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Azay le Rideau Castle and l’Auberge du 12éme Siecle, Loire Valley

Welcome to a weekend away in the land of fairytale castles, vineyards, and gastronomic pleasures. Antoine whisked me away for 2 guilt-free days: no children to worry about, no cooking, laundry, shopping, homework, and above all – no computer. Ouf! We all need a wee breather now and again, don’t we?  Thanks, Mum and Dad, for making this possible!

It was only 3 hours’ drive from Paris – albeit that the back was playing up again and so I had to lie completely flat out in the car.  I discovered every inch of our car’s interior details but it was worth being patient.  Look what greeted us on arrival in Azay le Rideau…

Azay le Rideau Castle, Loire

I picked my bedroom out: that one with the pretty tower, please.  I’ll let down my short, dishwasher blond hair and Antoine can serenade me below, with a kareoke version of Lady in Red from his Blackberry.

 Not so sure if I liked the kitchen, though.  Imagine cooking with that “oven”?  Pretty hot work, n’est-ce pas?

Fancy this for your kitchen oven?

On the other hand, the drawing room was rather civilised.  Draw in your chair for a game of cards in front of the fireplace with the salamander symbol of François 1st, sip tea from a royal porcelain cup, and nibble on a macaron, peut-être?

Anyone for tea and a macaron?

The beds were always so small.  Did they really sleep upright?  Jings.  That couldn’t have been comfortable. The concrete mattress was possibly the same original that we had in our B&B up the road: back-breaking!

On the way out, a lovely large bottle of the local Bourgeuil red was just sitting saying bonjour.  The red wines here are served chilled. Each time I’ve had the Loire reds, though, I’ve not been as keen as the whites; something I have to work on…

 The wee town of Azay le Rideau is picture postcard material.  Walking over the bridge, there were a few people fishing in amongst the lily pads.

Just a 10 minute drive out of of Azay-le-Rideau, however, there is a gastronomic restaurant in the village of Saché: L’Auberge du XIIème Siècle. Balzac lived in Saché (now a castle museum), and just up the road in Monts is where the abdicated Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé in 1937.

L’Auberge du XIIème siècle

Antoine and I couldn’t help ourselves.  We ate there two nights in a row.  Put a gourmet Frenchman and a Scot together to pick a restaurant and the best value for money element comes into play. 😉 We went for the normal dinner menu at €35.  Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll show you the highlights as one meal, as we both tried absolutely everything, just for you

 The sommelier suggested a local sauvignon blanc for an apéritif.  This is perfect to get the appetite going, especially to accompany the five little amuse-bouches.  I’m apologising now, as I’m difficult in restaurants like this; I dare say that the cheese straw clashed with the langoustine mousse and the carrot-chive sorbet was a bit too sweet for my liking before a meal.  Now if they’d put spices in the carrot to react with the sugary sorbet, that would be totally dynamite…

The apéritif continues…

The rabbit confit (tasted just like roasted chicken bits) in the shot glass was tasty but so dry, accompanied by a little pancake with no sauce.  Wetting it with the sauvignon was the thing to do, I think.  The other pastry with snails was better. Time to go to our table indoors for the main meal…

Another amuse-bouche arrived.  This time a warm port caramel was sitting on a crème brûlée of foie gras.  I honestly would have preferred this for dessert.  It was far too sweet and the wine hadn’t arrived yet.  Why do I get so irritated when the sommelier has all the wine bottles in the centre of the room and you have to beg to be served?  Or am I just a wine artist?

 Now you’re talking.  A beautiful starter of sautéed giant prawns with asparagus, crispy potatoes on a lemon thyme jus arrived – enfin with a Chenin blanc, produced locally by an organic winegrower.

The crispy potatoes were revealed under the prawns – but they’d lost their crispiness.  Lovely idea, though; cut finely with a mandoline and in clean-cut, even rounds.

Filet de canette au jus d’ollives, confits d’été et sa tapenade – for one?

The main course of small duck (canette) arrived.  This was perfectly pink inside, the confit tomatoes and red peppers a perfect match, as was the tapenade – once I’d found it underneath the pile of chervil.  You can see from the lighting that service was slow but after seeing the cheese trolley (extra 12€ supplement), it was worth the wait.  I’ve never eaten so much chèvre (goat) cheese in my life!  The best over the weekend was goats’ cheese that was more mature and dry.  The flavour was powerful and was perfectly matched with the fig jam.

Still room for some Loire cheeses…

I couldn’t help putting the strongest chèvre under this lady’s nose on the plate.  On the palate, I preferred sticking to the Chenin blanc.  Antoine’s red chilled Chinon just didn’t have the same reaction.  It certainly went with the cheese ok (go for something outside the region and the cheese tastes like washing powder and no – I haven’t tried eating it, if you ask) but the Chenin brought out floral honey notes.

