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French family recipes – Martine from Brittany and her famous ‘Lotte à l’Armoricaine’

10 Oct

As you may have noticed, I am a quite the incurable food tourist- which is why La belle France, with its rich regional diversity and world-renowned gastronomy, never ceases to amaze me, or my stomach. This recent addition to my French Food Travel series takes us to the stunning coastal region of Bretagne know in English as “Brittany” where the local cuisine and characters serve to reveal the history and culture of this region. I shot a little video this time so here are the highlights – this time more in the form of a photo reportage.
All images are credited to Alexandre Planchot unless noted otherwise.

La Lotte à l'Armoricaine

A Brittany regional classic and the feature dish: La Lotte à l'Armoricaine / Monkfish in Sauce 'Armoricaine'. Image credit: Rachel Bajada

First up, we must meet our local host, and the star of this story- Martine. Martine is from Brest in Brittany where she’s most famous for her tried and tested family recipe for ‘La Lotte à l’Armoricaine’(Recipe at end of this article). When she cooks this dish, her children just happen to be free for dinner that night, and the family cat is never lucky enough to get leftovers for dinner. Martine loves nothing more than the knowledge that her recipe is the best in town.

martine_at_fish_markets

Now it's time to meet Martine

This peninsular region in the North West of France along the English Channel has a turbulent, divided past and fierce sense of self identity. Previously a kingdom and then a duchy, Brittany was united to the Kingdom of France in 1532 as a province. Brittany occupies a large peninsula in the north west of France, lying between the English to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. The historical province of Brittany is divided into five departments including the Côtes-d’Armor in the north, from where this traditional dish originates. Today, French is spoken throughout this region, but Breton- a Celtic language that most present in the west, can still be heard all over Brittany, and Gallo, a romantic ‘langue d’oil’ is still spoken in the east.

The Fishing Port, Brtagne/Brittany

The Fishing Port, Brtagne / Brittany, France. Image Credit: Flickr user "bpmm"

In terms of local gastronomy, Brittany is most famous for local delights including Clafoutis and ‘Far Breton’

Cherry Clafoutis and Far Breton

Cherry Clafoutis and Far Breton. Image credits: Flickr users jypsygen and kriscar29

Not forgetting of course the now world-famous crêpes and galettes, to be washed down with a good pint of local Breton cider.

Ham and cheese crêpes with apple cider

Crêpes and cider. Image credit: Flickr users jypsygen and Tarnie

And then there is Cancale, on Brittany’s Côte d’Emeraude, where to eat anything but oysters would be absurd– since this region, thanks to its favourable geography sheltered from the strong winds and currents found on north Breton coast, produces France’s finest oysters and shellfish.

Oyster stand, Brittany

Fresh oysters anyone? Image credit: Flickr user Gentse Fieste

Cancale Bertagne

Brittany: Pretty as a picture. Image credit: Flickr user "zenithe"

The sauce à l’Armoricaine is a traditional French recipe from coastal Brittany where it is most commonly prepared with shellfish, or used to flavour firm white-fleshed fish such as La Lotte or Monkfish– otherwise known as poor man’s lobster. It’s creation dates back to1860 when it was first made by French chef Pierre Fraisse- a Breton who had been working in Chicago and recently returned to Paris where he opened his own restaurant serving traditional Britannic cuisine.

Old Brittany (c.1905) Vintage photographic postcard

Old Brittany. The Sea Dogs' Circle (c.1905) Vintage photographic postcard, published by Collection Villard, Quimper, Finistère, France. © Casas-Rodríguez Collection, 2009. Flickr Creative Commons

Legend has it that late one evening some customers arrived at his restaurant hoping to be served dinner just before closing time, and so they had less than an hour to eat. Using the products at hand- a few lobsters and the chef’s staples such as aromatic herbs and fresh tomatoes, he was too pressed for time to slowly cook the lobster in a bouillon (seafood stock) as he would normally do, so instead he flambéed the lobster flesh in cognac and cooked it in a sauce of diced tomato, white wine, garlic and fresh herbs.

