Black Forest Chocolate Cream Desserts – and a Trip to Germany

Do you really think a sweet tooth determines our family holiday destinations? Well, perhaps it does. It has been 30 years since I last visited Germany and the same, ridiculous amount of time since I practised my rusty high school German. Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut!  It was high time to visit.

We headed to the medieval town of Staufen, south of the Black Forest, a jewel nestled in between lush mountaineous forests, vines, cafés and bakeries.

What amazed us most about the region, is how clean and tidy the towns are. Everything is immaculate, even down to the neat stacks of wood piled outside geranium window-boxed freshly painted houses. It’s also the first time I’ve seen kids paddling about in the gutters! (Well, one of them was mine – was ist das?) The Germans seem particularly eco-friendly: bikes are the norm, an impressive amount of houses have flashy solar panels and their signposting is nothing short of perfection.

We stayed at the Gasthaus Krone (meaning ‘crown’), which is an excellent address in Staufen – including their Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ restaurant. Luckily the friendly owner spoke some French, since my painful phrases embarrassingly resembled a mix of German vocabulary, French grammar and stuttering English fillers-in. I am determined to return after doing some homework next time, but at least communication through food is easier!

Meandering down the main cobbled street, serenaded by a solo oboist trying to compete with the local brass quintet oompa-ing around the fountain, the castle ruins and vineyards majestically tower over the local wineries. The city crest is a shield with 3 wine glasses so when in Staufen, it would be rude not to taste; their welcoming barrels proudly strut their tasting offerings.

This is what holidays are made of: sitting back, people-watching, contemplating family postcards, nibbling on a salted bretzel and sipping at the local traditional grape varieties – including the oldest, Gutedel. Personally, I preferred the dry Muscat for white wines but their red wines shone high above the rest with some stunning Pinot Noirs, bursting with jam-like cherry fruits.

Staufen Castle, although now a ruin (built in 850), can be visited to admire the breathtaking vista of the Black Forest and Rhine Valley. Looking out the arched window, we’re reminded by such an enormous tree that we’re in black cherry country.

After such a climb during the heatwave, it was time to follow the tempting signs dotted around the town to the nearest cake shop. It didn’t take us long to discover the Café Decker, undoubtedly the best cake shop and tea salon in Staufen. It was so decadently, deliciously decked in cakes that we admittedly returned three times.

Black Forest Cakes, küchen, more chocolate cakes, redcurrant meringue pies and macarons were just some of the treats that would make anyone go off their sweet trolley. I think I put on three kilos during the week!  So, switching to ice cream seemed a lighter idea: wouah! Teasingly steeped in Kirsch liqueur, it made an ideal excuse for an afternoon nap by the snoring river.

Back home, the Schwartzwald German trip provided inspiration for these gluten free Black Forest No Bake Cream Desserts back home: ideal for using up egg yolks and for serving with your chocolate macarons.  What’s more, it’s holiday style: quick, easy, tasty and no bake!

Black Forest chocolate cream desserts

Black Forest Chocolate Cream Desserts

Serves 8 (mini pots) or 4 (in wine glasses)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours

1 gelatine sheet (@2 g)
200ml whole milk
300ml single cream
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
150g dark cooking chocolate, broken into small chunks
1 tbsp Kirsch liqueur (optional)
16 fresh cherries (or Griottine cherries, soaked in Kirsch)

1. Soak the gelatine in cold water. Meanwhile break up the chocolate into pieces in a large bowl. In a saucepan, boil the milk and cream.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Pour over the hot milky cream, mix and transfer back to the saucepan.

3. Whisk vigorously over a medium heat until the cream thickens. Take off the heat then pour over half of this hot cream on to the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, add Kirsch (if using), the gelatine (squeezed of any excess water) and then whisk in the rest of the hot cream.

4. Transfer to 8 mini serving dishes (or 4 if you’re greedy like us), cool and chill for at least an hour. Decorate with fresh dark cherries and/or Griottine cherries soaked in Kirsch and a scoosh of Chantilly cream*. (Or why not roast cherries with a splash of Kirsch as Jamie Schler does at Life’s a Feast?)

If you have a siphon, fill it up half way with chilled cream (no less than 30% fat) and splash in a couple of tablespoons of Kirsch or cherry syrup, fit with the gas canister, shake and chill for a few minutes. Instant, homemade lighter-than-light cream!

Black Forest chocolate cream desserts

Guten Appetit!

