Month: February 2012

Fields of frost – Éclairs au chocolat, presque comme chez Fauchon

[Chocolate eclairs, almost like Fauchon’s]

When trees are shaped like hearts; and breakfast means just-brewed coffee slash bike ride slash jonchée eaten as soon as I’ve taken my gum boots off.

And we run barefoot in fields of frost. And the grass glows to the moonlight in a way only gems can. With la grande ourse [the great bear] and a feral cat as our only companions for this aimless journey.

We breathe the cold air and feel alive. We kiss and feel warmer. It’s the very instant that matters.

Yes, at times, it’s ok to loose track. Of time, of purpose…
Days are long. And nights too.

Crossing off to-dos like there is no tomorrow, because, after all, holidays are made of no-tomorrows.

Today, we made éclairs, à la Fauchon. It was fun, and messy. The kitchen ended up looking à la Fauchon too. Stripped with white and black fondants.

It’s fine, really. It is.

We licked our fingers. And ate an éclair, of the à la minute kind. Then scrubbed the counter until it no longer felt sticky. Just our mouths did. And that is a good sign, by all accounts.

Éclairs au chocolat
Inspired by Fauchon.

If you can make choux paste and crème pâtissière, then it really all gets down to glazing an éclair with fondant, then piping straight lines of a coloured fondant. This can be made with either a piping bag or a paper cornet (the latter being my favourite, some things will never change, trust me).

The only trick to know is to make sure both fondant have the same temperature and texture.
For the chocolate fondant, I simply added a bit of cacao powder until it looked dark enough. Then mixed in 30°B syrup until the texture seemed just right.

I guess it’s a bit of a trial and error at first. But it’s ok. We love sticky fingers around here.

And since I’m at it, fondant is a kind of crystallised sugar that can be found in fancy shops. In case it’s nowhere to be found, try mixing icing sugar and a tiny bit of water…

Both the choux paste and crème pâtissière can be made in advance. Since the paste is frozen, you can make it up to a week before. And the cream can stay in the fridge for a couple of days.
However, once the éclairs are filled, they’re best eaten in the day.

Éclairs au chocolat

makes 12 éclair
for the choux paste
one recipe of choux paste
one egg
, for eggwash
butter, to grease the baking tray

Make the choux paste according to the recipe.
Pipe it onto a baking tray lined with baking paper into logs using a 15mm nozzle; then freeze. Cut into 13cm-long éclairs and arrange on a buttered tray. And bake until golden brown (tips on how to bake choux paste here).

for the crème pâtissière

250g milk
100g cream
2 egg yolks
30g caster sugar
15g cornflour
100g dark chocolate

Bring the milk and cream to the boil. In a bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and cornflour. Pour the boiling liquids over the yolks, whisking as you go. Then place back into the pan and cook – whisking at all times – until boiling.
Transfer to a bowl and add the chocolate. Handblend and clingfilm to the touch. Chill.

Using a small nozzle, fill the eclairs. And set aside.

for the glaze
cacao powder
30°B syrup
(100g caster sugar + 100g water, brought to the boil, then chilled)

Melt the fondant over a bain-marie or in the microwave. Divide into two heatproof bowls. Add cacao powder to colour one of the batches into a dark brown fondant.

Reheat both fondant over a bain-marie or in the microwave, until it reaches 30-35°C. Adding a little syrup to make it runny enough. Then using a small spatula or your finger, glaze the top of the éclair.
Immediately pipe straight lines of dark fondant, making sure the tip of your bag or cornet is cut small enough (perhaps 2mm, the fondant will spread). Then run your finger along the éclair to clean up it sides and twirl the end of the piped lines.

Repeat with the remaining éclairs. They will keep in the fridge overnight, although they’re best eaten on the same day.


The daily fix

I wake up to the shy sound of a detuned French radio. And leave a half-drank latte – stay put – on the kitchen table. Off on my favourite hollandais bike.

It rattles, unexpectedly. And the brake feels ever too fierce.

But it takes me to the market. And the little fort by the beach; the one at the end of the stony trail.

I could spend hours there. Especially when the sun turns the sky into a rainbow.

Yes, I’m in Fouras.
And really, how could I be there and not tell you about les jonchées (although, I have before; and not just once)? I don’t think I’m fooling anyone. I’m still addicted.

Perhaps more than ever.


Oops #1

Three cuts and eight eggs on the floor later, the cake came out of the oven. As a reminder that heatproof means heatproof, and not just a random glass bowl.

You see disasters happen in my kitchen too. Most likely even more than in yours. Oh well, oops!

PS. My grand-mother nows calls me Hiroshima… Just to give you a hint of the extent of that glass bowl explosion.


There are only so many things I know

Yes, there are only so many things I know.

Making wishes, of the fairylike kind. The taste of his lips; and the feeling in my stomach that it’s all just like a dream.
The smell of fresh yeast when brioche is being made.

The beauty of fireflies around me. Being lost in the fog.

