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rye bread, brown butter, honey ice cream, or glace à la tartine de miel

30 Apr

“You’re saying you made the rye bread first, and then made it into ice cream? So it’s homemade homemade rye bread ice cream?” said one friend. He thought I was showing off. I was, a little.

“It’s a glace à la tartine de miel,” said the other friend. A slice of bread and butter and honey, but in a scoop. She was the one that had asked me for ice cream au pain d’épices, similar to a gingerbread flavour. I had digressed from the original idea, but she seemed happy I left my experiment in her freezer.

They agreed on a glass of rye whiskey to sip alongside it. I had mine plain, but it wasn’t plain. It was stars-in-your-eyes wonderful. All of my desert island foods at once.

If the idea sounds like magic to you as well, it will be. Nutty and rich and a little bitter. If it sounds weird, I won’t try to convince you. (A bit like a review of a Wes Anderson film: if you like him, go see it. If not, don’t bother.)

That way there is more left for me.

~~

Rye bread, brown butter, honey ice cream

I was very proud to have made this flavour up all by myself, BUT the base quantities come from Dana Cree’s Hello My Name is Ice Cream. She taught me everything I know about the science of it all. Now I always finish with cornstarch – or tapioca flour if I remember to buy it – for a smoother, more scoopable texture.

For the rye bread, use a very dark, dense, seeded loaf for the most flavour. The square Scandinavian-style ones. You don’t have to make your own.

100g unsalted butter

100g rye bread stale or fresh

600g whole milk

+up to 300g whole milk

70g honey

100g sugar

100g egg yolks (about 5 large eggs)

5g / 1 tsp cornstarch

20g milk

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter then bring it to a boil. It will foam and hiss and eventually subside, leaving brown granules where the milk solids have caramelised. Scrape it out of the pan into a large bowl. Place a sieve over the top.

Without washing out the pan, heat 600g milk and the rye bread, crumbled into pieces, until it starts to simmer. Turn off the heat, cover and leave for 1 hour.

The rye bread will have absorbed a lot of the milk, forming a kind of porridge. Pour it through the sieve onto the browned butter, pressed gently with a spoon to get as much liquid out as possible. Discard the rye porridge.

Place the saucepan on the scales, and weigh the butter+milk mixture in it (still no need to wash). Add more milk to make a total of 700g. Add honey+sugar. Bring this to a simmer again. Meanwhile, in the large bowl, measure the egg yolks. In a small bowl, mix cornstarch and 20g milk.

When the milk simmers, pour half into the egg yolks, whisking as you go. Pour all back into the pan and cook on a low heat, stirring constantly, to 80-82C, for a crème anglaise. Remove from the heat, add cornstarch mix and stir well again.

Pour finished custard into a clean bowl or container, (if it is lumpy, sieve it first) and place in an ice bath to cool quickly. Refrigerate for 8 hours / overnight. Churn according to machine instructions.

[Rye flour recipe, number 3 out of 3]

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overnight rye bread

23 Apr

When I visited San Francisco, I was on a bread kick, sourdough in particular. It began with the Tartine book, and was fuelled by the The Toast Story which I have linked to before:

When I called Josey Baker, the — yes — baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood — a little spot called Trouble.

On my second day, still hazy with jet lag, I took the tram all the way to Outer Sunset, within sight of the ocean, and ordered the special at Trouble. Filter coffee, a slab of cinnamon toast, and a young coconut, with its fresh juice and soft insides. I sat at the driftwood bar and watched the locals come and go, and took notes. The breakfast was an odd combination, but it worked because of the story behind it. Food tends to be more satisfying with a side of story.

The toast was good: sweet, airy, plenty of butter and cinnamon. The bread wasn’t really the point of the experience. It was fluffy and white, a vehicle for the topping. Like the Japanese version of toast as dessert, with ice cream on top. A novelty, not for every day. I walked down to the beach and fell asleep, toes dug into the sand.

