Tag Archives: france

Galette des Rois

Yesterday was Twelfth Night, the traditional end of Christmas festivities, and the day by which you’re supposed to have taken down all the decorations. We’re back to normal, but there are a couple of houses in the neighbourhood that are still holding on to the festive vibe.

So is that the end of the excitement? Well, not quite. Today (6 January) if Epiphany, so there is one last change to eat cake before we get to our resolutions to be healthier and more sporty in 2017. On of the cakes eaten on this day is the Galette des Rois (“cake of the kings”) which is popular in France and Belgium. It has a sweet almond filling between two layers of golden puff pastry. Probably best to start that diet on 7 January then…

We actually had one of these at work yesterday. We’d been discussing the phenomenon of “cake culture” and whether we should encourage or discourage the appearance of cakes in the office as part of a commitment to healthy eating. Afterwards, of course, I went to a bakery and rocked up with one of these guys, but we managed to agree it was OK, as this was a cultural cake, rather than a celebration of cake culture, so we were fine with that.

galettedesrois2
There is also a bit of fun that goes with this cake. Traditionally a ceramic bead would be added to the filling, and when the cake is cut and served, the person that finds the bead becomes king or queen for the rest of the day. If you buy a galette, you will usually get a golden crown to go with it, which the lucky monarch can wear to impress their subjects.

Now, you might be thinking that hiding a piece of ceramic in a cake is not a great idea if someone is hungrily tucking into it and they, oh, perhaps value their teeth? And you’d be absolutely right. As it turns out, I was the lucky king for a day at work, and it was a bit disconcerting to discover there was a piece of stone lurking in there. If you’re going to make one of these, I think the best way is to keep the tradition of something in the cake, but perhaps add a whole almond instead. All the fun, none of the risk of dental damage.

This is a very simple recipe to make. If you’re the sort of person that makes their own puff pastry, that’s great, but I am not one of those people. I bought mine from the store, and it makes life a lot easier. You just have to make the filling, then put it between two discs of pastry and bake it. But to make up for buying the pastry, I did make my own paper crown!

galettedesrois1

To make a Galette des Rois:

• 1 block of sheet of puff pastry
• 1 portion of filling
• 1 teaspoon apricot jam

• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 whole almond or trinket

For the filling:

• 100g butter
• 100g caster sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 100g ground almonds

• 2 tablespoons dark rum

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

2. Make the filling. Cream the butter until soft, then add the sugar and beat well for a minute. Add the egg, almond extract and vanilla extract and mix until light and fluffy. Fold in the ground almonds, then add the rum and mix well.

3. Roll out the puff pastry so that you can cut two discs of at least 20cm, but try to get 25cm if you can. Cut out the two discs, and transfer one to the baking sheet. Use some of the beaten egg to moisten the edge of the pastry disc. Put the apricot jam in the middle and spread evenly, avoiding the egg.

4. Gently spoon the filling onto the pastry disc and spread it evenly – you might not need all the filling, particularly if the pastry disc is on the smaller side. Pop an almond or lucky charm into the mixture.

5. Place the other pastry disc on top, and working from the centre, use your hands to gently pat it down, getting rid of as many air bubbles as you can. Finally press down on the edges where you brushed the beaten egg to get a good seal. Crimp with a fork, then trim with a very sharp knife to get a neat edge.

6. Brush to top of the galette with beaten egg. Make a hole in the centre with a skewer to allow steam to escape, then use the back of a sharp knife to make a pattern on top of the galette.

7. Bake the galette for 25-30 minutes until puffed up and golden. You many need to turn it round half-way to get an even bake.

7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Warn your guests about any ceramic or metal lucky charms in the galette before serving!

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Pistachio Tuiles

I’m one of those bakers that likes to veer between madly complicated recipes and ridiculously simple bakes. Well, today I’ve had a bash at something that steers a nice line between both, using just a few simple ingredients that really just need to be mixed together. The magic part happens during baking, with a quick sleight of hand right after everything comes out of the oven. Intrigued? Then read on.