The dish was a big success with his late night diners and when they asked what the dish was called, he named it on the spur of the moment- “Sauce Américaine”- in homage of his recent stint in America where he learnt to prepare delicious dishes but make them much faster to suit the pace of his American clientele!

Lobster fishing Brittany Archival photo

Lobster Fishing In Brittany (c.1910). Petit Port de Bestrée. - Préparatifs pour la Pêche de Langoustes. Preparations for Spiny lobster fishing. Vintage photographic postcard, c.1910 Published by Lévy et Neurdein Réunis (originally by Neurdein frères), Paris, France. © Casas-Rodríguez Collection, 2009

Bright and early at 9 am and we’re at Martine’s local market where she comes at least three times per week to buy fresh produce. La Lotte (Monk Fish) is in season, and all the ingredients for the day’s meal are sourced from her favourite market suppliers- and I can see why she loves coming here. Meet Monsieur Marcel- Martine’s poissonier du marche. What a man. Marcel wakes up, rain, hail or shine, at 3am each morning to collect and deliver the freshest seafood; and on this day, he had specially set aside for Martine the best looking Monkfish of the day’s haul.

To add to the fun, I acquired my now expert knowledge on this fish over an entertaining conversation involving a few glasses of champagne and some freshly shucked oysters at the market oyster stand. A few French fishing jokes and generation-specific expressions were lost in translation on my end over our fascinating chat, but here’s what I did understand and do remember:

Marcel_Poissonier_Brittany

Meet Marcel. Martine's charismatic local market Poissonier

The Monkfish is an angler-fish which comes from la mer du nord and is in fact, really really UGLY.

Wondering if the effects of its hit by the ugly stick was the reason that it’s rare to spot an entire fish (with its head and all) at the markets, I asked Marcel the question. It turns out the big ugly head of the monkfish actually takes up more than 50% of it’s body weight and aside from the cheeks, is mostly inedible, thus the fisherman immediately throw the heads overboard so save weight and storage space for the long journey back to the mainland.

Homard Bleu

Homard Bleu. Live Blue Lobster from Brittany

This fish has a very bland but firm flesh and so has been used traditionally and still to this day, as a replacement for Lobster- thus the name “poor mans’ lobster”. Saying that, the economic factor is becoming somewhat obsolete since it’s now not uncommon to pay over €30/kg due increasing costs related to boat fuel and transport.

cutting skin of monkfish

Thicked skinned. La Lotte (Monkfish) has seven layers of skin which also cover the dorsal.

Marcel also showed Martine and myself that the Monkfish has an impressive seven layers of skin which also cover the dorsal. A job best left to the pros I say…

Ingredients_la sauce

Sauce staples: White wine, onions, garlic, tomatoes, fresh herbs

Martine then did her rounds at her favourite fruit and vegetable stalls picking up fresh herbs, onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemons, and lastly cheese (for the cheese course after our meal bien sûr), then before I knew it we were back in the wonderful home kitchen of Martine- the place where all the magic happens.

Martine in her kitchen

Martine et sa cuisine. Are you ready?

Martine’s recipe for la Lotte Armoricaine was handed down to her by her mother, and has been a special Christmas and celebratory dish cooked by the women of her family for more than four generations.

Martine's family photos

Family tradition. The recipe has been in Martine's family for four generations

Due to the given name of this dish, to this day a battle of recipe ownership exists between the Americans and the French, who commonly refer to the sauce respectively as either Americaine or Armoricaine– ‘Armorique’ being an ancient name for the northern region of Brittany where the coast is called les Côtes d’Armor.

‘Americaine’ as labelled by chef Pierre, suggests ownership to the Americans, and ‘Armoricaine’ implies that it originates from the French Armorique coast. Most Bretons today claim that the simply must recipe must come from Brittany, since all ingredients are typical of the region and because Lobsters have been fished for generations by their local fishermen.

Regardless of the friendly food tug of war between them, this dish combines the best of both worlds- the rapid preparation techniques of the Americans, and the rich flavours and regional produce that the French are famous for.

