A quick and handy vegetarian recipe that’s perfect to make in advance for your festive end-of-year parties
A quick and deliciously easy mincemeat recipe, ideal for Vegetarians since it’s without suet – and great for filling macarons!
This Christmas pastry ring sums me up just now: I’m going around in circles – but aren’t we all at this time of year?
My Corsican parents-in-law have already been and gone for our early French Christmas in Paris. Their visit certainly speeded up the last few days of marathon shopping for holiday gifts and rustling up menus with fresh produce from the market; I’ve probably been looking like a perplexed turkey who’s lost the plot in Star Wars.
Scottish vs French Christmas Traditions
Before we know it, we’ll be flapping off to Scotland for my family’s Christmas gathering: pulling at our favourite British crackers together at the table, the more brave amongst us wearing their banger-sizzled contents of fluorescent paper hats and reciting the rolled-up corny but giggle-provoking jokes – especially after some toe-curling glasses of wine nectar.
The final blast of cheese after the Christmas Pudding still comes as a surprise. Bless Antoine; it has taken him a while to get used to dessert before cheese (and I am perhaps worse than him on this British custom after 24 years in France) but he’s cool and laps it all up – except Monsieur still refers to cranberry sauce (no matter how good, since he won’t even try) as turkey with jam or avec de la confiture. Thank goodness Mum just laughs it off and has learned to shrug her shoulders like the French.
Traditions on the French side are slightly more serious at the table. My mother-in-law or Belle-maman always makes her two homemade bûches de Noël, or yule logs. I say always, as none of us have even contemplated breaking with this family ritual – that’s decidedly her territory. To avoid stepping on any toes in the kitchen, my answer is to make this large crown pastry ring version of the Paris-Brest, dressed up for Christmas with holly and red currants. What’s more, I find it much less hassle to make than a yule log!
The Paris-Brest Pastry Ring
Paris-Brests are in many Parisian pastry boutiques these days, although I’m disappointed to see they’re more often served as straight éclairs. If it’s a real traditional Paris-Brest, it should be in the shape of a bicycle wheel since it was invented in 1910 by Louis Durand, who concocted a giant choux wheel filled with hazelnut praline buttercream to celebrate the cyclists passing his pâtisserie in Maisons-Laffitte (just west of Paris) on their sprint up to Brest.
You can find my Whisky praline filling recipe for this Paris-Brest Christmas pastry ring at The Good Life France. The recipe is an extract taken from Teatime in Paris: A Walk Through Easy French Pâtisserie Recipes. This time I’m doubling the quantities and making an extra large Christmas choux pastry wreath.
For such a large circle, no fancy moulds are needed – just a plain but large piping bag (about 30cm/16 inches).
Giant Birthday Eclairs
Once you’ve had fun piping out large circles to create a giant wheel shape, there’s no stopping you: you’ll find it just as easy to pipe out large numbers for birthday éclairs too!
First was for a good friend’s 50th with a mixture of a Paris-Brest and a giant 5 with strawberries and cream – then Antoine’s great aunt Raymonde was thrilled to bits on her 94th birthday this summer with two giant elderflower cream and fresh strawberry éclairs, served with a glass of bubbly as she looked at the recipe in Teatime in Paris, just back from the printers and smelling of fresh ink. It was a great double dose to celebrate!
Just sketch out your circle or number shapes on baking parchment, cover it with another layer of parchment (so the dough isn’t in contact with the pencil), pipe away with two side-by-side layers then pipe out a third one on top, between the two.
Choux (Eclair) Pastry Ring Recipe
Instructions in steps 4 & 5 are given for piping out the large pastry ring or Christmas wreath to make one large Paris-Brest choux wheel. Use this principle to pipe out giant numbers for birthday éclairs. When baked and cooled, split horizontally then fill with double quantities of the Praline filling from the mini Paris-Brests in “Teatime in Paris” or any other choice of filling.
(This is a slightly shortened and adapted version of the recipe, which is in more step-by-step detail in Teatime in Paris with its own chapter, including chouquettes, éclairs and Réligieuses.)
Preparation Time: 25 minutes
Cooking Time: 35 – 40 minutes
1 tbsp orange blossom water
1 tbsp sugar
90g unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
150g plain (all-purpose) flour
4 medium eggs, chilled
Slivered almonds (optional, to decorate)
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/360°F (Gas 4). Boil the water, milk, orange blossom water, salt, sugar and butter in a large saucepan.
