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.


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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to eatA story about , , , Written on le Thursday 11 August 2011.
19 blandford st, W1U 3DH

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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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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