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.

Summer Fête Carrot Cakes

Today I’m still cringing.  When was the last time you had an embarrassing instant of saying something without thinking it through, then spent the following hours and day wishing you could correct it and hit replay?  Even on a day like French Mother’s Day today, I can’t ask for that gift.

Such a wincing-induced moment came yesterday. It could have been straight from a Desperate Housewives’ scene; Bree standing in frilly apron, smiling proudly from ear to ear behind the baking stall at the School’s Summer Fête.

summer school fete at the Lycée International St Germain

As the director of the school chose a cake for his offspring, just as he was about to turn and continue the rounds, my mouth opened and blurted, “I baked these”.

carrot-cupcakes

These three pathetic words are still teasing me, as I’m desperately trying to convince brain to train mouth. The only consoling thought is that everyone seems to love a good carrot cake – now including French hubby, who normally only appreciates spices in a curry or tagine.

carrot mini cakes

For the Fête, I chose to make light individual cakes, as I was simply too lazy to cut up a large cake!

carrot cake muffins

RECIPE CARROT CAKES

Recipe from BBC Good Food. The recipe is super in that there is not as much sugar as other recipes I’ve tried and I love the proportion of carrots, making the cakes very light.  I only adapted it very slightly by lowering the sugar, adding extra zest to the frosting for more zing, and on the icing quantities as I had too much in proportion to the cake mix.

Makes 18 large cakes using muffin moulds and paper cases (@ 7cm diameter) or one large cake.

INGREDIENTS

300g plain flour (or half each of plain and wholemeal flour)
225g light brown sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp gingerbread or mixed spice
zest of an unwaxed orange (keep some aside for the icing)
3 eggs
225g sunflower oil (or other neural oil)
300g peeled carrots, grated

Icing:

75g butter, softened
225g soft cheese, at room temperature (e.g. Philadelphia or St Moret)
75g icing/confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract (or add 1 tsp zest from the orange)
Sprinkles to decorate (optional)

1. Heat oven to 180°C/360°F/160°C fan (Gas 4).
In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spice and orange zest.  Whisk together the eggs and oil, then stir into the dry ingredients with the grated carrot.

2. Prepare 18 muffins lined with paper cases. Divide the mixture between cases and bake for 20-22 minutes until a skewer poked in comes out clean.  If making a large cake, then bake for 35-40 minutes or until the skewer comes out clean.

3. To make the icing, beat the butter until creamy, then beat in the soft cheese, icing sugar and vanilla/orange zest.  Either swirl the icing on top of the cakes using a palette knife or use a piping bag with a star tip to pipe out spiral toppings and sprinkle with edible glitter to your fancy.

carrot cake muffins recipe

Enjoy!  Just watch what your mouth says.

Pastéis de Nata Portuguese Custard Tarts Recipe

After tasting the exquisite Pastéis de Nata from Comme à Lisbonne in Paris, I just had to make these delicious Portuguese custard tarts at home. Besides, it’s a great egg yolk recipe!

Pasteis de nata egg yolk recipe

In true lazy gourmet style, I cheat and use ready-made puff pastry.  There’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember to use a good quality all-butter puff pastry. I use either defrosted (here in France, Picard do a good frozen puff), or ready-rolled (these are in packets of 230g and so easy to use). If you can’t find ready-rolled, just roll out the pastry to 3-5mm thickness and cut out your circles according to the recipe below.

One factor that’s not easy to control is the traditional extra hot oven needed to make traditional sized custard tarts more genuine looking.  As not all of our home kitchen ovens can go up as high as professional ovens to give them that beautifully scorched look, put it as high as you can – and keep an eye on them!  I’d suggest 7-10 minutes if it’s very hot, otherwise for about 10-15 minutes.

pasteis de nata recipe

PASTÉIS DE NATA RECIPE

Recipe inspired by Denise Browning at From Brazil to You, who adapted it from the cookbook, “Cozinha Tradicional Porguguesa”. Denise made mini tarts, whereas I made a slightly bigger, more traditional size like they serve at Comme à Lisbonne. So I used half quantity to fill regular muffin moulds, and cut down the sugar slightly, using a vanilla pod/bean instead of the extract.

