Bonjour avril

memoriesA story about , , , , , , Written on le Monday 23 April 2012.

[Hello April]

My weeks have been made of Sundays lately. And it really feels like walking with my eyes closed and crossing my fingers at every step I take.

Not unlike getting lost. Not unlike falling in love.

And to be honest, it was all making me a bit so-so. A bit outside of me; behind of me, really.

But I wrote into my moleskine. And I painted asparaguses (?) and a lonely beetroot.

And I had a gin and tonic, or two, but who’s counting? And I kissed him back of stairs made of stone.

And I talked to a friend over a glass of wine and a plate of manchego with those capers I’m so deeply fond of.

And I baked a loaf of brioche. And I fried some beignets too. And I’ve started writing the book that will keep me from feeling so-so ever again.

Yes, belated bonjour avril. And bonjour book. I love you already!

No list for this month. It’s a bit too late anyway, May is just around. And hopefully the beautiful days that are usually made of party confettis too.

Oh, just one more thing: I’m dying to try my friend Rachel’s chocolate mousse. One more thing on the to-do. One more gooood thing to be accurate. See you soon!

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The end – Coffee and chocolate self-saucing cake

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , , Written on le Wednesday 18 April 2012.

The end. Of this, that is.

I was writing when the timer went off. Upstairs, sitting cross-legged in front of my laptop.

It wasn’t as cold as the outdoors would suggest. Perhaps, from the oven. Or the sweater he must have draped over me while I was reading words that once were thoughts.

A cake getting plump, the syrup bubbling over. A distant bip. The sound of an opened oven door. The scent of just-brewed coffee and hot chocolate too.

Yes, it was all happening without me.

And before I knew it, we were burning our tongues. One spoon each. One half each. It felt like playing Battleships. With a small cloud of steam for each hit. No miss really.

After a chocolate war he won, we layed on the bed; our heads upside-down, looking at the rain pour. Yes, at times, it all does down to this. I told him I really liked the idea of the cake we just devoured. Those two layers which melt together and yet not quite at the same time.

In fact, as I think about it now, I can’t help but imagine a banana cake in a pool of caramel sauce. Or a chestnut flour cake, with some kind of green tea syrup.

Coffee and chocolate self-saucing cake
Adapted from Donna Hay’s Seasons.

As with most recipes I make on rainy days, this cake is almost instant. The syrup gets made in a little over ten seconds. And the cake batter can be made in one bowl (although I would usually advise to mix the powders separately, but, come on, we’re making cake for the sake of it today, not for a dinner party).

We actually made half a batch and it fit perfectly into our 20cm enamel pie dish. But I would understand if you don’t want to use half an egg, and have some leftovers, which we somehow regret now…
In case, you go the half way too, make sure you beat the egg before weighing out 25g (=half egg). And make sure to check your cake after 15 minutes in the oven. As soon as the cake feels baked and the syrup starts bubbling over, it’s ready. Get a spoon. And enjoy.

Coffee and chocolate self-saucing cake

serves 4

for the syrup
90g light brown sugar
25g cacao powder
200g water

for the cake
125g milk
35g butter, melted
one egg
150g plain flour
45g light brown sugar
30g ground almonds
one tbsp instant coffee
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

In a small pan, bring the water, sugar and cacao to the boil. And pour into a 20cm baking tin.

Whisk the milk, melted butter and egg together. Add the flour, sugar, ground almonds, instant coffee, baking powder and salt, and mix until just combined. Pour over the chocolate sauce. And bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the point of a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Do you have any great recipes for self-saucing cakes?

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Through the wrong end of a telescope

memoriesA story about , , , Written on le Wednesday 18 April 2012.

I look through the window. And this is all I see. Rain and trees that snow.

The very spectacle of April happening before my eyes. But no matter how breathless it makes me feel – every single year – I somehow wish for more.
A more I can’t quite define. A more that is so far and unreachable I sometimes wonder if it was real.

I have a cake in the oven. Of the self-saucing kind. It promises all sorts of wonderful.

See you in a bit.

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On thunderstoms and first kisses – Caramelised Jerusalem artichoke velouté

la cuisineA story about , , , , , , , , , Written on le Saturday 14 April 2012.

It’s been oh-so-quiet around here lately. Perhaps, that’s what happens when I have too much to say, too much to do, too much to look forward to.