Today’s recipe is for delicate tuile biscuits. Tuiles literally mean “tiles” in French, as these thin, crisp little biscuits are said to resemble the look of Gallic rooftops. A simple batter is spread into very thin discs on a baking tray. They are baked briefly, and come of the oven with golden brown edges, but they are still soft. This allows you to lift them from the tray, drape them over some sort of mould (a rolling pin, a wine bottle…). The soft tuiles will wrap themselves around their new resting place, giving them their traditional curved shape. After a few moments, the tuiles will be cooled and very crisp. As you can see below, they take on a very elegant, almost ethereal appearance.

pistachiotuiles

These really as biscuits that you could mix up in a moment – you need nothing more than egg white, sugar, flour and butter. I’ve sought to jazz mine up a little, and have rather boldly referred to mine as pistachio tuiles. In fact, I’ve really only added chopped pistachios for the colour contrast, along with a few drops of almond extract for some added aroma. You could use anything you fancy for decoration – a few flaked almonds, a sprinkling of sesame, a scattering of poppy seeds or even dried citrus zest, so match them to your preferred dessert. The only thing to keep in mind is that these biscuits are delicate, so while slivers of pecan might work, whole walnut halves might look a touch bizarre.

Tuiles are delicious as they are, a crisp, sweet treat to enjoy with coffee, or to grace all manner of creamy puddings, from posset to custard, providing a pleasant crunch alongside your dessert. Alternatively, you could dip or drizzle with chocolate. One tip to bear in mind – while the tuiles will be crisp initially, they need to be kept in an airtight container, or they will soften after a couple of hours. It this does happen, then just pop them back in the oven – they will soften again, and you can place them back onto your rolling pin/wine bottle and they will be deliciously crisp again. Just don’t try this if you’ve already dipped them in chocolate…

To make pistachio tuiles (makes around 15):

• 1 large egg white
• 50g white caster sugar
• 25g plain flour
• 15g unsalted butter
• Few drop vanilla of almond extract
• Handful unsalted pistachios, sliced

1. Preheat the oven to 190 C. Grease a non-stick try with butter.

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Leave to one side to cool.

3. In a bowl, whisk the egg with the sugar until smooth. The mixture should be just slightly foamy. Add the flour and mix to a smooth paste. Add the vanilla or almond extract (if using), then stir in the butter and mix well.

4. Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking tray. Use the back of a teaspoon to spread into a disc of around 10 cm (4 inch) diameter. Don’t worry if the batter looks like it has been too thinly spread, as long as there are no gaps. Sprinkle with a few pistachio slivers.

5. Bake for 4-5 minutes, until the edges are golden (you can bake them longer until they are completely browned if you prefer). Remove from the oven, then use a large, sharp knife to lift them off the tray and transfer to a rolling pin or wine bottle. Let the tuiles cool completely, then remove the crisp tuiles to a serving plate.

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Savoury Cake

Yes, yes, I know, it sounds so strange – a savoury cake?

This is exactly the reaction I had when watching a new series by the lovely Rachel Khoo, who runs a little restaurant in Paris from her studio apartment. How little? Well, she folds away her bed and can seat just two people in there. So while I think my kitchen is on the “bijou” side, I suspect she might be defying various laws of physics by producing lovely-looking food out of such a tiny space. Plus, she does it all while looking very chic and Parisienne, but happily for us, she’s a London lass at heart providing her take on classic French dishes.

So what is this savoury cake business? This is one of the recipes featured on the show. I’ll fess up to the fact I’ve never heard of this before, and my initial reaction was rather skeptical. I’ve often thought of savoury food, such as sauces, stews, soups, as being the sort of place where you can play fast and loose with the ingredients – a dash of this, a spot of that, and keep tasting to make sure you’re on the right track. In contrast, I tend to think of baking as being much more scientific – mix the same ingredients in one way and you get biscuits, another way and you end up with cake. Use the wrong quantifies, and things can go terribly wrong. Get the technique wrong, and you face collapsing macarons, sticky meringues of sunken cakes.

Coming at it from this perspective, the thought in my mind was…alors, le sucre? Yes, what would the absence of sugar mean here? I mean…how could this turn into a cake? How? How?

Well, let’s just think about what Rachel had to say on the subject. These things are (apparently) very popular in France, and so that alone should have given me some confidence. And her recipe looked fantastic – goat cheese, juicy prunes and pistachios struck me as a lovely combination, and the method did look very simple. Just whisk up the eggs, add milk, olive oil and yoghurt, then fold into the dry ingredients and bake. I imagined that the result would be something like a giant savoury muffin, studded with lots of flavoursome and complementary flavours. So…I crossed my fingers, baked one, and here it is:

I’m happy to report that this really is a delicious recipe. The crumb is soft and indeed very savoury, and it provides a medium for all the other flavours. In particular, the sweet-ish prunes and lightly acidic, tangy goat cheese were a great combination. I probably kept the chunks of cheese and prunes a little on the large side compared to the version that Rachel makes, but that’s only because I like them to be quite obvious when you cut the slices.

