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
May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
During April’s trip to Paris to brush up my pâtisserie skills at Lenôtre’s École des Amateurs, I took the opportunity to wander the streets, gaze into the shop windows, read the magazines and do a little tasting. I’ve distilled this into my take on the latest pâtisserie trends.
Trend 1: Choux puffs
Move over macarons, choux puffs are set to be the latest small cake trend, or so young entrepreneur Lauren Koumetz hopes. She set up her boutique bakery named Popelini in the Marais district last year. Cannily, the tiny patisserie selling just choux puffs is just across the road from world-famous bakery Poilâne’s newest outlet in the rue Debelleyme (see my previous post). Eagle-eyed viewers will have seen Rachel Khoo popping into the shop in Episode 2 of her recent BBC 2 series “Little Paris Kitchen”.
The concept is simple – take a choux pastry puff, fill it with flavoured crème pâtissière and top it with a disc of prettily coloured fondant icing. The appearance of these choux puffs and their flavour combinations clearly owes a lot to the macaron trend, and indeed the pastry chef at Popelini, Alice Barday, is ex- Ladurée.
There are 9 classic flavours in the current range – these include dark chocolate, lemon, salted caramel, pistachio/griottine (more on this one later) – plus an ever changing ‘flavour of the day’.
Trend 2: Pistachios
The love affair with the pistachio nut goes on and on. It must have something to do with their intriguing green colour as well as their delicate flavour. In the on-trend pâtisseries, every classic tart or entremet traditionally prepared with ground almonds has been reinvented with pistachios. The pairing of griottine cherries (morello cherries preserved in kirsch) with pistachios, whether in the filling for a choux puff (see above) or in a frangipane tart is increasingly popular.
There’s even a shop, La Pistacherie, which opened in mid 2011, devoted to the pistachio nut in all its forms on the Rue Rambuteau just around the corner from Beaubourg, the Pompidou Centre:
Trend 3: citrus
Forget familiar lemon and orange, now it’s got to be mandarin, grapefruit (ideally delicate pink grapefruit), or more exotically still bergamot or the Japanese favourite yuzu. The Japanese are avid buyers of French pâtisserie – just look at the big names that have opened up branches in Tokyo – and are in turn bringing their influence to bear – the green tea powder matcha is found flavouring all sorts of cakes and biscuits now. The tart, aromatic yuzu described in flavour terms as being similar to the grapefruit and mandarin is very popular in Japan but sadly well nigh impossible to get hold of in the UK. I have seen prepacked juice available for sale in specialist Japanese stores so maybe the fresh fruit is on its way.
Not strictly citrus, but the herb lemon-thyme is popping up all over the place whether perking up emigré pâtissier Eric Lanlard’s lemon cake or adorning a Pain de Sucre (see below) fig tart.
Trend 4: all things American
Parisians have fallen in love with brownies (charmingly pronounced as ‘brew-neez’), luscious cheesecake and simple-to-make pound cakes and muffins and have made them their own. You’ll find them everywhere now – peeking out of chi-chi pâtisserie windows and on sale to grab and go as you pass through the Gare du Nord or wherever. On-trend boulangerie-pâtisserie Huré on the rue Rambuteau has an enticing display of American-inpsired loaf cakes in the window with flavours such as white chocolate and cranberry and pecan to the fore.
Trend 5: Classics reinvented
A step further down the rue Rambuteau and you’ll find Pain de Sucre (‘sugarloaf’), one of Paris’ hottest establishments, regularly featuring on top 10 lists of Paris’ best pâtisseries. Renowned for its flavoured breads, oversized jars of pastel-coloured marshmallows, reinvented classics abound here. Its rum baba, renamed ‘Le Baobab’ is sold complete with miniature pharmacist’s dropper of rum to allow for dosing of alcohol just the way you want it.
It’s not just in Pain de Sucre that you’ll find classics reinvented. The space age showroom featured in several episodes of the BBC 2 programme “Little Paris Kitchen” is Philippe Conticini’s “Pâtisserie des Rêves” (Pâtisserie of Dreams). Rachel Khoo, the chef within the Little Paris Kitchen is shown admiring a reinvented chocolate éclair, a sculpted beauty almost unrecognisable as an éclair displayed like an artwork beneath its own glass dome. You can find pictures of it plus detailed tasting notes here.
Places like this lead the way, but everywhere you’ll find classic large cakes like the gâteaux Opéra or St Honoré reinvented either as small individual with sophisticated pared-down decoration. The mini Opéras will sport a lacquered chocolate glaze, as dark and shiny as a Steinway grand piano, ornamented only by a shred of pure gold leaf. Alternatively, classic cakes can be miniaturised and given a new flavour twist like Ladurée’s billowy pink raspberry and rose miniature St Honoré. You can see this here. My last two links are to US citizen Adam’s beautifully obsessive blog http://www.parispatisseries.com/ dedicated, as the name suggests to all things sweet in Paris – you couldn’t find a better starting point if you were planning a food-based trip to the French capital.
As the French are voting for a new president today, I’m going to sign off with a French joke. I suspect it may be the last we hear of Sarko for some time:
Q: What is Nicolas Sarkozy’s favourite cake?
A: Brownie (pronounced like ‘Bruni’ in French!)
29, rue Debelleyme
Tel +33 (0)1 44 61 31 44
Opening hours – check website but currently Tuesday to Saturday 11.00 to 19.30; Sunday 10.00 to 15.00
La Pistacherie (website still under construction at time of writing)
67, rue Rambuteau
Tel +33 (0)1 42 78 84 55
Opening hours “every day of the week”
18, rue Rambuteau
Tel +33 (0)1 42 72 32 18
Pain de Sucre
Tel +33 (0)1 45 74 68 92
Opening hours: 10.00 – 20.00 closed Tuesday and Wednesday
La Pâtisserie des Rêves
93 rue du Bac
Tel +33 (0)1 42 84 00 82
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday 9.00 – 20.00; Sunday 9.00 – 16.00
111 rue de Longchamp
Tel +33 (0)1 47 04 00 24
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday 10.00 – 20.00; Saturday and Sunday 9.00 – 20.00
April 22, 2012 § Leave a comment
The little box of Pierre Hermé macarons I wrote about in my last post set me back 25 Euros. For a third of the price, you can buy yourself beautiful, round, whole loaf of arguably the finest bread in the world weighing in at a shade under two kilos.
