“Cooking is an endless quest for perfection; it is at the same time never reached and always there.”
— Julien Vaché
“Cooking is an endless quest for perfection; it is at the same time never reached and always there.”
— Julien Vaché
I’ve been falling asleep to bigger-than-life fairy-lights; of the skyscraper kind. I’ve been talking too loud. And I’ve French-kissed, at times with a reason, most of the time without. I’ve been waiting for autumn, and wool leggings, and earmuffs; and somehow, I’m sort of day-dreaming about the past few months and how the sun would feel on my skin and how the beer made my tongue tingle and how pieds-nus [barefeet] was the only way to go, just by reading Nikole’s words. I’ve been waiting for something else too, someone else really. I’m still waiting, but shhh… that’s a secret.
I’ve been working days and nights. Or perhaps, it is nights and days. I’ve forgotten how to count weeks. Hours. Minutes. And seconds too.
I’ve felt the wind from the top of that bridge, late at night. Or very early in the morning, your call. I’ve tied my hair into a ponytail and walked through the meat-market. I’ve made plans to visit the fish market after that, but really, the comfort of my bed was all we needed.
I didn’t take no for an answer. And for the first time this year, I’ve said no out-loud. Many times. It might be a back-to-school illusion, but I’ve sort of grown up. And yet, I’ve been eating ice-cream straight from the tub, bath or not. I’ve employed magical thinking when making bread. I’ve made wishes at every shooting star I saw. I’ve dreamt. And really, no matter how old I ever get, I never want to stop dreaming.
Right now, I dream of things you’ll know about soon enough. The obvious and the less obvious.
The not-so-official September dream/happy-list.
1. Three rolls of film. To be developed. To be continued really.
2. Closing my eyes at every street corner and wishing to see his face.
3. Taping that last full stop in the manuscript I’ve been meaning to finish for months. Yes, I’m still not over.
4. Watercolour and brushes. Illustrations for that book of mine that still feels too pinch-me-I’m-dreaming good to be true.
5. That secret thing I will know more about tomorrow. Cross your fingers for me. And your toes too!
6. Sitting by the Thames. And looking at the clouds go by.
7. The coffee missions my friend Francesca has been enrolling me in, not unlike a treasure hunt. So far, it’s been amazing.
8. Hearing the sound of raindrops against my window. Such a classic cliché, such a broken record; and yet, I’ll never ever ever get tired of it. Figs too, by the way.
9. Sleeping with no other alarm than the sun shining through the curtains.
10. The giant fabric baobab I see very early in the morning. The one that makes me feel like I’m in Le Petit Prince.
11. Yes, eleventh, just because it feels right: the most gorgeous dinner I’m ever going to eat. Yes, it’s on the way. And more.
I’d like to talk more. But you see, there is a consommé with halibut and some fennel – of the baby, caramelised kind – being cooked in my house, and there is white wine in tall mismatched glasses, and it rained tonight! And most importantly, escargots would go in the wild. Adorable and all.
What are you dreaming about these days anyway?
This is the gif I told you about.
Wind as a token of my love for colder days.
Days made of rain pouring down the windows. And a roaring sky. Oh and the occasional lightning too, welcomed with more vowels than our alphabet offers.
Yes, autumn is on its way, and really, I could not wish for more.
Some days are ok. Others are grand. I remember that day when we felt like we owned the world. Kissing at every street corner and not even noticing the happy dance snowflakes made around us.
Yes, that was an august day. And a august-er night, in the winter.
And some days are not so grand. But that’s part of the game. A game we don’t choose to play. And yet we’re here, one step forward, at times two, and three steps backward.
Pulled up and down.
Not unlike a roller coaster.
Not unlike surfing on the waves I thought we’d be in by now.
Yes, today was not the best day. But I put on my favourite red lips. And that dress that floats when I spin. And I spinned, and cried a little too, in the tube. And I made a gif. And had gnocchi, pan-fried with butter until crisp with gold on the out-kind-of-side and yet, soft as a pillow on the in-side. With a side of ketchup, for only excuse that it felt right.
And slowly, like a merry-go-round that never ends, the cacophony turned into music. And really, there was no better place to be than safely nested against that wooden horse. In fact, there is a better place to be, but of this, I will tell you later.
Some stories only belong to grand days.
