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Wednesday, June 28, 2006
La vie en rose - Macarons à la rose de Pierre Hermé

[Life in pink - Pierre Hermé's Rose macarons]

I think one of the best secrets for incredible food is bright and eye-catching colours; at least in the patisserie realm.
You're not so sure?
Check Ladurée's religieuse, Fauchon's éclairs or Hermé's truffles. Don't they look yummy?

I do love black and white photos but I believe that colour photography enhances the deliciousness of food.
However some people can even make food look scrumptious in b&w.
But to tell the truth, when I look at black and white food pictures, my eyes do their best to retrieve the colours.
Though, it seems that simple objects (like vegetables or fruits) benefits from black and white; in contrast elaborated dishes can't go without colour (at least in my mind). I'm afraid to say that even if this quiche looks mouth-watering, a colour picture would have made it twice as good.

There is something I particularly fancy about colour in food: when the colour leads your senses somewhere the taste definitely isn't. Imagine a red religieuse. You think strawberry. I say tomato. Another good example is the crème brûlée I recently made. Green! You think Matcha. I say Guimauve.
Here are the consequences of the trendy cuisine.
But sometimes it can be a disappointment; the reality being far from what you expected.
That's why I have to admit I also like colours to be more classic: chocolate brown for chocolat or purple for violette.

I love to describe a colour tone by adding a food adjective (like pistache for pistachio green) because it shows how much food and colour are related.
One of the best example remains rose.
Rose is both a colour [pink] and a flower [rose].

You might have noticed I am a big pink lover: from life in general to food (one of my pictures was even said to have an Alice in Wonderland look).
So when I saw this recipe for Rose Macarons in my favourite Pâtisserie cookbook, I had to make it.

Macarons à la rose
Macarons are quite tricky. When making them you should really take care to the following few points:
1. Blitz in a food processor the almonds and icing sugar for a good minute.
2. Sieve the almond/icing sugar powder twice.
3. Bring the syrup (used for the Italian meringue) to at least 120°C.
4. Continue whisking the meringue until it's almost cold.
5. Watch the oven temperature – too hot and the macarons will crack (I recommend 160°C).
I followed all these steps and after two disasters, I finally came up with my almost perfect macarons.
You should have seen me, jumping, shouting and singing in the kitchen. Anyway it's been one of the best food moments of my life.

These macarons are luscious. I love the combination of almond and rose, filling the house and hearts with a delicious Mediterranean scent.

I didn't have any rose syrup and essence on hand so I used a 50g of
Confit de Rose instead.
A great add-on would be to sprinkle the ganache with bits of Rose Nougat.

Macarons à la rose
makes 500g

for la crème à la rose
100g couverture white chocolate, melted
100g double cream
10g rose syrup
1g rose essence

Bring the cream to the boil and mix in the melted white chocolate, rose syrup and essence.
Pour the mixture into an airtight tin and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

for le tant-pour-tant
125g almond powder
125g icing sugar

Blitz in a food processor and sieve.

for le macaron à la rose
125g caster sugar
31g water
47g "aged" egg whites
pink food colouring (fanny: I felt I was cheating here but I do so wanted to get the Alice in Wonderland look)
250g tant-pour-tant
43g fresh egg whites

Preheat the oven to 160°C.
In a sauce pan, put the sugar and water and bring to 120°C.
When the syrup reaches 114°C, start whisking the aged egg whites and when the syrup is ready (=120°C), pour it over the egg whites and continu whisking until cold.
The meringue should be thick and glossy.
Add the food colouring until it reaches the colour you want (fanny: I find that once baked, the macarons were paler, so if you want a brighter colour you should add a little extra food colouring).
Mix in the tant-pour-tant and the fresh egg whites.
The mixture should be still firm, but softer and very glossy.
Pipe the batter small rounds (2cm) onto a lined baking sheet and bake for 9 minutes (oven door maintained open with a wooden spoon).
Let cool for 2 minutes then carefully detach the macarons from the baking mat and set aside.
Continue until there is no mixture left.

for le montage des macarons
Pair the macarons of the same size and pipe the ganache onto one the macarons.
Sandwich and refrigerate for at least 24h before eating.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006
Bonne fête Papa! - Tarte aux pommes délicieuse

[Happy father's day, Daddy - Delicious apple tart]
J'espère que tu vas passer une bonne journée.
Je te fais plein de bisous.
PS: Maman, j'en profite pour te souhaiter une bonne fête aussi (avec un peu de retard!).

