Mad About Lime Blossom Macarons in the Loire

Mon Dieu! I was so carried away with the MacTweets Fruity Challenge that I forgot this sequel to the Loire Valley post! Et voici, mes amis – enfin…inspiration for Lime Blossom Macarons.

Remember recently I asked you what this tree was? It’s a French Tilleul. In English, it’s Linden Blossom but after Sue of Tales from the Giantswood asked if it was a lime tree, I realised that Tilleul is linden blossom or lime blossom.  Thank you, Sue.

lime linden blossom Normandy

We had our breakfast under this tree at the Chambre d’Hôtes (Manoir de la Touche) just around the corner from the Château of Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire. What a civilised haven, with classical music coming out from the dining room as we ate – somehow Lady Gaga wouldn’t have been right in such Renaissance surroundings.

Loire castle fireplace

As the weather was warm, we ate under this lime blossom (tilleul) tree outside so the breakfast room was used as the buffet – filled with brioches, baguettes and goat cheeses. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve eaten goat cheese for breakfast. What an experience.

Loire goat's cheese or chèvre for breakfast

The perfect pot of café crème with a plate ranging from the freshest goat cheese, to the most matured and piquant; as the word implies, it almost pierced the taste buds and the sticky honey put out the “fire”.

I wouldn’t have this every day, but I shall never forget such a waking revelation to the taste buds. At home, we’re more likely to have our favourite salad in the summer as a main course: Salade de chèvre chaud (warm goat’s cheese salad).

linden or lime blossom Loire Valley

Tilleul / Linden Blossom

Back to that linden blossom tree.  When we first arrived, Antoine greeted the B&B owners as I secretly hid behind the tree and tried to straighten out my back.  I had turned into a stiff yet rickety chair after 3 hours of lying flat out in the passenger seat from Paris, so it was slightly embarrassing attempting a transformation from a crooked old woman to a 40-something on a romantic weekend..

harvesting lime or linden blossom in Normandy

The owner had her basket out, ready to laden it with linden blossoms. This was the perfect time to dry them as they were in full bloom.

infusing French tilleul or lime blossom in Normandy

In France this is particularly popular as a herbal infusion: infusion de tilleul, which is relaxing and caffeine free before bedtime.  An infusion of lime blossom is also said to soothe tension headaches.

Lime or linden blossom at Azay le Rideau castle Loire Valley

Linden blossom au château d’Azay le Rideau, Loire

As we took a walk around the Château of Azay-le-Rideau, linden blossom trees surrounded us and we were mesmorized by the perfumes and the views.

cat in a basket Normandy drying lime blossom

Back at the B&B, Madame hadn’t got around to collecting the blossoms yet.  Meanwhile, someone had a better idea for her basket.

sleeping cat in lime blossom basket Normandy

Sun in all its glory, blossoms perfuming the air, Vivaldi out of the speakers  – it’s time for a cat-nap.

linden lime blossom or French Tilleul tree

And time for some linden/lime blossom macarons with a hint of lemon for something light and gluten free on a summer’s day…

lime blossom macarons Jill Colonna

Not just for night-time infusions, my macaronivore friends… Wishing you a summer of lazy cat-naps and dreams under the shade of your favourite tree.

The Party Times!

Shhh. The macaron secret is out…

Come and join us at The Party Times Online, where Pippa Middleton is sharing some macaron recipes from the book, courtesy of Waverley Books.

Stay tuned, as she is also planning a great Mad About Macarons! competition on the Party Times site…(UK residents)


Peppermint Millefeuille with Fraises des Bois

 

Last weekend these little wild strawberry jewels were just beckoning in the sun along with redcurrants and mint from the garden. It didn’t take long to find inspiration for a quick dessert from Bernard Loiseau’s “Cuisine en Famille; I love this book (also as it’s signed by his wife, Dominique), even if the only problem is that there are absolutely no photos: you have to imagine in your head what the final result should be for each recipe. On the other hand, there’s no “pressure” – just use your creativity and imagination and you’re doing fine. It’s the flavour that counts.

 

This started out as his peppermint ice-cream with strawberries but as I began making the cream, another horrible migraine decided to interrupt the recipe. As it had the same quantities initially, it was quickly adapted as a crème pâtissière (pastry cream) and sandwiched between ready-made puff pastry cut into rounds using a cookie cutter.  (OK, I cheated with ready-made pastry, but there are times when it’s essential.)  The result was a pastry dessert ready in no time.  It’s perhaps not top of the fashionable pastry boutique parade in Paris, but the taste certainly made up for it!

