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Category: Cakes

Kouglof

Since I moved to the country, I’ve developed a passion for baking bread. I loved baking cakes in the past, but bread was never my forte. In Paris, I lived in the 7th arrondissement surrounded by ‘maîtres boulangers‘ (baking masters) – all I had to do was run down and follow the scented bread trail. Baking is extremely rewarding, and if ever there was a smell to describe love and family, then freshly baked bread would be it.

I once read a story on Marie-Antoinette and how she introduced an Austrian light tube cake to her friends in Versailles – she was homesick and longed to have her favourite childhood food. This cake was called Kouglof, filled with raisins and crowned with almonds. It became one of the most fashionable cakes in the court of Versailles – everybody could have a little piece of their queen’s history.

I find it very glamorous to bake these old-fashioned cakes – not only for their past and present beauty, but also for the magic of transforming water, flour and yeast into heavenly crusted works of art. Bread baking can hold fears for some people, but once you have understood the purpose of yeast, the basic element of baking, then it will all start to make sense.

Ingredients: (Serves 8)

1st part:

20 g active yeast

70 ml water

100 g plain flour

For the main dough:

450 g plain flour

250 ml lukewarm milk

2 eggs

80 g caster sugar

1 tsp salt

130 g butter

100 g de dried dark raisins

40 ml rhum or kirsch

For the lining of the kouglof mold:

25 g butter

80 g blanched flaked almonds

Soak the raisins in the rum or kirsch. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 70 g lukewarm water and yeast and leave to dissolve and froth for 5 minutes. Add the 100 g flour and mix well – knead for 5 minutes, make it to a shape of a ball. Cover the ball with the remaining 450 g of flour, cover for 20 minutes in a warm place. I always place dough (to be risen) in an unheated oven, and I place a small bowl of boiling water – like this the oven will be humid and warm, a perfect environment for rising dough. After 20 minutes, add the eggs, lukewarm milk, sugar, salt and butter.

Start kneading (pulling and pushing) the dough for 15 minutes of more – consider this as a form of exercise for the arms! The dough should become elastic. Add the soaked raising add the rest of the rum or kirsch in the dough.

Spread butter generously around sides and bottom and into crevices of the kouglof mold. Arrange almonds in bottom of mold. Gently shape dough into roll about 10 or 12 inches long and arrange in a circle in mold. Cover and let rise in a warm spot until dough doubles and is level with rim of mold for about 1 hour.

Pre-heat oven to 180 ° degrees/ 350 F. Place mold on center rack and bake for 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean. When ready, take out of oven and place let it cool for 5 minutes. Then un-mold on a plate.

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Saint Honoré

Some people window-shop, I sometimes like to ‘window-eat, especially when I am outside a store like Ladurée. I often give in to temptation, and go for that particular pastry that I have been eyeing like an eagle – the Saint Honoré. How can one resist the caramel colored puffy pillows sitting on a cloud of vanilla whipped cream?

The Saint Honoré was named after Honoré, a French saint of bakers by M. Chiboust, ‘pâtissier’ on the rue Saint Honoré in Paris. This classic French dessert is made of puff pastry, ‘pâte à choux’ puffs filled with ‘chiboust cream’ and masses of whipped cream. It is often my choice for a birthday cake, and I started making them for my own amusement, thinking I would never really succeed. To my surprise, it is a relatively simple cake to make (just be patient and read the recipe through), and so rewarding. If you want to make someone feel special, then this is the cake.

Ingredients:

One pack of fresh raspberries

Pastry base:
1 good quality ready-made shortcrust pastry sheet

For the puff pastry (pâte a choux):
75 ml water/ 1/3 cup
75 ml/ 1/3 cup full cream milk
60 g/ 2 oz butter (cubed)
80 g/ 3 oz plain flour (sifted)
3 eggs
3 g/ 1/2 tsp
10 g / 2 tsp sugar

In a saucepan, add milk, water, butter, salt and sugar and bring to a simmer. Take the pan away from the heat and add the flour (in one go) and stir constantly until you get a smooth dough. Put back on a low heat for 1-2 minutes to dry it up slightly. Take away from heat. Add the eggs, one by one, and stir gradually to form a smooth dough. Leave to rest at room temperature.

