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Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit (Paris Day Trips)

I promised you this taster of the Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit. It’s a fabulous way to discover this royal town’s history which breathes around the Château and boasts a rooftop view over the River Seine to Paris.

As Paris visitors flock further west to the Palace of Versailles – also in les Yvelines – this visit will uncover the importance of Saint-Germain-en-Laye with the Kings of France before the court moved to Versailles in 1682. Birthplace of Louis XIV and also the composer, Claude Debussy, you will find that Saint-Germain has had a few surprising culinary births too.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Following on from this introduction to Saint-Germain-en-Laye as part of my series of easy-to-do day trips from Paris, guided visits on the castle roof run between May and end September, and are easily reserved in advance (see all practical details at the end of this post).  Although visits are only in French, English can be organised in advance if done in a group.

In the meantime, before your visit, let me whet your appetite as a Scottish-French local and guide you on your own DIY tour.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

There were two castles: the current pentagon-shaped Château Vieux and the Château Neuf . The latter newer castle was built under Henri II, finished by Henri IV and dismantled under Louis XVI and his brother, future Charles X. It’s one of the rare castles dismantled before the French Revolution, with the bricks and stone recycled by the Saint-Germanois.

Today, the Château Vieux now houses the National Archaeological Museum. A model in the museum gives us an idea of both castles’ grandeur, terraces and gardens which, at the time, cascaded all the way down to the Seine (now the town of Le Pecq).

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Rooftop visit

The layout of both castles in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (apologies for the unavoidable reflections on the glass case)

Today the castle’s inner courtyard is one of the Renaissance’s most beautiful.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

A visit on the castle’s rooftop is pretty special, showing off a panorama of the Seine Valley – including a skyline view of Paris to La Défense and Sacré Coeur. Look carefully, and you catch sight of the Eiffel Tower, poking out behind the Mont Valérien.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Just by visiting the Castle roof in the space of 30 minutes, we gathered nuggets of delicious history as we walked around the chimneys.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

The fortified castle originated in 1122, when Louis VI le Gros built on the plateau of Laye. Only the dungeon (the square tower on the left of the museum entrance) retains the original shape, with a Campanile tower stuck to it, much like that of the Louvre in Paris.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Louis IX (Saint Louis) completed the castle and by 1238 had a chapel built, the only part of the castle to survive the fire during the Hundred Years’ War from 1337 between Philippe VI Valois and the Black Prince. It was Charles V that re-built the castle by 1367, adjoining the Gothic Chapel.

Saint Louis Chapel

Louis IX’s Gothic Chapel was probably good practise for his Saint Chapelle in Paris built ten years later, constructed on much the same lines.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

It’s here that the story starts to get deliciously interesting at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, as it’s where François I married la Reine Claude in 1514. Since then, the rosace was filled in, as the banquet hall he added on was right behind it.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Each time I walk around the Chapel, I can’t help thinking of greengage plums. What? Plums? Did you know that the Greengage plum is known as Reine Claude in French, named after François I’s Queen as she adored them so much? Speaking of which, have you tried my Spicy Plum Jam? La Reine Claude would have surely approved with it spread on her royal baguette over breakfast with François I.

François I at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

This was François I’s favourite residence. He loved the castle so much, he turned Charles V’s fortress into a Renaissance palace.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

He is said to have spent 1000 days at Saint-Germain-en-Laye which, considering the sumptuous castles in the Loire Valley and Fontainbleau, is quite something!  François I’s symbols are not difficult to spot on the roof: his crowning initial with the Fleur de Lys carved in stone and flaunted on the imposing chimneys high above the town. Spot also his salamander, especially on the enormous banquet hall chimney inside.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye castle roof visit

François I’s son, Henri II continued with more of the building work, including the new castle which was completed under Henri IV. During the reigns of both Henri IV and Louis XIII, the Château Vieux was left to royal children and their household staff.

Louis XIV and Saint-Germain-en-Laye

The Sun King, Louis XIV was born in Saint-Germain’s Château Neuf, 5 September 1638. All that’s left of the “new” castle is the red-bricked Pavillon, now part of the Hotel Henri IV that looks over the Seine to Paris. This hotel boasts a couple of other births from the culinary world: soufflé potatoes and the legendary Béarnaise sauce.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

I was lucky to see the original birth and baptism papers from the local archives during an enlightening conference of Louis XIV in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, thanks to our local historian, François Boulet. The baptism took place in the St Louis Chapel when Louis (le Dauphin) was 4 years old in the presence of his parents, Louis XIII and Anne of Austria.  It was such a long awaited royal birth that 30,000 bells peeled all around France to celebrate!

