Easy French seasonal recipes including many traditional dishes from my travels. Includes a database of egg yolk recipes and many gluten-free dishes, cakes and desserts.

Sweetcorn and Red Pepper Velouté Soup

Autumn may officially be upon us but I’m still hanging on by a corn thread to the last fruits and vegetables of the French summer.  Somehow corn on the cob has been rare this year outside Paris and while I could find them prepackaged and wilting under cellophane in the supermarket, when I saw a pile of fresh corn at our local farmers’ market last week, I pounced on them like there was no tomorrow.

Sweetcorn and red pepper cream soup recipe

I first tasted the most creamy sweetcorn soup on our last visit to South Africa in the French colonial wine town of Franschhoek, near Cape Town. Antoine and I had splashed out to celebrate our wedding anniversary at Grande Provence, where the chef had bowled us over with his soup (quick pause here for a pun groan). It was simply but elegantly poured at the table from a white porcelain milk jug into an oversized rimmed porcelain bowl, serving as a moat around a heap of turnip purée and crowned with a gigantic tempura prawn, along with a few other fancy green garnishes.

I was in awe. Antoine knows that these kind of special eating-out moments are always a good investment, as I’ll probably try to copy the experience at home.  Well, in this case, without the fancy frills part. Over the last couple of years, this creamy, velvety velouté soup has turned into a much simpler but delicious starter for dinner guests.  To cut the sweetness, I added red pepper and a hint of smoked paprika. Smaller helpings of this is better, as it is pretty rich. If you can’t find fresh corn on the cob (which really is best), then use frozen kernels and 3/4 litre vegetable stock.

Sweetcorn and red pepper creamy veloute French soup recipe

Sweetcorn and Red Pepper Creamy Soup Recipe

Serves 6

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes

3 fresh corns on the cob
20g butter
1 red pepper, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 sprigs flat parsley leaves
100g single cream

method how to make sweetcorn and red pepper soup

1. Rip off the outer leaves and threads and snap off the bases with a twist of the wrist. Cut the kernels from the cobs and throw them into a large heavy-based pan, including the bare cobs (this will help make your natural stock).  Pour over just enough water to cover the lot (about 1.25 litres) and bring to the boil then boil for another 5 minutes.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and soften the onion and pepper gently over low to medium heat for about 10 minutes until translucent then add the smoked paprika.  Meanwhile, using a strainer, remove and discard the cobs. Strain off the corn and add to the onion and peppers. Continue to gently soften for another 5 minutes and continue to reduce the corn stock during this time.

3. Add the sweetcorn stock and cream to the vegetables and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add the parsley and season to taste then liquidise either in a blender or using a stick blender.  If the soup is too thick, I add a dash of semi-skimmed milk.

sweetcorn and red pepper veloute cream soup

Serve with fresh bread and salted butter or why not a savoury macaron if you prefer gluten-free? (Savoury macaron recipes are in my first book, Mad About Macarons!). Toe-curling with a glass of chilled Chenin Blanc wine.

Banana, Chestnut and Coffee Cake – or Muffins

That’s the first full-on week back at school conquered. Hearing the groans to early clockwork mornings is waning so I guess that means we’re gradually adjusting to routine.

I put it down to bananas.

Brought up calling bananas “brain food”, I stocked up on them last weekend for a quick, healthy energy boost to slice on our favourite breakfast maple granola. Except Julie refused the bananas. Lucie explained that Julie loves this banana cake so much for breakfast that she deliberately leaves them to ripen so there’s an urgent excuse to make this!

Reduced sugar banana coffee cake chestnut

I discovered this recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Nigellissima and loved her ingenious addition of coffee powder to banana bread, to give it an Italian touch.  I don’t normally have sweet cake for breakfast but in Corsica, my mother-in-law often makes a chestnut cake using chestnut flour.  As farine de chataigne is a pretty strong-flavoured flour, we normally mix it with plain flour.  And so this recipe has gradually adapted to our tastes, as we cut down the sugar by half to accommodate the rustic chestnut flavour and give it our Corsican touch.

banana coffee cake with chestnut flour gluten free reduced sugar recipe

Banana, Coffee and Chestnut Cake Recipe

Recipe adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Italian Breakfast Banana Bread, from Nigellissima. I have halved the sugar content (replaced caster sugar with soft brown), used chestnut flour and purée, plus reduced the oil to compensate for these ingredients. If you prefer to make this gluten-free, then omit the plain flour and use 170g chestnut flour. To make muffins, pour the mixture into a greased 1×12 muffin tin (or silicone brochette moulds, so no greasing necessary) and bake for 20 minutes at 200°C (gas mark 6).