An apple tart is something nobody can resist. It's the never-fail dessert.
People coming? Just quickly make the shortcrust pastry, cut the apples and you're ready to provide something simple yet delicious.
If you ask different people how they make their apple pie, you'll end up collecting tons of different recipes that'll span every realm, from tarte fine aux pommes to butterscotch apple tart; from double apple pie to tarte tatin.

I like my apple tart to have some custard on top. I reckon it adds a creaminess the apples alone can't bring.
Or maybe you'll prefer picking a nice red apple directly from the tree?
Tarte aux pommes délicieuse
This tart is a good way to use late apples. I love it still warm with a scoop of vanilla icecream.
Note - The shorcust pastry is adapted from Nigella Lawson's How to Eat (page 41).

Tarte aux pommes délicieuse
serves 8

for the shortcrust pastry
150g plain flour
a pinch of salt
75g butter, cold and diced
1 egg
iced water

for the filling
3 big apples, peeled and sliced
125ml double cream
2 eggs
20g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a 26cm tart mould with baking paper.
To make the pastry, mix the flour, salt and butter and rub the fat in with your fingertips until you have a bowl of floury breadcrumbs.
Mis in the egg. And then, add iced water, a teaspoon at a time, until the flour/fat/egg turn into a ball of dough.
Place in the fridge while you get on with the rest.
In a bowl, mix the cream, eggs and sugar, set aside.
Roll the cold dough onto a floured surface and place in the prepared mould.
Arrange the apple slices on the pastry case and pour the cream mixture on top.
Bake for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 180°C and cook for another 20 minutes or until golden.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006
Voyage dans le temps - Chewy peanut butter cookies

[Travel through time - Chewy peanut butter cookies]

American and British cuisines are becoming a big phenomenon, here in France. Everyone wants his piece of cheesecake, his fairycake or his pancakes.
Indeed I reckon it is a good thing that British food finally meets the glory it deserves.

I discovered AmerEnglish food quite early in life. At that time, I would only swear by carrot cakes, London cheesecakes and muffins.
These were so easy to make for a 10-year-old but were also very rewarding: tasty, moist and delicious.

When I went through this 'I love American and British food' phase, one of my favourite ingredients was peanut butter.
I guess I won't be wrong by saying that, in France, we have some wonderful butter. Thus, I was a bit unsure of the combinaison of cachuète and beurre. Was it butter with peanut chunks?
The answer finally came when my mother agreed to buy me a jar of peanut butter. Tout ça pour ça? C'est juste une crème marron [All that mess, just for a brownish paste?].

But when I opened the jar, an irresistible smell came out of it: peanuty yet very sweet.
I could here the crushed peanut shouting 'Eat me, please'. I grabbed the nearest spoon and delighted myself with that sticky paste.

Today, I still love peanut butter, though I buy it less often because of its processed nature.
I have to admit peanut butter isn't that good. But to be honest, I think the only reason I find it so yummy is nostalgia. I might be a bit of a bore with that, but you know how much I believe of the power of the food you've eaten as a child.
Some people have to invent complex machines to travel through time. My solution is far easier. I just open a jar of peanut butter and its smell sends me ten years back.

Chewy peanut butter cookies
I love these cookies: chewy inside and crispy outside.
And the big bonus is the wonderful taste of peanut.
Really, what's not to love? Chewy cookies + delicious peanut-ish taste!

Chewy peanut butter cookies
makes 30 cookies

4 1/2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 cups light muscovado sugar
1 cup caster sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
100g butter, cold and cut in cubes
350g crunchy peanut butter, cold
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 160°C.
In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Rub in the butter and peanut butter until you've got a crumbly texture.
Add the eggs, one at a time and mix until smooth (fanny: the dough should be very crumbly).
Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
Form small balls of dough and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden (fanny: the interior should almost raw; take care because the hot cookies are very difficult to handle with).

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Monday, June 12, 2006
Comment ça y'en a marre des fraises? - Strawberry (soy)milkshake

[How come you're bored of eating strawberries]

Sometimes, you've got to face the truth: you're addicted.
I don't know about you, but the less time a product is available, the more I become obsessed with it.
Strawberries are a good example.
They start pointing their nose out around mid-may and disappear by the end of July. Almost three months, you tell me. Yes sure, but I'll answer: only three months!
But I should consider myself pretty lucky to have real-ruby-red-home-grown strawberries as soon as the beginning of May.

It's now accurate that I do love strawberries. Indeed I love them in every single way.
As a fruit, they're just perfect: juicy, tangy, tasty and gorgeous looking.