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Visit

Following Louis XIV marriage in 1660, he moved into the Château Vieux, breaking with tradition with the new castle.

From his reign in 1666, Louis XIV spent a staggering quarter of his reign at the castle before eventually moving to his newly embellished Versailles in 1682. In Saint-Germain, it wasn’t merely for hunting but for the Court, where the greater part of his powerful and personal decisions were made. We often just associate Versailles with Louis XIV but we can frequently forget just how important Saint-Germain was for the the Sun King and the court. It’s also where he learned to dance and where Lully performed many of his premières in the giant ballroom.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Improvements were made to the castle by Jules Hardouin Mansart and André Le Nôtre designed the French gardens and the vast terrace overlooking the Seine before his other wee gardening job at Versailles.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain Pharmacist Treats Royal Headaches with Chocolate

As the longest reigning monarch in France, Louis XIV probably ate extremely well at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. I suspect one of the ingredients to a long and prosperous life was chocolate, introduced to the French court by his mother, Anne of Austria, and his wife, Marie-Therèse who both brought over their chocolate luxuries – in the form of a chocolate drink – from Spain.

Later at  Versailles, it was under Louis XVI that chocolate finally flourished outside of the French court in Paris, thanks to the pharmacist in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Sulpice Debauve, appointed King’s Physician in 1778 to help cure the Queen Marie-Antoinette’s headaches through chocolate coins or pistoles. More on that later, as this addictive subject merits its own post – but again, Saint-Germain is one of the ingredients!

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

James VII of Scotland in Exile at Saint-Germain-en-Laye

When Louis XIV and his court permanently moved to Versailles on 20 April 1682, the Sun King ‘lent’ the Château Vieux to his cousin, James VII of Scotland (II of England) while the Stuarts were in exile from Britain during the Glorious Revolution. He stayed here with his family for 13 years until his death in 1701 and is buried in the church across the road from the castle.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof

Many of the Jacobites stayed in Saint-Germain-en-Laye until the French Revolution and finally left in 1793. For a brief summary of the Jacobites, read this great article here. Did you know that Saint-Germain is twinned with Ayr in Scotland?

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

French Revolution, Wars to Today

During the French Revolution the castle was used as a prison, then a hospital for the treatment of contagious diseases, a cavalry school under Napoleon Bonaparte, barracks then a military prison.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Visit

Thanks to a visit from Queen Victoria to Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1855, eager to learn more of its British past with the Stuarts, she urged Napoleon III to save the castle from abandon and so it was restored. In 1862 Napoleon III created the Museum of Celtic & Gallo Roman Antiquities as part of the castle and the following year it was listed as a historical monument. Restoration work was carried out by Eugène Millet, who studied under Viollet-le-Duc (of Notre Dame restoration fame).

The Peace Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye was signed at the castle on 10 September 1919, officially ending WWI with Austria.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

The Castle was used as Headquarters by the German Army in France during the German Occupation (1940-1944), as was the Château d’Hennemont, which is now the Lycée International. Many German bunkers are reminders throughout Saint-Germain of around 18,000 soldiers occupying the military town. Thankfully, and astonishingly, Saint-Germain wasn’t bombarded by the allies. There are two bunkers right next to the castle in between the hôtel particuliers or mansion houses.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye castle Museum

Today, the castle houses the National Archaeology Museum. It includes the world’s largest collection of prehistoric art, illustrating the life and inventions of men from their origins to the merovingian period. Furniture is replaced by countless exhibition cabinets, showing a fascinating insight into life to the middle ages.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s Speciality Cakes

No visit can finish without a taste of the local culinary specialities. Both puffed potatoes or some Sauce Béarnaise, born at the Henri IV hotel’s restaurant, are not the easiest to sample on the street (see the recipe for Sauce Béarnaise here), so I’d recommend popping in to at least two patisseries in particular for their speciality cakes.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

Teatime in Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Since 1920, the Pâtisserie Hardy has been making Le Gâteau Saint-Germain, of which I’m constantly told that the recipe’s secret has never left their boutique. It’s a sweet tart filled with almond paste with bits of almonds and glazed with a light icing – see my recipe for le Saint-Germain here.

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Debussy

Saint-Germain-en-Laye’s chocolate speciality, Le Debussy, was created by the Patisserie Grandin to celebrate the birth of composer, Claude Debussy on the same street on rue au Pain, the oldest street in town (called bread street, as at the time of François I, this was where the bread was baked as there was no oven at the castle.)

Le Debussy is a hazelnut sponge with praline mousse with raisins soaked in rum and coated in dark chocolate. You’ll also find a Saint-Germain cake at Grandin. If you love rum, then it’s guaranteed to satisfy with its boozy glaze!