2. Once boiling, remove from the heat and quickly add the flour. Whisk until the dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the pan.
3. Transfer to a mixing bowl (or electric mixer) and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs until you have a smooth, sticky paste. Transfer the mixture into a piping bag with a plain or star tip of 10-12mm. At this point, you can seal the pastry in a piping bag and keep refrigerated for up to 5 days.
4. Cover a large flat baking tray with baking parchment. Using a pencil, trace out a circle of about 18cm diameter, with the help of a round plate (I do it free hand – it doesn’t need to be that perfect!) and cover with another film of baking parchment, so there’s no direct contact with the pencil marking.
5. Pipe out the dough following the first 18cm circle, then follow with another circle right next to it in the inside. Finish with a third circle superposed on top, nestling in between the two rings below.
6. Sprinkle with almonds on the pastry ring. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until brown – and don’t open the oven door at all during the process, otherwise the pastry will fall. Just wait until it’s well browned.
7. Leave to cool on a wire rack then using a bread knife, cut through the middle horizontally and fill with the praline buttercream or any other filling of your choice, such as this pistachio cream and top with fresh berries of your choice.
Before you go, you still have time to enter the international competition to win a copy of Teatime in Paris! Just click here to read the FREE 2015 Christmas Issue of The Good Life France Magazine and turn to page 55 and click on the book cover for Teatime in Paris! Update: This giveaway is now closed.
Thank you so much for your support and comments here on le blog and on social media. I’ll be back here after Christmas with more festive recipes and travel stories. In the meantime, you can still find me on Instagram – starting with a book-signing and carol singing at the British Embassy in Paris tonight …
This has been a fun and busy year and I am so relieved to have finally handed in the last proofs of my upcoming new book. Let’s hope Waverley Books are happy with it as it has been an absolute marathon!
I’ve been so lucky to have you popping in to say hello or sharing in the fun on Mad About Macarons, either here on le blog or on Facebook. And most of all, thank you for buying my book (I guess I can say it’s my first, can’t I?) I have loved hearing from you via book reviews and from the Readers’ Forum.
This is a good time to give a short round-up of desserts from le blog that are perfect for this time of year – and also ideal to serve with your macarons!
Whether it’s the most wicked of dark chocolate cakes, the tangiest of lemon tarts or the creamiest of riz au lait or rice pudding, desserts during the holiday season just love that extra je ne sais quoi: Parisian macarons!
If it’s lighter desserts you’re looking for, what about this roasted caramelised pineapple with vanilla and passion fruit recipe. Serve with exotic fruit macarons or what about chocolate, coconut and passion fruit macarons? All from the book.
If you don’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen but fancy some quick and tasty no-bake chocolate desserts, then what about some black forest chocolate puddings, chocolate orange creams or chocolate & candied chestnut cups? What’s more, they are handy egg yolk recipes, so that you can save your egg whites for making macarons a few days later.
Since it’s perfect pear season, why not poach some firm, comice pears in coffee and serve with chocolate-moka macarons? Here’s the recipe for vanilla and coffee poached pears.
Like Amelie Poulin, for crème brûlée dessert lovers who are addicted to cracking the ice-rink of sugar with your spoon, any chocolate – or chocolate-whisky – macarons are happy holiday partners. Try chocolate-passion fruit crème brûlées or whisky toffee frozen crème brûlées.
Funnily enough, Antoine seems to eat more ice cream when it’s cold outside than any other time of year. I don’t think that’s completely French somehow, but a lemon ice cream (served with lemon macarons or tutti-frutti, for example), candied fruit or Plombières (no churn) ice cream, or pistachio-vanilla-wasabi ice cream (served with pistachio macarons) can certainly be a refreshing end to any festive meal. My favourite at this time of year has to be the vanilla and chestnut ice cream, served with vanilla macarons or coffee macarons.
I couldn’t talk about desserts without mentioning one of our favourite macarons: rose. These are delicious served with a white chocolate mousse with orange blossom and rose, pistachio panna cottas, or red fruit bavarois desserts. Before we know it, Valentine’s Day will be upon us!