Here are the loaves on display at Poilâne’s newest store (opened in July 2011) on the rue Debelleyme in the Marais. The staff are charming and friendly and, unlike the Pierre Hermé shop, were happy for me to take photos. You’ll see that the word for what we might call a cob is not a mere “boule” but a “miche” literally a generously rounded buttock! I love that idea.
It was such a treat to carry out the whole loaf, still faintly warm from the legendary wood-fired oven, lovingly wrapped, and less lovingly stuffed into my rucksack for the journey back to Manchester. It survived the journey intact:
and was soon sliced up ready for sampling:
What makes the bread so special? It has the dark, crackly crust typical of a wood-fired oven bake. The crumb is not white but a deep cream colour attributable both to its wholegrain content and its long fermentation. The texture of the crumb is dense but not heavy. It’s chewy, just a touch sour, flavoursome and slices well. Fresh, it tastes excellent but thanks to its sourdough fermentation it keeps for a week and a few days old it toasts brilliantly.
What’s in it? The Poilâne website tells you that the bread is made from just four ingredients (stoneground flour, sourdough starter, water and Guérande sea salt) but doesn’t go into detail as to what type of flour is used. Lots of people have written lots of things about the flour in a Poilâne loaf. US baker Peter Reinhart in his book “The Breadbaker’s Apprentice” describes the flour as a stoneground 85% extraction wholewheat ie with some of the bran removed. This is not a type of flour readily accessible to homebakers but can be approximated by mixing three parts white flour to one part wholemeal/wholewheat. Other commentators refer to the inclusion of 30% spelt (épeautre in French) flour in the Poilâne mix but I haven’t yet found an unimpeachable source for this claim.
According to the Poilâne website, legend began in the 1932 when Pierre Poilâne from Normandy set up shop in the rue du Cherche Midi in St Germain on Paris’ Left Bank. He made a traditional loaf in the traditional way (best quality ingredients, long fermentation, natural yeasts, baking in a woodfired oven) rather than producing the more popular white flour baguettes. His sons Lionel (and also Max) continued the family baking business. Lionel was the marketing genius – very convenient if you’re going to supply countrywide if you can first convince the world that your bread tastes best not when absolutely fresh but 3 days’ old! – and it is his bread which has gone onto achieve iconic status worldwide. Lionel died in a freak helicopter accident in 2002 leaving his 19 year old daughter Apollonia in charge.
I’ve occasionally wondered how Poilâne bread can appear on English and French supermarket shelves when there are just three tiny traditional outlets in Paris. I’ve visited two of them, sadly not the original rue du Cherche Midi shop yet which I’ll have to save until next time.
Here’s the Boulevard de la Grenelle shop:
and here’s the newest rue Debelleyme shop in the Marais:
The answer to the supply conundrum is that in the 1980s, Lionel built a 24 wood-fired oven “facility” as the website delicately puts it, to supply growing demand. The discreet little cream-coloured tree-screened factory is located in Bièvres in the southwest outskirts of Paris not far from Versailles.
Harvard Business School graduate Apollonia Poilâne seems to have inherited her father’s business sense as well as his passion for good bread and has made a number of discreet innovations. I’m not convinced about the matcha flavoured green teaspoon shaped biscuits but the “Cuisine de Bar” outlets that have appeared adjacent to the bread shops in the rues du Cherche Midi and Debelleyme (also in London now) are an excellent idea. They are essentially cafés based on toast (tartines in French). So next time you’re in Paris looking for a fashionable, wholesome and inexpensive breakfast or light lunch, you know where to go.
After a bit of research
Contact details (Paris)
38 rue Debelleyme (Marais- “Cuisine de bar” adjacent to shop)
Tel +33 (0) 1 44 61 83 39
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm
49 bld de Grenelle (Eiffel Tower)
Tel +33 (0) 1 45 79 11 49
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm
8 rue du Cherche-Midi (St Germain – “Cuisine de bar” adjacent to shop)
Tel +33 (0) 1 45 48 42 59
Opening hours :
Monday to Saturday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm
April 17, 2012 § 2 Comments
Just back from our regular easter trip to Paris and Fontainebleau and this year, Bayeux in Normandy too. The focus of the Paris part of my trip was taking part in a couple of pâtisserie classes at the Lenôtre school on the avenue des Champs Elysées (making chocolate desserts and the legendary Gâteau St Honoré). Whilst there, I took the opportunity to use my carnet of metro tickets and my own two feet to explore the city, visit some iconic bakeries and pâtisseries, and try and work out by observation the newest Parisian pâtisserie trends.
In the first of three Paris posts, I thought I’d begin with an update on the macaron trend. In the UK I think I can say they’re officially mainstream now that our local Marks and Spencer Altrincham branch regularly stocks its Own Brand pack 6 pack. Paris is of course awash with them and whilst there I took the opportunity to try a cutting-edge selection from Pierre Hermé and classic favourites from Ladurée.
First stop was the Pierre Hermé Avenue de l’Opéra shop (which, cashing in on present trends just sells macarons and chocolates, not pâtisserie). One unwanted consequence of the proliferation of food bloggers is that polite requests such as mine to take a quick photo inside the shop are sadly refused. So here is a photo of said shop from a safe distance outside:
Here’s the selection of macarons I bought and subsequently tasted. The turquoise presentation box is just a little lurid perhaps?
whereas the bag in which it was presented with its pale blue panels and cut-out broderie anglaise style leaves is much easier on the eye:
The Pierre Hermé macarons are characterised by their generous (some might say overgenerous?) fillings and bewildering palate of flavours. For the record, this is the latest menu with some of the names as fanciful as the flavour combinations. With the aid of Pierre Hermé’s Macaron book which gives instructions in meticulous detail for constructing his signature combinations, I’ve added a little extra information.
