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Category: Dessert

Sarah Bernhardt cakes

SarahBernhardtcakes

As my husband Oddur is Icelandic, I’ve had the pleasure to discover Iceland in all its splendor, especially around Christmas time, when local traditions come to life. I am so enchanted by Icelandic folklore, where fantasy meets reality. Christmas preparations are as important as the festivities themselves. Friends and family gather to bake, create and enjoy anything relating to Christmas. One of my favourites rituals for children is the ‘Shoe in the window‘. On the night before December 12th, Icelandic children put one of their shoes in the window. That’s the night the very first Yule Lad (jólasveinn) called “Stekkjarstaur” comes to town from the mountains. According to Icelandic folklore the thirteen jólasveinar live with their father Leppalúði, their hideous mother Grýla, and the much maligned jólaköttur (Christmas cat). This is the Icelandic version of father Christmas, instead of one, they have thirteen of them. They are much cheekier than Santa Claus! The shoe stays on the window sill until all the Yule Lads (all 13 of them) are in town. Each jólasveinn leaves a little present in the shoe. Only well-behaved children will receive these goodies. The naughty ones get a potato instead. We have pulled the potato trick a few times on our kids, just for fun. You should have seen the look of relief when they found the real goodies tucked away in the shoe!

SarahBernhardtIngredients

My mother-in-law Jóhanna and her best friend Hrafnhlidur bake traditional cakes called Sarah Bernhardt every Christmas. Originally a special festive treat from Danmark, it has become a must-bake in most Icelandic homes during the holidays. Legend has it the Danes were so mesmerized by the French actress Sarah Bernhardt, a cake was created and named after her. There are a few versions, but these almond based meringues covered in a coffee chocolate cream frosting, dipped in dark chocolate, are simply exquisite. Hrafnhildur was kind enough to share her lovely recipe. I just love their crunchiness, to be eaten cold from the freezer. They are exceptionally delicious, I love how you can make so many and store them in the freezer, ready for your guests at any time of the day.

SarahBernhardtinthemaking
SarahBernhardtcake&coffee

Ingredients: (makes about 40-50, depending on size)

Preheat the oven 180°C/ 350°F

For the meringues:
4 egg whites
230 g (2 and 1/3 cups) icing/ confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
250 g (2 cups) ground almond

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. When the egg whites form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes), gently fold in the ground almonds. With the help of two slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites (you can also use a pastry bag with a large round tip) onto the parchment-lined baking tray. The meringues should be about 4-5 cm large/ 1-1.5 cm high (there are no rules, you can make them any size you want!). I like them ‘macarons’ sized, but they can be smaller if you wish.
Bake for about 10-12 minutes on 180°C/ 350°F. Leave to cool for 8-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. When cooled store in freezer for 15-20 minutes (on a plate covered with cling film).

For the cream:
300 g (1 and a 1/4 cup) unsalted butter (room temperature)
250 g (2 and 1/2 cup icing) confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp instant coffee powder (mixed with 1.5 tbsp hot water to dissolve)
3 tsp cocoa powder

Dissolve the instant coffee with 1.5 tbsp hot water. Set aside to cool. Mix the sifted sugar with the butter. Whisk the egg yolks till light and fluffy, the gradually add in the butter mixture. Pour in the dissolved coffee gently, then add the cocoa powder. Mix well to form a smooth and thick cream/ frosting. Cover with cling film and refrigerate.

Chocolate:
300 g/ (2/3 pounds) dark chocolate, melted (for dipping)

Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a heat-proof recipient. Melt over boiling water for a few minutes until chocolate is completely melted. (You can also use the microwave for those who prefer).

To assemble:

Take out the meringues from the freezer and cream from the refrigerator. Spread the cream (about one and a half tsp) over the base of each meringue (see photo). It should look like a small dome. Use the spoon or a palette knife to smooth the surface. Place in a container and return to the freezer for 15 minutes so they can harden.

After 15 minutes of freezing, take out the cream covered meringues (they should be hard by now) and dip each one in the melted chocolate so the cream side is entirely covered. Make sure the chocolate is not too warm. Leave to set.