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

 

Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

We loved the compact yet relaxed 30-minute roof tour: simply book on the morning itself directly at the Museum ticket office to ensure your place. Alternatively, book a longer visit by telephone or email in advance, and you’re good to go (precise details below). Note: I may add that I suffer from vertigo but I honestly had no trouble on this Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit.  As groups are small with a guide and another member of museum staff behind us with clear footpaths, it’s very secure. No children under 10 are admitted, however.
So, on a lovely day, jump on the RER A express train line from Paris to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, pop into the ticket office just across the road to book if it’s not done already, then enjoy a walk around. There’s so much to see and do.

What Else to do in Saint-Germain-en-Laye?

I often call Saint-Germain a mini royal Paris, as it’s so beautifully compact for boutiques and there’s plenty to do. I thoroughly recommend wearing good walking shoes as there’s plenty to do:
  • The farmers’ market (Tuesdays, Fridays & Sunday mornings – the latter is the biggest);
  • The quaint boutiques! Even the several cheese shops alone are worth a stop. Check out Foucher’s interior – it’s like stepping back to 1923 when it opened.
  • Walk in the extensive castle grounds (it’s free), including the long terrace built by Le Nôtre overlooking Paris, plus a walk through the beautiful forest (the walks are all well signposted);
  • Have a picnic in the park, or why not do it in style by ordering a gourmet version straight from Monsieur Fine Bouche, who offers €10 off your first order when you use the code, ‘MadAboutMacarons’;
  • Visit the church across from the castle, where James VII Scotland rests;
  • An afternoon visit to the Claude Debussy Museum, recently refurbished at N° 38 rue au Pain (closed Mon/Tues);
  • Maurice Denis Museum – this is currently closed for renovation until 2020;
  • The Fête des Loges in July-August is one of Europe’s biggest fairs. Shuttles run from the RER station.
  • An absolute must? My DIY chocolate & patisserie tour – Patrick Roger, Pascal le Gac (formerly from Maison du Chocolat), Gontran Cherrier, Eric Kayser, to name a few more, plus an ice cream stop at La Fabbrica de Luca, a few doors away from the oldest house in Saint-Germain on rue de la Salle. Have I missed anything?
Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle

Practical Information

SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE CASTLE ROOF VISIT: Open 2 MAY – 30 SEPTEMBER
2 Types of Visits are possible, organised directly at the Chateau Museum in FRENCH ONLY. For a guided visit in English, advance reservation should be done for a group.
  • Historique du château et visite des toits” (1h weekly visits – 1h30 on weekends Full price each 5€/7€)
    ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ONLY by telephone (01-34 51 65 36) or by email  (Reservation.man@gmx.fr)
  • Promenade sur les toits (Duration: 30 min Wednesdays, Saturdays & Sundays at 2.45pm Full price each €4). Reservations to be made on the day itself, weather permitting, directly at the boutique/ticket office of the Museum.
Musée d’Archéologie nationale – Domaine national de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Place Charles de Gaulle
78105 Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Billetterie/Ticket Office: Tel 01-39.10.13.22
www.musee-archeologienationale.fr
Jardin des Arts
3 rue Henri IV
78100 Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Getting There from Paris:

Only 20 km west, this makes for an ideal day trip from Paris with a short 30 minute train-ride on the RER A line (red) west (ouest) to the terminus at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle Roof Visit

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Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored.  As a local, I’m proud to introduce new ideas for your day trips from Paris.

DIY Paris Day Trips Saint Germain

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding

With winter thankfully fast disappearing around Paris, it’s about time I posted my favourite comfort-food dessert recipe, known affectionately in our family as S.T.P. or Sticky Toffee Pudding. Except I make this with a grated apple twist to the classic into a Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding – just to add a little extra fruit to the decadent luscious toffee scrumptiousness!

sticky toffee apple pudding dessert

Why haven’t I posted this before? It goes against my Frenchie-style eating habits: I love dessert but shy away from over-sugared filling puddings.  This is the one exception – and the version below is my final answer to this most delicious dilemma called Sticky Toffee Pudding Syndrome.

Another reason? I already have a version of it in my first cookbook. For some fun, I converted the Sticky Toffee Pudding into a macaron for Mad About Macarons – making it an entirely gluten-free version.  I also made them into a giant macaron dessert for the book’s macaron dessert chapter, a kind of Xtra Large S.T.P. macaron!

Funnily enough, some American critics initially thought that S.T.P. was a “bit too British” for a macaron book – but little did they know that the recipe for sticky toffee pudding may well have originated in Canada, just like my Scottish Granny’s Matrimonial Cake (oaty date squares).

