Et des morceaux d’arbres tomberaient du ciel – Le cake très chocolat

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Tuesday 18 October 2011.

[And pieces of tree would fall from the sky - The ultimate quadruple chocolate loaf cake]

I plan to spend this autumn collecting dead leaves and horse-chestnuts, drinking coffees with warm mittens on, drawing the nights away, and day-dreaming about je ne sais quoi.

In fact, if I were to plan anything it would be a forever-autumn.

Its blue skies and ice-cold winds, occasional mists and ensuing falling leaves. And, no matter how old I grow, its slight Christmas air that fills my mind with tings tings.

Of course, chocolate cake would be involved. As it usually is when the first cold decides to make an appearance, happily forcing me into warm winter leggings and furry boots.

Always the same one. With cocoa powder. And chocolate chunks. And chocolate syrup. And grated chocolate to top it all.

I made it for the very first time three years ago. On a cold October afternoon. Perhaps it was a Sunday. And by the next day, it had been devoured.

And somehow, the story repeated itself. And somehow, a plateful of crumbs was all that was left.

Le cake très chocolat
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast.

One of the things I like the most about this cake is not its melt-in-your mouth texture or the fact that it uses four different kinds of chocolate.

No, is that’s it takes longer to bake than to make; leaving plenty of time to fill the house with its warm chocolate essence, and giving you just the right amount of cosy expectation.

It is in fact a doodle to make. A one-bowl kind of cake. And trust me when I say it is pretty satisfying.

Le cake très chocolat

serves 8-10

for the cake
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
50g cocoa powder
275g caster sugar
a pinch of maldon sea salt
175g butter
2 eggs
175g chocolate, melted
80g double cream
125g boiling water

for the syrup
one tsp cocoa powder
125g water
100g caster sugar

for the topping
25g dark chocolate, grated

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Generously butter one large loaf tin and line with baking paper, making sure to cut it above the rim.

Put the flour, baking soda, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla extract, melted chocolate and double cream into a bowl, and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Slowly incoporate the boiling water and pour the batter into the prepared tin. Now, depemdonding on the size of your tin you might have a bit extra. Just bake it along with the monster cake in a little bowl.

Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until a small knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan, and boil for approximately five minutes, until thickened.

When the syrup is ready, pierce the cake a few times using a skewer or a long match, and pour the syrup as evenly as possible over the cake. Let the cake cool down in its tin before removing from the tin (using the excess baking paper as handles) and place it on your serving plate.

Sprinkle with grated chocolate. And slice the cake away.

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Bonjour octobre

memoriesA story about , , , , , , , Written on le Tuesday 04 October 2011.

[Hello October]

Hello, it’s 32°C out there.

This morning I went swimming. One last time before the French holidays come to an end.

Oh, this past month has been great. I’ve been enjoying the summer I never got this summer. I’ve been swimming and underwater-somersaulting. I’ve been jumping from reading those words. I’ve been spending long hours redesigning comme un lait fraise. I’ve been making chocolate cakes every other day. And giving more hugs and kisses than I thought I could.

Tonight, I will be in London. Hopefully under a rain coming from the trees – the best kind of rain, if you ask me. And with golden leaves on the pavement.

Yes, I’m looking forward to a proper autumn. In autumn this time, please.

The not-so official October happy-list could actually be very short this month. And perhaps, would go along the lines of: pumpkins and mushrooms and chestnuts. That’s all.

1. Making that garlic bread again.
2. The glow of rain drops under street lights.
3. Michelin guide! And really, I could have written Miiiiiiichelin guide and added a high-pitched voice.
4. Sharing one of my favourite chocolate cake. Nigella called it quadruple chocolate loaf for a reason.
5. Writing about apples and vanilla, for the market. And eating some too!
6. This cookie cutter. I’ve found a spot for it, on my bed-side table.
7. Mushroom soup. For dinners on the sofa.
8. Wearing a white jacket again. And an apron too.
9. Pumpkin risotto. With sage, perhaps.
10. Burning my fingers on roasted chestnuts. The ones held in a newspaper cone. And eaten through a walk at the park.

What are your three words for this October? And, of course, what are you looking forward to?

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On summer secrets – Feta and lemon dip

la cuisineA story about , , , , , , , , , , Written on le Thursday 29 September 2011.

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

la pâtisserie, memoriesA story about , , , , , , , , Written on le Tuesday 27 September 2011.

