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Renoir Tour: Chatou – Carrieres-sur-Seine

Want to avoid the Parisian tourist crowds and venture out of the city for something a bit different?  This Renoir Tour between Chatou and Carrieres-sur-Seine is a must walk along by the Seine when the weather is as beautiful as this – and expect a few surprises!

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

Only 10 km west of Paris, Chatou is remarkably quick to get to by express commuter train. A few visitor friends from abroad have been surprised to discover that coming to les Yvelines is such a breath of fresh air. So, what’s better than taking one of the four Impressionists’ walks in the area, compiled by the Office de Tourism?

The Renoir Tour lasts about 1h30. Here’s our map at the ready so let’s do it together now. Sitting comfortably?

Renoir Tour Chatou - Carrieres

Part of the boucles (buckle) de Seine, following the Impressionists

Renoir Tour: Chatou to Carrières-sur-Seine

The Renoir Tour starts at the Hameau Fournaise, situated on the Impressionists’ Island on the Seine in Chatou looking over to Reuil Malmaison. There are a few buildings, notably the Fournaise Restaurant and Fournaise Museum. This houses temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection of what life resembled at the end of the 19th century.

It’s a time when bourgeois Parisians and artists were attracted outside Paris by les Guingettes, the good life on the banks of the Seine – drinking, eating simple, hearty food and dancing – thanks to the new railway line that brought them to Chatou.

renoir tour chatou carrieres

Pierre-August Renoir was a regular at the Restaurant Fournaise in the summer, painting a few portraits of the owner’s daughter, Alphonsine.

During the summer of 1879, it’s here that Renoir met Aline Charigot who became his wife. She figures in perhaps his most famous painting, “Le Déjeuneur des Canotiers”, painted in 1880.

Renoir tour Chatou Carrieres

It never ceases to amaze me that Renoir and his friends were here.  Here on that balcony under the orange-striped awnings. Each time I look up at it, it’s as if we can hear the laughter and the clinking of wine glasses echoing along the Seine.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

It doesn’t stop there.  Just a few metres away is another billboard showing us the other Renoir masterpiece painted in 1881, “Les Canotiers à Chatou”.  Next door, the boating workshop is worth a visit, as they prepare the same boats. Just smell the wood and the varnish!

Renoir tour chatou carrieres

Sadly the restaurant doesn’t open for teatime so I tend to bring my own box of macarons with me! Now the actual 4km walk begins by crossing over the bridge, past Notre Dame church and a walk right down to the Seine along the pretty Quai du Nymphée.

Pass the Barrage de Chatou, the hydroelectric dam. This feat of engineering was re-constructed in 2013. In the distance are the locks for the barge traffic plus a fish ladder. Keep your eyes out for some magnificent birds.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

Making the most of the glorious birch yellows and golds along the walk, the view over to the Impressionist Island includes the club-house of the 9-hole golf Ile Fleurie. Thankfully the Seine levels have gone down since I was last there, as I tend to shoot most of my balls in the river!

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres Sur Seine Walk

Turn left into the Parc de la Vallière, listed as one of the prettiest gardens in France. Designed by Le Nôtre, it took its name from Louis XIV’s favourite mistress, who stayed in Carrières-sur-Seine from 1661 for 9 years.

Renoir Tour secret walks just outside Paris

The park in summer at Carrieres, inspiring Monet’s painting – Secret Paris

At the entrance to the park, is the billboard showing the exact location of Monet’s painting, Carrières-Saint-Denis (1878) in the Musée d’Orsay.

Renoir Tour Chatou to Carrieres sur Seine

Carrières-sur-Seine was previously known as Carrières-Saint-Denis, as the rocks that were used to build the royal chapel of Saint-Denis came from Carrières. It’s possible to visit the Carrières, although this is currently only 3 times a year. Thankfully I took part in the visit very recently so I’ll post it soon before the next French tour.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

Why mushrooms? Because the carrières were also used as Champignonnières. Caves are perfect for mushroom-growing and, although they don’t grow as many mushrooms here now, local mushroom producers are not far away and sell their excellent fresh champignons blonds, full of flavour, at our local markets in les Yvelines.

Speaking of mushrooms, have you tried these recipes yet? Mushroom Cappuccino, mushroom truffle savoury macaron filling, Blanquette de Veau?

Renoir tour Chatou Carrieres sur Seine

The majestic Mairie sits at the top of the park. Incidentally, did you know that locals from Carrières are called  Carillons (masculine) or Carillonnes (feminine), which translate into “Chimes” and “Ringing,” respectively.[1]

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres sur Seine

This is where this walk took on new meaning recently. During a discussion with my friend, Emilie at the Saint-Germain Boucles-de-Seine Tourism office, I realised that for years I’d completely missed a little street just across from the park and the Mairie.

Follow the little lane of Rue Victor Hugo and the house at N°14 shows us a first glimpse of les maisons troglodytes, houses built into the limestone.