Sticky toffee pudding #macarons #glutenfree

As a youngter, my parents would often drive my wee brother and I down to the Lake District. It didn’t take us long to discover THE highlight of any of our trips there: we’d make a mandatory stop at the legendary Cartmel Village Shop for a S.T.P. dose from their “Home of Sticky Toffee”.
I distinctly remember the difference over many other sticky toffee puddings we tried in Scotland: it was distinctly dark and lush, covered in the darkest ever toffee sauce.

Living in France has meant the necessity of making this at home, as it’s not something we can just run out to our local pâtisserie or boulangerie and find – so this Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding was created along the way. It’s often requested by my beau-père, Jean-Pierre, who’s accent is adorable: can we have more of that steeecky toafee pood-eeeng?

Well, here it is, beau-papa.

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding

sticky toffee apple pudding #dessertlove #puddings

There are two ways of making this recipe:

Normally it’s made as a flat cake, batter sitting (nearly floating) on top of a pool of toffee sauce in a buttered ovenproof pie or gratin dish and serve spooned into pudding bowls or – in this case – teacups, inspired by Carina Contini’s family recipe for Sticky Ginger & Date Pudding in her Kitchen Garden Cookbook. I adapted the recipe, cutting down slightly on the butter and sugar and added apple, since my Granny always mixed dates with apple – it’s a deliciously nostalgic thing I can’t help continuing.

sticky toffee apple pudding #puddings #dessertrecipes #stickytoffee

Sticky Toffee Pudding Syndrome

If you’ve been smitten with this pudding, you’ll totally understand. The cake version has one HUGE problem: we normally have at least second portions and it can get out of control. It’s what we call the Sticky Toffee Pudding Syndrome. So, to avoid such sticky toffee impulses, my preferred method is to pour the batter into individual silicone moulds. It’s just enough. Full. Stop.

Moreover, they’re so easy to freeze when removed from their silicone moulds and reheat when needed – making them so handy to serve stress-free for a dinner party later!

sticky toffee apple pudding

We eat half and freeze the rest before anyone can ask for more.

No second portions – unless you want a sticky toffee pudding macaron?

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding Recipe

sticky toffee apple pudding sauce recipe

Firstly, make the sticky toffee sauce: you’ll need this not just for pouring when it’s served, but also for pouring underneath the batter to make the cakes beautifully sticky.

In order to get the best, dark sauce, use soft dark muscovado sugar. If you can’t find this in speciality épiceries in France, then use Vergeoise Brun.

sticky toffee apple pudding method

Prepare the date paste adding water, bicarbonate of soda and grate in a peeled apple. Make the batter and fold in the date and apple mixture.

sticky toffee apple pudding recipe method

Pour in the toffee sauce to about 1/4 of the way then top with the batter, leaving 1/3 space at the top for the cake batter to rise. Bake for about 30 minutes and serve with the toffee sauce. That’s it!

sticky toffee apple pudding #dessertrecipes #bestofbritish #classicpuddings

Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
45 mins
Cooling Time
10 mins
Total Time
1 hr 5 mins
 

An apple addition to the lush Sticky Toffee Pudding classic recipe, served individually in a pool of the darkest toffee sauce. The puddings and sauce also freeze extremely well. Just reheat them separately and serve when you need a dose of Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding! I use briochette or muffin silicone moulds, but traditional buttered dariole moulds are also good.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: British, Canadian
Keyword: date pudding, sticky toffee pudding, toffee sauce
Servings: 12 people
Calories: 450 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
Sticky Toffee Sauce:
  • 175 g (6oz) butter, unsalted
  • pinch salt fleur de sel
  • 250 g (9oz) dark Muscovado sugar Vergeoise Brun or soft dark brown sugar
  • 225 g (8oz) whipping cream (30% fat)
Pudding Batter:
  • 175 g (6oz) pitted dates roughly chopped
  • 175 ml (6fl oz) water
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1 apple (e.g. Granny Smith) peeled & grated
  • 75 g (3oz) butter, unsalted
  • 110 g (4oz) soft dark brown sugar (Muscovado)
  • 2 eggs organic
  • 150 g (5.5oz) plain flour (all purpose)
  • 1 tsp baking powder (no need if use self-raising flour above)
  • 1 tsp ground ginger optional
Instructions
Sticky Toffee Sauce:
  1. Melt the butter, sugar and cream in a large saucepan over medium heat, then once dissolved, turn down the heat to low and stir occasionally until the sauce becomes smooth and glossy. Set aside to cool.