The flavour of roasted rhubarb and melting vanilla ice-cream. Crab hunting on a deserted beach, not unlike a treasure hunt. The smell of rain. And its music too.

The sea-mist that hits our faces.

Holding a piping bag in my hands. The fireworks I felt when he held me close. Dreaming up desserts made of avocado.

For the unknown, I rely on magic and coffee. Oh and spending time with my grand-mother.
The most beautiful person in my world. And she knows it all.

See you in a week or so London.


PS. I felt like cake; made one and ate a slice.

A friend, of the dear-to-my-heart kind, made this cake today. A few thousands of kilometres away. And I did too. In ten minutes, from cupboards to oven*.

It was eaten on the couch. To the sound of summertime sadness**. And raindrops started hitting the kitchen window. And that cup of coffee was slightly too hot to be drank. And, really, I was just missing one thing

But for once, I will have to be patient. Some things are bound to happen.

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* It helps that this cake only calls for chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs, and flour. An almost instant bliss!

** I finally got to hear what the planet seems to be talking about these days. And as much as I wanted not to like it, some of the songs grew on me.


Find a map and draw a straight line – Chewy flapjacks

I started collecting objects, to make up for memories I forgot. A blue pool ball, a broken cigarette, a plastic table number.

I read words. Most of the time, at night. Yes, all it took was a few words. Perhaps, a bad google translation too. In fact, some words don’t translate well into French.

But it was cute. And it made me miss him even though I thought he was part of those long gone memories.

And when the world we both knew started to fold itself and disappear, I employed magical thinking.
Of the good kind. Possibly involving flapjacks. Because, let’s face it, they seem to be a bit of a mystery around here these days.

Some people want them crunchy. Most go for chewy. A pinch of flour or not? And what about condensed milk…

Finding a recipe that made everyone happy seemed to be harder than finding a map and drawing a straight line.

Chewy flapjacks

Those are, by no means, the best flapjacks ever. There are in my own world. But then, I wasn’t lucky enough to be brought up on crumpets and marmalade, and had to make the most of croissants and confiture.

They are those flapjacks with a thin crunchy crust and soft chewy – almost – fudgy crumb. If you’re after the crunchiest kind, I would suggest to use a larger pan (so the overall thickness is thinner) and bake them at a slightly higher temperature. Perhaps, 190°C.
Here, I bake them at 180°C. But please, as with all baking, keep in mind that I have a diplodocus of an oven. Non fan-assisted. And with all the heat coming from two gas burners at the bottom. If you have a fan oven, it’s good to reduce the temperature by 20°C (and open a bottle of champagne).

There are two important steps – if they can even be called this way. The first is to line the pan all the way to the top with baking paper. And the second is not to bring the sugar/butter mixture to the boil before adding the oats. You just want the butter and light brown sugar to be happily melted.

Chewy flapjacks

makes 10-12
200g condensed milk
150g butter
85g light brown sugar
60g golden syrup
5g maldon sea salt
320g oats

Preheat the oven to 180°C (see note above). And line a 20x20cm baking pan with baking paper. I like to butter the pan first so the paper nicely sticks to it, without any crease.
In a large pan, place the condensed milk, butter, light brown sugar, golden syrup and salt, and cook over slow heat until the butter has dissolved.
Mix in the oats until nicely coated. Spread into the lined mold, pressing down with the back of a spoon to chase any air. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown.
Allow to cool, then slice into rectangles – trimming the edges, as you do so – with a sharp knife.


Only in dreams

A dream crossed of the list. On Saturday night. It was late. Much too late to be awake, really. I was wearing my favourite leopard leggings and a thick wool dress. And snow in my hair.

The thirty minute journey took slightly over two hours; a slid, a splash, and a couple of snowballs, tentatively thrown at me by J. who clearly spent his evening partying and not working.

But nothing can ruin the smell of snow. That scent made of burning firewood and damp earth. Quite indefinable, and yet I’ve just tried.

Some things are will never be different. Now onto the next dream. Cross your fingers for me.


Bonjour février

[Hello February]

It seems like those winter days I longed so much for have finally decided to pop by. Yes, it was cold today. Of the frostbites and hot chocolates kind.

I opened the door to a package made of Impossible film. I walked with the only mitten I haven’t lost on one hand. I saw the sun set through the naked trees of the park. I sipped through a hot latte.
And I called it a day.

Right now, I have so much in mind. But mostly three things. Three things I cannot bring myself to say out-loud . Three things of the pinch me awake kind.

The not-so official February dream-list.

1. Driving to the lake district. For a lunch. And a dinner.
2. The last brioche recipe you’ll ever need.
3. And hopefully, the last croissant recipe too!
4. Airports, of all kinds.
5. Writing words onto my squared notebook.
6. Learning how to make the best coffee cup around.
7. Watching snowflakes float in the wind.
8. Bergamots. And laughing, uncontrollably, over them.
9. Looking forward to a daily midnight surprise.
10. Loosing track of time.

What are your dreams for those days made of cosy fireplaces, toasted marshmallows, and hot ciders?