Makes 12 tartlets (using 2x 6-cavity non-stick muffin moulds @ 7cm diameter)

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 8-15 minutes (depending on your oven)

Ingredients:

4 egg yolks
80g sugar
15g cornflour/cornstarch (a lightly heaped tablespoon)
1 vanilla pod/bean, scraped of seeds*
250ml whole milk
230g puff pastry (1 pack of ready-rolled or a pack of frozen puff, defrosted)
Powdered cinnamon (to serve)

* 1 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Chill a bowl in the fridge. Put the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour and vanilla seeds (scraped from a pod cut in half down the middle horizontally) in a saucepan and mix well using a balloon whisk until you have a creamy paste. Gradually add the milk, whisking until mixed well together.

2. Put the pan on a medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens.  Remove pan from the heat. (If you don’t use the vanilla pod, add the extract at this point). Transfer the custard to the chilled bowl and immediately cover it with cling film to prevent a skin from forming. Set aside to cool.

3. Lightly oil or butter the muffin moulds and preheat the oven preferably to the highest setting – I used  250°C/480°F/230°C mark 9.

4. On a lightly floured surface – roll the pastry if needed – using a cookie cutter or glass (about 9cm diameter, slightly bigger than the 7cm diameter muffin cavity), cut out discs and press them into each cavity.  Spoon in the cooled custard about 3/4 to the top then bake for 7-10 minutes.  Keep an eye on them!

making portuguese custard tarts

5. Leave to cool in the moulds/tins for about 5 minutes then turn them out on to a wire rack.

Portuguese custard tarts and macarons

A baker’s loop. Use yolks for the custard tarts and macarons for the whites…

Serve them slightly warm and lightly dusted with cinnamon.

Pasteis de nata portuguese custard tarts

P.S. As large quantities of egg whites were used for starching clothes in the monasteries and convents around the 18th Century, the monks discovered this delicious way of using up the egg yolks and so a legendary Portuguese pastry was born!  And just for the record, I don’t starch hubby’s shirts with egg whites. Macarons are much better fun!

Click here for more about Pasteis de Nata and how popular they are!

Homemade Breakfast Cereal – Maple Granola

Today I’m a cereal blogger (pun totally intended).

So, how do you often start the day?

I’m an easy camper, happy with a slice of multigrain toast; or a tartine of toasted baguette with a scraping of good Normandy butter; or sometimes my favourite homemade brioche and jam. If we have more time together as a family on Sundays, the ultimate treat are the flakiest, buttery croissants from the local boulangerie.

healthy oat fruit maple breakfast cereal

Cereal somehow dropped down the shopping list since I moved to France. Why? The answer is simply Paris; wouldn’t you also be tempted, surrounded by all those amazing bakeries with croissants, pain au chocolats and pain aux raisins, just for morning starters?

It’s confession time: each time I saw homemade granola on friends’ blogs, such as Kim of LivLife’s lovely cinnamon and coconut cereal, I should have picked up on it like a good cereal blogger.

homemade breakfast cereal maple granola

My final “Just-do-it” push came via an old thumbed Elle magazine at the orthodontist’s waiting room. One of the only recipes that wasn’t ripped out was for maple granola, so I tried it. Boy was it overly sweet! Read ridiculously sweet.

It took many experiments to come to this to suit our Antoine’s taste – not too many nuts, more oats please, oh I love the graines de courges (pepitas or roasted pumpkin seeds) for that crunch but not too crunchy. The magazine’s recipe has, as a result, changed beyond recognition and its whopping 140g sugar has now been omitted entirely. You don’t need it; the dried fruits and the maple syrup are naturally sweet.  You could use the coconut oil but I honestly prefer it with the neutral oil.  So here is our favourite cereal, totally subjective, of course: adapt the quantities and ingredients to your own liking but try this first!