[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…

memoriesA story about , , , , Written on le Friday 23 September 2011.

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

memoriesA story about , , , , Written on le Tuesday 20 September 2011.

[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

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , , Written on le Saturday 10 September 2011.

[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

le kitchenwareA story about Written on le Saturday 10 September 2011.

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

to eatA story about , , , , Written on le Wednesday 07 September 2011.
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

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Monday 05 September 2011.

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

memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Sunday 04 September 2011.

[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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PS. Ben Spalding at the loft project

to eatA story about , , Written on le Monday 29 August 2011.

Marylebone, London, early August
It was a Wednesday. We walked through Manchester square; looking at trees turning to that golden shade we all long for. Then three hours later, we realised there was something else we longed for.

Something that Roganic – and his head chef Ben – just delivered to us in the form of a six-course meal.

Clapham Junction, London, late August
I woke up to a sun so bright I could barely feel the wind through the window. So much for golden leaves and nights by the fireplace.

It seems summer is here, at times.

My dear friend Q. tells me she thought about me when she saw Ben Spalding will be cooking at the Loft Project. I’m glad I have friends.
One minute later, a booking was made.

Sometimes, I still surprise myself when I’m half-asleep.

Hackney, London, near future
It will cold, and perhaps raining. I will sit down to the communal table and have a lovely time.

And I think you – too – need a friend to tell you about this. So hurry up, only seven seats left!

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Les prunes

le marchéA story about , , , , Written on le Saturday 27 August 2011.

[Plums]

Let me introduce a new category. The market.

A collection of random thoughts – and perhaps, recipes – about my favourite fruits and vegs from the market.


Last week, I picked up some English plums from Waitrose. Yes, the bag simply said English plums. And I guess – just like all flings – it’s always right not to ask too many questions.

All I know is that they were as pink as the sky is grey. The colour of blushing cheeks and lips bitten just so.

As I made my way through the bottom of the bag, on the very same day, it made me think about that theory my best-friend Anna-Sarah came up with years ago.

The theory of pips and stones.

According to which people can be sorted into two categories. Pip-fruit lovers and stone-fruit fanatics.
I’m certainly the latter, with raspberries as the only exception. Because, yes, you’re allowed an exception.

So do you think you are a pip or a stone?

View the results

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As a reminder for myself, the English-French translation for my very favourite plum varieties.

Reine-Claude = greengage.
Mirabelle = mirabelle.
Quetsche = damson.

And while I’m at it, did you know plums is prunes in French. And prunes is pruneaux.


A few ideas for desserts…

Poached plum with horchata ice-cream and plum gel.
Tonka bean cheesecake, candied plum skins, plum granita and sorbet.
Plum and rose consommé with tapioca and sacristain, basil foam.
Warm white chocolate fondant, roasted olive-oil plum, plum curd, candied black olives.
Iced yoghurt with mead-poached plums, rapeseed crumbs, and nougat honeycomb.

What are your favourite flavour combinations for plum?


In French, we say pour des prunes [literally, for plums] when we mean for nothing.

This saying seemingly dates back from the crusade times, when the crusaders came back from Damascus with for only victory the memories of the beautiful plum trees they ate from over there.
To which the king answered: ‘What? Don’t tell me you went to Damascus only for plums.”.

And for the record, if you hear pour du beurre, it means just the same.

I can’t take my eyes off Tara’s beautiful bounty. I think you might like it.

And her recipe for brown butter plum cobbler too!

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The smell of the ocean

memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Saturday 13 August 2011.

Today, I booked a flight to a place I haven’t been in a year. But even with my eyes closed, I would still be able to ride my bike to the little fortress by the marais [marsh].

With the sound of the wind through the wheels as the only music, and the smell of the ocean écume [froth] as the only perfume.

And I can’t wait to spend time with my grand-mère. Taking care of eachother, sharing secrets and recipes.

In fact, I’ve been looking at pictures from a season I thought I’d rather forget. With a smile on my face.

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Roganic

to eatA story about , , , Written on le Thursday 11 August 2011.
19 blandford st, W1U 3DH
http://www.roganic.co.uk/

Ben Spalding has puzzle pieces tattooed on his arms. Eating at Roganic did feel like putting all those bits together. One at a time.

We sat at the table, with rescued wine bottles as water glasses. A foam – straight from the siphon – turned into a deep-red liquid. Better than biting into a cherry.
And then, it started. Six courses, although I now wish we went for the ten-course menu.

