A deliciously zingy, creamy topping for crepes or pancakes this February.
Recipes for deliciously easy sauces, condiments or preserves. Also includes edible decorations for plating.
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“.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
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.
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 (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)
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.
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!
I’m a chutney fan and this apple chutney is my favourite accompaniment to melted cheese on toast.
As the house improvement project steadily continues, it has been a relief, finally, to access one finished area: the pantry, or garde-manger! It was the easiest part, since it’s basically a small rectangular cupboard that’s shelved floor to ceiling with Ikea garage storage racks. Each expectant, hungry row has been stacked with jams, including last year’s bumper batch of apricot, lavender and vanilla jam.
However, it has been embarrassing what has turned up, as totally undomestic Goddess-like surprises from the discarded, cobweb-hugged boxes: from out-of-date pâtés to the snail and nettle spreads, bought a bit too eagerly from les marchés de producteurs, in the belief that I couldn’t cook without it. Then this forgotten 2011 vintage of apple, mango and apricot chutney suddenly surfaced (I forgot to mention the Apple Chutney on the labels!)
Why was this such a surprise? It was a hidden matured treasure. As my children wolfed this down once too often with their favourite cheesy toasty comfort food, my precious stock dwindled – after mango season! So, being the ‘perfect’ Mum, I hid it from them.
My girls are convinced I was a squirrel at some point on this planet (or perhaps I came from the planet Mars, with this crème brûlée?). Or perhaps it’s more of a mole-style reaction? Time for a mole story.
One fascinating mole reaction came from a sweet, unknown neighbour over the festive season, in the form of a letter. It was addressed to ‘The owner of the cute mole” and “The happy host of a magnificent mole”. La taupe, I was reminded, is feminine. You see, happy mole is in our garden. She sits under the tree and looks at children going back and forward to school. Nothing fascinating. Until this letter arrived, signed Loulou, a local mole admirer.
Devoured by sadness and frustration, Loulou simply asked that we turn the mole around again to watch the street. What? Sure enough, when I took a look at moley, she was facing the tree and had a rather few birdie splodgies on it. Abandoned, like forgotten apple chutney in the pantry.
Most bloggers have dogs. I have a garden mole and I’ve christened her ‘Loulou’.
Back to my hole in the pantry, you’ll usually find stocks of dried, non-soak apricots in it since my giant wee bears love to throw them on their porridge in the morning. The apricots were a last-minute throw addition to this apple chutney recipe, which adapts well to all kinds of seasonal fruits.
It’s delicious served with my favourite comfort food: melted brie or camembert on pain poilâne, or melting any other cheeseboard leftovers from a dinner party, with a few tossed walnuts on top.
When the Mad About Macarons book first came out, I was interviewed by Fred MaCauley on BBC Radio Scotland. Naturally, the radio team wanted to taste some macarons on air and so I brought along one of my Frenchy cooler pastry bags. Being a huge chutney fan as he is, I offered him his first macaron – although it was a curry one. Bit unusual for a first-timer, wouldn’t you say? Luckily he liked it.
Spicy Apple, Mango and Apricot Chutney Recipe
1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
300g tart apple, chopped
300g under ripe mango, chopped
500g soft light brown sugar (or Demerara)
250g dried (non-soak) apricots
½ litre cider vinegar
2 tsp 4-spice powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1. Heat the coriander seeds in a small pan, then crush them in a mortar and pestle.
2. Throw all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil.
3. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, uncovered, until reduced by half. Once cool the chutney will thicken.
Transfer to clean, sterilised jars. The chutney can be eaten straight away but it’s best to mature it.
On the other hand, this would be decadent served with a Tikka MacSala mini curry macaron. Holy moly, I can’t help it. That’s what macaronivores do. Have you got the symptoms yet? I see some signs on our Facebook page so, if you haven’t done it already, come and join in the fun.
The hills were alive with the sound of cattle bells and gradual butterflies in my stomach as we ascended to the top of the Belchen mountain by cable car. Somehow I can’t get over my fear of heights but the views from the top made the ride worthwhile. The Belchen is the third highest mountain in the Black Forest (1414m) just south of Freiburg, its Capital.
Couldn’t you just imagine Julie Andrews running towards you in her pinafore, beckoning you to join in song? Are you ready? If you’re a fan of The Sound of Music like myself, you’ll love this page of trivia about the film.
Back down to ground level, the girls were dying to go boating on the Titisee lake, which is about 850m above sea level. Thank Goodness they’re not quite Sixteen Going on Seventeen yet. A pedalo for four did us quite nicely, thank you, as the rain drizzled on us. Pity it wasn’t chocolate drizzle.
A trip to Furtwangen was a must on this short trip, as it’s famous for its cuckoo clocks. At the Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum), I’ve never seen so many of them in one place, from the traditional to more contemporary designs. Schönwald, a tiny town next door, is said to be the birthplace of the cuckoo clock, where Franz Anton Ketterer thought of combining a clock with bellows at the beginning of the 18th Century.
Our girls thought the highlight of the trip was the nature walk at Triberg, up to the Gutach waterfall – the highest waterfall in Germany – which cascades over 160m through the forest. Many royal and celebrity guests have visited the falls, including Ernest Hemingway in August 1922. Our favourite celebrities were the swooping nutcracker birds and the cheeky squirrels, as they fought over the allocated bags of monkey nuts.