3 medium bananas, very ripe
100g sweet chestnut & vanilla purée (optional)

130ml neutral-tasting vegetable oil, such as grape seed oil
pinch salt
2 medium eggs
80g soft brown sugar
100g chestnut flour
75g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsps instant espresso powder

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (gas mark 3). Lightly oil a 450g/1LB loaf tin or no need to oil if using a silicone loaf mould.

2. Mash the bananas with the vanilla chestnut purée (if using), add the salt and beat in the oil.  Beat in the eggs, one by one, followed by the soft brown sugar.

3. Sift the chestnut flour and gradually beat it into the mixture, adding the plain flour, bicarbonate of soda and coffee powder.

4. Pour the batter into the loaf tin, place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until slightly coming away at the sides and bunglingly risen. A cake tester should come out clean.

Leave the cake or muffins overnight as they’ll taste even better in the morning.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. They also freeze well for up to 3 months; just defrost the night before.

An Avignon Summer Festival Morning and an Aubergine Tart

I love Avignon at any time of year. Come windy mistral weather to the cigales singing in the plane trees to announce the intensity of summer heat, the atmosphere is always lively.  But come July, when Avignon is in full festival swing (from 4-25 July), it takes on an even more upbeat ambience.

Avignon festival summer streets

It’s just buzzing. Even the shops go theatrical and arty.

Resident-poet-Avignon-summer-festival

I was too shy to stop and ask this poet what he thought about it all.  What would you have asked him?  I mean, how do you start a conversation with a public poet or Poete Public? I was never great at poetry at school.  Were the bikes behind him a quick escape route for people like me?

Avignon theatre festival France

This lovely lady must have felt rather hot in her fancy dress.  She was approaching as many possible theatre-goers as she could, showing off her bubbly character.  At the Avignon Festival, plays are constantly being performed and so be prepared to have leaflets thrust in your hand and explanations of the plays taking place. You could easily spend a week here just trying to fit them all in!

Old buildings in Avignon France

As I was gazing up at the old buildings, my friend Sandrine just couldn’t resist these colourful head bands. Not are there theatre touts but the back-streets are full of temporary stalls of fashion accessories, musical instruments, books and silky or cotton Provençal looking tops and dresses.

Head band stall shops in Avignon festival

Just when you least expect it, a human advert for a show appears – here in the guise of a tandem and two rather well-dressed gentlemen hooting an old-fashioned horn.

men on tandem bicycle in Avignon festival theatre

Did I tell you that the posters for each show are plastered absolutely everywhere?

adverts for Avignon's theatre

Hamlet in 30 minutes? I wonder if Shakespeare would have approved of his play being fitted in to accommodate the others in a day.

Hamlet theatre in 30 minutes

Just around the corner, a judge and a couple of reporters were touting for another show, causing havoc in the middle of a restaurant as confused and amused lunch clients were treated to a quick show in rue des Tenturiers.

stage play trailer in restaurant Avignon

Perhaps this was the culprit disguised, running back to Paris? He was so fast when I took this shot that I didn’t manage to catch his training shoes at the bottom.  I thought it was hilarious – obviously the locals were getting used the scene: not an eyelash blinked.

Festival spirt in the streets of Avignon

Lunchtime? Time for us girls to head back to the ranch and see what the men were up to.  Barbecue lit ready for the Auvergne sausages? Check.  Rosé chilled? Check – even with ice cubes during a heatwave.

rose wine with ice cubes in Provence

During the apéritif, Valérie rustled up something quick and deliciously provençal in her kitchen with this light aubergine and tomato tart using filo pastry.

Aubergine tomato and filo pastry tart Provence

Aubergine Tart

Recipe adapted with more instruction by myself from the new “Happi Food” French Magazine (special edition of Happinez N°1).

Serves 6

3 small aubergines or one large
3 large sheets filo pastry
100g butter, melted
100g small Roma tomatoes, cut in 2
2 eggs
500g crème fraîche
150 feta cheese
150g Greek yoghurt
1/2 tsp rosemary
Pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/Gas mark 6). Cut the aubergines into slices of about 2cm thickness.  Sprinkle them with salt in a colander and leave them to give out their liquid for about 15 minutes. Rince them and sponge them with kitchen paper.

2. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil and place them directly on a baking sheet.  Bake for about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, brush 3 large filo pastry sheets (about 40 x 40 cm) with melted butter (or olive oil) and place them one on top of the other in a round tart tin of 22-24cm diameter.   Take out the aubergines and leave them to cool.  Turn down the oven temperature to 180°C (360°F/Gas mark 4).

4. Cover the filo sheets with the aubergine slices and slices of tomato.  Whisk the eggs, crème fraîche, feta and Greek yoghurt. Add the rosemary and a few turns of the pepper mill.   Cover the vegetables with this mixture and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Serve hot with a green salad.

Aubergine and tomato tart recipe

My version isn’t nearly as pretty, but as we’re heading off on holiday tonight, I made a version of this using the leftovers in the fridge and it was simple and so tasty.  I used only one large aubergine, one coeur de boeuf large tomato and sprinkled it with thyme and parsley. Next time, I’m definitely making it with the filo pastry (I used ready-made all butter puff pastry).

Thanks for the most delicious weekend, Valérie and Hervé, and cheers to you, my readers!

A Taste of Provence with Chickpea Spread

This view is from my parents-in-law’s house in the Luberon, the heart of Provence. It has always been special, whatever time of year; as in this picture, even if the pretty lavender from the fields has been harvested in August, watching the smoke rise from the distillery’s chimney down below conjures up all sorts of ideas as to what uses we have with lavender oil. (Which reminds me, I must share a lovely lavender cream recipe with you next.)

But today we’re going savoury for a change and thinking of the French’s favourite time before dinner: the apéritif. And as we’re heading to Provence this weekend to see good friends, I’m “spreading” the holiday mood with you and opening the rosé wine.

View from Saignon in Provence

This winding road takes us from Saignon to Apt, a popular Provençal market town. On summer Saturdays it transforms from sleepy town into a giant beehive of swarming tourists amongst the locals in every street and hidden nook and cranny, as we dodge past the buskers and look for the best olives, tapenade, honey, vegetables, cheeses and garlic, to name a few.

When we shop at the market, my Corsican mother-in-law and I have very different items in our shopping baskets. One of them is she doesn’t use much garlic and heaven forbid if I add any raw garlic if she is to join us. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles at her place.

garlic at the Provencal market of Apt

Ail, ail, ail!

I also love stocking up on good olive oil. Here is one of the popular olive market stalls.  Just be aware of scams. There are stands that exist that don’t sell the genuine article so ensure that you look for the quality label, AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) on decanted 3-5 litre plastic containers.

Olive stand at the market in Apt Provence

On the other hand, our good friends adore garlic and the local specialities. So when they invited us for lunch “up the road”- passing the villages of Rousillon and Bonnieux – we knew it would be a Provençal treat. Valérie is the most wonderful cook. Her recipes are not only eleven out of ten on the tasty scale but they are above all simple, using the freshest of good quality local ingredients. This means there’s just enough time to have a dip in the pool.

Provence swimming pool with olive trees

As the chilled rosé is opened before the meal, Valérie produces something different each time. Last time she brought out Poichichade (pron: pwah-sheesh-ad).  It’s rather like Lebanese-style Hummous or Humus.  In Provence it’s served as an apéritif accompanied by fresh toasted thin slices of baguette and fresh crudités or vegetable sticks. Not only was it rather addictive, but it also contained a good punch of garlic, using both cooked garlic and just one fresh clove at the end to give it that touch of Provence!

Julie and Lucie were itching to make it so much as soon as our return last time, I didn’t even have time to run out and get dried chick peas!  Dare I even say it?  We used handy tinned/canned chick peas (pois chiches).  I took a quick photo of it and although it was good (and er, yellower), it wasn’t a patch on Valérie’s.  I added some parsley to make up for the different texture, even if the garlic packed a punch.  What was wrong?  We should have taken the time to soak dried chick peas.  It’s far creamier and smooth.

Apologies for this photo.  I did it quickly, as the heat was so intense last night that I didn’t manage to do a photo staging: instead just helped myself to a glass of chilled rosé and had a taste before anyone came home!

Chickpea spread or French poichichade

La Poichichade – Provençal Chickpea Spread

Thanks to Valérie for the recipe. Please do use dried chickpeas and not the ones in tins: believe me, the taste is completely different.  The hardest part is just remembering to soak them in advance!