Line a large tin/ container with parchment paper and place the meringues inside. Cover with paper and close lid tightly. Keep in freezer (they can keep for up to a month). They should be eaten cold and taken out 5 minutes from freezer before serving. Perfect with tea or coffee.

SarahBernhardtbox

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A French Thanksgiving in Médoc

After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives. Oscar Wilde

My family and I are from all over. My mother is French, my father Chinese, my husband is Icelandic and a quarter German, my grandfather was Polish… Une famille bien mélangée as one would say. French is the main language at home, but so is English, followed by Icelandic and Chinese (Mandarin). Whatever works.
Culture defines who we are and enables us to express ourselves. When you have so many different ones within your family, you start combining all sets of beliefs and try to be as open-minded as possible. I call it wisdom.
I have been so inspired lately by the Thanksgiving preparations from my friends and fellow bloggers. Having been invited to a few Thanksgiving events in my life mostly through American amis, I have never had a chance to truly celebrate it at home. So last night, I decided to prepare a little French Thanksgiving repas familial.

We are all so busy, so caught up in our daily lives that any reminder to stop and think ‘What am I thankful for’ is wonderful. It’s a beautiful thought, and there aren’t enough of those these days.

I am so thankful for my family, they are my love and inspiration, my raison d’être. It’s been two years since we embarked on an adventurous move to Médoc. It’s been a sensational world of discoveries, stimulation and revelations. I love the nature that surrounds us, the new friends we have met, the freedom we give to our dogs, the joy we share at the table.

Château Lanessan

One of the perks of living in this part of France is being able to drop by a château to buy wine. I recently went to château Lanessan to get a few good bottles and walk through the vineyards. I always make sure to bring my friends there. We enjoy the wine-tasting and visiting the property surrounded by beautiful horse stables. It’s one of my favourite châteaux in Médoc, so enchanting in its neo-Tudoresque style. There’s something terribly romantic about that place. It certainly stirs one’s imagination. My children call it the Scooby-Doo ghost castle, I call it the ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ château.

Right here, right now, the best place to be is in the vineyards. The golden leaves are dancing away from the autumn wind, soon the trees will be bare leaving me chagrined. For now, I am reflecting on the honeyed caramel hues, so pleasurable to the eye and to the soul. Could these gourmand colours be an appetite opener? I would like to think so.

Honey Bee

So here was the menu for my improvised Thanksgiving. We started with a potage de topinambours (Jerusalem artichokes) with parsnip chips. Just the word topinambour sounds so festive, like a soup with drum beats! We then enjoyed a cocotte de daube de boeuf (beef stew) with autumn vegetables. For dessert, I chose my all-time favourite, a Mont-blanc. It’s my version of a Mont-blanc (classic dessert that looks like snow-capped mountain), a meringue with whipped cream, the all mighty god of all goodies crème de marron, and marrons glacés (chestnuts candied in sugar and glazed). It’s about time I share my love and passion for chestnut vanilla cream from Clément Faugier. I am a huge fan since I was a kid, eating it straight from the pot or mixed with fromage blanc. It’s a cream made of chestnuts, vanilla and sugar. I hope you can all get it, one way or another, for it is my most treasured péché mignon (sweet weakness)!

As if our family tree was not complicated enough, it recently grew a few more branches. Our dog family is as diverse as the human one. We have two new additions, an American and a Hungarian. Miss Honey Bee, (a smooth fox terrier from American lines) and Luc (another smooth born to our two wonderful Hungarian imports Yul and Sky). Now that’s something to be thankful for!

Black pig sausage & Luc

Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

Topinambours potage
500 g/ 1 pound topinambours-Jerusalem artichokes (peeled and sliced coarsely)
500 ml/ 2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 shallot (sliced)
20 ml/ 2 tbsp olive oil
100 ml/ 1/2 cup crème fraîche
A pinch of fresh parsley
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)

Parsnip chips:
4-5 parsnips
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt (for seasoning)
In a large heavy saucepan, fill oil no more than halfway and heat to 180°C/ 350 F. You can test one slice of parsnip, drop it in the oil – if it starts sizzling, the oil is ready. Fry parsnip slices by batches, 2-3 minutes each, or until golden. Set aside to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Peel the Jerusalem artichokes, slice coarsely and set aside. In a large pot, heat olive oil and fry the shallots for 3 minutes. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and continue frying for 3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add chicken stock. Lower heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Mix in food processor until you get a smooth and velvety soup. Return to pot, season more if necessary and add crème fraîche. Serve immediately with sprinkled parsnip chips and parsley.