Rachel and Martine dicing onions and herbs

Martine telling Rachel the story of how the Americans and Bretons still argue to this day over who 'owns' the sauce recipe

Rachel Bajada_Martine_cooking

Martine puts the flour-coated fish into a hot pan with olive oil and butter

A relatively simple dish, the sauce is quick to prepare and the fish is cooked twice- first coated in flour, pan fried in butter and then flambéed in cognac.
When Martine poured out a shot glass of cognac in front of me I was wondering why she was offering me a digestif before the meal…then before I had time to ask, it was poured into the pan and then well…. the photos say it all!

Rachel Bajada and Martine flambée scene

"Oh we're just goingto add a tad of Cognac to the pan now...." says Martine

Flambée surpise!

Ohhhh now just a little cognac flambée.... I mean... 2 foot fire in the kitchen!!!

Martine laughs after her successful surprise flambée stunt

The satisfied grin. Just an average day in the la cuisine de Martine!

Rachel terrified after flambee surprise

"O.M.G. Do I still have my eyebrows???!!!"

spics

Secret's in the spices. Real saffron and piment d'espelette make all the difference.

Once the sauce has significantly reduced, the fish is then returned to the pan and cooked for a further 5 minutes only- cooking the fish longer than this can quickly render the flesh tough and dry.

The sauce must always be cooked slowly and gently, and no additional salt or condiments are required as an enormous amount of flavour is gained through the caramelisation of the sugars in the wine and cognac and the existing saltiness in the salted butter of Brittany. Martine swears by using Britannic butter, insisting that the salt from the Britannic ocean, when combined with products of sea and terroir, creates a truly special result that cannot be reproduced in absence of these specific products of the region.

Mijoter. Sauce a l'Armoricaine simmering

Mijoter. The sauce and la lotte left to simmer

And well, there you have it. We couldn’t wait any longer to tasted it so we decided to taste it right out of the pan!

Now... let's eat!

Chin Chin! We couldn't wait any longer so we tasted it straight out of the pan and washed it down with a good chablis. Santé!

Super bon! This dish turned out to be surprisingly simple and was honestly one of the most satisfying, delicious, homely comfort food meals I have ever eaten. Martine has been kind enough to share the recipe (please find below) but in all honesty, I’m sure that no one can reproduce it to be the same as her homemade, 4th generation family recipe goodness.

Dish of La lotte a l'Armoricaine

La lotte a l'Armoricaine. The finished dish. Of course in the end we plated it up, set the table à la Française and served with rice.

martine_laughing

Bravo Bravo et merci encore Martine!

Recipe: Martine’s ‘Lotte à l’Armoricaine’
Serves 4

• 1.2 kg fresh Monkfish fillets (or substitute for other firm white fish)
• 50 grams salted butter (obviously Martine’s is butter from Bretagne with salt de Guérande) but if you don’t live in France you will have to make do with good quality salted butter
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 standard tin of peeled tomato puree
• 1 tbsp tomato puree (concentrate)
• 1 white onion
• 2 shallots
• Dried herbs de Provence (parsley, thyme, bay leaves)
• 2 cloves garlic
• 2 tablespoons of plain white flour
• Half a bottle dry white wine
• 250 ml fish stock
• 50 ml cognac
• 1 handful fresh coriander
• Small pinch piment d’espelette (a special Basque-country, dried spice).
The closest substitute is cayenne pepper
• 3-4 threads saffron
• Sea salt and pepper to taste
• Juice of half a lemon

The monkfish is a tricky fish to prepare by yourself so it’s much easier to have the monkfish prepared and cut into medallions by your fishmonger.

Coat the fish fillets lightly in flour. In a heavy-based or good quality cast-iron pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil so that the butter does not burn.
Place the monkfish fillets in the pan then add the cognac. Light the cognac with a flame and flambé. Take the pan off the heat, place the fish aside in a separate dish and put it aside to rest.

Finely dice the garlic, onion and shallots. Gently cook the garlic and onions in the flambéed saucepan then the tomatoes, fish stock, white wine, piment d’espelette and herbs de Provence. Allow to simmer gently until the sauce has reduced and concentrated in flavour, for at least 20 minutes.