Pre-soaking time: 12 hours (or overnight)
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Cooling/Chilling time:  30 minutes

250g dried chickpeas (soaked overnight in water)
1 tsp sodium bicarbonate
3 + 1 cloves garlic, peeled
bay leaf
Juice of a lemon
1 tsp tahini paste (optional)
3 tbsps olive oil
salt & pepper

1.  Leave the dried chickpeas to soak overnight in water.  Next day, rinse well and transfer to a heavy based pan.  Add enough water just to cover the chickpeas and add a teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (this makes them easy to digest).  Add 3 large cloves of garlic and the bay leaf.  Cover and cook over a low-medium heat for 45 minutes.

2.  When cooked, drain the chickpeas and garlic, discard the bay leaf, and leave to cool for 15 minutes.

3.  Mix the chickpeas using a hand blender or mixer with the rest of the ingredients (adding the extra clove of garlic – or even more to your taste but beware – could be potent!), dribbling in the olive oil gradually until you have a good dipping consistency.  Chill for about 15 minutes.

Serve topped with a sprinkling of more olive oil and why not a touch of paprika or fresh parsley?  Serve with slices of good baguette, radishes, cucumber and carrots. Oh and chilled rosé, but of course …

Chickpea Spread or French poichichade - Hummous from Provence

Well I’m off to pack. I wonder what Provençal recipes I can return with this time?  Let me leave you with a view of last year’s fireworks display for Bastille Day celebrations on 14th July.

Wishing you all a wonderful long Bastille weekend from a hot and sunny Paris. Cheers!  See you in the South on Instagram.

Fireworks-Paris-Bastille-Day

Passion Fruit and Raspberry Macaron Filling

Standing in the buzzing queue of many of Paris’s best pâtisseries, I often realise that decision-making has never been one of my strong points. Well, how can you blame me? With such sumptuous choices to ponder over, there are a number of pastry classics that look up from the shiny museum-like glass counters, saying “Go on – don’t forget me! Pick me!”

raspberry giant macarons with passion fruit cream

Admittedly, picking one or two out has become quicker, thanks to taking around eager testers in the  chocolate and pastry groups with Context Paris. What a responsibility it can be to choose a wide enough variety of fabulous samples without them all floating off into a sugar coma.

One of the lighter popular classics is a giant pink macaron garnished with pastry cream and surrounded with fresh raspberries. What’s more, it’s gluten-free. However, it’s not that easy to cut up into sample pieces!

macarons ispahan style in local patisseries

Pierre Hermé, dubbed by Vogue Magazine as the Picasso of Pastry, christened the most famous of giant raspberry macarons the Ispahan, named after a tender, fragrant Iranian rose. The giant pink macaron is filled with a rose and lychee cream and finished off with beautiful fresh raspberries.

So many pastry shops in Paris have drawn on his inspiration with their own take on it. Even our local pâtisserie had their version (above) with the bottom macaron shell upside down…

Raspberry passion fruit giant macaron

As you can imagine, such Parisian pâtisserie temptations are a constant source of exciting inspiration.  For this dessert classic I replaced the lychee and rose with a zingy passion fruit filling, adding that extra acidic touch to the raspberries.

Truth be told, I ran out of passion fruits as I thought two would be enough. But after tasting the cream, I felt it needed another passion fruit for that extra fruity punch.  So instead I added some extra passion fruit purée as an emergency back-up. I use an excellent passion fruit purée from Monin. Incidentally, I also love their floral syrups to quickly and easily add that delicious fragrant touch to pâtisserie recipes such as rose, elderflower and violet for a summery Teatime in Paris.

Giant raspberry macaron with passion fruit cream filling

Passion Fruit Cream Filling for Giant Raspberry Macarons

I used the basic macaron recipe in “Teatime in Paris” adding a pinch of deep raspberry pink powdered colouring (if using “Mad About Macarons”, use the measurements specified in the Annex of the book, under “Egg White Reference Chart” based on 100g egg whites).  This will make 12 large macarons.  The filling is based on a classic pastry cream (recipe also in “Teatime in Paris”) but I’ve adapted it here based on the liquid of the passion fruit.  Don’t forget that macaron shells can be frozen, so I often prepare them in advance and defrost them the day of a dinner party and the rest is easy to put together.

Serves 6

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: about 15 minutes
Chilling Time: 1 hour (minimum)

250 ml full-cream milk
1 vanilla pod/bean, seeds scraped out (optional)
3 egg yolks
50 g sugar
30 g cornflour
juice of 3 passion fruits (the equivalent of 4 tbsp once seeds removed)
2 punnets of fresh raspberries

1. In a medium saucepan, gently heat the milk with the vanilla seeds, if using. Meanwhile, using a balloon whisk, mix the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until creamy, then whisk in the cornflour until smooth.  When the milk is hot (but not boiling), add half of the hot milk to the beaten egg yolk mixture. Whisk vigorously then quickly add the mix to the rest of the milk in the saucepan while whisking continuously.