 

Patrick Roger’s Chocolate Cake for Easter

Keeping the kids amused during the French school holidays is always fun. Art museums in Paris? What about checking out sculptures … made entirely out of chocolate?

There’s been much hype around chocolatier Patrick Roger’s new boutique at La Madeleine so it was time to enjoy the Patrick Roger experience in Paris with his out-of-the-box chocolate sculptures under one roof. As the tourists poured in and we looked around for the rest of the sculptures, we discovered the upstairs gallery was closed to the public. What? You mean…? We …. can’t see any more today? Dark chocolate lumps formed in our throats.

Chocolatier Patrick Roger’s chocolate sculptures at La Madeleine, Paris

Tails between our legs, we headed down Rue Royale. There’s yet another Patrick Roger boutique around the corner but attention, it’s well hidden. If there are too many people in the boutique at Place de la Madeleine, don’t waste your time – whizz over to the other one at the end of Cité Berryer, Village Royal (off Rue Royale on the right), just 5 minutes’ walk away.

As if by chocolate magic, Patrick Roger appeared that evening on France’s popular TV show, Top Chef. He was hosting a Chocolate Cake Challenge. The competing professional chefs’ faces were a picture when they saw Patrick’s alluring cheeky face appear but displaying his grand ‘MOF’ uniform: Meilleur Ouvrier de France, 2000. As he demonstrated his recipe, it called our next holiday activity; Amateur but macaron-style!

Patrick Roger chocolate cake

THIS is when I can eat out of a bucket!

This was also a good excuse to use the most exquisite cooking chocolate from our local chocolate factory. As the Chocolaterie du Pecq only open their doors to the public in December, I’d gone bananas and stocked up with a whole cupboard of their products! The paradox? They supply their chocolate to Menard’s La Chocolatière in Tours, where Patrick Roger started out his career!

Patrick Roger Chocolate Cake

By Patrick Roger for Top Chef

Cake:
5 egg whites
210g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
100g flour, sifted
50g unsweetened cocoa powder
100g butter
80g hazelnuts, finely chopped

1. Using a mixer, whisk the egg whites, adding the caster sugar gradually until you have firm peaks. Add the egg yolk and continue to mix.

2. Fold in the flour with a large spatula and add the sifted cocoa powder. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan and mix into the batter with the hazelnuts.

3. Pour into a rectangular mould (I used a silicone rectangular cake mould) and bake 30 mins at 160°C. (I found with my oven that I needed to bake it for 40 minutes at this temperature).

4. When cool, cut the biscuit into 3 slices horizontally. (As you can see, I didn’t cut them as precisely as Patrick Roger did and regretted this afterwards!)

Patrick Roger chocolate cake

Syrup:
100g water
100g granulated sugar
100g rum
2  vanilla pods
the zest of an orange

5. In a saucepan, boil the above ingredients and scrape out the vanilla seeds from the pods.

6. Using a brush, cover each layer with syrup.

Patrick Roger chocolate cake

Chocolate fun for the school holidays

Ganache: (600g)
300g cream
40g honey
40g butter
300g dark chocolate (I used 64%)

7. Boil the cream with the honey, and pour onto the broken chocolate bits and whisk gently. Add the butter. Mix using a hand blender.

8. Cover the biscuit layers with the ganache, one on top of the other. Leave to rest for 30 mins then cover the cake with cocoa powder.

9. Using a stencil, dust with icing sugar to decorate.

Patrick Roger chocolate cake

Bear footprints? Well if you saw the weather in Paris last week, it snowed. Big time!

We were just left with un petit problème: we had too many chocolate macaron shells. A few of them managed to eat up the little extra ganache that was left but the rest have gone straight in to a pastry box in the freezer ‘bank’. That way the next chocolate dessert can be decorated with macarons with no effort at all!

Patrick Roger chocolate cake

Our family verdict? For chocolate dessert fans who don’t like their cake too sweet and appreciate the intense chocolate flavours coming through, this is for you. Merci beaucoup, Patrick Roger! NOW, can we get to see more sculptures?

Hey – was it you who walked on our chocolate cake? Patrick Roger’s Grizzly chocolate sculpture

Chocolate Cream Desserts for Macaron (Yolk) Lovers

Poor blog. I’ve neglected it and so my apologies. Chest infection dragging on, living in the dark, the pouring rain. Not a great couple of weeks, although I do have a much more fun excuse – all shall be revealed in the next post.

