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Saturday, October 28, 2006
Quand j'étais petite... - Tarte à la figue et aux amandes

[When i was a child... - Figs and almonds tarts]

From Jamie's Italy

Indian summer they call it.
I would rather say ‘opportunity to still get figs at the end of October’.
In fact, France is being blessed with summer-like temperatures and I am, on the other hand, blessed with plump figues noires [black figs].

I am a devoted lover of figs. When I was a child, I used stand up on my balançoire [swing] to reach the higher branches of the fig tree of our backyard, and then eat the result of my harvest in less than ten minutes. But I was fooling no one, my stained fingers and lips spoke for themselves!

Crostata di fichi
This is the perfect way to use ripe figs. It makes a well balanced pudding – the tartness of the figs complements the sweet frangipane in such a delicious way.

I think it tastes even better the next day, just chilled. I even had it for breakfast with a generous dollop of yoghurt.

Just a short note - althought the tins i used are *supercute* i really advise you to bake the tart in a 28cm tart tin as the frangipane/fig ratio is slightly too high when using two small tins instead of a large one.
It does improve the taste and balance to have less frangipane per slice and thus to use a 28cm tin.

Crostata di fichi
serves 8

15 whole figs, washed
30g caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
zest of 1 orange

for the shortcrust pastry:
125g butter
100g icing sugar
a small pinch of salt
255g plain flour
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed
zest of a lemon
2 large egg yolks, preferably organic
2 tablespoons cold milk or water

for the frangipane:
285g blanched whole almonds
55g plain flour
255g unsalted butter
255g caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed

First you will need to grease a loose-bottomed 28cm tart tin with a little of your butter.

To make your pastry, cream together the butter, icing sugar and salt and rub in the flour, vanilla seeds, lemon zest and egg yolks - you can do all this by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold milk or water. Pat and gently work the mixture together until you have a ball of dough, then flour it lightly. Don't work the pastry too much, otherwise it will become elastic and chewy, not flaky and short as you want it to be. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge, roll it out and line your tart tin. Place in the freezer for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and bake the pastry case for around 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 170°C.

To make the frangipane, blitz 255g of the whole almonds in a food processor until you have a fine powder and transfer this to a bowl with the flour. Now blitz the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add this to the almonds with the lightly beaten eggs, the vanilla seeds and the grappa and fold in until completely mixed and smooth. Place in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up. Remove the stems from the figs, score each one on the top in the shape of a cross, then using your thumb push up from the base to open them out.

Spoon the chilled frangipane mixture into the pastry case, then lightly push the figs into the frangipane with the scored side up. Heat the sugar with the water and drizzle this syrup over the figs. Roughly chop the remaining almonds and sprinkle over the top with the thyme leaves and orange zest. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the frangipane mixture has become firm and golden on the outside but is still soft in the middle. Allow to cool for about 30 to 40 minutes. Lovely served with a dollop of mascarpone or crème fraîche.

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Friday, October 20, 2006
Une feuille morte en automne et une délicieuse tarte au nutella

[A dead autumn leaf and a delicious nutella tart]

I am deeply in love with my origins.
Each year, around mid-October I remember the enchanting autumn I spent years and years ago in Unchio di Verbania, a small village just 4 kilometres north to the beautiful lago Maggiore, where my paternal grand parents were from.

There, in Piemonte, autumns are like golden ice – I walk on this small path. The dark-brown hearth, enriched with organic matter, is covered with dead leaves. The cold wind that comes from the montagna hits my face with such violence I almost faint.
This place exudes death and mystery. But at the same time it makes me alive and aware of every centimetre of my body.
This very unusual feeling haunts me.
Golden ice. Ghiaccio dorato.
Vibrant colours. Colori luminosi.

After a short moment, it’s difficult for the light to pierce the dense leafage of the hazelnut trees.
I suddenly remember my mother gave me a small basket to pick these small and perfectly round nuts. She wants to make a torta di nocciole – a fragrant hazelnut cake, cherished by every mamma italiana.
I accelerate my moves. Soon my wicker basket lined with a striped red tea towel is full.