MOGADOR: milk chocolate and passion fruit – yellow shells speckled with cocoa powder; passion fruit milk chocolate ganache
INFINIMENT ROSE: rose & rose petals – pink shells; rose buttercream
INFINIMENT CHOCOLAT PORCELANA: pure chocolate origin Venezuala Porcelana – chocolate shells; Porcelana chocolate ganache
INFINIMENT CARAMEL: salted butter caramel – light brown shells coloured with yellow food colouring and coffee extract; salted butter caramel filling
CARAQUILLO: chocolate, coffee & aniseed – chocolate shells; chocolate ganache flavoured with aniseed
AMERICANO PAMPLEMOUSSE: orange, campari and candied grapefruit – orange shells; white chocolate ganache flavoured with Campari, grapefruit juice and orange juice; cubes of candied spiced grapefruit peel embedded in the ganache filling
CRÈME BRÛlÉE: vanilla and caramel shards
INFINIMENT CASSIS: blackcurrant – purple shells; white chocolate ganache made with blackcurrant and redcurrant juice rather than cream; one or two whole blackcurrants in the centre
ISPAHAN: rose, lychee & raspberry – deep pink shells sprinkled with red coloured sugar or ruby dusting powder; white chocolate ganache mixed with pureed preserved lychees and flavoured with rose extract; square of concentrated fresh raspberry jelly in the centre
INFINIMENT MENTHE FRAÎCHE: mint – blue-green shells; white chocolate ganache flavoured with an infusion of fresh mint leaves and Crème de Menthe
INFINIMENT JASMIN: jasmine flowers and jasmine tea – shells whitened with titanium dioxide with dried jasmine flowers sprinkled on top; jasmine tea white chocolate ganache flavour boosted with jasmine essential oil;
MÉTISSÉ: orange, carrot and Ceylon cinnamon – orange cinnamon shells; carrot, orange & white chocolate ganache
PLÉNITUDE: chocolate and caramel – one chocolate shell; one caramel brown shell (coffee extract and food colouring); milk and dark chocolate ganache mixed with salted butter caramel
PIETRA: caramelised hazelnut and crispy praline
HUILE D’OLIVE À LA MANDARINE: olive oil and mandarin – one olive green shell (green colouring and coffee extract); one orange shell; white chocolate ganache flavoured with vanilla mixed with extra virgin olive oil
MOSAÏC: pistachio, Ceylon cinnamon & griottine – natural shells sprinkled with red sugar or ruby dusting powder; white chocolate ganache flavoured and coloured with cinnamon and pistachio paste; stoned griottine (trade name for morello cherry preserved in kirsch) in the centre
ÉDEN: peach, apricot and saffron – peach coloured shells; white chocolate ganache infused with saffron mixed with purée of fresh white peach and small cubes of soft-dried apricot
INFINIMENT VANILLE: vanilla from Tahiti, Mexico & Madagascar – natural coloured shells flavoured with vanilla seeds; white chocolate ganache flavoured with 3 types of vanilla pod
MÉDÉLICE: lemon and crispy praline hazelnut wafer – yellow shells sprinkled with hazelnut wafer shards; natural colour lemon cream filling
INFINIMENT CITRON: lemon – yellow shells; natural colour lemon cream filling
They sound amazing don’t they? The truth is though that sample one with your eyes closed and you’d be hard pressed to say what the flavour is. There’s a healthy dose of psychological trickery going on here and the apparent flavour is boosted if you a) your macaron is strongly coloured and b) you can read the description of what you’re supposed to be tasting.
That said, the macarons tasted pretty good, even the mint one which was surprisingly subtle and fragrant rather than being filled with a toothpaste-like substance as I joked it might be before tasting it.
I didn’t make it to Hermé’s flagship store which is on the Rue Bonaparte on the left bank. He now has a myriad of shops throughout Paris, like the one I visited on the Avenue de l’Opéra selling just macarons and chocolate. Presumably these are shipped in daily by the dozen rather than being lovingly crafted on the premises. Well, I suppose you have to ride that trend while it lasts…
The original and classic macaroon maker Ladurée is playing the same game. You can load up on macarons in various locations throughout Paris, even at their newest outlet Terminal 2 Charles de Gaulle airport, which is exactly what I did. You can opt for the classic eau-de-nil and gold packaging:
Or the dinky duck-egg blue and shocking pink “Hello Kitty” presentation box aimed fair and square at the Japanese market:
The current Ladurée list of flavours runs as follows:
Café – coffee
Caramel – caramel
Cassis Violette – blackcurrant and violet
Chocolat – chocolate
Fleur d’Oranger – orange flower water
Framboise – raspberry
Pistache – pistachio
Réglisse – liquorice (black)
Rose – rose water
Vanille – vanilla
Incroyable Guimauve Amande – incredible almond marshmallow
Citron – lemon
Fruits rouges – red fruit
Fleurs de cerisier – cherry blossom
Chocolat pure origine Colombie – Colombian chocolate
Praliné – praline
Marron – chestnut
Pomme Verte – green apple
Chocolat au lait – milk chocolate
Read the small print underneath the box to discover the list of ingredients needed to make this range of flavours:
sugar; almonds; eggs; butter; cream; cocoa; blackcurrants; raspberries; pistachios; chestnuts; coconut; hazelnuts; mint; lemons; morello cherries; whole milk powder; glucose syrup; cornflour; pectin; coffee; rose syrup (sugar syrup, natural red colouring, rose flavour); redcurrant; dark rum; honey; candied fruit (sugar, glucose, citron, ginger, lemon, orange); flavourings: orange flower, citron, lemongrass, chestnut, mint, mimosa, violet (invert sugar, propylene glycol, alcohol); cinnamon; star anise; ginger, gelatine (not porcine); emulsifier: soya lecithin; natural vanilla extract; vanilla; lime; rose essence; salt; sunflower oil; vegetable fat; barley malt extract; emulsifier: glycerides of fatty acids; colours: luteine, carmine, carminique, carantho, chlorophyll, spinach, coal black, brilliant blue fcf, carotinoids, caramel.
