White Asparagus French Clafoutis

When the asparagus season finally pokes its head out to say bonjour, it’s time to get totally asparagused. Hearing the calls of ‘Aspergez-vous!’ at our local market just outside Paris, I do what I’m told and end up buying so much asparagus that I could open a shop with all the elastic bands they’re bound in.

Weigh-laden with our usual favourites from Monsieur Dee’s poultry stall, I couldn’t help swooning over impressively fat, fresh white asparagus spears which are first to arrive pride of place from sun-kissed Provence.

It’s time to snap these asparagus stems. Snapping asparagus is easy when they’re fresh: they should be firm, have compact heads and not look dry at the stems. Just snap them where they break naturally, about 1/3 from the bottom. Ideally, eat asparagus fresh on the day, otherwise store white asparagus in the fridge for up to 4 days in a humid kitchen towel, heads upwards.

I love tossing fresh white asparagus in sage butter and serving simply with a crunchy baguette, but this is a warmer starter to welcome this chilly Spring. I discovered the recipe in a magazine last year featuring Eric Fréchon, chef at Le Bristol, Paris. But could I find the magazine that I’d painstakingly placed in a ‘safe place’ for this season? No (don’t laugh, Mum). Luckily, I jotted it down and see he’s written a book on Clafoutis.

Macaron lovers will be glad to note that it uses up FOUR egg yolks, but don’t be fooled: this is such a light way to start a meal – and it’s gluten free, too.

White Asparagus Clafoutis Recipe

Serves 4-6

Recipe Adapted by Eric Frechon, Author of Clafoutis.

Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 minutes

1 bundle white asparagus (500 g /1 lb)
3 eggs
4 egg yolks
10 g (4 tsp) cornflour

300 ml /10 fl oz single cream
100 g /3 oz fresh parmesan, grated
Seasoning
Handful of pine nuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Wash the asparagus spears and snap them 2/3rds of the way down, where they break naturally. Peel them as close as possible to the spear heads. Keep the peelings!

2. Cut the asparagus in 3, reserving the spear heads.

3. Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil with the asparagus peelings, adding a tablespoon of sugar (to reduce the bitterness).
When bubbling, remove the peelings and cook only the spears for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.

4. Using the same cooking water, drop in the rest of the asparagus chunks and cook for 7 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the clafoutis batter: mix the eggs, cornflour, cream, grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

6. Drain the asparagus chunks and, using a hand blender or food processor, mix the asparagus and cream together.

7. Pour into a non-stick tart dish and decorate with the asparagus spears. I like to sprinkle over some lightly toasted pine nuts for a crunchy texture.

8. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until golden.

 Note: If making individual versions, pour into 6 silicone briochette moulds and bake for only 20 minutes. Turn them out directly on guests’ plates for a posh but simple starter.

Enjoy this asparagus clafoutis either warm or hot from the oven and serve with a glass of chilled Pinot Blanc from the Alsace.

Cheers!

Now it’s your turn to snap them this Spring and become totally asparagused!

 Aspergez-vous!

Chocolate Cream Desserts for Macaron (Yolk) Lovers

Poor blog. I’ve neglected it and so my apologies. Chest infection dragging on, living in the dark, the pouring rain. Not a great couple of weeks, although I do have a much more fun excuse – all shall be revealed in the next post.

In the meantime, I’ve still had some sweet dreams, mainly consisting of desserts. Ideally they’re not too sweet, they’re packed with flavour and they’re quick and easy to make. If they use up egg yolks, that’s an extra bonus for macaron lovers. These chocolate cream puddings can not only be whipped up in 20 minutes but they’re so versatile and perfect for re-cyling those hoarded yoghurt pots.

Here I’ve added zingy orange zest and a sneaky soupçon of Cointreau to them but adapt them to your own tastes. For spicy romantic lovers, replace with cardamom and ginger. Lucie adored the addition of 100g candied chestnut cream (she’s mad about chestnuts) but why not add a touch of Chambord and serve with raspberries?  You get the picture. Top with physalis (why does that always sound like a disease?) or, to add that je ne sais quoi, a mendiant topped with dried fruits and nuts.

They remind me of La Laitière cream pots we can buy in the supermarket but they’re much better and so quick to make – it’s worth the effort. They’re not like a mousse and they’re not like heavy creams, either. Do you remember the Aero bars we used to devour as kids? What was the best part for you? The bubbles?

The best part are the chocolate bubbles…

Chocolate Orange Cream Desserts

Serves 6 (small pots)

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

200ml whole milk
300ml single cream
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
150g dark cooking chocolate, broken into small chunks
zest of an orange (untreated)
1 tbsp Cointreau
(optional)
1 gelatine sheet (@2 g)

1. Soak the gelatine in cold water. Meanwhile break up the chocolate into pieces in a large bowl. In a saucepan, boil the milk and cream.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Pour over the hot milky cream, mix and transfer back to the saucepan.

