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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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rich and luscious dark chocolate cream-cheese frosting

10 Apr

rich luscious dark chocolate cream cheese frosting

The three year old son of one of my friends has an active imagination and a very gourmand palate. When asked, how was nursery school, he will say: “Today I built a coffee machine” or “I took the night train to Copenhagen.” And once: “I cooked polenta with tomatoes and parsley. And calamari.” Which sounds perfectly delicious.

Sometimes I am lucky enough to have that kind of free, three-year-old inspiration. This week I built a blanket fort and made a cake. On separate days. Both were even better than I imagined they would be: first I was cocooned in a warm glow of blankets with cups of tea and a kitten, no screens, it felt like an escape in my own flat. And then the idea for a cake just came to me in all its disparate elements. A British friend’s birthday prompted something with Earl Grey, something light and delicate. Then a student came for a macaron class and showed me a beautiful picture of a cake with a whole cheesecake between the two layers instead of frosting. The sheer audacity of this meant I had to try it. Luckily, I already had both an Earl Grey cake and a simple cheesecake in my archives. The former is a light genoise, with only a touch of butter. Thinking of Earl Grey and chocolate macarons, i wanted a frosting that would not overwhelm but complement the delicate citrus-tea layers. With real dark chocolate AND cocoa, and cream cheese for a creamy, slightly salty edge. Made in a food processor it was incredibly smooth and delicious – a substantial afternoon snack for the baker. Me. It was better than my imagination.

For an Earl Grey-citrus-chocolate cheesecake-cake you will need:

One Earl Grey cake, from Fanny Zanotti

One basic cheesecake recipe  no crust: whisk together 450g cream cheese, mascarpone or ricotta, 150g sugar, 4 eggs + zest of one lemon + tea from 2-4 Earl Grey teabags

One quantity rich and dark and luscious chocolate cream-cheese icing, see below

Simple syrup made of 100g water, 100g sugar and one teabag. Boil everything and let cool with the teabag still in.

For the tea: either cut the fine tea out of teabags or blend proper tealeaves in a food processor with the sugar in the recipe. Line two 22cm round tins with baking paper. Bake cake in one and cheesecake in the other, let cool. Slice the cake into two layers, evening up the top if not totally flat. I like to flip the cake over and use the bottom of the cake as the top layer since it is the most even. Lightly brush one layer of cake with syrup. Top with cheesecake, then second layer of cake. Brush with more syrup. (You won’t need to use it all. Save the rest for cocktails.) Ice with chocolate frosting. If you are very meticulous, start with a crumb layer: spread a very thin layer all over first, then refrigerate for 20 minutes. This is supposed to stop crumbs from getting into the final layer. Then carry on frosting. You can do it in an artfully messy way, a la Smitten Kitchen, or neat and smooth with piped rosettes on top.

Rich and luscious dark chocolate cream-cheese frosting

adapted from wickedgoodkitchen: I reduced the sugar and halved the original recipe. It still makes enough to ice and decorate the outside of a 22-24cm round cake – multiply by 1.5 if you want a thick layer of frosting between layers as well.

65g dark chocolate (60-70% cacao content)

115g unsalted butter

115g cream cheese

30g cocoa

180g icing sugar

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are both room temperature. Chop chocolate and melt over a bain-marie or in a microwave (careful not to let it get too hot or it will go grainy). Let it cool a little. Blend the soft butter in a food processor with a blade until smooth. Add the cream cheese and blend again. Sift the cocoa and icing sugar together. Add about half to the food processor, blend, add melted chocolate (cooled but still fluid), and blend again. Scrape the sides, tip in the rest of the icing sugar/cocoa and blend one last time. It should be beautifully smooth and shiny.

To ice the cake: smooth icing around the sides first, then over the top. Use any leftovers to pipe swirls on top. If you want contrasting swirls, mix a dollop of cream cheese with some remaining icing and alternate dark and light chocolate.

Icing refrigerated really well, staying nice and soft. No tests yet on how long it keeps. Cake was demolished in about ten minutes.

matcha / goma pannacotta

4 Apr

 

Scan 6

To continue my Japanese love affair: an easy dessert to go with the black sesame shortbread. Originally inspired by my favourite dessert at Nanashi Bento, light, delicious, still a little jiggly. They serve it with a few blueberries and some whipped cream.