For the caramel:
100 g/ 3.5 oz caster sugar
4 tbsp water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

For the ‘crème patissière’ filling:
300 ml full cream milk
2 eggs yolks
80 g/ 3 oz caster sugar
30 g/ 1 oz corn starch
1 tsp vanilla essence
A dash of rum or kirsch (optional)

In a saucepan, add milk, sugar, vanilla essence and bring to a simmer. Stir well and take off the heat. Add the egg yolks and whisk continuously. Drizzle the corn starch and whisk again – put on a low heat, for 2 minutes, or until the mixture thickens to a thick creamy sauce. Set aside and leave to cool. Then place in the refrigerator to set it properly (15-20 minutes).

Chantilly whipped cream:
250 ml/1 cup whipping cream
20 g/ 4 tsp icing sugar

Whip cream (I use electric whisks), add the sugar after 30 seconds and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Set aside in freezer until you need to use it.

Preparation:

Pre-heat the oven to 180°/ degrees celsius/ 360 F.

Roll pastry into a 8-10 cm/ 3-4 inches round shape and cut out four round disks – you can use a small cake tin or jar lid to make the shape. Place on a parchment-lined baking tray. Cover with a round of greased parchment paper and weigh pastry down with pastry weights (or dried beans). Bake 10 minutes, then remove paper and weights. Bake 10 minutes more. Set aside to cool.

Place the pate a choux dough in a pastry piping bag with a large nozzle and pipe small nut shapes onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside and leave to cool.

When all the ‘choux’ are cool, make a small slit in the base. Use pastry bag with the smallest nozzle tip and ‘inject’ each ‘choux’ with the crème patissière (approx one tbsp per choux). Set aside.

Now you can make the caramel. On a low heat, melt the sugar, teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, and four tablespoons of water in a saucepan. Let the mixture melt. It is very important not to stir until the color starts to turn golden. At this point, shake the pan, until the color slowly turns to caramel golden brown. This process will take approx 15 minutes. Be very careful not to burn the caramel. Take away from heat and place the saucepan in cold water for 5 seconds to stop the heating process.

Dip each ‘choux’ in the caramel, being very careful not too burn your fingers as it is very hot. You can use kitchen pliers or hold the ‘choux’ with a stick if you prefer. Set aside. I like to play around with the rest of the caramel and drizzle it on parchment paper. They can make nice decorations, and it’s delicious!

Now you can decorate the cake. First start with the pastry base, thinly layer with the crème patissière, then pipe little meringue shapes with the whipped cream. Add the caramel covered choux around the cake, and place raspberries around the choux and a few in the center. Continue and finish with whipped cream piped all around. Finish with one ‘choux’ on top.

Aux Lyonnais

Our children are very good eaters. We like taking them to restaurants, and despite a few raised eyebrows, it’s always been a real pleasure (apart from the few times when we traumatized the staff!). It’s a priority for us to teach ‘les enfants’ good ‘food culture’ at an early age, and we find that by introducing them to a varied menu, it widens their palate to new horizons. Could that be the secret to no more picky eaters?

Of all our kids, our little boy Hudson is particularly keen on food. He has been to many restaurants in his life, and ever since he was a baby, he loved eating, especially what we were eating. As a matter of fact, Hudson was nearly born in a restaurant. As I was finishing a superb meal at ‘Aux Lyonnais’ (32, rue St Marc 75002), I started having heavy contractions and had to rush off to the clinic. From that day on, whenever I go back to ‘Aux Lyonnais’ with Hudson, he is referred to as ‘le bébé Lyonnais’! Needless to say, ‘Aux Lyonnais’ became his favourite restaurant at age… three.

Lyon’s gastronomy excellence can be explained by the fact that it’s close to regions providing the best food in France – the chicken from Bresse, beef from Charolais, fruits from the Drome, ‘cochonailles’ (sausages, pâtés, ham…) from the Monts du Lyonnais, and amazing cheeses like Rocamadour and St Marcellin from the Dauphiné. With all these products, the kitchen’s are naturally blessed.

Yesterday, I was going through some old photos and stumbled across Hudson’s picture taken at ‘Aux Lyonnais’. It inspired me to cook a Lyonnais style meatloaf and a smashing pink praline tart with an île flottante – all inspired from my son’s favourite restaurant of course. You can have a full-on experience and do them all. It might look like a bit of a project at first, but with a well planned cooking schedule, the results will be very satisfying!