And don’t forget the savoury macarons that have their very own chapter in the book!
Here are some suggested festive starters or appetisers that can give your guests the oh-la-la with some mini mad macs!
Recipe for Spiced Pumpkin and Leek Soup.
Before you go, let me show you some peppermint creams I made this week – quite by accident!
As you’ve noticed on le blog, I’ve been rolling rather a lot of snowballs and mini Christmas puddings lately. Well, as I was making more Scottish Macaroon Bar Snowballs, I ran out of coconut. As the fondant centres were just looking up at me, saying ‘Cover me!’, I quickly added a few drops of peppermint essence (or oil) to the melted chocolate and as soon as the chocolate hardened, these peppermint creams just vanished! I guess Julie and Lucie liked them…
I shall definitely be making more of these soon. Homemade peppermint creams are super – none of these E numbers in the ingredients – just sugar, potato (yes, you heard me right), good dark chocolate and peppermint!
A huge thank you et merci beaucoup to all of you for following and sharing in the fun on le blog. Have a wonderful festive season and I so look forward to sharing many more treats – and big news – on the blog in 2015! I’m off to get packed. Exceptionally, I’ve closed comments since I won’t have access to the website or emails but I’ll be hanging out as usual on Instagram and Facebook, my lovelies. See you soon x
In the meantime, wishing you all the happiest and healthiest 2015!
I’m on a roll again. Have you noticed all the snowballs coming out of our kitchen lately and it hasn’t even been snowing yet in Paris?
Healthy, easy, no bake, no fuss and festively tasty. Put these welcome words together at this time of year and you get … express mini Christmas puddings! They taste of Christmas and they’re NUT-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE and VEGAN.
Unless Scrooge arrives or Antoine changes my mind, this weekend I’m looking forward to sitting en famille to watch the girls’ favourite Christmas movie, The Polar Express, and nibble on a few of these bonbons without any guilt. Do you love that film? It just brings out the kid in us again and makes adult responsibilities drift aside for a couple of hours. We somehow become more aware of bells jingling in the distance…
This recipe started out as ‘snowballs’ from my Scottish Granny’s Black Book, using only oats (mainly), raisins, cocoa powder and milk then covered in desiccated coconut. After experimenting with Granny’s recipe, I’ve rather altered them since I found them far too sweet. I also wanted an extra Christmassy taste with the addition of more dried fruits, gingerbread spice and orange peel, especially. For the snowball look, just roll them in desiccated coconut.
However, a couple of years ago, I saw the most gorgeous picture of mini Christmas puds on Pinterest, via the blog, IncludingCake. I had pinned it to remind myself to make them one Christmas – so thank you, Jo, for the pudding inspiration!
So how do we give these snowballs a make-over Christmas pudding effect? To cover, melt white chocolate or make up a quick icing of icing/powdered sugar with a little orange juice – or why not a boozy splash of Grand Marnier, just to be naughty (but for adults only.)?
Express Mini Christmas Puddings
This recipe is inspired by Granny’s recipe in her Black Book and so I’m sure it came from a magazine, the Sunday Post newspaper or the Jimmy Young radio show back in the 70s. If you’re watching over, sorry for altering it so much, Agnes, but I know you would have loved them! Do
MAKES APPROX 25
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
40g dried apricots, finely chopped
40g dates, finely chopped
5 tbsps orange juice
60g (+ 40g for snowballs) desiccated/shredded coconut
60g caster sugar
40g candied orange peel, finely chopped (or the grated rind of an untreated orange)
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
50g coconut oil
2 tsps gingerbread/pumpkin spice
For puddings, to cover:
50g white chocolate
approx 25 dried cranberries (or glacé cherries)
green marzipan (optional)
1. Place all the above ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with a spoon until all the flavours are well blended. If the coconut oil is solid, melt very gently for just a few seconds in the microwave.
2. Form little balls by rolling a couple of teaspoons of the mixture at a time in the palm of your hands (you could say this is a handy recipe!). Set aside on a plate or baking sheet and place in the fridge for a few minutes.
3. To cover, either melt 50g good quality white chocolate in the microwave (or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water – bain marie) or make up some classic icing by mixing icing/confectioner’s sugar with a teaspoon of orange juice (or Grand Marnier for the adults). Dribble this on the top to form the sauce effect and top with a dried cranberry (craisin) or bit of glacé cherry and green marzipan, cut to shape.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Best eaten at room temperature with your favourite cup of tea at teatime or festive sparkly.