On our return home, my petite Lucie turned 11 years old and another couple of shoe sizes bigger in the last month. You think I’m joking? At this rate, she’s going to tower above me in no time. The request for her birthday cake was simple: chocolate cake! I’d already made a wickedly rich chocolate cake by Patrick Roger this Easter but Lucielocks quite rightly asked to try something different.
It didn’t take long to find a perfect chocolate bundt cake recipe from Jamie Schler’s blog, Life’s A Feast. I loved the shape of this Bundt cake and simply drizzled it with plenty of chocolate ganache (recipe below) and melted white chocolate, one of Lucie’s favourite sweet things. With chocolate macarons on the side, bien sûr. Which reminds me of another of Maria’s songs, “I Have Confidence” – which is basically the main ingredient needed for macaron-making, n’est-ce pas?
As this cake was made for a children’s party, I omitted the cinnamon but if you’re including it, I would also suggest adding a good pinch of cinnamon to the chocolate drizzle, as well as a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Lucie doesn’t like cherries (I know, I know – scream!) so there’s not a cherry in sight, but to make a Black Forest version, I suggest adding 100g of dried cherries (even better, soaked in Kirsch) to the dough before baking and serve with plenty of cherries and whipped cream on the side.
Chocolate Ganache Drizzle
100g dark chocolate (at least 64% cacao), especially for pâtisserie
100g good quality milk chocolate
300g single cream
1 sachet (7g) vanilla sugar
Break the chocolate into pieces. Gently heat the cream in a saucepan, adding the vanilla sugar and chocolate pieces. Heat over low heat until the chocolate has melted, then stir with a wooden spoon to make a beautifully glossy, even sauce to drizzle over your cakes and ice cream.
So Long, Farewell, auf wiedersehen to you, the holidays. The French schools return next week for la rentrée so, before we’re back to routine, I’ll try to upload the latest photos. I forgot to post this before leaving for Italy last week. If anyone follows me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, you may know that I can’t sit down for long before my back seizes up, so my computer and travel visits are kind of short these days. So, here’s the second part of our Black Forest jaunt before I turned into a chair!
Holidays: one of My Favourite Things – along with chocolate, macarons, strawberries, bubbly and brown paper packages tied up with string. What’s yours?
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 Roasted Chicken or Turkey
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
200ml chicken stock
3 egg yolks
juice and zest of 1 lemon (untreated)
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.
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!
Imagine my surprise back from holidays and seeing this last crate of blushing apricots just waiting to be pounced on. I thought the apricot season would be over but here they were, pride of place, looking up at me at the market with a sign announcing they were jam apricots. It didn’t take much convincing to make a batch of my all-time favourite apricot jam.
Buzzing merrily, bees are currently feasting on our lavender next to the back door. The aromas remind me of the heady lavender fields in Provence at this time of year. My lucky daughters are seeing them soon enough when they stay with their French grandparents next week – there’s even a lavender distillery nearby. As you can imagine, the girls are buzzing with excitement at the thought of hot, sticky days ahead of them.
When they return to school in September, they are all too familiar with the smell of lavender due to the occasional bout of nits (les poux!) that hit the primary school: by dabbing a drop of lavender oil behind their ears they smell of Provence but nits hate the ‘heady’ smell and leave my girlies alone.
I much prefer to use lavender from the garden to add a special touch to this apricot jam. It’s a real winter treat to open up a jar of golden sunshine and smother it on slices of brioche for breakfast. My girls have this theory that if they write the jam labels, they’re entitled to more of the jar’s contents.
As I prefer to use half the sugar of the classic recipe, the jam doesn’t last as long as the classic. In our house, this is never a problem as it’s is consumed pretty quickly on crêpes, waffles, warmed as a sauce on nougat ice cream, as a glaze or simply eaten by the spoon! The addition of butter is my mother-in-law’s little secret to avoid too much scum floating to the top during the jam-making process.
Apricot and Lavender Jam
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Resting Time: 8-10 hours
Cooking Time: approx. 1 hour
1 kg apricots, washed and cut in 2 (stones removed)
500g granulated sugar with added pectin (jam-making sugar)
juice of a lemon
2 fresh lavender flowers (or 2 tsps dried lavender in a tea infuser)
knob of butter
- Mix together the above ingredients (except the butter) in a large bowl and leave to infuse overnight or 8-10 hours.
- Remove the full lavender flowers or the tea strainer with the dried lavender.
- In a heavy high-sided pot (as I use induction heat, but traditionally – if you can – use a copper pot), bring the ingredients to a slow boil over a moderate heat for at least 45 minutes. Stir occasionally using a wooden spoon and add the knob of butter.
- Meanwhile, chill a saucer in the fridge to quicken the setting process.
- Turn down the heat and leave to simmer for another 15 minutes until thickened. Test the jam on the chilled saucer. If it wrinkles, it’s set. If not, then continue to boil the jam and try again.
- Pour into warmed, sterilised jars. Cover with a disc of waxed paper – or parchment paper – and when cooled, tightly close the lids.
Store in a cool place for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge.
Plus it goes without saying (ça va sans dire – love that phrase!) that you could fill orange (or purple) shells to make apricot and lavender macarons. The beauty with macarons is that you can make any flavour of your imagination. Be inspired from the recipes in the book and add your own personal touch. Here, I used the filling recipe on page 74 for the liquorice macarons, replacing the 30g of liquorice for the jam.
So here’s my gift to you for all your comments and support over the last few months. Merci beaucoup, my macaronivore friends! Help yourselves; they’re now at room temperature so perfect for eating.
How would you use this jam? Have you tried it warmed and poured over candied fruit ice cream?