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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.

CIMG6062

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.

One French word: sarrasin, a French recipe: blinis au sarrasin


Sarrasin, masculine noun (le sarrasin, du sarrasin) = buckwheat; (un Sarrazin, des Sarrazins) = Saracen.

Buckwheat is a cereal, the dark flour of which is very much used in Brittany where I live, to make savoury pancakes (galettes). Sweet pancakes (crêpes) are made with wheat flour.

Sarrasin or Sarrazin is also the word for Saracen, a mediaeval term designating Arabs and Muslims in general.

The cereal was introduced to Brittany by Anne de Bretagne, Duchess of Brittany and wife of the French king Charles VIII (interesting story in French). The land in the region was poor and buckwheat grew well, becoming a staple in the form of galettes. The cereal originated in Egypt and its name comes from its dark colour, reminiscent to the mediaeval mind of the dark skin of the Saracens.

Blinis au sarrasin

My recipe for today is for blinis au sarrasin to eat with smoked fish (or caviar if you have any to hand). Blinis are Russian, not French of course, the word blini is already a plural and means pancakes. But made with buckwheat, they take on a distinctly Breton flavour. They are easy to make and so much better than packaged versions.

For about 24 small blinis, you will need:

  • 100gr buckwheat flour
  • 100gr plain flour
  • ¼ tsp salt or to taste
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp quick yeast
  • 200ml milk
  • 40gr salted butter
  • 2 eggs

Bubbles in the blini

Preparation:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Warm the milk and the butter and add to the flour.
  3. Stir well with a fork so that there are no lumps and leave to sit at room temperature for half an hour, covered with a tea towel.
  4. Beat the eggs and add them gently to the mixture. It should be heavy in consistency, more so than a normal pancake batter, more like American breakfast pancakes, so that it will not spread all over the pan. The finished blini should be about 6cm across. But don’t try for perfection and symmetry, these are home-made.
  5. In a non stick frying pan, put two tbs of the mixture as many times as the pan will hold without the blinis spreading and sticking to each other. I do them one at a time in a small pan.
  6. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until bubbles rise and burst. Turn and cook 1-2 minutes on the other side. Keep them warm under a folded tea towel.
  7. Serve with smoked fish, sour or heavy cream and lemon juice. They are also good to use as bread to scoop up hummus or avocado dip.

Blinis au sarrasin et saumon fumé

Blinis do not keep well. Eat them all, and quickly. And don’t worry if the first two are not a success. This is always the way with pancakes. Put a stray piece of smoked salmon on these and eat them while you cook, or give them to the dog.

Bon appétit.

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