Later in the week I went to the Mill, closer to the centre of town. An enormous white space, racks of artisan bread and ceramics on the wall. I ordered cream cheese on rye and watched the shimmer of heat rising from the line of toasters. It seemed there was a Toast Master, one guy assigned to grill, butter and serve the squares of homemade bread. Behind him, a team of bakers tipped dough out of plastic tubs and shaped it into balls, relaxed, dexterous. They were wearing jeans, shorts, bandanas, the antithesis of the French brigade. The rye was dark and chewy, with a slight bitter edge that balanced the cream cheese perfectly. It was stuffed with seeds and grains. I think I had another piece straightaway. I definitely went back later on, and worked up the courage to ask the baker, Josey Baker, if he accepted interns come from across the Atlantic. He did, he could squeeze me in for a day.

I mentally revised my work uniform, rejected the white jacket and check trousers I brought with me, considered buying an old band T-shirt from the many vintage shops along Valencia. I allowed myself to be intimidated unnecessarily. The staff at the Mill were open, generous, sharing recipes and tips. They seemed to be constantly experimenting with new flours, different hydrations. We had a late breakfast in the garden, porridge, toast, a frittata cooked in one of the empty decks of the oven. Late in the afternoon, after the early shift had gone home, I helped the girl in charge of the rye.

‘It ferments quite fast, so we just let it sit in the mixer for an hour or so.’ After that we scooped it straight into greased loaf tins, patting it out with wet hands. She rattled off bread puns as I sprinkled cornmeal and she scored the tops with criss-cross lines. She would bake them in a few hours, at the end of her shift, by which point the loaves should have risen to the edge of the tins. I was done for the day, and left with my leggings covered in flour, a little high on the newness of it all.

This was three winters ago. I tried some other rye recipes in the meantime – the Hot Bread Kitchen book has a good one – but came back around to this one. If you have an active starter, it doesn’t take much effort at all. Prepare your starter, soak some seeds. Wait. Mix the dough vigorously. Pat into tins, no shaping necessary, and allow to rise. Over an afternoon in a warm kitchen, or overnight in the fridge. When it reaches the top of the tin, it is good to go. Barely any active time, just waiting. Perfect if you are hibernating for the winter. It will last for three or four days without going stale: with butter and jam for breakfast, honey for elevenses, slices of cheese for an evening in with friends. Have it toasted to pretend you are in California.