To say it was magic would be both an understatement and an overstatement. Magical, it felt. Genius, it was.

Millet and pearl barley made a pudding. Of the savoury kind. With bone-marrow in a bone-like caramelised pear and Stichelton.

A piece of just-cured crisp-skinned Kentish mackerel was flirting with wild honey, in a way that tastes better than kissing. And broccoli came around for a threesome.

A slice of Jersey Royale disguised itself into kidney. Making you forget that offal is your favourite thing in the world. After chicken skin, that is. Much to my own pleasure, both were here. In one way or another.

Skate belly was served with a charred baby leek, and tiny scallops; something so rare in London, it makes the lunch worth it with no explanations needed. Oh and some caramelised cauliflower puree.

A cut of veal, cooked in buttermilk, melted in our mouth, while the cobnuts were doing their job with flair. Crunch and nuttiness included.

For dessert, it felt right to order one from each menu.
And after a pre-dessert made of a small quenelle of gin and tonic sorbet that made me wish I could eat it straight from the ice-cream machine – yes, two litres of it – we knew we were right.

A white chocolate sorbet stood on top of rapeseed biscuit crumbs, with plums and meadowsweet. It looked simple, in an effortless kind of way. But it is one of the most complex desserts I’ve ever had. The flavours are indescribable. Like holding your breath for so long that the things you’ve missed start to make sense.

Cicely ice-cream melted over a couple of just-halved strawberries in a verbana nage. All brought together by buttermilk curd. My version of what early summer should taste like.

A cube of toasted brioche was rolled in a spice sugar. Some salt almonds and a small quenelle of smoked clotted cream later, I could feel autumn. Its golden avenues and crisp winds. With a smudge of buckthorn curd balancing the deep smokiness with a hint of acidity.

At this point, three hours and four glasses of very-well matched wine had gone by; in what felt a second. And we sipped a Douglas Fir milkshake which tasted surprisingly floral. And I really couldn’t stop wishing for more. Yes, more; and the recipe for the pastry chef’s mother’s soda bread.

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A lucky strike with tangzhong 湯種 – Petits pains au lait à la japonaise

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Saturday 06 August 2011.

[Japanese-style milk buns]

It was a night of early winter, I think. It was possibly raining. And dark.

I can’t remember for sure, but it seems right.

I weighed flour and water in a pan. And turned this mixture to a thick paste over slow heat. Until a thermometre read 65°C.
It was then placed in the fridge. And forgotten.

And now, six or seven month after, I’ve done the same.
Except, this time, I haven’t forgotten. And I have no intentions to.

In fact, over the past few weeks, I’ve made petits pains [little buns] filled with vanilla pastry cream; just like I used to see in the boulanger windows of my childhood. Oh and a bread with so much bacon and emmental that it was eaten in a few hours.

I have also some banana and caramel cinnamon rolls in mind. So trust me when I say that tangzhong is becoming part of me.

Petits pains au lait à la japonaise
Adapted from Ivonne Chen, via Christine’s recipes.

You should know by now that I’m the kind of girl who kneads by hand. With my favourite technique – which I promise to do a video of, one day. In the meantime, the closest I’ve found can be seen here. It’s fool-proof, and damn fun. Not to mention quite liberating.

In the recipe below, I’ve introduced something some of you might not be familiar with. The windowpane test. it’s quite useful when it comes to yeasted doughs, to tell whether the gluten is developed enough or not.
Basically, you start by pinching off a walnut-sized piece of dough and try to stretch it into a thin membrane.
If it tears, then you should keep on kneading.
If it doesn’t tear but the membrane is opaque, then you should keep on kneading.
If you can stretch it to a paper-thin membrane, then you can pour yourself a glass of wine.

You should make sure gluten is fully developed before adding the butter, which tends to break the protein net. Also in that aim, work fast once you have the butter in and don’t knead for too long. Just until your dough is smooth again.

Petits pains au lait à la japonaise

makes 6 buns

for the tangzhong
50g strong flour
250g water

for the dough
350g strong flour
55g caster sugar
1tsp salt
one egg
125g milk
120g tangzhong
one tsp instant yeast
30g butter
, at room temperature

for the eggwash
one egg, beaten

Make the tangzhong. Place flour and water into a small pan and whisk well until there are no lumps. Cook over slow heat, whisking as you go until it thickens and reahes 65°C.
Transfer to a clean bowl or plastic container. Cover with a clingfilm to the touch and allow to cool. At this stage, you can keep the tangzhong in the fridge for 24h or use it as soon as it’s cold.