Guys, it’s eight pm. And I’m sitting in my bed. Looking at the sun playing hide-and-seek through the City. Perhaps, I took a picture with my phone. And one with my minolta instant pro too. And perhaps, even with my forgotten love who goes by the name of sx70.
It’s been great around here these days.
Even if I’m the only person in London to have a cold. Even if I haven’t had a days off in ages. Even if it’s so hot in the kitchen, I’ve had to give up tempering chocolate.
Because you see, I have my desserts on a menu. Printed in a pretty font. With fancy words.
There is something with strawberries and a rhubarb sorbet. And olive oil too, because that’s how I roll. There is a milk chocolate and salted butter caramel tart, sort of. There is a summer pudding, the French way; with the same brioche my grand-mother always makes: tons of butter and a touch more, and an elderflower berry compote-ish. There is a caramelised pineapple with bits of coconut dacquois, and the pinkiest hibiscus and lemongrass sorbet. There is a chocolate and honey lava cake with roasted apricots. And honeycomb too. Because it’s crunchy and I kinda love it.
Because you see, the berries are pretty amazing this year and my freezer has now turned into a trendy pink ombré.
Because you see, my friend Rachel thinks this little blog is khool.
Because you see, I make crazy experiments. The lastest was a basil pâte de fruit(s). It went with fresh strawberries, and a Pimm’s and lemonade sorbet. I will tell you about it soon.
And just so you get ready, James and I are planning on making a Pimms’s and lemonade pâte de fruits roly-poly. It should be grand. So brace yourself!
And I know I missed the farewell to July and the bonjour to August, but really, does it matter when you have basil pâte de fruits instead?
[Iced coffee, just like in Greece]
There is this nice place a few footsteps away from Knightsbridge. It has a counter made of salads – more beautiful one than the other – and cakes – most likely blueberry with some kind of oaty crumbles. It also has the cutest waiters. And they make coffee, the Greek way.
In fact, I need to bring my camera next time I go. Most likely tomorrow. Not for the waiters, although I’m sure you wouldn’t mind some serious hotness, but today, it’s more about coldness.
Ice-cubes and coffee. And milk, with a touch of cream too.
Because we can never have enough coffee in our lives, here is the recipe for the creamiest cup you could ever have.
Hope you’re having a lovely summer. Mine has been super-busy so far. News and updates to come soon soon.
And PS. thanks to everyone who signed in for the newsletter. The first edition should be on the way very shortly (well, knowing me, that’s more likely to be another month).
The sound of his voice in my head. And his hands tickling the back of my neck.
The lullaby of raindrops crashing on the ground.
The purr of a washing machine. Or even better, a never-ending passing train.
The kind of silence only snowy streets can offer.
The heartbeat of Lukie against mine.
The one tune that cab driver sang, just when I needed to hear it.
It’s raining. And somehow, we’re once again having winter in July. It seems to be a standard these days. And really, I could just write a letter to July. Not unlike the one I would write to that boy I’m in like with, that I’ve been in like with since I first saw him, in fact.
A letter to July, sort of
I thought that – as you once feared so much – I had forgotten about you. About those nights of magic rush. About the cold we found only one way to fight against. About those words you told me, and how they felt like music to me. About your lips and how delicious they tasted.
Yes, I thought I had forgotten.
But then, just like the firecrackers that shatter the summer sky in million pieces or the ones you made me feel, I remembered.
As the waves pushed me on the shore. As tiny pebbles rolled on my skin. As I could hear bubbles pop when my head was underwater. And just as I started to let go of myself, I held onto you a little more with every somersault. I miss you. And I wish you were here. And really, I wish I’d never let you go.
There would be Pim’s, and lemonade too. Blackberries – of the wild, tiny, kind – picked from bundles of green leaves. And mostly, there would be the sun.
I shouldn’t complain though; the past month was pretty much amazing.
Not unlike spending days at a café terrace or in the potager. Not unlike sleeping on a péniche [canal boat] and eating tellines cooked à la plancha, just so. Literally and figuratively too.
Summer happened and it was great. Nights with that boy I’m very much in like with happened and it was more than great.
