Month: August 2011

PS. Ben Spalding at the loft project

Marylebone, London, early August
It was a Wednesday. We walked through Manchester square; looking at trees turning to that golden shade we all long for. Then three hours later, we realised there was something else we longed for.

Something that Roganic – and his head chef Ben – just delivered to us in the form of a six-course meal.

Clapham Junction, London, late August
I woke up to a sun so bright I could barely feel the wind through the window. So much for golden leaves and nights by the fireplace.

It seems summer is here, at times.

My dear friend Q. tells me she thought about me when she saw Ben Spalding will be cooking at the Loft Project. I’m glad I have friends.
One minute later, a booking was made.

Sometimes, I still surprise myself when I’m half-asleep.

Hackney, London, near future
It will cold, and perhaps raining. I will sit down to the communal table and have a lovely time.

And I think you – too – need a friend to tell you about this. So hurry up, only seven seats left!

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Les prunes


Let me introduce a new category. The market.

A collection of random thoughts – and perhaps, recipes – about my favourite fruits and vegs from the market.

Last week, I picked up some English plums from Waitrose. Yes, the bag simply said English plums. And I guess – just like all flings – it’s always right not to ask too many questions.

All I know is that they were as pink as the sky is grey. The colour of blushing cheeks and lips bitten just so.

As I made my way through the bottom of the bag, on the very same day, it made me think about that theory my best-friend Anna-Sarah came up with years ago.

The theory of pips and stones.

According to which people can be sorted into two categories. Pip-fruit lovers and stone-fruit fanatics.
I’m certainly the latter, with raspberries as the only exception. Because, yes, you’re allowed an exception.

So do you think you are a pip or a stone?

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As a reminder for myself, the English-French translation for my very favourite plum varieties.

Reine-Claude = greengage.
Mirabelle = mirabelle.
Quetsche = damson.

And while I’m at it, did you know plums is prunes in French. And prunes is pruneaux.

A few ideas for desserts…

Poached plum with horchata ice-cream and plum gel.
Tonka bean cheesecake, candied plum skins, plum granita and sorbet.
Plum and rose consommé with tapioca and sacristain, basil foam.
Warm white chocolate fondant, roasted olive-oil plum, plum curd, candied black olives.
Iced yoghurt with mead-poached plums, rapeseed crumbs, and nougat honeycomb.

What are your favourite flavour combinations for plum?

In French, we say pour des prunes [literally, for plums] when we mean for nothing.

This saying seemingly dates back from the crusade times, when the crusaders came back from Damascus with for only victory the memories of the beautiful plum trees they ate from over there.
To which the king answered: ‘What? Don’t tell me you went to Damascus only for plums.”.

And for the record, if you hear pour du beurre, it means just the same.

I can’t take my eyes off Tara’s beautiful bounty. I think you might like it.

And her recipe for brown butter plum cobbler too!


The smell of the ocean

Today, I booked a flight to a place I haven’t been in a year. But even with my eyes closed, I would still be able to ride my bike to the little fortress by the marais [marsh].

With the sound of the wind through the wheels as the only music, and the smell of the ocean écume [froth] as the only perfume.

And I can’t wait to spend time with my grand-mère. Taking care of eachother, sharing secrets and recipes.

In fact, I’ve been looking at pictures from a season I thought I’d rather forget. With a smile on my face.



19 blandford st, W1U 3DH

Ben Spalding has puzzle pieces tattooed on his arms. Eating at Roganic did feel like putting all those bits together. One at a time.

We sat at the table, with rescued wine bottles as water glasses. A foam – straight from the siphon – turned into a deep-red liquid. Better than biting into a cherry.
And then, it started. Six courses, although I now wish we went for the ten-course menu.

To say it was magic would be both an understatement and an overstatement. Magical, it felt. Genius, it was.

Millet and pearl barley made a pudding. Of the savoury kind. With bone-marrow in a bone-like caramelised pear and Stichelton.

A piece of just-cured crisp-skinned Kentish mackerel was flirting with wild honey, in a way that tastes better than kissing. And broccoli came around for a threesome.

A slice of Jersey Royale disguised itself into kidney. Making you forget that offal is your favourite thing in the world. After chicken skin, that is. Much to my own pleasure, both were here. In one way or another.

Skate belly was served with a charred baby leek, and tiny scallops; something so rare in London, it makes the lunch worth it with no explanations needed. Oh and some caramelised cauliflower puree.

A cut of veal, cooked in buttermilk, melted in our mouth, while the cobnuts were doing their job with flair. Crunch and nuttiness included.

For dessert, it felt right to order one from each menu.
And after a pre-dessert made of a small quenelle of gin and tonic sorbet that made me wish I could eat it straight from the ice-cream machine – yes, two litres of it – we knew we were right.

A white chocolate sorbet stood on top of rapeseed biscuit crumbs, with plums and meadowsweet. It looked simple, in an effortless kind of way. But it is one of the most complex desserts I’ve ever had. The flavours are indescribable. Like holding your breath for so long that the things you’ve missed start to make sense.