3. Whisk vigorously over a medium heat until the cream thickens. Take off the heat then pour over half of this hot cream on to the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, add the grated zest, Cointreau (if using), the gelatine (squeezed of any excess water) and then whisk in the rest of the hot cream.

4. Transfer to 6 serving dishes (or 4 if you’re greedy like us). Leave to cool and chill for an hour.

Serve with sablé bretons or, dare I say, some macarons?

This recipe is added to the egg yolk recipe collection. There’s plenty more so you’ve no excuse – get these egg whites put aside! By making this recipe, you’ll have enough for 100g whites, which will make about 30 macarons.

Stay tuned for the fun surprise. If you haven’t yet subscribed to le blog, then don’t forget to sign up. Toodeloo, bonne semaine, I’m off to London so it’s time to get back into action!

Lemon Sauce for Roast Chicken and Stuffed Mini Pumpkins

This week the Autumnal chill has hit abruptly, just as much as returning to school routines after the mid-term holiday. Fumbling for lost gloves, struggling with a new swift boot walk as feet are in straight-jacketed shock with thick chaussettes, plus attempting to look like the chic French women with their scarves nonchalantly thrown over shoulders, I found myself gravitating towards the magical sizzling chicken rôtisseries dotted along the street on the way to the market.

That was it; roast chicken for a perfectly quick, comforting dinner. Mention chicken in St Germain-en-Laye and there’s only one place to make for at the market: in the central aisle, you’ll find Monsieur Dee. He’s not difficult to find since he pulls the crowds not just for his graceful service but his produce is in another league – such as the enormous duck filets, paupiettes parcels and saucisses de volaille (poultry sausages.)

By the time I arrive, most of the roasted chickens have disappeared. Before I know it, in pops a few extra chicken filets and a customary ‘bouquet du jardin’ of parsley on the house, as he tells me persil is for les dames, pas les hommes. Adoraaable Monsieur Dee!

Jack Be Little Pumpkins

Just across from Monsieur Dee’s sizzling poulet rôtis is la maison Huet, who always put on such a parade of forgotten vegetables that the conversation in the queue is guaranteed to provide an exchange of interesting recipes. Below left are the round Parisian carrots I talked about in this vegetable soup recipe post, but this time I was determined to do something other than use these mini pumpkins as decoration. They’re called Jack Be Little.

How to cook a Jack Be Little: I was told to simply prick it a few times, stick it in the microwave for 3 minutes on full blast, cut the top off, scoop out the seeds and fill the remaining hole with a mixture of emmental cheese, bacon and crème fraîche. That’s it; ridiculously easy and delicious to boot. Instead I filled each mini pumpkin with a mixture of bacon, cooked chestnuts, parmesan, crème fraîche and parsley.

For each individual pumpkin, briefly fry 4 cooked chestnuts, 1 chopped smoked bacon rasher, 1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, finely chopped parsley, a tablespoon of crème fraîche and season to taste. Fill the cavity with it, then place under a hot grill for a couple of minutes. Then serve with a spoon and mix the whole thing up with the pumpkin flesh at the table.

And the kids’ favourite part to go with the roasted chicken?  A creamy, tart lemon sauce. I’m surprised that my girls would like such a simple sauce so much. What I love about it, is that it’s another way to use up yolks so it’s now added to the growing egg yolk recipe collection. It’s also a lovely sauce to accompany any leftover turkey!

lemon sauce recipe for roast chicken or turkey

Jack Be Little and Jill Be Quick with dinner …

Lemon Sauce Recipe for Roasted Chicken or Turkey

Serves 6

Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

200ml chicken stock
3 egg yolks
juice and zest of 1 lemon (untreated)
100ml cream

1. Bring the chicken stock to the boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the yolks with the lemon juice, zest and cream in a bowl and gradually whisk the mixture into the hot stock.

3. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens slightly and bubbles.

Lemon sauce for roast chicken or turkey

Monsieur Dee thought we’d be celebrating Thanksgiving since we speak English. As our American friends are gearing up for next week, we’re instead celebrating la fête du Beaujolais Nouveau tonight in France. Apparently this year it’s another fruity success, with a hint of peaches.

Ah, it reminds us of our student days; 21 years ago, I met my Frenchie over a glass of particularly banana-flavoured Beaujolais Nouveau. Although, if you want my opinion, this lemon roast chicken and the pumpkin would partner well with a Gaillac or a Côte du Rhône white. I mean, look what happens after a glass or two of Beaujolais! I ended up haveeeeing to speak French!

Cheers!

 

Glace Plombières: No-Churn Candied Fruit Ice Cream

I’d promised the children a taste of the best ice creams in Paris during the summer holidays.