Daube de boeuf (beef stew – to be prepared the night before)
1 kg/ 2 pounds paleron de boeuf (beef shoulder, or preferred stewing-type beef)
150 g chunk of bacon/ 1/3 pounds (cut in sticks, lardons or sliced)
250 ml/ 1 cup red wine
250 ml/ 1 cup beef stock
2 small parsnips (cut in chunks)
1 carrot (cut in chunks)
5 small topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes (sliced in semi-thick rondelles)
1 leek (sliced in two pieces)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1 large onion (sliced)
1 shallot (sliced)
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp flour
1 bay leaf
A small handful of chopped chives
Salt and pepper (for seasoning)
50 g/ 1/4 cup unsalted butter (for frying)

Place beef with sliced onions, 3 cloves, bay leaf and thyme in a bowl. Pour wine, cover with cling film and marinate overnight in the fridge. You can add a bit of water so the beef is covered. The next day, drain beef and pat dry, reserve wine and herbs, discard cloves. In a large cocotte/ pot, melt the butter, brown beef on all sides and set aside on a plate. In the same pot, add a bit more butter, fry the onions, bacon and shallot for 3 minutes, add the garlic, carrot and beef. Take off the heat, add flour, mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Return to heat, add reserved wine and leave to reduce for a few minutes. Add the stock. Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon, add the thyme, bay leaf, parsnips, leek and sliced topinambours/ Jerusalem artichokes. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 2-3 hours, or until beef is tender.

Mont-blanc
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour
A pinch of fine salt
320 g/ 1 1/2 cups sugar
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
300-400 g/1 1/2 cup crème de marrons/ chestnut cream
6 marrons glacés/glazed candied chestnuts (cut in small chunks)
Icing sugar (for garnishing)

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. The egg whites should form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes). With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak.
Bake for about 1 hour. Switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

To assemble:
Whip the cream, place 2 tbsp on each meringue. Pipe the chestnut cream (pastry bag with a small round tip), add small chunks of marrons glacés on top and sprinkle with icing sugar.

Pomegranate meringues

I just love it when it’s pomegranate season. The beautiful colours of this sweet and tangy fruit make me feel so festive. That’s why I love to dress the little ruby seeds with a big crimson red swirled meringue. Pomegranate goes so well with orange blossom water, so I teamed these two ingredients to make a delicious syrup. Served with whipped cream and pomegranate seeds, this dessert, to quote my daughter, is the ultimate princess treat.

Ingredients:

For the meringues
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp red food colouring
A pinch of fine salt
320 g/ 1 1/2 cups sugar
2 pomegranates, seeds only
350 ml/ 1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Pomegranate and orange blossom water syrup:
Juice of 3 fresh pomegranates
1 1/2 tbsp orange blossom water
5 tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. When the egg whites form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes), gently fold in the red food colouring, creating swirls. With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. The meringues should be about 10-12 cm large and 6 cm high. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak.
Bake for about 1 hour. Switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

For the syrup:
Squeeze the juice of the 3 pomegranates. Heat in a saucepan, add orange blossom water and sugar. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer until thick and glossy. Leave to cool and set aside.

To serve:
Serve meringues with whipped cream, a handful of pomegranate seeds on top and drizzle with the pomegranate and orange blossom water syrup.

My grandmother’s crème caramel

I was invited to write this crème caramel recipe for Joanna Goddard’s ‘A cup of Jo‘ blog. It’s a wonderful recipe series called ‘The best … ever’, featuring many of my favourite food bloggers like Deb from Smitten Kitchen (I love making her egg sandwich recipe). It really is the best ever!