But I guess, July will be a month of new beginnings. A new flat (by the Thames, and really, all caps could be appropriate here; perhaps even exclamation marks). A new job at my old-school love: the Capital, alongside two of my favourite chefs, Richard and James, who are making beautiful things on the plate and in my mouth (I’m always spoon-ready, just in case…). I might add Jake, the apprentice to that list too. He’s the most amazing little chef ever and really I wish he was on pastry full-time.
And it feels so good to be in a kitchen again after so much time spent in flip-flops and bikini. One day last week, we got delivered a little (ahem, of the 2kg kind) too many blackberries, which I turned into a very dark du jour dessert.
There was a blackberry coulis topped with clotted cream mousse and crystallised white chocolate. Blackberries pan fried in a little sugar until just juicy; and some fresh ones, halved, too. A blackberry foam, barely set. And a big fat quenelle of clotted cream ice-cream. Oh, and I almost forgot the most important: a crumbly yet melt-in-your mouth vanilla sablé.
That night, I also made a pré-dessert of red-currant sorbet with peach granita and a touch of yoghurt foam, with a see-through tuile.
Yes, it might not feel like summer around here these days, but one thing is for sure: good things WILL happen. Under the rain. Drenched to the bone. Smile on my face.
The unofficial July happy-list.
1. Melting a tablespoon of nutella in the microwave then topping it with one scoop of cookie dough ice-cream on a rainy evening. Eating it with a side of Made in Chelsea. And calling it a day.
2. Which one I feel more guilty about: nutella slash ice-cream or Made in Chelsea? Hmmmm really, no need to feel bad, just watch a few episode of Cooking with Dog to reset the tacky-balance.
3. Watching the boats go by at night from my bedroom window.
4. Dreams made of plates and foams. And fruits and ice-creams. This is always the place I get my ideas from.
5. Finishing to write the never-ending book. Yes, I’m almost done and, all of the sudden, feel like I need to change everything.
6. A second strawberry season. Or a lesson in making the most of climate differences between the south of France and London.
7. A happy place made of aprons and plates. And labels and plastic containers. Yes, I belong to the kitchen.
8. Drinking bloody maries, and champagne, and gin and tonic during the same night.
9. The thought of Lukie growing up fast. Soon she won’t be a baby anymore. I miss her so so much already.
10. Day-dreaming about lands that lie behind puddles and on top of clouds.
What are you day-dreaming about these days?
[Yogi tea journey cake]
It was the end of autumn and my days were spent on a farm, milking goats and making cheese. I met her. She had a name from the earth and an Australian accent. And really, she could never stop talking.
Never. She would tell me tales, of the back-home kind. And how the brook by her house was nice to swim in since they were no crocodiles around. Snakes? Perhaps. She insisted that wind was said w-aaai-ned.
She came home with me and stayed there for weeks. We’d hike through streams and mountains, we drove to lost places – not unlike the world end. She taught me how to eat avocado on a toast with cayenne pepper just so; raw almonds and vegan cakes; avocado smoothies and soy chai lattes. She taught me how to wrap a turban around my head and lace my hiking shoes. She taught me how to welcome the sun, one pose at a time. She taught me how to live. It’s as simple as that.
In fact, I’m not sure she realised what a friend she’d become.
A few days later, I drove her to the Pyrénées where she’d be woofing during the winter. I never saw her again. And to this day, I can’t brew a yogi tea without remembering our days together.
I don’t know where in the world she is, but I’m sure she’s happy. She always is.
Of course, she would not aprove of this anything-but vegan cake. But damn it was good. With our favourite tea inside to make it warm and spicy.
Cake de voyage au yogi tea
I made this cake for my maman to take to her yoga class, where it got eaten fast. The base batter is adapted from my favourite lemon week-end cake, with both cream and butter for the moistest loaf you could ever dream of.
You could substitute the tea for any spice you’d like, or as in my original recipe, for the zest of two fat organic lemons.
Whatever you decide to do, you’ll love it. And as per usual, I always bake my loaf cakes the same way: 5 minutes at 180°C, 10 minutes at 170°C, and around 25 minutes at 160°C to finish the baking. Write this down somewhere safe and you’ll always get the most beautiful cakes out from the oven. Golden and plump, with an even crack in the centre.
Oh yes, that crack! I shared this tip here before, but I can’t repeat myself enough on this one.
Simply pipe a straight line of softened butter onto the centre of the cake before baking and wait for the magic to happen!
