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Category Archives: Cakes and desserts

Tartelettes à l’orange


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One French Word: tartelette, a French recipe: tartelettes à l’orange

When I first worked in Paris, rue de la Glacière in the 13th arrondissement to be precise, and to be even more precise, this was almost 50 years ago, there was a pâtisserie diagonally across the road from my office. I discovered orange tarts there, and it soon became an afternoon ritual to pop out and indulge myself at tea-time! It says a lot about the relaxed working atmosphere in France at the time, that it was not considered at all unusual to leave the workplace to buy a little something to eat at (almost) any time of day.

The French language bit:

tartelette (feminine noun), une tartelette, la tartelette, les tartelettes = little tarts (of the pâtisserie kind of course!)

We looked at diminutives a couple of weeks ago, here’s another one. Une tarte is a tart, une tartelette is a little tart, a tartlet, an individual portion.

And an expression: Ce n’est pas de la tarte = (roughly) it isn’t a piece of cake, it isn’t simple

Oranges are in season in France, they are juicy and full of flavour. Here is a recipe which is a little bit different, and which could quite well grace your table around Christmas time. I advise you to take the trouble to do individual “slices”, that is, to make une tartelette for each of your family members or guests. One large tart is so difficult to cut, the orange doesn’t come apart willingly, and you are likely to mess up all your hard work.

Buy your oranges untreated if possible. In any case, wash them thoroughly because you will be using the skins. Use freshly bought oranges, not ones that have been sitting forlornly in your fruitbowl for a couple of weeks (or more…).

Home candied orange slices

Home candied orange slices

Ingredients per person:

  • 1  orange
  • A rectangle of good quality puff pastry, made with pure butter 12cm x 20cm (about 5″ x 8″). This sounds a lot but you will be rolling the edges inwards to form a ridge all the way round.
  • 1tbs of your favourite orange marmelade
  • 1tbs crème pâtissière (optional but moister, see recipe below)
  • 100gr sugar and a wineglass of water

Preparation:

To prepare the orange pieces:

  • Wash the orange and cut into fine slices (about 3mm). Recuperate the juice. Cut each slice carefully into four quarters without tearing. It doesn’t really matter if your slices become irregular towards the end of the orange!
  • Boil up the sugar with any orange juice and the water to make a syrup, put the orange pieces into this syrup, lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring regularly to ensure even coverage of the pieces, for 15 minutes or so. Do watch them so that they do not burn. They should be soft and translucent, and almost all of the syrup should have gone.
Candied orange ready to dry

Candied orange ready to dry

  • Place the orange slices with tongs on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper  to dry a little in the pre-heating oven. It doesn’t matter if they start to colour. Just 5 minutes. Don’t let them dry too much or they will become stiff and crunchy.

Pastry ready to cook blind

To prepare the tarts for the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  • Cut the rectangles of puff pastry, roll the edges to form a ridge, prick with a fork, brush the edges with an egg yolk beaten with a little milk, fill with dried peas or beans and cook blind for 8-10 minutes. There is a very fine line between undercooking (the underside is not completely cooked) and overcooking (the pastry is as hard as a board). Better slightly on the undercooked side, in my opinion.

Pastry ready with chickpeas

  • Remove from the oven, take out the beans or peas, when cool spread the bottom of the tartlet with 1tbs marmelade, then a thin layer (about 3/4cm, 1/4″) of crème pâtissière if you are using it.
  • Finish with a layer of orange slices, placed in an attractive pattern like little fans.

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For the optional crème pâtissière (makes about 500ml (1 pint), so do divide the ingredients according to the number of people you are feeding.

  • 500ml (1 pint) milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 50gr corn starch
  • 60gr granulated sugar
  • 1tsp freshly grated orange rind
  • 1tsp vanilla powder

Place all the ingredients in a mixer and mix for 4 minutes. Pour into a saucepan and heat over a moderate flame, never ceasing to stir, until the mixture thickens. A WARNING: if you heat too fast, or stop stirring, your eggs will scramble and you can start all over again. When the mixture coats a spoon thickly, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

This cream can be used to stuff éclairs, sponge cakes or as an ingredient of ice cream. I found this recipe, which is much quicker than other recipes for crème pâtissièrehere    (the site is of course in French).

Now, I didn’t use crème pâtissière, and the result was delicious, but it is definitely moister if one does add a small tablespoonful under the orange slices. The choice shall be yours!

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Bon appétit!

Baked apples with buttery hazelnut biscuits


Pomme four sablé

One French Word: noisette, a French recipe: pommes au four, sablés aux noisettes

Another delicious autumn recipe, with apples and hazelnuts this time, quick to produce for unexpected guests, comforting as a family supper dessert.