Superpostition de nougat glacé, soup aux fruits rouges

Oops.  Photos, Jill?  Wine and photos don’t go together, as I’ve shown my knack of camera shake like this before, remember? 😉  Da-dada-da-da-da: dessert!  Hm.  Lovely.  It was a bit disappointing, though. Antoine’s puff pastry flute to accompany the strawberries and green mint sorbet was the same they used for the apéritif, I’m sure.  I don’t like overly sweet desserts, but this seriously lacked sugar.

And, since we obviously looked like we were still hungry at this point, a verbena infusion (verveine: see blog post for verveine macarons) arrived with some mignardises: an orange fruit jelly, a mini crème brulée (see what I mean about the port caramel? That would have been fantastic at that point to finish up, although perhaps not with the foie gras!), an almond financier (excellent), and a beautiful raspberry mousse.

still room for mignardises?

I took one spoonful, but then the spoon wouldn’t fit into the glass to fetch out the rest.  Ah well, I think we really did well by that point.  Time to order a crane to lift us out of the restaurant, Monsieur?

All in all, I would give it 14 out of 20. Where were the macarons? It was funny seeing clients order from the other menus – they had more or less the same things from the main menu, dressed up with bigger or smaller tasting portions. Antoine gets 20 out of 20 for taking me out – let’s face it, we don’t go out that much but when we do, I love getting ideas and inspiration for entertaining when my light fades in ze kitchen.

Or should I say he gets “vin sur vin”?   Speaking of wine, the chenin blancs were so good that we popped in to the cellars to find out more and stock up.  The winemakers were so passionate about their babies as they explained the much longer process of making wines organically.

Visiting the local organic wine cellars

First stop was at Château de la Roche en Loire.  Our favourite was the one in the restaurant: the 2009 Cuvée Céline. It’s so intensely fruity and “oily” that it can easily cope with partnering a meal from start to finish.  A real blockbuster that could even take on the toughest of highly flavoured dishes, was La Noblesse d’Aziaum 2006, from Pascal Pibaleau’s cellar.  Like all organic wines, you’ll see a lot of deposit at the bottom: c’est normal.

I’ll finally finish off with an image of one of my favourite trees, full of perfumed scents.  It greeted us on arrival at the B&B and we had breakfast underneath it.  Such inspiration for macarons, my friends!  I’ll show you next week. Any guesses?

Egg Yolk Recipe Series

I am so proud to welcome Marsha, the Harried Cook.  When her email arrived with her recipe and photos, she literally dropped a bombshell.  If you haven’t seen it already, drool over her Strawberries and Cream Mousse Pie, using pâte à bombe – a French term for a base of egg yolks and sugar.  What’s more, she’s offering a Giveaway of 2 Mad About Macarons!” books; hurry, the giveaway ends on Sunday 26 June.

Discover France Feature Article

Discover this super website, Discover France, for all of you who are mad about Paris and everything French.  If you have a moment, please read my first feature article for them.

I’m so proud to be listed amongst their featured authors. They also include an excerpt from the book:

Discover the Decadent Fashionable Pâtisserie: The Parisian Macaron

Ouf ! I’m finished now, promise…


Guest Recipe: Strawberries and Cream Mousse Pie

How often have you felt harried or harrassed?  My guest this week is a full-time busybee: a part-time work-from-home, full-time wife, mother, obsessive foodie and, although “tends to be a worry-wart”, she still manages to have an adorable sense of humour while producing that harried magic in her kitchen.  I’m sure many of us can easily relate to Marsha; that’s what draws us to Marsha’s addictive blog, The Harried Cook. Would you believe The Harried Cook has only been going since March?  It’s with great pride to introduce Marsha Thompson as my guest on Mad About Macarons, as part of the egg yolk recipe series.

When Marsha emailed me with her recipe and photos, she certainly dropped a bombshell.  You’ll see what I mean.  Just look at that pie and read on.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and macaronivores: let me hand you over to Marsha.

Marsha, The Harried Cook

When Jill asked me if I would do a guest post for her, I literally jumped out of my chair. Not only was it my first ever guest post invitation, it was from THE Jill Colonna! How cool, right?

I took my own sweet time getting my post out to her. This was because every time I made something, I felt it wasn’t good enough for Jill’s blog! She’s got such a beautiful space here! Jill is also the funniest blogger I know! If you’ve interacted with her, you will know what I mean. She really cracks me up! Pun intended.

Speaking of which – the whole idea of cooking with egg yolks really egg-cites me! (You dared me to say that, remember Jill?) I have a lot of egg yolks left over quite regularly. Not because I have been brave enough to make macarons like Jill and so many of you wonderful bakers out there. I wish! Nothing that glamorous! It’s just that my husband loves his egg white omelettes -hence the spare yolks.

Now, on to the recipe. Pâte à bombe is a base made using sugar and egg yolks. I first read about it in a borrowed copy of Gordon Ramsey’s Passion for Flavor, and I noted it down in a little notebook. I made a few modifications from the original recipe, and I find it works for me. Using pâte à bombe gives the mousse fabulous texture!