Renoir Walk Chatou Carrieres Cave Houses

Following the lane further emits a relatively spooky ambience.

These mysterious caves echo Medieval times when the first habitants settled while looking for stone for the eventual gothic buildings constructed in Paris.

Renoir Tour Secret Paris

I wonder if we can open that door?

No doubt is has centuries of stories to tell.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

The curious built-in rock dwellings serve as cellars, caves, barns or garages.  Just walking around, however, it’s not that obvious when everything is closed. Silent. Muffled.

Secret Paris Renoir Tour Walk Along Seine

Imagine that this is just 10 km and about 20 minutes by train from central Paris?

Renoir tour Chatou Carrieres

This is my kind of Disneyland.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

Further up the lane is private property but the view across to the Park from rue Victor Hugo is testament as to the Impressionists’ love for the area.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

Venture up the hill past the Mairie, the trickling fountain

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

and at the top of the steps on Passage de Fanil is another billboard depicting “Le Village” painted by Maurice de Vlaminck.

Renoir Walk Chatou Carrieres

Just across the road is a renovated beauty, complete with rose-tangled balcony. Imagine the view over the Seine overlooking the west of Paris and La Défénse?

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

By this time I can imagine you’re peckish for a French teatime goûter? Venture up to the centre of the village, enjoying all the little lanes and steps.

renoir tour chatou carrieres

Simply follow the fragrances of chocolate, tarts, éclairs from Le Carillon Gourmand (Maison Boé). They make macarons just on the weekends so, for the sake of art, I took a coffee éclair (recipe in my book, Teatime in Paris) for you to enjoy in the park before returning back to Chatou.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

Follow that barge and continue back on the same walkway along by the Seine.

Renoir Tour Chatou Carrieres

How to Get There

RER Line A (red) from Paris to Chatou (direction Ouest, Saint-Germain-en-Laye).
For more information on the area, boat rides on the Seine etc. visit the Saint-Germain Boucles de Seine Tourism Office in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

Renoir Walk Chatou Carrieres

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Paris Chocolate Star Denise Acabo – A l’Etoile d’Or

A l’Etoile d’Or – meaning “At the Golden Star” – there may be golden stars hanging up around the best Parisian chocolate and candy shop but the real star in Paris is Denise Acabo.

Surfacing out of the Paris metro at Blanche station, the Moulin Rouge cabaret signals Pigalle, the border between the 9th and 18th arrondissements. Before being lured up the hill to visit Montmartre, a visit to Denise Acabo’s tiny boutique awaits just 5 minutes’ walk away in the other direction in the 9th.

Le Moulin Rouge Paris

A l’Etoile d’Or is tucked away on the left in Rue Fontaine. Together with my curious chocolate-loving French friends from the south, we excitedly study the shop window.

It’s filled with cello-taped press reviews since Denise Acabo opened A l’Etoile d’Or in 1993 plus, amongst porcelaine cups and a chocolate pot (moussoir), tempting concoctions of chocolate quotations from famous personalities since chocolate became fashionable; to today’s researchers and doctors.

Denise Acabo Chocolate Shop Paris

Us girlfriends gravitate towards the alluring advice from Italian Sex Doctor, Salonia Andrea:

Chocolate is an aphrodisiac; women with a weakness for a daily dose of the black square (of chocolate) have a more and satisfying sex life.

All of a sudden, already in full swing, Denise Acabo comes flying outside the door to welcome us inside. She looks ready to dance a Scottish Ceilidh in an extra-long kilt with cleverly comfy shoes. As David Lebovitz aptly puts it in his “Great Book of Chocolate”:

The sign on the door should read ‘Beware of flying pigtails”.

A L'Etoile D'or Denise Acabo Paris chocolate star

No wonder there are so many articles already written about this Parisian star of chocolate. Denise Acabo leads us in, apologising for the loud music and asks her charming assistant to turn the volume down. “I adore listening to music,” she confesses. We unanimously urge her to keep it playing as it is.

Hm. Verdi’s Requiem. Are we at the Golden Star to experience a form of death by chocolate?

A L'Etoile d'Or Paris chocolate star

Denise Acabo buzzes around, wondering where to start first, speaking French at 100km an hour (this is when I wish I could compare it to words a minute had I listened to Mum trying to teach me shorthand).

Down-to-earth banter is interspersed with her passion for each chocolate in store and a constant cheeky humour. Don’t be fooled by the schoolgirl attire: she isn’t shy at using more adult and familiar French words and refreshingly tells us what she thinks.

We’re smitten.

At the golden star Denise Acabo

Every centimetre of her shop is groaning with French gourmet magazines and books, plus fun facts and anecdotes to accompany her personally selected treasure trove of France’s top chocolate and confiserie.

Bernachon trusts only Madame Acabo to sell their exquisite hand-made chocolate (made from scratch, from bean to bar) outside Lyon, and the delights from France’s gastronomic capital (read my article here) are well represented with not only their chocolate tablets and filled chocolates, but also les Coussins de Lyon – literally soft velveteen green ‘cushions’ filled with curaçao liqueur.