Matcha is a very fine green tea powder, used for the tea ceremony. Goma is black sesame. Make either or both. If you are particularly cunning, you could make two layers: make one batch of matcha, divide between 8 glasses, refrigerate to set, then pour a batch of goma on top. I prefer the texture of gelatine, but for vegetarians/vegans, agar-agar works too.

For a quick guide on how to gel absolutely anything, check out Bompas and Parr’s guide to jelly. They even made a jellied Christmas dinner. Though their method is slightly different to mine below, their principles and the conversion chart are excellent.

Matcha / goma pannacotta

makes 4 medium or 6 small

400ml coconut milk (or 1 tin)

30g honey or maple syrup

3 tsp matcha OR 30g black sesame paste

**3-4g leaf gelatine OR 2g agar agar (1 packet)

Heat half the coconut milk and the honey in a small saucepan.

If using gelatine, soak the leaves in a bowl of cold water. When it is soft, drain off all the water. When the coconut milk feels warm, but not so hot that it will burn your hand, add gelatine and stir to melt. (Above 60C and the gelatine will not set properly.)

If using agar agar, sprinkle the powder over the coconut milk before you heat it up. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes.

Use the other half of the coconut milk to dilute the matcha powder or sesame paste, adding a little liquid at a time until smooth. You can do this by shaking it in a little jar, whisking it, or in a blender.

Once the heated coconut milk and gelatine/agar agar is ready, combine with the matcha / goma. Whisk or blend to combine well.

Pour into 4-6 glasses and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. To speed up the process, carefully place glasses in the freezer until the liquid sets.

Serve with fresh fruit, like persimmon or raspberries, some whipped cream and a drizzle of honey.

~~

**If you want to unmold your pannacotta, use 4g leaf gelatine and lightly grease the glasses with a neutral oil. If they do not slide out easily, dip the bottom of the glasses in hot water to loosen them. If you plan on serving in the glasses, 3g should suffice for a delicately wobbly texture. For most gelatine found in supermarkets, 1 leaf = 1g.

salted caramel pecan tart

1 Dec

autumn leaves, salted caramel pecan tart

That week was a hard week. I fell asleep at odd hours, subsisted mainly on grapefruits and Nutella. Cocooned under the duvet, I was peacefully numb, purposefully avoiding decision, movement.

It was comfortable.

Then, then there was a breeze and an art exhibition and a proper conversation, as we perched on some church steps.

Vulnerability is the origin of all joy, and all pain. To really feel, you have to be stripped raw and open to the elements. Exposed to fear and shame and disgust but also, hopefully, to discovery and light.

Then I bought two chocolates: a liquid caramel and a milk chocolate praline. The flavours were strident, bitter caramel and sweet gianduja (upmarket Nutella).

Then there was a concert. Still a little dazed, I heard the harsh Belgian rock as a lullaby. Only when the next band came on and the African violin started to play did I wake up, properly. It was so alive – an electric guitar and Gambian folk songs, a steady beat.

A determined granny started a simple dance by the stage. Everyone else in the staid theatre got to their feet. Electricity crackled. It was so good it hurt. That violin made tears fall involuntarily, as if I was cutting onions.

When you are asleep, you don’t feel the bad stuff. But you don’t get the good stuff either. You don’t get to really taste, to listen in to music.

Sometimes you have to get out of bed (or take off your hedgehog spikes, whatever your protection might be) and make something happen. Then you win back your five senses.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a high note or a bite of chocolate will bring you back to yourself.

But you have to be awake and open. It hurts. This is how you know you are a person.

~~~

(I found this piece in a forgotten notebook the other day. Maybe it reads a little raw, too emotional? It comes from exactly three years ago. A lot has changed since then. I am a lot happier, though I still make the same mistakes, I still hiberate when faced with hard decisions. I recommend watching Brene Brown for a more scientific and yet funnier look at vulnerability.)

autumn leaves, salted caramel pecan tart 2

So. Salted butter caramel. Something I have made on and off over the years. It has that pushy flavour that brings you down to earth, bitter and sweet and rich. Can be used to fill macarons or plain shortbread cookies. Drizzled on yoghurt, meringues or spread in a thin layer on cake. (If you want to make it into a buttercream, beat cooled caramel with 180g softened butter.) It is hard to resist eating it with a spoon. The recipe does require a sugar thermometer. If you are making it as a macaron filling you will need one anyway for the Italian meringue. (An electronic thermometer/timer can be found at IKEA for only a few euros.)

Once you have mastered the caramel, the tart itself is very easy and incredibly delicious. Inspired by Jacques Genin, Clamato and my local bakery, it is buttery and crumbly, a fancy French take on the pecan pie. The caramel just sticks the toasted pecans to the shortbread base, which has extra butter and a touch of coconut. It is the kind of tart that demands an extra sliver, and another and… I had to make it twice in a week to have it tested and approved by several Frenchies. They were more than satisfied, asking wide-eyed: mais c’est toi qui l’as fait? Mmmm. Silly question!

P.S. I just remembered the other pecan tart recipe on this tart: with a molasses custard base, it is totally different! At least somewhat different. Try them both! I made the molasses version sans pecans the other day, it was glossy and smooth and bitter, just how I like it.