Then, filled with the prospect of inhaling the aromatic fumes of the cake, fresh from the oven, I hasten.
I run as fast as possible. The leaves flutter under my steps. The wind, which seemed hostile a few moments ago, is now carrying me.
I arrive to the village, relieved to finally see the pale-blue shutters. I rush inside the house and immediately feel the warmth growing on my cheeks – both from heat and excitement!

Nutella tart
These sweet memories exalt the lusciousness of hazelnuts.
But though I love hazelnuts, I love even more hazelnuts with chocolate.

The pastry and filling are straightforward and turned out perfectly.
I made a 20cm tart, so there definitely was some ganache (can you really call a mix of butter/chocolate a ganache?) left.
I also used less hazelnut and didn't toast them before baking as I reckon 11 minutes in the oven would allow them to develop the nice nutty flavour you look after when roasting them first.
And as it was for my little sister - who doesn't like the bitterness of high cocoa percentage chocolate - I used a 60% cocoa solid chocolate for the ganache.

I could have made my proper gianduja but as Patrick said: “I, on the other hand, find Nutella to be completely delicious, far better than any homemade hazelnut chocolate spread I've made.” While I’m feeling confessional I have to admit that I do too.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006
Fernand et le potimarron magique - Pumpkin pie et autres délices d'automne

[Fernand and the magic potimarron - Pumpkin pie and other autumn treats]

It happens once a week, sometimes even twice.
While I’m drinking my ever-favourite matcha soy latte on the stairs just in front of the main door of my house, I spot a paper bag, hanging on the gate.

I remember the first time; me, leaving the cup of tea on the higher step and walking down - slightly hesitant. I grab the vintage brown paper bag suspended on the faded gold gate.
The corners of the bag are stained.
I carefully open it while going up the stairs and to my greatest delight I discover its content: bright-orange carrots, gorgeous potimarron, shiny shallots and delicious coings [quinces].

Then I see a small paper - maintained pleated by a fine raffia ribbon - at the bottom of the bag. I carefully untie the bow and read the sweet note:
‘J’espère que ça vous plaira, ce ne sont que de modestes légumes de mon jardin mais qui sentent délicieusement bon l’automne.
Si vous avez un peu de temps, je serai ravi de vous faire visiter mon potager.

[I hope you’ll like it. Only humble vegetables from my garden, but they deliciously smell like autumn.
If you’ve got a little spare time, I’ll be glad to show you my kitchen garden.]

What a kind person! From then, I’ve been waiting for that old paper bag and literally craving for it.
And when it’s finally time for the sweet delivery I can’t refrain that smile on my face.

I smile. Sheer joy. But also because I can’t help but imagine Fernand picking his most beautiful vegetables, packing them with love and quietly hanging the bag on the gate without I even notice.

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie has always been on of my favourites. It reminds me of the warmth and treasures of autumn.
I remember making this exact pumpkin pie years ago and I sincerely can't remember who gave me the recipe. All I know is that's it's both a keeper and a crowd-pleaser.
ps. I’m not giving exact cooking times because I didn't write them down.
As you can see on the picture the edges of the pie crust are slightly burnt: I tried to bake blind the pastry first and then bake the whole pie, which obviously didn't turn out as expected. Thus I can only advise you to check the pie now and then. It is cooked when set but still a little soft in the centre.

Pumpkin pie
serves 8

one sweet short crust pastry (I used Pierre Hermé’s recipe)
600g pumpkin, skinned and cut into 2cm chunks
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100g light muscovado sugar
350g condensed milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Place the pumpkin chunks into a roasting pan, loosely cover with foil and bake until soft (it should be easy to cut with a fork). Blend in a food processor, move to a sieve and allow to cool for at least an hour.
In a large bowl, mix the eggs, condensed milk, sugar, salt and spices. Add the pumpkin purée and stir well until smooth.
Line a 24cm tart tin with baking paper and drape the pastry into the tin.
Fill with the pumpkin mixture and bake at 180°C until cooked (see note above).
Cool completely before eating.

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