It’s not just Bernachon: she also stocks Bonnat chocolate bars, Henri Le Roux’s famous ‘CBS’, Caramel au Beurre Salé (salted caramels – more about this in my book, Teatime in Paris) plus Jacques Genin’s flavoured soft exotic caramels.

Denise Acabo candies or confiserie in Paris

Madame is proud to tell us she’s now 82 years old, adores people and has always sported her plaid uniform look. “Before I used to wear the tartan cravates et tout,” she says. “Now I’m a little more décontractée” (relaxed). Is it since she got over the gas explosion in the building and then re-opened in 2015?

We don’t even mention it: there’s so much to talk about what’s in those glass jars of chocolates and bonbons.

Denise Acabo chocolate candy shop Paris

She presses some innocent-looking chocolate raisins in our hands.

Silence.

I bite through the outer coating of dark chocolate that crashes into a soft, explosive golden raisin with a warming glow of Christmas. “Oh My God!” my mouth utters, taking me completely by surprise.

“That’s exactly what Meryll Streep said!” says Denise and tells us that a princess (whom shall remain anonymous here) picks up her order by the hundred kilo weight.

I was seeing stars with such a light but distinct taste of Sauternes wine coating the mouth, the chocolate not overpowering the flavour.

Denise Acabo candied rose petals for Champagne

We’re already wondering how the sugared violets or rose petals will stand up to the day’s walk around Montmartre later – especially as she’s gone to all the trouble to accept only the unbroken, perfect petals. She wraps them with bubble wrap and we continue around our walk dreaming of each petal (or crumb?) topped with Champagne.

Denise Acabo takes us back in time with the golden stars such as Louis XIV’s favourite barley sugar bonbons, various flavours of Les Anis de Flavigny from Burgundy, traditional oblong iced marzipan Calissons from Aix-en-Provence, soft or hard nougat with toasted nuts, pralines, Amandes de Sicile.

A l'Etoile d'Or of Denise Acabo Paris

Asked what were her own personal favourites in store, she replies with a simple “I love absolutely everything here, as I’ve chosen each individual chocolate or bonbon carefully. I only stock what I truly love.”

Nobody can sway her gut decisions what are the best products in her opinion.  She tells us she constantly receives chocolate samples and yet only a small fraction of them are accepted into her boutique. Many of them are just awful, she exclaims with wide, sparkly eyes.

Denise Acabo chocolate wrapping of French traditional cartoons

Look carefully around the shop and you’ll see that each and every chocolate and candy is gift-wrapped in special brightly-coloured cartoon paper.

Denise explains that she is the only shop in France that continues this tradition of using les Devinettes d’Épinal.

A l'Etoile d'Or Denise Acabo devinettes

The cartoon-style images are What-am-I guessing games, full of colour. Even different producers of the images approach Denise Acabo, asking her to take on their devinette paper.

“But just look at this,” she exclaims, as she takes out a giant, creased and folded cartoon paper. It’s sporting far too much white and not enough colour or devinettes.

“Pfah!” and she throws it back into the wooden drawer.

Denise Acabo Paris chocolate Pigalle

I spy a Corsican corner, eyeing my favourite tastes from my husband’s Island of Beauty: jams with Corsican clementines, plus chestnut honey and confiture d’Angélique (angelica jam).

Explaining I’m an Ecorssaise (she liked that – merci Emmanuelle!), I wonder if she can find a Scottish and Corsican speciality using les Ecorces de Clementines Corse or something.

Whether she’s on the case or not, we’re steered to the health virtues of angelica, thanks to Monsieur Thonnard who produces the exceptional Angelique de Niort.

Denise Acabo chocolate candy paris shop

We’re off again, as she tells us that Angelica is an excellent fortifiant… As early as the middle ages, angelica was given to weaker children to suck on and give them strength.

Did you know that in the 14th century, angelica was grown in Monastery gardens to prevent the plague (la peste), but these days it’s also known to help cure respiratory problems and digestive troubles?

Denise Acabo Paris A l'Etoile d'Or

Madame Acabo shows us the same healthy angelica beckoning underneath a thin coating of delicious chocolate. We guess she’s taking this on a regular basis, with such energy, enthusiasm and character.

Meanwhile, back on the golden stars, my mind and eyes wander to Meryll Streep’s favourite Perles de Lorraine (caramel with mirabelle plum liqueur), hoping to bump into her for a rendition of Abba in flares and avoid questions like what it was like to film with Clint Eastwood – or does she wear Prada?

Denise Acabo A l'Etoile d'Or Paris chocolate

One word of advice: ensure you give yourself time to visit A l’Etoile d’Or, as anything under 20 minutes is just not realistic if you want to discover the stories behind the chocolates and candy – not to mention have the urge to buy most of the shop’s contents!