~~~

Salted caramel pecan tart

makes one large tart (28-30cm)

Shortbread pastry:

200g butter, softened

115g caster sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

25g coconut, unsweetened

270g plain flour

generous pinch of salt

Caramel:

200g sugar

80g water

220g cream (single, whipping or creme fleurette)

40g salted butter

To assemble:

250g pecans

Pastry: Cream softened butter and sugar. Add egg and yolk and mix well. (If it separates a little, add a handful of flour.) Add flour, coconut and salt and stir to combine. Wrap in clingfilm, patting dough into a flat disc, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. (Freeze for 10 minutes if in a rush.)

Caramel: Use a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably stainless steel so you can better see the colour of the caramel. A dark pan will made it more difficult. On a medium heat, cook sugar and water Do not stir. You can rotate the pan if necessary, if caramelising on one side only – but be careful with hot sugar!   Cook the sugar until it is a nice brown, smelling like caramel but not burnt. Tilt the pan a little to see the colour on the thinnest part – it will always look darker when it is thick.

Take the pan off the heat and throw in the  butter. Stand back, it will sizzle a little but will stop the cooking process so the caramel doesn’t burn. Then pour in the cream, carefully, for it will bubble up. Bring back to the heat and cook to 108C. (It may separate initially but will come back together again.) Have a large bowl of cold water ready: dip the bottom of the saucepan into it to cool it quickly. Then tip caramel into a bowl. If you are going to use it later, clingfilm the surface and put in the fridge.

To assemble: Grease a large tart tin – 28 to 30cm. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry a few centimetres wider than the tin. It is quite a soft dough: be gentle and try not to use too much flour. It should be quite thick – 5mm or so. Ease into tin, trim edges and prick base with a fork. Chill fo 30 minutes or freeze for 10. (If there is leftover pastry, cut into shapes, brush with leftover egg white, sprinkle with coconut, or cinnamon sugar, and bake as cookies.)

Preheat oven to 175C. As you do, spread pecans on a tray and toast them in the oven. But don’t forget them! About 10 minutes or until they smell toasted. Then line tart shell with paper and baking beans, and bake tart for 20 minutes. Remove paper and beans and carry on baking until golden-brown: another 15-20 minutes. It won’t be baked again, so it should be nice and crisp. When done, tip pecans into tart shell. Spoon or drizzle the caramel all over. If the caramel is a bit solid, put the tart back in the oven for 2-3 minutes until it melts and evens out. Allow to cool for an hour or two to set.

Keeps for 2-3 days in a tin.

black sesame shortbread

24 Nov

black sesame shortbread

Japan is all the rage in Paris at the moment: there is an extensive Hokusai exhibit at the Grand Palais, well worth visiting; a detailed look at the hand-drawn layouts for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli films at the Musée d’Art Ludique; and Le Japon au fil des saisons at the Musée Cernuschi. The oldest department store in Paris, Le Bon Marché, is celebrating Japan too.

For our most recent Grape Leaf Club, we ate chirashi bowls with salmon, mackerel and octopus while watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I’d seen the film before but loved it again – 85 year old sushi chef Jiro and his sincere perfectionism, his hard-working sons and apprentices. The jolly restaurant critic who admits to being slightly intimidated to eat there. The apprentice that cries when he finally gets the omelette right.

One of the lines in the Hokusai show echoed Jiro’s determined philosophy – both wanted to keep practising their craft their whole life long, believing there is more to learn even in your eighties.

It all makes me nostalgic for working in the Japanese bakery. I loved the genmaicha tea in the morning, making yuzu Christmas logs, starting with ohayo gozaimasu and finishing with otsukaresama desu! as we left. (“You are honorably tired” is a very satisfying compliment after a long day’s work.)