While delicious, this was actually ridiculously easy to make. I can definitely see myself making this a lot this summer. It’s a great way to make something for a picnic, it transports so easily, and you get lots of flavours in there. It also leaves lots of scope to adjust the recipe according to what you’ve got the cupboard or fridge – olives, nuts, cheese, dried tomatoes. You name it, it can probably go in here. I’m also going to try making half a batch to make into breakfast muffins, so I’ll let you know in due course how that goes.

And to response to my worries about what happens when you skip the sugar in a cake – it’s a cake, not perhaps as we know it in Britain, but very tasty nevertheless. Rachel has converted me.

To make a savoury cake (recipe slightly tweaked from Rachel Khoo)

• 250g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 150g soft goat cheese, cut into chunks
• 80g pistachios, chopped
• 100g soft prunes, cut into pieces
• 4 eggs
• 150ml olive oil
• 100ml milk
• 50g natural yoghurt
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper (no need to grease – the oil in the cake takes care of that).

Put the flour, baking powder, goat cheese, prunes and pistachio nuts in a bowl, and stir gently so that everything has a good coating of flour.

In a separate large bowl, whisk the eggs until very light and fluffy. Stir in the milk, olive oil and yoghurt. Add the salt and pepper, and fold in the dry ingredients. Use a spatula to mix until just combined. Over-mixing is not good, and you don’t want to smash the cheese into smithereens.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30 minutes – the cake should be golden and an inserted skewer should come out clean. If it starts to get too dark too quickly, cover loosely with tin foil for the rest of the baking time.

When done, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray.

Worth making? This is an unbelievably easy recipe. In case you doubt me, this is likely to be my summer staple for days out and picnics – customise the additional ingredients and you’ve almost got a whole meal in there to keep you going on busy sightseeing days. Highly, highly recommended!

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Kugelhopf

I recently passed the Gill Wing cookshop in Crouch End, which is always good for picking up a new kitchen implement. Sitting at the front of the store were a selection of ring pans. Given this is about the only thing missing from my collection of trays, I bought one.

Now, what could go in this new pan? Time to explore the culinary delights of France. Not the fancy-pants glamour of Paris. Nope, it’s a little baked item from the eastern border region of Alsace. We’re making a kugelhopf.

For me, this cake has something of a Germanic character, a little reminiscent of a Viennese coffee house, and that’s not surprise when you think about where Alsace is – it’s on the border with Germany, and the regional capital, Strasbourg, has a distinctive style of architecture that is certainly very different from that you would see along the boulevards of Paris or in the towns of the Loire valley. There are some street signs in the local Alsatian tongue (a Germanic rather than a Romance language). Even the wine glasses has a local and distinctive twist – the characteristic green stems, which you can spot on the tables of just about every bistro-style street cafe in Strasbourg. It’s clearly part of France, but it’s a distinctive part of France.

Enough tourism. Let’s go back to kugelhopf. This is something between a bread and a cake. It’s enriched yeast dough with a decent amount of butter and eggs, plus brandy-soaked fruit, almonds, vanilla and lemon zest. It’s a little bit like brioche, but more aromatic and not quite as rich. It gets its distinctive shape from a traditional ring mould – the Alsatians have a special tall pan for making kugelhopf, but (like me!) you can just use a normal ring pan for this. There is also a little tradition of placing a whole almond in each of the dimples in the bottom of the cake pan. I’ve not idea what this represents, but it seems like a nice tradition, and I had a pack of Mallorcan almonds to use for this purpose. If you know the story behind the almonds, do tell!

In making this, I did a bit of experimenting. I followed a “traditional” recipe to the letter, which involved a very elaborate series of steps – creaming butter and sugar, folding in eggs, adding vanilla and lemon zest, and finally working in the yeast, milk and flour by hand. It looked alright, but in the end the texture was most peculiar – a heavy dough with very large gas bubbles, and a peculiar chewiness. Hand-made is nice in theory, but I sensed it was time to try again.

