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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to eatA story about , , , , Written on le Wednesday 27 July 2011.
11-13 exmouth market, EC1R 4QD

My playground love. With his blue eyes and boyish smile. With his barefoot habit in the winter and his cute front teeth.

Yes, Caravan is just like this. A slice of home outside a home. A slice of time that’s long gone. And perhaps – for the right-nowness – a slice of a cornbread that’s so moist, it reminds me of the French toast we cooked on the embers of the bonfire we’d made the night before to keep us warm under the stars.

Tea made me discover the roastery on a day of early June. And for this, I’m forever thankful.

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PS. Une brioche avec un peu plus de beurre

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , Written on le Sunday 24 July 2011.

[PS. A brioche with a tad more butter]

London, sometime in April.
I made a brioche. In five minutes; and five days. We woke up early to shape and proof the dough. Well, I did. A couple of hours later, we sat at the table, with our eyes still plein de sommeil [full of sleep].

And we had a slice each. With plenty of strawberry jam. And a cup of coffee.

I then proceeded to braid my hair. And for a walk we went. The trees were snowing and no matter how long I will live in London, my dreams will always float higher with the April snow.
Another coffee was taken, at a café this time; perhaps in Fulham or Clapham. I can’t remember.

But I recall a phone conversation with my mum. About the brioche. And how she should make it.

France, sometime in May.
I flew in wearing UGG boots and a wool scarf. But as we reached the car on the airport parking lot, I switched for those leather sandals I’m so fond of.

We arrived home. And dropped the suitcases somewhere in the living room.

Without judging unpacking necessary, we headed to the kitchen. An apron got wrapped around my waist, flour got weighed out, dough was put away in a bowl.

And before we knew it, we made a brioche. In five minutes; and a five days. Oh and five hundred grams of butter. Perhaps with a couple of hidden chocolate squares. Yes, perhaps…
It tasted just as good. If not better.

And just so my mum doesn’t have an excuse not to make brioche, here is the recipe in French. Oui!
Accents included and all. Mum if you knew how long it takes to add accents when you have an English keyboard, you’d already be making brioche as you read this.

Dans un bol, fouetter le beurre fondu, l’eau, le sel, les oeufs et le miel. Ajouter la farine et la levure. Mélanger à la cuillère en bois jusqu’à obtention d’une pâte souple et homogène.

Recouvrir le bol avec un torchon et laisser pousser à température ambiante pour un peu plus de 2h.

Une fois la pâte ayant doublé de volume, mettre le bol – toujours recouvert d’un torchon – au frigo pendant au moins 24h.

Le lendemain – ou n’importe quand dans les cinq jours qui suivent – beurrer un moule à cake génereusement. Prélever 450g de pâte du pâton. Puis la diviser en quatre. Fleurer (fariner) le plan de travail et bouler (former des boules) chacun des morceaux.

Placer les boules dans le moule préalablement beurré et faire pousser pendant 1h30.

Pendant ce temps, préchauffer le four a 190°C. Battre un oeuf pour la dorure. Dorer la brioche au pinceau. Et cuire pour 40 à 50 minutes. Démouler et laisser refroidir sur une grille.

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Ensemble, c’est tout – Pancakes tous simples

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Thursday 21 July 2011.

[Together, that's all - Very simple pancakes]

It was a morning like no other.

That day, we woke up to clouds around us. Some call it fog, but living in the clouds somehow feels more right.

I went down to the kitchen. And started putting pieces back together. One at a time: bottles by the door, plates in the sink, soap on the sponge.
Because that’s how we do. We enter a house. Broken. And slowly make a home. Together. And it all suddenly makes sense, it all suddenly matters.

C., who possibly heard the cliquetis of the glasses against the stainless-steel of the sink, came around. Sat on the seat against the sofa, which still had P.’s massive pillow and the blanket Anna-Sarah got me more than years ago.

She lifted her feet as I mopped the floor. With bleach. Just so. And it smelled like days at the swimming pool.

P. walked downstairs, still wearing her signature pompom hairdo. Already too late to run.

I said pancakes. I heard yes. And just as I had removed the linen fabric off the table, it got dressed again. With four plates. And maple syrup. And strawberry jam.

nigella lawson's pancakes

C. made us coffee. With lots of milk. Of course for her and H., it was not hot enough. But, really, barely warm coffee is one of those things I live for.

A couple of eggs were fried. The upside-down way. And breakfast started.
By then, it was already two pm. But that didn’t matter.

