Passion Fruit, Cardamom and Ginger Panna Cotta

Who prefers light desserts to heavy puddings? I do; particularly during the festive holiday season when the odd additional course creeps in to ambitious holiday menus. This cheeky light little number has been a surprising hit when entertaining. On top of that, it’s gluten-free.

Perhaps not everyone wants such a light, mini dessert. “What? Is that it?” So cue the macaron. Or two; or three; or six (I never could count.) Et voilà – let’s keep all our holiday elves happy: those watching their waistlines can have a dainty sweet ending, while the others don’t need to let it end and can help themselves to a tray of macarons on the side. No guesses which characteristics are male or female…

I call these pas-de-panique panna cottas since they’re so quick to make and deliciously versatile. Serve them in stemmed glasses and you have a light and tasty dessert; serve them in small shot glasses (the French call them verrines, invented by Philippe Conticini of the Pâtisserie des Rêves) and you have great little party desserts.

However, add a few Parisian macarons and they’re instantly transported to seriously chic French elegance. Accompany them with exotic fruit & coconut macarons, chocolate & exotic fruit macarons (see page 89 of the book) or even chocolate, cardamom & ginger macarons (see page 56.)

I found a classic panna cotta recipe in the Elle magazine at the hairdressers recently – don’t ask me any more information, as I was more interested in Matthew, my coiffeur, scalping me instead of what I think I had asked for. Somehow my French at the hairdressers has never improved. Another story. What I loved was that the recipe was lightly infused with cardamom. It just needed Jilled (we all love adding our own personal note, n’est-ce pas?) So I added a touch of stemmed ginger (who else is a ginger addict as well as macaronivore?) and passion fruit  – especially as we’re spoiled for choice with exotic fruits at the farmers’ markets just now.

Dig through the passionfruit and taste a cardamom-infused velvety cream, then hit a glacé ginger layer at the bottom for an extra surprising finale.

Who didn’t iron that tablecloth?

Passion Fruit, Cardamom and Ginger Panna Cotta

Serves 8 verrines or 4 medium stemmed glasses

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time:
15 minutes
Chilling Time:
2 hours

3 gelatine leaves (2g each)
400 ml single cream
100 ml whole milk
4 tbsps caster sugar
12 cardamom pods
1 tbsp glacé ginger
4 passionfruits

  1. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5-6 minutes.
  2. Heat together the cream and milk in a pan with the cardamom pods and the sugar.
  3. Crush the pods with the back of a spoon to release the grains, then strain out the pod skins.
  4. Squeeze in the gelatine and stir to dissolve into the warm cream.
  5. Place ginger cubes at the bottom of each serving glass and pour on the cream.
  6. Leave to cool in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
  7. When ready to serve, spoon on the pulp of half a passionfruit on each pannacotta.

There is no end to the variations you can make with this easy dessert.
For example, try lemon and ginger pannacottas: simply replace the cardamom with the finely grated rind of an untreated lemon and serve with lemon meringue macarons (page 41).

Just let your imagination take over and have fun.

Knitted Cakes and Felt Parisian Macarons

You heard me correctly. This may be Thanksgiving but I’m not talking cranberries. Let’s talk calm thoughts, wrap up in our winter woollies and get straight to cakes. You see, my creative, talented auntie knits cakes by the dozen. Deliciously bright and colourful, woolly cakes.

Auntie Shirley’s masterpieces have been seen in high-end jewellers’ boutiques in Edinburgh, local charity fares, and are in constant demand in certain Scottish castles. Now they’re making their appearance in the French court at Versailles. Well, nearly.

Knitted French teatime cakes

She used to knit us booties; then it was pom-pom hats; then dresses; then sweaters; then dolls. I distinctly remember Sweetie-Pie who adorned a sleeping face on one side – while the other side (covered with a bonnet) was hiding a smiling day face, all ready to be changed out of her pyjamas. It sure beat Barbie any day.