Denise Acabo oozes such contagiously cheerful chocolate-induced endorphins that you’ll most likely leave elated and be planning your next trip for a taste of more.

 

A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Pierre Fontaine
75009 Paris
Tel: 01 48 74 59 55

Metro: Blanche (line 2)

Teatime in Japan

How many of you read the desserts on the menu before savoury? In many Japanese restaurants, we were surprised to find that dessert was often not even mentioned, with savoury ruling; at best, Purin (Japanese crème caramel) was the only dessert listed. To satisfy our sweet tooth, it was best to seek out speciality confectionary boutiques or stop in a café or teahouse. So, welcome to my version of Teatime in Japan – from Osaka, Kinosaki Onsen, Kyoto, Shirikawago, and Kanazawa to Tokyo.

Here is just a selection of some of the sweet treats we discovered during our (personal, not sponsored) trip.  Far from being an exhaustive list, I don’t claim to be an expert on Japanese tea and confectionary; this post reflects our own personal first experiences of Japan, sharing interesting features learned along the way.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan

One of the family’s all-time favourite trip highlights was our first experience of a most tranquil Japanese tea ceremony in the Nishida Family Garden (part of Gyokusen-Immaru garden) in Kanazawa, next to the world-famous Kenrokuen garden, home to the oldest fountain in Japan.

Held in the Saisetsu-tei Roji tea house, it’s one of Japan’s oldest at 350 years old, yet the tradition continues. However, today apparently, it’s so different in that 80% are women who enjoy the traditional tea ceremony, compared to the previously more male-dominated custom. Saisetsu-tei takes its name from “snow flutters”, part of a Haiku poem (by Junan Kinoshita, a Confucian scholar) that hangs on the wall.

Teatime in Japan

Our gracious tea hosts made the tea and explained the philosophy behind the tea ceremony.

As you walk through the Zen gardens to the tea house – only on the stepping stones – all thoughts of everyday life should vanish, as if in a meditative state of HARMONY (wa). As before entering a temple, we purify our hands with water (and mouth for the real tradition, although thankfully we were spared going the full monty) before entering. This purifying ritual permeates the soul.

Inside the tea house there is no hierarchy; lords, peasants? Everyone is on the same level to appreciate the tea, the ambience. A Samurai would leave his sword outside – in fact, this TRANQUIL (jaku) meditation was particularly important to the Samurai in order to focus on being the best of warriors. When we visited the Samurai family of Nomura house in Kanazawa’s Samurai district (Nagamachi Bukeyshiki area with pretty little canals and bridges), a small open-air garden was designed in the building purely for tea ceremonies.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan with a traditional tea ceremony

The hostess cleans all her tea-making implements with precision, ensuring PURITY (sei), as she heats up the water using the firepit (known as the furo – as it was during the record 2018 summer heatwave she used a different traditional stove not built in to the flooring, as it heats up the room), pours in the Matcha green tea powder, pours over the pure water then whisks vigorously back and forth with a bamboo whisk (the Chasen) to create its characteristic creamy foam.

As a sign of RESPECT (kei, evidently a particularly intrinsic value in Japan), each person thanks the hostess for taking the time to make the tea (Oshôban Itashimasu) then each person in turn asks politely to join in (Otemae Chôdai Itashimasu). The bowl’s prettiest pattern always faces outwards to the others and as the bowl is inspected, is turned around clockwise a couple of times then enjoyed.

Teatime in Japan

Teatime in Japan with some creamy, frothy Matcha green tea

Following the ritual lesson, we were encouraged to try our hand at preparing our own tea. As the hot water (not boiling) was poured gently on top of the Matcha powder, our wrists were given the exercise by whisking the green tea with the Chasen. It tasted different; reassured it was the same Matcha tea, it must have been the water as it was heated using a different kettle/stove.

As with the previous bowl of tea, small ceremonial wagashi were served and we were invited to eat them before sipping. Wagashi are sweet confections traditionally enjoyed with tea and have been such since the Edo period, when tea was imported to Japan from China. I say sweet wagashi, but they’re not as sweet as I was expecting, which was a pleasant surprise. This time we had soft, sugary melt-in-the-mouth Rakugan, made from glutinous rice and sugar. Each small rakugan were in pretty cute (kawaii) summer floral designs, shaped using a wooden mould.

What a most harmonious and tranquil experience, learning the most fascinating virtues of tea culture (Harmony, Respect, Purify, Tranquility) along the way. Just before we left our delightful hosts added to our vocabularly, Ichigo Ichie (literally ‘one time one meeting’) meaning LIVE THE MOMENT – something we certainly did throughout our trip as a result.

Doriyaki

Teatime in Japan

For the best Dorayaki, I’d recommend our experience in Tokyo, just 5 minutes from Monzen-Nakacho metro station (plus an incredible temple that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself, including Taiko drums and fire).