If you still feel like buying some here’s where to go:
Pierre Hermé Paris addresses
72 rue Bonaparte, 6th arrondissement (flagship store – the full range)
185 rue de Vaugirard, 15th – pâtisserie, macarons, chocolates
just macarons and chocolates:
58 avenue Paul Doumer, 16th
39 avenue de l’Opéra, 2nd
Galeries Lafayette concession, amongst shoes in the basement (!); home on ground floor; and designers on the 1st floor, 40 boulevard Haussmann, 9th
Publicis Drugstore concession, 133 avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th
Printemps Parly II concession, Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Le Chesnay nr Versailles
Ladurée Paris and surrounding area addresses
16-18 rue Royale, 8th arrondissement
21 rue Bonaparte, 6th
75 avenue des Champs Elysées, 8th – AT DATE OF WRITING CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT
Orly airport West Terminal
Charles de Gaulle airport Terminal 2
Printemps department store concession, 64 Boulevard Haussmann, 9th
Chateau de Versailles, Versailles
April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
A ate a simple and delicious little salad for lunch last week in Paris, sitting outdoors in the spring sunshine, just off the the Champs Elysées. It was described on the menu as a “Salade Farandole” or merry-go-round salad, presumably because of the wheel shaped arrangement of the leaves.
The ingredients were chicory leaves, orange segments, strips of smoked duck breast, walnuts and a few spinach leaves together with just the right amount of a citrussy dressing.
It was such a good combination – crisp, bitter leaves, sweet orange, salty duck, crunchy walnuts – that I decided to recreate my own version at home. The Parisian version included some wafer thin slices of what might have been wet walnuts, unlikely at this time of year I know. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask the waiter to ask the chef what this mystery ingredient was. Back home, I remembered that I had a jar of inky-black pickled walnuts at the back of the fridge so I fished one out, sliced it as thinly as I could and added this to my salad for an extra flavour and texture.
Smoked duck isn’t that easy to get hold of, but locally the excellent Smokehouse in Wilmslow prepare their own smoked duck breasts and you can buy them ready sliced from Waitrose or Ocado in the “Reflets de France” range. Talking of Ocado, I’ve being going a bit crazy with their new range of Natoora specialist fruit, veg and deli products so I happened to have a bag of Sicilian blood oranges in my fridge which make a visually appealing addition and taste extra sweet:
It made a lovely light lunch and the slightly bitter chicory combined with the orange were a perfect antidote to all that Easter chocolate. I was so pleased with my little salad that I made it again the next day, this time with some red Treviso radicchio I happened to have left over (I’m going through a bit of a bitter leaf phase at the moment) and with pistachios rather than walnuts as that’s all I had left in my cupboard. There’s no need to be too prescriptive about the ingredients as it’s a salad you can make your own. I hope you enjoy it.
Recipe for chicory, orange and smoked duck salad
For the salad
2 medium heads chicory (white, red or a mixture of both)
2 and a half oranges, peeled and cut into pith-free segments
2 pickled walnuts, thinly sliced
handful walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
1 smoked duck breast, cut into the thinnest slices you can manage, fat removed if you prefer
handful baby spinach leaves
For the dressing
juice of the remaining half orange
2 tablespoons walnut oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
few snipped chives, torn mint leaves or other soft green herbs (optional)
Wash and dry the chicory heads. Cut of the base and pick off the larger outer leaves carefully. Arrange in an attractive wheel shape on your serving platter or in individual salad bowls as you prefer. Chop roughly the remaining centre part of the chicory, combine with the spinach leaves and pile in the centre.
Scatter over the salad the orange segments, pickled walnuts, chopped toasted walnuts and strips of smoked duck breast.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad shortly before serving.
May 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
Daybreak in Paris last Sunday. The public shame. The disgrace. The furtive attempts to conceal the evidence. The seedy story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s New York exploits hits the newsstands perhaps?
No, this was me, rising at dawn to try and dispose of 1kg best quality Tanzanian 75% cocoa solids chocolate, a further kg of unsalted alpine butter, lashings of organic double cream and a generous slug of cognac, the whole lot coalesced into a greasy solidified mass of split ganache which should have graced a celebratory chocolate cake, the centrepiece of my cousin Pierre’s birthday party the night before. I finally found an empty public bin by a bus stop, deposited my sorry double-bagged chocolate mess and jogged away, lightened in load and spirit.
So what was the occasion?
A Saturday Night Fever birthday party to celebrate a Significant Birthday. The cake to match was a scaled down (2 layers rather than 3) version of spectacular chocolate-raspberry wedding cake selected from my new favourite baking book “Sky High: Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes” by Alisa Huntsman and Peter Wynne.
The book is American through and through and completely over the top in terms of the sheer number of generously proportioned and imaginatively filled and frosted celebratory cakes it describes. Other bloggers have raved about it so I just had to get hold of a copy. Apart from the Bittersweet Brandied Ganache débacle, it hasn’t disappointed.
The book’s strengths are the seductiveness of its drop-dead gorgeous full page glossy colour photos, its generosity of spirit and the imagination of its flavour combinations. Where it falls short is perhaps in a lack of precision – for that you have to go to Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible, another American classic on my bookshelf.
It all started so well. The choice of a classic American chocolate cake, seemed perfect for a party for a chocoholic into American disco nostalgia. The edible elements needed for the cake were 6 layers of Chocolate Butter Cake, generous quantities of seedless raspberry jam to sandwich the layers together, an unspeakably large quantity of Bittersweet Brandied Ganache to frost and a punnet of ripe raspberries scattered over the top to finish.
I have neither the time nor the space to give the complete recipe here – you’ll have to buy the book for that – the instructions for the full 3 tier wedding cake go on for 6 pages. However I do give the recipe for the Lenôtre chocolate ganache which eventually saved the day I’ve tried it 3 times now (albeit using European ingredients) and it’s been spot-on every time. A ganache to lean on, so to speak.
Here is the end result, finished just minutes before the first guests arrived at 7.30 pm. Not bad given the stresses of the afternoon of which more later…
The baking of the cake itself was fine. I followed the recipe to the letter, eschewing my favourite Green & Black’s cocoa powder in favour of Hershey’s obtained here in the UK via Amazon Marketplace.