(Special thanks go to James and Matthieu for bringing me Danish rye flour which is especially dark and gritty. It works with a paler kind, but I love the deep colour.)

 ~~~

Overnight rye bread

makes 1 loaf – adapted from Josey Baker Bread

The rye flour I find in France is called Seigle T130, a semi-whole-grain blend. The Danish rye flour, which I prefer, is darker and grittier. It is possible to use light rye, it just makes for a paler crumb. Sometimes I mix the two to make my imported stuff last longer.

This recipe is based on getting 8 hours sleep, so adjust accordingly! I mix the leaven about midday, start the dough at 10pm and go to bed. Then bake at about 8am. To speed up the rise, if doing this during the daytime, the tin can be left in a warm place (in winter: an oven warmed to 40C, then turned off) for 4-5 hours.

quantities are for 1 or 2 small loaf tins, 10x26cm – all measurements in grams:

 

In the morning, mix levain in a small jar, and soak seeds in a large bowl. In the evening, about an hour before bed, mix everything in the large bowl: the seeds, levain, flour, water and salt. Use a stiff spatula and give it a good stir to combine. It will have the texture of cement.

Grease a loaf tin with olive oil and press the mixture into it. With wet hands, smooth out the surface of the loaf. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp extra cornmeal, shaking pan so it covers the surface. With a sharp knife, cut criss-cross slashes, about 5mm deep, to form a diamond pattern. Wrap loaf tin in a tea towel and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next morning:

The dough should have risen a little (but not like a traditional wheat bread) about 1.3 to 1.5 times in volume, up to the top of the tin. If not, let it sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours. Preheat oven to 250C. When the loaf goes in, throw a handful of ice cubes or a cup of hot water onto the floor of the oven to make steam. Bake for 10 minutes at 250C, then lower heat to 210C for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from tin and let cool on a wire rack.

Optional extra, if well prepared: cook 50g of whole rye grains/berries in plenty of simmering water until they are al dente. 30 minutes to one hour. Drain and allow to cool. It is best to do this when preparing leaven and soaking seeds. Mix into dough with rest of ingredients.

[Rye flour recipe, number 2 out of 3]

knäckebrot, or cinema crackers

16 Apr

What do chefs eat after work? David Lebovitz says it is popcorn and tortilla chips. When I worked at a bakery, I took home the leftovers, ate half a raspberry-chocolate mousse cake and fell asleep at 8pm.

Now I tend to go for: the beef satay pho from the place on the corner, which can have it ready in four minutes flat. Or: spaghetti with miso and butter. Or: frozen gyoza and frozen edamame reheated in the time it takes to boil a kettle.

Or if I am lucky, my past self filled up the tin of seeded crackers and I can eat those with Comté and sliced fennel. They taste like the really expensive crackers in the organic food aisle – not like the dry, diet ones that are basically cardboard. Good with cheese of course, or with jam for breakfast, or crumbled over savoury dishes for extra crackle.

Best of all, the crackers only take two minutes to mix up, and an hour to bake. They are mostly seeds, held together with a bit of flour and some oats. There is no rolling involved, so it doesn’t feel like work. And they can last forever, or for a fortnight, depending on how many you made and if your flatmate looks in the tin.

Or, since at the end of a long day I don’t always want to cook, talk to anyone or think about anything: I go to the movies by myself, with a paper bag of these seeded crackers, and eat them during the noisy parts.

~~

Knäckebrot, or cinema crackers

recipe from my aunt Patricia

The quantity below is enough for one standard oven tray of 40x25cm – I recommend making as many trays as will fit in the oven at once as the crackers keep for months (ha) but disappear much fast than that. (See the spreadsheet version underneath.) Use a mix of whatever seeds you have around, and up to 10% of spices, like caraway, cumin or fennel.

50g rye flour (T130) or wholewheat flour (T150)

50g rolled oats

85g mixed seeds (any of sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, flax, nigella – and up to 10% spices like caraway, cumin, fennel seeds)

2.5g / 1/2 tsp salt

175g water

5g / 1 tsp olive oil