Pancakes tous simples
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to be a domestic goddess.

Pancakes is one of those things that bring people closer. And that’s the very essence of a home-made breakfast. In fact, I can’t recall making pancakes just for me. It always seems to be for a crowd.

That’s possibly why I think it’s necessary to have a recipe you could make with your eyes closed. For me, it’s this one. Straight from the book I used to take everywhere and that witnessed my very first experiments in the kitchen.

So very easy. Dry ingredients on one side. Mix in the eggs and a little milk, just enough to form a paste and prevent lumps. But even if those happen, simply beat the hell out of the batter before adding the remaining milk. Perhaps not the most recommended manoeuvre if you judge by the many recipes I’ve once read, but then the experience says that I’ve never had a problem. Or maybe I was just a tad too sleepy to notice.

If I remember right, Nigella makes hers in a blender. I’ve never tried, but – for the record – my dad makes his – more than just lovely – crêpes this way. Probably worth trying. And the jug would actually make a pretty convient way to pour the batter into the pan instead of using a good old laddle.

Pancakes tous simples

makes 10-12, serves four

225g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
pinch of Maldon seasalt
15g caster sugar
2 large eggs
300g milk
30g butter, melted and cooled
butter, extra for frying

Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine using a whisk. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and a little milk – just enough to form a smooth and lump-free batter. Add the rest of the milk whisking as you go. Then fold in the melted butter.

Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add a teaspoon of butter to melt. When it starts bubbling, wipe it with kitchen paper to coat the whole pan. Cook the pancakes one or two at a time until bubbly, then flip over and cook for a further minute.

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Du pain sur la planche

wordsA story about , , , , , Written on le Monday 18 July 2011.

[Bread on the board]*

Other than grazing at the London sky for hours, being stuck in bed for the past six days has also given me the chance to learn that Oxford University is sort of breaking-up with the Oxford comma – now, we have a problem here; my life depends on serial commas (and this is no understatement).

Oh, and I also had some time for a little re-design.

I say little, but really, it took me a day. Sure it was a high-on-codeine kind of day, but still pretty long for just…

1. The main category now shows up before the title. In bold. That’s in case you want to know what’s happening in France, in London, in my dreams, or in the kitchen*.
I had to code in php for this. And apart from winter in July, there are few things that give me goosebumps like php does. So please tell me it’s – at least somewhat – useful.

2. The tags appear just under the title.

3. The comment link is shaped like a heart. And when you leave a comment you can now automatically add a link to your latest blog post.

4. Related posts still seem to be super random, but hopefully as the time goes, they will sort of match.

5. I’ve added some hand-written links to the facebook page and my twitter in the sidebar. So don’t hold your horses and be friendly.

6. Speaking of friendliness, your emails couldn’t make me happier. You’ll find my email here. Or just click on the envelop in the sidebar. Just bear in mind that with a 70-hour week, it sometimes takes a – little – while for me to answer.

7. Can someone tell summer to come back. Joke is over now. Please.

* a more accurate translation would be to have a lot on one’s plate.

** serial comma alert! You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

PS. featuring my very-busy-in-the-kitchen grand-mère here, who I’m dreaming of visiting. September, may you come fast.

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On secrets and playing pretend – Hot chocolate tartine

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Saturday 16 July 2011.

I’ve been grazing at the sky lately. Sure it was from my bed, possibly half-asleep and not-just-half-deaf, but it was during day time.

Or so I think.

The clock said quarter to three (pm) but the rain made it all so dark it seemed like an hour past my bedtime. Or quarter to three indeed, but not in July. More sometimes around October, or one of those months in herrr*.

So for all of you who dream about ice-cones, pimms and lemonade, and late afternoons at the terrace of your favourite pub, I will give you my secret.

A toasted baguette. More salted butter than you think you could take. And not-just a sprinkle of drinking chocolate.

This will make you forget about the watermelon that has been sitting in your fridge, waiting for the cool-cravings. This will make you forget that instead of chatting the day away on your balcony, your friend was telling you how much he’d love to have a fireplace**. This will make you forget about this season of the year that you once cherished.

Slice a piece of baguette in two. And toast until golden brown. Spread with a thick layer of very good salted butter. And top with a mountain of drinking chocolate, of the cheap kind; Nesquick makes for a perfect tartine.

Listen to the rain. And if it stops and the sun starts shining, just close the curtains and play pretend.

* which also happen to rhyme with grrr, but even thought it’s not an altogether different story, I won’t go there, for the sake of my sanity.

