The perfect partner to put out a Corsican cheese fire.
An easy wow-factor decor for your seasonal rhubarb recipes
Add hibiscus tea to green Parisian rhubarb to turn it pretty pink.
A deliciously zingy, creamy topping for crepes or pancakes this February. Part of the egg yolk recipe collection – keep the whites for macarons!
I don’t normally like jars of nectar that’s so sweet but after trying this recipe, I’m loving this confiture de lait recipe, or Milk Jam, discovered while shopping at my parents-in-law’s market in Provence.
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 Recipe (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.
Deliciously easy recipe from Monsieur Jean-Pierre Setti from the market in Apt, although I’ve lowered the sugar quantity slightly.
- 1 litre whole milk full-fat
- 450 g sugar
- 1 vanilla pod/bean
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The confiture de lait will harden as it cools. Store in the fridge.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: 446 Calories per half a jar
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 Mad About Macarons) 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!”
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.