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Saturday, January 20, 2007
Mastering the art of perfection – Riz au lait parfumé à la vanille

I am a real perfectionist; the kind that would throw away a sheet of paper whenever something looks wrong: either the writing, the colours... just about anything in fact.
I’ve been known to remake things entirely for un petit rien [barely anything] from school notebooks to cakes; from paintings to recipes.

Indeed when it comes to recipes I’m rarely satisfied. It has to and it needs to be P-E-R-F-E-C-T.
Though, sometimes it clearly isn’t. But in this case, I could do anything to achieve perfection; and if it involves staying, covered with chocolate, flour and sugar, in a kitchen all night, then I don’t mind.

Riz au lait perfume à la vanille
It took me a long time to find the perfect recipe for riz au lait à la vanille.
Indeed, I did find my redemption in riz au lait au chocolat, but really wasn’t satisfied with the white kind of riz au lait.

It’s something quite tricky: too much rice and it’ll end up rock-hard; too much milk and what you’ll get will be looked over as a soup.

This riz au lait is just as it should be: creamy, beautifully flavoured and very comforting.
What makes it special is its cooking technique inspired by the lovely Dorie Greenspan. Parboiling the rice in water makes for an almost starchless grain which is unlikely to get sticky resulting in a perfectly balanced ratio of 'rice grains' and 'vanilla cream'.

For extra comfort, you can have it while it’s still warm. And then, you’ll understand what perfection really means.

Riz au lait parfumé à la vanille
serves 2

75 g arborio rice
400ml water
350 ml milk
1/2 vanilla pod, scraped
60 g caster sugar

Put the rice and water in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the temperature and cook the rice, uncovered for 10 minutes.
Drain the rice in a strainer and rinse it; set aside.
Rinse out the saucepan, then pour in the milk, sugar and the scraped vanilla bean. When it boils, stir in the cooked rice. Reduce the heat and let the mixture bubble away for about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Remove the pan from the heat and transfer either into a large bowl or two small ramekins.
You can eat it warm or cold from the refrigerator.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007
Rage syndrome inducing – Pierre Hermé’s sablés au chocolat et à la fleur de sel

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you utterly fail.
I did try, in fact, to resist to Pierre Hermé’s sablés au chocolat et à la fleur de sel.
But then, from the photo above you can tell I’ve given in – and what a defeat; because although I easily concede that, ‘yes, I’ve been weak and lacking of will-power’, now my current and unique obsession is to remake these as soon as possible (still I will make an effort and wait for at least a day or two).

Nevertheless, it is not my fault. It seems that every single person on this planet s’est donnée le mot [has been conspiring].
I was already, at the beginning, vulnerable and very receptive to the charms of these cookies: intensely chocolaty and beautifully salty. And the worldwide conspiracy didn’t help – at all.

By September I had developed weird symptoms of what might have looked like the ‘rage syndrome’: sudden attacks for no apparent reason; the dog fanny will often be sleeping and then attacks without warning. Its her eyes become dilated and sometimes change colour during and after an attack.
Beware because the dog fanny is totally confused when attacking and will not respond to any attempts to stop it her. The attacks are very unpredictable and the dog fanny will appear disorientated afterward and unaware of its actions, then return to its her normal self shortly after.
Victims are usually members of the family who have one or more chocolate and fleur de sel sablés in their hands.

However, and from what I remember, the climax of the strange behaviour I had was reached on the 5th January; when Deb posted, not one but, three pictures of the coveted little - rounds - of - pure - chocolate.
It was too much! Definitely too much!
I started panicking, fell petrified onto the floor and begun to sway, moving quickly from one position to another.
That’s all I can recall from that day; because, when I woke up the next day everything seemed back to normal. Back to normal except that now sitting on my bed table laid a plate of Pierre Hermé’s cookies instead of the usual pile of cookbooks.

* All you’ve read above is pure fiction :) Well, who am I kidding? Let’s say it is only very close to what really happened!

Sablés au chocolat et à la fleur de sel
adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from my home to yours

In French, sablés litteraly means ‘sandy’. And these are indeed deliciously sandy.
I love the contrast between the melting chocolate chunks and the texture of the sable itself.
The addition of salt is a brilliant idea: it doesn’t only enhance the profound chocolate taste but it also makes these cookies particularly desirable.
Dorie says you can keep them for three days – stored in an airtight container; though, I highly doubt you’ll be enough strong-minded to resist!

Note - The dough can be kept in the fridge for three days or frozen for two months (in which case you needn’t defrost it before baking; just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer).

Sablés au chocolat et à la fleur de sel
makes about 35 cookies

175g all-purpose flour
30g unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
120g cup (packed) light brown sugar
50g cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
150g dark chocolate (fanny: I used 70% cocoa), chopped into chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Cream the butter on medium speed until soft. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and continue beating for another minute or two.
Pour in the flour and mix just until combined - work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly.
Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 4cm in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours (fanny : for me, overnight).

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Working with a sharp knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1cm thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2cm between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature. But to be completely honest, I can't say what they taste like at room temperature as I couldn't help but eat them straight from the oven.

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Monday, January 01, 2007
What happens next?

I first intented not to write about the year to come. But then I thought twice; if 2006 has been an incredibly rich year, 2007 will even more exciting:

I couldn't imagine a best start: view on the beautiful fireworks from our suite :) at the Sheraton Park Tower Hotel.

I'm working on a new graphic design for foodbeam. Again? Yes, but it will be even sweeter.

I will study in New Zealand from February.

I will do a 10-week training period in ,what is probably know as, the best pâtisserie in France (but shhh... that's a secret).

Enough things to please a girl, hey!
Meanwhile, I wish you all a lovely year and thank you for all you've brought to me this year.