Established in 1850, this store is apparently where the dorayaki was invented. Normally made with two sponge-like pancakes and stuffed with slightly sweet Azuki red bean paste (Anko), this is a surprising version with only one pancake that’s not that sweet, beautifully soft and moist, filled with a generous amount of Anko. They also had a green bean paste but frankly, it was like eating a mushy peas pancake. Vive the doriyaki with traditional handmade Anko.

I’ve had a few in Paris before but nothing I’ve tasted to date equates to this gourmet version.

MOCHI

Teatime in Japan

Mochi are everwhere: on the street, in cafés, tea rooms and traditionally served with green tea. It’s a soft, small glutinous rice cake shaped into a ball and comes in all varieties of flavours. This popular store in Kyoto had such a big queue that we didn’t have time to stop (and with temperatures around 38°C with high humidity around midday, we thought we’d return later). So, if you get there for us, let us know how they are!  Alas, I took photos but put them up on Instagram stories and now I can’t find them. Guess I can blame the heat…

That’s a Wrap!

A few mochi are wrapped in different leaves, such as Sakura-mochi, filled with azuki bean paste (making it beautifully pink) and wrapped in a sakura leaf. Kashiwa-mochi are wrapped in oak tree leaves.

Teatime in Japan

Warabi Mochi

As we were in the Kansai region, Warabimochi were particularly popular.  Extremely chewy, they’re jelly-like treats made from bracken starch and either dipped in Matcha green tea or Kinako, roasted soybean flour.  By the end of the trip, I was addicted to the Kinako versions, probably due to their fascinating roasted flavour. They remind me of a less sweet Turkish Delight (Loukoums) with Japanese flavours.

Fukusa Mochi

Teatime in Japan

One of the delicious specialities of Kanazawa: Fukusa mochi, a Japanese baked roll cake (glutinous Gyuhi roll cake, a bit like a hole-packed pancake that looks remarkably like a huge bath sponge) with Azuki red bean jam. The outer layer is made from either baked brown sugar or Matcha green tea.

I could have eaten this whole tasting plate but remembered my manners. Instead bought them as a gift, as meeting up with Japanese friends in Tokyo; I hear it’s tradition to offer typical gifts from your travels.

Another speciality of Kanazawa is gold leaf – appropriate, as Kanazawa literally means ‘Marsh of Gold’. We particularly loved seeing gold leaf conveniently sold in tubes (not to be confused with lipstick in my handbag!) to sprinkle on top of coffee, ice cream … you name it and it turns everything to gold!

Teatime in Japan

More Wagashi Sweet Confectionary

Tai-yaki: a fish-moulded pancake-like batter or waffle filled with red bean paste, although we saw other varieties on sale such as vanilla custard cream and chocolate (unusually we didn’t see much chocolate in general on our trip). They also appeared in biscuit or cookie form too.

Daifuku: a form of mochi filled with sweet bean paste or other fillings (e.g. strawberry) and dusted in potato starch to prevent them from sticking.

Teatime in Japan

Mizu Yokan: a jelly-like sweet made with mashed azuki beans mixed with gelatin. I forgot to take a photo of it, but to see the whole picture, including a recipe, check out my friend Nami’s post how to make Yokan on Just One Cookbook.

Oshiruko: a type of dessert soup that consists of hot, sweet bean soup with grilled rice cakes (mochi) or rice flour dumplings. The red bean soup may be either smooth or chunky. We enjoyed a variation of this at the Zen Café in Kyoto’s Gion district, where the soup was chilled with almond pudding and fresh figs – sheer bliss during such a heatwave!
The list is apparently endless and if only we had more time to try and discover them all!

Bake Cheese Tart

Teatime in Japan

Although more French in spirit, this Matcha baked cheese tart is worth a mention from the Japanese chain, Bake Cheese Tart. The pastry base is spot on: a crispy, perfect quantity to matcha the filling, which is more liquid than I expected but not too much that it falls out of the base. There’s a real tease between sugar vs salt – even on the aftertaste.

There’s also a plain version, not unlike a Portuguese tart (see recipe for Pastéis de Nata) but less sweet and yet there’s definitely a cheesecake taste to it – yet it’s a tartlet. Frankly this is heaven! So glad we saw the enticing advert for this in the Kyoto metro. That’s all the shop makes but boy, they do it well.

Macarons

Teatime in Japan

We were delighted to see macarons in many boutiques and in Osaka, they were even served at the breakfast buffet in our hotel (mango-passionfruit). The most beautiful ones I saw (sorry, the image was on Instagram stories and I can’t recuperate it) were from the Matsuya department store in Asakusa, all individually wrapped.  There are also many French pastry chefs who have stores in Japan, and so the more western specialities of Parisian macarons, patisserie and/or chocolate can be found at Jean-Paul Hévin, Pierre Hermé, Foucher, Christophe Roussel, Sebastien Bouillet, Laurent Dûchene, just to name a few. Many are found in larger department stores and it’s a real treat to discover a gastronomic world always in their basements.