You will see raisins among the ingredients. A little trick I use is to keep raisins, covered with alcohol, in a corked jar. It can be any sort of alcohol, rum, calvados, gin, vodka… The fruit soaks it up and will keep for a very long time this way. You can add a teaspoonful to fromage frais,  baked apples,  ice-cream, French toast… Just top up the jar with raisins and alcohol from time to time. If you have these in your cupboard, you can produce something quite a classy in no time.

Jar of raisins

Jar of raisins

The French language bit (quite a lot this week, if you just want the recipe, scroll down quickly!):

Noisette (feminine noun), une noisette, la noisette, des noisettes = a hazelnut, the hazelnut, hazelnuts.

It is the diminutive of noix of course. We’ve already had une noix, a walnut, in the recipe for celery salad with dates and walnuts. Une noisette is just a “little nut”.

-ette is the diminutive of a feminine noun, a little (feminine) something or other, as in une chevrette = a little goat (chèvre), une maisonette = a little house (maison), une poulette = a little hen (poule), from which we get pullet in English.

The masculine diminutive equivalent is -et or -elet, for example, un garçonnet = a little boy (garçon), un jardinet = a little garden (jardin), un porcelet = a piglet (porc). There are rules as to how to form the diminutive in the masculine, but this is the basic procedure.

There are of course other feminine and masculine forms of the diminutive, and as you will have noticed from the audio clip, the pronunciation differs between the original word and the diminutive.

Une noisette is often used for a hazelnut-sized quantity of something, typically une noisette de beurre = a little blob of butter (if a larger blob of butter is required, it reverts to une noix de beurre, a walnut-sized blob).  

Not to be confused with beurre noisette, which is hazelnut-coloured butter, the colour butter goes when it has been ever-so-slightly burned. This is used in several French dishes, often with fish. The ones that come to mind are skate, scallops and sole (respectively de la raie, des coquilles st jacques and de la sole au beurre noisette). Skate used to be presented with black butter (de la raie au beurre noir), a classic French dish, but this was found to be unhealthy because of the blackened butter, so it lightened a shade to become noisette instead.

So noisette can also be used to denote a colour, as hazel in English. It is usually used to describe eye colour:  des yeux noisette =hazel eyes.    When used as an adjective, it is invariable, that is, one doesn’t add an s even if eyes are in the plural.

The recipe today is in fact two recipes, one for baked apples with hazelnut oil (des pommes au four à l’huile de noisette), and one for crumbly hazelnut biscuits (des sablés aux noisettes)The word sablé comes from sable = sand, and refers to the texture.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for the baked apple, per person:

  • 1 cored apple
  • 1 slice of brioche (or failing that, bread)
  • A little sugar, a little butter, a few raisins
  • Water in oven proof dish
  • 1 tsp hazelnut oil for serving

Baked apple1

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
  • Butter an oven proof dish, or, ideally, individual oven proof dishes.
  • Wash and core the apples.
  • Butter a thick slice of brioche about 10cm square and place in the oven dish.
  • Put the apple on top of the brioche, fill with raisins, scatter a few raisins around the apple.
  • Put a knob of butter (somewhere between a noix and a noisette!) on top of the apple.
  • Sprinkle a little sugar (optional, but this will make a bit of caramel).
  • Cover the bottom of the oven dish with water to half way up the slice of brioche, that is, about 1/3 of a cm,1/8″) of water.
  • Pop it all in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Ingredients for the Sablés aux noisettes (this makes about 18 if you use up all the dough scraps):

  • 1 egg
  • 110gr sugar (if you like sweeter biscuits, add up to 30gr, I have used the minimum)
  • 65gr butter
  • 1tbs hazelnut oil
  • 150gr flour (I think you could use coconut flour if really you do not want to use wheat, but I have not tested this)
  • 1/2 tsp raising agent (baking powder) if you are not using self-raising flour
  • 125 gr powdered hazelnuts (if you can’t find this, just put the same weight of hazelnuts through the blender)
  • A pinch of salt

Pastry

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
  • Melt the butter.
  • Beat the egg, salt and  sugar vigourously  until the sugar has fully absorbed the egg and is pale and frothy.
  • Add the flour, raising agent, salt and hazelnuts, mix well with a fork, and then add the melted butter and the hazelnut oil.
  • Knead by hand until a ball of pastry is formed. If your pastry is too buttery, add some flour until it is dryer. But it should be quite rich!
  • Flour a baking sheet or a silicone mat and press the ball out flat with your hand to a thickness of 1/2″. Flour the top of the pastry lightly so that it does not stick and cut rounds with a glass for instance, or a cookie cutter, ideally no more than  2″ across. I used a cocktail glass.
  • Pop into the oven for about 10  minutes. Watch them, they should go golden, not dark brown. You can do the biscuits in advance, or separately altogether, or the apples can be put in the oven at the same time, but they should cook for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove the biscuits from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Cut biscuits

Cooked biscuits

To serve:  If the  apples are not in individual serving dishes, scoop up an apple with its slice of brioche with a wide spatula,  and place on a warmed dessert plate. If the water and sugar has made some caramel, spoon this over each apple. Pour a good teaspoonful of hazelnut oil over each apple before serving, accompanied by a hazelnut biscuit on the side. Place the rest of the biscuits on an easily accessible plate in the middle of the table.