Peppermint Millefeuille with Fraises des Bois

Serves 8

Preparation Time: 15 minutes (+1 hour infusion)
Cooking Time:
15 minutes

50cl whole milk
4 egg yolks
1 large branch of peppermint
70g sugar
50g cornflour
500g pure butter puff pastry
(or 2 packets ready rolled pastry rounds)

  1. Take the leaves off the peppermint branch, wash and dry them carefully.
  2. Boil the milk with the mint leaves, take off the heat and leave the leaves to infuse for 1 hour with the lid on.
  3. Beat together the egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy, then whisk in the cornflour.
  4. Remove the leaves from the milk with a slotted spoon then beat some of the milk into the egg mixture.  Transfer this to the milk and over a medium heat, continue to whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture thickens.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  6. Set aside the custard to cool, whisking every so often so that no skin forms on top.  Once cool, transfer the cream to a piping bag.
  7. Meanwhile, cut small rounds from a pre-rolled sheet of puff pastry (or roll a block of puff pastry to about 2mm) using a 7cm cookie/scone cutter.  For one round I could get 15 discs: you shall need 3 per person.
  8. Place each disc on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Place another sheet of baking parchment over the discs and top with another baking sheet to stop the pastry discs from puffing in the oven.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden (I cooked mine for 15 which was a bit too much, as you can see.)
  10. Leave the pastry discs to cool, then pipe out the pastry cream on each layer and top with the fruits.
  11. Finish off with a dusting of icing sugar.

 

Store the egg whites in a sterilised jam jar with the lid on and keep in the fridge for 3-4 days until you’re ready to make your macarons…

See Mad About Macarons, Wimbledon and Wild Strawberrieson Le Blog.

Mad About Macarons, Wimbledon and Wild Strawberries

Last year, when I finally plucked up the courage to weed our jungle at the bottom of the garden, a few plants with these familiar tiny white flowers were also weeded.  This was too cool: we’d been given a lovely present from the local birds! The more I looked, the more I found.  We had tons of them: wild strawberries or fraises des bois.

My first reaction was to dig them up and replant them into containers; well, there are plenty of cats and murky things in the night! They have lasted well throughout a tough winter and these tiny bright jewels continue to spring, hidden beautifully underneath their protective leaves. This container is filled with mint, which ended up being a good companion.

It’s incredible how the birds don’t even touch them: my biggest thieving magpie is my youngest daughter who gets in there before I can make something out of them.  She doesn’t even like strawberries! Fraises des bois are seen more as forbidden sweets and no wonder: their taste is like the most concentrated strawberry you can find, mixed with a sensation of violets (remember the parma violet sweets?) in one miniscule, ephemeral bite.

When the thieving magpies were away for the weekend, I treated myself to a summery salad of Cherry Tomatoes, Strawberries and Rocket. The flavours of the fruits, peppery rocket and globe spice basil make this a real summer treat, giving an extra toast to the birdies with a glass of chilled rosé.

Tomatoes and strawberries together are intriguing; let’s face it – they’re both fruits, so why not with a touch of balsamic and rocket for some peppery spice? Using some mara des bois strawberries that were slightly on the acidic side, a few fraises des bois from the garden were delicately added at the end for a simple yet decadent taste of summer.

Then after this week’s temperatures soared in and around Paris, it was time to chill out with something light and refreshing for dessert: an express millefeuille with peppermint pastry cream, redcurrants and wild strawberries (part of the egg yolk recipe series).  It was also a fitting combination with the Wimbledon tennis finals this weekend.

How could I not finish up with a few macarons?  I was going to delete that last phrase but do you realise how French that is?  They adore double negatives like “it’s not that I wasn’t going to add this at the end”; it has oozed into my franglais, so to speak. Et voilà: fraises des bois and mint macarons from le jardin, mes amis.

wild strawberry and mint macarons

I’m so behind on le Blog at the moment and have missed posting this for the MacTweet Fruity Challenge for June. Ah well.  Enjoy anyway!

Wishing you all a lovely summery week and Happy 4th July to all our American friends!

P.S. Just as I had this ready for today’s weekly blog, David Lebovitz had also posted his latest on Friday with Fraises des bois. I adore his blog and my first reaction was therefore to toss this. Then on second thoughts, this is different. Don’t forget that I’m a frugal Scot!

Cherry Tomato, Wild Strawberry & Rocket Salad

When Mum came to visit recently, she left an enticing pile of magazines from the UK.  It’s a real treat to read magazines in English every so often – even if I no longer recognise some faces that go with the gossip – is that what happens after being in France for so long? Flicking through the YOU Magazine, this inspiring salad of tomatoes with strawberries by Lucas Hollweg had been earmarked by Mum – I think it was something I was supposed to make when she was over. Sorry, Mum.  I’m a bit late but voilà, here it is for you to make it!

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

I discovered this “Spicy Globe” basil plant a few years’ ago.  The leaves are so small that there’s no need to chop them up for cooking.  They are also particularly powerful and, when added to a salad like this one, it adds a touch of peppery spice to it. Speaking of peppery spice, the rocket leaves (or arugula for my American friends) balance out the sweetness of the strawberries.

spicy globe basil

Spicy Globe Basil

Perfect on a sizzling summer day, this is sheer bliss with a glass of chilled rosé, a soft-on-the-inside and freckled, crusty-on-the-outside French baguette, listening to Strawberry Fields forever. I could eat this forever with its fresh, fruity and savoury flavours. Here, I also tossed in a few pre-cooked asparagus spears (7 mins in boiling water) since I was surprised to find them still at this late stage at the market.