Warning: you’ll discover that this has to be made at least once a week. The good news is, by going to our local health food store (La Vie Claire), I’m cutting down costs on bigger packs of oats and seeds and they’re better quality too.

Oat, Fruit and Maple Breakfast Granola

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 25 minutes

300g oats
100g pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)
75g walnuts, broken
25g linseeds

pinch salt (fleur de sel)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
(optional)
2 tbsp vegetable oil (neutral tasting oil or coconut oil, melted if solid)
5 tbsp maple syrup
10g flaked/slivered almonds
100g dried cranberries, blueberries, or raisins

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan).

2. Measure* all the ingredients (except the almonds and dried fruits) in a large bowl and stir to mix them all well together.

3. Grease a large rimmed baking tray with more oil or use a baking tray covered with baking paper (or a Silpat) and spread out the oat mixture by shaking the tray gently from side to side.

4. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, turn over the mixture and sprinkle on the slivered almonds and bake for a further 10 minutes.

5. Leave to cool then add the dried fruits.

Serve with milk or yogurt and fresh berries. I love to sprinkle on a teaspoon of bee pollen, which is not only natural tasting of honey but it’s good for boosting the body’s immune and digestive system a couple of times a year.

* I use digital scales.  If you’re used to using ounces, then just switch over to grams. 

oat and maple healthy breakfast granola cereal

I just about forgot that it’s Mother’s Day in the UK this weekend (Sunday 15 March).  As I have a French diary where Mother’s Day is highlighted for 25 May, I had it in my mind that the UK was at the end of the month!

That’s a great excuse to make macarons again. What favourite flavours do you think would be ideal for Mother’s Day?


 

Update!   

Brazil nut homemade granola recipe

After our visit to Brazil, I’ve replaced the dried fruit with pineapple and guava, replaced the walnuts with broken brazil nuts, and added a touch of ground cinnamon and cloves.  Try it!

Confiture de Lait Recipe and How to Store Vanilla Beans

I have a confession to make. I’m glad it hasn’t really snowed in Paris this winter but I caught myself displaying a surprise tinge of jealousy the other day, admiring our Provençal friends’ snowy winter wonderland photos. They’d taken them just before they left Avignon on the TGV (speed train) to visit us snow-deprived souls “dans le nord“.

French clock tower of the town of Apt in the luberon

The paradox is that when it’s cold in the south, it can be lovely in Paris, and vice-versa. In winter, Provence can have the added wind-chill factor with the southern Mistral winds but in summer, they are blessed with the most sun-kissed, flavoursome fruit and vegetables.

Seeing Rome’s legendary Campo dei Fiori market last week reminded me of our favourite Provençal market in Apt. My parents-in-law live nearby in the hilltop village of Saignon, so this is our local market pilgrimage during summer visits. Apt is also where we stock up on candied fruit.  Renowned as the world capital for fruits confits, buying direct from the factory by kilo is far cheaper and better quality than we can find at our Parisian super-markets.

roofs of the French market of Apt in Provence

Apt’s market is far from small; here’s just a fraction of it in the square of the Hôtel de Ville (town hall), as it snakes out into the main cobbled street, the shady side streets, and a few more animated squares. In the summer, it’s crammed with more Dutch, Belgian and British tourists than locals, and musicians from around the globe come to busk in the atmosphere.

Stocking up on our favourite lavender honey, this time around we also met Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti, selling the most plump, natural sticky Bourbon vanilla pods/beans from Madagascar.

Vanilla beans at the French market of Apt in Provence

Can you smell their perfume? Counting up each exotic stick of fragrant magic, he gave some simple advice how to preserve vanilla pods/beans: put them in a long, sealable jar with just 1/2 cm of rum, close the lid, et voilà!