My French grandmother loved making this dessert. I always remember how the lovely caramel perfumed her kitchen; it’s the kind of sweet smell any child would dream about. Watching her make caramel was a treat; it looked like magic, seeing the white sugar turn into a golden brown caramel. This is why crème caramel is my favorite dessert—it’s the ultimate family food that warms my heart. She added a little lemon rind to make the taste extra special. This grand classic is very easy to make — you just need to be careful and patient with the caramel.

For the caramel:
100 g/ 1/2 cup caster sugar (or superfine sugar)
1 tsp. fresh lemon rind
4 tbsp water

For the rest of the recipe:
500 ml/2 cups whole milk
50 g/ 1/4 cup regular sugar
½ tsp. lemon rind
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
4 eggs

You’ll also need a ramekin mold, charlotte mold or dariole mold.

What to do:

Pre-heat oven to 300F/150° celsius.

To make the caramel: On low heat, melt the caster sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan. Let the mixture melt. It’s 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. Take away from heat, and pour immediately into the mold. Be careful not to burn yourself as caramel temperature is burning hot. Swirl your mold in a circular motion so the edges get covered in the caramel.

Heat milk in a saucepan. When it starts to boil, lower the heat, and add sugar, lemon rind, vanilla and salt. Stir, leave for one minute and set aside.

Whisk four eggs in a large bowl, and pour in the warm vanilla milk. Make sure to whisk continuously while you are doing this so the eggs don’t coagulate. Pour the egg mixture into the caramel-lined mold.

Place your mold in a large roasting tin, pour hot water so it comes up to nearly two-thirds of the mold. This process is called ‘bain-marie.’ Bake for 55 minutes—if your knife comes out clean then it’s ready. It should feel springy and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. Once cool, leave in the fridge for a least an hour so it chills.

When you are ready to serve, gently loosen the sides with a palette knife. Place a serving dish on top and turn upside down. You can tap the top with a spoon to facilitate the un-molding. Be patient. You should have a lovely crème caramel, with a pool of golden caramel on the sides.

Mad about plums

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the ‘red velvet plums with pain perdu’. This is, for sure, a show stopper of a dessert. It could also be breakfast, or brunch, depending on your decadent hungry mood. Inspired by the colours on my kitchen table, the plums were screaming ‘Think red!’. So there I was, seeing red on a plate, slowly adding some matching taste. Cinnamon, star anise, sugar and of course, some red wine. Themed like a cabaret show, with lots of heavy red velvet curtains and the whole spicy pizzazz. Served with a rustic pain perdu and you have a hit.

Instead of having a dinner and a show, I thought of a drink and a show. The show being the plums and pain perdu. The drink is none other than ice-cold red wine mixed with sugar and crushed strawberries. It’s very good indeed. It’s definitely over-the-top to serve all this together, but isn’t that what a good show is all about?

Pain perdu (French toast) is such a satisfying meal to make. It was called ‘lost bread’ because the bread was so old and stale that if it wasn’t cooked in this manner, it would have been lost. I used three-day old country bread, soaked in two eggs, milk and sugar. By only using two eggs, I find the ‘toasts’ to be lighter, airier and more to my taste.

Ingredients: (serves 8 slices)

Red velvet plums:
8 medium plums (halved and stones removed)
300 ml red wine + 2 tbsp (I used Beaujolais)
130 g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

Slice plums in half (horizontally), remove the stones and place in a bowl. Pour the red wine and cover for one hour at room temperature. Drain the plums and save the red wine. In a saucepan, pour the saved red wine + 2 tbsp, add sugar, cinnamon stick, star anise and cook on a low heat until sugar has entirely dissolved. Turn the heat slightly higher and bring the mixture to a boil until it becomes syrupy. Lower heat again and add plums (flesh down). Stir occasionally and gently. Cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes, depending on how ripe the plums are. Set aside.

Pain perdu:
8 slices of stale country bread (or any bread of your choice)
2 eggs
75 g caster sugar
240 ml milk
5-6 tbsp unsalted butter (for frying)

Mix sugar, egg and milk in a large bowl or deep dish and whisk ingredients together until slightly frothy. Soak bread slices on both sides (if bread is stale, soak 8 minutes of each sides, if bread is not stale, soak 4 minutes on each sides). Heat butter in a frying pan on a medium heat. Make sure not to over heat the butter. Add the bread by batches (depending on the size of your pan). Fry 2-3 minutes on each sides. Bread should be golden brown.

