Archive | February, 2011

Food trends: Cooking with Agave Syrup Recipes – Baked Ricotta, ‘Bananatella’

10 Feb
Toast with coffee and chocolate spread

Bananatella, toast and coffee

Recently I was designated cook and hostess for a group of friends at Sunday brunch. Somehow I found myself cooking for one diabetic, one person on the Dukan diet, one health food junkie, three normal (habitually black coffee drinking, pain au chocolate munching) French people, and of course, me- a kind of confused mix of the all the above!

So… instead of breaking into a cold sweat and ranting that it was bound to become a “catastrophe” I decided to have fun with the challenge by attempting a few recipes that would hopefully satisfy the sweet tooth, whilst being suitable for those unable to consume, or choosing to limit/avoid sugar.

Here is what landed on the brunch menu:

• Scrambled free range eggs with fresh goats cheese and chives
• Smoked Salmon with fresh lemon and dill
• Traditional English scones with butter and jam (I love cooking English food for my French friends as it’s so amusing to me when they say things directly comparing it back to French food, such as: “Oooh… la scone.. it kind of feels like a brioche and tastes like a crepe” LOL)
• Sweet Baked Vanilla Ricotta with fresh Orange and Mint Fruit Salad
• Bananatella Chocolate Spread/Pâte à Tartiner

• Traditional baguettes and country sourdough from the local Jacob’s boulangerie

Outdoor oven

No, unfortunately that's not a pizza oven

Kids playing in the garden

Winter in the south

I’m happy to report back that the Light Bananatella and Sweet Baked Vanilla Ricotta were successfully pulled off without adding any sugar, or artificial sweeteners. Instead, I used my new favorite and most indispensable ingredient: Agave syrup, also commonly called Agave Nectar. Known to the Aztecs as the “Nectar of Gods”, this product really is a God-send.

In France, Syrop d’Agave is now so popular that you can find it in nearly all major supermarkets, either next to honey (and it’s often cheaper than honey) or in the health food isle. It’s widely available in Canada and the US, but in many other regions it can still be either impossible to find, or hiding on a back shelf wearing a huge price tag in an organic food store. Either way, you should be able to source it for a good price and easily buy it online, regardless of where you’re located.

If you don’t yet know what all the rage is about, here’s what you need to know. Agave syrup is made from… you guessed it- the agave plant. That’s right, the cactus grown in Mexico that’s also used to make tequila. Now here’s the catch. It’s not exactly calorie-free, but it’s so low ‘GI’ that it does not provoke the insulin reaction in your body that sugar does. This is very good news for diabetics, dieters, or anyone like me who loves to cook sweet yummy treats but likes to “have her cake and eat it too.”

Agave syrup has a very high proportion (around 90%) of Fructose, which in isolation has a very low glycemic index. Agave syrup is also approximately 1.5 times sweeter than sugar or honey and is perfectly suitable for baking and cooking at high temperatures.

To put things into perspective, any food with a GI rating of 55 or less is considered ‘Low GI’. Table sugar has a GI of 68, honey is approx 55, raw apples have a GI of 40 and Agave Syrup ranges between 11 and 19. Very sweet numbers, I must say.

Anyway, that’s enough about the numbers… let’s move on to the fun part- sharing the recipes! Below you will find photos and recipes for the sugar-free Baked Ricotta and the homemade Low-fat, Sugar-free Nutella Substitute I have aptly named “Bananatella”. I know, I know, nothing can ever truly replace Nutella, let’s be honest, but this recipe which uses agave syrup and naturally caramelized bananas to give it texture and sweetness is smooth, rich, satisfying and delicious- also great when served on toast for kids at breakfast.

Do you have any experiences or tips cooking with sugar alternatives? Have you already cooked with Agave syrup? Feel free to join the conversation by using the comments box at the bottom of this post.

Recipe: Sugar-free Sweet Baked Vanilla Ricotta with Orange & Mint Fruit Salad

Baked Ricotta with Orange and Pistachio

Sweet Baked Vanilla Ricotta with Orange and Pistachio

Serves 8-10 and keeps for over a week refrigerated.
This baked cheesecake is easier to turn out and slice when it is cold, so you can bake it the day before you wish to serve it, slice it when it is cold and then let it come to room temperature. It is best made in a nonstick loaf tin, 25 cm (10 in) long, 5 cm (2 in) wide and 7.5 cm (3 in) deep, or a round, hollow cake tin (as pictured).

You can also substitute the vanilla bean for lemon zest, or add cinnamon and nutmeg to the vanilla version. Use the firmest, freshest ricotta you can find. The pre-packaged product in the supermarket is far inferior to deli-fresh ricotta. If you don’t have the choice, you can use the softer, packaged cheese but strain it for an hour in a fine sieve to reduce the water content. It’s near impossible to find fresh ricotta in France, so I now substitute with a fresh cheese from the south of France called Brousse and I use the low fat (3%) variety.

