (you need a bit of patience here to let it soften then mash it with a wooden spoon), lightly beaten eggs, sugar, flour and baking powder.
Once baked, all you need to do is serve with a little thick cream (or raspberry coulis if you prefer) and sit back and enjoy the compliments!
Recipe for melting middle chocolate pudding
Translated and adapted from the Lenôtre pâtisserie school recipe though I have not dared tinker with the ingredients, quantities or method!
170g dark couverture chocolate drops (I use Valrhona Manjari, a 64% cocoa content couverture chocolate)
130g unsalted softened butter
95g golden caster sugar
130g whole egg – shelled weight (approximately 2 large eggs)
100g plain flour
4g baking powder
Melt the chocolate using your preferred method (Lenôtre recommend a bain-marie). Add the softened butter and mix well. Add the sugar and lightly beaten egg (whisk by hand with a fork or small whisk until there is a little froth on the surface of the egg) and mix to incorporate.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl and stir well to combine. Gradually add the flour and baking powder to the chocolate mixture. Mix to combine but do not overwork the mixture.
Put the mixture into a disposable piping bag and use this to fill 8 small dariole moulds. Use scales to weigh each mould to ensure you fill them evenly. You should find that if you use a rubber spatula to empty the bowls thoroughly that you can fill the moulds with at least 72g of mixture, maybe even 75g of mixture if you’re careful.
Chill the moulds in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Bake at 200 degrees C fan for 9 minutes.
Containers and moulds
Fine couverture chocolate
November 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
The latest in our Breakfasts of the World Project series.
Much like Lesley Chamberlain (author of “The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe), my first experience of Bulgarian cuisine was sausage and bread purchased from a station buffet at Plovdiv (the next major city after the capital Sofia) part-way through my five day train journey from Blackpool North to Istanbul Central aged 19. My memories of then-Communist Bulgaria witnessed solely from the train was of bad food, grey cities – the capital Sofia as well as Plovdiv – and corrupt border guards who extorted payment for what turned out to be a non-existent entry visa.
Beyond the railway line there were obviously better things to be seen. Lesley Chamberlain goes on to write “Not much is known about Bulgarian food beyond the reputation of its yoghurt, but actually, when one is not dependent on the station buffet, it is one of the world’s simplest, healthiest and most naturally elegant styles of cooking, akin to the cuisines of Turkey and Lebanon. The seasoning is light and the accent on preserving national flavours. It is the very opposite of the ‘concentrated’ food of Poland. The mountainous country of 8 million, bordered by Greece, Romania, Yugoslavia (ed now Serbia and Macedonia), Turkey and the Black Sea, is hot, with fertile valleys, and broad plains. The land, which the ancients called Thrace, yields abundant green vegetables and fruit…Many of the dishes have a middle Eastern flavour, including white beans and preserved vegetables in olive oil, peppers, olives, tomatoes, spicy sausage (pasterma)…The sausage, salami, cheese, yoghurt, vegetables and fruit that characterize this very natural table first appear at breakfast.”
My mood lightened after reading this – I’d feared a Slavic spread of sausage and cabbage with dry black bread or some such but Ms Chamberlain’s description of Bulgarian breakfast sounded fresh and inviting. I decided to serve up some spicy sausage, a sharp salty ewe’s milk cheese, home-made sourdough bread, the much-loved Bulgarian cold vegetable dish lutenitsa and of course I had to track some genuine Bulgarian yoghurt.
What makes Bulgarian yoghurt special is its combination of two bacteria, Lactobacillus Bulgaricus together with Streptococcus Thermophilus. In fact, a little delving suggests that all live yoghurts contain these two bacteria so maybe we’re all eating Bulgarian yoghurt without our realising it…
Ready-made genuine Bulgarian yoghurt was nowhere to be found, but the Bulgarian yoghurt website http://www.bacillusbulgaricus.com/ saved the day and within a few days a little sachet of yoghurt culture sent to me in a handwritten envelope amusingly with a Plovdiv postmark (that brought back memories) dropped onto my doormat:
There were no instructions on the packet which initially caused some consternation until I remembered that they could be found on the website (and I’ve summarised them below). Rather gingerly I mixed up my culture powder of indeterminate provenance with a 2 litres of milk (semi skimmed as I didn’t have whole milk in the fridge):
The milk sat quietly overnight on the top of the warm Aga. Miraculously, it fermented and thickened and turned into something that really did look like yoghurt – it was a little thinner than I might have liked but I put that down to using semi-skimmed rather than proper whole milk.
On to the lutenitsa. I came across it when I scanned through various Bulgarian food websites. This sweetened vegetable preserve, part jam, part relish, part middle-Eastern cooked vegetable salad is available in jars sold under a number of brands but I decided to make my own, devising a recipe combining the best bits of a number of different versions found on the web (“The Food and Cooking of Eastern Europe” being silent on the subject).
I began by roasting some sweet red peppers until the skins were lightly charred:
Then the raw vegetables were sautéd in olive oil:
The tomatoes and soft pepper pieces were added to the mix and the whole lot simmered for 10 minutes. Some recipes suggest puréeing the lutenitsa but I wanted something chunkier so went in with an old-fashioned British potato masher for a minute or so which gave me the texture I was looking for – thick and chunky with a bit of bite.
Recipe for lutenitsa – Bulgarian vegetable relish
Makes about 2lb. Having tried out a couple of different recipes found on websites dedicated to Bulgarian food, this is my small-scale chunky version of the classic lutenitsa recipe.
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 medium aubergine, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large roasted red peppers, skin and seeds removed and then diced
1 400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or summer savory if you have it)
2 tablespoons sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Take a medium sized saucepan and fry the onions, carrots and aubergines in the olive oil until soft. Add the red peppers and fry for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add a little water if the mixture seems too dry. Mash some of the mixture using a potato masher. You are aiming for a thick ratatouille type texture. Spoon into a clean preserving jar, cool, seal and refrigerate.
Recipe for Bulgarian yoghurt
Adapted from the instructions given on the Bulgarian yoghurt website http://www.bacillusbulgaricus.com/
2 litres whole milk
1g (1/4 teaspoon) of freeze dried Bulgarian yoghurt starter
Bring the milk to just below boiling point in order to kill any existing bacteria which could react with the Lactobacillus Bulgaricus. Be careful not to burn it.
Cool the milk down to 110°F (43°C). Without a food thermometer, the easiest way to test for the right temperature is to dip a finger in the milk – if you can comfortably count to 5 then the milk is just right.
Pour the milk to a separate processing container eg a large bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the starter. Mix well – stir well for about 5 minutes. Cover the container loosely with a lid.
Let the milk and culture mix ferment in a warm draft free place overnight.
The fermentation process will continue until the milk reaches pH of 4,7. The fresh yogurt will be set in about 5-6 hours (or overnight). If the place is too cold (50F or less), the process may take longer (10-12 hours). In general, leaving the yogurt sit for longer after it is set, will result in a denser and more acidic yogurt. When your yogurt is ready, move it to the fridge (or a cool place) for storage.
Keep the remaining yogurt starter in a Ziplock bag in the freezer.