Cake de voyage au yogi tea
makes one loaf, serving 8-10 people
250 g caster sugar
200 g plain flour
1 tablespoon (or 2 sachets) classic yogi tea
1 teaspoon baking powder
150 g crème fraiche or double cream
50 g butter, melted
softened butter, extra for piping
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter and flour a loaf tin.
Place the eggs and sugar in a bowl, and whisk until light in colour, for around 4 minutes. In an another bowl, mix the flour, yogi tea and baking powder. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Then pour a little of this onto the cream and melted butter, mix well, and transfer back to the main batter mix, folding in gently using a spatula.
Pour into the prepared tin.
Place the extra softened butter in a piping bag and cut a very small hole, around 4mm-wide.
Pipe a line of butter across the cake; and bake for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 170°C for 10 minutes, and bake for a further 25 minutes at 160°C, or until a knife inserted in the centre cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool down on a wire rack for 10 to 20 minutes, then unmould and set aside. If you’re not planning on eating it right away, wrap tightly in clingfilm. It will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
This morning, I went around the garden. And ate a strawberry. Then I saw the coriander in full bloom and had a leaf. And bang!
Strawberries and coriander is such a darling flavour combination. And the beginning of a new series on comme un lait fraise where it’s all going to be about the flavour combos that feel like fireworks to me; not unlike notes to myself. Reminders of some sorts. And hopefully, you’ll mettre votre grain de sel [add your two cents] too.
[col grid="3-1 first"]strawberry soup, isomalt tube, coriander foam[/col]
[col grid="3-1"]coriander shortbread, white chocolate crémeux, macerated wild strawberries, coriander blossom ice-cream[/col]
[col grid="3-1"]strawberry and coriander tropézienne: brioche, strawberry jam, coriander crème mousseline, fresh strawberries [/col]
One. Coconut water. Feel the heat. A heat like you’ve never felt it before. Or at least you’ve forgotten. Yes, at times, it is pointless to try and remember things that can only be felt. His lips on yours and his hands on you. But I digress…
Ride your bike to the closest shop. A corner shop is more than fine. Buy more coconut water than you think you can drink. Open one on the way and sip it through a plastic straw. Come home. Take your clothes off and drink another two. Keep the rest in your fridge. You’ll need them, trust me.
Two. Watermelon, mozzarella and mint salad. The title says it all. Chop a watermelon and don’t bother to go for the seedless ones as they almost always are tasteless. And really, what’s worse than a tasteless watermelon?
Tear two mozzarella balls in bite-sized pieces. And sprinkle with a handful of mint. Coriander is fine too. Drizzle with a little olive oil and some good vinegar. Perhaps a touch of salt and chilli flakes. Eat it with a fork and drench the plate clean with a chunk of crusty baguette.
Three. Mojito sablés. Cream 150g of softened butter with 80g of icing sugar. Add the zest from 2 limes and the chopped leaves of a mint bunch. Don’t cut your fingers. Mix in 210g of flour, plain is fine. I know we’re doing mojito sablés, but fancy they are not. Form a log and chill for at least thirty minutes. Preheat your oven to 170°C and cut the log into 1cm-thick slices. Arrange them on a baking tray lined with paper and bake for fourteen minutes, or until the edges just start to look like the sunset. Burn your fingers when you transfer the sablés to a wire rack and mix 60g of icing sugar with a tablespoon or two of good rum. Nothing fancy (I warned you), but since you’re going to be drinking it too, you might as well make yourself happy and fight the hangover you have from the night before with good booze. Drizzle this glaze over the cooled sablés. Have fun again tonight.
Four. Fraises des bois et framboises. Go to your garden. Barefoot. You can even pretend to be a barefoot contessa, it’s ok, I won’t tell anyone. And to be honest, I do the same. Pick some raspberries and strawberries too. Strawberries des bois [from the wood], they’re tiny and a little rough. They might be covered in dirt. But dirt is no harm. Remember those times when you put raspberries at the tip of each finger, then eat them, one by one. Un, deux, trois… Dix. I’ll teach my children how to count this way, the best way, really. And how you couldn’t eat strawberries without having some ‘juice lipstick’ all over your mouth. And how cherries got turned into earrings. Yes, remember.