Serve pain perdu with the plums and syrup on top.

Strawberry wine cocktail:

400 g fresh strawberries (hulled)
5-7 tbsp sugar (depending on your taste)
1 bottle of red wine (I would recommend a red wine that is nice served cold such as a fresh Burgundy ‘Pinot noir’ or a Beaujolais)

Wash strawberries. Chop coarsely to very small cubes, or place in a food processor and mix for a few seconds. Place in a large jug, sprinkle with sugar and pour red wine. Mix gently. Leave to macerate in fridge for 1-2 hours. Mix gently before serving. Serve ice-cold.

Chocolate swirl meringues

Meringues are the most pleasurable desserts to make from start to finish. From separating the eggs, whisking up a sky of fluffy clouds, shaping them into pretty petticoats, these sweet confections are simply magical. When I was small, I always imagined clouds tasted like vanilla meringues. Slightly crisp on the outside, creamy yet airy inside. As intimidating as they may look, meringues are actually very simple to make as long as you follow a few basic rules. Always whisk egg whites at room temperature, add sugar little by little, and try to keep the whisk as horizontal as possible. It is similar to creating foam, which is a collection of bubbles. The cornflour acts as a binding agent, and the sugar stiffens the foam. The best part of these meringues is folding in the cocoa powder. It instantly forms beautiful long ribbon-like swirls. When baked the cocoa somehow melts inside creating a meringue filled with a soft chocolate fondant. I call this culinary art. These chocolate swirl meringues are timeless delights. I love them best served with crème Chantilly (whipped cream) and semi-drenched in a luxurious dark chocolate sauce.

Ingredients:
6 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1 + 1/2 tsp cornflour (I use maïzana)
2 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder
A pinch of fine salt
320 g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 140° C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Meringues:(makes about 5-6 meringues)

In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites (I use a pair of electric whisks) and salt on a high-speed until frothy – try to keep the whisk position as horizontal as possible. Add the cornflour and sugar (1-2 tbsp at a time) gradually and continue whisking. You should add the sugar in small quantities until the end of the process. When the egg whites form stiff peaks (this usually takes about 10-15 minutes), gently fold in the cocoa powder. You should create nice swirls in the egg whites. With the help of two large slotted spoons, spoon the egg whites onto the parchment-lined baking tray. The meringues should be about 10-12 cm large and 6 cm high. ‘Twirl’ your spoon around and finish off with a spiky peak. Finally ‘dust’ some cocoa powder on top of each meringue and use a small fork to gently draw a few more swirls.
Bake for 1 hour 10 minutes, switch off the oven, and leave them to cool inside the oven with the door slightly open for 15 minutes.

Chocolate sauce:

40 g good-quality cocoa powder
100 ml water
50 g sugar
40 g golden syrup (or corn syrup)
20 g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces

Mix the cocoa powder, water, sugar, golden syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Remove from heat and add dark chocolate pieces. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Set aside at room temperature for an hour before serving.

These little ‘meringues’ have been out of the oven for 3 weeks!

From quail to quince

The vineyards around Médoc are looking very handsome these days. The grapes have ripened to a velvety dark colour, looking robust and just about ready to be picked. I found out this week harvest dates will be postponed till October. It has been a dry year and the grapes need to mature for a few more weeks. Rumour has it that 2012 will be a good year.

Once in a while, we love going on a little family escapade. We drive through tiny villages, stop by a château and chat with winemakers. By chance, we met M. Gilles Hue, proprietor of Château Haut Garin, located in Prignac-en-Médoc. It’s exactly the kind of small château you want to find, where you can chat with the owner on wine, on the art of enjoying baguette, on the practicality of his old Citroen car and his general remembrance of things past. We bought a bottle of his cru bourgeois 2000 (the bottle cost 8 euros). Since I had previously bought a few quails, I had the idea to cook them wrapped in vine leaves. So I picked a few leaves from the vineyards and hurried home to make another little feast.

M. Hue was not pleased with his baguette delivery this morning – it was too soft. So he left it standing by the kitchen window for a crustier effect.