This makes about 2 cups of pâte à bombe. You need only about half for this recipe, but I like to make double & save the rest for later. You can refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze it up to 2 months! This base can be used to make excellent chocolate mousse, French buttercream and parfaits too! It is a great thing to have in your freezer!

First I would like to share with you how I made the pâte à bombe, and then how I used it to make this mousse pie. I do hope you will bear with me, because the recipe is quite long!

Pâte à bombe

1 cup sugar
2 tbsp liquid glucose/corn syrup
1/3 cup water
4 egg yolks

Mix the sugar, glucose and water in a heavy based saucepan. Bring to the boil and cook them together until the syrup reaches 250 degrees (soft ball stage).

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks in a large bowl until creamy and fluffy. When the syrup has reached 250 degrees, start pouring the sugar into the egg yolks, all the while beating at low speed.  Make sure you pour on the side of the bowl and let it run into the yolks, to make sure you don’t end up with sugar strands.

After all the sugar has been poured in, turn the mixer back on high, and continue beating until the mixture has cooled down, and is thick, light and creamy. Stop beating and lick the beaters. Yes, it is that delicious!

Set aside and try not to eat all the pâte à bombe with a spoon. Refrigerate in a dry jar if not using immediately.

Strawberries & Cream Mousse Pie

This pie is not difficult to make, but has a few stages and a LOT of waiting in between. In fact, if you use a store bought crust & have the pâte à bombe in your fridge or freezer, this could be called a no-bake, no-cook pie!

Biscuit crust

2 cups of digestive biscuit crumbs, crushed fine in a food processor
¾ tsp cinnamon powder
8 tbsp melted butter

Mix all these ingredients together well, and press into a 9-inch pie dish, covering the base and the sides.

Bake at 180°C for about 10 minutes. Allow to cool, and refrigerate for at least an hour before using.

Strawberry Mousse

170g (6 oz) hulled strawberries
4 tsp powdered gelatin
2 tbsp cold water
1 ½ cup heavy cream
115g (4 oz) pâte à bombe
(approximately a generous ½ cup)

Puree the strawberries, and strain if desired. I didn’t. Mix in the pâte à bombe.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and allow it to soften. Melt it by heating it very briefly, and add it to the strawberry puree. Don’t let the gelatin get too hot, it will affect its setting ability.

Whip the cream till the soft peak stage, and fold the whipped cream into the strawberry puree.

Pour into the pie crust and allow it to set in the fridge for 4-6 hours.

I made a smaller portion of the white chocolate mousse, because I wanted the strawberry mousse to be the star of the show. Also, white chocolate is pretty sweet and I hate overly sweet desserts! The strawberry mousse, being sweetened only by the pâte à bombe, is only mildly sweet. The sweetness from white chocolate mousse balances that out really well!

White Chocolate “Whipped Cream” Mousse

85g (3 oz) white chocolate
2 tsp gelatin
1 cup heavy cream
2 oz pâte à bombe (approximately a generous 1/4 cup)

Prepare the gelatin like you did for the strawberry mousse.

Melt the white chocolate in over a double boiler. Stir in the pâte à bombe while the chocolate is still very hot.

Stir in the gelatin & set aside to cool.

Whip the cream to soft peaks. First, fold a third of the cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then, gently fold in the cooled chocolate mixture.

Refrigerate till semi-set, about 2-3 hours. Then, whip it lightly and transfer to a piping bag. Pipe the ‘whipped cream’ over your strawberry mouse in whatever pattern you like. Allow to chill for a few hours before slicing. Garnish with fresh strawberries & serve chilled.

This pie is light & creamy, not too sweet and an absolutely perfect dessert for warm weather!

I hope all of you enjoyed this recipe from my tiny little kitchen. I am so sorry I was not able to get a better picture of a slice of the pie. Between taking pictures of the pie and walking to the kitchen to get a knife to slice it, there was a small accident involving me, the pie, a whining toddler and a nosy dog. 🙁 The crust and the strawberry mousse layer took most of the damage, but we salvaged most of it, and it tasted delightful!

It was light and tasty to eat on a hot summer’s day.

Thank you once again, Jill for asking me to write this post, and thanks to all you wonderful people for taking the time to read this!

Didn’t I tell you that she dropped a bombe-shell with this one?  See, she’s got me started, too. Poor thing, dropping it after all that work – at least we can still get to have a slice with that last photo. Thank you so much for sharing this glamorous crème de la crème of mousses with us, Marsha – and also for the lovely comments.

I don’t know about you, but after making that gorgeous pâte à bombe, I’m not sure there would be any left in our house to even make the strawberries and cream mousse pie! It’s great that you can make it in advance and use it for the pie later, or for more mousses, buttercreams etc.-  plus it uses up the egg yolks.

Don’t forget to check out Marsha’s blog, The Harried Cook.  This week she has been making the most delicious homemade boursin cheese, a fruity tropical smoothie, and check out her latest Lime & Pepper Cookies.  Yes, that’s right: lime and pepper.  Amazing!  I also hear she’s doing a giveaway of Mad About Macarons… so head on over and say hello from me.