But last night, I saw the dark sky turn into fireworks. And I heard the thunder grumble. And I smelled the earth get damp through a window that has been open – if ever so slightly – for weeks now.

And I might have been half-asleep when that happened (so much for non-drowsy cough syrups) but it felt like the most beautiful dream. Only it wasn’t one.

It was there, around me.

Thunderstorms are a thing so rare in London they become treasures you remember like a first kiss.
And while I could tell you about how he made me forget everything I thought I knew, I’m here with a soup instead.

As a reminiscence of cold winter nights and unspoken words. As a celebration of the smell of rain, which we might disregard now that pims-and-lemonade days are ahead of us.

As my winter comes to an end – for good this time – so many other things do too. Bruises on my legs and cuts on my fingers; journeys over the Thames, late at night…

But I have the feeling you’re going to see a lot more of me these days.

To new beginnings!

Just peel a handful (300g) of Jerusalem artichokes and gently fry them in butter – or even better, goose fat – until golden brown. Deglaze with 300g of chicken stock and 300g of whole milk. Simmer until tender. And blitz until smooth smooth smooth. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Serve piping hot. Preferably with a drizzle of truffle oil, more-than-a-drizzle of crème fraiche, and some butter-toasted croutons.

And in front of you will stand a bowl of the soup that is not just a soup; but a concentrate of winter, and kisses under the rain, and goodbyes that makes your perfect eye-lined eyes get a little more grungy.

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Bonjour mars, au revoir mars

la pâtisserie, memoriesA story about , , , , , , , , , Written on le Wednesday 28 March 2012.

[Hello March, goodbye March]

I’ve felt raindrops running through my hair; and my dress too. I’ve made a cake. And another one too.

I’ve seen blossoms on every tree. I’ve walked in empty avenues, with my eyes closed and his hand on mine. I’ve had dreams I never knew I had.

I’ve lied in the grass, under a sun that felt like vanilla ice-lollies and pims and kisses of the French kind. I’ve listened to the trees hum until the sky turned pink.

I’ve barely slept, at least at night. And I’ve cried a little. At times with a reason, most of the times without.

Perhaps that’s the very essence of spring. Not unlike erasing a chalk board and making wishes for every flower that blooms.

A spring that’s going to be full of surprises.

And taming fears. And rhubarb.

Because let’s face it, only so many things taste as good as rhubarb does.

The not-so official rhubarb favourites.

1. One pot rhubarb cordial, compote, and sauce.
2. Rhubarb curd.
3. A rhubarb ice-cream, made of chunky rhubarb compote and cream. It doesn’t get any easier. Oh yes, don’t forget to churn.
4. The prettiest milkshake.
5. Rhubarb and custard kinda soufflé.
6. A tart with orange blossom custard and stewed rhubarb. With its juices, of course.
7. Inside a madeleine. Or on top of a chewy meringue cloud.
8. A crumble, with fennel too.
9. Wine-stewed rhubarb. To try with rosé or champagne, perhaps.
10. On a cake, with a custard glaze. Or maybe, in a doughnut would be even better.

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She fell in love with…

memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Tuesday 06 March 2012.

A rainbow kind of sky, as seen from my bike. It was so beautiful it made me question my love for dawn over sunset.

Ohhh such important matters…

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

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , , , , Written on le Tuesday 28 February 2012.

[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.

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The daily fix

memoriesA story about , , , , Written on le Monday 27 February 2012.

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.

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Oops #1

la pâtisserieA story about , , Written on le Friday 24 February 2012.

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.

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A bicyclette

memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Thursday 23 February 2012.

[On a bicycle]

I’ve been riding my bicycle through the beach, and putting tray after tray of madeleines in the oven. It smells lovely around here. Of warm butter and vanilla.

You should come.

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There are only so many things I know

memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Monday 20 February 2012.

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.

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

la pâtisserie, memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Friday 17 February 2012.

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.

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Find a map and draw a straight line – Chewy flapjacks

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , , Written on le Wednesday 15 February 2012.

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.

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Only in dreams

memoriesA story about , , , Written on le Monday 06 February 2012.

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.

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Bonjour février

memoriesA story about , , , , Written on le Wednesday 01 February 2012.

[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?

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She fell in love with…

memoriesA story about , Written on le Monday 30 January 2012.

PS. Not of the one thousand and six hundred pounds kind (dreams). More of the tilt my own lens in front of the sensor. And yet, it feels just right.

