A French Dinner and a Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé.


When I was very young I had a terrible aversion to learning to ride a bicycle. In fact, once I finally mastered it I had reached the grand old age of eight. The problem was that I was terrified of falling off and scraping my knees on our gravel drive, and it was only, one day in deepest winter, when the thinnest smattering of snow scarcely hid the worst of the sharp gravel edges that I finally got my bike out of the garage, clearly believing that the couple of millimètres of snow would cushion me from a nasty fall.

Last week we headed off to the Alps to ski. Now, as ever, I take my time about things and had never tried skiing until I was 46. While my husband and children scream down the slopes at speed, my kind of skiing is rather more gentle, but I love it all the same.

Just before we left I joked to my friends that if I arrived back home with all my arms and legs intact that I would invite them all to dinner to celebrate. Our first day on the mountain was one of exceptional beauty with vivid blue skies and crystal clear air,  the type you can only find up a mountain, and coupled with a temperature ranging between 16 and 18 degrees. What I didn’t expect to happen was to be struck by terror in front of the first slope with an irrational fear of crashing headlong of the edge of the piste, especially when the slope in question was before getting to the first télésiège. The clarity of the view brought into focus the pitch of the slopes and momentarily I was paralyzed by them. Ultimately I fell back on skiing down an alternative slope and then removing my skis in order to reclimb the incline to have another go. By the end of the day I was exhausted though happier about my slaloming skills and determined to take myself to task the next day.The mountains of course have a mind of their own, and the next day dawned with even the lowest pistes shrouded in dense mist. It was however my eureka moment. No sooner on the slopes than I réalised that, much like with the smattering of snow when learning to ride my bike, I could no longer see the source of my fear. In fact the piste running down to the télésiège seemed to blanketed and softened, and definitely shallowed by the mist. So much so that I threw myself off the brow of the slope with abandon, up the télésiège moments later and never looked back. By the end of the week I had mastered all sorts of slopes that I hadn’t tried before and more importantly, I arrived home all my arms and legs intact. Dinner  with friends was the logical conclusion.I decided, as you do when flying the crest of the wave , to set myself yet another challenge. This time to cook something out of my comfort zone. After a week in the Swiss Alps thoughts naturally turned to melted cheese and mountain goats and I decided to tackle the dreaded cheese soufflé.

I found a wonderful recipe for Twice Baked Goats Cheese Soufflé. And what particularly attracted me to it was that by doing the first bake in advance you would actually know if it souffled effectively before doing the second bake when the hungry guests were eagerly gathered round the table.

I am pleased to say that making a souffle really isn’t as difficult as people make out, although I attribute a certain amount of my success to Arnaud, the excellent pâtisserie chef that I worked with all last season who gave me a good training on the various principles behind beating eggs, egg age and temperature when it comes to giving things “lift”.

For the recipe click here!

The recipe is simple enough. If you can make a decent smooth white sauce, crumble goats cheese and gently fold in soft whipped egg white then you shouldn’t have any problem making a cheese soufflé.

First simmer milk with bay, fresh nutmeg, onions and peppercorns.Next select a strong tasting goats cheese. I added some mature cheddar and some grated Parmesan for good measure.Have old eggs at room temperature.Weigh out all ingredients in advance, lots of fresh chives are perfect for this recipe.Simmer the milk and then strain out all the bay, onion and peppercorns before  adding to a roux of butter and flour. Simmer stirring all the time until a thick creamy sauce is produced.Let cool slightly before adding the chives and beat in the egg yolks on at a time.Then add the cheese and stir thoroughly. The warmth of the sauce will begin to melt the cheese. As the cheese mixture cools, whip the eggs to soft fairly firm peaks. If the egg white are whisked into too hard peaks they impede the raising process. Fold very gently a spoonful of the egg whites into the cheese mixture, and then fold in the rest making sure to not lose the air.Place into ramekins which have been buttered with an upwards motion and ensure there are no dribbles. Both glass and ceramic ramekins work equally well. I used a mixture. Place in the oven at 180 degrees for 15 minutes. Both fan ovens and standard ovens work equally well.And watch them rise!And start to fall – they only hold their shape for a minute or so out of the oven!I hope you remembered to lay the table!