Heat oven to 130C. Mix everything in a large bowl for a texture like porridge. Line your oven trays with paper or silpats, and weigh 360g onto each. Spread out with a spatula over the whole tray, as thinly and evenly as possible. Pop trays in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove trays one by one and carefully cut the now set mixture into squares, or whatever you want your crackers to look like. Put back in the oven for 1 hour. If they are still a little soft, turn the oven off and leave them inside to dry out. Store in a tin.

Spreadsheet version, all in grams:

[Rye flour recipe, number 1 out of 3]

abrikossnitte (apricot-pecan twists)

30 Dec

abrikossnitte coffee tangerine drawing

I spent most of Christmas Eve at our kitchen bench, drinking tea and reading the paper, watching my mother cook. It was a different kitchen, a different city, from where I grew up, but sitting at that old, scratched bench it felt like home. It was where I had breakfast and after school snacks, where I made Christmas cookies with friends, where I perched for a last cup of tea and piece of cake when the house was dark and quiet.

Open on the bench was a copy of The Cooking of Scandinavia, for the split-pea soup recipe. It is a borrowed family tradition: the Swedish have pea soup on a Thursday, we have it on Christmas Eve. A thick yellow soup, flavoured with ham, onion and a few cloves, always served with a dollop of sharp mustard in each bowl. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that it is whole and hearty, good preparation for the onslaught of rich food ahead.

Leafing through the book and laughing (not unkindly) at the old-school food styling, I remembered some of the Scandinavian Christmas traditions I have bumped into: one Christmas Eve with a friend’s family, we had Danish risalamande, or rice pudding with whipped cream and flaked almonds. The person who found the whole almond won a small marzipan pig. This year on 13th December, or Santa Lucia, a Swedish friend brought us gingerbread stars topped with a bit of blue cheese, a surprisingly delicious combination. I have also been following Fanny Zanotti’s dreamy photos and recipes from a snowy Christmas in Sweden.

Then I found a comprehensive section on Danish pastries, which the Danish actually call Wienerbrød, literally ‘bread from Vienna’, which is where flaky breakfast pastries actually originated. Hence viennoiserie in as a general term in France. The recipe is pretty similar to croissant-making, but with egg and milk and fragrant cardamom in the dough, and slightly different folds.

This variation, the abrikossnitte, translated as ‘apricot slips’ are little rectangles of dough – layered with apricot jam – that look like they have been twisted or plaited. I was curious to try the shape, much easier to make than it is to describe. Or draw: my original drawings made my mother laugh for how vulgar they looked. A laminated dough is not difficult, once you know how, but it does take time. (A good holiday project.) So I spent Christmas Eve alternating kneading, rolling, and reading while the dough rested. They were ready for breakfast the next day: flaky twists, sticky and sweet with a crunch from the pecans on top. Perfect with a pot of strong coffee.

abrikossnitte folds

Abrikossnitte (Apricot-pecan twists)

adapted from The Cooking of Scandinavia, by Dale Brown and Time-Life Books

Scandinavian buns are often flavoured with cardamom and may be filled with jam or almond paste as well. This variation look like little twisted rectangles, layered with apricot jam, but the dough can be used for many different shapes or flavours. Try with Nutella instead of jam, or even cheese and mustard.

The whole process will take a minimum of 6 hours (most of which is time in the fridge). Or it can be done over 48 hours, depending on your schedule: just leave the dough in the fridge between steps. If at any point the dough feels too soft or sticky to roll – pop it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to solidify the butter, then carry on. The dough can also be frozen at any point (up to a month) and defrosted overnight in the fridge, before continuing as before.

makes 8-10

260g plain flour

35g caster sugar

5g / 1 tsp salt

5g / 1 tsp fast-acting yeast

10 cardamom pods / ¼ tsp ground cardamom

100g milk

1 egg (50g)

125g butter, cold

100g apricot jam

to decorate: a little milk + coarse sugar + chopped pecans

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. (If using whole cardamom pods, remove seeds and grind them in a mortar and pestle.) Make a well in the centre, add the milk and egg and bring everything into a dough with one hand. Add a splash of milk if too dry or a touch of flour if very wet – although it should be a bit sticky at the beginning. Knead for 10 minutes on the counter until smooth and stretchy. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Prepare the butter slab: place butter in the middle of a large piece of baking paper. Fold it around the butter, like wrapping a present, to make a parcel about 15x20cm, A5 size. Tap butter with a rolling pin to soften, then roll out to fill the paper parcel, of an even thickness all over. Chill until firm.