Then, noticing that my daughters were becoming more obsessed with food than dolls, she produced these sumptious cakes and sent them to Paris.

knitted tartlet with pom-pom cherry

I’m a vanilla tartlet with a pom-pom cherry

Fruit tartlets, marshmallows, swiss rolls, cherry cakes, and chocolate-chip cookies  – all whipped up using a couple of clicking knitting needles! There’s no need to worry about the children asking for more: they’re totally fat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy free, and guilt free. My girls have created their own dreamy Paris Pâtisserie, selling their knitted confections using plastic euros. Go for it, kids. You sell them at a high price, just like Ladurée and Pierre Hermé’s luxurious macarons.

knitted jam swiss roll

Auntie Shirley’s latest oeuvre, however, was for myself. She took the plunge and produced macarons. These macarons are made out of wool felt.

wool felt French macarons

 It felt funny (pun absolutely intended), passing them around at a recent family party since many had to do a double take – they were so realistic.

Auntie Shirley loves a challenge with knitting designs. She also knits Liquorice Allsorts – or as my talented friend, Carol Gillott points out – they’re Good & Plenty candies to my American friends …

good and plenty liquorice all sort knitted candies

I still can’t knit for sticky toffee. All I can remember is struggling as a youngster to do a Brownie badge: “in, over, through and out”. Most of the time, loops of wool would fall off the end of the knitting needle, as Mum and Auntie Shirley would try and save my holy scarves from wreck and ruin. That Dr. Who scarf somehow never happened. I do also love a challenge, though.  Remember these pink macarons for a MacTweet challenge?

good and plenty liquorice allsorts candy macarons

My kind of candy

liquorice all sorts pink candy macarons

Well, Auntie Shirley, I have finally made some ‘woollen pastries’ inspired by you to say thank you for all the knitted fun. Stay tuned on le blog for a bright and cheery festive afternoon tea with more woolly cakes. They’re not sugar-free, though, and they also contain some calories…

In the meantime, what about a Big Mac and french fries with absolutely no calories?

knitted big mac and fries with no calories

Sticky Toffee Pudding Sauce

sticky toffee pudding dessert

Dribbling with sticky toffee sauce

Why don’t the French do sticky toffee pudding? OK, it’s PUD. It’s sometimes pud that can arrive with a thud. Serve too much of it at the end of a meal and my slender French lady friends would secretly panic: you could be made silently responsible for damaging their elegant silhouettes (known as taille de guêpe – literally translated as having a corset waistline like a wasp.)

These beautiful French girlfriends have made me learn so much over the years – simply because I wanted to be just like them. Now if the puddings were poshly presented as individual minis on large, look-at-me plates and surrounded by zigzags of sticky toffee sauce, then it’s definitely accepted: we’re in chic-land.

My French parents-in-law returned from the UK recently and ever since, even they are hooked on “steecky tofffeee puddeeng”, like some of our French friends. In the UK we all fond of our sticky toffee pudding.  So much, that mention the initials, STP, and most people know what you’re talking about.  With Granny and Grandpa, we soon realised that my kids had already sussed our ‘secret code’. “Are they allowed some STP, Mummy?” Before even answering, my kids would promptly jump up and down, chanting: STP, STP, STP, pleeeeease! So much for me being the French Police (yes, that’s my nickname back in Scotland, would you believe it?)

Sticky Toffee Pudding is so popular that it tends to be on most British restaurant dessert menus. As the book was originally aimed at British readers, I couldn’t resist making sticky toffee pudding macarons (see p.86), plus I added a sticky toffee giant macaron dessert (p.118) which is just as wicked as the original puddings but as they’re macarons, they are much lighter in calories and completely GLUTEN FREE.

The French (et al ;-)) adore salted caramel sauce.  This darker toffee sauce is just so quick to make and extra sticky – ideal for dribbling over waffles and pancakes, but also handy for jazzing up desserts such as chocolate fudge cake, brownies, ice-cream (see p.125 of the book) and the giant sticky toffee macaron puddings.

For Christmas, I saw in Delicious Magazine last year that you could make a Cranberry version (their recipe included Brandy, so you could replace the rum with it.) Just add 100g of cranberries to the sauce and hey toffee, you’ve made a festive version to jazz up your puddings.