This wasn’t just for reasons of American authenticity. The recipe specifies a non-Dutch Process cocoa powder in order to ensure the right chemical reaction with the recipe’s raising agent, bicarbonate of soda, to make the cake rise properly. Reading the Green & Black’s small print, you’ll see that this cocoa powder has been through the so-called Dutch process whereby the beans are treated with an alkaline agent to produce a milder flavour and, counter-intuitively, a darker colour. The Hershey’s stuff is paler but in theory contains more “roasty, caramel-like molecules…and…astringent, bitter, phenolics” (quoting from Harold McGee’s indispensable kitchen reference work On Food and Cooking).
The recipe is not a chocolate sponge made by the familiar creaming method but requires softened butter and buttermilk to be beaten into the sifted dry ingredients before the eggs and more liquid in the form of strong coffee are incorporated into the mixture. I would not attempt this recipe without the help of a Kenwood or Kitchenaid-type mixer as it requires a lot of heavy-duty beating.
After the addition of butter and buttermilk the mixture looks like a moist and friable garden loam:
Once the eggs and coffee were incorporated, it became soft, thick and lusciously silky, like a chocolate version of mayonnaise:
Baked, the cake rose well but not too aggressively. Don’t worry, the dome that forms in the oven settles down once the cake is cooled leaving a firm, glossy and flat cake which holds its shape well, eminently well-suited to the architectural task ahead.
The finished cake was firm, rich, dense and crumbly. It had an intense chocolate flavour pointed up by the addition of cinnamon and coffee in the recipe though neither flavour is perceptible. This is a cake designed for filling and frosting as eaten on its own it would be a tad dry.
The cakes were mixed and baked first thing Friday morning. Once cooled and carefully wrapped and packed, the cake’s 6 layers travelled as hand luggage, sitting obediently beside me on the short Flybe flight to Paris. Cake assembly began in situ at the party venue at about 2.00pm on Saturday afternoon. First the layers were spread with seedless raspberry jam (Tiptree brand), then sandwiched together with each triple layer cake having a slim silver cardboard base:
If I were to make this cake again, I would be more generous with the raspberry jam and I would leave the cake to mature overnight as the recipe instructs. The quantity of jam shown in the picture may look generous but is far less than the recipe suggests and when the cake was cut into later that evening, it had practically disappeared. More jam would have made for a moister cake I think as, being self-critical, it was just a little on the dry side (easily remedied on the night by serving it with extra fresh raspberries and a dollop of crème fraîche).
The next potentially tricky step was the positioning of the 4 transparent plastic dowels which supported the top layer. I measured, cut to size and positioned the dowels. This bit of the assembly worked like a dream – a relief as I’d never worked with dowels before. I know you shouldn’t experiment when baking for a special occasion, especially someone else’s special occasion, but I just couldn’t help myself:
Now for the ganache. How hard could it be to whip up a batch of ganache and slather it on all over the cake? I’d preweighed all the ingredients so it was quick work to set the vast quantities of best quality dark chocolate and unsalted butter (a kilogramme of each no less) to melt over a pan of barely simmering water.
I was patient and careful, never letting the mixture become too warm, not letting a drop of water near it lest it seize up and going easy on the stirring. On the home strait now. All I had to do was whisk in the warmed cream, then the brandy, just like the recipe said and I was home and dry. Blithely, I tipped them in and whisked away. That’s when disaster struck as the previously smooth glossy mix began to separate out into particulates and oil before my very eyes. 30 minutes and frantic whisking and cooling later, I pronounced the mixture officially beyond redemption, tipped it into a big plastic box for subsequent disposal and confessed my error to my slightly alarmed host and his family. The public shame and humiliation!
Having checked Harold McGee subsequently, I think that where I went wrong was in using chocolate with too high a cocoa content – 75% in my case. When liquid is added, the cocoa solids absorb the water releasing the fats out of emulsion and hey presto the mixture splits. His advice is to follow a recipe which sets out precisely the fat contents of the various ingredients and to follow it to the letter. The Sky High recipe was a bit on the sketchy side – ie just bittersweet chocolate, heavy cream and American ingredients are not quite the same as those we can buy in Europe which can make for misunderstandings.
Back to the party. Remembering Corporal Jones’ advice from Dad’s Army (Don’t Panic), using my host’s computer, I quickly retrieved the tried, tested and reassuringly precise ganache recipe I’d learned at the Lenôtre cookery school in Paris over Easter. Next, an emergency dash to the local supermarket for yet more cream and chocolate (just 600g of chocolate this time as 1kg was way too much, even for the most enthusiastic chocoholic) and I was back in business:
I followed the Lenôtre recipe as accurately as I could, though without scales or thermometer to hand I had rely on educated guesswork and prayer. To my immense relief, the ganache behaved itself perfectly and after 20 minutes’ or so cooling, it had reached the perfect consistency for spreading. The first house guests were just arriving at this point so I smiled and pretended to be part of the evening’s entertainment, a sort of cake artist installation.
The final step was piping a bold decorative border of what I can best describe as chocolate blobs to hide the joins between cake and board. Very effective though I say so myself. By the time the cake was served, the blobs had firmed up to become in effect mini chocolate truffles which could be detached and discreetly popped into the mouth while the cake was being sliced and served. Cook’s prerogative!
Cake complete, it was time to enjoy the party with the host rather than the cake the centre of attention – just as it should be. Great party Peter!
Recipe for foolproof chocolate ganache
With thanks to Philippe from the Lenôtre cookery school in Paris. I scaled this up by a factor of three to use to coat the birthday cake which comprised a 7 inch square stacked onto a 9 inch square.
200g cream 32% fat (equates to UK whipping cream – this is liquid cream not thick crème fraîche)
250g dark chocolate 50% cocoa solids (buttons are ideal for quick melting but bar broken into square is OK too)
50g unsalted butter
Heat the cream to 85 degrees C. Break up the chocolate and place into a large heatproof bowl. Pour over the hot cream and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Once the chocolate has melted, stir with a rubber spatula to incorporate the cream into the chocolate. Keep a ball of molten chocolate in the centre whilst incorporating the cream at the edges of the chocolate. Reduce the temperature to 30 degrees C then beat in the butter previously softened and tempered at 22 degrees C.
Cover with cling film and reduce the temperature to 17 degrees C when it will be the right consistency to use.