Madagascan Vanilla on sale at the market in Provence

The girls were fascinated at the next stand by these vibrant Crête de Coq flowers, as they resemble a rooster’s head. Watching the 6 Nations’ rugby yesterday reminded me of some news heard on French radio end January about a particular kind of serial killer roaming around Toulouse. Prized roosters that represent France just before rugby matches were mysteriously disappearing.  Apparently French police believed the culprit was a mink. As my friend, Mel Fenson says, “Better that it’s not human!”

Tete de Coq French Flowers at the market Provence

Back to vanilla and Monsieur Setti, and back home, I found a few long jars that used to hold shop-bought fruit coulis, poured in a measure of rum and squeezed in the vanilla that had dried very slightly from our return drive.  A week later, I’d developed a new daily ritual of opening the jar to sniff the aroma jumping out of it. Better to sniff vanilla, right?

I took a look at Mr Setti’s recipe flyer that he’d thrown in with our goodies.  One of the recipes was for confiture de lait (literally, “milk jam” – or more widely known as dulce de leche). Like salted caramel, it’s more of a perfect winter treat.

Confiture de lait recipe with vanilla bean

There are many express recipe versions on the internet using a can of sweetened condensed milk and cooking it with some water in a pressure cooker.  Call me old-fashioned but I loved popping back over to the stove now and again to stir it, having the house smell sweet on a dull and nippy Sunday afternoon.  It’s a simple, soothing way to cheer up the senses!

Confiture de lait with vanilla French Milk Jam

Confiture de Lait (Milk Jam) with Vanilla

Recipe from Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti, although I’ve lowered the sugar quantity slightly.

Fills 2 jam jars

Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time:  2 1/2 hours – 3 hours

1 litre whole milk (full-fat)
450g sugar
1 vanilla pod/bean

 

1. Put the milk and the sugar in a thick-based large pan.  Cut the vanilla pod or bean right down the middle from top to bottom and add it to the milk.

2. Heat until boiling then reduce the heat to low and leave to simmer away for 2h30 to 3 hours.  Every so often, stir well with a long wooden spoon.  It’s normal that nothing much happens in the first couple of hours, then you’ll see that it does thicken quite quickly towards the end.

3. Take out the vanilla pod and as soon as the jam becomes caramel-like and coats the back of a spoon nicely, take off the heat and pour into a couple of clean jam jars.

It will harden as it cools. Store in the fridge.

confiture de lait or French milk jam with vanilla. Take a spoon!

How long can you keep confiture de lait? As it’s a caramel, it will last a couple of months kept in the fridge, although I found it best kept within a month.  Reheat it for a few seconds in the microwave and dribble it on crêpes, waffles and about anything that you fancy.

I made just a few macarons with Confiture de lait.  I personally find them far too sweet in a macaron, and much prefer “plain” vanilla macarons (recipe in the book) but I’ll leave that for you to try.  In any case, the girls spread so much of this on crêpes recently that the stock didn’t last long!

P.S. The good news is that vanilla is one of the heroes in my new easy pâtisserie recipe book, “Teatime in Paris” – coming 7th May!

Honey and Lemon Sablé Biscuits

It was a sign: Corsican lemons asking to be picked from the basket, still with their leaves on and prickly branches. I filled a large bag and, dreaming at the Monoprix checkout, thought about all the lovely desserts I could make with them. Corsican hubby would be pleased.

Then Lucie suddenly came down with a virus all last week while Mummy bear tried to calm her scratchy throat and racking cough with hot lemon and honey drinks. Finally when the fever subsided after a few days, it was my turn for the symptoms; then Antoine; like crashing dominoes, we were. The lemons didn’t make it to dessert mode.