On the second attempt, I embraced modern technology. Good, fresh ingredients, but it all went into the bread machine with fingers crossed, hoping for the best. This time – the dough came out silky-smooth and with a nice elasticity. Once transferred into the pan, it puffed up nicely and baked perfectly. And this time, the texture was great. Fluffy, fruity, moist and tasty. Now, maybe it had something to do with adjusting the mixture to add a little more flour and replacing some of the butter with cream cheese…but whatever it was, it worked!

I’ve seen a variety of ways to finish this cake, all they way up to elaborate frostings and glazes. But in my view, this cake is best with a simple dredging of icing sugar, which imparts a subtle sweetness and complements the fruit, nuts and delicious aroma of baked cakey goodness.

To make a kugelhopf (for a 2.5 litre (4 1/2 pint) tin):

• 120g sultanas
• 2 tablespoons brandy or apple juice
• 2 teaspoons dried (not instant) yeast
• 120ml warm water
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 75g butter
• 30g cream cheese

• 90g caster sugar

• 3 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon salt
• zest of one lemon
• 475g white bread flour
• 120ml milk
• 75g flaked almonds, chopped
• whole blanched almonds
• icing sugar, to finish

Put the sultanas in a bowl with the brandy or apple juice. Put to one side.

In another bowl, combine the yeast, warm water and the teaspoon of sugar. Mix well and leave for 15 minutes until frothy.

If using a bread machine: put the yeast mixture, butter, cream cheese, sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, lemon zest, flour and milk into the machine. Run the dough cycle. At the end, work the raisins and almonds into the dough.

If working by hand: put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Rub the butter and cream cheese into the flour mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, vanilla and lemon zest. Add the yeast mixture, the eggs and half the milk – work with your hands until you have a soft, elastic dough – add more milk as needed. Finally, work in the dried fruit almonds. Cover and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.

Once the dough has risen, knock it back. Grease a ring tin with butter, and place a whole almond in each dimple in the tray. Carefully add the dough. Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough reaches the top of the pan. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Bake the kugelhopf for 45 minutes until golden brown. If the top is getting a little too dark, cover the tin loosely with tin foil.

When the kugelhopf is baked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray. Turn out and dredge with icing sugar.

Worth making? This was a spectacular success! I’ve actually made it twice since the original (successful) recipe. It’s also simple to adjust the flavours according to your tastes – experiment with different nuts and dried fruits, orange zest or a little dash of spice. I’m also going to try this in muffin cases to make sweet breakfast rolls. Watch this space for an update!

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Holidays II – La Champagne et la douce France

If you’ve been following my posts and tweets about holiday time, you’ll know that I decided to be green, and to travel from Italy to France by train. From Perugia to Milan via Florence, stay the night in Milan, then take the train the next day to Basel, then to Strasbourg, and then to Reims. Two days, five trains (a route something like this). Basta!

I started on that epic overland trip expecting it to descend first into farce, then chaos and finally bitter recrimination, thereby allowing me to write something amusing and entertaining about the trip. But, in the end, it all went like clockwork. All trains were on time, and everything was clean and efficient. So instead, I will just muse on my time in the Champagne region.

Champagne lies to the east of Paris, around the cities of Reims and Epernay. The pretty landscape is rolling rather than dramatic, covered in hills, small towns, forests and, of course, the famous vineyards. We rented a house in the pretty village of Orbais-l’Abbaye.

Ahead of the trip, my friends and I consciously chose to focus on visiting small producers instead of the big names, and we purchased in heroic quantities. You certainly pay less buying champagne in this way, but price is not the point. Visiting the small producers allows you to try different wines and to taste the various varieties and get to know what you prefer. Not that there is anything wrong with Taittinger or Veuve Clicquot but I can easily get them in London. But a bottle of Jean Gimonnet? That’s a different story.

Two of the biggest factors that affect the flavour of the final champagne are the area where the grapes are grown (so you can compare the same type of champagne from different producers) and the types of grapes used to make the champagne (so the same producer makes a number of different drinks). So yes, you need to visit a few different champagne producers – tough, I know! In terms of grape varieties, champagnes are made with combinations of chardonnay, pinot noir and/or pinot meunier. What can be surprising to a lot of people if that the two pinot varieties are actually black grapes. However, as the colour is only in the grape skin, during the pressing process, the producer just takes care not to crush the skins, so that only the clear juice is extracted. Even so, the fuller bodied juice of the darker varieties will be apparent in the finished drink, producing champagnes with a heavier flavour and slightly darker colour. In contrast, if a higher proportion of green chardonnay grapes are used, then you have a lighter, fresher champagne, which is most obvious in the 100% chardonnay blanc des blancs which is a typical bright, floral aperitif champagne. In comparison, the more pinot meunier and/or pinot noir, the more golden the colour of the champagne, with a stronger aroma and more pronounced flavours, such as caramel or baked bread.