Finally, add the pieces of fish to the sauce in the pan and cook for only a further 5 or so minutes. Just before serving, add fresh coriander and saffron, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice. Now close your eyes, pour a glass of wine and imagine yourself on the coast of Brittany…

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Agnes’ Alsacien Rhubarb & Almond Tart / Tarte à la Rhubarbe à l’Alsacienne

22 May

French Rhubarb tart

Recently I took a weekend trip to Strasbourg- the capital city of Alsace situated on France’s East bordering Germany and only 2.5 hours out of Paris on the high-speed train.

To me, Alsace is a perfect example of France’s great regional diversity. Arriving in this region really gives you the impression of crossing borders: the architecture, local gastronomy, culture, climate and even language are so uniquely, strikingly Alsacien. Hosted by the lovely Agnès and friends, my weekend getaway just outside the capital of Strasbourg turned out to be both a cultural and gastronomic delight. If I had to put my Alsacien culinary impressions into three words I would call it the “Land of choucroute, pork, and pastry”– and lots of it!

Alsacien cuisine, strongly based on Germanic culinary traditions, is marked by the use of pork in various forms. Additionally, the gastronomic symbol of this region is undoubtedly “Sauerkraut”- or in French “Choucroute”. That is, slow cooked white cabbage. And this is one thing I have really grown to love. On this trip I must say I had one of my all-time most memorable meals. After luckily scoring a table at the famous “Maison Kammerzel” perfectly positioned to bask in the midday sun at Place de la Cathedral whilst dining to the sound of street musicians and church bells, I ate my first Choucroute aux trois poissons – un vrai plaisir! How they turn the humble cabbage into something as savoureuse and mouth-watering as this, seasoned with the delicate flavours of juniper berries and cumin and finished off with a light lemony butter sauce…I will sadly never know, since the famous recipe form this restaurant recipe is one of the region’s best-kept secrets.

Anyway, aside from eating of course, my most treasured travel experiences are undoubtedly those that involve cooking with locals. On this particular trip, I was shown first hand how to prepare three typically Alsacien dishes:

Firstly, a lesson in the famous dish ‘Baeckeoffe’ (a hard-core, heavy, meat and potato dish designed for the thick of freezing winter).

Secondly, since white Asparagus is also in season right now and the local produce was of impressively quality, our neighbour showed me the traditional blanching method in boiled water with salt and sugar, served at room temperature with a heavenly light mousseline mayonnaise in which she folded in whipped egg whites at the end. Divine.

But of course the one thing you simply cannot beat is cooking with produce freshly picked right out of the garden. My lovely host Agnès is luckily enough to live in a stunning Alsacien home, tastefully and artfully renovated by her very own hands with gardens and surrounds so magical in their blossoming springtime beauty that this place practically teletransports you into a romanticised scene from a children’s fairy tale- right down to the original Alsacien stove restored to pristine condition in her kitchen.

Original Kitchen. I have serious kitchen envy

Agnès, an avid nature lover, keen gardener and passionate home cook had a real treat planned for me. My trip coincided perfectly with the first rhubarb of the season- growing in her garden directly beneath the kitchen window. And just to sweeten the story further, by Alsacien tradition- the first Rhubarb of the season gets baked into a pie. Now is this the stuff fairywonderland is made of or what?

picking rhubarb

Agnes and her home-grown rhubarb

Lucky me had the honour of sharing the baking (and eating) experience personally with Agnès who has, over numerous variations, now perfected her very own Tarte à la Rhubarb recipe. This delicious treat, I can confirm, perfectly balances the slightly tart character of the rhubarb with the sweetness and softness of the almond biscuit cream base with the delicately crumbly sweet butter pastry.