Cicely ice-cream melted over a couple of just-halved strawberries in a verbana nage. All brought together by buttermilk curd. My version of what early summer should taste like.

A cube of toasted brioche was rolled in a spice sugar. Some salt almonds and a small quenelle of smoked clotted cream later, I could feel autumn. Its golden avenues and crisp winds. With a smudge of buckthorn curd balancing the deep smokiness with a hint of acidity.

At this point, three hours and four glasses of very-well matched wine had gone by; in what felt a second. And we sipped a Douglas Fir milkshake which tasted surprisingly floral. And I really couldn’t stop wishing for more. Yes, more; and the recipe for the pastry chef’s mother’s soda bread.


A lucky strike with tangzhong 湯種 – Petits pains au lait à la japonaise

[Japanese-style milk buns]

It was a night of early winter, I think. It was possibly raining. And dark.

I can’t remember for sure, but it seems right.

I weighed flour and water in a pan. And turned this mixture to a thick paste over slow heat. Until a thermometre read 65°C.
It was then placed in the fridge. And forgotten.

And now, six or seven month after, I’ve done the same.
Except, this time, I haven’t forgotten. And I have no intentions to.

In fact, over the past few weeks, I’ve made petits pains [little buns] filled with vanilla pastry cream; just like I used to see in the boulanger windows of my childhood. Oh and a bread with so much bacon and emmental that it was eaten in a few hours.

I have also some banana and caramel cinnamon rolls in mind. So trust me when I say that tangzhong is becoming part of me.

Petits pains au lait à la japonaise
Adapted from Ivonne Chen, via Christine’s recipes.

You should know by now that I’m the kind of girl who kneads by hand. With my favourite technique – which I promise to do a video of, one day. In the meantime, the closest I’ve found can be seen here. It’s fool-proof, and damn fun. Not to mention quite liberating.

In the recipe below, I’ve introduced something some of you might not be familiar with. The windowpane test. it’s quite useful when it comes to yeasted doughs, to tell whether the gluten is developed enough or not.
Basically, you start by pinching off a walnut-sized piece of dough and try to stretch it into a thin membrane.
If it tears, then you should keep on kneading.
If it doesn’t tear but the membrane is opaque, then you should keep on kneading.
If you can stretch it to a paper-thin membrane, then you can pour yourself a glass of wine.

You should make sure gluten is fully developed before adding the butter, which tends to break the protein net. Also in that aim, work fast once you have the butter in and don’t knead for too long. Just until your dough is smooth again.

Petits pains au lait à la japonaise

makes 6 buns

for the tangzhong
50g strong flour
250g water

for the dough
350g strong flour
55g caster sugar
1tsp salt
one egg
125g milk
120g tangzhong
one tsp instant yeast
30g butter
, at room temperature

for the eggwash
one egg, beaten

Make the tangzhong. Place flour and water into a small pan and whisk well until there are no lumps. Cook over slow heat, whisking as you go until it thickens and reahes 65°C.
Transfer to a clean bowl or plastic container. Cover with a clingfilm to the touch and allow to cool. At this stage, you can keep the tangzhong in the fridge for 24h or use it as soon as it’s cold.

Make the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, tangzhing, and the egg; then add to the dry ingredients.
Work the liquid in, until you have a sticky dough with no lumps.
Transfer to a clean work plan and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth. You should be able to stretch a little piece of dough into a paper-thin membrane.
Using the palm of your hand, work in the butter. The dough will split then come back together.

Transfer to a lightly floured bowl, cover with a torchon [cloth] and proof for 40 to 60 minutes, until doubled in size.

Scrape the dough to a floured work plan and punch to deflate. Divide into six equal portions and knead into balls. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. And proof for around 40 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180C.
Brush the buns with eggwash and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden-brown. Transfer to a rack.


Bonjour août

[Hello August]

July felt like a summer storm. Of the quick, unexpected kind.

It was beautiful. And much unlike any other July that has crossed my path. The rain, the cold, the golden leaves covering the pavement.
Almost a perfect autumn month. With long daylight hours. And the occasional picnic.

Yes, in some ways, I think July was meant to get me ready to welcome autumn; with a smile. And it worked.

But August got in the way. With its promises of watermelon popsicles and flip-flops. Right before the autumn I longed so much for makes an appearance. For good this time.

The not-so official August happy-list.

1. Kneading yeast, flour, and water. And watch the magic happen.
2. Being alone for the first time in a long time.
3. Blackberries from my neighbour’s garden. Shhh don’t say anything!
4. Saving money. With a dream in mind. Still the same.
5. Befriending the most adorable lady who owns the prettiest antique stall. Shelves filled with retro utensils.
6. An early morning trip to Kempton Park. For treasure hunting.
7. Looking at the sky through puddles.
8. Watching snails*. For hours.
9. The golden leaves* that are slowly taking over the world.
10. Eating a slice of beetroot cake. Without frosting.

What makes you looking forward to August?

* Both pictures taken last week with my new favourite film: Kodak Portra 160 VC. It was love at the first sight.