With a lightly floured counter, roll out the dough to about 20x30cm. Carefully unwrap and place the cold butter on the top two thirds of the dough rectangle (see picture above). Fold over the bottom third, then the top third with the butter. Rotate the dough 90° (so that it looks ‘like a book’ with the seam on the side). Press down gently on each seam – top, bottom and side – with the rolling pin so the butter can’t escape.

Roll out lengthways to 40-50cm. Fold the narrow ends into the middle, then fold in half – this is a ‘double’, ‘wallet’ or ‘book’ fold. Chill for 30 minutes then repeat the double fold, making sure that it looks ‘like a book’ when you begin rolling.

Finally, roll out one more time, just long enough to fold the dough in half. Chill for 2-3 hours or overnight. (Or freeze the dough at this point for later.)

Roll out the dough block to a thin rectangle, about 20x45cm. Spread apricot jam on one long half (10x45cm) then fold over the bare half. Divide the long strip into 8 rectangles. Cut a slit in the middle of each rectangle, then tuck one end under and pull it through the cut, forming a twist effect (see picture below). Space the 8 twists out on a baking tray lined with paper. Loosely cover in plastic and allow to double in size at room temperature or in a gently warm place (no more than 25°C). Allow for at least an hour. OR refrigerate the tray overnight and carry on in the morning. OR freeze twists until later, then defrost when needed on a tray in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 200°C. When twists have doubled, brush gently with milk, sprinkle with coarse sugar and (optional extra) chopped pecans. Bake for 5 minutes at 200°C then lower the heat to 180°C for another 10-15 minutes, until they are nice and golden-brown all over and underneath. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before eating.

abrikossnitte cuts

common and garden variety pizzas: butternut and cherry tomato; courgette and pesto

3 Sep

homemade garden pizza

Once upon a time, four Parisians and a cat escaped to the south of France for a rural holiday, in a little yellow house with a large garden. They talked and read and lazed in deck-chairs. When they played pétanque, the cat raced up to each ball, like a referee judging distance. There was a jazz festival and a meteor shower. When it rained they sat around a fire with books, stirring only for tea and bread and jam. If they were too lazy to go the market, they only had to walk through the long grass to the vegetable patch. There were spaghetti squash (steamed, tossed with basil pesto, also from the garden) and beefheart tomatoes (sliced with salt and oil)  and long stalks of chard that were starting to go brown. (The chard went into everything – baked eggs, courgette soup, sauteed with chili and orange as a side dish.)

The menu started to look like an achingly hip farm-to-table restaurant, from the fresh sourdough – parmesan and black pepper – to the homemade jam – apricot and ginger – not forgetting the handmade mayonnaise to go on the local chicken salad. With chives from the pot next to the outside tap. They made lists of meals, and lists of Things Googled. (Why is Judy Garland a gay icon? Can zombies swim? Etymology of condom? What is the French for knuckles? Answer: They don’t have any. They have finger joints. So no knuckle sandwiches in France.)

They recycled all the leftovers into more meals – the chicken stock into soup, the bread into croutons. They ate duck and more duck. Ethiopian bread with its hint of vinegar, spread with duck rillettes and fig jam. Magret de canard with lentils. One restaurant served an incredible beef tartare, briefly seared top, with toasted hazelnuts and a generous slab of foie gras on top. They ate too much. But they only made it halfway through the enormous marrow. You can only eat so much marrow.

These recipes came from a wet morning, and a roasted butternut that needed a purpose. Perfect for using up the end of summer overload of squash, tomatoes, courgettes. They were some of the best pizzas ever made in that little yellow house.

pumpkin butternut

Butternut and cherry tomato pizza; courgette and pesto pizza

serves two, hungry

Make your favourite pizza base, enough for 2. For example: mix 250g bread flour, 150g sourdough leaven*, 120g lukewarm water, 20g olive oil, 5g instant dried yeast, 5g salt. Adjust water if necessary – but it should be initially sticky rather than dry and tough. Knead for 10 minutes or so until the dough can be stretched as thin and translucent as the surface of a balloon. Shape into a ball, allow to rest in a oiled bowl, covered, for an hour or so at room temperature until doubled in size. Halve, shape into two balls, rest 10 minutes. Roll out with a little flour to desired size/thickness.