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There is no hurry to do this, the apples are very, very hot and a little bit dangerous to eat for ten minutes or so.

It is important not to cook the hazelnut oil with the apples. The flavour is much richer when it is raw. It is also fabulously good for your health. (You can use hazelnut oil as seasoning on salads and fish.)

Mmmm… though I say it myself… and I even made the brioche!

Bon appétit.

Pastis gascon – not your average apple tart


Pastis gascon

One French Word: gascon, a French recipe: Pastis gascon

This is the most spectacular apple tart you ever saw. Simple enough once you have practised a little; you will astonish everyone, even yourself. And there are apples galore this autumn thanks to our lovely summer.

But you must use filo pastry, nothing else (unless you are clever enough to make the real pastry they make, or used to make, in Gascony) to make this wonderful dessert.

I can’t remember where I found the recipe – I have been making it for years, but certainly didn’t invent it. All you need is filo pastry, butter, apples, sugar and ideally armagnac, since that comes from Gascony. I use calvados, apple alcohol from Normandy, because it enhances the apple flavour of the whole. Don’t skimp on the alcohol (but don’t drown the pastry either). The spirits will evaporate in the cooking, so even for children will no longer be noticeable, but the flavour will remain.

The French language bit:

gascon (m.), gasconne (f.), adjective = from Gascony (add an s to either in the plural, but never pronounce that s)

Gascon can also denote an inhabitant of Gascony, or someone who originated there, and also the language of the area.  Gascony is actually an ancient region, the boundaries of which often changed. It occupies the farthest south-west corner of France, roughly from Bordeaux to Toulouse and everything south of there to the Pyrenees. It conjures up musketeers and bon vivants (people who eat and live well). It is a land of robust wines, armagnac, ducks and geese, and rugbymen.

Thank you Wikipedia

The changing boundaries of Gascony (thank you Wikipedia)

Pastis means pie in Gascon  (same as the Cornish pasty I should imagine).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 4 to 6 people in a 25cm tart dish

  • 1 packet of filo pastry (Filo pastry is extremely fragile, it dries out really fast and is impossible to work with then as it starts to break up. If you have any left, re-wrap it quickly and freeze it.)
  • About 4-6 apples (I used golden delicious and a few a friend gave me, merci Christine). They must not “melt” in the cooking.
  • Sugar (about a small tsp per layer)
  • About 75gr melted butter (du beurre fondu) 
  • Some armagnac or calvados (about a tsp per layer)
Building the layers

Building the layers

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Melt the butter.
  • Peel, core and quarter the apples.
  • Brush the tart dish with melted butter.
  • Open the pack of filo pastry and put two sheets into the bottom of the dish, at angles to each other (see photos). Brush with melted butter (even the pastry that overlaps the dish and is hanging outside). Work fast, so that the filo does not dry out.
  • Finely slice apples over the layer of pastry, to a depth of about 1/4″ (about one and a half apples). The finer the slices the further the apple goes and the quicker it cooks. Sprinkle with a little sugar, and about a tsp alcohol.
  • Start again, put two sheets of filo at right angles, brush liberally with melted butter, slice apples, sprinkle with sugar and alcohol.
  • And again (this is the third layer of pastry),brush with butter, add apples, sugar, alcohol.
  • Brush all the pastry hanging outside the dish with butter. Gather it up artistically, over the last layer of apple, and if you have any pastry left over, use one sheet to make a sort of “rose” in the middle. Brush again with melted butter to make sure the underside of the extraneous pastry and the central rose are covered.
  • Pop it into the oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, watching it closely. It should be golden all over, no uncooked, unbrowned patches of filo.
  • This tart should be served warm, but is also fine cold. But don’t put it in the fridge, it will go soggy and the butter will congeal. Don’t serve cream or ice cream for the same reason (soggy).

Pastis gascon, srunching

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

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Now tell me honestly, even though some of my photos are not brilliant, have you ever seen such an extraordinary apple tart?

Pastis gascon served

Bon appétit!