In the meantime, I’ve still had some sweet dreams, mainly consisting of desserts. Ideally they’re not too sweet, they’re packed with flavour and they’re quick and easy to make. If they use up egg yolks, that’s an extra bonus for macaron lovers. These chocolate cream puddings can not only be whipped up in 20 minutes but they’re so versatile and perfect for re-cyling those hoarded yoghurt pots.

Here I’ve added zingy orange zest and a sneaky soupçon of Cointreau to them but adapt them to your own tastes. For spicy romantic lovers, replace with cardamom and ginger. Lucie adored the addition of 100g candied chestnut cream (she’s mad about chestnuts) but why not add a touch of Chambord and serve with raspberries?  You get the picture. Top with physalis (why does that always sound like a disease?) or, to add that je ne sais quoi, a mendiant topped with dried fruits and nuts.

They remind me of La Laitière cream pots we can buy in the supermarket but they’re much better and so quick to make – it’s worth the effort. They’re not like a mousse and they’re not like heavy creams, either. Do you remember the Aero bars we used to devour as kids? What was the best part for you? The bubbles?

The best part are the chocolate bubbles…

Chocolate Orange Cream Desserts

Serves 6 (small pots)

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours

200ml whole milk
300ml single cream
3 egg yolks
50g sugar
150g dark cooking chocolate, broken into small chunks
zest of an orange (untreated)
1 tbsp Cointreau
(optional)
1 gelatine sheet (@2 g)

1. Soak the gelatine in cold water. Meanwhile break up the chocolate into pieces in a large bowl. In a saucepan, boil the milk and cream.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Pour over the hot milky cream, mix and transfer back to the saucepan.

3. Whisk vigorously over a medium heat until the cream thickens. Take off the heat then pour over half of this hot cream on to the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, add the grated zest, Cointreau (if using), the gelatine (squeezed of any excess water) and then whisk in the rest of the hot cream.

4. Transfer to 6 serving dishes (or 4 if you’re greedy like us). Leave to cool and chill for an hour.

Serve with sablé bretons or, dare I say, some macarons?

This recipe is added to the egg yolk recipe collection. There’s plenty more so you’ve no excuse – get these egg whites put aside! By making this recipe, you’ll have enough for 100g whites, which will make about 30 macarons.

Stay tuned for the fun surprise. If you haven’t yet subscribed to le blog, then don’t forget to sign up. Toodeloo, bonne semaine, I’m off to London so it’s time to get back into action!

Begging for Chocolate Macarons and Mendiants for Easter

How could I let this week fly past without mentioning chocolate for Easter? Or mentioning our flaring allergies with all this beautiful, budding but nose-blowing Parisian Spring blossoms? Or discovering seven (you heard me) paper fishes with cute French messages for poisson d’avril cellotaped to my back on April Fools’ Day?

It’s funny. After all the macaron-athons, I took a break from them for a couple of weeks. Then last weekend, Antoine asked for a macaron or two at 4 o’clock goûter. What? Quoi? You mean, you don’t even have any left in your freezer bank?  What’s going on?

With macaron twinges from all of us, it was time to make a batch. The family begged for chocolate; good ol’ plain chocolate macarons – even if it was tempting to add fancy salt, spices, caramel, herbs or fruit and the likes (if you’re a regular you may remember last year I made chocolate bacon macarons for April Fools’ Day.) I did it, though; I kept them plain – but thought about doing something a bit different to decorate them: I added mendiants.

chocolate easter mendiants

Mendiant means ‘beggar’ in French. As the family were begging for more chocolate macarons, this was fitting inspiration indeed – as well as the high prices in the chocolateries for these little chocolate fruit and nut bites.

Mendiants are simply disks of chocolate with at least four kinds of dried fruit and nuts, representing the robe colours of four mendicant monastic orders from the Middle Ages. Fascinating, n’est-ce pas?

Here I used dark chocolate and beautifully bumpy praline chocolate, but mendiants can be made with plain, milk or white chocolate. Use different nuts (plain or toasted) and dried fruits to add a contrast in textures and flavours. I also added broken Mikado sticks (do you have these in America?) and homemade zig-zag sticks (just by melting chocolate and zig-zagging it on baking paper, then peeling off when set) for a nest and mini Easter eggs.
Let your imagination leave your Easter Bunnies begging for more!