*instead of leaven, make a starter by mixing 75g bread flour, 75g water and a pinch of dry yeast 12 hours before; or skip it altogether, just add the extra flour/water directly to the mix

~~

(The day before.) Roast one butternut squash, whole, until soft.

Finely slice one small onion and a clove of garlic, sauté in olive oil until soft. Peel and mash about half the squash into the onion with a potato masher, or a fork. Add a large dollop of crème fraîche. Flavour with salt, pepper, paprika, chilli powder, lemon juice, chopped thyme. Stir in a splash of water if too thick.

Spread over pizza base. Halve some cherry tomatoes, tear up some ham and fresh mozzarella and scatter it all over the top. Add some extra thyme too.

Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned.

~~

Very finely slice a large courgette, enough to cover a whole baking tray without overlapping, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 250C until golden-brown. Leave the oven on for the pizzas.

Blend large handfuls of basil with a handful of grated parmesan, some toasted pinenuts or almonds and a few generous glugs of olive oil to make a rough paste. Taste and add salt, lemon juice, and/or a garlic clove if desired. Spread pesto over pizza base, cover with roasted courgette circles, then fresh mozzarella and a little more olive oil. Add herbs – basil, oregano – if desired, before and/or after baking.

Bake at 250C until the crust is nicely browned. Serve with chopped parsley or rocket on top.

sourdough crumpets for one

14 May

sourdough crumpets for one

When I followed the link on Orangette’s rhubarb compote, I fell into a rabbit hole. I devoured the whole of The Pastry Department in one sitting, admiring its clean prose, tessellated pen and ink drawings and pure pastry chef geekery. Dana Cree’s recipes are from her restaurant, Blackbird, in Chicago, that I would now love to visit. They speak to the professional in their sophisticated flavour combinations, in her pared-down instructions. But they are inspiring to a home cook as well – that raw passion and intensity, the idea that you need to experiment, to taste and taste again. Reading through made me feel like a small child, allowed to eat at the grown-up table for the first time. Wide eyed and determined to live up to the trust placed in me. The list of components in the Blackbird crepes – chicory streusel, coffee mascarpone, teff crepes, rum bling, chocolate cremeux, and more – sounds like a challenge of the best kind.

I want to write to the younger version of myself, and tell her everything I’ve discovered along the way…. This blog is written for her, that wide eyed girl making the untethered leap into her first pastry chef position, and for anyone like her pushing forward into pastry careers of their own. – from the about page

It feels like discovering an Ottolenghi of desserts: when you want to make every recipe, right now, today, despite the long list of ingredients. A generous chef – who lists all of her formulas rather than keeping them secret – and one with a sense of humour. I especially liked the recipe for Mr Darcy’s sourdough crumpets. Since I have named my houseplants (Dorothy and Alfred) I am surprised it didn’t occur me to name my sourdough starter as she did hers. An English name for an English breakfast. And since I was on my way home from England with a stash of tea and crumpets, since I was wearing a Pride and Prejudice book necklace made by my adorable cousin, since I hate throwing away most of my starter if I am not baking bread when I feed it in the morning… it felt like fate.

(For this recipe, you will need to be cultivating a sourdough starter already. The upkeep is minimal: feed it flour and water every day or couple of days, leave it to bubble at room temperature. Put it the fridge when you go on holiday. Much easier than a kitten. If the promise of golden-brown, flavoursome sourdough loaves AND hot crumpets in the morning is not enough to convince you, then I don’t know what else to say. I am not enough of an expert to explain the whole process, certainly not as a codicil to a blogpost, but I can recommend the Tartine book with all its pictures as a good start.)

I haven’t opened the packet of shop crumpets. I have been experimenting with the Mr Darcy formula in the morning – bread flour or all purpose? do I need rings or will this heart shaped cutter do? how much butter? how thick? – and enjoying the freedom to play around. And the fresh, holey, chewy, butter-soaked crumpets, of course.