The lyonnais meatloaf is originally made with a typical Lyonnais pistachio cervelat sausage, but as it is not always easy to find in stores or supermarkets, I chose to make it with minced pork (taken from good quality pork sausages). The ‘brioche’ is a bread bun made with egg, milk, butter and yeast.

The pink praline tart is such a delight to make. Pink pralines are old-fashioned candies – you’ll need almonds, water, sugar and red food colouring. They are so delicious, vintage-looking and pretty in pink. You’ll be using these candies by crushing them in your food processor or with a mortar and pestle, to make the praline tart. They can be easily stored in a glass jar. This recipe (see below) is a simplified version – I was very happy with the result. Save a few pralines to drizzle on the ‘oeufs à la neige’. You can also buy pink pralines at selected fine stores.

Ingredients:

Brioche:

250 grs plain flour
110 grs butter (room temperature cut in cubes)
3 eggs
7 grs dry baking yeast
3 tbsp warm milk
3 tbsp warm water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten, for glaze

In a large bowl, mix flour, yeast, water and milk. Mix well. Incorporate salt and eggs, mix well and add butter. Knead continuously for 15 minutes. When the dough is elastic, shape into a ball, leave in the bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let the dough rise for 1 hour in a warm place. Flatten the dough slightly and place the pork meat filling in the center. Press the edges and seal. Place in a lightly buttered loaf tin and cover with a clean cloth. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat oven 180° degrees celsius. Brush the brioche with the egg yolk and bake for 35–40 minutes until risen and golden brown. Let it cool for 15 minutes place on a wire rack. Serve with a warm potato salad.

For the ‘meatloaf’ filling:

4 skinned good quality sausages
A large handful of good-quality pistachio nuts
1 onion (finely chopped)
1 garlic clove (minced)
30 ml white wine (optional)
1 tsp thyme
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper

Slice onion, mince the garlic. Slice the sausages and squeeze out the pork meat. In a saucepan, fry the onion until soft (4 min) in 1 tbsp butter, add the garlic, thyme and sausage meat for 8 minutes until cooked and semi-golden. Deglaze with the white wine, add salt and pepper. Set aside, add the pistachios, mix well and leave to cool.

Warm potato salad:

4 large potatoes (peeled and cut in 4)
2 shallots (sliced finely)
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp grain mustard
salt and pepper
A dash of chopped parsley

Boil potatoes till tender. In a large bowl, make a vinaigrette by mixing the shallots, olive oil, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Slice the potatoes and add to the vinaigrette. Mix gently and add parsley.

Pink praline tart:

80 almonds
160 grs sugar
140 grs water
3 drops red food colouring
100 ml crème fraîche
Shortcrust pastry (bough from store) or homemade (see recipe below)

Step 1: Make the pink pralines – simple version

On a medium heat, mix almonds, water, sugar and red food colouring in a pan. Do not stir until the water starts to boil, then you can start swirling the pan gently. When the liquid starts to thicken (after approx 5 minutes), stir continuously until you feel a caramel texture. Take away from heat on/off and stir until the sugar crystallizes. Put almonds on parchment paper and let them cool. This process can take up to 12-15 minutes.

Pre-heat oven 180° degrees celsius. Roll out pastry on a floured surface and line the tart baking pan (I use a small 20 cm pan), and place parchment paper with marbles (or any oven-proof weights). Pre-bake your shortcrust pastry approx 15 minutes. Set aside

In a food processor, smash pink pralines into chunky bits. In a pan, add pralines and crème fraîche, boil gently for 15 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy. Leave to cool for 5 minutes and pour in the pastry shell. Leave to cool and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Easy shortcrust pastry

125 grs plain flour
60 ml water
90 grs butter
1/4 tsp salt

Mix water with salt in a large bowl. Slice butter into cubes. Mix all ingredients together, ‘working’ the dough 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for at leat an hour.

Ile flottante:

3 eggs yolks
175 ml milk
1 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
75 grs sugar

For egg whites:
3 egg whites
40 grs caster sugar (for egg whites)
1/4 tsp salt

Separate egg whites and egg yolks. In a saucepan, add milk, sugar and vanilla – bring to a gentle boil. Take off the heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Bring back to the low heat, and whisk for 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly. Set aside and leave to cool.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites, when the mixture starts to set, gradually add sugar and salt, and continue to whisk until firm peaks appear. Place bowl in a microwave for 40 seconds on a low setting. This will firm up the egg whites. Should you not have a microwave, you can place large spoonfuls of required egg whites in boiling water for 30 seconds.
Pour custard into bowls, and shape round large balls (with a large slotted spoon) of egg-whites to place on custard. Drizzle with crushed pink pralines. Serve with a slice of pink praline tart.