Alas, the only image I had was the surprising green tea pointy-looking macs I saw in a most touristy boutique near the Senso-ji temple in Anakusa, Tokyo. We were wondering if they were called nipples (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Green Tea Ice Cream

Teatime in Japan

Speaking of the Anakusa area, here we discovered the strongest Matcha Green Tea ice cream in the world from Suzukien in Tokyo. The strongest gelato came in at number 7 and it was indeed incredibly intense with little sugar, like the majority of the sweets in Japan.

Teatime in Japan

Our unanimous favourites throughout the trip were Anko (sweetened red bean paste) ice cream in Kinosaki Onsen, Hojicha (roasted tea) ice cream in the Japanese Alps in Shirikiwa-go, and here in Anakusa, including Black Sesame ice cream (I’ve since made this on return to Paris and will be sharing the recipe with you in the coming days).

Japanese Canelé

Teatime in Japan canele

Teatime in Japan with sweet potato canelés?

You heard me right: we discovered these remarkably French-looking canelés in Osaka at Canelé du Japon where they came in all sorts of surprising flavours such as yuzu, sweet potato, apple-caramel, or  flower salt (fleur de sel) from the Guérande. This may be for Teatime in Japan but they were served mini canelés at breakfast at our hotel in Osaka – more like the original ones we find originating from Bordeaux with their typical vanilla and rum soft centre with a caramelised exterior.  Also seen at breakfast were French pains au chocolat, spelled Pan’ochokora – how adorable is that?

If you’d like to make Canelés, my easy recipe is in my book, Teatime in Paris, along with the story that goes behind them and where to find the best in Paris.

Teatime in Japan

For a taste of Japan in Paris, see my personal listing of best Parisian tea salons, particularly around the rue Sainte-Anne area in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement.

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Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis

When I posted this Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis on Instagram and Facebook this morning, I realised to my horror that the recipe I was referring to had technical problems when printing so, before I go dashing off on my travels again tomorrow, here’s the recipe which is easily printable for you and not, “replace that with this” and so on.

Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis recipe

A Fruity Versatile Dessert

As you can see from the original classic French Cherry Clafoutis recipe I first posted, I have been mad about clafoutis this summer.  Who can blame me?  It’s such a versatile recipe that lends itself so deliciously well to all sorts of mouthwatering fruity versions – particularly plums and berries.

In the latest recipes, I’ve added ground almonds (almond flour) instead of flour or cornflour, as I love the hint of almond with berries and cherries – plus the more eggy it is, the lighter it is too. Have you tried the following yet?

I also made a mirabelle plum version of this recipe this weekend – and added some freshly grated ginger to it for dessert, inspired by chef William Ledeuil from Paris’s Ze Kitchen Galérie.  As we’re just back from our marathon family holiday in Japan, I’m looking for ways to be a bit more playful with Asian flavours.  I’m currently developing and dreaming up some interesting ice creams and main dishes for you…so don’t forget to sign up below to keep informed when they come out!

blueberry lemon clafoutis recipe

Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis – a Twist to the French Classic

Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
35 mins
Cooling time
15 mins
Total Time
45 mins
 

A quick and easy light gluten-free Clafoutis baked custard dessert, with a blueberry and lemon twist to the French classic that's great for dessert, teatime or breakfast.

Servings: 6 people
Calories: 264 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 1 tbsp each butter and sugar for the dish
  • 250 g (9oz) blueberries organic
  • 5 medium eggs organic
  • 70 g (2.5oz) sugar
  • 1 grated zest of a lemon organic/unwaxed
  • 170 g (6oz) pouring (single) cream
  • 30 g (1oz) ground almonds (almond flour)
  • 1 tbsp limoncello liqueur (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan / 200°C / 400°F (gas 6). Wash and dry the blueberries.

  2. Generously butter a gratin, pie dish or deep cake tin. Top with a tablespoon of sugar and shake the dish to evenly spread it over the butter. Lay the blueberries in a single layer to cover the surface of the dish.

  3. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, cream, almonds and liqueur, if using.

  4. Pour the egg mixture over the blueberries and bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes until cooked in the middle but not too dark at the edges.

  5. Set aside to cool then either serve warm or chill in the fridge until ready to serve.

Recipe Notes

I also like to add some slivered almonds to the surface before baking so that they come out for a toasted extra crunch.

 

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

Have you made any of the recipes from le blog or fancy making this Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis recipe?  Please do leave a comment below or take a picture and hashtag it #MadAboutMacarons on social media. Thanks so much for popping in!

If you love blueberry and lemon, you must try this chilled French Bavarois Dessert too, with a hint of roasted coriander.

Blueberry lemon Clafoutis

#Blueberry Lemon Clafoutis – PIN ME for later!