Five. Cakelets in a jar. Make your favourite cake. I can’t advise you on that as the choice is yours. But I think a fromage blanc cheesecake or a very-French yoghurt cake would be perfect. Divide the batter in between eight small jars and bake away. Twenty minutes should be enough, but the cakelets might need another five-or-so minutes. Go with your guts. And drink Pim’s. You can’t go wrong with Pim’s.
In fact, make a large jug of Pim’s with lemonade just so, and plenty of strawberries and cucumber – sliced, hear hear. Or perhaps, even gin and tonic with small balls of watermelon and cucumber. Really, what would we be without cucumbers?
Pack that jug in a large basket and the cooled cakelets too. Go to the beach when the sun stops burning but the sun still sparkles on the sea. Swim, and make a somersault or two. Hear the bubbles pop and let the waves push you on the shore.
Have a cakelet and finish that jug. That’s about how good life can be.
What are your favourites for this hoooooot* summer?
* Might not be super-hot when I land back in London, so i’m currently sucking up as much sun as I possibly can. You should do the same wherever in the world you are!
In fact, I’m off to the beach as I type this. Just a few plants to water and I’ll be the next to be watered on the list. x
[In the garden #1]
We picked radishes. A big fat handful of them. We cleaned them under running water and kept the leaves for a soup. We ate two strawberries straight from the plant. They still had a little dirt on them and tasted sweet like summer is.
We coated courgette flowers in a light batter made with sparkling water – of the tempura kind – and fried them until crunchy. We cut a salad, no, two. And made a vinaigrette, and drizzle it over the beautiful leaves.
We watched tomatoes grow. Tiny plump green jewel. And really we can’t wait. We left a few camomile flowers to dry in the sun. They made the best tea ever the night after. I had mine with a bit of honey and ice-cubes.
Hope you’re enjoying those early summer days. And those few words about my never-ending garden.
[A midsummer dinner - Apricot and pistachio tart]
I had a pâton of pâte sucrée in the fridge. And a little bag of roasted pistachios a friend brought back from Lebanon. And of course, too many apricots sitting on the counter.
An hour later, all this turned into a tart.
The kind of tarts that are simple and rustic. And yet, ever so delicious. We had a piece still warm from the oven for lunch. And another for dinner, after a baguette garlic steak sandwich that was so good I want to remember it forever. Inside, thick slices of juicy steak with plenty of grated garlic, a dollop of cancoillotte, and salad leaves from the garden.
With a glass of rosé and a few radishes we’d just picked, it was fairly close to the perfect summer dinner.
A few hundreds kilometres away, my friend Anna-Sarah* is having her very own perfect dinner. On a péniche [houseboat] with never-ending glasses of champagne. It’s her birthday and I wish her the happiest one ever.
And if I’m lucky enough, I might even join her on the boat next week-end. Just before I fly back to London. And step into whites again. At the Capital, to give a hand to my friend Richard Hondier who’s now running the kitchen and plating the most delightful dishes I’ve ever seen. And really, I can’t wait.
* You might know that Anna-Sarah hates apricots, she’s already told me off when I posted this a few days after she’d left (of the I-see-you’re-waiting-until-I’m-gone-to-write-about-apricots kind), so sharing an apricot recipe on her birthday, let’s hope she forgives me!
Tarte à l’abricot et à la pistache
This tart is super-quick to put together. Especially if you have some pâte sucrée ready in your fridge or your freezer. I know I always do, and this way, dessert is almost always less than an hour away.
There is nothing tricky. Pastry, crème d’amandes, fruits, and a little glaze. Ah, yes, just a quick word on crème d’amandes, a stapple in French pâtisseries. I forgot to include it in this list, and really it should be there. The mistake has been corrected since more often than not, you’ll find crèmes d’amandes that feeleither too buttery or too spongy. And most of the times, it even gets called frangipane, and trust me, crème d’amandes in no frangipane.
To make a gorgeous crème d’amandes, you just have to make sure the eggs are at room temperature. I keep my eggs in the fridge, so they never are. If you add them fridge-cold to the creamed butter, the mixture will split and might leak butter during baking. The trick I use is so simple it hurts. I just place the eggs in hot water – of the tap kind – while I cream the butter and sugar for several minutes. And then, one egg at a time, with a good two minutes of beating in between to bind the emulsion, and make it smooth and airy.
