Month: September 2011

On summer secrets – Feta and lemon dip

This is what happens when it’s summer. Or at least when it feels like it.

We swim in the sea, or more accurately, we’re forced by that wave which chose the exact moment we stepped into the water to break into – what feels like – a herd of horses.
It’s cold. For a second.

And then, we decide we could stay there forever. Happily floating on our backs, gazing at the sky, and cliché-edly anthropomorphising the clouds.

And blinking to every ray of sun.

And swallowing a bit too much of the salted water, leaving just enough saltiness on our lips for the vanilla ice-cream we’re about to have to taste just so.

We stay at a café all night. Chatting up and down. A feta and lemon dip comes up. Randomly.

Oh yes, we were talking about the joy of the simplest things.
And Anna-Sarah, the one and only – some would say – my kitchen muse, tells me she’s been making this dip with just feta, lemon, olive oil, garlic, and a little bit of fresh thyme all summer long. She’s found it on a blog. She can’t remember which one though.

Friends she served it to loved it.

Now, I’ll have to admit something, I’m not in awe with feta. But a feta that has a shape of a cube and is lost amongst tomatoes, or in the best case scenario, watermelon dices. Yes, that feta and I aren’t the best friend.

But well, one night, we had crusty bread and roasted vegetables. I then proceeded to blitz feta with the juice and zest of a lemon. And enough garlic and olive oil to make my Italian grand-father Mario proud.

And we called it a dinner. Al fresco. Al fantastico, as a matter of fact.

Feta and lemon dip
Adapted from Paul.

Turns out the blog she took the recipe from is no other than Paul’s. A little beauty on its own. And now the source for my favourite summer secret.

This dip is made in less than two seconds. Espcially since I discovered this method for peeling garlic. It works! (And yes, this totally deserves an exclamation mark, actually I could put three of them!!! Yes, I’m that excited.)
I’m actually thinking about doing a post just for it.
That’s how much I love garlic. And this sweet tattooed guy who is not scared to beat the hell out of a garlic head. Both, I love you.

Just one extra-step Anna-Sarah added is to soak the feta into water twice to get rid of extra saltiness. Of course, you can skip it if you’re a bit short of time, but it is worth it.

Lemon and feta dip

serves four

200g feta cheese, crumbled
juice and zest from one lemon
1 clove garlic
, chopped
80g olive oil
olive oil
, extra for serving
fresh thyme, for sprinkling

Blitz the feta, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and olive oil in a blender until smooth. Scrape into a bowl and drizzle with a olive oil, and sprinkle with thyme.
Serve with grilled vegetables and grilled pita bread. Or even on top of pasta for a fresh sauce.

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Mind your French – Le fondant au chocolat

[The ultimate chocolate fondant]

In London, we’ve had winter in July. Air damp with rain. Kitchens warm with soup on the stove. Oven smelling like chocolate cake.

And now, in the south of France, we’re having summer in September. Walks through the markets. Sirops d’orgeat at the terrace of the village café. Afternoons at the beach. Ice-cream, in a cone, please. Flip-flops at the feet. Deep-fried is a must, especially when it involves fleurs de courgettes. Watermelon; full-stop.

It seems that whenever I come down here it’s summer. A summer of the out-of-season kind.







It also seems that whenever I’m down here, I always return to the same cake. A cake of the homecoming kind.

It certainly is my go-to. Because, let’s be honest, we all need one.

One we make on Mondays. One we slice when still warm and slightly runny for a late afternoon indulgence. One we have for breakfast – the day after – cold from the fridge and dipped into the latte we overlooked as we were flipping through the pages of the newspaper. One we finish on Wednesdays after a dinner made of crusty baguette with a side of sliced tomatoes in their juices; perhaps with a scoop of yoghurt ice-cream.

This cake is dark and dense. The very definition of a fondant.

And since we’re at it, I shall let you know that what we – French – call fondant is somehow different to the fondants I’ve been known to bake à la minute for the restaurant.
In fact, if you’re thinking about small little cakes with a melted chocolate centre, we call them coulants in good old France.

So please, mind your French, will you ;)

Fondant au chocolat
Adapted from Pascal Lac.

I’ve told you about this cake before. It is, as I’ve mentioned above, a keeper. If you’re after a moist chocolate cake, then this is the one.