April 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
Actually this is not a macaron but vrai Parisien Philippe, expert instructor for the pâtisserie class I took last Saturday, entirely devoted to the making of the perfect macaroon.
The venue was the Lenôtre amateur cookery school in the grand looking Pavillon d’Elysée in the heart of Paris’ 8th arrondissement.
On the agenda were three classic macaroon recipes: vanilla, coffee and chocolate. I’m feeling too lazy to write up all 3 recipes in full, so here they are as photos. I’ve translated and annotated the base vanilla recipe below, but have taken the liberty of halving the quantities to make the numbers more manageable for the home baker.
My fellow course participants were 3 Parisian ladies and 1 man who turned out to be a professional pastry chef. I decided to share my workbench with him and pick up some extra tips. The 6 of us shared a spacious kitchen nattily decorated with orange walls, sleek white cabinets and lots of chrome and stainless steel.
Chef Philippe was a little stern at first and asked for no photography. As the morning went on, he gradually warmed and melted and by the end of the session, the no photography rule was relaxed as you can see.
All was of course in rapid Parisian French. This was clearly going to be a workout for my schoolgirl French as well as honing my pâtisserie skills.
So, what did I learn?
1) All the recipes include a mystery ingredient “tant pour tant amandes” which is nothing more than a 50:50 mixture of ground almonds and icing sugar. This is a mix that the professional pastry kitchen already has on hand as it’s the starting point for a number of recipes. It’s not something that the domestic cook needs that often so I’ve restated the recipe in terms of the underlying quantities of ground almonds and icing sugar.
2) The base recipe specifies vanilla powder rather than the more usual extract or paste. Ever wondered what to do with old vanilla pods other than them into a jar of caster sugar? Once the old pods are thoroughly dry, you can crush them in a spice grinder/ mini food processor to make a fragrant powder perfect for use in baking. I haven’t tried this at home yet but will give it a go with my next batch of old pods.
3) The egg whites are weighed for an accurate result. A medium egg white weighs a little over 30g so you’ll need 3 eggs for the base recipe I give below.
4) I need to mention the nasty subject of additives. Although not listed amongst the ingredients, Chef Philippe casually added a couple of pinches of white food colouring to his macaroon mix. On closer inspection, this turned out to be E171 titanium dioxide. At best this seems entirely unnecessary – the finished macaroons were an attractive toasty gold colour – and at worst possibly dangerous.
Philippe also added yellow food colouring to his coffee macaroons, again not in the recipe, and again unnecessary as the coffee extract used to flavour the macaroons (make your own by dissolving instant coffee granules in a very little hot water or consider that old standby Camp Coffee Essence) will also lend them a little colour.
Finally, the chocolate macaroon recipe specifies a massive 82 combined drops of black, red, blue and yellow food colourings to turn the mix into the requisite rich dark brown. When I try these at home, I will make do with a more delicate brown colour provided by the cocoa powder alone.
5) I learned to use a much smaller piping nozzle than the one I’d used previously. The recipe specifies nozzles in the range between nos. 7 to 10. I’d estimate that the one we used in the class was about 12mm in diameter.
6) We used very convenient big disposable clear plastic piping bags. I’ve stocked up on these to bring home with me.
7) We used a powerful professional food processor to pulse the ground almond and icing sugar mix. I’m not sure if a domestic processor works quite as well but I’ve had good results from my Kenwood liquidiser.
8) Talking of my Kenwood mixer, this was the machine of choice in the Lenôtre kitchen. Chef Philippe prefers it to the more modish Kitchenaid.
9) To bake the macaroons, we used doubled-up (one stacked on top of another) baking trays lined with unbleached non-stick baking paper, again just like the stuff I use at home. The double trays mean a more even heat distribution.
10) The most versatile kitchen tool we used was a little plastic scraper, the kind used for bread making. This was a fantastic stand-in for a spatula and dead handy for filling piping bags, emptying bowls, rubbing ground almonds through a sieve etc. I’ve brought one of these home with me too.
11) The consistency of the macaroon mixture is key to the shape of the finished product. The ground almond and sugar mix was folded into the meringue mix using a spatula in three phases, with 10 turns of the bowl for each addition. Then comes the key final mixing with a spatula, a further turning and folding of the mixture until it becomes smooth and glossy, holding its shape but only just. There is a special word for this final mixing “macaronner”. If you don’t get it quite right, the mixture will be too stiff and the piped discs won’t flow to a nice flat circle and will have little tails instead of being smooth on top.
12) When piping the discs, hold the tip of the nozzle directly above (90 degrees) and very close to the baking tray. Squeeze using the palm of the right hand against the top of the piping bag for a count of 3, stop the pressure then execute a quick flick of the wrist as if writing a comma with a fountain pen to release the nozzle.
13) Pipe in neat rows and keep a good distance (3cm or more) between the discs in order to ensure a good airflow and even baking. We piped 28 discs on a tray, a row of 6 then a row of 5 in the gaps, another row of 6, another of 5 then a final row of 6.
14) To ensure that the cooked discs with their still soft centres peeled off the paper easily, we carefully poured cold water onto the hot baking tray as soon as it came out of the oven. To do this, you need to set the tray at a slight slant over the sink and carefully lift up the edge of the paper before pouring water beneath it from a small jug.
15) I’ve never paid special attention to filling macaroons previously. I’ve simply spread them with buttercream using a small crank-handled palette knife. I’ve now learned to make a silky-textured buttercream with a crème anglaise base which is piped onto a macaroon disc in a similar way to piping the disc itself. Sandwich with a second disc, press lightly and you have a level filled macaroon with a perfectly even line of filling around it’s circumference.
16) Finally, the completed filled macaroons should be left to mature overnight in the refrigerator before eating. As if!
Apparently they can be frozen successfully if you need to make a big batch for a wedding, party, family celebration or similar.
OK so that’s the rather lengthy preamble. Time for a couple of pictures of the finished product. First, our neat rows of filled vanilla macaroons:
Next, the top layer of our very desirable Lenôtre cake boxes filled with the chocolate and coffee macaroons ready to take home:
Recipe for vanilla macaroons
Makes 25 to 30 filled macaroons
For the macaroon discs
125g ground almonds
225g icing sugar
100g egg whites
25g caster sugar
2 to 3g vanilla powder
For the vanilla buttercream
37g whole milk
15g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
30g egg yolks
Further 15g caster sugar
100g softened unsalted butter
Method for the macaroon discs
Mix the ground almonds and icing sugar together. Liquidise or pulse in a food processor for 10 to seconds and push the resulting mixture through a sieve.