A note on Rhubarb: The French, for some reason all seem to peel their rhubarb, and their asparagus too for that matter. Personally, I don’t see the point since when you peel it you lose the gorgeous red colour by removing the skin, as well as a lot of the fibre and the nutrients in the outer layer. Additionally, if the rhubarb was also totally organic or grown in your garden then there are no pesticides nasties to worry about. I’ve also had this conversation with my local organic greengrocer at the markets who simply tells me “Il faut eplucher la rhubarb Madame” but when I ask why, I get the classic French response “it’s just what we do”. So… to peel or not to peel- it’s in the end up to you!

fresh rhubarb

Wine Matching: Some of the world’s greatest dessert wines come from Alsace. Try a Gewürztraminer, the perfect match for this tangy tart.

Thanks to Agnès for her hospitality, recipe sharing, and our sneak peak into her delightful fairy-wonderland home.

Recipe: Agnès’ Alsacian Tarte a la Rhubarbe

Ingredients:

• 1kg grams rhubarb, diced into small pieces or 10 cm pieces, arranged spirally
• 75 grams sweet butter shortbread biscuits- crumbled
• ½ cup almond meal
• 1 sheet shortbread pie pastry (pastry recipe here)
• 3 eggs
• 250 mls fresh cream
• 1 tbsp vanilla essence or I pod fresh vanilla seeds
• 150 grams icing sugar
• 3.5 tbsp caster sugar or raw sugar
• Slithered almonds- to serve

Directions:

• Preheat your oven at 200 degrees C/420 F.
• Peel (or simply rinse well and don’t peel) the rhubarb and cut into small pieces or 10 cm strips as desired.
• Place them in a colander placed over a bowl and sprinkle with the icing sugar. Leave it to rest for 1 hour, stirring and turning the rhubarb each 15 mins so that the rhubarb sweats out its water content.
• In the meantime, position the pastry into the base of the pie dish, leaving 2 cm’s of pastry overhanging to allow for shrinkage. If you have a conventional oven, you can very lightly blind bake your pastry base now however bear in mind that this tart does not need a lot of heat to cook through. (Agnès’ traditional oven did not need this and the pastry cooked right though without pre-baking).
• After very lightly blind baking or if not required, crush the shortbread biscuits into fine crumbs and combine the biscuit crumb with almond meal evenly in the base of the pastry
• In a separate bowl whisk well together the cream, vanilla and egg
• Once the rhubarb has lost a lot of it’s water, drain and remove from colander and place evenly or arrange longer strips spirally into the pastry tine, over the crumb base.
• Sprinkle remaining caster or raw sugar over the top
• Pour egg and cream mix over the rhubarb and sprinkle with slithered almonds
• Cook for about 20 minutes, taking care that the top does not burn or cook too quickly
• Remove from the oven. Allow to cool to room temperature and using a sharp knife, shave off excess pastry from the edges of the tin.

Serve with vanilla ice cream, fresh cream and/or Gewürztraminer wine.

A savourer!

rhubarb tart tarte a la rhubarb

The Taste of Spring: Crisp Asparagus and Sweet Pea Salad with Poached Egg and Fresh Goats Curd

26 Mar
Spring Asparagus, Fresh Goats Curd & Poached Egg Salad

Crisp Asparagus and Sweet Pea Salad with Poached Egg and Fresh Goats Curd

This morning I woke up and thought: “I’m going to walk to the markets, buy whatever is in season, fresh, and locally grown- and just make something delicious.” And that’s what I love about France. Whether you’re in Paris, or a tiny regional village somewhere, the local growers markets will always be there to supply the best quality produce- and most importantly- it’s LOCAL, and IN SEASON, meaning you’re supporting local farmers and businesses, with the knowledge that your produce is ultra fresh and didn’t travel half way across the continent before you bought it.

A sure sign of spring, the markets right now display a stunning array of all things bright and green. These impressive, plump, deep purple and green asparagus spears instantly called my name. Sitting right next to a basket of fresh sweet peas in their pods, with the local vendor positioned right opposite the stand of my favourite cheese man- it was an instant match made in heaven. With the best produce, freshest ingredients and dash of inspiration, you simply can’t go wrong.