Plus, it’s damn easy to make. Just chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, and flour.
Oh yes, ok, eight eggs and 400g of sugar. Just forget about this and bake it in a 28cm pan for thinner wedges.

It is worth it!

When it comes to the chocolate I like to use a slightly bitter, most possibly 70%. And I have to admit Guanaja is especially great for cakes of all kinds.

The only tricky – and when I say tricky, I mean very merely – step is to bring the eggs and sugar mixture to room temperature-ish over the heat.
You can either do it straight over the gas, making sure to mix at all time while turning the bowl to ensure heat distribution. Or do it over a water-bath (which should not stop you from mixing and turning the bowl!).

This step is done, as we say in French, to casser le froid [break the coldness]. And it will incorporate a little air in the eggs.

Fondant au chocolat

for one 24 to 28cm springform pan

200g dark chocolate
240g butter
8 eggs

400g sugar
130g flour

Preheat the oven to 170°C, and generously butter a springform pan.

In a bowl, melt the chocolate and butter.

In a heatproof bowl, mix the eggs and sugar – using a whisk – and place over medium heat (or as said above, on a water bath). Keep on mixing until not cold anymore. It shouldn’t be hot either.
Pour the chocolate over the egg mixture, and homogenise. Sprinkle the flour over and using a rubber spatula, gently incoporate it until just smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes (if you’re using a smaller pan) until just set.

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PS. Just a breakfast…

It might be safe to say that, in a perfect world, this would be my breakfast. Everyday.

That week in Fouras possibly was the closest I could get to perfection. A perfection that tasted damn good. Especially with a sprinkle of vanilla sugar.

Perhaps, it was just a breakfast. But it certainly didn’t feel like a just kind of one.

Have a lovely week-end. And please, do treat yourself with your very favourite breakfast. Which is… (pssss, let me know!)

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Instants, dans la cuisine

[Moments, in the kitchen]

Sat at the table for breakfast. A breakfast that smells of toast and salted butter – the one with crisp fleur de sel – and, of course, coffee.
My grand-mère talks too much in the morning, but for all the gold in the world, I wouldn’t want to stop her from doing so. Her stories and her laughters. Our laughters, in fact.

She likes to peel tomatoes with bare hands. And a knife. No boiling water involved here. Add more garlic than you think you could take, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, and the ultimate tomato salad just happened in front of your very eyes.

Not only it tastes how tomato really should; but you get a bonus made of juice and pips. Just enough, in fact, to be soaked with a slice of baguette. Or as I’ve been known to do – back in the good old nineties – drink from my plate, making sure to get all of my outfit, from top to socks tinted red.

And as evident as evident can be, an apple tart closes lunch-time. With its soft yet flaky crust, all about almonds and vanilla and butter, of course. Its mountain of apples: small ones, from the neighbour’s garden, and large ones, from the COOP (that organic supermarket where my grand-mère clearly spends too much time and cash). And enough eggy cream to cover it all.

Dinner, to come…

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A little sweller – Petits quatre-quarts, au chocolat ou pas

[Little poundcakes, with chocolate or not]

It smells like the week-end around here. Actually, it’s been smelling like it for a week now.

And boy, week-end does smell good. Just-brewed coffee and toasted baguettes. Roast vegetables and fish caught the night before. Soup and summer tart; perhaps with a handful of late raspberries, or a plum compote.

At times, it even smells of sand, and sea, and sun. Most likely when the sky is just about to turn pink and I jump on my bike for a promenade along the beach.

Tomorrow, we’ll wake-up early. Possibly before the dawn. With the sound of boiling water going through a filterful of freshly ground coffee beans as the only alarm. And the smallest loaf-cakes as the only valid option to dip in our – well mine, since my grand-mère goes black – latte.

Indeed, those little cakes are perfect for this.
Good – if not slightly dry, just as a quatre-quarts should be, really – on their own. They make any cup of coffee a little sweller.

Actually, if I were to list my favourite coffee-dipping material, quatre-quarts would rank first. Perhaps, along with madeleines; but then, the two do taste very similar, especially when still-warm from the oven (in my opinion, the best way to eat quatre-quarts on its own).