Update: I also just discovered that my friend, Carolyn of All Day I Dream about Food made special gluten-free, low-carb Sticky Toffee Puddings for a guest post over at Cara’s Cravings. Worth checking out for anyone who is looking for a sugar-free version.

Sticky Toffee Sauce

Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

150ml double cream
85g dark muscovado sugar
100g unsalted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup (or corn syrup)
2 tbsp dark rum

  1. Put the cream, sugar and butter into a saucepan, stir and bring to the boil.  Cook for 3 minutes, then stir in the syrup and rum.
  2. Cook for a further minute, until the sauce is smooth and thickened.
  3. Set aside until needed and warm before serving.

Licking the spoon is acceptable but I strongly urge you to resist temptation of licking the plate (at the table, anyway.) I’m sure you agree that is definitely not in chic-land.

Don’t forget the International Giveaway of Mad About Macarons over at The Three Little Piglets.
Today is the last day for entries so hurry over now!

Mad About Macarons Giveaway!

It’s Giveaway time!  In fact, it’s International Giveaway time over at The Three Little Piglets.

and the Three Little Macarons

So what are you waiting for?  If you haven’t made macarons yet, then you still have enough time to become hooked and make them in time for the festive season. The Giveaway is open until 18th November.

And whatever have I been waiting for?  Jennifer Matlock of The Three Little Piglets has just convinced me that it’s high time I joined Twitter. Are you on Twitter?  If so, what do YOU think? Should I go for it or is it one other nuisance to deal with? Come on, spill the beans and tell all…

In the meantime, what are you still doing here?  Head on over to the Giveaway at The Three Little Piglets. It’s open to everyone.

Update: Giveaway now closed.

Winners now announced at the Three Little Piglets.

A Walk up French Bread Street or Chocolate Street?

I promised you another walk around our Paris environs, didn’t I? Last time we were macaroned on French Impressionists’ Island. Today it’s a lovely day, so let’s take a stroll around my favourite town up the road, St Germain-en-Laye.

Château de St Germain-en-Laye

We’re only walking up one street today: rue au pain. With a name like Bread Street, you can imagine the smell of boulangeries, right?  Wrong.

Bread street? Pain! It’s all chocolate.

This street should really be called rue au pain au chocolat, as it has chocolateries, confiseries, and pâtisseries. Oh, why do I get such a lovely shiver when I say these words?  This confiserie, La Petite Cousine – which is rather expensive – is totally worth it: their mendiants (chocolate palets with candied fruit and nuts), guimauves (marshmallows), pâte de fruits and chocolate selections are all rather exquisite.

chocolateries, confiseries, confused?

Rue au pain is also the birthplace of one of my favourite composers, Claude Debussy.  He was born in rue au Pain on 22 August 1862.  They’re currently refurbishing the museum (which also houses the Tourist Infomation point), so I’ll show you it when it’s finished. It’s spooky to think I used to play so many of his piano and flute works (my first BBC radio flute recital was featuring Debussy) and one day I’d end up in the same town; just as eery when I suddenly put on radio classique and Debussy plays as I’m driving around the town, looking for a parking place.

Debussy by the American sculptor, Mico Kaufman

This is all in the space of a 5-minute walk – although given that you’re licking the windows (as the French say for window-shopping), or even buying these sweet treats, then it will take you more like 25 minutes.

This chocolate shop is only a few doors away from Jeff de Bruges and they give them tough competition: usually their window is dressed in seasonal chocolate sculptures and many a time, there’s a chocolate fountain enticing passers-by to pop in. Here they’re luring us with crêpes and real melted chocolate – if you want Nutella you get the cheaper ones around the corner!

Pâtisserie Grandin have recently refurbished their boutique to showcase their pastries and macarons…

My personal preferences are in the other streets (you can perhaps tell by their look, ahem. You see why I make them myself?) I’ll show you my favourite Pâtisseries later, as it deserves another post. And now for the final stop at the very top, facing rue au pain: Patrick Roger.