Corsican lemons with leaves

The oversized jar of honey, bought from the market at Apt last summer, was also our best medicine. Miel de Garrigues, or honey from the Mediterranean coastal regions from such typical wild shrubs as lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary was the perfect soothing addition to drinks, yoghurts and to coat our favourite weekend brioche (thank you, freezer!).

brioche with pink pralines

Feeling sorry for myself (I’m a typical Aries – I’d hate to live with me), I felt the love circulating via friends with hints on the best remedies on Facebook – thank you!  Next time I’ll try that turmeric drink, Belinda, but with no turmeric in the house, that really felt like cheating.

However, I’ve also been thinking about the new website, and so Jérôme’s suggestion, “More egg yolk recipes?” was also welcome. I’ve gradually been building up a list of yolk recipes and you’ll be happy to hear there are plenty more waiting for you in my forthcoming book, Teatime in Paris. Meanwhile I’m adding more to the list here on le blog.  After all, we are mad about macarons, and we need to use up these yolks tout de suite.

honey lemon biscuits or cookies from the yolk recipe collection

Luckily I hadn’t lost my appetite. Come teatime this weekend, the end of the honeypot was looking rather concrete and unappetising.  With only a few seconds in the microwave, the last of the liquid nectar was just too good to down all in one go, so I found these biscuits on the internet.

I say biscuits with my Scottish accent, my Amercian friends call them cookies, the French call them sablés, so what on earth was I supposed to write as a title?  Incidentally, the French refer to them as sablés since as you mix the butter and flour together with your fingertips, it resembles sand (our breadcrumbs reference). Crumbs; isn’t that fascinating?

honey and lemon sablé biscuits

Honey and Lemon Sablés

Recipe slightly adapted from 750 grammes French website for Petits délices au miel.  I reduced the sugar slightly and added a pinch of salt. I used a stronger honey (like mountain honey) which flavours the biscuits beautifully.

Makes about 40 sablés (depending on the size of your cookie cutters)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Resting Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

250g plain flour
60g sugar
130g softened butter (unsalted/doux)
2 egg yolks
2 tsps lemon zest (unwaxed)
3 tbsp runny honey (Accacia)
pinch salt

1. Measusre the flour in a large bowl.  In the centre, add the sugar, softened butter, lemon zest, honey and salt. Mix all together well with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (or sand – sable – as the French say) then add the egg yolks.
Alternatively, if you have a stand mixer, mix all the ingredients together for a couple of minutes maximum until well blended together.

2. Split the dough into 2, cover with cling film and set aside in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan. Remove the dough from the fridge and film and roll out with a rolling pin to about 5mm thickness.  Cut the dough using your favourite cookie cutters.  Put the biscuits on a baking tray covered with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.  Bake for 10 minutes.

4. Leave the cookies to cool on the tray for a couple of minutes (this will make it easier to remove them) then cool on a wire rack.

honey love-heart and star sablé cookies

I was planning on coating them with a ginger and lemon glaze but after having tried the first ones, I can honestly say they don’t need any fancy toppings.  They are delicious and tasty enough on their own. Although don’t forget the tea! Serve with a pot of Darjeeling with a twist of lemon.

Hearts for the girls and the stars go to my Antoine. Get better soon, darling!

P.S. If you have any ideas for the new website, your suggestions are more than welcome. 

Chocolate Coffee Fondant Cakes

“I’m starving!” Lucie flew in the door with the rain blowing in with her. “Canteen was terrible today so I only ate some baguette.”

Normally my bunnies are flexible eaters at school but somehow there are a few days in the year where apparently la cantine doesn’t even meet the I’ll-just-eat-it-because-I’m-hungry mark.  I wasn’t much better: if that had been the kids, I’d have scolded them. I’d just returned from an extra bendy weekly yoga session (feeling wobbly and stretched to 2 metres) and, having only downed a yogurt for lunch in a rush, suddenly thought of a warming yet healthily wicked, quickly-made pick-me-up.   Besides, Lucie needed energy before disappearing again for a fencing practise. Enough excuses?

chocolate coffee cakes using briochette moulds

Then Julie arrived like clockwork: dump rucksack, throw off Converse – shoelaces still done – blocking the front door and stairs. “What’s for goûter, Mum? Canteen was rubbish, so I ended up …. oooooh, what’s that amazing smell?  Chocolate?”