Once the soufflés are cooked you can eat them after the first bake, a light and fluffy goats cheese fork full of heaven. Or you can let them cool, and gently turn them upside down out of their pots onto a sheet of baking paper covering a metal tray. These can be kept covered in the fridge a day in advance of when you want to serve them.

15 minutes before the guests come to the table, bake for a second time for 15 minutes at 180 degrees, or until nicely risen  and golden, with a slightly crispy shell.

Delicious served with a crown of tender lettuce leaves, a few slices of fresh fig, parmesan shavings and a salad dressing of fig vinaigrette.

Enjoy!

For the recipe click here!

Ou Se Trouve Le Canard Perdu? Le Canard Rouennais, or Rouen Duck.


“Husband à l’Etranger” has been repatriated this autumn after many years of working internationally and as you can imagine this necessitated a measure of celebration on the home front, as well as enjoying the  rare opportunity to get together with friends and especially our very dear neighbours who are always ready to come to the rescue in moments of need with pots of cream, bags of emmenthal râpé and cups of sugar.

Yesterday the perfect moment arrived to “fête” our friendship which started not long after we bought our house – a jolly conversation from balcony to street in which we discovered two of our children had been in the same lycée class for a brief moment in time.

All that was missing from this pre-Christmas bit of fun was the venue. But it didn’t take long to resolve that minor issue. Our neighbours had a friend staying who suggested we all went to try ‘Le Canard Rouennaise’ at the smart Hotel de Dieppe a few minutes walk from our home.

The ceremony behind Rouen duck is quite an experience. Prepared in the dining room in front of the diners it is not for those of delicate disposition, the cracking of bones and extraction of blood being only part of the visual experience. But this is France and the French are renowned for their ability to eat the most extraordinary ingredients and products that are gruesome enough to make your toes curl.

So what of this extraordinary duck? The breed itself is the product of the amorous relations between the migrating wild ducks taking a brief “séjour” in the cliffs above the river Seine at Duclair and local farmyard ducks they spotted from overhead. The resultant canette is medium sized, big breasted, small thighed, blood rich and succulent, and waddling about the farmyard was historically the perfect bird to spit roast in the event of the arrival of an impromptu guest. Not having time to bleed the duck, this impromptu meal necessitated the suffocating of the bird before roasting it on a spit for twenty minutes over a wood fire. The breast was served with a sauce rich in blood, liver and bone marrow.

Inevitably in order to protect the recipe, the “Ordre des Canardiers” was founded, and the confection of the Canard Rouennaise rests on the fundamental premise that the duck be a “true Rouennaise duck”, suffocated and not bled, the commercialisation of which is permissible under the title “exception culturelle”. The breast must be removed, spit roasted for 17-20 minutes and served with a sauce made with the pressed extraction of its own blood.

Ultimately one such duck was presented to King Edward the Seventh by the maître Chef Louis Convert of the cruise liner Félix Faure, and it is this recipe, recreated in 1933 by the chef Michel Guéret who was his young intendant, which the “Ordre des Canardiers” present today as the authentic.

Within minutes of being seated at our table a silver mobile preparation table was wheeled into view. The bird, recently having undergone its spit-roast was relieved of its carcass in front of us before its bones were ceremoniously carved into pieces small enough to fit the enormous silver press. The loud cracking of bones must be imagined as an essential part of the process.

The “Maître Canardier”, complete with blue ribboned medal around his neck, set to with aplomb the process of extracting the blood and bone marrow into a waiting gravy-boat by authoritatively turning the enormous wheel of the press.

The secret base of the sauce, a confection of duck liver , “vin de Beaune” and spices was brought into the dining room, which Monsieur Le Canardier flambéed with a glass of cognac before adding the extracted blood, 20 grammes of pure Normandy butter, lemon juice and a glass of port.After the great excitement of the preparation, there was only one thing left to do… déguster! (Taste!)The copious breast meat of the “Rouennaise Ducks” was quickly polished off. It wasn’t long however before the men at the table noticed that for three birds there was scant thigh or wing meat. At 50€ a head the conversation soon fell to the subject of the “canard perdu”-  or the lost duck.

As we poured uproariously out of the restaurant into the frosty misty night, we were still searching for the “canard perdu” all the way home!Bon appétit!

Tarte aux Pommes -Celebrating Autumn!