Straight after our UK Roman trip, however, the unusually dismal July temperatures meant replacing ice cream with homemade vanilla macarons. But as soon as that ball o’ fire returned, it was destination Berthillon on Ile Saint-Louis.

Plombieres French Glazed Fruit no churn ice cream

Berthillon is a Parisian institution. So much so that, come August – finally in the wonderful heat of the City of Light – their doors were… closed; shut; fermé; on holidays; en vacances, like most of Paris. Luckily, their ice creams and sorbets were being served by their more commercial neighbours. One of the tempting ice creams on Berthillon’s list was Plombières ice cream, packed with candied fruits.

Berthillon Ile-Saint-Louis Paris best ice creams

As my lucky French parents-in-law live in the Luberon near Apt, the world capital of candied fruits, I’ve an excuse to use Mother-in-Law’s generous bulk supply from the local Candied Fruit factory: candied orange peel strips, lemon peel cubes, glacé cherries and – my favourite – their candied ginger.

So instead of hanging around Ile Saint-Louis for Berthillon to reopen, it was easier to make Plombières ice cream at home. Reaching for my favourite French coffee-table cookbook, France: the Beautiful Cookbook by Gilles Pudlowski with recipes from the Scotto sisters, that was it. Perfect.

  • Ten egg yolks? Fabulous: whites for macarons.
  • Serve with apricot jam? Ideal: I’d just made a batch of apricot and lavender jam.
  • En plus, the recipe didn’t even require an ice cream maker – it’s no churn!

So I ‘ad-Apt-ed’ it, making individual portions for dessert rather than one giant ice cream. This will make a light, fruity, stress-free dessert – and even a handy dessert recipe to have on your Christmas menu.

Plombieres French Glazed Fruit no churn ice cream

Plombières Ice Cream Recipe

In 1858 Napoleon III met Count Cavour (Prime Minister of Sardinia) at Plombières-les-Bains in the Vosges department in Lorraine in northeastern France. As they were secretly negotiating the Treaty of Plombières, the local chef came up this dessert and has been a local speciality ever since.

Cooking Time: 25 minutes
Soaking Time: 2 hours
Freezing Time: At least 2 hours

200g (7 oz) mix of candied fruits, roughly chopped
55ml (2 oz) Kirsch
1.5 l (48 fl oz) whipping cream
250ml (8 fl oz) whole milk
10 egg yolks
200g (7 oz) sugar
1 tsp almond extract
250g (8 oz) apricot jam 

  1. Soak the candied fruits in the Kirsch for a couple of hours. Place a bowl in the fridge in preparation for whipping the cream.
  2. Whisk together the egg yolks with the sugar in a large saucepan until pale and creamy. Gradually whisk in 1 litre of the cream and the milk over a moderate heat. Whisk constantly until the custard coats the spoon.
  3. Remove from the heat, add the almond extract and candied fruits with the Kirsch. Leave to cool, stirring from time to time.
  4. When the custard is completely cooled, whip the remaining 500ml of cream in the chilled bowl until it forms soft peaks.
  5. Fold into the custard then pour into silicone moulds. (Here, I used 12 briochette moulds.) Freeze until firm.
  6. When ready to serve, gently heat the jam in a small saucepan. I If you prefer it smooth, strain the bits.Turn out the ice creams directly on to dessert plates. The beauty of silicone moulds is that you don’t have to run it under warm water first. See? An easy, handy dessert to have up your sleeve.

Glazed fruit no-churn ice cream, Plombieres Lorraine Speciality

And don’t forget you can freeze your macarons too – just defrost before serving and voilà!

P.S. It’s also apt for gluten free diets.

The Heat is on: Pistachio Vanilla Wasabi Ice Cream

Are you feeling the heat? You’re lucky. Mid July in Paris and we’re thinking of putting the heating on indoors as we watch the torrential rain. At least there’s no need to worry about sunburn and slapping on the sunscreen. On the other hand, I’m seeing poor friends having to deal with soaring, sky-high, sweltering temperatures.

While our American friends are enduring the worst drought since 1956, they’re hopefully enjoying National Ice Cream month, at least. Although we’re not craving ice cream just now as much as we should in Paris, I have a solution for our differences in temperatures. Needing something ice cold? Needing ice cream but with some heat? Here’s my solution with an intriguingly delicious Pistachio Vanilla Wasabi Ice Cream.

One of my favourite French chefs is William Ledeuil of Ze Kitchen Galérie in Paris (and KGB). He makes the most incredible dessert consisting of a white chocolate and wasabi ice cream and serves it with a pistachio and green tea sauce, fresh strawberries and either crumble or wasabi meringues. The flavour combination is simply incredible!