Chocolate and chestnuts


One French Word : châtaigne, a French recipe: 

Close enough to eat...

Moelleux au chocolat noir et aux châtaignes = little moist dark chocolate cakes with chestnuts

It’s the chestnut season, at least here in Quimper. When I walk the dog, I pick up about a pound of chestnuts daily with no effort. But then they tend to sit around a bit while I decide what to do with them. You can roast them on an open fire, of course, Nat King Cole (or Michael Buble) style. Or stuff the turkey with them. Or make them into ice cream. I freeze a few bags of peeled chestnuts for use during the winter.

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In France, the prime producer of chestnuts is the département de l’Ardèche,   which is a region (very vaguely) to the west of Grenoble and to the north of Montélimar (to the top left  of the bottom eastern quarter of France, if you see what I mean). Chestnut growing (la castanéiculture)   is closely linked with the history of the area.

The French grammar bit:

Une châtaigne (feminine noun), la châtaigne, les châtaignes = sweet chestnut (a horse chestnut is un marron). Horse chestnuts are not edible, but strangely, when a sweet chestnut has been cooked, it becomes un marron, as in marrons glacées (sugar soaked Christmas confectionary), la dinde aux marrons (turkey stuffed with chestnuts), de la crème de marrons (a sort of sticky jam/spread made of chestnuts with loads of sugar, that is eaten as a dessert in France mixed with fresh cream).

Sometime last year, I explained that a circumflex (^^) often denotes an s that has been lost somewhere. Châtaigne is a case in point: castagna in Spanish, and the Spanish instrument castagnettes (little chestnuts). The English word chestnut retains the s. The chestnut tree is un châtaignier, which comes from the Latin castanea and the Greek kastanon. Chestnuts are crammed by twos or threes into a prickly shell which in French is called une bogue. Because of them, dog walking in the chestnut season is, for the dog, a very painful, hoppy skippy process.

Lots of expressions :

Une châtaigne can also mean a black eye.

Etre châtaigne sous bogue”    means to be basically nice under a very prickly exterior.

Tirer les marrons du feu     (literally to get the chestnuts out of the fire) means to obtain something with difficulty,  with effort, and for someone else’s benefit.

Etre marron means to have been tricked, or to have fallen into a trap.

Here is a very quick idea to be done now and eaten around Christmas, with chestnuts, sugar and rum:

Make a cross cut with a knife in the top of the chestnuts, pressure cook covered with water for 15 minutes. Leave to cool slightly but in the hot water. Peel the chestnuts being careful to take off both skins and trying to keep them whole (you can really only use whole ones for this recipe). Make a syrup with 500gr sugar and  180gr water. Simmer the chestnuts gently in this syrup for about 15 minutes. Drain. Put into jars and cover with rum. Wait at least a month before eating them.

But my recipe today is for petits moelleux au chocolat noir et aux châtaignes.

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients:

  • About 400gr peeled chestnuts (see method above)
  • 150gr dark cooking chocolate
  • 20gr + 100gr butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 100gr sugar (don’t reduce the sugar, the chestnuts need it)
  • 2 tbs armagnac, or cognac, or whisky (optional)
Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Preparation:

  • Pre-heat the oven at 160°C
  • Place the chestnuts (it can be the crumbs that you have not managed to keep whole) in a blender and blend briefly, you can leave some lumps
  • Melt the chocolate over a pan of hot water with 20gr of butter. Add to the chestnuts with the egg yolks, the sugar, the armagnac and the rest of the butter which you have melted (this can be done in the chocolate saucepan, the butter will take up any of the chocolate that has been left in the pan). Beat this mixture together.
  • Spoon the mixture into muffin or cupcake molds and pop them into the oven for about 30 minutes. This seems a long time, but that was what it took mine to solidify enough on the outside. They should be very  moist, almost liquid in the centre. Serve warm with a custard if you like that. Cold they are fine too.

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Mine came out of the oven very glossy. They were quite dense, with little crunchy bits of chestnut, but moist in the middle. If you wish them to be lighter, I suggest adding a little raising agent, and maybe saving the egg whites, beating them up firm, and folding them into the mixture at the last minute.

The following day they were just as melting. I have frozen most of them – there is a limit to the number that one person can ingest…

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I made a frothy custard (not going to tell you how to do that, I use my Thermomix which takes all the pain out of the process), and placed my little cake in the centre of a tasty yellow pool.

Bon appétit!

One French Word: miel, a French recipe: poires vapeur au miel et aux noix


Poires vapeur, main ingredients

Poires vapeur, main ingredients

Pears, walnuts and honey: truly seasonal ingredients, combined in one and the same recipe, all the savour and nostalgia of autumn brought together on your plate.