Pudding Batter:
  1. In a saucepan, cover the dates with the water and bring to the boil. Add the baking soda then mash until a smooth paste. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then stir in the grated apple until well combined.

  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/360°F/Gas 4.

    Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl or in a large stand-mixer until pale and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs, flour and ginger (if using). Fold in the date and apple mixture until mixed together.

  3. Pour 1/4 of the sauce into the bottom of each silicone mould (or into a buttered gratin dish if you prefer the cake-like version). Top with the batter until 1/3 from the top, giving enough room for the batter to rise. Bake for 30 minutes.

  4. Remove from the moulds after 5 minutes cooling and place directly on serving dishes. Reheat the toffee sauce and pour over each pudding. 

Recipe Notes

The puddings and sauce freeze well. Once the puddings are cooled, chill then transfer to a zip-lock bag or containers - likewise for the sauce.  Just defrost and reheat before serving.

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

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sticky toffee apple #pudding #desserttable #bestofbritish #stickytoffeepudding

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Chocolate Ginger Fondant Cake

A little birdie told me you like the combination of chocolate and ginger. Is that right? Following on from the photo of my chocolate ginger macarons, I had to share this Chocolate Ginger Fondant Cake beauty. It’s such a quick and versatile French classic that lends itself to all sorts of delicious flavour alliances.

Chocolate Ginger Fondant Cake

What’s more, it tastes even better next day! So, even although it’s quick to make, prepare this fondant a day before serving and you’re already prepared for tomorrow’s dessert.

French Fondant Classic

There’s nothing really mind-boggling new really. Based on a classic French flourless chocolate cake, a speciality of the Aquitaine region, the ratio is normally the equivalent amount (200g) of good quality dark (bittersweet) chocolate, butter and sugar with 4-5 eggs.

Over the years, however, I’ve lowered the sugar to appreciate the chocolate better – and, ever since I discovered Trish Deseine’s idea of adding just a tablespoon of flour “as an afterthought” (from her wonderful book, Nobody Does it Better), I’ve used this version and cut down the sugar. If you prefer to keep this cake gluten free, then omit the flour (or replace with almond flour).

This is my family’s favourite version with lowered sugar and added candied ginger.

chocolate ginger macaron

Candied Ginger

Have I told you before about the fantastic candied (glacé) ginger we can get in France? The best hails from the market town of Apt in the Luberon (Provence), where it’s the world Capital of Candied Fruits. Apt Union is the address if you’re heading in that direction. Buy by the kilo, as it’s great value for money (incidentally, I see they only deliver in France). If you can’t find it, no worries – use stem ginger in syrup. It tends to be a lot hotter, so thinly slice it and add only as much as you dare! (update: I see you can buy candied ginger from Trader Joe’s, Amazon and Walmart in the USA)

Add candied ginger to chocolate macarons (as I do in the recipe in Mad About Macarons) and it’s the best surprise ever to bite into the middle of a fudgy, fondant macaron.

Back to the fondant cake!

Add That Extra Touch to Chocolate

As with many plain chocolate fondant cakes (including those chocolate coffee individual fondants), I adore melting a teaspoon of coffee granules into the chocolate.  It brings out the earthiness of the chocolate and renders it extra smooth. If you prefer without the coffee, a couple of good pinches of salt (fleur de sel) is just as good, as I use in this recipe.

For spice lovers who want to go the full monty, then add a good pinch of cayenne pepper – you’ll see: bittersweet dark chocolate with cayenne is incredible!

chocolate ginger fondant cake

Adding candied ginger to the bottom of the cake tin – the result is it hides into the chocolate – totally melt-in-the-mouth

Chocolate Ginger Fondant Cake
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Cooling time
20 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 

A deliciously fondant dark, bittersweet fudgy chocolate cake with candied ginger for that extra kick - a French classic which can easily be turned into a gluten-free dessert by replacing the spoonful of flour with almond flour. Best made in advance and served next day at room temperature.

Course: Dessert, teatime
Cuisine: French
Keyword: bittersweet fudgy chocolate cake, chocolate fondant, French chocolate fondant recipe, quick chocolate cake
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 454 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 200 g (7oz) dark (bittersweet) chocolate No less than 60% cacao
  • 200 g (7oz) unsalted butter cut roughly into cubes
  • 150 g (5.5oz) sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt (fleur de sel) (or tsp coffee granules if making a plain chocolate cake)*
  • 5 organic eggs (medium)
  • 1 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour if gluten free, replace with almond flour
  • 50 g (2oz) candied ginger (or one stem ginger in syrup, sliced)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/360°F/Gas 4.
    Grease a round cake tin (25cm/10 inch) and line with cooking parchment.