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Those three words – Gelée d’huile d’olives

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , , Written on le Wednesday 18 January 2012.

[Olive oil jelly]

In autumn, with figs, a young brillat-savarin curd, and a warm sponge so full of vanilla seeds it’s almost grey. Perhaps, a few toasted and salted almonds for crunch.

In winter, with caramelised apples, a white chocolate granita – not unlike snow, crystallised rosemary, and fresh apple bubbles. And maybe, a few baby quenelles of croissant ice-cream. But that’s just a thought.

In spring, with strawberries and a hibiscus sorbet. Or flapjack ice-cream. Oh yes, flapjack ice-cream sounds good.

In summer, with candied tomatoes. And a simple vanilla ice-cream. Or with an apricot roasted in basil syrup, honeyed kataifi, pistachios, and honey ice-cream.

It all started one night, when J. mentioned those three words. Olive. Oil. Jelly.

It was last week. Ever since, I haven’t stopped thinking about all the desserts I could make with it.
I mean, my favourite summer snack is vanilla ice-cream with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel after all.

So we’ve been working, trying to find out how to turn pungent oil into a clear jelly.

And somehow, I think we’ve gotten there. After many failed experiments.

Gelée d’huile d’olive
It is not perfect, by any means. In fact, I wish it would be slightly clearer. Perhaps, using isomalt instead of sugar for the syrup.
But this will be for another experiment. In the meantime, a wobbly olive oil jelly. A bit too sweet. A bit too cloudy. And yet, terribly good.

Gelée d’huile d’olive

2 1/2 leaves (5g) gelatine
50g water
80g caster sugar
one tsp (10g) glucose syrup
100g extra virgin olive oil

Soak the gelatine leaves into ice-cold water.
In a pan, bring the water, sugar and glucose syrup to the boil. Squeeze the gelatine leaves and whisk in. Then, slowly pour the olive oil, emulsifying with a whisk or an immersion blender as you do so.
Pour into a container or spread onto acetate for a jelly sheet. Chill for a couple of hours. Cut into dice or other…

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Goodbye, hello

memoriesA story about , , Written on le Sunday 08 January 2012.

I walked along the Thames. On the very firt morning of 2011. And saw a balloon floating along. And a French bakery.
I drank lattes. Waiting for them to cool down, with the wind and cold.
I turned the lights off to a kitchen I still miss every now and then.
I walked him home.
We drove to Cornwall. And saw the most beautiful lighthouse. Both wearing our hats against the mist and the fog. I think I left my heart there. Or at least a piece of me.
I crossed London by night. Possibly crying.
I walked through a forest made of white blossoms and mud at my feet.
I started working in another restaurant. And whether I realise or not, it shaped me.
We spent the most perfect day ever. Summer in April. It was almost wordless, but words don’t always matter. I left my pink ballet shoes in the grass and he left his flip-flops. And there we had tickle fights.
I went home. Or at least, that’s what they call it. We had a lunch made of sun sparkling on the sea. A pistachio sponge was served with smoked chocolate and green tea ice cream.
I swam with jellyfish.
I swam even when they were not in the sea.
We ate at Northroad. It was a roller-coaster. But mostly inspiring.
I wrote on stones.
I kissed him goodbye. In the rain. It doesn’t get anymore cliché than this.
I woke up to the most beautiful view of the London skyline line. It felt like walking on a cloud. Right above.
I introduced myself, with a possibly already stained apron and a hat ever too small or large. Why do I always have hat issues?
I woke up to a sunny and quiet Knightsbridge during the riots.
I flew to the smallest airport.
I cooked with my grand-mother. I listened to her stories. I rode my bike through a land I know by heart.
We ate at a restaurant in China Town. He burned my sequined top with his cigarette. And then we sang, mostly off key. He walked me home. We laughed all the way. I said good night over a garbage bin. It can’t get any less cliché than this.
I swam in the sea. Again. I slept a lot too.
I looked up. And wondered what Peterkin custard was.
We kissed. And went for a night-time exploration of London. I took a cab. Then came back.
I wore my leopard leggings. And cat’s eyes. He wore a wool hat. And we stood by a red door. Until the lamp poles went off. He kissed me goodbye in the cab.
I got ill. And lived in a world of hallucinations and dreams and nightmares. I didn’t hear or see when 2011 turned into 2012. But I know for sure it’s going to be fine.

Happy new year! x

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