** to which you didn’t answer – or perhaps, more realistically, screamed – HERESY (and yes, it does deserve all caps), but ‘oh yeah, that would be amazing with a thick wool carpet and one too many pillow’.

Now, please make me dream. And tell me your summer is postcard-perfect…

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China town

to explore, to shopA story about , , , , Written on le Friday 15 July 2011.
gerrard street, W1D 6JN

I’ve been living in a world made of pillows, blankets and duvet covers. It could be the most cosy place in the world – and usually feels like it – but right now, I dream of a trip to China town.

Have a bubble tea*. With extra tapioca, of course. And walk down Gerrard St – yes, it’s called China town, but China street would, perhaps, be more accurate. Explore the – often cheap – menus, knowing I will end up a couple of blocks down to my favourite eatery** anyway. Spend too much money at the supermarkets***. Possibly on nata de coco, basil seeds, glutinous rice flour, and tapioca pearls.

I treasure those moments. Part of a routine I will never get bored of. Just like the route I used to take over and over again, on my bike, when I was living in Paris.

* HK diner on Wardour street.
** Tokyo diner on Newport place.
*** there are three supermarkets on Gerrard street, and much to my surprise, I don’t have a favourite; or perhaps, it is New Loon Moon for the cheapest tapioca pearls of all.

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Mon écureuil

memoriesA story about , , , , Written on le Wednesday 13 July 2011.

[My squirrel]

I might have a new friend. Same face. Same place. Just a couple of months later.

And yes, just as I did before, I’m writing this from a bed*. Wrapped in a blanket. With an army of medicines on my bedtable.

*It seems like whenever I’m ill I have squirrels** on my mind.

** Please don’t judge. Those painkillers I have been given really shouldn’t be made available for public consumption.

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Bonjour juillet

memoriesA story about , , , , , , Written on le Friday 08 July 2011.

[Hello July]

The first night of July smelled like freshly-cut grass. We could hear planes over our heads and, at that exact moment, it reminded me the evening we spent sat on the sidewalk by the motorway. Watching cars go by in silence.

A few days later, I woke up to the sound of rain – of the storm kind – and Chinese pop songs. Rewinding time to last December, when all we did was to snuggle under a wool blanket, reading tales from other countries.

And this morning – or rather accurately, this (late) afternoon – we felt small as we were walking through the City to the loud bangs of St Paul’s Cathedral.

And this is what summer is about, really. No plans.

Except for biting into a cold watermelon wedge. And taking walks in the park, at the dusk. And making chocolate chip cookies by the dozen.

Oh yes, no plans at all. Just memories that will last forever. On a wall, in my mind.

What will the days ahead look like in your part of the world?

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One night of magic rush

memoriesA story about , , , , , , , Written on le Wednesday 22 June 2011.

I had forgotten how purposeless words can hold a special meaning. Just like driving endlessly on the smallest roads, with no possibility whatsoever to get lost since we have no destination.

And it feels like a moment outside of time. Where the only music is the sound of our hearts and the dreams we had.

Dreams made of sun and freshly-picked cherries. Dreams of walking next to her and belonging to someone who lives so very far away.

Now back in London, dreams have turned into wishes. Of the crossed-fingers kind. Just so.
It might be grey and, at times, wet; but deep-inside I know.

That everything is going to be fine. That, somehow, time won’t be counted in seconds but in heartbeats.

So much for the fear of time running-out. At least until the loud noise I’ve come not to hear anymore wakes me up in the morning. The morning of the shortest night of the year.

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Le Mirazur

to eatA story about , , , , Written on le Monday 20 June 2011.

When the view from our table looked like sun sparkles, green leaves and just enough coral to guess the town of Menton, we really didn’t think that things were about to get better.
And yet, we knew. Because of all the beautiful words we’d read about Mauro Colagreco. Because – and it sometimes doesn’t mean much – he was awarded with a Michelin star. Because we could see the plates coming from the kitchen to the tables.

We drove to the Mirazur on a bright day of late May.
As chefs, we’re busy thinking about mise-en-place, ordering, paperwork, and more. But then, when the apron is not fitted on our waist and we’re wearing our favourite tropeziennes instead of the usual crocs, the plates seem effortless.

Like a magic trick.
It suddenly feels like art. And it might be cliché to say so, but it’s true. If a painting can create an emotion, a well-constructed plate does it too. In fact, even more so that I can relate to it and connect.