Put the egg whites into a mixing bowl with about one tenth of the caster sugar. Begin whisking at a medium speed (level 3 on a Kenwood electric mixer) until the mixture reaches the soft peak stage. Gradually whisk in the remaining caster sugar and whisk until the mixture becomes a smooth, glossy, stiff meringue.
Gradually fold in the sieved ground almond and icing sugar mix using a spatula. Do this in 3 or 4 batches. Continue to fold the mixture with the spatula until it becomes smooth and glossy and a little looser but not too runny for piping well.
Using a piping bag fitted with a nozzle in the range 7 to 10 (10 to 15 diameter) pipe individual macaroon discs 2cm in diameter onto a tray lined with silicone paper. Space them at least 3cm apart. Leave the macaroons to dry for 15 minutes or so before baking.
Place a second tray beneath the macaroons than place in an oven preheated to 160 degrees C. Turn the heat down to 140 degrees C and bake for anywhere between 12 to 18 minutes until the macaroons have puffed up a little and have coloured lightly. They should have cooked, crisp bases but still be soft in the centre. Start checking after 12 minutes.
Remove the cooked macaroons from the oven and immediately pour a little cold water onto the hot tray UNDER the baking paper to form steam and help release the macaroons from the paper. Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so then remove from the paper onto a cooling rack with help of a small crank handled palette knife. Leave to cool completely before sandwiching together with piped vanilla buttercream.
Method for vanilla buttercream
Heat together the milk, 15 g caster sugar and the vanilla pod. Bring to just below boiling point then remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, using a balloon whisk, whisk together the egg yolks and the other 15g sugar until the mixture lightens in coloured just a little. Remove the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add to the mix. Pour the warm milk over the egg yolks and sugar and whisk together. Return the mix to the pan and, stirring the mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon, heat gently to 82 degrees C to make a custard/crème anglaise which has thickened just a little to the coating a spoon stage.
Pour the cooked custard into the bowl of a Kenwood mixer or equivalent and whisk at high speed until cool. The mixture should now be much thicker, pale in colour and softly creamy in texture.
Gradually incorporate the softened butter which you have previously creamed to ensure it’s the right texture for easy incorporation.
Keep cool if not using immediately and bring back to the right soft consistency for piping by gently warming OVER hot water.
That’s it – good luck with making these at home!
École Amateur Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre
10 avenue des Champs Elysées
Tel +33 (0)1 42 65 97 60
April 21, 2010 § 2 Comments
I made a flying visit to Paris during our Fontainebleau-based week over the Easter holidays. It’s an easy train journey of just under an hour on the commuter service from Fontainebleau-Avon station to the magnificent Gare de Lyon.
One day I will make a proper visit to the Train Bleu bistro and restaurant within the station but for now I’m just content to look:
After taking in lunch and a visit to the Chopin exhibition at the Cité de la Musique way up in Paris’ north-eastern corner, I decided to hop off the metro 2 stops early and walk back to the Gare de Lyon in the hope of taking in some gastronomic sensory experiences along the way. Bizarrely, most of the district I chose to walk through seemed to be a mecca in shopping terms for either motorbike or DIY enthusiasts. I finally struck gastro-gold in the form of august Parisian pâtisserie Dalloyau as I walked down the Boulevard Beaumarchais on the approach to the Place de la Bastille:
The classic French Opéra cakes in the window looked absolutely stunning – sleek, glossy dark chocolate squares with a discreet flash of gold leaf. Given the shop’s proximity to the Bastille opera house, home to the Paris opera since 1989, I just had to have one.
Inside, the shop has the hushed spare opulent feel of a designer jewelry store, complete with security guard and cashier’s office. While I waited for my precious cake to be taken from the window display and packaged in the covetable burgundy Dalloyau bag, my eye was caught by a display of, you guessed it, yet more macaroons:
Browsing the rather lovely Dalloyau spring collection brochure (it really is like couture) I see that Dalloyau claim to have their own 300 hundred year old secret macaroon recipe. That would suggest a date of 1710 which would, if strictly true, make their macaroons a century older than the Ladurée ones. There is clearly scope for some historical research here. The brochure also says that the special recipe is lower in sugar and higher in their own almond paste to give a more flavoursome macaroon. They also make a big deal about using only natural plant derived colours and also the ultra freshness of their macaroons. Also for the record, their permanent collection of flavours is as follows: chocolate, coffee, caramel, vanilla, pistachio, raspberry, earl grey tea, Cognac and lemon. Clearly I had to put Dalloyau’s macaroon claims to the test.
Here is the little box of macaroons I brought home with me. I chose raspberry, pistachio, chocolate and salted butter caramel flavours:
And here is my gorgeous Opéra cake:
A little research revealed that Dalloyau is a fair-sized business: there are 7 more branches in Paris as well as the one I visited. The business has a long history having been founded back in 1802 by a canny former baker to the royal court. Post-revolution, he correctly thought that the bourgeois populace of Paris would want to have a taste of what had previously been reserved for the aristocracy. He clearly took Marie-Antoinette’s dictum “let them eat cake” seriously. Not only that but Dalloyau was the inventor of the classic French opéra cake which my Larousse tells me is a “cake composed of biscuit Joconde (almond sponge) soaked in strong coffee syrup and layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. An Opéra, whether an individual or larger cake is always rectangular and 3 cm thick. The top is covered with icing decorated with gold leaf on which the word “Opéra” is written.”
Back home I noticed an article on the firm not in a food publication in Real Deals, a private equity magazine. Paris-based Perceva Group has just acquired 50% of the company which has been struggling financially lately. The following Financial Times article of 19 March 2010 is informative:
Who would have thought that a chance visit to a cake shop could provoke a history lesson and an insight into the world of economics!