2. Continue to whisk over the heat until the mixture thickens. Cover with cling film so that no skin forms on the surface and leave to cool for about 10 minutes then chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

3. Meanwhile, using a sieve, strain the juice and remove the seeds.

4. When chilled, whisk in the juice of the strained passion fruits and continue to chill until closer to serving time.

Spoon or pipe out the filling into the middle of 6 giant macaron bases and arrange about 8-10 raspberries (according to size) on the outside and finish off by topping with a macaron shell.

Giant raspberry passion fruit macaron

Speaking of passion fruit, have you tried the passion fruit and lemon meringue tartlet recipe from Teatime in Paris yet? My lovely friend, Christina, of Christina’s Cucina has just made them and posted the recipe, plus is hosting a Giveaway of the book!  You must pop in for a Parisian teatime in California – and please say hello from me.

French Clafoutis – Baked Cherry Custard Dessert

Clafoutis is a French speciality from the Limousin region. It’s also one of my French Mother-in-law’s specialities and so one of my husband’s favourite classic desserts. When we visit Antoine’s parents in Provence in the summer, Madeleine proudly rustles up her baked dark cherry custard dessert especially for son grand fils, her eldest son, with cherries freshly plucked from the orchard at the bottom of the garden.

But after twenty years, I finally plucked up the courage to make this ridiculously easy pudding at home. Why did I wait so long to make it? Perhaps, I dare say, because it was a bit heavy – especially as I prefer lighter desserts. Could Belle Maman really discover I’d slightly changed her recipe?

baked cherry custard dessert clafoutis

So many clafoutis recipes call for pitted cherries. Like it’s traditionally made in the Limousin, Madeleine normally throws in the whole cherries as they are and most of us politely dispose of the stones at the table. I say most of us, as Antoine – in his more natural Corsican style – rocks on the back of his chair, plotting his target as he catapults and projects them less than delicately into the garden – “Heh, je plante!”, he shrugs at us all.  It’s his Corsican sense of humour of saying he’s planting cherry trees. Oh, pl-ease!

I may mock but whole, unpitted cherries do keep in their flavour, and it’s far quicker than standing over the kitchen table with dark cherry-stained hands looking like Jack or Jill the Ripper. So just throw them in as they are naturally then get the family to do the gardening at the table. Otherwise pit them if you prefer, especially if you have a cherry stone extractor as part of your kitchen gadgetry.

This almond-topped clafoutis has been tried, tested and approved by Antoine, Julie and Lucie. Just don’t tell his Mum.

French clafoutis easy recipe

FRENCH CLAFOUTIS (Cherry Baked Custard) RECIPE

The almond topping idea is pinched from my friend, Véronique (merci!). You could replace the almond extract with a tablespoon of Kirsch or Amaretto liqueur for a more adult version.

SERVES 4-6
Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 35-40 minutes

INGREDIENTS

500g fresh black cherries, washed, not pitted

For the mould (china or earthenware dish):
10g butter
10g sugar

70g plain flour
good pinch of salt (fleur de sel)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 medium eggs, organic
1 egg yolk
80g sugar
270g full-cream milk
25g butter, melted
few drops of almond extract (optional)
25g silvered almonds (optional, for garnish)

Pouring clafoutis batter on to cherries

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F (gas 4). Butter an ovenproof china or pyrex dish (22cm diameter and 5cm deep) large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer.  Sprinkle in the sugar, shaking it all around so that it coats the surface of the dish and place the cherries in it.

2. Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a large bowl.  Add the eggs and yolk and, using a balloon whisk, mix well until the mixture is smooth.  Continue whisking adding the milk, almond extract and melted butter. Pour over the cherries.

French clafoutis before baking

3. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until browned. Toast the flaked almonds in a non-stick frying pan for a few minutes on medium heat until they’re golden and sprinkle on the Clafoutis with a dusting of icing/confectioner’s sugar.

Serve warm directly from the dish.

clafoutis cherry baked custard dessert

Don’t forget to join me on Instagram (or Facebook), where I’m having fun posting shots from day to day around Paris – from the market, to chocolate and pastry walks, to views of Paris, to mad family life.

cherry French dessert clafoutis

Feeling daring? Why not try out these savoury asparagus clafoutis recipes as a summery supper dish?

White Asparagus Clafoutis
Asparagus, Mint & Pea Gluten-Free Clafoutis