We had the menu Découverte, a beautiful ribambelle of plates built around the vegetables and fruits of the gorgeous garden en contrebas [below] and the fish and meat from the local area.

Now, I’m no restaurant critic and I usually leave it to Felix or A.A. whose words, by the way, are some of the most genuine and fresh I’ve read.

So today, I’ll just share my memories – that some call pictures – with just one thought in mind: when will I be able to go back?

And yes, that dessert spoke to me in a way no dessert plate ever had. It might have been the matcha. Or the hint of smokiness from the chocolate cream.
In fact, I am more than ever planning on experimenting with the éponge, a Ferran’s avant-garde cake baked in the microvawe, pushing the boundaries of traditionnal sponges.

For the record, here are the notes from what I will remember as the best lunch I’ve ever had.

chips riz encre de seiche, saumon basilic [squid ink crip with salmon and basil]
canard fumé, purée mangue [smoked duck, mango purée]
bouchée mozzarella fumée [smoked mozzarella bites] 

pain du partage [pull apart bread, which reminded me of a brioche, in a savoury kind of way. served with the most amazing olive oil flavoured with lemon and ginger]

huitre froide, poire, fleur de bourrache [cold oyster, pear in three forms, borrage flowers]

oeuf poché, céleri-rave, émulsion d’anguille fumée [poached egg with a celeriac purée and an emulsion of smoked eel]

salade de haricots et courgettes avec vinaigrette échalotes, pistache et cerises fraiches [bean and courgette salad, shallot and pistachio vinaigrette, fresh cherries]

morilles, émulsion persil, quinoa, mousse parmesan [morrels, parsley emulsion, quinoa and parmesan mousse]

bonite, purée angélique, jardinière de légumes: radis courgettes navet, quenelle mandarine-carotte [skipjack tuna (?), angelica purée, little glazed root vegetables, mandarin and carrot quenelle]
poitrine de porc, purée prune, émulsion lavande, echalotte confites [pork belly, plum purée, lavender emulsion, confit shallots]

pré-dessert, cannelloni cerise, glace pistache, infusion hibiscus [cherry cannelloni, pistachio ice-cream, hibiscus cold broth]

éponge menthe du jardin, crémeux chocolat fumé, meringue chocolat, éclats sucre chocolat fumé, glace matcha, foam ortie [mint sponge, smoked chocolate crémeux, chocolate meringue, matcha ice-cream, nettle foam]

That day, I felt lucky and grateful. For eating a pork belly that tasted just like it always should. For celebrating a birthday with the people I love the most. For meeting Mauro. And his – very young – pastry chef Yann. And, really, for being. Period.

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Les pieds dans l’eau

memoriesA story about , , , , , Written on le Thursday 16 June 2011.

A hard week ahead.
For gold of the world, I wouldn’t change
A thing. You’re my diamond.

And yes, it is totally alright to make cheesy words feel ok by writing a haiku.

The treasure of my life is going to have a tough day and week. But I’m rather confident she will work her magic and turn the world upside-down.
Just like she did to mine.

I love you my little monkey. Vas-y les pieds dans l’eau!

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On water and flour – Cong you bing or green onion pancakes

la cuisineA story about , , , , Written on le Tuesday 14 June 2011.

There is something about flour bond with water. Something that possibly goes back to those afternoons spent sat on the kitchen counter, watching my grand-mother making pâte brisée [shortcrust pastry], which I would – of course – nibble on.

Of the unbaked kind.

So the prospect of mixing flour and water to a dough, then sprinkled with a generous handful of chopped spring onions – and a pinch of Maldon sea salt – felt like music to me.

Of the indie kind.

I followed this recipe. For those of you who prefer to use scales – and may the gods of pastry bless you for that – I’ve written the quantities I’ve used below.

The resulting pancakes are chewy and yet flaky. And the drawing above should have given you a hint, but they’re rather delicious when served with a drizzle – or more – of Sriracha sauce.

Of the hot kind.

Chinese spring onion pancakes

Makes eight pancakes, or four huge ones.

Mix 315g of plain flour with 180g of warm water, and knead until smooth. Brush with a little vegetable oil, cover with clingfilm and allow to rest for half-an-hour.
Cut the dough into four. Lightly oil your work surface and roll out one of the balls of dough into a thin rectangle at least 30x35cm.
Finely chop a bunch of spring onions and sprinkle on top of the dough along with a pinch of Maldon sea salt.
Starting from the long end, roll the dough up tightly, then cut in two. Coil each part into a bundle.
And finally roll out the snail into a flat circle.
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil into a frying pan and cook the pancake for two mintes on each side.
Cut into wedges and serve with a dipping sauce. And when I say dipping sauce, I really mean Sriracha.