M. Gilles Hue, proprietor of Château Haut Garin.

On our way home, we saw a beautiful line of trees leading to what it seemed to be another château. And there it was, a hidden gem, a treasure left to its own devices, in the middle of the Médocan nature. A fairy-tale castle built for princes and princesses, tucked away in the bushes, fallen into ruins and reminding us of an elegant past. We were transported on a journey through the history of this abandoned castle where a lot is left to our imagination. The overgrown garden looks like the land time forgot. Could the story behind the castle’s abandonment be of lost fortunes? My daughter Mia suddenly looked like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, grabbing Harry (our little furry Jack Russell) in her arms – he was scared of the big white bull in the garden, she was frightened by the ghostliness of the castle. I am always the hopeful romantic, thinking it was fate that we found this castle and one day it shall be ours.

Back home I cleaned the vine leaves and the quails. I enjoyed wrapping the birds in the leaves and securing each one of them with butcher’s twine. I felt like a determined Babette (from Babette’s feast – a must-see food-lover movie) in the kitchen. My table was glowing thanks to the golden Chasselas grapes from Moissac. They always warm my heart as Moissac is my grandmother’s hometown. It’s a beautiful village, home to the impressive Saint-Pierre Abbey dating back from the 7th century. When you adventure about you will find ancient medieval monasteries, famous for their quince jams and honey. The remote lives of the monks chanting in the hills remain a mystery. It certainly provides a lot of inspiration for a novel.

Talking about quince, we bought several big ones last week. My youngest baby daughter Gaïa loves my home-made quince compote with honey and cinnamon. I try not to buy ready-made baby food anymore (unless I am travelling). I enjoy preparing little meals which I store in old labelled jam jars. To end the quail dinner, I made a quince tarte tatin. Quince have a delightful tangy taste, a mixture between pears and apples. This simple quince tarte tatin recipe is perfect for autumn evenings (and winter too!). The golden caramel melts through the quince, need I say more? I always serve this gourmand dessert warm with a obligatoire dollop of crème fraîche.

Ingredients:(serves 4)
Roast quails with vine leaves
8-10 quails (2 to 3 per person)
8-10 slices bacon
A sprig of fresh thyme
Chasselas grapes, or good-quality smaller grape variety
40 ml cognac
25 g butter (at room temperature)
5 cloves garlic (halved)
Vine leaves (smaller ones are better, 2 leaves per quail)
Butcher’s twine
Salt and pepper

Peel and deseed grapes (you can save a lot of time if you buy seedless grapes!), place in a bowl and soak in cognac for 2 hours. Clean vine leaves and pat dry.
Preheat over to 200 °C.
Wash and dry the quails. Add half a clove of garlic, thyme, 2-3 peeled and deseeded grapes, sprinkle with salt and pepper inside the quail. Rub the quail all over with butter, wrap with bacon. With butcher’s twine, tie the quail around the circumference, turn the quail over and tie the twine around the circumference again. Place a vine leaf on top, and one on the bottom, and secure with a small piece of twine. Sprinkle quails with salt and pepper.
Roast quails, and after 15 minutes, pour the grape mixture with cognac all over. Roast for a further 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how golden the quails look. Turn quails halfway. Make sure to check if the grapes and cognac don’t dry up or burn.

Serve with pan-fried potatoes with garlic and thyme.

Potatoes with garlic and thyme:
10 small potatoes (slice)
3 garlic cloves (sliced)
Olive oil
A sprig of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Slice potatoes, leave the skin on (6-7mm thick). In a large frying pan, heat olive oil on medium heat, add potatoes, making sure they are all coated in oil. Stir frequently so they don’t stick to the pan. After 10 minutes, add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper. Lower heat slightly and continue frying. The potatoes should be cooked after 25-30 minutes.

Quince tart tatin with crème fraîche

Quince tatin

Quick & easy shortcrust pastry:
300 g plain flour (sifted)
150 g butter (diced and at room temperature)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
80 ml lukewarm milk

In a large bowl, mix butter, salt sugar and butter. Mix well with your hands, pour milk gradually and form a soft dough. Shape into a ball. On parchment paper, sprinkle a generous amount of plain flour, roll dough with a rolling-pin. Form a circle slightly larger than the diameter of the cake/tart tin.