Make the dough. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, tangzhing, and the egg; then add to the dry ingredients.
Work the liquid in, until you have a sticky dough with no lumps.
Transfer to a clean work plan and knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth. You should be able to stretch a little piece of dough into a paper-thin membrane.
Using the palm of your hand, work in the butter. The dough will split then come back together.

Transfer to a lightly floured bowl, cover with a torchon [cloth] and proof for 40 to 60 minutes, until doubled in size.

Scrape the dough to a floured work plan and punch to deflate. Divide into six equal portions and knead into balls. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. And proof for around 40 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180C.
Brush the buns with eggwash and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden-brown. Transfer to a rack.

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Bonjour août

memoriesA story about , , , , , , Written on le Tuesday 02 August 2011.

[Hello August]

July felt like a summer storm. Of the quick, unexpected kind.

It was beautiful. And much unlike any other July that has crossed my path. The rain, the cold, the golden leaves covering the pavement.
Almost a perfect autumn month. With long daylight hours. And the occasional picnic.

Yes, in some ways, I think July was meant to get me ready to welcome autumn; with a smile. And it worked.

But August got in the way. With its promises of watermelon popsicles and flip-flops. Right before the autumn I longed so much for makes an appearance. For good this time.

The not-so official August happy-list.

1. Kneading yeast, flour, and water. And watch the magic happen.
2. Being alone for the first time in a long time.
3. Blackberries from my neighbour’s garden. Shhh don’t say anything!
4. Saving money. With a dream in mind. Still the same.
5. Befriending the most adorable lady who owns the prettiest antique stall. Shelves filled with retro utensils.
6. An early morning trip to Kempton Park. For treasure hunting.
7. Looking at the sky through puddles.
8. Watching snails*. For hours.
9. The golden leaves* that are slowly taking over the world.
10. Eating a slice of beetroot cake. Without frosting.

What makes you looking forward to August?

* Both pictures taken last week with my new favourite film: Kodak Portra 160 VC. It was love at the first sight.

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Roadtrips et autres histoires – Cake au maïs, comme à Caravan

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , , , , Written on le Thursday 28 July 2011.

[Roadtrips and other stories - A cornbread just like at Caravan]

Sometimes, all I want is to put my warmest boots on, and escape to a place outside of time. I would drive there for hours. To the sound of wind and the smell of rain through the open windows.

I would wake up too early in the morning. And have a coffee; or two. With a side of freshly-churned butter and a piece of toast.

It would be cold. And foggy. Perhaps so much I wouldn’t be able to see the coast.

I would spend my days at a small bakery; in St-Ives. Or on a farm.

At night, I would leave the curtains open to watch the stars.

Yes, sometimes, all it takes to bring you where you belong is a roadtrip. Of the one-way kind. With all your stuff on the backseat, and enough crumbs of cornbread to remember you have, indeed, eaten during this five-hour drive.

Cake au maïs, comme à Caravan
Adapted from caravan Journey.

As soon as I came home from Caravan, I knew that slice of cornbread – which I was tasting for the very first time, ever – must be reproduced in my kitchen.

I was lucky enough to find the recipe. And a simple one too.

In less than 10 minutes, you can have a cornbread in the oven. Which makes it even more perfect for breakfast or brunch.
At Caravan, it was served with a chipotle butter, but I went for the easy way* and just served it with a knob of butter topped with fresh sliced chilli.
Make sure you have a wedge of lime ready. And you should be all good to go.

Cake au maïs, comme à Caravan

serves 8
400g milk
3 eggs
60g butter
, melted
250g corn kernels (from approx. 2 corn cobs)
a bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
170g polenta
60g bread flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp Maldon sea salt

butter, chilli peppers, limes, coriander; extra, to serve

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and generously butter a loaf tin.
In a bowl, mix the mix the milk, eggs, and melted butter. In another bowl, combine the polenta, flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Add the wet ingredients and mix until smooth. Add the corn kernels and the sliced spring onions.

Transfer to the prepared loaf tin and bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Or until golden brown and the tip of a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Unmould and allow to cool for a few minutes before slicing into fat slices, using a serrated knife.

Serve with butter and sliced chilli. With a side of limes and perhaps a few sprigs of coriander.

* well, really, I have no idea where to find chipotle in London!

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