And so more Japanese flavours have been creeping into my cooking. There is a jar of pickled ginger by the stove, Japanese rice in the cupboard. I have an elegant wooden box that measures exactly enough rice for two people.

I love anything with black sesame – kuro goma –  the earthy, deep flavour a perfect contrast for something rich and creamy. I made the sesame shortbread with matcha-coconut pannacottafor our Jiro evening. It is buttery and crumbly with a slight edge from the bitter seeds.

The second time I made it for a quick dinner at home. It only needs a bowl and a spoon and a tin. We ate the shortbread with yoghurt and bitter caramel sauce. To turn natural yoghurt into something more worthy of a dessert, leave it to drain in a sieve lined with paper towels for half an hour. It becomes thicker, creamier and more tart. Like homemade Greek yoghurt. Drizzle with honey, maple syrup or caramel. Simple and delicious.

~~~

Black sesame paste and seeds can be found at Japanese or Asian supemarkets. In Paris, the rue St Anne, near metro Pyramides, has the highest concentration of Japanese shops, noodle bars and bakeries.  Or try using tahini.

Miyazaki exhibit, Paris

Black sesame shortbread

adapted from Seasonal Secrets

125g salted butter

50g caster sugar

2 tsp sesame paste

125g plain flour

50g rice flour

2 tsp black sesame seeds

Cream butter and sugar until soft. Add sesame paste and mix to combine well. Add flours and seeds. Keep mixing until the dough starts to form clumps. It can be a bit crumbly, but not powdery. If overworked, it will be too chewy rather than light.

Grease an 18cm round tin. Press the mixture firmly into it. Refrigerate shortbread while preheating oven to 175C. Bake for 15 minutes, until it comes away from the sides and is just golden around the edges.

Cool, slice into thin wedges.

blueberry, chocolate and coconut soufflés

23 Jan

souffle 3

(The day I remembered I loved Paris, for future reference when the city seems cold and shrill once again.)

Woken by the sun and the commotion of traffic, earlier than a holiday, already three hours later than my workday, I pulled on a blue dress to walk to the corner bakery for breakfast. On the way back I snapped off the point of the baguette to test; at home I knocked over the clothes rack and woke you. We had our croissants dipped in coffee and apricots plump with juice.

Late as ever we caught the metro to the Opera Garnier, to be tourists for the morning. The guide asked the children in our tour group who might have designed the palatial structure: not a trick question. Charles Garnier was not long left the Beaux Arts, winner of the prestigious Prix de Rome when he was asked to design a new opera house for Napoleon III. A rainbow of marble, intricate Italian mosaics and real gold leaf plastered everywhere lead into the main auditorium where we tipped our heads back to admire the scandalously modern Chagall ceiling, seven tonne chandelier and ring of soft globe lights, Garnier’s “pearl necklace.” We laughed to hear that the best seats had been designed to be seen, not to see the stage. On the roof there are beehives (honey sold at Fauchon down the street), while underneath in the reservoir that served for fire safety as well as acoustics, firemen fish for carp. We looked out over the main avenue, marvelled at the sheer scale and detail of the building. I learned things, for even after three years living here my list of sights is still unfinished. We worked up an appetite for our next eating, a short walk away.

On the menu were soufflés, savoury and sweet. An unassuming restaurant behind the fancy hotels that flank the Tuileries that offers a lunchtime menu of soufflé and green salad followed by soufflé and coffee. Brought with due pomp and circumstance, they did not risk falling; they were very stable but still light and airy inside. Rich with cheese and egg, really just an omelette dolled up for the opera in a hoop skirt, they are extremely satisfying to eat. Their colours decorated the plain dining room: craggy mountain green for spinach and goat’s cheese, tutu pink for raspberry. Chocolate has its own sauceboat. The Grand Marnier comes with a whole bottle to souse as liberally as you wish. Though some of the flavours veered on artificial (peach and apricot was too much like perfumed soap for me) overall the airy creatures were delicious, they were fun.

Blinking at the glare from the sun, we crossed the Tuileries for some lèche-vitrine in St-Germain. Literally “window-licking”, but we were too full even for Pierre Herme macarons. You suggested we see the Chagall expo in the Luxembourg gardens, inspired by the ceiling, a pathway through exile, love and grief all in primary colours. We had time for a swim, the cool water open to the air. You spotted the twins, a pair of identical seventy-year-old sisters in matching cap and costume (later, the same trousers and cardigans) that we had seen at a different Parisian pool years before.