Strawberries are so versatile: the real food chameleon.
Fresh, I like them dipped in sugar or in melted chocolate, cut into cubes and drizzled with balsamic vinegar
Other great options are countless: from a mousse to a soup, from a compote to a posh entremet.
Two problems remain:
- too little time
- too many ways to use strawberries

So basically what happens is that you end up making a new strawberry thing everyday and everyone -- except you -- gets bored with strawberries.

Strawberry (soy)milkshake
I love the way the soymilk outlines the natural freshness and creaminess of the strawberries.
This drink is very refreshing and makes a great snack for hot summer days.

Strawberry 'soy)milkshake
serves 2

500g fresh strawberries (I used Mara des bois, which are very tasty and rather sweet)
400ml soy milk, ice cold

Wash the strawberries and put the in a food mixer. Add the soymilk and blitz for a minute or so.
Put in glasses and top with fresh strawberries.
Drink as soon as it's ready.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006
Gâteau Craque

I can't even remember the countless hours i spent on the kitchen counter at my grandparents house. I loved to listen to my grandmother while she was cooking.
She always explained me everything in detail: why she should add this or mix that way...
But the part i prefered was the one about 'le gâteau Craque' [the Craque Cake].
This cake was of my biggest food fantasy. I litteraly dreamt about it several times.
Maybe because i had never seen my grandma making it and thus i couldn't know how it looks like, how it taste like.
I know i've said this before, but food you're never eaten can become such a fantasy, a goal to achieve.
Therefore, i tried hard to imagine how the gâteau Craque could be. The only thing i knew about it was its name: gâteau Craque; it sounded so yummy.
Craque is an adjective derived from craquer.
Craquer can mean both to crumble or to fall in love with something/someone. So, when i heard its name, i couldn't help.
My grandmother was teasing me: she would say how good it was, but woudn't give me a clue about its taste or texture.

I recently spent a week at my grandparents'. And when my grandmother asked me if i wanted to make the gâteau craque, the only thing i could answer was YES.
Actually it's a chocolate cake covered with a chocolate-almond meringue icing.

Though, it's not your usual chocolate cake. I was pretty astonished because it contains:
- no butter
- just 50g of flour and 50g of potato starch
The cake itself was very moist and not very sweet, so the meringue icing is a good option.

Gâteau Craque
This is a nice little cake that has a great texture.
Note that it's best served in small portions (hence the 10-12 servings) because of the richness of the luscious icecream.
I think i would have prefered the icing without butter -- but it's personal: i don't like buttercream.

Gâteau Craque
serves 10-12

for the icing
125g icing sugar
2 egg whites
20g dark chocolate
20g butter
few drops of almond essence
150g butter, at room temperature

Put the egg whites and icing sugar in a metal bowl.
Place the bowl in a large pan filled with cold water and turn on the heat. Start whisking the egg whites and icing sugar and stop when the water starts boiling.
Melt the chocolate and the butter in a pan and mix into the meringue. Add the almond essence and the creamed butter.
Keep in thye fridge for at least an hour before icing the cake.

for the cake
4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp hot water from a recently boiled kettle
130g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g flour
50g potato starch
30g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Line a 25cm springform tin with parchemnt paper.
Whisk the egg yolks and the water. While whsking, add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue whisking until light and frothy.
Mix in the flour, potato starch, cocoa powder and baking powder.
Whisk the egg whites until firm and fold them into the previous mix.
Pour this mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Once cold, slice the cake in two layers. Put on layer on a plate, spread with the icing, sit the other cake on top and ice the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing.

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Friday, June 02, 2006
My secret love affair with Mr Cheese

Same dessert, different presentation

I have a great love affair with cheese. I love to eat it and even more, to make it.
So when Itay from Recipe asked me to write an article about cheese i couldn't help but say YES. I'm French after all and who can ignore that France is one of the leading countries regarding cheese produce.
Indeed more than 400 different cheeses are produced in France, 42 of these having a quality label called AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) and lots being made under the AB (Agriculture Biologique) laws.
This doesn't mean that all French cheese are necessarily good -- both in taste and quality.
But when you buy your cheese, try to know where it comes from: a farm or an industry.
And if you ever come to France, i deeply advise you to visit local farmers, to talk with them and eventually to buy their produce. That way you can't be wrong.

The best surprise on a farm: babies!