When I lived in the Loire valley, I had a few walnut trees in the field, planted 25 years earlier when we first arrived, which gave a meagre if increasing crop. And on an adjacent property of mine, there were three great walnut trees, probably hundreds of years old, which produced the most enormous walnuts you’ll ever see. Baskets and baskets of them, some of which we ate fresh and tender, or served to guests at my table d’hôte, but most of which were spread out on racks to dry, so that we could keep eating them until the following harvest.

My next door neighbour was a bee-keeper. Only a few metres separated us from fresh honey. Honeycomb sometimes.  One of the best ways to eat fresh walnuts is with honey. Or a glass of good Bordeaux.

I didn’t quite realize my luck, having both walnuts and honey in ready supply, until I moved away.  But now I have the sea, the beach, fish and seafood in exchange!

The French language bit:

miel (masculine noun) : le miel, du miel, des miels = honey (pronounced mee-ell) (the honey, some honey, honeys). Never pronounce the s in the plural.

There are different types of honey: le miel liquide = runny honey, le miel d’abeille = bee honey (though I’m not sure any other type exists!), le miel d’acacia = acacia honey, le miel toutes fleurs = mixed flower honey, le miel de lavande = lavender honey, etc.

Mielleux (adj.) = honeyed (when used of honeyed tones, is slightly pejorative).

Le miellat = honeydew, not in the sense of melon, but the droplet that exudes from greenfly, collected by ants.

We all have some type of steamer, and probably don’t use it enought, especially not for desserts. So here is my recipe for Poires vapeur au miel et aux noix, steamed pears with honey and walnuts.

Ingredients:

  • One pear per person (choose ripe but very firm pears)

and per pear:

  • 15gr shelled walnuts (about 3 walnuts)
  • 1tsp  honey
  • A few drops of lemon juice
  • A smear of butter
  • A large square of greaseproof paper
  • Kitchen string if you choose to use it

You may add spices, nutmeg maybe or pepper if you wish, but I didn’t.

Preparation:

  • Shell the walnuts. Chop roughly and mix with the honey.
  • Cut a large square of greaseproof paper per pear, and smear butter in the centre generously.
  • Take a slice off the bottom of each pear so that it will stand up by itself.
  • Peel the pear, leaving the stalk in place for presentation purposes.
  • Coat the peeled pear in lemon juice to prevent discolouring.
  • Core the pear from the bottom end, taking out all the bits you don’t want to eat, but being careful not to pierce the shell.
  • Stuff the pear with the walnut/honey mixture.
  • Stand the pear on the buttered greaseproof paper.
  • Bring a litre of water to boil in a steamer.
  • Bring up the sides of the greaseproof paper to form a papillote, an envelope, which you can either twist to close, or tie with kitchen string.
  • When the water is boiling, place the papillotes in the basket of the steamer, cover with the lid, and steam for 12 minutes.
  • Serve either hot or warm, in the papillote, leaving each guest to unfold it and discover the dessert inside.
Papillotes ready to steam

Papillotes ready to steam

The pears should be served in little bowls, because although the greaseproof paper doesn’t budge, the honey has melted and may run when the papillote is opened. It is prettier though to eat the pears out of the papillote, without tipping them out onto the plate.

Cooked pear, papillote

What better way to celebrate Autumn.

Papillote unwrapped

Bon appétit!

One French word: framboise, a French recipe: crème à la framboise meringuée


Crème à la framboise meringuée

Crème à la framboise meringuée

The raspberry is the queen of all summer fruits, delicious guzzled straight from the sun-warmed cane. Raspberries are best used fresh, very fresh, as they spoil quickly. Frozen (or rather defrosted) they go mushy and lose a great deal of their interest. Although… although… I do use frozen raspberries on occasion, about three of them, straight out of the freezer, as ice cubes in champagne. They melt gently, keeping the champagne chilled longer, suffuse it with a delicate pale pink, and can be slurped in an unmannerly fashion from the bottom of the glass.

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Champagne and frozen rasberries

Late raspberries are still available. They cost gold of course, but maybe you have a few in the garden?

The French grammar bit:

Framboise = raspberry, feminine noun, une framboise, la framboise, les framboises, pronounced fraam-bouahz

The origins of the word are bram- (bramble bush) and -basi (berry) in old low French.

My recipe today is for Crème à la framboise meringuée, a delicious, quick, easy summer dessert. In England it is of course known as “Eton Mess”, and is traditionally served in summer, on the occasion of Eton College’s annual cricket match against Harrow (two of the most famous schools in the country).