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

cherry tomato strawberry rocket salad

Cherry Tomato Strawberry & Rocket Salad

Adapted from Lucas Hollweg’s recipe for Tomato and Strawberry Salad
(YOU Magazine from the Sunday Times
.)

Serves 4

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

300g / 11oz cherry tomatoes, halved
200g / 7oz rocket salad 100g strawberries, hulled & quartered
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g / 3.5oz parmesan reggiano (ensure it’s shaved, especially for good company)
a few asparagus spears, cooked (optional)
a handful of small basil leaves sea salt & ground peppercorns, to taste
a handful of wild strawberries

Mix together the olive oil with balsamic, season and toss all the ingredients together gently.

Serve immediately, adding the wild strawberries as a decoration.

Sweet Garden Herb Macarons

Why not accompany it with a garden herb macaron from my first book, Mad About Macarons?

Bon appétit!

Warm Goat Cheese Salad (salade de chèvre chaud)

My husband refuses to eat salad as a main dish.  C’est comme ça. In Antoine’s book, if a main meal is served cold, it’s not dinner – even when the temperatures soar to a sweltering 37°C like it did this week in Paris.

The Corsicans have a reputation of being stubborn and as just-as-stubborn a Scot, in our 20 years together, we always reach some kind of a compromise. For a salad, this delicious exception to his cold salad rule is a salade de chèvre chaud, since the goat’s cheese is melted under the grill.

French goats cheese salad

 

When I first tasted this salad as a student in a Parisian brasserie, it was a far cry from the one I later learned to make in Provence.  Alas, many brasseries use the horrid plastic-tasting, pasturised goat cheese which can be pretty nasty.

The best goat cheese to use is Crottin de Chavignol. The French are normally so poetic but when it came to officially naming this cheese, they somehow lost their romantic charm: it literally means goat’s droppings. I’m swiftly passing this part by, as it couldn’t be further from the amazing flavour of this lait cru (raw milk) cheese.

crottin de chavignol French goats cheese

As a student, Antoine introduced me to some of his friends in Provence.  I hardly spoke a word, apart from Je m’appelle Jill with the most attrocious Scottish accent. On top of that, their typical twangy southern accents had me even more bewildered: ‘du pain’ is pronounced ‘du paing’, ‘du vin’ is ‘du vaing’, and so on.  Even when they swear it has a song to it.

As the men sat around – catching up on gossip on the terrasse – the girls took me under their wings in the kitchen.  We didn’t need much conversation: everything was self-explanatory as the most fresh and flavoursome produce lay in front of us on an ancient oak table.

goat-cheese-salad

There’s nothing to this salad and it’s not even a recipe, really.  (If you would prefer me to write it out, please say, otherwise I’m just leaving it like this.)

The most important lesson I learned from them was to put a simple bay leaf on top of each slice of crusty baguette which had been dribbled with olive oil before laying the slice of chèvre, walnuts, rosemary (or herbes de provence) on top and dribbled with more olive oil before toasting in the oven.  What’s the big deal with the bay leaf?  Well, when you taste it this way you don’t want your salad any other way again.

warm goats cheese French salad

Serve on top of a mesclun salad, topped with a good dose of  lardons (bacon bits), a dash of fresh thyme and plenty of chopped garlic (don’t forget to remove the core first, as it’s easier to digest) that have been pre-fried together.  Toss the salad in some vinaigrette dressing.

Just remember to take out the bay leaf before eating: you’ll see just how it’s all beautifully fragranced;  oh-là-là, summer, Provence, and with a glass of chilled rosé amongst friends; and time for the girls to join in the gossip.

Warm goat cheese salad chèvre chaud recipe

This week’s soaring temperatures reminded me of when we lived in Paris, just 5 minutes’ walk from the Eiffel Tower.  Being in an apartment that was south facing with no air conditioning was a challenge at times in summer: it’s no wonder we used to just stoodge about in our swimming gear.

laurier bay leaf tree

Now that we’re out in the suburbs with a house, kids and garden, we can sit out and enjoy the shade of the laurel bay tree – thinking of our next salade de chèvre chaud.  But there are still the heat challenges: the metal on our front gate had expanded so much, that we couldn’t get out. Now, that’s certainly a new excuse for being late for school!

goat cheese melon watermelon salad

After our recent trip to the Loire, I’m craving more goat cheese.  This is what I had this week for lunch while it was 37°C  – and no, Antoine didn’t have this cold stuff. Roughly chopped cucumber, watermelon, melon de Cavaillon, goat cheese, chives – all tossed in olive oil and lemon juice (or mix olive oil and limoncello for something more adult) and served with a crusty baguette.