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Down at the farm, Domain Duclos Fougeray yesterday, the trees were bare of their apples. Only last week the orchards were heady with the scent of thousands of apples, Yesterday the you would have been forgiven for feeling drunk with the scent of them all in the cider sheds. Production of cider, Pommeau and Calvados was underway!

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Pommeau is a smooth blend of 1/3 Calvados (apple brandy) and 2/3 apple juice aged in oak barrels, resulting in a sherry/port-like alcohol at 18% and is for me “normandy in a glass”!

Totally delicious!

From the cosy warmth of the “degustation”(tasting) barn the conversation soon became passionate about the  perfect marriage of those drinks with typical Norman specialities, and it wasn’t long before we succumbed to the heavenly combination of a traditional Tarte aux Pommes (apple tart) with a smooth warming glass of Pommeau.

Having tried the farm’s hand-made bite-sized apple tarts, I knew I would have to learn how to make them. And then a wonderful neighbour taught me all I needed to know about this not so humble desert, and from so few ingredients, the sublime taste is worth its weight in gold.

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The farm makes its own organic apple and cinnamon purée which is heaven in a jar, but it’s easy to make back home.

Follow the recipe below to make a traditional Tarte aux Pommes with crispy caramelized pastry.

Take a pie sized circle of puff pastry, 5 Royal Gala apples or similar for the tart, and another 5 sweet apples and cinnamon to make a purée of apples. Enjoy a french moment at the local market buying some rich creamy normandy butter and reserve about 4oz for the tart. (The rest of the butter you can enjoy on a warm crusty baguette whilst you wait for the tart to cook!) and prepare a spoonful of demerara sugar.

Take a sheet of baking-paper or baking parchment. Cut to a size just larger than the size of the apple tart. Evenly brush over the surface of the baking paper some melted butter and sprinkle with some demerara sugar. Roll out the puff pastry to the size of a large dinner plate, and lay onto the buttery baking parchment. Spread over the uncooked puff pastry a generous helping of apple and cinnamon purée, and overlay with very thinly sliced sweet apples (desert).

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Glaze with a small amount of melted butter and place in a medium oven, approximately 165-170° and leave to cook for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven, and sprinkle (optional) with a little more sugar if desired and cook for a further 4 to 5 minutes. just enough to melt the sugar.

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Enjoy with  your friends, family and a dollop of thick farm cream…

or secretly by yourself at midnight in front of the glowing embers of the fire!

Don’t forget a little glass of Pommeau for total apple heaven!

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Bon Apetite -Choux buns and Chouquettes


For the recipé click here:

For a few moments this morning I thought I was going to have to deal with a double booking. Not the kind where you find you are booked for two different tours in two entirely different places at the same time, but one you turn up to your destination and find that another group is already there.

This morning I led an eager group of Australians to the Atelier de Sylvie, a cookery school where they were programmed to create a profusion of profiteroles. But when we arrived, we found an equally sized group already crammed into the little cooking class. For a couple of seconds I wondered how I was going to deal with it, until the head of the first group heaved a camera onto his shoulder and with a wink and a grin called:

“Action”.

It turned out that our cooking class was going to be televised and I was dammed glad that I had thought to wash my hair this morning. Five minutes later I was miked-up and ready to translate the charming Sylvie, the owner and chef of the atelier.

WP_20160717_002The morning turned into a riotous affair, doing what the french do best, (and australian TV presenters do worst apparently), cooking and tasting delicious patisserie. In fact the presenter’s choux buns were so bad that we had to take them out of the oven twice in order for the  camera to effectively film the astonished expressions on the assembled cooks, and the grimace on the face of Sylvie!

“Il est le plus mauvais client que j’avais jamais eu dans cet atelier” she exclaimed, and the camera trained back to me to capture the translation. Struggling to contain my laughter I explained that perhaps that was better left untranslated, but no-one was having any of it:

“He’s the worst client that i’ve ever had in my atelier” I explained, and once the the camera man had finished snorting, he demanded we re-run the whole sequence. The presenter bravely bore the ridicule!

As the morning drew to a close we left the atelier, each holding a box laden with choux buns and chouquettes. (some more professionally looking than others!), calling

“Bon Apetite”, to the cameras as we went!

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For the recipé click here, and for the method, click here!

Atelier de cuisine et patisserie – The Macaron


Yesterday, for three hours I was Julia Child!