And I can’t take this path without mentioning Petit Brun. The very same my dad used to have after lunch with a café au lait. Yes, they do make somewhat delicious coffee-dippers.

Petits quatre-quarts, au chocolat ou pas

Those small loaf-cakes can be made in a pinch. And much to my liking, they are also very versatile. Mix in a handful of chopped dark chocolate, add a sprinkle of cocoa powder in half the batter, then swirl for a marbled effect.

And this is just for the chocolate possibilities.

They are – as mentioned above – very good on their own, although they tend to be slightly dry when cooled down. A quick trip in the microwave or in a cup of coffee will work wonders though.
Because let’s face it, almost every cake tastes better when warm or wet. And no, this is no tease.

As usual with my loaf-cakes, I cannot recommend piping a line of soft butter on top for a neat crack enough. This is – and forever will be – my favourite technique.

And for the baking method, I still go 180°C for 5 minutes, 170°C for 10, 160°C for 15 and 150°C until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean; usually around 10 to 15 minutes.
This ensures a plump cake with a light crumb.

Of course since those are on the small side, I baked them much less. Perhaps 17 or 20 minutes in total.
But if you’re making a large one, the guideline above is more than wonderful. Trust me.

The secret for the perfect batter is to have the butter and eggs at room temperature. If that’s made easy by microwaving the butter for 30 seconds or until soft, it’s another story when it comes to the eggs. My little trick is to soak them for ten-ish minutes in tap-hot water.

Petits quatre-quarts, au chocolat ou pas

makes a large loaf-cake or ten individual ones

for the cake base
250g butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
seeds from one vanilla pod
5 eggs
250g flour
a tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt

for the a chocolate-chip cookie cake
a handful of chopped dark chocolate
a tsp flour

for the chocolate-marble cake
25g cocoa powder

butter, softened, extra for piping on top

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a loaf tin with butter and line with baking paper.

In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla seeds until light and fluffy; around 5 to 10 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Then fold in the flour, baking powder and salt until just incorporated.

If you’re making the chocolate-chip version, coat the chopped chocolate with flour and gently fold into the batter.
If you’re making the marbled cake, divide the batter into two bowls and fold the cocoa powder in one half of the batter. Then pipe alternatively in the tin (I will make a marble cake 101, one day).

Pipe a thin line of softened butter on top of the cake.

Bake as described above, until golden-brown.
Allow to cool for a few minutes. Then unmould and wrap in clingfilm for a moist cake. Or leave to cool on a rack for a crisp crust.

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Une maryse

I got quite a few emails regarding the word maryse. One of you even wrote a kinky poem, because – yes – Maryse, is also a French name. It involved some whipping and folding too…

So well, I’m launching yet another category: le kitchenware. This is what happens when I’ve od’ed on holidays.

A maryse, pronounced MAH-REESE, is – what chefs call – a rubber spatula. It is actually a brand, possibly registered by De Buyer, and somehow along the way we started using the name as a utensil.

There are two kinds. The red ones, which are heat-resistant. In fact, they can take heat up to 260°C. While the white ones – slightly softer and more flexible – are just made for scraping and folding cold preparations.

I love them for:
cooking crème anglaise and ice-creams
folding cream or egg whites into a mousse base*
scraping a bowl, a pan, or a plastic container

* That is when I’m not making 20L of mousse, in which case I will go with the hand-and-scraper way.

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Les jonchées

fromager/crémier (the first, in front of the main entrance)
rue de la halle, 17450 fouras

I could list the places I belong to. But, at the end, it would just be a meaningless thread of city names, and at times, neighbourhood or county names.

What I find interesting is the very reason why we belong to a place.

A person we love, or many of them. A kind of family; in which people do take care of each others.

A fond memory. Perhaps it was the rain and the drizzle from the sea that hit your face so hard. Or the kiss, on the pavement in front of that busy train station, that lasted so long it got the both of you soaked. Yes, it seems my memories are always somewhat rainy*.

A meal. Often a hungover breakfast, eaten with a side of virgin mary and the right person. A doughnut quickly devoured to escape the rain in a bus with no destination, except for the one you decide. A jonchée, paid with the littlest coins and taken home in the basket of your bike.

Yes, I have told you about the jonchées before. And you probably know that whenever I’m in Fouras, I can’t stay away from them.