Wait a minute. Please stop what you’re doing, just for a few moments.
Don’t make a sound. Just listen. Do you hear them? Sleigh bells jingling faintly in the distance.
I’m off now. Back to some responsibilities, like setting up the crèche to really get in to the Christmas spirit and remind the children what Christmas is really about.
Before I go, I’m absolutely thrilled and honoured to be featured with such impressive company in the Huffington Post’s 2014 Best Cookbook Gifts for Cooks and Food Lovers on Your List. Thank you for adding Mad About Macarons to the list, Jamie Schler. What a lovely sweet ending to the year!
Good luck and have fun with all of your Christmas and holiday planning!
I literally stumbled into this sweet shop the other day in the 5th Arrondissement. It was raining cats and dogs and, instead of taking the metro back to Châtelet, drifted with the howling wind as it directed me downhill like some kind of sweet calling. The sudden sight of glistening jars filled with chocolates and bright pastel confections halted my track and lured me indoors. I stepped back in time like a curious, mesmerised child into this haven in Paris. It’s le Bonbon au Palais.
I remembered Carol Gillot of ParisBreakfasts talk about this sweet shop and its owner, ‘Professor’ Georges. Well, here he was in person, proudly presenting his range of the best regional and artisanal sweet delicacies from around France all under one roof. As he says on the giant blackboard, life is much more beautiful with sweets or candies. His shop resembles a classroom from yesterday, with Nicolas and Pimpranelle looking on (yet another story: Antoine and I dressed up in PJs as the children’s TV characters at a fancy dress party, only to discover that everyone else was in elaborate Carnaval of Venice costumes.)
With Brassens (another Georges) singing and strumming his guitar on the vintage radio, Georges opened several giant apothecary lids as he explained some delicacies while I tasted and relished in the jolly Georges ambience.
The Pierrot Gourmand symbols of the Comedia dell’Arte displayed France’s oldest lollipop, or sucette.
Georges Evrard created the Pierrot Gourmand company in 1892 and invented the first lollipop in 1924. It was also one of the first companies to envelope lollipops in printed paper. The milk caramel was the original flavour, nicknamed ‘Pégé’ for P.G. Pierrot Gourmand now sells around 140 million lollipops each year.
I’d already fallen in love with le Coussin de Lyon (chocolate ganache perfumed with curaçao) during my gastronomic weekend in Lyon. Here, Georges also had framboise (raspberry) and myrtille (blueberry) versions plus the Coussin’s sweeter cousin in bright yellow (top right), Le Cocon de Lyon. The cocon resembles the silk worm’s cocoon, paying homage to the silk-weavers of Lyon.
Barley sugars, jellies and fast emptying jars of salted caramels from Normandy and Brittany line the pristine, glossy white shelves.
How many times have I visited family in Provence but I never knew about the Calisson de St. Rémy? It’s not quite as sweet as it’s popular and brighter yellow oval Calisson cousin since it’s made with different almonds.
Mother-in-Law in the Vaucluse has certainly never introduced me to these spicy sweets, either. Instead she orders traditional candied fruits from Apt from the factory shop by the kilo. I’ve still got two kilos of candied ginger and orange peel left to add to desserts and macarons.
I’ll have to return with my girls and our pocket money. There’s so much more to learn about French candies. Meanwhile, I’m hiding my Bonbon au Palais bag under my desk like a naughty squirrel. Georges said these delicacies can keep for up to 6 months so all the more reason for me to keep them aside and savour them on the palate (notice the play of French words with palet/palate and palais/palace).
These Tas de Sel from the Loire (literally translated as salt stacks) and Tétons de la Reine Margot from Pau in the Pyrénées-Atlantique, (meaning Queen Margot’s nipples) are definitely for secret, special, oh-là-là moments.
Like this wonderful moment. I’ll tell you why next time, but meanwhile we’re finally off on that summer holiday we cancelled last year. I just need to taste another téton de la Reine Margot, just to ensure my chocolate palate gets the taste of orange and the Cognac.
Le Bonbon au Palais
19, rue Monge
Metro: Cardinal Lemoine