3 cups (800 g/1-3/4 lb) fresh ricotta cheese (low fat or regular)
2 free-range eggs
1 vanilla bean pod
4 tbsp agave syrup (or sweetened to taste)
2 oranges (optional for decoration)
Handful of chopped pistachios (optional for serving)

Fresh Orange and Mint Fruit Salad:

4 oranges
3 cups fresh orange juice
½ tsp cinnamon (optional)
½ bunch fresh chopped mint

To bake the ricotta, preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F). In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta and the eggs. Split the vanilla bean and scrape in the seeds. Add the agave syrup.

To decorate the cake, peel 2 whole oranges and remove all rind. Slice the oranges finely and place them around the sides of the tin. Pour the ricotta mixture into the tin and cover with aluminum kitchen foil. Prepare a bain-marie by placing the tin into a slightly larger baking pan and pouring in enough hot water to come about half-way up the side of the tin. Carefully place the baking pan in the oven. Bake the ricotta for 40-60 minutes, until the top is slightly golden and the cake feels firm.

When the ricotta is ready, remove the loaf tin from the bain-marie and remove the foil. Let the ricotta cool, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate. When it is cold you can gently turn it out of the tin and slice it as required.
To make the fresh orange salad, peel 5 whole oranges and cut into round slices. Transfer to a large serving bowl and add orange juice, fresh mint leaves and cinnamon (optional).

Orange and Mint Salad

Orange and Mint Fruit Salad

Recipe: Sugar-free ‘Bananatella’ Chocolate Spread / Pâte à Tartiner

Nutella toast dipped in coffee

Coffee dunking- the French way


2 overripe bananas
4 tbsp quality cocoa powder
3 tbsp hazelnut oil
2 tbsp skim milk powder
3 tbps hot water
5 tbsp agave syrup
1 tbsp fromage blanc or thick greek yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. Pierce a small hole the skins of the bananas with a knife and wrap them in foil. Bake slowly till they caramelize in their own juices for approx 1 hour. Once cooled, scoop out the flesh from the skins into a mixing bowl and mash the bananas with a fork. In a small, heavy based saucepan on low heat, combine the hazelnut oil, half the agave syrup and slowly sift in the cocoa powder till combined into a thick paste.

Add the hot water and skim milk powder and whisk. Transfer the chocolate paste and banana to a food processor (or you can use a hand blender in one bowl) and process all the ingredients together on high speed. Add the remaining agave syrup and the fromage blanc. Pour into clean and dry glass jam jar or conserve pot, seal and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated and well sealed after serving. Enjoy!

Dunking toast in coffee

Toasties dipped in chocolate spread

Blue french shutters

The light wasn't quite right the day they painted the left panel ...


Queen of Tarts: Catherine Kluger’s sweet and savoury delights to warm the heart

1 Feb
Queen of Tarts

Queen of Tarts: Tarts to warm your heart @ Tartes Kluger, Paris

God I love a good tart. There’s something about that crumbly, buttery pastry, filled with baked goodness that is ever-so satisfying; and the art of the tart is something the French manage to do so well.

A simple but perfectly baked tart can be the ultimate comfort food, and the perfect pastry base has become the ultimate creative canvas for tart master Catherine Kluger- creator of “Tartes Kluger”, Paris. Kluger- an ex music industry lawyer who loved baking and creating delicious treats for friends and dinner parties, donned the suit and slipped on her apron in 2009 when she opened Tartes Kluger in the vibrant and eclectic Marais district of Paris.

Originally a boulangerie, the space was transformed into this unique atelier des tartes where you can now dine in, take away and even order your tarts online, home delivered and hot on arrival.

la Porte

Follow your nose: heavenly scents waft out of the Tartes Kluger entrance and fill the backstreets of the Marais

Tartes Kluger window

Shopfront window @ Tartes Kluger

Menu Blackboard

Menu of the day

The extensive range of both sweet and savory tarts is made with seasonal, organic fruit and vegetables, and the eggs, cream and flour are sourced where possible from quality, sustainability certified suppliers and fabricated to respectful ancient methods.

Some of the tarts you can order by the slice or as part of the degustation menu include:

• Thai salmon, zucchini + vermicelli
• Fresh goats cheese, tomato, basil + mint
• Roast pumpkin, chestnut + mushroom
• Curried madras chicken and tomato
• Foie gras, potato + raspberry vinegar
• Green pea, zucchini, rocket + artichoke
• *Carrot, lemon and coriander pictured (Scroll down for recipe below)

• Orange and cardamom with chantilly ginger cream
• ‘Mont blanc’ style chestnut pavlova pie
• Mango and coconut summer biscuit
• Plum and almond cream
• Passion fruit, hazelnut meringue + lime
• Sweet Ricotta and raspberry

Three pieces of tart

Peace by tart: Spinach, ricotta & sesame, Three-ham & mustard, Carrot, lemon & coriander tarts

Sweet Summer Mango Biscuit Tart

Sweet Summer Mango Biscuit Tart

Piece of dark chocolate tart

Tart to warm hearts: The warm dark chocolate tart boasts a crumbly biscuit base and soft, brownie-like centre

le Cafe Gourmand

Lle Cafe Gourmand chez Tartes Kluger


Behind the scenes @ Tartes Kluger: Tarts fresh out of the oven

Chocolate tart on cooling rack

Freshly baked hot chocolate tart

Mouth watering yet? Mine is, just from writing this!