Apricot tartlets

We have a big country kitchen table I have always dreamt of having – filled with an abundance of fruits, flowers, vegetables, lots of kids drawing, dogs lying under and delicious home-cooked food. I get very inspired just by looking at the table, and today, I had to do something with the beautiful apricots. I ate a very light lunch and felt like having something sweet, yet tangy, so I made little apricot tartlets. They are so summery and I love the colour!

I always have a home-made pastry dough in the freezer – it’s so easy to make and convenient to store. All you have to do in de-freeze the dough, roll out little circle for the tartlet pans, slice the apricots in half, throw some sugar, mix crème fraîche, 1 egg and sugar and voilà! These are probably the easiest tartlets to make, and they are delicious.

Ingredients: (makes approx 6 tartlets)

14 apricots (cut into four, pits removed)
250 grs shortcrust pastry (home-made or bought in store)
50 grs caster sugar
20 cl crème fraîche
1 egg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
20 grs icing sugar
6 tartlet pans

Easy shortcrust pastry

250 grs plain flour
125 ml water
175 grs butter
1/4 tsp salt

Mix water with salt in a large bowl. Slice butter into cubes. Mix all ingredients together, ‘working’ the dough 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for at leat an hour.

Apricot tartlets

Pre-heat the oven 180° celsius.

Rinse the apricots and pat dry. Cut them in four and remove the pits. Sprinkle with sugar.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut off 6 circles slightly larger than the width of your tartlet pans. (I use a round-tipped knife). Line each tartlet pan.

Whisk crème fraîche, egg, cinnamon and sugar until smooth. Pour a base into each tartlet (approx 1.5 cm deep). Place apricot slices on top. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 30 minutes. When ready, take out from the oven and place on a wire tray. Leave to cool 10 minutes before serving and sprinkle with icing sugar.

I had a lovely moment by the rose garden, having a coffee, tartlets and writing some recipe notes!

Joséphine ruffle cake

Now that it is the month of June, the garden has really come to life. Without noticing it, a miracle has happened. Our walls are like romantic fragrant moodboards pinned with hundreds of beautiful shell pink roses. Having only lived in the country-side for less than two years, gardening has become a new passion. I am discovering flowers and plants everyday and getting a whole new level of ‘green’ education. I am fascinated by all the variety of roses, as there are more than three thousand of them. I can just imagine how lucky Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, was when she established the most beautiful rose garden in Malmaison containing all the roses in the world.

Naturally, roses are my main inspiration these days. I wanted to fulfill this visual treat and add some sweetness to it, so I baked a cake dedicated to the rose garden. Roses and ruffles. I love old-fashioned cakes, something out of time and delicate. An edible fantasy turned into reality!

ps: Happy mother’s day to all the French mothers! It’s mother’s day in France today!

Ingredients:

Cake:

225 grs self-raising flour
225 grs butter, at room temperature
225 grs caster sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
Mix all the ingredients into a large bowl and use an electric whisk on a low-speed. If you want a layer cake, pour the mixture into 2 non-stick (18cm) tins. I used a bundt cake pan (with a ‘swirled’ top and hole in the middle). Place them in the oven till golden brown 15-25 minutes, or until the ‘test-knife’ comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack before decorating.

Buttercream vanilla icing:

140 grs softened butter
150 grs icing/ confectioner’s sugar – sifted
1 tbsp vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
3 tbsp milk
1 tsp red food colouring

Roses for decoration. (Mine are organic)

Mix sifted icing sugar, butter, vanilla essence, salt and milk together in a large bowl. Refrigerate icing in the fridge for 30 minutes so it becomes firm. Sandwich the two cakes with a 1 cm thick icing layer. Fill a pastry bag with the pink buttercream and use a flat line tip for piping (a vertical slit about 1.5 cm length and 3-4mm thick). Start from the bottom of your cake and pipe in a back and forth direction (approx 2-3 cm wide). Repeat all over the cake. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Decorate with beautiful garden roses. Mine are organic.