 

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French Berry Gratin with Elderflower

After a bubbly afternoon of Champagne tasting in Paris last week, I promised to make this French Berry Gratin recipe with thoughts of that 100% Pinot Noir evoking grilled fruits. Isn’t it incredible how wine tastings can leave you dreaming about accompanying foods?

A fruit gratin is popular in France – probably because it not only showcases the sweetest of seasonal fruits, but it’s also such a quick yet elegant French dessert to whip up in under 30 minutes.

Berry Gratin

A Perfect Summer Heatwave Dessert

This kind of gratin isn’t to be confused with a Crème Brûlée, where the top has a thick layer of sugar and is burned to form a hard cracking layer on top. I have a classic recipe in Mad About Macarons, but try this Milk Chocolate and Passion Fruit Crème Brûlée – it’s from another planet!

Instead, this gratin dessert highlights the fruits; it’s lightly grilled without the crunch and it has a more liquid form of custard, rather similar to a Crème Anglaise rather than set.  That’s why it’s a handy summer recipe to have if you don’t want the oven on too much during a heatwave.

berry gratin recipe method

Although I say ‘sweet’, this berry gratin has just enough sugar added but not too much to overpower the natural sugars in the fruits.

It’s on the same lines as this Rhubarb and Strawberry Gratin – have you tried it yet?

Berry Gratin dessert

I’d normally make this using a vanilla pod/bean but this time I felt like some elderflower to highlight the strawberries.  If you’ve tried my Strawberry Eclairs with Elderflower Cream recipe in Teatime in Paris, you’ll know what I’m talking about!

As I’m not lucky enough to have elderflowers around, I cheat with a little cordial (Ikea have one) or syrup (Monin’s is good). However, if you have Elderflower liqueur such as Saint Germain, then that’s great too!

If you’re not into elderflower, then infuse this cream with some lemon verbena – so many variations are easy to dream up for this berry gratin recipe.

Berry Gratin recipe

Berry Gratin Recipe

Berry Gratin with Elderflower
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
2 mins
Total Time
22 mins
 

Summer red fruit berry gratin, a quick yet elegant French dessert with fresh berries topped with an elderflower cream and toasted under the grill for a couple of minutes.

Servings: 4 people
Calories: 215 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 400 g (14oz) mixed fresh berries organic
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 50 g (1.75oz) sugar
  • good pinch vanilla powder (or 1/2 tsp extract)
  • 2 tbsp elderflower cordial or syrup (or Saint Germain liqueur)
  • 100 g (3.5oz) whipping cream
Instructions
  1. Divide the mixed berries between 4 ovenproof dishes and spread them out in a single layer.

  2. In a bowl, whisk together the yolks, sugar and vanilla until light and creamy (about 5 minutes). Continue to whisk, adding the cordial/syrup and the cream until well mixed.

  3. Pour over the fruits and place under a hot grill for just 2 minutes until the cream is toasted but not burned.  You could also use a blowtorch instead.
    Serve immediately -  or prepare a couple of hours in advance, chill then reheat in a warm oven at 140°C for about 5 minutes.

Recipe Notes

There are countless floral variations to this recipe: replace elderflower cordial/syrup with violet or rose syrup. Or replace the syrup with 25g more cream and infuse with lavender or lemon verbena.

 

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

Berry Gratin

Have you made any of the recipes from le blog or fancy making this Berry Gratin recipe?  Please do leave a comment below or take a picture and hashtag it #MadAboutMacarons.  I love to see your creations on Instagram and Facebook.

Thanks so much for popping in! Just to let you know I’ll be rather disconnected on my annual travels (as ever, like the French, we leave Paris at this time!) over the next 3 weeks but will try to pop in when I can.  Have a lovely summer, wherever you are! Speaking of French Berries, don’t forget to wear a hat!

French Berry Gratin

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Mint Omelette – Corsican Style

This week, I made one of our favourite easiest, summer lunches while taking a quick break from gardening: a Mint Omelette. I make it often in summer (totally copied from Antoine’s Corsican mum) to help contain our friendly-but-proliferating mint varieties, as it makes a deliciously refreshing dish, served with plenty of fresh, crusty baguette. Well, it’s a change from Mojito Macarons.

As I posted this photo on social media, your reactions were, “What? There’s just mint in it?”

Yes, there is.  My mother-in-law always makes it just with mint – but there are two versions to a Corsican Mint Omelette: one is with mint, the other with mint and cheese.  However, I didn’t tell you the best part about a Corsican omelette.

Mint Omelette Recipe

Firstly let me tell you, if you’re new here, that my husband is Corsican. He’s from l’Ile de Beauté, the beautiful island that sits southeast of  France’s hexagone and above the Italian island of Sardinia. While Corsica has officially been part of France since 1768, its culture is still predominantly Italian.