  2. Over a pot of simmering water, place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl (bain-marie) and melt the chocolate gently for about 10 minutes.

  3. As soon as the chocolate and butter have melted, take off the heat. Add the sugar and mix together with a spoon, gradually add the eggs and then add the flour, mixing until just combined.

  4. Place the candied ginger at the bottom of the cake tin then pour over the chocolate mixture and bake for 20 minutes.

  5. Remove from the oven (don't worry if it looks uneven, it will flatten out while cooling) and leave to cool for about 20 minutes then turn out of the tin on to a serving plate.

Recipe Notes

Nutritional Information per serving:

454 Calories; 6g protein; 35g Carbohydrates; 32g fat.

Serve with the Chai Tea Crème Anglaise or with a dollop of Drambuie ice cream for a special occasion - or simply on its own.

* add a couple of pinches of cayenne pepper for that extra subtle dynamite.

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

chocolate ginger fondant cake

Serving Suggestions for Chocolate Ginger Fondant Cake

Either serve on its own slightly warmed or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, Drambuie ice cream or Parisian restaurant style with a classic vanilla Crème Anglaise.

Even better, this Chai Tea Creme Anglaise is the perfect match with just enough warming spice to complement the chocolate ginger fondant cake.

chocolate ginger fondant cake

Have you made any of the recipes from le blog, my books, or fancy making this Chocolate Ginger Fondant Cake?  Please leave a comment below or take a picture and hashtag it #MadAboutMacarons and share it on Instagram or Facebook . Even better, spread the word; tell your friends or family about the website.

THANK YOU so much for sharing the recipes!

chocolate ginger fondant cake

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Teatime in Paris by Jill Colonna

Photo courtesy of Waverley Books

Personal Gifts

Don’t forget that both recipe books, Mad About Macarons and Teatime in Paris (my personal favourite, as it’s macaron recipes plus pastries too), are great gifts. If you grab your copy now, I can send you a personalised label to stick inside either book.

Just let me know by getting in touch privately via this contact form with your address details, what you’d like me to say in particular, and I’ll send it out to you with the warmest of wishes!

Gratin Dauphinois – French Creamy Potato Bake

The other day I was taking a sizzling Gratin Dauphinois out of the oven when a couple of friends asked for the recipe. Jings! I realised I hadn’t even posted the recipe yet. So, without further ado, here is my version of the classic French creamy potato bake, which originates from the Dauphiné region of South-East France.

Gratin Dauphinois

It’s pretty hearty with all that cream and so I don’t make it often. If you love a potato bake without the cream, then you’ll love this delicious Potato Gratin Savoyard recipe, which instead bakes in chicken or vegetable stock and is smothered in plenty of grated cheese which bubbles just as beautifully.

Gratin Dauphinois with Cheese or Without Cheese?

According to Larousse Gastronomique, it states that you “can add cheese” to the Gratin Dauphinois, which leads me to mention the true definition it gives of the French verb “Gratiner“:

To cook or finish cooking a preparation in the oven, so that it presents a thin golden brown crusted layer on the surface. It’s quite delicate to obtain such a result by using breadcrumbs to a point where it bakes further than a brown colour. On the other hand, it’s relatively easy to add a superficial browning to the surface by adding grated cheese or breadcrumbs …

In general, I personally prefer it without the cheese, as it’s easier to pair with the rest of the meal. If entertaining, it also means that we can still serve a plateau de fromages with French cheeses with a little less of the guilt!

Gratin Dauphinois

The process is very easy. First and foremost, choose a waxy potato variety such as Charlotte, Jersey Royals or Belle de Fontenay, as they keep their shape and have just enough starch to thicken up the creamy sauce as it bakes in the oven.

Slice the potatoes and coat them in hot milk and cream, nutmeg and seasoning, throw into a greased baking dish and bake.  I often make this in advance earlier in the day if making for dinner guests – it takes the stress out of the meal preparation when you can reheat in about 15-20 minutes!

Gratin Dauphinois

When I say seasoning, why not add a special touch of truffle salt? It gives a subtle background of earthy festive luxury.

Gratin Dauphinois

Normally a Gratin Dauphinois is served as a side-dish; I love to serve it with roasted chicken or pan-fried chicken I’ve rolled in thin slices of smoked bacon (poitrine fumé). However, it’s also great on its own as a light supper and ideal for vegetarians.

UPDATE: I experimented with this dish to accompany salmon steaks and added a simple Lapsang Souchong teabag to the milk as it was heating.  The result is the most wonderful, subtle smoky hint to the potato bake, which is perfect for an Autumnal or Winter dish.

