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.

Tarte Tatin – An Easy Classic French Dessert Recipe

According to my old 1984 edition of Larousse Gastronomique (given as a wedding present as a young Scot about to embark in a French kitchen), the Tarte Tatin was first served in Paris at Maxim’s giving a bow to its creators, the famous Tatin sisters.

Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin came up with this irresistible dessert quite by accident at the end of the 19th century while running their hotel/restaurant in the French Sologne region, south of Paris.  The story goes (I have two conflicting ones from different cookbooks) that, as the apples were caramelising in sugar and butter in the oven for their tarte solognote, they either realised they’d forgotten the pastry or that they’d burned the apples, so they simply plopped the pastry on top, baked then flipped the tart upside down, and Mon Dieu, look what turned up? From then on, it was served as their speciality until they retired in 1906, although they never called it a Tarte Tatin.

Tarte Tatin a French classic dessert recipe

Newly married, I was totally intimidated by my French Mother-in-Law’s Tarte Tatin. Her dessert looked so sumptuous and grand with its glistening slices of warm caramelised apples sitting on top of a crispy pastry, just oozing with the sticky juices. How did she do it?

Pressing her short and simple recipe in my hand, I was assured it was easy and inrattable; “You can’t go wrong”, she said.
Well I did get it wrong.

For a start, I used apples that didn’t survive the cooking process (Pink Lady) and when I quickly turned the pan upside down for the grand finale de-moulding moment, some of the apples stuck to the bottom and the rest sat there miserably as light, uncaramelised mush. I thought of inventing a new Apple Sauce Tart but somehow it didn’t have quite the same “accident appeal” as that of the elderly Tatin Sisters.

So, lesson learned: use good quality tart apples such as Granny Smith or French Golden Delicious. As a result of a few other little helpful tweaks to add to mother-in-law’s instructions, you can also now be rest assured that what flips out at the end will be much more of a pleasure!

Tarte Tatin French recipe for caramelised apple tart


Serves 4-6

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: About 1 hour

2 tbsp water
120g caster sugar (plus 2 tbsp)
50g unsalted butter (plus 15g extra)
splash of Calvados (optional)

pinch salt (optional)
5-6 apples (Golden Delicious or Granny Smith)
200g puff pastry (ideally ready-rolled/thawed, if frozen)

For best results, butter a round 25cm deep baking tin, or use a good solid-based ovenproof frying pan

tarte tatin recipe method

1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, stir the water and sugar together and, over a medium heat, leave to bubble and simmer until a light golden brown caramel forms (no need to stir).  Take off the heat, stir in the butter (and salt if using) and splash of Calvados until the caramel is smooth and immediately pour into the baking tin.

2. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F (gas 5).  Peel the apples, cut them in half, remove the cores with a sharp knife (or use an apple corer) and cut them again horizontally.

3. Arrange the apples upright in a circle and pack them as tight as you can (they’ll shrink while cooking), filling as much space as possible in the middle.  Cut up any leftover apple and stuff them into the spaces.  Dot with the extra butter (or brush with melted butter) and lightly sprinkle over the 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

4. Remove the apples from the oven to cool slightly as you prepare the pastry.

5. Ideally your puff is ready rolled so there’s no need to do anything. (If the puff pastry is in a block, roll it out to about 2mm thickness and cut out a circle very slightly larger (2-3cm) than the size of the pan you’re using). Place the puff pastry circle on top of the apples, tucking in the sides as far down the edges as you can, as it will neatly hold the apples when turned over at the end. Pierce a small hole in the middle of the pastry to allow any steam to escape – this will prevent the puff pastry from puffing up too much while baking.

6. Bake in the oven for a further 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the apple juices leak around the edges.

7. Leave to cool. Run a sharp knife along the edges just to help release the sticky beast. To turn out the tart, cover the pan with a large deep plate (to catch the juices) and, using a hand towel, hold the pan and plate together and flip upside down quickly, pastry side down.