Now, enough words for such a doodle of a recipe…
Tarte à l’abricot et à la pistache
for the pâte sucrée
130 g butter, at room temperature
95 g icing sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
30 g ground almonds
250 g plain flour
Cream the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla extract for a few minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the ground almonds. And the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Tip in the flour and mix until just combined.
Flatten the dough and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least 3 hours – or up to 5 days – before using. Or keep frozen, for up to 3 months.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 4mm-thick rectangle. Carefully wrap the dough around your rolling pin and place on top of a 10x30cm tart tin. Line the tart case with the dough, then trim the edges. Place in the freezer while you get on with the crème d’amandes.
for the pistachio crème d’amandes
80 g butter, at room temperature
100 g caster sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
60 g ground almonds
60 g roasted pistachio, roughly ground
30 g plain flour
for the montage
8 apricots, halved and stoned
1 tablespoon apricot jam
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, for 8-10 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl every now and then. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well – at least 2 minutes – after each addition.
Tip in the ground almonds and pistachios, then the flour and mix until just combined. Scrape the crème d’amandes into a piping bag fitted with a 12mm nozzle and pipe the cream at the bottom of the prepared tart case.
Arrange the apricots halves, cut-side up onto the crème d’amandes and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
In a small pan, place the apricot jam with a little water and bring to the boil. Gently brush this glaze over the hot tart, and allow the tart to cool down at room temperature. Slice into wedges and serve, perhaps with a scoop of ice-cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
Being a pastry chef is most possibly the best decision I’ve ever taken. Everyday, I have no words to describe the bliss I feel when I’m busy making things. Yes, making. With my hands dirty, and more often than never, with my apron too.
So yes, many say you can judge how good a pastry chef is by the look of his/her apron. In the books, it should be clean at all times.
Well, let me tell you one thing. I strongly think that if you can tell every bits and pieces of mise-en-place that’s been made with just a look at a chef’s apron, then it’s a good thing. Perhaps, it’ll become a joke. But I will know deep-inside that this chef gets things done.
And to me, that’s a very good start. The clean apron will come later, as every move will become smoother, faster and more precise. And if it never comes, you can always change it ten times a day (and I speak from experience on this point).
So today, I’d like to focus on skills and techniques that are the very essence of what makes a good pastry chef, in a kitchen or at home.
Because at the end of the day, I strongly believe it’s not about your position, or whether you trained in the most expensive schools, or simply love to spend your days off making pastries.
It really gets down to passion. A passion with no boundaries.
In fact, I know many passionate people who know more than the head pastry chef next door.
And that’s really the matter. To know, to be curious, to strive to learn always and forever more. To experiment, to fail, to success.
This is the very first step to becoming a pastry chef.
The list is not exhaustive, but should be considered as a checklist. You want to become a pastry chef? Then do some research and learn about:
- pâte brisée
- pâte sucrée
- pâte à foncer
- pâte feuilletée (perhaps, even inversée)
- pâte feuilletée levée
- pâte à choux
Is you pâte brisée crisp and flaky? Is your pâte sucrée melt-in-your mouth?
Do you know the difference between pâte brisée and pâte à foncer?
And what about your puff pastry? Is it light and break into million pieces in your hands? Do you know how to caramelise its top?
Are your croissants and pains au chocolat light with even layers and thin membranes? Do you see a honeycomb pattern when you slice into them? As for the technique, do you know a great tip that ensures even laminating?
Are you choux puffs consistent and hollow? Not wet and yet not dry? Can you glaze an éclair, shiny even after a few hours in the fridge, neat around the edges? Do you know that technique for fondant, the one that involves freezing it into small disks then letting it defrost over a choux?
Do you know brioche dough is an emulsion? Do you treat it as such? Can you knead it by hand or in a mixer without over-heating it? And which temperature should the butter be?
Are your savarins and babas light as a feather, with holes just so?
- pain de Gènes
- biscuit cuillère
- crème d’amandes
Do you know the difference between a génoise and a pain de Gènes? Is your génoise light and fluffy? Can you tell when it’s just baked, not overly so?
Can your dacquois holds its shape? What’s the purpose of the many different ratios of caster sugar versus icing sugar?