Filling
3 large quince (or 5-6 small ones. Peeled, cored and cut into 2 cm thick wedges)
200 g caster sugar
100 g butter (diced and at room temperature)
1 tsp cinnamon
20 g sugar (for sprinkling)

Tip: I would advise to make the caramel in a sturdy pan and pour into the cake tin. Cake tins are usually very thin and somehow my caramel never seems to ‘work’ well.
In a 20 cm large pan, add sugar and melt on a low heat. Do not stir until the sugar has melted and starts to turn ‘golden blond’. At this point, take away from heat and add butter. Stir until butter has melted, and immediately pour into cake tin. It should cover the entire base. Set aside.
Peel, core and cut quince into 2 cm wedges. Carefully arrange the quince in the cake tin, round-side down. You may need to cut some of the quince into smaller pieces to fill in the gaps. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon frequently. Seal the tatin with the rolled shortcrust pastry. Tuck in the edges, gently spike the dough with a fork all over. Bake for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden, then remove from the oven. Cool for 5 minutes. Serve warm with crème fraîche.

Dinner for friends

What to cook for homesick French friends? Well, les grands classiques, bien sûr! My friends Jean-Pierre and Alexia came over for a visit last week-end. They left Paris three long years ago and came back to France for a little holiday. They absolutely love their new life, but had turned into homesick Parisians, or, should I say homesick for good old French food. Nothing can really replace the authentic taste of baguette, country bread, Normandy butter and fresh foie gras from the Gers region. I can understand exactly how they feel as I have been in a similar situation when I lived abroad. Sentimentally speaking, I had to cook food that meant the world to me. Good times, good friends and good food have a precious link.

Pastis before…

And Pastis after (diluted with water).

So here was the menu: A little glass of Pastis for an apéritif. The hot summer nights call for a little anis seed infused cooling drink. For starters, a hearty old-fashioned onion soup that is so good you will want to keep this recipe forever. Served with Comté cheese tartines. The main course had to be special. In France, we have the Eiffel tower, we have couture, we have wine, and we have foie gras. Foie gras is the national festive food, often served for Christmas, new year’s eve or any special occasion. And there are so many special occasions. I got a glistening piece of foie gras from a producer in the Gers (he has a reputation for being ethical and working with proper methods).

Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac

Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples (flambés with cognac) on toast

Pan-fried foie gras with poached egg and Périgueux sauce

As they are good old friends dashing with humour, I couldnt’ help making a little ‘Portrait Chinois‘ (if you were a dish, what would you be?) of them through my cooking. For Jean-Pierre, it had to be the poached egg version with Périgueux sauce as his family is originally from there. For Alexia, the golden rosé apples match her beautiful mane, for my husband, a baked version with Chasselas grapes macerated in Cognac, very masculine and deep. And for me, a simple pan-fried version with figs and Chasselas grapes, since they come from my grandmother’s hometown Moissac. September rhymes with Chasselas grapes.

And what a better way to finish this sumptuous meal than with a Paris-Brest? A decadent choux pastry filled with praline and coffee cream reminding us all of good times spent at Chez Michel (10 Rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris), one of our favourite bistrots in Paris, where they make the best Paris-Brest in the world.

May good times last forever.

Main ingredients:
1 good-quality duck or goose foie gras (approx 500 g), veins and impurities removed, cut into 1-1.5 cm/ 1/2-inch thick slices
300 g Chasselas grapes (or good quality small green grapes)
8 small figs
1 golden rosé apple
Country bread
Cognac

Fig heaven

1) Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples and cognac.
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice apples horizontally.
In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras and apples. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras and apples. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the apples to cook for 3-5 mores minutes turning them on each sides. Drain the pan, keeping a little bit of duck fat and fry slice of bread in pan for 10 seconds on each sides. Serve apples and bread with foie gras.

2) Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac
Preheat oven 200°C. Peel and remove pips from grapes. Place in a bowl and soak in cognac for at least 2 hours. Place foie gras in a heat-proof small oven dish (I use a small Staub cocotte) and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, drain the fat and add macerated grapes in dish. Bake for 8 more minutes and serve.