Now, what’s your favourite use for Sriracha? And have you tried making your own?

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Bonjour juin

memoriesA story about , , , , , , , , Written on le Thursday 02 June 2011.

[Hello June]

More than ever, this year, june feels like a new start. A kiss goodbye under the rain. Metaphorically and literally.
Also the first time I won’t be able to wish my grand-father his birthday.

May has been lovely. And way too fast.

I still have to tell you about France. And everything that happened there. From our days at the beach to the most perfect lunch; from feeling the water on our skins to the 180 pictures we took.

But before that, we have to celebrate. Celebrate the month that will bring us summer – this time of the year onto which we look back as an old album of happy memories.

The not so official June happy-list.

1. Crumpets for breakfast.
2. Looking at the images from my holidays in France.
3. Looking forward.
4. The scent of my sister’s skin.
5. Witnessing cherry trees turning into red jewels.
6. Three months – already! – of what I will consider the most challenging restaurant experience of my life.
7. The morning emails from my parents.
8. Pimms and lemonade.
9. Late night dinners at home, with friends.
10. Strawberries. Of the English kind.

Oh yes, I can foresee the happy future of those beautiful strawberries. More to come soon.

What will your month of June look like? Or at least, what do you want it to look like?

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Skinny dipping – Double chocolate profiteroles

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , , Written on le Saturday 28 May 2011.

I haven’t been hanging out with my laptop much lately. You see, I’ve been sort of busy doing this. And some unexpected things. Of the good kind.

Like a lunch at Mauro Colagreco‘s Mirazur – which you will certainly hear of next week – and the less-than-occasional dip in the waves. The skinny way. Or so they say.

There is one thing that couldn’t wait for my return to the island made of clouds and possible rain. An insider told me it’s been freezing, and although I really don’t want to believe him, he might be right.
After all, we had our London summer a month ago now. And if it’s anything like it’s been last year, that’s pretty much all we are going to get.

I, however, didn’t come here tonight to talk about the weather.

My plan was more about chocolate. And perhaps, a bit more chocolate.
In fact, let’s say it out-loud. It’s all about double chocolate.

As a reminder that choux aren’t only good when sucre casson is sprinkled on them. You could also slice the naked choux (and back we are at the skinny dipping thing), fill them with your favourite ice-cream.

It’s needless to say that I highly recommend a creamy chocolate ice-cream. And please don’t bother making a nice scoop. Spoon the ice-cream straight into the choux. Place the lid back on.

And drizzle a warm chocolate sauce on top. I was told that David’s is rather excellent. But on my side of the world, we just brought some milk to the boil and poured it over chopped dark chocolate until it seemed right.

Instant profiteroles. Not so pretty. But if that makes you feel any better, eating them is not pretty either. Let’s note it makes quite a decent dessert-fix though.

Recipe: Pâte à choux [Choux paste]

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Comptine d’un autre été – Des chouquettes

la pâtisserieA story about , , , , Written on le Wednesday 25 May 2011.

[Lullaby from another summer - Sugar choux puffs]

I could tell you how my dad would take me to the boulangerie after school, as I was smaller than the smallest tree of your garden. In fact, I could barely walk. But making my way to the bottom of the crumpled paper bag handed to me by the lady at the counter seemed easy.

That paper bag could hold a dozen of chouquettes. Or as I would call them, chouchou. Possibly, a made-up word from my dad.

Oh yes, I could tell you how my hands would be sticky. And my mouth most likely surrounded by pearls of sugar.

But instead, I will tell you about what happened a few days ago.

I brought milk and butter to a rolling boil. With a pinch of salt, just so; because, that’s the way to go. I added a good amount of flour. Off the heat, it goes without saying (and yet, here I am). I placed the pan back over the gas and mixed it with a wooden spoon until it was just dry enough.
I transferred it to the bowl of my stand-mixer; although arms and a spoon would do a fine job too. And add the eggs, one at a time. Until it was just wet enough.
I piped. Without a nozzle, because they all seem to be in London. And I am not.
I brushed eggwash. I scored the top with a fork. Dipped in the remaining egg.
I sprinkled sucre casson [pearl sugar].
I baked. And poured us a glass of white wine. Or perhaps it was a rosé.