~~~

Sourdough crumpets

recipe adapted from the pastry department – she recommends you feed the starter after 6pm for morning crumpets. Approximately 12 hours before should be fine. She uses plain (all-purpose) flour for her starter but since I mainly use mine for bread otherwise, I use a bread flour. And 100g is the amount I normally throw away when I feed my small starter, leaving only a teaspoon or so behind.. So I’ve just carried on doing it this way. Feel free to scale up: just feed your starter double the night before. If you don’t have buttermilk in the fridge, just add a couple of drops of lemon juice/vinegar to whole milk and let it curdle for a few minutes. And I’ve used baking powder when out of soda. You can use biscuit cutters (heart-shaped or not!) instead of rings for the crumpets. Or if you do them freehand, they will be a little flatter but no less delicious. 

makes 2 large / 4 small crumpets

100g leftover sourdough starter

20g plain flour

20g buttermilk

2g baking soda (1/4 tsp)

1g salt (a pinch)

Whisk all ingredients together and let stand for 30 minutes. Heat up a large flat frying pan, medium heat. It shouldn’t be so hot that the butter burns. If you are using rings, heat them up with the pan. Add a little butter to the middle of each ring. Whisk mixture one more time and tip into a piping bag. When the butter is sizzling, pipe (or spoon) mixture into the rings so they are about 1cm thick. Bubbles will form and the top will set. Keep an eye on them so the bottom doesn’t brown too fast. Eat immediately with butter and flaky salt, or save for toasting later.

persimmon pain perdu

21 Jan

persimmon halves

There is a persimmon tree in the parc du Buttes-Chaumont. I never noticed it before, never saw the bright orange globes so high up. Until one day they were on the pavement, split and squashed, over-ripe. It looked as if someone had had a food fight.

Normally I can’t stand persimmons when they are too ripe, when they darken and turn to pulp inside. I like to slice them so you can see the star template, so the texture is that of a crisp pear. But then I like my bananas almost green as well.

French toast didn’t used to appeal to me either. Maybe I am just too attached to banana pancakes. Maybe it is the memories of scout camp: huddled under green tents in the drizzle, we fried up white sliced bread to serve with ketchup. Perhaps it is all in the name, in England, “eggy bread”. The actual French call it “pain perdu” or lost bread, with the idea that it has been found and rescued. (The image of persimmons too can change depending on the name you assign: sharon fruit or kaki.)

Then a friend made me her French toast, taking her time, methodically waiting to really crisp and caramelise the edges of the custardy brioche. Then I was inspired to try the recipe in the Tartine book, since we had an abundance of sourdough bread, some of it already going stale. They have you toast the bread, soaked in eggs and milk, in a skillet on the stovetop to form a crust, adding more liquid as you go to saturate it totally, then stick it in the oven to bake through. It was indeed delicious, the underside as brown and crunchy as crème brûlée. But my favourite part of the recipe was the recommendation to squash a ripe persimmon on top. That was absolutely perfect, adding a juicy, delicate sweetness where maple syrup would almost have been overkill.

There are still plenty of kaki in the French markets, so take advantage. Buy a few, even if they are starting to darken and look bruised, to scoop out of their skins and serve on top of your breakfast whether it is pain perdu, pancakes or porridge.

No recipe today, due to lack of oven and a kitchen under renovation. Pick your favourite French toast recipe: after all it is just eggs, milk, a little sugar and bread – preferably stale. Cut doorstop slabs of the bread and soak the slices in your egg mixture in the fridge overnight, if you are lazy like me and do not want to wake up an hour early to do so. Add some lemon or lime zest for an extra kick. Fry with a generous amount of butter on a medium-low heat, take your time, and finish off in the oven while you make coffee, cook some bacon and cut up your persimmon.

buttering the sky

19 Dec

pain

On my shopping list:

bread flour (white and whole wheat)

brioche flour

rye, spelt

baskets for proofing: “bannetons”

The dough waited overnight, cradled in a colander lined with a tea towel, ready to be turned into this morning’s loaf. 60/40 brioche/wholemeal flour, 80% hydration, salt.

The kitten alarm clock started meowing as soon as it was light, luckily only 8 a.m. in our grey winter. I fed her with cat biscuits, fed the starter with a handful of flour and some warm water, and preheated the oven. For the first time the loaf had a significant roundness to it – it had a high, proud shape, a sharp edge where it had been scarred. When I sliced it open the crust had a real crackle, the crumb a good spring, variegated holes. It just needed butter to be perfect.

I am far from being religious, but making pain au levain makes me feel a kind of Old Testament awe. I made something from just flour and water and air, a living thing. It might as well have been Adam’s rib for all I feel so proud. I made something from scratch. Flour and water and air, these are my everyday gods.

On my kitchen wall:

Slipping

On my shoes,

Boiling water,

Toasting bread,

Buttering the sky:

That should be enough contact

With God in one day

To make anyone

Crazy.

                                       –Hafiz

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