Enough time to traipse home, less sticky and hot, to change for the opera. We were happily over-dressed for an under-done building – it wasn’t the morning’s gilt edifice but the rather more intimate Bouffes du Nord, discovered by Peter Brook in the 70s and left in its charmingly dilapidated state. The paint peels off the rusty-red walls, the front row is directly on the stage. Props comprised only some upright bamboo poles, to serve as palace and jungle and sword.  The whole surroundings left space for the ethereal music, The Magic Flute, sung in German, enough to give you chills; and the quick banter, mostly in French. It was short, an hour and a half of suspended time, breath held. Afterwards it took us a while to shake off the wonder, despite the prosaic metro ride home. You bought some mint from the Indian shop down the road; we sat on the balcony just big enough for two and ate salad. At 11pm, the traffic was still buzzing, the neon-clashing lights of the internet shop below still lit. We gazed at the tree above, talked about nothing and finally went to bed.

souffle 1

Tours at the Opera Garnier (in English at 11.30am and 2.30pm, Wed/Sat/Sun or every day in holidays and July/August)

Lunch at Le Soufflé, (€26 menu, best to book, tel: +33 142602719)

Swim at Piscine Georges Hermant (outdoor pool only in summer)

Opera, theatre, concerts at Les Bouffes du Nord

…and if we hadn’t been so tired, it would have been supper at the best (vegetarian) Indian in Paris, Krishna Bhavan.

~~

Since then, I thought soufflés a little intimidating to make at home, especially in my small oven. Rowley Leigh rescued me with his detailed and clear instructions that took up more of his column than usual. His soufflé Vendôme – a cheese one with a poached egg in the middle that miraculously stays runny – with tomato sauce is just right, rich and fluffy with the contrasting tang of tomato. Again for emphasis: it has a poached egg suspended in a cloud of cheese. Wondrous. So good in fact that I will do it no justice by paraphrasing, so here is the link: Rowley Leigh’s Soufflé Vendôme. He makes six starters, but for a main course you can make the same amount of mixture, only three poached eggs and bake in larger dishes (10cm).

Here is a dessert instead, one that worked first time and would be infinitely adaptable. It has a fruit base, with little pockets of melted chocolate and coconut for texture, and it rose like a dream. The blueberries did turn the egg whites an alarming shade of grey-blue but were delicious nonetheless. You can use frozen fruit since it is then cooked down into a jammy mixture, to recreate the summer, until it is time for dresses and pools again.

souffle 2

Blueberry,chocolate and coconut soufflés

From Australian Gourmet Traveller, December 2013

Makes 6 – Works with cherries, raspberries or other soft fruit. Try to find shredded coconut rather than desiccated, it is chunkier and juicier.

Cocoa + soft butter for moulds

200g (frozen) blueberries

110g caster sugar, divided in half

15g cornflour

150g egg whites (5 eggs)

60g dark chocolate (70%)

40g shredded coconut + extra for sprinkling

Grease six small ramekins (or oven-proof coffee cups with straight sides) with the soft butter. Then tip in a teaspoon of cocoa and roll ramekin around until the sides are totally coated. Tip excess into next ramekin, repeat. Refrigerate.

Defrost blueberries and blend them roughly, leaving a few chunky bits. In a small saucepan, heat puree with half the caster sugar (55g) until it dissolves. Pour a little into a small bowl with the cornflour and mix well to remove lumps. Tip it back into the saucepan with the rest and simmer, stirring every now and then, for 10 minutes or so until thick like jam. Let cool.

Measure out the egg whites and remaining 55g caster in separate bowls. Chop the chocolate finely, weigh the coconut. Stop at this point, if you are not ready to eat dessert. Egg whites whip better at room temperature anyway. (Alternatively, make up the soufflés and refrigerate for 1 hour before baking.)

While serving the main course, heat the oven to 190C. When main course is over, boil the kettle. Then beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, adding the sugar gradually as it becomes opaque. Stir a spoonful of whites into the blueberries. Carefully fold everything together without losing the volume. Spoon into the six ramekins and smooth the tops. Run a knife around the edge to help it rise. Sprinkle a little coconut on each. Place in a deep baking tray or roasting tin and fill it with the boiling water, halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 11-12 minutes. The soufflés should have browned and risen a couple of centimetres and feel firm to touch. Insert a skewer to check: it should have a bit of melted chocolate on it but not drippy mixture. Place each ramekin on a small plate and serve immediately.

Chocolate passion-fruit torte

15 Nov

passionfruit torte 1