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

Main ingredients: raspberries, cream, meringue

You will need for 6 people:

  • 6 good handfuls of fresh raspberries
  • 1 scant tbs of eau de vie de framboise (raspberry alcohol or raspberry gin (see recipe below) (optional)
  • 6 small white meringues
  • 1/2 litre of whipping cream

Preparation:

  • Pick through the raspberries to ensure there are no bugs, but try to avoid washing them, unless you are unsure of their source, in which case it is better to rinse them.
  • Stiffly whip the cream. You need no sugar unless you have a particularly sweet tooth. Add the alcohol if you are using it.
  • Roughly crush all the raspberries except for 6 (if you are doing this recipe in winter, do try using frozen raspberries, but drain them well so that their juice doesn’t liquefy the cream.
  • Roughly crush three of the meringues.
  • Mix the crushed raspberries with the whipped cream.

In tall glasses (tulip shaped champagne glasses work well, or martini glasses) alternate layers of raspberry cream with layers of meringue bits. The last layer should be raspberry cream. Top with a fresh raspberry and a meringue.

This dessert should really be assembled at the last minute from chilled ingredients. If prepared in advance, the meringue goes soft.

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Simple, delicious.

Bon appétit!

PS The recipe for raspberry gin:

A pound of raspberries, a bottle of gin, sugar to taste

At the height of the raspberry season, when they are nice and ripe, slightly crush a pound of raspberries and, in a litre bottle, add to a bottle of gin. You can use frozen raspberries if you must. Add sugar, it needs a bit, not a lot, and actually you can always add it later. This is not a liqueur, not sweet, but dry, with punch. Store in a dark cupboard, shaking daily (make sure the cork is firmly in place!) for the first week, once a week for the next month. Forget about it for at least another month. Strain out all the pulp and pour into a clean bottle, labelled clearly. This can be used in fruit desserts, or drunk in small quantities neat or on the rocks. You can do the same thing with sloes (prunelles), sloe gin. Am I meant to put the standard warning: alcohol is dangerous for your health, here?

One French word: pêche, a French recipe: Pêches pochées


So many people have wondered where I’d disappeared to… A year of doing other things, creating art, writing, and cooking of course. But here I am, I’m back! I shall no longer attempt to post every day, the tasks involved are just too time-consuming. What about Wednesdays or Thursdays, just once a week, to give you time to shop for ingredients before wow-ing your family and friends with a French meal at the weekend? Or no schedule at all, maybe I’ll just write when I have a recipe I just can’t keep to myself?

So let’s get back to work!

You’ll notice I have finally figured out the way to add audio clips of the pronunciation of a few words into the text. I shall gradually update all past posts, I hope this will help you and that you will practise repeating the words and phrases.  I have left the written description of the sound as well.

Pêche is a complicated word, it means several things, and can be written with different accents.

pêche (feminine noun), la pêche, une pêche, des pêches = peach, pronounced paysh  

un pêcher = a peach tree 

NOT to be confused with un péché = a sin, un péché mortel = a mortal sin, pécher = to sin, commettre un péché = to commit a sin, un pécheur = a sinner

or with

la pêche = fishing, pêcher = to fish, un pêcheur = a fisherman

Expressions using pêche (in the sense of peach) :

la peau de pêche  , meaning either literally  complexion, a skin like a peach, but it is also a type of material, sort of suedey, velvety like peach skin.

avoir la pêche  =  to be on good form

And to do with fishing:

une canne à pêche = a fishing rod, “bonne pêche” = tight lines (or have a good day’s fishing), un garde-pêche = a game warden (fishing warden), un droit de pêche = fishing rights, un permis de pêche = a fishing permit

And finally in the sense of a sin:

un péché de jeunesse  = a sin of youth

un péché mignon  = something you have a weakness for, ex. shoes, or chocolate. (What’s your péché mignon ?)

My recipe today is for Pêches Pochées, poached peaches 

CIMG5674

We have had, for once, a really glorious summer, and fruit is plentiful and ripe. This recipe is so simple, but very impressive, and I’ll suggest a few ways in which it can be dressed up.

Ingredients :

  • 1 ripe yellow peach per person (buy the most colourful peaches possible, with deep red skins)
  • Icing sugar
Simple ingredients

Simple ingredients

Preparation:

  • Wash the peaches quickly. Place a pan of water on to boil, large enough for the water to cover all the peaches.
  • When the water simmers, gently lower the peaches WITH THEIR SKINS ON into the pan. Bring back to a very gentle boil and poach for one minute. (If you have doubts as to the ripeness of your peaches, make that 2 minutes, but much better to choose ripe fruit.)
  • Remove with a slotted spoon, place on kitchen paper to drain and cool just enough to be able to handle them.
  • With a sharp unserrated knife (so as not to leave scratches on the surface of the peach), remove the skin. (Actually, once you have made a nick in the skin, it almost slides off with just a little help from your forefinger.)
  • Sprinkle lightly with icing sugar (through a sieve so as not to have little lumps). This will melt with the heat of the peach and glaze the fruit.
Poached but not yet skinned

Poached but not yet skinned

These peaches can be eaten just like that. It is better not to handle them once the icing sugar has been added, so if you do want to make a more complicated dessert, only add the icing sugar at the end, but be aware that if the peach is no longer warm, the sugar will not melt and glaze.