This is one of the latest branches of Patrick Roger’s Parisian chocolate boutiques.  Every few weeks he changes the giant chocolate sculpture in the window; from Gorilla, to Grizzly. I wonder if he could do Kaufman’s statue of Debussy in chocolate? Just an idea, Patrick!

Grizzly sculpted in Venezuelan chocolate

At la rentrée – the return to school – children were greeted with gigantic chocolate pencils and glistening chocolate marbles presented in pencil-cases.  Is that not an easy way to instantly become the teacher’s pet, brimming with a packet of mini pencils and marbles?

He’s a MOF – Meilleur Ouvrier de France, but of course. I already showed you his pumpkins – it’s a better photo since it was taken inside, without the reflection and it means I could actually buy something, but what?

The elegant assistant always lets me taste one of their chocolates and I never take a photo of it, as it disappears too quickly. Chocolate-basil was the last one I tried. But my personal favourites are his passionfruit caramels – plus I love the chic green bag!  It makes up for him not making any macarons.

Add a touch of red colouring to your chocolate shells

What?  No macarons? So back home, I’m inspired by something chocolatey this weekend.  Don’t forget to add a touch of red to your chocolate macaron shells (just one of the many tips in the book.) You don’t see it but I can assure you when you add it, there’s that instant professional look!

Hm. I wonder what chocolatey flavour we could have this time?  What macaron would you prefer?

Parsnip, Round Carrot & Coriander Soup

bowl them over with soup and macarons for starters

The French call the parsnip (le panais) one of the “forgotten” vegetables.  Sure enough, as I was picking out parsnips at the market recently, I was bowled over when an elderly French lady actually asked little old me what I do with them.

Amazed is an understatement really – it’s the equivalent of someone French coming up to you and asking where to find a certain street.  An instant warm glow heats up inside and suddenly you feel part of it all. Although, perhaps the poor soul had just lost her memory. In any case, nothing gives me the greatest pleasure to share this healthy, velvety soup.

 Another ‘forgotten’ vegetable is the round carrot. It was popular in Paris in the 19th Century and a delight to growers, as they don’t need great soil due to their small roots. In French, they’re referred to as Parisian Carrots – is that not so chic? These dumpy veggies are now ‘reminding’ us at the market that they’re so much sweeter than normal carrots – and one of my favourite ways to serve them is simply throw them in a roasting tin with a dash of sugar, butter, oil and thyme and roast them for 45 minutes.

As the parsnips are naturally creamy, they thicken this soup perfectly. When serving this to guests in autumn or winter, it’s always a delight to see their faces light up as you tell them there’s not a drop of cream in it (although adding a touch of sherry is cheeky.)

Parsnip carrot and coriander soup - surprise your guests and serve them with gluten free mini curry macarons

Parsnip, Carrot & Coriander Soup (with mini curry macarons)

 Parsnip, Round Carrot & Coriander Soup

Wildly adapted from Spiced Cream Parsnip Soup from Scottish Traditional Recipes by Carol Wilson & Christopher Trotter.

SERVES 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

50g butter
2 onions, chopped
500g parsnips, peeled & chopped
300g round carrots, peeled & chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 litre chicken stock
bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Melt the butter in a pressure cooker, add the onions, carrots and parsnips and sweat them gently for about 10 minutes without allowing them to colour.  Add the spices.
  2. Pour in the sherry and place the lid on, cooking on a medium heat for 10 minutes until the parsnips and carrots have softened.
  3. Add the stock and season to taste.  Bring to the boil then simmer on the pressure setting for about 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from the heat then blitz using a hand blender.

Serve with freshly chopped coriander.

Needing an extra wow factor? Serve a mini soup and a mini Tikka Mac’Sala curry macaron (recipe on p.100 of the book) on the side will guarantee the oh-là-là effect to kick off a special meal. What’s more, it’s gluten free – so replace the bread and butter with mini savoury macarons!

 

For more on forgotten vegetables, please take take a look at one of my first posts before it was a blog:

Forgotten Legumes, Old Crosnes and a Beetroot Macaron.