Gratin Dauphinois

Gratin Dauphinois
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
45 mins
Total Time
1 hr
 

Easy recipe for the French classic, Gratin Dauphinois. Enjoy this creamy, hearty side-dish with or without cheese. Serve with grilled meats or salmon or on its own with added bacon.

Course: Side Dish, Supper
Cuisine: French
Keyword: creamy potato bake, gratin dauphinois, potato cream gratin
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 210 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 750 g (1lb 10oz) potatoes waxy varieties (Belle de Fontenay, Charlotte, Jersey Royals)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic finely chopped (vein removed)
  • 275 ml (10fl oz) full fat milk (half pint)
  • 150 ml (5.5fl oz) double cream (or liquid crème fraîche)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg freshly grated or ground (no more than this)
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste (I add a few pinches of truffle salt)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme (optional)
  • knob butter to grease the dish
  • 100 g (3.5oz) emmental or gruyère cheese finely grated (optional)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 190°C/170°C fan/ 375°F/Gas 5.

  2. Peel the potatoes (although not always necessary - I love them cleaned with skins still on), wash and pat dry on kitchen paper. Slice them as thin as you can (3mm) either by hand (like I've done here) or with a mandoline (watch your fingers!) or the slicer attachment of a food processor.

  3. Heat the milk, cream and chopped garlic (depending how much you like your garlic!) in a medium saucepan (able to hold all the potatoes) until boiling. Turn down the heat to low, add the nutmeg, salt and pepper (a few turns of the pepper mill) then add the sliced potatoes (no need to wash, as you need the starch to thicken when it bakes).

  4. Cook for about 5 minutes, turning the slices over with a spoon so that the potatoes are well covered and heated in the cream. (If you prefer to add cheese, add it here).

  5. Butter a baking dish (26x18cm/10x7inch). Add the potato mixture to the dish, spreading them out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown

Recipe Notes

If making for guests, prepare 2-3 hours in advance and reheat covered in foil for 15 minutes before serving to make life easier.

UPDATE: If serving this with salmon, add a Lapsang Souchong teabag when initially heating the milk then remove before adding the potatoes. The result is a lovely subtle smoky flavour - perfect for Autumn or Winter warming suppers.

Nutritional Values: 210 Calories per serving (without the cheese); 5g protein; 9g carbohydrates; 27g fat.

Matching wines: As this is a side-dish, it all depends on what you're eating with it but since it's a real winter warming dish I'd go for a gutsy, oily white such as a Chardonnay, Voignier or Chenin Blanc and for a red, a good Burgundy (Pinot Noir) or Beaujolais Cru such as Morgon.

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

Have you made any of the recipes from le blog, my books, or fancy making this Gratin Dauphinois?  Please leave a comment below or why not take a picture and hashtag it #MadAboutMacarons on Instagram or Facebook?

Even better, why not share this blog article with friends and family?  Thanks for popping in.

Gratin Dauphinois

Personalised Gifts

Don’t forget that both recipe books, Mad About Macarons and Teatime in Paris (my personal favourite, as it’s macaron recipes plus pastries too), are great gifts. If you grab your copy now, I can send you a personalised label to stick inside either book.

Just let me know by getting in touch privately via this contact form with your address details, what you’d like me to say in particular, and I’ll send it out to you with the warmest of wishes!

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 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 in the window 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)

Black Sesame Ice Cream

After tasting the most popular Japanese ice creams on our family trip to Japan this summer, our favourite choice was Black Sesame Ice Cream.

One or two spoonfuls of this light yet creamy dark nectar has the same kind of addictive reaction that you’d get from eating a spoonful of slightly salted peanut butter. Yet it’s not peanuts, of course – but who would have thought that black sesame seeds made into ice cream could be this good?

Black Sesame Ice Cream

Melting for Black Sesame ice cream

Japanese Ice Cream

You’ll love the Japanese word for ice cream. It looks complicated at first glance but just say this out loud:
AISUKURÏMU.

I’m not the biggest ice cream fan but when it’s hot, I adore homemade ice cream during a heatwave like it was this summer in Japan – and now, mid September, it’s back to ice cream weather in Paris this week with 29°C/84°F temperatures!

Such a dark grey colour of ice cream perhaps doesn’t look that aesthetic, does it? Neither does my black sesame version look particularly like ice cream as it melted pretty quickly in this heat while I eventually found my camera (I knew something was missing!). Although, personally, this is how I prefer it – do you? In this heat, I’m not going to take more photos.  I ate it all and have no regrets.