I have no idea on how people from other countries eat their cheese, but as a French, i can't imagine a weekend lunch without a well-furnished cheese platter.
Usually i like to keep it simple with 3 or 4 different cheeses. I try to serve big portions so the people don't get afraid to have a piece and i like to combine strong and mild flavours:
- a blue cheese (like Roquefort or Bleu d'Auvergne)

Bleu d'Auvergne cheese

- a fresh goat cheese (now I've worked on a farm, making goat cheese, i can't live without this cheese. It is so versatile and delicious)
- a Corsican sheep's milk hard cheese served either with some fig jam or chestnut honey.
- a piece of Brie de Meaux: a soft mild-in-taste cheese

But a full cheese lunch could be a good idea as well if the flavours are well combined. That's what i tried to put together for this 4-course lunch. No main course! Just 4 small dishes, high in taste yet subtle.

Tarte fine aux asperges et au chèvre frais
[Asparagus and fresh goat cheese tart]

I made this for my birthday a month ago and everyone loved it. Three simple flavours: green asparagus, fresh goat cheese and fine puff pastry.
Actually this is far better if you make your own puff pastry -- i know it's time-consuming, but the difference is real: homemade puff pastry is so delicious.
The goat cheese should be 2-3 days old, as i think a fresher cheese would had more creaminess than taste.

Soufflé au bleu d'Auvergne
[Bleu d'Auvergne soufflé]

I love soufflés because they're light and tasty at the same time. Don't be afraid to make them -- it's so easy. The only thing you have to keep in mind is: soufflés must be eaten straight away from the oven or they'll just fall.
An easy way to make soufflés without having to be in the kitchen during the lunch is to prepare the batter up to an hour before you start eating and to pop the small filled soufflé tins in the oven when you get the tart out of the oven.

These soufflés are nice served with some bitter leaves like rockets and a vinaigrette made with a nutty oil (like walnut oil).

Individual soufflés make for a highly rewarding treat!

Soufflé au bleu d'Auvergne
serves 4

200g bleu d'auvergne
4 eggs, separated
salt and pepper
50g butter
50g flour
150ml milk

The oven should be preheated to 200°C.
In a bowl, mash the cheese with the egg yolks and season to taste.
Melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan and add the flour. Mix well until all the flour is incorporated. Whisk in all of the cold milk at once and pour this mixture over the cheese-egg paste. Put back into the pan and bring to the boil over low heat. You should mix all the time to prevent the egg whites from cooking.
In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold into the previous mixture.
Fill four small soufflé tins and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and well-risen. Eat straight from the oven.

Camembert aux fruits secs, aux noix et au miel
[Camembert with dried fruits, nuts and honey]

This is hardly a recipe. You should consider it as a reminder: camembert goes well with dried fruits and nuts which go well with runny honey.
For this 'recipe' you should choose a mild camembert: if it's too strong it will be overpowering and you won't get that soft 'longueur en bouche' (literally - length in mouth, which means great after taste).

Yum, runny honey. I love the contrast between the tenderness of the camembert and the crunch of the nuts.

Camembert aux fruits secs, aux noix et au miel
serves 4

a camembert
raisins, golden sultanas…
dried apricots
and any other dried fruits or nuts: think dates, figs, walnuts!

Entremet mousseux au Manslois et fraises au vinaigre balsamique
[Manslois mousse with balsamic vinegar strawberries]

Manslois is a strange little cheese. It's cow's milk fresh cheese from Charentes, where it's used to make a delicious cheese tart called 'tourteau au fromage frais'. I could have taken the easy way and make this tart but i reckon it would have been a bit too heavy after that 100% cheese lunch, so i went for the cold mousse.
I think you might have troubles getting Manslois cheese. Anyway, you can replace it by any fresh cheese -- goat cheese would be a good option.

The weird Manslois cheese!

The mousse is served with balsamic vinegar strawberries. So refreshing!

Entremet mousseux au Manslois et fraises au vinaigre balsamique
serves 4

3 sheets of gelatine
250g Manslois cheese
250g fromage blanc (thick yogurt)
100g sugar
seeds from 2 vanilla pods
50ml milk

500g strawberries
50g sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes.
Beat the cheese with the fromage blanc. Add the sugar and vanilla seeds and mix well.
Bring the milk to the boil. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to get rid of any excess water and mix into the milk until dissolved. Add to the cheese mixture and mix well for 1 minute.
Fill four small ramequins with the mixture and refrigerate overnight.

For the balsamic vinegar strawberries
Rinse the strawberries and cut them into small pieces. Put into a large bowl and add the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Mix well and set aside for 2 hours.

Before the lunch
Unmould the mousses into small plates and arrange the strawberries on top. Serve.

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