I have been experimenting with the flavours that he concocts in his grand finale but twiddling with my own recipes at home. First I made pistachio, coconut and wasabi macarons (recipe in Mad About Macarons). This time, I’ve put the flavours together into just one ice cream to make it simple – after all, I’m a lazy gourmet!  I replaced the white chocolate with egg yolks (as macaronivores, we need the whites for macarons!) The result is a gluten free dessert, full of interesting flavours.

Pistachio-wasabi ice cream. Are you making a face?

Pistachio Vanilla Wasabi Ice Cream

200ml coconut milk (small carton)
300ml whole milk
50g ground pistachios
1 vanilla pod
1 tsp pistachio extract
pinch green and brown food colouring
(3 parts green, 1 brown)
5 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
4 tsp powdered milk
15g wasabi paste

1. Heat the milk, coconut milk and pistachios in a heavy-based pan with the vanilla pod which is cut in two lengthways. Bring to the boil, and turn off the heat for the vanilla to infuse in the creamy milk for 5-10 minutes.

2. Cream together the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the powdered milk, wasabi paste and pistachio extract and mix well.

3. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and add to the yolk cream. Discard the pod from the warmed coconut-milk and add the food colouring.

3. Pour the creamy milk onto the egg mixture whisking continuously. Return the mixture to the pan on a medium heat, whisking constantly until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Set the mixture aside to cool.

4. Once cool, place in the fridge for 1-2 hours before pouring into an ice cream maker to churn according to your ice cream maker.

Serve on fresh strawberries with pistachio macarons on the side.

Pistachio Vanilla Wasabi Ice Cream recipe

If you feel like a double intriguing wasabi wham – enjoy this with Pistachio, White Chocolate and Wasabi macarons (recipe on p65 of my first book, Mad About Macarons.)

How much wasabi can you eat to feel the heat?

Strawberry and Rhubarb Gratin

I’m just back from the market in St Germain-en-Laye. It’s a luxury to pop up there on a Friday morning, as today was treated as a pont. Yesterday was an official French holiday for Ascension, so Lucie’s school had the day off today to make le pont – or bridge – over the weekend. It was a lovely idea, but not all of us managed to dance on that bridge, as my eldest still had school and with hubby at work, I grabbed the opportunity to have extra helping hands and stock up on the latest culinary stars on the catwalk.

As the Cannes Film festival is underway in the South, strawberries are currently given the red carpet treatment at the market here up North. Entering the producers’ labyrinth, the gariguettes were paraded, as the mara des bois had already been cleaned out. This stand had it sussed: with their lids firmly in place, it sent a message to all French shoppers not to touch and sniff these gariguettes. Instead we stood in the queue and gaped at the prize-winning beauties behind them. What variety were they?  They didn’t have any. They were just strawberries, I was told. Quoi? Because they’re Portuguese.

Tasting one, it reminded me of picking strawberries as a child in Scotland (although the ones in Scotland were better!) It took 3 bites to finish it. Hm. ‘They’re not that sweet,’ I told the vendeur. Immediately, he knocked a couple of euros off the price, just as I was thinking how perfect they would be for a gratin.

With punnets of fraises Charlotte, gariguettes, ciflorettes (another conical sweet variety), and a tray of these oh-so-plainly-enormous strawberries, we could just about cope with balancing some rhubarb under the arm. As I have many more ideas for macarons in store for you, I need to use up some egg yolks. Don’t you love excuses like this? I love this simple dessert since it’s a quick, creamy fruity number that can be whisked together in half an hour.

Strawberry and Rhubarb Gratin Recipe

Serves 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 18 minutes

400g strawberries,
300g rhubarb (or 2-3 large sticks)
75g sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp crème fraîche, or thick cream

1. Peel the rhubarb using a sharp knife, taking off all the stringy fibres. Wash well then cut into chunks.

2. In a pan, cook the rhubarb chunks and 40g sugar with 150ml water. Cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

3. Leave to cool.

4. Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut the bottoms off so they can stand neatly in a dish. If the strawberries are particularly big, cut them in half. Place the strawberries around the outside of 6 gratin dishes, and pile the rhubarb in the centre.

Now for the French makeover – time to be get saucy then be grilled

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until the mixture is pale and creamy. Whisk in the crème fraîche (or thick cream) and vanilla essence.

6. Pour over the fruit then place under a hot grill for 2-3 minutes.

Strawberry Rhubarb Gratin dessert - with poppy and rhubarb macarons

Enjoy with some poppy macarons (update: the recipe for Poppy and Rhubarb macarons is in my new book, Teatime in Paris!) on the side and you have a gluten-free, stress-free dessert. Voilà. Simplicity where oh-so-sweet strawberry meets acidic-but-comforting rhubarb. All it needs is some bubbly and we’re really talking red carpet treatment, n’est-ce pas?

Update

Is your rhubarb too green like this? Why not replace steps 1-3 with my rhubarb compote recipe using hibiscus fruit tea!