And then, we ate them. Slightly warm. And guess what? Sticky hands and sugar around the mouth are a must.

Just like they used to be. Just like they always will.
Which reminded me about this sentence from one of my very favourite books: la contemplation de l’éternité dans le mouvement même de la vie [the contemplation of eternity within the very movement of life].

I think there are roughly as many pâte à choux recipes as there are pastry chefs. I remember a place where a mixture of milk and water was used. Sometimes, they would add a pinch of baking powder. Or some sugar.

My recipe possibly originated from the one we used at school. Except, it called for water only. And perhaps, a touch more flour and less butter.
As I went by, I switched the water for milk. Full-fat, please. Added an extra knob of butter. A pinch of salt. And reduced the flour to 150g.

As for the baking method, it’s the one Pascal Lac taught me. A foolproof method that worked even in the most sophisticated English ovens. Or failing that, the most platic toy-ovens at home.

Basically, you preheat the oven to 250˚C. Quickly get the trays inside. And just as the oven records 250˚C again (the temperature will drop slightly as you open the door), turn the oven off. For 15 to 18 minutes, until the temperature reaches 160-180˚C; at which point, the choux should be puffed up and yet still pale in colour. Then, oven set on 170˚C, without fan, dry them for 10 to 15 minutes, until nice and golden; and making sure you keep the door slightly open with a wooden spoon to let any steam escape.
However, feel free to bake them all the way at 200˚C if that works better for you. But I’m warning you: an oven has never failed me with this technique.

Just a note on the eggs. I usually use around 4 eggs and a half. So what I do is to incoporate the first four eggs, then whisk the last one, add a little of this to the dough and keep the rest for a made-up eggwash!


makes 40 small choux (roughly the size of a golf ball*)

250g milk
100g butter
a pinch of salt

150g plain flour

4 to 5 eggs, see note above
q.s. pearl sugar

Preheat the oven to 250˚C, and lightly butter two baking trays.

Place the milk, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over low heat – you want the butter to be fully melted before the milk boils. Take the pan off the heat and add the flour all at once, mixing as you go until combined.
Return to the heat. And using a wooden spoon, mix until a thin crust appears at the bottom of the pan. This shows that the dough is dry enough. It should not be sticky.

Transfer to the bowl of a stand-mixer and allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes. Then using the paddle attachment, add the eggs one at a time on medium speed until fully incorporated.
Scrape into a piping bag, fitted with a 12mm nozzle. And pipe little balls, around 3cm wide and 2cm high.

Brush with eggwash, making sure to smooth the tops. Then, dip a fork into the eggwash and scrore the top of the choux.

Sprinkle with pearl sugar.

Place the trays in the oven. As fast as you can. Really. Trust me, oven temperatures drop so damn fast. Then keep an eye on your thermometre and the second it says 250˚C again, turn the oven off.
After 15 to 18 minutes (see note above), turn the oven back on to 170˚C, without a fan. After a few minutes, keep the oven door slightly open by sliding the handle of a wooden spoon inside.

The choux are ready when golden-brown and not too moist inside**.

* Disclaimer: I have never played golf in my life. Even though I must admit, I really wanted too as a child. So much in fact, it’s now affecting me as I’m using a golf ball as a unit!

** Even now, I always test them (and by test, I really mean eat one) every two minutes past 10 minutes at 170˚C.

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Drink me

les drinksA story about , , , , Written on le Sunday 22 May 2011.

Sundays in France are made for: mornings in the kitchen and afternoons in the garden. With a possible visit to the vide-grenier [garage sale] and a few drinks at a café.

We started early today. With pancakes and enough lattes to keep us awake for the day. Fast-forward to the vide-grenier where I found a set of cute glasses with a straw.

They reminded me of the drink-me potion Heston Blumenthal made for his Alice in Wonderland party. And I’m more than excited to think about everything I’m going to be doing with them.

As soon as I got home after the aforementionned drinks at a café, Aïda begged for a strawberry and banana milkshake.

She’d started making one only to realise we had no vanilla ice-cream in the house.

So I made a milkshake after my own heart. Fruits, milk and ice. Shaped in cubes.
You might call it a smoothie. And it’s a pretty good one.

I don’t think you need any kind of recipe for it. Or one that calls for…

Hull a handful of strawberries and place them in a blender. Add a banana, in rough hand-cut pieces. A punnet of ice cubes. And a dash of milk. Blitz until smooth.

Add a straw and feel like how being en vacances [on holiday] should feel like.

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