French mendiants or chocolate disks covered in fruits and nuts

French chocolate Mendiants: you’ll be “begging” for more…

French Chocolate Mendiants

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Setting Time: 30 minutes

200g dark chocolate (64% cocoa solids, minimum)
Candied orange peel, cut into cubes
Raisins or dried cranberries*
Hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, almonds or pine nuts (plain or toasted)

  1. Line a perfectly flat baking sheet with baking paper (or silicone mat).
  2. Break up the chocolate in a bowl and place over a pan of simmering water over a gentle heat (bain-marie) until the chocolate has melted.
  3. Using a dessertspoon, spoon the melted chocolate onto the baking paper, pressing each one down with the back of the spoon to make a circle.
  4. Gradually decorate with the fruit and nuts using different colours and textures for toppings. Don’t worry about the chocolate hardening; you will have enough time to enjoy dressing each disk before it hardens.
  5. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes. When set, remove each mendiant carefully from the sheet with your fingers or a palette knife.

* To knock them into Adult mode for that extra je ne sais quoi, soak them in Kirsch, Chambord, Armagnac, Frangelico or any of your favourite liqueurs.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (if you can wait that long!)

chocolate mendiants

Here I topped chocolate macarons with French mendiants for an Easter bonnet look.  You could do the same by decorating cupcakes, brownies, muffins, chocolate mousse, etc. with your own personal mendiant touch, or just devour them on their own. Mendiants are great for serving as mini bites or mignardises with coffee after dinner.

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques !

***

French Chocolate vs British Chocolate: Becoming a Chocolate Snob at Easter Time…

Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Crème Brûlée: Walking on Mars?

Have you ever imagined what it could be like to walk on Mars? That’s what I found myself thinking as I cracked into this Passionfruit milk chocolate crème brulée. It’s incredible to think that one of the latest finds on the planet is a type of soil that’s used on Earth to grow asparagus. I wonder if I could bring some accompanying hollandaise sauce on an eventual space shuttle birthday adventure?

Could this be like walking on Mars, the red planet?

When I discovered that my astrology planet Mars – named after the Roman God of War – had something to do with a fiery temper and passionate, impulsive behaviour, what could I say? It’s not me, darlings; it’s that red planet again.

One fiery implosion was in my brazen-but-bashful teens, about to burst out of my 80s flying suit like David Banner, via the Incredible Sulk – playing Mars as bass flute in The Planets by Holst with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. It was a low moment. I’d finally been selected First Flute (note: the older I get, the better I was) which meant playing the orchestral flute solos in concerts abroad, on BBC radio… Listen to the opening Mars theme while reading this for ambience. Why was I at the bloomin’ bottom of the flute section, trying to prop up this beast that sounded like the last of the bath water draining? Because I simply had the longest, spindly, sprawling hands to get my fingers over the damn keys! Why couldn’t I be short? Mars was playing outside but it was also calling me from within but I played on. After all, music be the food of love (dixit Shakespeare.)

passionfruit milk chocolate crème brûlée recipe

Moods can quickly change, however, when confronted with a dessert – a milk chocolatey dessert, with explosive fruit to kindle the passion in you, and topped with a crackling, caramel crust that can turn your earth upside down. How can you be mad with rage? Hm. There’s that mad word again. I wonder why the publisher chose that?

Crème Brûlée is one of my favourite recipes to use up egg yolks. (You need the whites to make macarons, in case this is your first time popping in.) Like Amélie Poulain, cracking through the carmelised sugar is one of life’s incredible thrills. Living dangerously, eh? As one of my favourite macarons is chocolate and exotic fruits (see page 89 of the book), I’ve been dying to try the sensation in a crème brûlée.

The classic recipe is on page 124 of the book but I’ve adapted it here to cope with the passionfruit juice and chocolate, cutting back on cream. I strained the seeds from the passionfruits but there’s no need if you prefer the extra crunch. Adding milk chocolate did not make it pretty for the photos, but this is from another planet. The red planet. Grrrrr.

passionfruit milk chocolate creme brûlée dessert recipe

Passionfruit Milk Chocolate Crème Brûlée

Preparation Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Chilling Time: 2 hours

8 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
4 passionfruits
400ml (13.5 US fl oz) cream
120g milk chocolate
4 tbsps brown sugar for caramelising

  1. Preheat oven to 110°C.
  2. Remove the pulp from the passionfruits and using the back of big spoon, press the pulp through a sieve to remove the seeds.
  3. Mix yolks and sugar until creamy, then whisk in the passionfruit pulp. Gently heat the cream and milk chocolate in a pan until warm and the chocolate has melted (don’t boil.) Pour over the egg mixture and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour into individual ramekins and place in a bain-marie (a roasting tray filled halfway up with water will suffice) in the oven for about one hour.  Leave them to cool, then chill for 2 hours in the fridge.
  5. Before serving, dust with the brown sugar then caramelise them quickly with a blowtorch or under a hot grill.