If you have ever watched the film “Julie and Julia”, you willl have seen the signpost for Rouen about three minutes into the film. Well Julia Child continued on to Paris, but she may as well have stopped at Rouen. She had many long hours of pondering in her wonderful (and if I may say so slighly excentric) voice “but what shall I do?” before she had her eureka moment. Thereafter she threw herself into french culinary school and never looked back!  Read more

Tarte aux Fruits and a 19th Birthday!


My lovely daughter had her 19th birthday this week. It’s quite astonishing when I consider that we arrived in France when she was just twelve. Then she didn’t have two words of french to her repertoire, now she dances rings around me with perfect conjugaison, ado-speak and a measure of verlan thrown in! What, may you ask, is verlan? It’s an argot of the french language with inversed syllables and is largely meaningless to hapless adults, especially the linguistically challenged like me who often cannot get the syllables in the right order, let alone inverse them!

One thing that we are both capable of doing in equal measure however is eating french patisserie and so it came as no suprise at all when, on the subject of birthday cakes, my daughter opted for a french Tarte aux Fruits from Yvonne instead of a typically english cake. Yvonne is our old favorite boulangerie/patisserie in Rouen Gare where we used to live.  It is still no more than 10 minutes walk away, but a combination of home improvements, tax bills and all our electrical kitchen appliances breaking down in the same month made me baulk a bit, as Yvonne’s tarts are sublimely tasty, stunningly beautiful and extravagently expensive but more importantly a little on the small side!

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So on wednesday I got down to what I had been putting off for months. Making my own Tarte aux Fruits, Yvonne style. What I discovered in the course of the day was that they are supremely easy, and moreover, by the end of the evening – equally delicious.

There are two important facets to the Tarte aux Fruits. Firstly a rich sweet pastry which holds it’s shape and which doesn’t succumb to the moistness of the Crème Patissière. Then the smooth sweetness of the crème to contrast with the slight acidity of the fruit.

In my humble opinion pastry making is something of an art form. Throughout last summer I had the pleasure of standing in the kitchen with a professional patisserie chef and watching him effortlessly making perfect crisp pastry cases. I learnt several things.

-Firstly it is very important to keep the pastry cool and work the flour and butter mixture to the minimum, stopping mixing when the dough can just hold itself together.

-Secondly that the least amount of water or egg possible should be used to bind the ingredients together as during the baking process the evaporation of the liquid causes shrinkage.

-Thirdly the pastry should always be chilled for at least an hour before baking to prevent slippage in the mould during cooking.

-And finally the dough should never be stretched when fitting it to the mould as this also encourages slippage of the sides of the pastry case during the baking.

I asked the chef how to stop air bubbles appearing in the base of the pastry case, and he recommended using a pastry ring as opposed to a tin, and a perforated silicone baking sheet placed directly on the oven wire rack. In this way, no air is trapped between the pastry and a pastry tin.baking sheetsCercle-a-tarte-inox-24-cm

 

Having prepared the pastry case I began to cook the crème patissière.

I added the milk to the pan and incorporated a small proportion of sugar. By adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as I bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.

It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.

By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.

I switch off the flame on the hob. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.

When the butter is incorporated I remove the pan from the flame and pour the Crème Pâtissière thinly over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool. At this point it is possible to freeze the crème for another day or use straight away for a gorgeous tart.

Once cooled I put the crème patissière in my Kitchen Aid and beat until smooth before filling a piping bag with the crème.

The piping bag is partially stuffed into its nozzle to form a “bouchon” (cork) to prevent the creme from passing through the nozzle when I fill the bag. When I have transferred all the creme into the bag, I untwist the “bouchon” and push the creme down to the nozzle opening with the help of a spatula.

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Starting from the centre of the pastry case I squeeze the crème patissière through a 8mm round nozzle spiralling outwards until I reach the rim of the pastry case. This prevents the need to spread the crème with a spatula and the danger of damaging or”dirtying” the pastry case itself.

Once done it is just a simple matter of positioning the fruit. I chose raspberries with a strawberry edge, and every so often upturned a raspberry and filled it like a mini “cup”with a raspberry coulis.

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Afterwards  you  can dust softly with icing sugar, or lay a sprig of black currents or redcurrents and a sliced strawberry or two as decoration.

I was worried that my daughter would be disappointed that she didn’t have a real Yvonne tart for her birthday. But when she came in from work she opened the fridge and uttered a “ooooh”.