3) Pan-fried foie gras with Chasselas grapes and figs
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice figs in quarters. Rinse and dry Chasselas grapes. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras, figs and grapes. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras, figs and grapes. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the figs and grapes to cook for 3 more minutes. Serve immediately.

4) Pan-fried foie gras with sauce Périgueux and poached egg.
Sauce Périgueux:
50 g butter
200 ml stock
1 small glass white wine
1 shallots (finely sliced)
2 g salt
10 g flour
1 bay leaf
1 chopped black truffle
2 g pepper

Chop the truffle and set aside. In a small pan, melt butter and fry shallots until soft. Add flour, stir well, add wine and reduce for 2 minutes. Stir well. Gradually add stock and stir constantly. Add bay leaf, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat. The sauce should be slightly thick and creamy. Strain the sauce and add the chopped truffle last.

Egg: In a shallow pan of boiling water, add 1 tsp of white wine vinegar. Prepare your egg by breaking it into a little cup so it’s easier to pour into the boiling water. When the water is boiling, pour in the egg in the water. Cover with a lid for 3 minutes, then check if it needs a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ to make the form rounder. You can use a large slotted spoon for this. Depending on how well you like the egg cooked, 3-5 minutes should complete the task. When ready spoon egg onto a plate. Set aside and drain.

Foie gras: Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Place the egg on top, drizzle generously with sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Old-fashioned French onion soup with Comté tartines
1 kg large yellow onions (sliced finely)
50 g duck fat (alternatively you can use butter instead)
1.5 litre good-quality chicken stock
100 g Comté cheese
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Old-fashioned French onion soup

Peel onions and slice them finely. In a large pot, heat duck fat and cook onions on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and cook for 15 minutes. Scoop out half of the onions and purée the onions in a food processor. Return the pureed onions to the soup and mix well. The soup should have a nice smooth velvety consistency as well as bits of onions.
In a pre-heated oven 200 °C, grill a few slices of country bread topped with a slice of Comté cheese for a few minutes until cheese has melted and slightly golden. Serve soup in individual bowls, add a melted cheese tartine on top of each bowls and season with salt and pepper.

Paris-Brest

Paris-Brest
(serves 8-10)
For the choux pastry ring:
150 g plain flour
140 ml water
90 ml milk
90 g butter
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
3 tbsp flaked/sliced almonds
Icing sugar (for sprinkling)

For the cream filling:
5 egg yolks
80 g sugar
40 g flour
60 g ready-made praline mix (it’s a mixture of sugared ground almonds and hazelnuts – nearly like a paste)
350 ml full-cream milk
2 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)
175 g good-quality butter – at room temperature
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

For the choux pastry:
Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, add milk, water, butter, salt, 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 2-3 minutes to dry it up slightly. Take away from heat. Off the heat, add the beaten eggs, slowly (reserve 4-5 tbsp for final brushing) and stir gradually to form a smooth dough. Leave to rest at room temperature. Line baking tray with parchment paper and trace a 20 cm circle. Place the choux dough in a piping bag with a large nozzle (2.5 cm) and pipe the 20 cm ring. Pipe a second ring around the inside next to the first ring. Finally, pipe another ring on top of these two rings. Use remaining beaten egg adding a small pinch of salt – brush top ring with egg and sprinkle evenly with sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is firm and golden. Take out from oven and immediately slice the ring horizontally into two layers so the steam escapes. Set aside and leave to cool.

For the cream filling:
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy and light. Stir in the flour. In another pan, bring milk to a boil with the salt and coffee, stirring until the coffee dissolves. Whisk the milk into the egg mixture, return it to the pan, and whisk over gentle heat until boiling. Once thickened, cook the cream gently for one minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool completely, until cold. Once cooled, gradually ‘smooth’ in butter with a spatula, alternating with the praline. Note: If you are not a praline or coffee flavour fan, you can alternate and create your own filling with rum, vanilla, chocolate. As you wish.

Assembling:
Scoop cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle. Put the lower half of the pastry ring on a serving plate. Pipe the cream in ‘rosettes’ onto the ring and set the upper ring on top. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Keep in refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.