Back to the real question, what did the stuff taste like? I didn’t expect to be bowled over by the macaroons but they really were a cut above – the pistachio ones were a much more delicate shade of green than the Cassel ones (see my previous post of 21 April 2010) and tasted fresh and intensely nutty. The same was true of the raspberry ones – they delivered a real fruit hit. From now on these are the benchmark.
As for the Opéra, served in dainty pieces, this was a divine after dinner morsel, an ultra-sophisticated version of the more rustic Italian Tiramisu.
The only remaining question is can a bunch of private equity investors really run a cake shop?
Dalloyau flagship store
101, rue du Faubourg St Honoré, 75008 Paris
00 33 (0)1 42 99 90 00
5, boulevard Beaumarchais, 75004 Paris
00 33 (0)1 48 87 89 88
September 22, 2009 § Leave a comment
My aunt’s 70th birthday bash on Saturday night was the raison d’être for my trip to Paris this weekend so I’d better say a few words about the main event. The party had been organised by Auntie Madge’s lovely group of friends who go under the name of the Golden Girls. They’d done her proud putting on a Wild West party (exactly why they chose this theme remains a mystery) complete with line dancing, a Clint Eastwood look-alike, friends and family from around the world, and of course lots of lovely things to eat and drink.
My own contribution was a couple of very simple salads put together from my purchases at Joël Thiébault’s beautiful market stall earlier that day (see previous post). People often try too hard when asked to prepare something for a party – there are too many stars of the show – stunning terrines, tarts, three-bird roasts and the like and not enough simple salads. I decided to put this right and threw together very quickly at my aunt’s apartment before the party a simple potato salad dressed with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. What made it special was the purple potatoes I’d used plus generous quantities of herbs – chervil and chives. I also sliced up the motley bag of tomatoes I’d bought earlier, dressing them with olive oil, basil, salt and just a touch of lemon. I’m gratified to say that both salads disappeared pretty quickly.
Here is an attractive way of serving a dip with crudités for a party. That French sense of style just can’t be held back.
I mentioned that there were friends and family from all over the world. My cousins Pierre and Alain are married to Meryanti (Indonesian) and Yuko (Japanese) respectively. I have a great recipe for Beef Rendang from Mery (as she is usually known) which I will share one of these days. Yuko is a fabulous cook and I will certainly be asking for some of her recipes too.
Yuko had pushed the boat out for the party and had come with a tray of what the French call verrines. I was horrified at first thinking this might be something to do with earthworms. The root of the word is verre – glass, not ver – earthworm and it turns out that verrines are dinky little shot-type glasses of filled with artfully constructed layers of delicious things to eat. Yuko is both practical as well as talented so her verrines were in fact made of disposable plastic (plasticines perhaps?). She’d filled them with layers of chopped prawns, fromage frais mixed with herbs and diced tomato.
It transpires that verrines are all the rage in France. There are whole books, devoted to them and they can inspire flights of fancy leading to obsession. Just have a look here for starters:
and if that appeals, try this:
Enough of this aside on verrines. Not sure if they’ll catch on in the UK but if they do remember you read it first here!
My cousin’s wives Mery and Yuko really are from the far east (as opposed to Wild West) but stealing the show was second cousin Arthur who has reinvented himself as a Buddhist monk and now goes under the name Topgyal. The purple and saffron robes certainly look good at a party.
Sadly my sister Jane couldn’t make it over for the weekend but it was good to have the chance to catch up with my dad. Here we are both in matching cowboy check shirts, the cheat’s answer to fancy dress.
That’s the last of my Parisian posts – back home on Eurostar now with lots of new food ideas.
September 21, 2009 § Leave a comment
During my food-leaning weekend in Paris, I decided that I needed to burn a few calories as well as ingest them. My solution was to take an early morning run from my hotel in the Rue d’Arras on the Left Bank along the Seine then down through the Jardins de Luxembourg and back again through St Germain. This would make a pleasant change from my usual running route back home in Manchester when I swap the Seine for the Bridgewater canal and the Left Bank for Moss Side.
First stop was the Ile de la Cité and majestic Notre Dame thrillingly free of tourists at this early hour:
Just setting up on one of the Seine quais nearby was a Gascon food market filled with enticing looking goose-fat laden produce but sadly not yet open for business.
Crossing back onto the Left Bank I stumbled across the famous Maison Ladurée tearoom and pâtisserie in the Rue Bonaparte and couldn’t resist taking a picture of its over the top window display. Ladurée is quite an institution now, a marketing man’s dream as its website demonstrates http://www.laduree.fr/. I had a bit of a snigger at the whole section of the website devoted to the photos and life history of company President David Holder. That said, he and his father (who interestingly is the brains behind the Boulangerie Paul concept) have clearly built an impressive business on the basis of a single tearoom.
Returning along the Boulevard St Germain, now rather crowded with people looking at the bizarre sight of me, the lone female jogger dodging traffic and pedestrians, I spotted three famous gastronomic establishments. First, Brasserie Lipp, founded in 1880 by Léonard Lipp and now flagship restaurant of the Groupe Bertrand. How times change…
Just across the road are the Cafés Flore and Aux Deux Magots, both haunts of the existentialist and artistic crowd including Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Simone de Beauvoir. Thousands of tourists (self included) throng their now sampling the nostalgia and hoping a little of the stardust will rub off.
Just a little further along the Boulevard St Germain was an enticing collection of neighbourhood food shops: a fantastic looking butcher with ducks on display ready to take flight, a fishmonger with the freshest looking sea urchins for sale and cheese shop with an array of unusual regional cheeses:
How lucky to have such inspiring shopping on your doorstep – it beats the central Manchester offering of Tesco Metro or M&S food hall hands down!
I was on the home straight now as I turned into the Rue Monge but I stopped to photograph one final entrancing shop window, that of Le Bonbon au Palais, the sweetshop of your dreams:
Inside, there were tantalising glimpses of crystallised violets and rose petals and other goodies, all displayed in gorgeous glass jars. Not a branded plastic package in sight. A little bit of internet research reveals, pleasingly, that Le Bonbon au Palais is an independent shop which has delighted bloggers the world over. The website gives you a flavour of what to expect http://www.bonbonsaupalais.fr/.
Run over, it’s time for a well-earned breakfast.