They are tricky to eat just as they are, difficult to “get hold of” even with a fork, and can slip and slide and even shoot across the table on occasion. Best to serve them in bowls or glasses that will prevent them from doing this.

You can also cut them in half and stone them just after peeling, this will make them easier to eat; and use these halves to make peach melba, with cream and ice cream and some red currant jelly. Or serve them on a bed of creamy rice pudding (my favourite!). Or good old English custard (crème anglaise in French).

With creamed rice

With creamed rice

I have photographed two variations, one with creamed rice in the bottom of a martini glass, with a tiny dribble of peach liqueur on top, and the poached peach on top of that. And a slice of wholemeal brioche which I turned into pain perdu, cut into triangles with a poached peach. I just had this for my lunch, and the peach was so beautifully ripe that it was no problem separating it from its stone on the dessert plate. But I have to say that I bought wholemeal brioche to kid myself into thinking I’m eating healthily, and it’s not nearly as nice as ordinary brioche, or gâche vendéenne (a speciality of the Vendée region of France) with which I usually do my pain perdu.

With pain perdu

With pain perdu

The colour that transfers from the skin to the peach is simply stunning and the sheen of the icing sugar sets this off beautifully. Good for candlelit dinners, they glow. Guests are usually pretty impressed and never guess it has been so easy to prepare.

Do take advantage of the summer season to buy some really ripe, tasty peaches for the weekend.

Bon appétit!

One French word: vin, a French recipe: fraises au vin


A variation on a previous recipe of strawberries with limoncello liqueur: since it is the strawberry season, we should have a whole stock of recipes at our fingertips!

Fraises au vin

Vin = wine of course. Probably the word that the world over is most connected with France.  The French cook a lot with wine, and often the wine is as good as that served at table.

Fraises au vin, main ingredients

This recipe is very simple, but no less good for that. Strawberries, nice and ripe, cut in four, sprinkled with a little sugar and the grated or zested rind of one or two oranges, depending on the quantity of strawberries, with a glass or two of red wine poured over them. Stir delicately, leave to infuse for an hour, or overnight. If you don’t want to use alcohol, use the juice of the same oranges.

Bon appétit!

One French word: lait, a French recipe: crème caramel


Lait, masculine noun (le lait, du lait, les laits) = milk (pronounced lay, you don’t hear the t).

The Milkmaid by Vermeer, in French : La laitière

Lait de vache = cow’s milk, lait de brebis = ewe’s milk, lait de chèvre = goat’s milk, lait d’anesse = asses milk, lait de jument = mare’s milk.

Lait entier = full cream milk, lait demi-écrémé = half cream milk, lait écrémé = milk with all cream removed, lait cru = raw milk, straight from the cow. Lait caillé = curdled milk. Lait condensé = condensed milk.

Cochon de lait = sucking pig, dent de lait = baby (milk) tooth,

Un produit laitier = a dairy product, un élevage laitier = a dairy farm.

Allaiter = to breast feed, allaitement = breast feeding. Lait maternel = mother’s milk.

Expressions include être une vache à lait = (literally to be a milk cow) to be exploited (usually financially); être soupe au lait = (literally to be like milk soup) to be quick to anger (like boiling milk rising rapidly in the pan).

One can see from all the different words and expressions how important milk is in everyday life all over the world. Milk is the main ingredient of my recipe today: crème caramel, which, without the caramel, is called œufs au lait (eggs with milk).

Crème caramel is a staple of French cuisine. Simple, easy to mess up, quite delicious when done properly.

For 4 people you will need:

  • 150ml of milk (full cream is best, you will get the best flavour, but since you are going to add cream, it is not crucial).
  • 275ml of thick liquid cream, known in Britain as double cream, thicker than whipping cream.
  • A vanilla pod
  • 4 large eggs
  • 40gr of sugar
  • and for the caramel another 100gr sugar.