After dinner, when we were sitting replete from second helpings, my pudding monsters declared it was a huge success, especially as they didn’t have to forgo being greedy as they would have done with Yvonne’s little masterpiece, and moments later it was “snap-chatted” to celebrity and my daughter declared that judging by the responses of her friends – I better get making another one!

 

For the recipe click here

 

La durée (staying power) of Ladurée –


Ever since I moved to France, I have been aware of the name of the “House” of Ladurée, which has been associated with the prettily coloured almond meringue shells we know today as Macarons. The Macaron appeared in Europe in the middle ages, but it antecedent appears to have been from Morocco and before that from Syria under the different name of the “Louzieh”. It is believed to have passed to France from Italy during the Renaissance and  is likely that Catherine de Médicis  introduced it to the French when she entered the French royal family. The first recipe for the macaron is found in a publication in the XVII century. Enriched by spices, liqueurs and jams the shells of the macaron were paired together in 1830 to form the shape of the macaron we recognise today. They were found in Belleville, the Parisian quarter with ganache or cream fillings in 1880 and were also fabricated by the “Maison Ladurée” which tinted the shells in pastel colours indicating their flavours.

Despite living a stone’s throw from Paris, I have never, until yesterday tried one Ladurée’s masterpieces, but have always wanted to, and it is somewhat ironic that when I finally came to taste one, it wasn’t in France at all, but thousands of miles away in Bangkok! It wasn’t even that I was desperately hungry, or desperately curious. Since I regularly cook Macarons myself, and act as translator for the Institute Nationale de Boulangerie Patisserie for, amongst other things, the Macaron, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and if the Maison de Ladurée warrented the title of the grand master of the Macaron.

So why did I come to finally splurge on a Ladurée macaron in Bangkok of all places. Well the answer was the queue at the Skyrail BTS platform at Siam. Anyone who has travelled in Bangkok in public transport will know that it’s a pretty overwhelming affair, not least at rush-hour when there are literally thousands of bodies crushing into the train carriages. But of course getting into a carriage isn’t the only hurdle. First buy your ticket!

The skyrail platforms have a few booths which at first glance look like  ticket offices. So on our first outing we queued for tickets only to find that despite being six of us, the  person behind the screen would only change our notes for coins, leaving us in the somewhat unenviable position of having to queue again at a little slot machine to actually get hold of the tickets, which we had to do one at a time.

So yesterday when I looked at the heaving masses on the concourse, and then into my purse noticing with a grimace that I had only notes, there were only two choices, to queue twice, or to nip back into the mall and stop at the first shop possible, buying something innoccuous and getting some change as a result. The first shop that I fell upon was Ladurée!


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To hand it to Ladurée, the display looked tempting. One macaron was even half dipped in gold! I selected my one solitary raspberry Macaron only to have a major heart attack at the price demanded. As their cheapest, the rapberry Macaron costed a whopping 200 baht (5€), and I was agast to see, whilst one server wrapped my little macaron in a beautifully crafted napkin “envelope” concoction, the other was pulling from the till a wad of notes for my change. It took much gesticulating to get across the message that I wanted a handfull of coins.

I carefully cradled my little “treasure” back to the Skyrail station where my children were still manning their position in the queue for tickets, and egged on by them I took my first bite into my Ladurée macaron. There was expectant anticipation that for a few moments I would be transported to some higher realm of conciousness, a sort of gastronomic paradise.

“Well” demanded the children, a few moments later, “Was it worth the inflated price tag, and was Ladurée synonymous with “heaven”.

In a word, “No!”, it tasted like all other macarons the world over!

Perhaps If i’d bought a gold dipped one, and melted down the gold, I might have appreciated its value. Perhaps Ladurée can be thanked for their clever idea of pairing the shells, and colouring them to denote their flavour, but the rest, as they say, is history. There are many patisserie chefs out there just as capable of making lovely macarons as the famous Maison de Ladurée for a fraction of the price. And I do hope that Ladurée has something else up its sleeve, as an excellent macaron rests with the imagination of it’s creator, and that could as easily be you and I.

For its 4€ Ladurée price tag you could make a trayful at home, freezing the left-overs for instant gratification moments another day. So when it comes to “la durée” in minutes of munching…

Ladurée gives a total of about one!

Enjoy it while it lasts!

You’ll find the recipé here