It’s fascinating listening to my mother-in-law speak the Corsican language with her neighbours, with its Italian and French lilts. To give you an example, bonjour is bonghjornu and au revoir is avvèdeci. Admittedly, I’m too shy to attempt the lingo, as there’s a particular accent that sets the Corsicans apart – you could say it sets their ‘bones apart’ (Sorry, couldn’t resist an awful pun, as Napoleon Bonaparte was born here). My only two words are va bè (ça va), said slowly with a positive shoulder-shrugging gesture that probably says, “I may sound ridiculous but yes, everything is cool here”.

Two-thirds of the island is dramatic mountains with perched hilltop villages, which influences Corsica’s cuisine. Although fresh fish and seafood are popular in the touristy coastal resorts, inland there’s trout from the rivers – always served simply – but good, rustic food from the land features most. Corsicans love their meat (namely lamb, boar and lots of veal: try this Corsican Veal and Peppers recipe here), their own cheeses (notably brocciu – read more here in my recipe post for Fiadone, Corsican Cheesecake), vegetables and wild herbs from the unique maquis, the most unmistakably Corsican fragrance of the surrounding shrublands.

Corsican herbs like mint in cooking

Corsican dishes rely on the land, using herbs and vegetables fresh from the garden

Antoine’s family hilltop village is nearest the mountain town of Corte. Homegrown vegetables and herbs are in nearly all of the villagers’ gardens and, while there are plenty of dishes I could cite here, let’s focus on mint – otherwise I can feel the next book coming on.

It’s a powerful, yet subtle ingredient that’s added to many of the most memorable dishes I’ve had in Corsica, including the traditional Cannelloni au Brocciu. Ever since I tasted the mint coming through the cheese in a restaurant in Rogliano (in Corsica’s top finger) I make a lazy version of it (without stuffing cannelloni tubes). Adding mint just gives it that special, extra intriguing taste to this Corscian Brocciu Lasagne and stuffed cheesy courgettes – like, “What is it that I’m tasting?”

It’s peppermint.

Differences between a French and Corsican Omelette

I left the best for last. So, what makes a Corsican omelette different to a regular French omelette?

Mint Omelette

One is folded over, the other is served flat but still runny and soft inside

Corsican omelettes are made using olive oil and, instead of being folded or rolled over, they are served flat – cooked more underneath and just a quick minute more on the facing side.  As with the regular omelette, it’s still deliciously runny inside; as the French say, it’s an Omelette Baveuse – literally dribbling.

Corsican Mint Omelette with cheese

Best Substitute for Brocciu Corsican Cheese

Traditionally, brocciu cheese is often added to a mint omelette – but as it’s difficult to find (often expensive) and not widely available during the summer months (it’s normally produced between November to June, when the milk is at its richest – otherwise it’s known as ‘brousse’ if it’s not 40% fat by AOC standards), we need an alternative. A Corsican chef told me to use la Faisselle in France, which is good, but I believe the best substitute for brocciu is a good quality, soft fresh goat’s cheese – although a good, salty ricotta cheese also works well.

Mint Omelette Corsican recipe - step by step

Mint Omelette – Corsican Style

A frittata incu a menta (e brocciu)

Corsican Mint Omelette
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
20 mins
 

A simple omelette dish, popular in Corsica made with mint and often includes Brocciu cheese. If you can't find fresh Brocciu, a good fresh goat's cheese or ricotta is excellent.

Course: Light Lunch, Main Course, Supper
Cuisine: Corsican, French
Keyword: Corsican,, easyrecipes,, Mint, Omelette,
Servings: 3
Calories: 241 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 7 Eggs Organic
  • pinch each salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil Extra Virgin
  • 10-15 Fresh mint leaves (peppermint) each leaf torn in half
  • 50 g (2oz) Brocciu or fresh goat's cheese roughly chopped or crumbled (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick omelette pan over a medium heat.

  2. In a large bowl, beat the eggs just until the eggs and whites are mixed together. Add the salt and pepper, according to taste.  

  3. Tip the egg mixture into the pan with the hot oil. As the eggs cook, quickly move around the mixture away from the sides, tilting the pan so that the liquid from the middle goes all around the outside, to enable more even cooking.

  4. Top evenly with the mint and cheese (if using) and, while still a bit liquid, top with a large plate and tip the omelette onto the plate.  Carefully, slide the omelette back into the pan, cooking the other side just for a minute then serve the omelette with the least cooked side upright.  The omelette should be soft and runny in the middle ("baveuse" or dribbling, as the French say).

    Corsican Mint Omelette recipe - step by step
Recipe Notes

Corsican omelettes are served flat and not folded over like French omelettes.  It doesn't matter if the omelette isn't coloured - just ensure the eggs are cooked but the omelette is still a bit runny or baveuse

 

Nutritional information: provides 21g protein

 

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

Mint Omelette, Corsican style

 

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Have you made any of the recipes from le blog or fancy making this Mint Omelette recipe?  Please leave a comment below (it motivates me to continue posting here) or take a picture and hashtag it #MadAboutMacarons.  I love to see your creations on Instagram and Facebook. Thanks so much for popping in!

Corsican French mint omelette