It always make me sad when, upon admitting what I do for a living, I am told “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly bake a cake for you!” I learned to be a pastry chef because I like to eat cake and because I know how much pleasure it affords to offer cake to others and have them enjoy it. Baking is a pure indulgence, both in the construction and consumption, a fairy tale of spun sugar. If people are afraid to bake for me, they lose out on that satisfied feeling of having created something totally frivolous and yet universally appreciated. What’s more, I would miss out on their speciality, their tricks and tastes. I love collecting others’ recipes and have miles more to learn.

My cousin said exactly that when she brought over my birthday cake and it turned out to be wonderful, a soft chocolate sponge iced with a mix of whipped cream and Greek yoghurt, covered all over with sweet shreds of coconut. (Almost like a reverse lamington?) It was actually a variation on my favourite kind of summer cake, sponge and fruit and cream. So when the family challenged me to make something for the next week, I had to think again.

passionfruit torte 2

This was the result, a total show-off’s torte, two punchy flavours and five different techniques. Soft almond meringue sponges sandwich glossy passion-fruit jelly, rich chocolate ganache and buttery passion-fruit curd, all iced with a delicate chocolate Chantilly. The thin layers all meld for a bittersweet mouthful, tempered by the luxurious cream. In reality though, it is not difficult to prepare, as long as you start the evening before so everything can cool. The sponges, less than a centimetre thick, take a few minutes to cook and the ganache and jelly are both left to set in cake tins so they can just be flipped out in the morning.

This quantity of passion-fruit curd makes more than you will need for the cake, but it uses up the egg yolks and is delightful on toast. (A friend of mine introduces me not as ‘Frances, pastry chef’ but ‘Frances, this one time she made passion-fruit curd…’ It is that good.) For a simpler cake, omit one or two of the layers: just use passionfruit jelly and curd, for example. Or easier still, make the meringue sponge then fill and decorate with Greek yoghurt and fresh passionfruit.

passionfruit torte 3

Chocolate passion-fruit torte

makes 12 elegant slices

The passion-fruit pulp I used came in a tin, 55% fruit including seeds, plus water and sugar. You can find it in supermarkets or speciality baking stores. G. Detou in Paris sells passion-fruit purée which is less sweet and has no seeds, so sweeten the curd and jelly accordingly. I wouldn’t recommend using fresh fruit simply because it will require too many, at least a dozen if not more. Alternatively, substitute with half orange and half lemon juice. 

The curd, jelly, ganache and Chantilly need to be made the day before. If  possible, assemble everything a few hours before serving. Continue reading

tessa kiros’ milk tart

16 Oct

milk and eggs

Thus far, ‘Falling Cloudberries’ has mostly been eye candy for me. The pictures in Tessa Kiros’ book are beautiful, full of colour. It covers her family heritage through Finland, Cyprus, South Africa and Italy. And I don’t know why I haven’t made more from it. Flipping through it now, stuffed eggplants and orange filo millefeuille jump out at me, as well as Scandinavian cinnamon buns like the ones I recently tried and loved at the Institut Suédois in Paris.

The recipe I tried first though was the milk tart, a humble teatime treat from South Africa. A simple pastry and a rich vanilla custard lightened with whipped egg whites, that puffs up magnificently in the oven. When it cools, the tart relaxes down into a light flan with a cinnamon-sugar crust. It is less rich than a traditional custard tart and has a delightful wobble. As if the poached meringue and crème anglaise in îles flottantes were combined into one tart.

It takes a bit of time to prepare, between resting the pastry in the fridge, blindbaking the tart and letting it cool after cooking, but it isn’t complicated. Comforting and light, and still good for breakfast the next day. 

vanilla bean

Milk Tart

serves 8-10

100g butter

100g caster sugar

230g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 egg

filling:

750ml milk

75g butter

1 vanilla bean  (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

100g sugar, divided

3 eggs, separated

30g cornflour

topping;

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

In a food processor, blend the butter and sugar until smooth. Add the flour and baking powder and pulse to a sandy texture. Add the egg and mix briefly. Bring the dough together with your hands and knead lightly until combined. Flatten into a disc, cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.

Butter a 26cm tart tin. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and carefully press into the tin. Prick all over with a fork. Make sure that the sides are at least 3cm tall so that it will hold all the filling. If you have time, refrigerate the tart shell for another half an hour.