Heating the milk and the cream with the vanilla seeds

Preparation:

Making the caramel

  1. Make the caramel with 100gr of sugar and a scant tbs of water. The method is described in detail here. Pour quickly into four large ramekins or one oven-proof dish of the same or slightly greater volume.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 150°.
  3. Beat the eggs with the sugar until they are pale yellow.
  4. Boil a kettle full of water.
  5. Heat the milk and the cream together with the scraped inside of the vanilla pod but remove from the heat before they boil.
  6. Add this mixture to the beaten eggs, stirring vigourously all the time so that the milk does not cook your eggs. This is where mistakes are made. If your milk is too hot or you don’t stir enough, you will end up with scrambled eggs.
  7. Sieve this mixture into a jug. This step is important too, it gets rid of any bits that shouldn’t be there (nasty bits of egg white for instance).
  8. Pour from the jug into the ramekins or larger dish on top of the caramel.
  9. Place the ramekins in a roasting pan and pour water from the kettle so that it reaches half way up the sides, no more, and put into the oven for about an hour. Be careful when putting into the oven, the hot water slops easily, and should you get it over your wrists, you are likely to drop the lot, such a waste of time. Be especially careful when removing the pan from the oven.  A golden skin will form on top, the finished crème should be firm.
  10. Leave to cool then place in the fridge. These may be eaten cold or at room temperature, straight from the ramekins, or unmolded on invididual serving plates. Unmolding is delicate and you get some surprises. Run a knife around the edge of the ramekin, place a small plate on top, turn it over briskly and shake a couple of times to loosen.
  11. Should you wish to make œufs au lait instead of crème caramel, add a little more sugar when beating the eggs.

Beaten eggs with hot milk added

Ready in the ramekins

Ready to go into the oven, bathing in boiling water

Ready to come out of the oven, nice and golden and well risen

Ready to eat out of the little bowl...

This is not crème brûlée, I’ll give you the recipe for that another day. It is simple and wholesome, and one of  the best basic French family desserts.

or, if you dare, unmolded and sitting in a pool of caramel

Bon appétit!

One French word: perdu, a French recipe: pain perdu


Perdu, masculine adjective (perdu (m.), perdue (f.), perdus (m.pl.), perdues (f.pl.) = lost (pronounced pair-du – with a French u)

Past participle of the verb perdre = to lose (je perds, tu perds, il/elle perd, nous perdons, vous perdez, ils/elles perdent)

Perdre la tête = to lose one’s mind; A la Recherche du Temps perdu (Marcel Proust) = In Search of Lost Time; tout n’est pas perdu = all is not lost;  à corps perdu = with all one’s energy.

Pain perdu aux fruits

My recipe for today is for pain perdu (literally : lost bread) = French toast. Lost bread, stale bread.  Making something wonderful out of scraps, isn’t that the best sort of cooking? Well this is just that, and it’s not for nothing that it’s called “French toast”, because of course it comes from France.

It is much, much better to use stale brioche than stale bread. Succulent. But it is quite rare to have stale brioche. Fresh brioche seems to disappear rather quickly. You can actually use fresh brioche or bread, but that rather defeats the object of using something one would otherwise throw away.

For 2 portions, you will need:

  • 2 thick slices of stale brioche (or bread) (or 4 maybe)
  • 1 whole egg
  • a little milk
  • 1tbs sugar
  • butter for frying
  • 1tbs alcohol (brandy, apple liqueur, rum), optional
  • extra sugar for sprinkling
  • 8 ripe strawberries
  • 1 slice ripe pineapple
  • a little whipped cream to garnish

Preparation:

  1. In a shallow dish big enough to place the slices whole and flat, beat the whole egg with a small glass of milk, then add the sugar and alcohol if you are using it, mix well.
  2. Place the slices into the mixture gently, leave to pump up the egg mixture for 5 or 10 minutes or more, then turn delicately without breaking them and soak the other side. The longer they soak, within reason, up to an hour, the better they will be.
  3. Prepare the fruit: wash and hull the strawberries and cut in half lengthways, peel and core the pineapple and cut into bite-sized chunks.
  4. Place quite a bit of butter (a couple of tbs) into a non-stick frying pan and heat to melt. With a fish slice or some other flat instrument large enough to take the slice without it breaking, pick up the slices and place them in the pan. Turn the heat down so that they cook gently without the butter burning.
  5. After a couple of minutes turn them over using the fish slice and a fork. They are very fragile. The slices should be browned and a little caramelized on the first side. Fry gently for another minute or two. They should swell a little. Transfer to serving plates.
  6. Sprinkle with a little sugar and garnish the pain perdu with the fruit and a whirl of whipped cream.  Serve nice and hot.

Pain perdu

You may serve this as a dessert. But desserts that need last minute treatment are tricky, so think of that before deciding to do it. Better I think to serve it as a luxury breakfast or brunch on a Sunday, when everyone has lots of time and you don’t have to hurry to make it.

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