So far, so clear. But what about pink champagne? If you don’t get the colour from the grape skins, where does it come from? Well, there are two ways. Either the producer will actually add a little red grape juice at the end of the process anyway, which tints the champagne pink and adds a subtle flavour from the black skins, or the producer uses a proportion of red grape juice right at the start of the fermentation process anyway. In the latter process, the black grape juice has more of an impact on the final colour and taste, with more pronounced red fruit aromas and flavours coming out.

What this visit has shown me is the importance of knowing what you like and why you like it. I’ve been in bars in London where someone had demanded bottles of “big name” champagne, and proceeded to brashly show off while drinking it. I just wonder what their reaction would be it they were faced with a bottle of a small producer’s award-winning vintage champagne? Hmmm…

In addition to all this champagne, there were many dinners and lunches in our holiday house, a marathon bramble picking session, and apricot and bramble jam made from what we found in the area. All sounds divine, right? Well, not quite. The place we stayed…it was a lovely old château, set in beautiful rambling gardens with views of the local abbey, but it had seen better days. The cleaner had been in the service of the owner for the last 35 years, and let’s just say her eye for detail had slipped. Someone (not me!) had to spend two hours upon arrival scrubbing, bleaching and disinfecting, and fly swatting was elevated to something of an Olympic standard. It was difficult to disguise laughs when the cleaner announced that she comes for three hours, three times a week “whether it is necessary or not”. Well, it was necessary. What really irritated me was not that the place needed a darn good clean, de-cluttering and some strategic yet sympathetic modernisation, but that it had the potential to be a truly stunning house which would really showcase the very best of the French countryside. It just needs a little love and care lavished on it. Let’s hope that things change.

With champagne bought and the holiday at an end, the final leg of the trip involved a train trip to Reims and a few hours wandering around the centre. I popped into the fabulous Cafe Waïda for coffee and a little mid-morning snack, and was in awe of their truly amazing cakes and desserts. A very old style of cafe – inside there were matronly women putting tarts, macarons, petit fours and fancy sweets into elaborate bags, and behind them, a sleek-looking art deco interior. I went for tartlette aux mirabelles, and it was sublime.

Next, into the TGV and off to Paris. We arrived, and the heavens opened, so we ducked somewhere for lunch and waited for the sun to arrive. The remainder of the afternoon was very relaxed, just spent wandering in the Marais district, then up past République and on to the canal (seriously – who knew that Paris had a canal?). Just time for a glass of rosé at the bobo Chez Prune before heading to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar back to London. And all of this with way too many bottles, jars and little foodie treats stuffed into my groaning luggage.

I love to travel. And I love to get back home. And I love to sit at home, eating and drinking the things I buy on my travels, remembering those good times.

It’s been a great summer!

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Piment d’Espelette

Friends from Brussels were staying last night and brought a fantastic present from the south of France – Piment d’Esplette or Espelette pepper, a specialty from the northern part of the traditional Basque country.

It comes in a cute retro jar and looks like coarsely ground paprika, but the aroma is much richer, like earthy, smoky roasted peppers. The flavour is sweet and tangy, warm rather than hot – paprika with punch. They suggested adding it early on to a slow-cooked tomato sauce, so I’ll give that a try. I’ve also had a look online at what this is used for. The producers run a great website in French (only at the moment), with a few recipes (several vegetarian, to my surprise), ranging from starters through to desserts. A little digging shows that this stuff is enthusiastically used in all manner of dishes – on meat, fish, in sauces, jams, pizzas, mustards, mayonnaise and chocolates. This spice also has the prestigious AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status, so only peppers of the right variety from a designated local area can carry the name.

This sort of thing is one of my favourite gifts to give and to receive – unique little pieces of local culture, and the sort of thing that can bring back memories of a holiday or a place in flash. I like to keep an eye out for local ingredients when I travel as they all make welcome additions to the kitchen. I’m looking forward to using this in a few dishes soon!

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