Serve slightly warm either on its own or with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Tarte tatin a classic French dessert with apples

This is my first recipe article to be published over at French Entrée Magazine!


Upside-Down Dark Chocolate, Coffee & Pear Cake

That did it – it had to be a chocolate pear cake since the pears just sat there showing off their perfect hippy contours in the fruit bowl, pride of place on the breakfast table.

Really. No takers? It was the same for lunch, goûter, and dinner. Were they just too pretty to look at?  I decided it was “conference” time with the family last weekend; would they also like their pears hugged in chocolate, the unanimous response was

“Oh, we love pears!”

Upside down chocolate coffee pear cake recipe

Chocolate Pear Cake Inspiration

I hit on the idea of this chocolate pear cake while trying out a delicious recipe for a Drunken Damson Dessert by Angela Reid from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipe Book. As I poured the chocolate mix on top of my damson-replaced nectarines soaked in the gin, I was thinking that next time I should try a non-alcoholic version and flip it upside-down so that the pears would be caramelised and glistening on top – rather like a Tarte Tatin style chocolate cake.

nectarine and chocolate pudding

This is nearly a flourless cake since I added just a couple of tablespoons, just to cake it up a bit but for gluten-free diets you can skip the flour.  I also love adding coffee to pear (see this coffee and poached pear recipe); the coffee also brings out the dark chocolate’s intensity.

The photos really don’t do this cake justice.  The family didn’t give me much time to photograph it and, as it was at the end of the day, the sun was playing up and I was juggling the rest of dinner.  There wasn’t even time to do a photo set-up. Plonk! Snap! But enough of my excuses. I suggest you make this and show me your better shots!  What counts is that it tastes fabulous and I’ll have to make it again soon.

upside down dark chocolate coffee pear cake recipe

Upside-Down Chocolate Coffee & Pear Cake

Serves 6-8

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 minutes

2 tbsp water

100g sugar
25g butter

3 pears (Guyot or Conference)

Chocolate Cake:
50g sugar

4 eggs
250g dark chocolate (at least 64% cocoa solids)
175g butter (unsalted)
1 tpsp coffee powder

2 tbsp plain flour (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F (gas 6). Butter a 25cm cake pan (no need to if using a silicone round cake mould, or moule à manqué that’s non-stick).

2. Make a caramel by stirring the sugar into the water in a heavy-based saucepan.  Leave to simmer (don’t stir at this stage) until a golden caramel forms then stir in the butter.  Immediately pour the caramel into the cake pan.

pears in cake pan on top of caramel and before the chocolate mix is poured on top

3. Peel the pears and cut them in half.  Remove the cores with a sharp knife then cut each half into three slices. Arrange them as packed together as you can on top of the caramel (they’ll shrink as they cook) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove to cool slightly.

4. Using a hand whisk, beat the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl until pale and creamy. Break up the chocolate into pieces and melt it together with the butter and coffee powder in a heat-proof bowl on top of a pan of simmering water (bain-marie), ensuring that the water doesn’t touch the chocolate bowl. When smooth and melted, whisk together the chocolate into the egg, then add the flour (if using), mix then pour the chocolate batter on top of the pears.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.

5. Leave to cool slightly for about 10 minutes. Using a sharp blade of a knife, go around the sides to ensure nothing is sticking.  Place a large serving plate over the pan and, holding on to both plate and pan, flip the plate upside down to demould the cake.

upside down dark chocolate coffee pear cake

Serve either cold or slightly warm with cream but it’s just as good entirely on its own.

Next time I’m adding some candied ginger and perhaps a teaspoon of ground ginger to replace the coffee. What do you think?  Are you more for classic plain or spicy with pear and chocolate?

upside down chocolate caramel pear coffee cake

Update: An intense caramel photo shot with the chocolate and pear cake. Ah, is that better? I made this again and have updated the recipe to suggest you caramelise the pears just a little longer in the oven and have adjusted step 3 accordingly. But if you prefer the previous more natural poached look, then leave in the oven for just 10 minutes in step 3.

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.


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.