And the biscuit joconde. Why do you have to beat the mixture for so long? Can you spread it thinly enough in an even layer?
Are your biscuits cuillère soft and spongy rather than dry? Is your batter firm enough to keep its shape when piped? Do you always dust it with icing sugar at a 10-minute interval?
Can you tell when a macaron appareil has been macaronné enough? French or Italian meringue? Or even, as I now see it more and more, Swiss meringue? Which syrup temperature is best for the Italian meringue? Can you pipe macarons consistently? Are they shiny with a crisp crust and melt-in-your-mouth inners? Do they have beautiful feet? Do they crack in the oven, and why?
Is your crème d’amandes light and fluffy? Does it split and feel too buttery once baked? Is it too spongey?
- temper chocolate
Can you temper chocolate so that it snaps into shiny shards? Can you do it without a probe? Without a marble? Can you spread it to make décors with just a palette knife?
Do you know how to make a simple ganache? And how each ingredient works towards a smooth supple ganache?
- crème pâtissière
- crème mousseline
- crème diplomate
- crème Chiboust
- crème anglaise
- crème au beurre
Is your crème pâtissière super-smooth, not grainy? How do you do, just bring it to the boil or let it bubble for a few minutes to relax? Do you just pour the hot liquid over the egg mixture and let the magic happen?
Does your crème mousseline feel light? Does it split? And do you know what to do in case it does? Do you add the butter to the crème pâtissière, or the crème pâtissière to the butter? What about that story that says half of the butter should be incorporated into the hot pastry cream?
Do you know the right temperature to fold your whipped cream into the crème pâtissière to make a crème diplomate? How much gelatine is just enough to set it?
When making a Chiboust, hould you use a whisk or a maryse when folding the Italian meringue into the hot crème pâtissière? In fact, how hot should the pastry cream be when you do so?
Is you crème anglaise eggy? Is it smooth and just thick enough?
As for the bavarois, two things: how whipped your cream should be? How hot your anglaise or fruit purée?
Is your sabayon thick and glossy?
What is a crémeux: lemon, chocolate or other fruits? Does it hold its shape and yet melts in your mouth? Is it set just enough or could you kill someone with it?
Is your crème au beurre made with Swiss or Italian meringue? Which temperature do you need the meringue to be at before incorporating the butter? And how cold the butter should be? Why does it split? What to do if it splits?
Can you make the perfect quenelle with one spoon? Always the same size, with a pointy tip and a round back?
How to whisk, mix, combine, fold? Spread with a palette knife or an off-set palette knife? How to tell when a sponge is baked? How to whisk egg whites, fast or slow? And cream? Until which point for a mousse, a Chantilly?
How to glaze an entremet, with no air bubbles and a shiny glaze?
How, how, how… This is what should go through your mind every single second of every single day.
I’ll try and make step-by-steps for each and every of the above items, but in the meantime, get your aprons out, find recipes and compare them to each other, and get dirty.
Yes, definitely get dirty!
Yesterday, we found a basket on our fence. The third this week. It’s made of osier and hung by a metal hook.
Inside, we could see apricots. And at times, cherries.
Most of the fruits have been eaten already. Fresh, torn in halves, with their juices running on our fingers. Really, why mess with perfection?
But we have still a few kilograms of apricots left. Golden plump jewels. I’ve made an upside-down apricot and camomile cake. It was all sorts of wonderful. A crumb loaded with camomile leaves. The juices of the apricots turning into compote with the heat.
The recipe will be in the book of course, as most things that happen in my kitchen right now. Really I can’t wait to tell you more about all those words I write and all those cakes I bake. It should be all sorts of wonderful too!
But in the meantime, I have a question or two. What are your favourite recipes with apricots?
I have some gathered some notes already, in case you have more apricots that you can possibly eat (is there such thing?).
- apricot crème crûlée tart.
- baked apricots with limoncello, from the ever-gorgeous what katie ate.
- apricot and chocolate baby clafoutis.
- apricot tart with brown sugar and cinnamon pastry, from BBC goodfood.
- grilled apricots with honey and olive oil, on Taylor’s beautiful blog.
- apricot and matcha tiramisu, on – need I say more – my friend’s, Keiko, blog: nordljus which has been an absolute favourite for years.