Matcha ice cream

Matcha Do About Green Tea Ice Cream

What I didn’t realise when I took this photo, is that the black sesame ice cream hidden underneath would be our favourite. With all the hype on the Matcha flavours, I almost felt embarrassed to prefer the Black Sesame! For more about our ice cream experiences and the sweeter side of Japan, read about it in my sweet treat post, Teatime in Japan.

Black Sesame Ice Cream: Powder or Paste?

Straight after tasting the black sesame ice cream, we headed to the nearest store to find black sesame.  Antoine and the girls were so inspired and determined we had to make this at home!

So I got to it straight away on return to develop a recipe. Here I used a 70g (2.5oz) packet of pre-prepared powdered black sesame seeds (Surigoma Black by Hokuya) which we found in the Matsuya store in Tokyo’s Asakusu district, next to the Senso-ji temple and near the popular gelateria. It worked well, and was even lovelier when toasting the black sesame in a pan first (see recipe below).

Happily, on return to Paris I discovered the most divine, intense black sesame paste (which is pre-roasted) at Nishikidôri, which makes this recipe even easier, but if you can’t find it, the powder is just as good. I also experimented using a little honey, but it overpowered the black sesame.  The family have now unanimously tasted and approved the recipe below: not too rich and lighter with milk rather than just made with cream. To top it all, black sesame seeds are so healthy too!

Black sesame ice cream

Black Sesame Ice Cream

Black Sesame Ice Cream
Prep Time
13 mins
Cook Time
10 mins
Chilling/Freezing Time
3 hrs
Total Time
23 mins
 

A light but creamy popular Japanese ice cream that would particularly appeal to fans of peanut butter, due to its addictive, roasted, nutty intensity of flavours.

Course: Dessert, Snack, teatime
Cuisine: French, Japanese
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 224 kcal
Author: Jill Colonna
Ingredients
  • 75 g (3oz) Japanese black sesame paste (or whole black sesame seeds) available from Japanese speciality stores
  • 500 ml (18 fl oz) whole milk full-fat
  • 5 egg yolks organic
  • 110 g (4oz) sugar
  • 100 ml (3.5 fl oz) cream whipping cream
  • pinch salt Fleur de sel
Instructions
  1. Open Sesame (sorry, couldn't resist). 

  2. If using whole seeds, dry roast them in a non-stick frying pan for 4-5 minutes then grind in a coffee grinder (optional step but recommend doing this to bring out extra flavour). If possible, use pre-packaged black sesame paste found in Japanese speciality stores. 

  3. Gently heat the milk in a heavy-based saucepan (do not boil).  Meanwhile, in a large bowl with a lid, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until creamy. Add the black sesame powder and salt, whisking until smooth.

  4. Pour about half of the hot milk on to the black sesame mixture, whisking until combined then transfer back to the saucepan.  Whisk constantly to keep the mixture smooth and heat over a medium heat just until thickened then remove from the heat to avoid curdling the eggs.  At this point, the mixture should smoothly coat a spoon to show that it's ready.

  5. Add the cold cream, set aside to cool, then cover and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.

  6. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions, then freeze for at least an hour before serving.

Recipe Notes

I recommend using pre-prepared Japanese black sesame paste, as it's already roasted. However, if you can't find it from speciality Japanese stores, it's also great using whole seeds: used a 70g packet of black sesame, but if you prefer your ice cream darker and more intense, use 85g (3oz). N.B. At my local Japanese store in Paris, I learned that black tahini paste is much lighter than the Japanese black sesame paste, which has more intensity.

Serve the ice cream on its own or with lemon or yuzu macarons (if using my recipes from either book, replace fresh lemon juice with yuzu juice, available in specialist Asian stores).

Jill Colonna

MadAboutMacarons.com

 

Yuzu’ll Love this with Yuzu Macarons

Sorry for the Scottish joke (can never resist – at least it’s not seedy!). Needless to say, the ice cream is delicious served with lemon macarons – better still, make yuzu macarons!  Just follow either of the lemon macaron recipes in either Mad About Macarons or Teatime in Paris, and replace the fresh lemon juice with yuzu juice, available from Japanese specialist stores.

Have you made any of the recipes from le blog, my books, or just fancy making this Black Sesame Ice Cream?  Please leave a comment below or take a picture and hashtag it #MadAboutMacarons on Instagram or Facebook.  – and if you like my books, then I’ll be daring and ask if you would be kind enough to leave a review on Amazon. You’ve no idea how that would help boost Teatime in Paris (my favourite of the two), as it has been in the first book’s shadow (which is being reprinted again!) and your comment could help make it visible. Thanks so much – I love to see you enjoying the recipes!

Black sesame ice cream

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