Meanwhile, make the custard. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Heat the seeds and the whole bean with the milk and butter and 50g of sugar. In a large bowl, whisk the other 50g sugar with the egg yolks to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the cornflour. When the butter has melted, remove the vanilla bean and add the hot milk to the egg yolks little by little, continually whisking. Leave to cool down.

Preheat oven to 180C, fill the tart with baking beans and blind bake for 20-25 minutes. When the edges are golden, remove the beans and bake for another 5-10 minutes until golden all over.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Carefully fold into the vanilla custard. Pour into the baked tart shell. It might be easier to fill it halfway and do the rest with a jug when the tart is in the oven, to avoid spilling. (There might be slightly too much custard if the tart edges are not high enough.) Sprinkle with the cinnamon and caster sugar and bake for 40 minutes or until the tart has puffed up and has a slight wobble but seems firm on top.

Let cool for half an hour before serving.

milk tart

noretta’s rosemary creams

27 Sep

rosemary creams 1

I found a kindred spirit and a perfect recipe.

I found an Italian relative I had never met and she gave me her cavallo di batiglia, her prize dessert.

It has only four ingredients. I wrote it down quickly, thinking it was missing something – gelatin maybe? – that I was missing something in my rusty Italian.

A pot of cream, like this. Double cream, not single. No no, not 500ml, that’s too much. Rosemary, this much. Sugar? Yes, you boil it with the cream and rosemary. For three minutes! No more! Just three. Then you add lemon juice, I don’t know, as much as you need. Quanto basta. 

Little pots, like this, it’s very rich. Then in the fridge for half a day, that’s it.

It was a revelation, magical in its simplicity. Once boiled, the cream thickens immediately upon adding few drops of lemon juice. It looks like lemon curd, or thick custard. Add a drop more, taste carefully to make sure the lemon does not overpower the key ingredient, the rosemary. Left in the fridge overnight, it becomes an unctuous smooth dessert, a pot de crème.

Reminiscent of white chocolate in its richness, cut through with the floral, woodsy rosemary, two spoonfuls are enough to set you dreaming.

They are very rich, best served in tiny ramekins or plain espresso cups. Decorate with a sprig of rosemary and serve with a bowl of ripe plums or grapes, delicate plain biscuits if you must. No dark chocolate, no coulis or drizzles of this or that. Really, you should just concentrate on the intense rosemary.

I found a perfect recipe and I cannot do it justice in words, it really is that good. I found family I hadn’t met before and she gave me this, rosemary for remembrance.

rosemary creams 2

Noretta’s Rosemary Creams

This might very well be delicious with mint, lemon verbena or basil – but I haven’t yet tried, I loved the rosemary so much. Double cream is important for the texture – if you can only get single cream, you could try replacing 75g with mascarpone to up the fat content.

makes 6 or 7 little desserts

300ml double cream

150g caster sugar

1 large sprig of rosemary (10cm)

juice of 1/4 lemon, more or less

In a small saucepan, bring to the boil the cream, sugar and rosemary. Let it bubble fiercely for exactly three minutes without boiling over. Remove the rosemary, and beat in a few drops of lemon juice. Keep adding lemon drop by drop, tasting as you go. Stop when the cream thickens like lemon curd but before it tastes too lemony – the predominant flavour should be the rosemary. Pour into six or seven small dishes, espresso cups or ramekins. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for an afternoon or overnight.

Serve with fruit or delicate plain biscuits.

honey bee tuiles with almonds and coconut (gluten-free)

19 Aug

009

At work, we always made tuiles a la forchette. Since then I understand there are faster ways to make those crackly almond biscuits, but we pushed the flaked almonds in their syrupy batter out into coaster sized circles with just a fork. There should be no holes, nor almonds overlapping. Then into the oven, and just as they turned an even autumn-leaf brown, they were quickly snatched up while hot and pressed into gouttières (gutters) to make them slightly rounded. It was the work of a patient hour or more – so often it was the loser of jan ken poi! (Japanese rock paper scissors, disappointingly similar to the English version) who would have to get out the fork. The reward was to eat the broken pieces, those crisp, sweet almond flakes.

On holidays, so far I have not been tempted to make any cakes. Partly because we were three, of which one ‘my body is a temple’ tended to shun dessert. (I did remake last year’s tarte tatin for a dinner party but that only consists of peeling apples and baking apples, leaving them in the fridge to form a gorgeous caramel jelly then quickly cooking shop-bought puff pastry.) Otherwise, I have been busy. Going to market, re-reading our whole collection of Inspector Morse books. (I must be getting old, I can never remember the identity of the murderer.)