- and her roasted apricots with camomile too, a recipe I remember dreaming over six years ago now.
- rosemary and apricot tarte tatin.
Trying to finish the book keeps me busy. But I have the feeling, someone – not to name anyone, Lukie – is going to keep me even busier.
/he’s the tiniest thing I’ve ever held in my arms and I can’t seem to get enough of her /him*. See you soon. x * don’t judge, it’s really hard to tell!
Yesterday, two am.
Tonight, we ate al fresco. In our garden. Who said you’re not allowed to play make-believe anymore?
I made dessert. One strawberry tart, only it’s so much more. Black olives, vanilla, and olive oil shortbread. White chocolate crémeux. Strawberries from the little patch that somehow resisted the month of May; or perhaps, I should say the month of rain. Strawberry coulis and jam, just so. I topped it with borage flowers, and basil blossoms. And it was pretty amazing.
One massive pistachio and cherry cake. So simple. And yet, the hint of cinnamon in the hidden white chocolate mousse felt just right. We had a slice each. And then a second.
By that time, mosquitos began dancing around us, making our heads spin. By that time, stars started to fill the sky, not unlike light through a moth-eaten blanket.
After dinner, I read. A lot. But most of all, I found this.
“She made some of her “griddles trimmed with lace,” as only Barbara’s griddles were trimmed; the brown lightness running out at the edges into crisp filigree. And another time it was the flaky spider-cake, turned just as it blushed golden-tawny over the coals; and then it was breakfast potato, beaten almost frothy with one white-of-egg, a pretty good bit of butter, a few spoonfuls of top-of-the-milk, and seasoned plentifully with salt, and delicately with pepper,—the oven doing the rest, and turning it into a snowy soufflé.”
This morning, eight am.
I woke up with the sun through curtains so light they seemed to glow. I buttered a 24cm-wide cake tin and turn the oven on.
Coarse polenta got mixed with flour, sugar, and a lot of milk. And cream was poured with no other explanation than this cornbread I’d read about yesterday.
I didn’t grow up on cornbread. But cornbread grew up on me.
It might have been because of that guy with deep-blue eyes and the cutest American accent ever. He would make me peanut butter and honey sandwiches, and halve strawberries into salads. We had matching front teeth, of the large kind – yes, I do believe that I only fall in love with boys who have two large front teeth, just like mine; but we’re not here to talk about genetics.
This very cornbread can’t wait.
While it was in the oven, I rolled green tea puff pastry and made vanilla crème diplomate. I wrote a little too. And after an hour had passed, I took the glorious bubbling cake out from the oven and let it cool while coffee was being made.
I had a slice, still warm, with plenty of runny honey. And trust me, I think all mornings should be like this.
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg‘s A Homemade Life.
I did not know what to expect from this cake. Sure, knowing both Molly and Jess, I knew it’d be good. Sure I had a picture in front of my very eyes. And yet, it always feels like magic to me when a batter separates into layers.
When it was baked, I could barely wait to slice it. And the cream was still on the slightly runny gooey side. Not that there is anything wrong with it. Now, a few hours later, it’s firmed up into a silky custard (yes, I totally had a pre-lunch slice).
The edges remind me of canelés. The bottom is rich with corn. And the top feels like a pillow of creamy custard.
makes one 24cm cake
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a fat pinch salt
45g caster sugar
480g whole milk
50g butter, melted
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
240g double cream
Butter a 24cm-wide cake tin, preheat the oven to 170°C, and place the tin in the oven to warm up.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, polenta, baking powder and salt. In a jug, whisk the eggs and sugar, add the milk, butter, vinegar and vanilla extract.
Slowly pour the wet ingredients over the flour, and mix until just combined.
Scrape the batter in the hot tin, then slowly pour the cream in the centre of the batter. Bake for one hour. Allow to cool for 30 minutes or longer, and servee in thick slices with syrup or honey.
The reinette seems to like Anna-Sarah’s potager a little too much. She found it in the fennels today and to be honest, we couldn’t be happier.
My days are like no other at the moment. I bake in the morning. And write recipes in the afternoon. With breaks spent in the garden, with a glass of fizzy water of the ice-cold kind and a frog to look at.
I can’t promise I’ll post any recipes in the next week or so, but I might have something in my little notebook that you’ll like for sure.