Floating upside down on Mars and attacking the Black Hole

To finish off, I tried another version by omitting the milk chocolate in the passionfruit cream.  Instead, plop in a lump of dark chocolate just before putting each ramekin in the oven. The result? A surprising, oozing, chocolatey black hole for your guests to float into the Milky Way.

Let’s take that one again but back down to Earth’s angle. Who also loves cracking the caramel with the spoon?

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

It’s already the second week of the mid-term school winter holidays. The children have had a ball with sleep-overs, ‘hanging out’ chez les amis (‘playing’ is now banned from our vocabulary.) On return from their friends’ homes, they described what they had for dinner and, top of the list, what was for goûter at 4pm official French snack time. They raved about their friends’ homemade cookies. You know, Mum, they made the most incredible cookies; they made them all by themselves; these cookies were the most incredible biscuits we’ve ever had: they put chocolate chips in them, M&Ms, marshmallows…

I’ve never been interested in cookies but this echoed, and echoed:
“Mum, can we ever get to make cookies one day?”

What?! I could feel myself standing to my full height. After all the choux buns, éclairs, financiers, chocolate fondants, pancakes, crêpes – oh, and years of macarons – they’ve never actually made homemade cookies? What kind of a mum is that? Wait a minute, we have melting moments together, don’t we? Yes, but they don’t include chocolate chips.

When I mentioned the friends’ cookies, my Mum burst into hysterics. Apparently, I’m Granny’s double: Mum used to come home from a friend’s house, also raving about what she’d eaten there and my Granny would throw a wobbly. Nobody could be better than my proud, Scottish Granny. What? She served you tinned mandarines and you think that’s better than what you get here? I didn’t even realise that I demonstrated the same. Exactly the same. Thanks, Mum.

You want cookies like your friends? I’ll give you cookies.

Peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies recipe

To make it up to them, I needed inspiration from my blogging friends for cookies that used peanut butter. You see, Julie has just discovered peanut butter and her world is going nutty. Can you imagine, only now? Let’s get something straight: peanut butter is not something the French keep in their store cupboards. I hear you: I’m a Scot – but I’m more French these days for better or for worse.

I found many super peanut butter recipes from Tina of Flourtrader (including salted pretzels), from Liz of That Skinny Chick Can Bake (she revealed she’s giving up eating raw cookie dough for Lent), a secret recipe club cookie from Danielle at A Day in the Life via Manu’s Menu, and another recipe at Sweets by Sillianah (which includes jam hearts.) My problem (one of them, ahem..) is that so many recipes deal in cups; I prefer grams and, as we didn’t have time with the heart part, had no pretzels and not enough chocolate chips, we wildly adapted a mix of the recipes and came up with this.

The girls did a great job. The texture wasn’t too soft or crispy either, even though I thought the portion of flour looked too little and although we could have upped the peanut butter, I prefer how it’s subtle and gives enough crunch and saltiness. We didn’t use the electric mixer: the children wanted a hands-on approach, using good old elbow grease as holiday sport! We’re making these again: they’re melt-in-the-mouth, not too sweet, have an appealing saltiness to them, and they’re addictive. Where have I heard that before?

Another stacking game. Mum, can you stop playing so we can eat them now?

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes approx 30 cookies

125g unsalted butter, softened
70g light brown sugar
50g white sugar
1 egg
100g crunchy peanut butter
good pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
115g all purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
75g dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a couple of baking sheets with baking parchment.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars with a good spatula until the sugar has disappeared and the mix is pale and creamy. Gradually add in the rest of the ingredients, mixing well. (The dough can be frozen at this point if you don’t use all of it.)

3. Spoon out small portions of the mixture on the baking sheets, leaving a good gap in between each as they spread out. Flatten them slightly with a fork and bake for 10 minutes until golden.

4. When cooled, transfer the cookies to a wire rack then devour.

We didn’t drink the milk but had Champomy instead 😉

Are you like my Granny? Please don’t tell me I’m alone. Besides, if it wasn’t for that attitude, I would never have tried my hands at making macarons. Just saying.