One of our outings consisted in visiting a nearby bee-farm. Apiculteur, sorry. (My French entomological lexicon is not what it should be.) The bee-man was the picture of jollity, all nudge-nudge, wink-wink as he showed us the hives, and related the honestly fascinating lives of bees. A queen bee lays 2000 eggs a day, for up to 5 years. And she only has sex once, in a gravity defying challenge where only one male bee can win. Performance finished, he gets his head sliced off. This was where the nudging and winking came in.

Then we saw the miellerie, where they collect and distill the honey from the honeycombs. When he spun the empty centrifuge, a heady sweet scent filled the small room. He explained that commercial honey is often heated to a high temperature, totally destroying the vitamins and minerals. These jars will have an expiry date. Worse, the cheapest kind can be only 30% honey content. If you keep your local honey in a cool place (not the fridge, not in the sun) though it will thicken, it will last more than 100 years. His father, also a bee-man, had given him the honey of his birth-year recently as a present – better than a fine wine.

bees

Finally we tasted a range, from subtle to strong. First the creamy sunflower honey, then acacia, tilleul and chestnut tree. This last was dark as brewed tea, rich and sharp. It has notes of wood and winter, words for which my tongue is not trained. The kind that is too violent for your palate as a kid, but that you crave with bread and cold butter for an adult breakfast. It works well for adding depth to sauces, and caramelising roast meat – just a teaspoon when nearly cooked.

We drove home through the sunflower fields, passing old crumbling mansions and new pre-fab houses. On one roof we saw a team of men replacing the old orange tiles, shaped like a section of a gutter and faded to a range of terracotta and ochre, with new bland straight ones. That was what I wanted to make with the honey, to show off its flavour. Simple tuiles, with their curved shape based on those roof tiles, the ones on our own house.

The batter is easy – so much easier when making a few, and not a hundred! Melted butter, honey, flour and egg whites, mixed with flaked almonds, coconut if you like. Leave it in the fridge over an afternoon. While you are enjoying cheese and salad after supper, preheat the oven. Carefully push out a dozen biscuits on greaseproof paper, as thin as possible with no holes. Get the icecream out of the freezer to soften. In the absence of a gouttière, line up a row of beer bottles or spice jars on their sides on the counter. By the time you are ready for dessert, barely ten minutes, the tuiles will be golden-brown. Quickly ease them off the paper with a fork and drape them over the bottles, to let them cool. Use them to scoop up a delicate icecream, custard or with raw honey and fromage blanc, to really savour the strong honey taste.

one bee

Honey tuiles with almond and coconut

makes 20 small biscuits, which will keep for a week in a sealed biscuit tin 

Recipe adapted from Lenotre: I used almonds and coconut, but just flaked almonds is traditional and delicious. Ordinary flour can also be substituted for the rice flour if gluten-free is not necessary. Use a strong, dark honey like chestnut for maximum flavour

 

20g butter, melted and cooled

60g egg whites (about 2 small eggs)

60g strong, dark honey

1 tbs rice flour

75g flaked almonds

25g dessicated coconut

Melt the butter and let it cool. Mix egg whites, honey and butter, then stir in flour, almonds and coconut. Clingfilm and leave in the fridge – Lenotre says 1h30 – can be up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 165C. Dollop small teaspoons of mixture on a greasproof paper lined baking tray, leaving lots of space between each one. With the tines of a fork, carefully spread out the mixture as thinly as possibly, preferably the thickness of one almond slice.

If you want to make properly tile-shaped tuiles, line up a row of beer bottles, rolling pins or spice jars, preferably on a tea towel so they don’t roll away.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Check the oven and rotate the trays if necessary. They should be brown all the way across, no white in the middle. As quickly as possible, lift them from the tray with a fork and drape them over the bottles. Press them down if reluctant. Leave to cool to keep their shape.

Serve with icecream, custard, stewed fruit or yoghurt and honey. Keep in an airtight tin. If they lose their crispness, pop them in a hot oven for 2 minutes, reshape if necessary.  You can also keep leftover mixture in the fridge for a day or two and make tuiles on demand.

 

 

 

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