What I most love about the humble tart is the unlimited variety of delicious combinations you can create, starting only from a well-made sweet or savoury pastry base. You are limited only by your imagination, inspiration and availability of quality, seasonal ingredients.

Let’s see… Carrot, Lemon & Coriander Pie, followed by a Summer Mango & Coconut tart- what better way to make a square meal out of a round dish? Now all you have to do is an afternoon “faire tour” of vintage shops in the fabulous Marais district, and convince yourself that the shopping has burnt off your lunch!

Of course, casually ‘popping into a Parisian tart bakery’ for lunch is not always an option, however baking a homemade tart and sharing the love with your friends and family is a true pleasure of its own. Fortunately, Catherine loves to share her recipes and tart-making tricks of the trade. Her two beautiful and fully illustrated cookbooks are available on Amazon, and her recipes are well sought after for their imaginative flavour pairings, seasonal approach and crowd-pleasing appeal. The Carrot, lemon confit and coriander tart I tasted on my visit was my absolute favorite, so thanks to Catherine, I have translated and am sharing her recipe for this delicious, trans-seasonal savoury tart below.

Catherine Kluger, Recipe Books, The Chef

The queen, her books, her chef

Catherine Kluger Portrait

Catherine Kluger: Queen of Tarts

Do you have a favorite tart recipe? What was the best tart you have ever eaten, and where? Do you have any baking tips for the perfect pastry, or perhaps some gluten free ideas and alternatives to share with the rest of us? Post your ideas and thoughts in the comments box below.

Happy tart making and baking!

Carrot, Lemon Confit & Coriander Tart
Courtesy of Catherine Kluger


Carrot, Lemon Confit + Coriander Tart: Recipe below

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Resting time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients: Tart Pastry

Start the tart by preparing the pastry, and the first step should be preheating the oven to 200ºC/400ºF
This pastry recipe makes one 9-inch (23 cm) tart shell and is sourced from VEGETARIAN COOKING FOR EVERYONE by Deborah Madison, as quoted on

A fail-proof French–style crust for lining those French tart pans with a removable bottom. Because the dough is so short, it’s virtually impossible to overwork it.

• 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic plain flour
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1/2 cup butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces
• 3 tablespoons water
• 1 tablespoon poppy seeds or cumin

Instructions: Tart Pastry

Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a bowl, then work in the butter with two knives, your fingers, or a mixer until it makes fine crumbs without becoming completely smooth. Stir in enough water to pull the dough together. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

To line the pan, roll the dough out into a 9-inch circle then set it in the pan. Using the heel of your palm, press the dough up the side. If some pieces are too long, break them off and add them, as needed, to areas that are too short. The sides should be about ¼ inch thick, rise ¼ inch above the rim, and be slightly thinner at the base of the pan. This way, when the dough slumps during the baking, this shallow space will be filled evenly instead of being overly thick and under-baked. Carefully set the tart shell in the freezer to harden.

Tart shells are nearly always pre-baked before filling. To pre-bake a tart shell, preheat the oven to 200 degrees celcius/400ºF. “Blindbake” the pastry shell by lining pastry over with baking paper, then filling the tart tin with dry rice or legumes such as beans or lentils which will weigh down the based and stop it from swelling. Bake until set and lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Check it several times for swells and prick any large bubbles with the tip of a knife.

Ingredients: Tart filling

• 300 ml milk
• 100 ml pouring cream
• 3 whole eggs
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 200 g carrots
• 30 g lemon confit (preserved lemon)
• ½ bunch fresh coriander

Instructions: Tart preparation

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.

Peel carrots and cut into very thin strips or shred with a processor into long and thin noodle-like shreds.
‘Sweat’ the carrots to remove their water content by resting the carrot shreds in a colander mixed approximately 2 tsp of course sea salt. Leave to rest for one hour then ‘pat dry’ using a tea-towel to remove excess water and salt.

Take the pre-baked pastry dish arrange the shredded carrot at the bottom of the dish as evenly and vertically as possible, trying to make them ‘stand upright’ rather than lie flat on the bottom of dish, to fill the volume of the tin.

Rinse confit lemon, dry with paper towel and dice until it’s finely minced. Chop the coriander leaves finely and spread the coriander and lemon evenly over the carrot.

Prepare the liquid ingredients by mixing the eggs, milk, cream, salt and pepper together in a bowl.
Pour the liquid over the top of the carrots etc up to the height of the edge of the pastry. Decorate the top with coriander and cracked black pepper. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for 20 minutes whilst you drink a glass of champagne and call your friends and family to the table.

Bon Appétit!

Tartes Kluger can be found at 6 Rue du Forez in the Marais (3rd) arrondissement of Paris
Metro: Temple, Filles du Calvaire
Ph: +33 (0)1 53 01 53 53

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