Month: November 2011

La vanille

It’s hard to play favourite with vanilla.

Tahitian vanilla (or for the geeks out there, and that includes me, Vanilla tahitensis) is a bit of a outsider – considered its the only vanilla to contain heliotropin – with its floral burst and nutty undertones.
Due to very volatile components, the flavour can be strong at first only to melt into a kind of happy pot-pourri.

Both Mexican and Bourbon vanilla are Vanilla planifolia. Only the killing method of the beans changes, resulting in either moist or ever-so woody texture.
And also very sublte variations in flavour.

Mexican pods are killed on the ground, under the heat of a noon-kind-of sun. They have a distinct earthiness to them. And caramel notes.

Madagascar beans, also known as Bourbon, keep some moisture after a quick blanching. And if you’re looking for the vanilla flavour of your childhood, then they are your new best friends.

Now, what is your favourite vanilla?

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On my side of the world, I like to use a combination of Bourbon and Tahiti vanilla. Somewhere along the lines of six Madagascar beans for three Tahitian ones.

Which is actually the very fundamental of my nine-pod vanilla ice-cream. So speckled with seeds it has the tint of the golden hour.

Cooking does feel like magic at times. Most of the time, in fact.

But when you sink a few used vanilla pods into a sugar syrup, close your eyes and fast-forward to two days later only to discover jewels, it really is. Magic.

Or science.

I’ve found the recipe in Thierry Marx’s dessert book, which I can’t wait to explore.

In a large pan, bring 250g of water and 500g of caster sugar to the boil. Pour into a deep plastic container and allow to cool.
Trim a couple of used vanilla pods and push them into the syrup. Forget about it for two days or more. Gently pat dry with a cloth. Use as decoration or as a stirrer for your favourite cup of tea.

An update on the home-made vanilla extract. The jar has been refilled twice. And emptied – every time – in shot glasses, preferably at the very first minutes of dawn. After a night made of laughs, indie music and kisses.

It’s certainly not the best way to use it but damn, it tastes that good.

One time, if I remember right, we even hollowed a watermelon and poured the whole jar inside. Straws were a must back then. And it was deliciously boozy.

Last week, we faced a sad moment when we came to the realisation it was time to clean the jar and start some new extract. Eight weeks to go before we can sing off-key again.

Because the simplest things don’t always seem like it…

To remove the seeds from a vanilla pods, I flatten the bean with a small knife, then slice lengthway and scrape away.

Don’t forget to keep the used beans. Blend them with caster sugar for instant vanilla sugar, or stick them in your home-made vanilla extract, or candy them as above…


Bonjour novembre

[Hello November]

Is it just me, or do you also feel like that – more than any other month – tarts belong to November?

It usually happens without a warning. And without a calendar.

A day or so after waiting on the sidewalk – jumping, whistling, screaming – for a cab to have its light on. Oh yes, it is indeed the thirty-first of October, with its thrills taken onto the streets.

Doughs are made; in a music that goes along the lines of pâte brisée, pâte sucrée, pâte feuilletée. Wrapped in clingfilm, and kept in the fridge or in the freezer.

Then they get rolled. And topped with those autumn fruits that taste like nights by the fireplace.

The unofficial November tart-list.

1. Pecan tart. In fact, as I’m writing this, I have this one in the oven. Without the addition of chocolate chips.
2. The perfect tarte tatin. Possibly with a lot of butter and sugar. And maldon sea salt, just so.
3. Pumpkin pie. Because, I can’t really stay away from it.
4. A caramelised garlic focaccia.
5. Christophe Felder‘s chocolate clafoutis. Certainly not a tart, but we’ll pretend it is for the sake of winter leggings and furry boots.
6. A Japanese cheesecake. With matcha.
7. Quiche, and its mushrooms, lard crust and emmental by the kilogram.
8. Triple chocolate tart. Yes, I’m that much of a chocolate lover.
9. An eggless stabiliser-less ice-cream base recipe. Oooh well, I hear tarts and ice-cream belong to each other.
10. Cloud-shaped choux. Because pastry + filling = tart-ish. Noooow, I’m the tart right?

And because no matter how deep we are in the tart-making, we all need a reliable pâte brisée recipe. Mine comes from my grand-mother.

A treasure, by any mean.

Pâte brisée de grand-mère

makes 900g of dough

In a large bowl, combine 500g of plain flour with a heaped teaspoon of salt. Rub in 250g of cold butter until sandy. Mix in 2 egg yolks and enough cold water to bind the flour into a dough (around 70 to 90g). Work until just smooth. Divide into two balls. Clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.

For a sweet pâte brisée, simply add 40g of caster sugar and the seeds from one vanilla pod.