Baba au rhum

I first discovered baba au rhum (rum baba cake) when I was a child visiting my grandmother in the South of France. Out of all the pastries, I was most fascinated by this one because it was ‘interdit’ (not allowed). Drenched in rum, dressed in whipped cream with a cherry on top, I had to wait a few more years before expressing my food independence.

Invented for an exiled Polish king who thought his marble cake was too dry and who’s favourite book was ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, the baba au rhum is today a national treasure in France. The pâtisserie Stohrer (51 rue Montorgueil 75002 Paris) is the birthplace of the baba. It really is one of the most special pâtisseries in the world.

I like to use a tube baking mold/pan with a ‘swirl’ pattern because it looks old-fashioned and perfect for this timeless cake.

Ingredients:

Cake:

120 grs plain flour
150 grs caster sugar
10 grs baking powder
50 grs melted butter
3 eggs (separated)
3 tbsp warm milk

Cream topping:

250 ml whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
30 grs caster sugar

Rum syrup:

150 ml water
120 ml dark rum
150 grs caster sugar

For coating the cake:
40 grs apricot jam

Pre-heat oven, 180 degrees celsius

Cream egg yolks and sugar. Add the warm milk, melted butter, sifted flour and baking powder. Mix well.

Whisk egg whites till stiff, and gently fold into first batter.

Pour into buttered and floured cake mold.

Bake for 25 minutes. When ready, leave to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Prepare the rum syrup. On a medium to light heat, heat the water and sugar till it starts boiling. Add the rum and lower heat for 2 minutes. Set aside until cool.

Whisk cream and vanilla until stiff, gradually adding the sugar.

Brush the cooled cake with the apricot jam to create a glossy cake.

Slowly pour the cool rum syrup in the center of the cake and wait till fully absorbed. Add the whipped cream in the center and on top of the cake.

Serve with more rum syrup if desired.

Garden cake revisited

Life without love is like a year without a summer‘ – Swedish proverb.

Summer has entered our lives in Médoc, with all its glorious flowers, green trees and lovely singing birds. The sweet and woodsy smell of the pine forest that surrounds us is so energizing!

There is so much life in our garden, from growing tomatoes, lemons, oranges, roses, fuchsias to name a few. Being passionate about flowers, I am starting to get very interested in edible flowers. There is a world of new ideas for recipes coming to my head, especially with lavender and roses, both organically grown here. Due to the popularity of the garden cake, I wanted to make another one with edible flowers and leaves from this season’s crop. I picked a few leaves from our vines, bellflowers (Campanula), thyme flower and lavender, all-organic of course. I couldn’t resist adding a dash of yellow, so I plucked a few tomato flowers, but be careful as they are not to be eaten.

Our new puppies were extremely interested in the cake, as you can see! Hugo, Harper, Halle and Hank are so irresistible – they are 2 and a half months now, and every time I look out the window they have learnt a new trick!

Madeleines

It is impossible not to think of Marcel Proust’s Madeleine scene in his novel ‘In search of lost time’. How a delightful little cake can trigger such vivid childhood memories…

Madeleines are one of France’s most popular tea-time cakes, for all ages, ideal for dipping in a glass of milk or a cup of tea. Shaped like a shell, this little gem of a cake is always a special treat. There are various versions of this famous recipe, but for me, it has to have orange blossom, that is what I love most about madeleines. The smell is pure comfort and joy, reminding me of my children’s scent. Orange blossom is renowned for its purity and calming effects, especially mixed with honey. (That is why I added honey to the recipe).

No wonder Mr. Proust’s mind wandered off… it must have been the orange blossom!

Ingredients:

3 eggs
150 grs plain flour
125 grs butter or margarine (melted)
130 grs sugar
20 grs honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp orange blossom water
Madeleine cake molds (I have silicone ones)

With an electric whisk, cream the sugar, honey, salt and eggs together and fluffy. Sift flour and baking flour together, then gradually fold in the egg mixture and mix gently. Add the melted butter and lemon zest, stir lightly, and leave to rest 2 hours or overnight in the fridge. It is very important for the batter to be cold before baking – the thermal ‘shock’ is necessary for a good ‘bumpy’ round madeleines.

Pre-heat your oven 180 degrees celsius.

Butter and sprinkle your molds with flour. Add one good teaspoon of cold batter into the molds. Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on how big your molds are. When ready, use a round-edged knife to delicately lift each madeleines.