We like plain and simple chocolate cake, or perhaps a layered chocolate cake with ganache, but we love squidgy individual chocolate cakes when they’re fast to prepare and, even better, packed with good quality chocolate (no less than 64% cacao solids) and less sugar.  Over the years we’ve surprised ourselves, as gradually we’ve become used to reducing sugar with more bittersweet tasting chocolate in recipes after some happy sampling of the likes from the wonderful pâtisseries that Paris has to offer.

chocolate coffee fondant cakes

No fancy food photo props here.  Luckily I had a couple of minutes (yes, that’s far too long for hungry teenagers!) to attempt to focus on them with my telephone camera!

I also make lighter chocolate moelleux (lava) cakes for dessert with more eggs. What I love about this recipe, is that it’s easier on the butter than in most fondant cakes I’ve tried plus it has a more intense chocolate taste, with the coffee bringing it out even further.  A little goes a long way but boy, it’s packed with fatigue-fighting and stress-bashing magnesium! They’re dense: a perfect warm and rewarding teatime treat.

quick chocolate mocha fondant cakes with coffee glaze

Recipe Chocolate Fondant Cakes with Mocha Glaze

Adapted from part of a recipe by Jonathan Blot (one of my favourite pastry chefs, of Acide Macaron in Paris) in the 4th issue of Fou de Patisserie magazine.

Makes 6 using a non-stick silicon muffin tin or briochette mould

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 6 minutes

70g butter
100g good quality chocolate (64% cocoa solids)
1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
2 eggs
50g caster sugar
30g plain (all-purpose) flour

Chocolate & Coffee Glaze

45g chocolate
20g/20ml espresso coffee

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan (Gas mark 6).  Measure out the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water.  Add the coffee powder and stir until just melted.

2.  Take off the heat then add the sugar and beat in the eggs until mixed together.  Add the flour in one go until completely mixed.  Place the moulds on a baking tray then spoon into non-stick (I used flexipan silicone moulds – briochette shaped) moulds. If you’re using regular muffin moulds, butter them lightly before filling with batter.

3. Bake for only 6 minutes (yes, I know it’s exact but don’t cook any more than this if you prefer them squidgy).

4. Meanwhile, make the glaze: make a small cup of espresso coffee (ideally directly into a small measuring cup).  Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Add the hot coffee and stir until melted then spread over each cake.

The cakes are even better eaten next day after overnight maturing.  They can last in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  You’ll see how they are dense in chocolate!  I also added thin bits of chocolate from Patrick Roger as a decoration but as the kids were wanting them quickly, they melted and oozed down the cake here…

chocolate fondant cakes with chocolate coffee glaze

Just after I made them, I noticed on Instagram that it was National Chocolate Cake Day on 27th January.  Isn’t it fun how the US celebrate treats during the year? Liz Berg had the same idea for Chocolate Cake Day, with her deliciously runny lava cakes at That Skinny Chick Can Bake. Well no wonder: they’re so quick, comforting, nourishing, easy, delicious and totally satisfying.  Next time I’ll do what I normally do and push in a square of pear in the middle of each cake before baking.  And for the perfect Valentine’s Day treat, sprinkle on golden edible lustre and top with macaron hearts!


 

A quick question: do you bake using digital scales?

I thoroughly recommend using digital scales when baking. If you’re used to ounces, it’s easy to flip the switch on scales.  If I give the equivalents in ounces in this recipe, I’m into messy-looking 3/4 oz and 2 1/4 oz etc.  Digital scales are easy to find, not expensive to snatch up and you’ll discover that your baking will have constant successful results!