The closest I could take you would be along the lines of a long ball of unsalted mozzarella. Of the creamy kind. And with the flavour of fresh almonds.

And soft melt-in-your-mouth inners encased in a slightly firm scalloped-shell. Which happens to be the negative-print of the jonc [reed grass] mat, this cow’s milk cheese** is moulded in.

So yes, I belong to Fouras. Because of my grand-mother. And the hours spent riding our bikes by the ocean. And the jonchées.

* The fact I live in London might have something to do with this ;)

** Although it is – from a technical point of view, rennet and ferments included – a cheese, it is nothing like it.

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Réussir la crème pâtissière, pas à pas – Mastering pastry cream, step by step

It was a day at the end of September. A couple of years ago. I put on my pied-de-poule trousers for the first time since the internship I had done the summer before at Pierre Hermé.

I walked up the stairs, to the biggest, most beautiful kitchen I had ever seen, with the aim to make my biggest, most beautiful dream come true.

A dream that apparently involved cooking 12L of crème pâtissière. And when I say 12L, I really mean 12L of milk. So if you had up the other ingredients, it makes around 16kg of silky smooth vanilla goodness.

As a matter of fact, by seven am, the hair, that took me an hour to tame at three in the morning, was wild again. And my cheeks were the colour of bike rides in the wind.

I don’t want anyone to get hurt by making crème pâtissière, so I’ll just give you the half-a-litre recipe. Which happens to be just enough to fill a tart or a handful of choux, plus a couple of tablespoons for personal consumption.

This recipe is a basic crème pâtissière. A very simple cream made of milk, vanilla, egg yolks, cornflour, and caster sugar.

As usual, I can only advise you have all of the ingredients ready and measured before you start. Along with the equipment.

500g milk
one vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
40g cornflour

one medium saucepan
two small whisks
a fine chinois or sieve
two maryses
a small bowl
a shallow plastic container

1. Place the milk and split vanilla pod into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil, whisking every now and then.

2. In a small bowl, mix the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk, until fully combined. This prevents the caster sugar from reacting with the thin skin of the yolks, which would create some small lumps.
Add the cornflour and incorporate.

3. Temper the egg yolk mixture with the strained milk (to get rid of the vanilla pod). Whisking as you do so.

4. Pour back into the pan – off the heat – whisking continuously. Then over soft heat, bring to the boil, whisking at all time.

5. As soon as the mixture reaches the boiling point and starts to thicken, keep on cooking and whisking for a minute or two.

6. Pour and scrape into a plastic container.
And clingfilm to the touch to avoid the formation of a skin. Chill for an hour.

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Bonjour septembre

[Hello September]

I am away from London for a month. Yes and whole entire month.

And as I was landing at the smallest airport I have ever seen (so small I couldn’t help but take pictures of the very vintage aérogare straight from the plane tiny window*), I knew I would miss that city which has not-so slowly grown on me**.

But well, a few drinks at le café and a ride to the boulangerie – for fresh yeast – later, I’m starting to realise I’ve been missing the French life too.

Such a good thing I’m just one hour away. Or maybe, I should move to Guernsey or Cornwall; for the best of both worlds!

The not-so official September happy-list

1. Riding my bike. Through the beach and the marais.
2. Oh and riding it to the boulangerie too. Fresh yeast for less than a euro, that’s something to love about France.
3. The prospect of five film rolls to be exposed.
4. Putting together some sweet step-by-step
5. Having enough pâte sucrée in the fridge for at least three tarts.
6. The treasure hunt that picking the very last raspberries of the season implies.
7. Eating those very same raspberries, before they make it to the basket.
8. Coming back to London for four days. Just enough time to get the aforementioned rolls of film developed***.
9. Knowing that it will be dark and golden all around when I do come back. Ooooh yes, Autumn!
10. And that my iced coffee will be switched for a piping-hot one.

What will you miss in September? Or perhaps, what makes you look forward to those colder days?

* In French, we have the cutest word for those small round windows – whether they belong to a plane or a boat – hublot, said uhh-blow.
** As a matter of fact, the first time I visited London – possibly early 2001 – I fell in love right away.
*** I might like raspberry-hunting, but spending hours for a decent photo lab is not the way I like to spend my time these days.

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