Farmers Market Violet Asparagus

The fresh asparagus was calling my name

Mr Gouiran et son chevre

15th Generation local cheesemaker Mr Gouiran and his Goats milk cheeses

The process of preparing my yummy lunch today made me realise how much cooking is actually like a short love affair – in this case mine was no more than a spring fling: It starts with the usual chemistry of checking each other out at the market, them being impressed enough with what you find to take it home, admiring your new possession, photographing it to capture it’s beauty, imagining all the wonderful things you’re going to do to it, carefully preparing for the big moment, making sure all is well placed, aesthetically balanced, and then savouring every last moment of your time together…

Of course that’s the romanticised version- but since I’m in France, I figure I’m allowed. Hmmm… does that mean those who are handy in the kitchen make better lovers? Now there’s a debate of it’s own! Drop your comments in the box at the end of this post, I’m keen to hear what my readers have to say about this…

Asparagus and Peas

Violet Asparagus and Green Peas

Peas in a pod

Peas in a pod

Asparagus Spears

Is it just me or ate these peas and asparagus are gettin' it on?

Fresh Brousse de Chevre

The Real Deal: Fresh, local goats milk artisinal Brousse cheese

Artisinal Fresh French Goats Cheese

Market-fresh chevre au poivre by 15th generation artisinal cheesemaker

Ok, that’s probably enough of the food porn… now here’s that recipe:

Recipe:

Crisp Asparagus and Sweet Pea Salad with Poached Egg and Fresh Goats Curd

Ingredients:

Serves 2:
1 dozen fresh asparagus spears
250 grams fresh goats curd cheese (or similar depending on availability)
2 handfulls de-podded sweet peas
Extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel
Fresh cracked black pepper
2 free range eggs

To serve:
Fine shavings of Italian Cacioricotta cheese

Directions:

Cut asparagus spears at approximately 4/5th of their length on a 45 degree angle- if you bend the spear, the place where it snaps is where you should but it. Discard fibrous ends.

De-pod sweet peas and discard outer pods. Prepare two pots with boiling water. In one pot add salt and quickly blanch the asparagus and peas until just cooked and crisp. Remove and drain immediately. In the other, poach 2 eggs till medium-runny in boiling water with white vinegar.

Return asparagus spears to pan and coat lightly in olive oil with a pinch of fleur de sel.

Arrange fresh goats cheese and poached egg in centre of plate. Place peas around them and individually place asparagus spears on top.

To serve: add fine shavings of Cacioricotta cheese, fleur de sel and cracked black pepper over the asparagus.

Serve with a crisp white wine.

How to make a “Galette des Rois”- France’s ‘Christmas Cake of Kings’

18 Jan
Galette des Rois by Gontran Cherrier

Galette des Rois- Frangipane et Pistache citron by Gontran Cherrier

It’s January in France- the buzzing and festive time of year when every boulangerie window in France is filled with impressive displays of the traditional French pastry called la “Galette des Rois” – literally translated as “Kings Cake” or “The Cake of three kings.”

Starting from January 6th, this delicious, flaky pastry with a delicate buttery crust is traditionally filled with frangipane (almond cream paste), and in the south of France, you will also find a brioche-like version filled with glazed fruit called Gateau des Rois. The Galette des Rois celebrates the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three wise men came to see the baby Jesus.

Tradition has it that a lucky charm- a small porcelain figurine (originally a small fève or bean), is buried in the almond cream before the top layer of puff pastry seals the cake and baked into the galette, then whoever is lucky enough to find it in their slice, is crowned King for the day and granted the honor of wearing the golden crown (The galettes are always sold with a cardboard gold crown purely to serve this purpose and tradition)- so it’s not just the children who get to have all the fun!

Galette des Rois in Paris bakery windows

Galette Fever. The Galette des Rois fills boulangerie window displays all over France through the month of January

So, if you’re not in France and can’t get your hands on a traditional Galette des Rois this January, or you just simply want the fun and pleasure of making your own, as promised here is a brilliant recipe from our favorite Parisian baker whose Galettes are selling like hotcakes in Paris right now- the talented Gontran Cherrier. Gontran has generously shared the delicious recipe for his popular lemon and pistachio Galette- as shown in the pics below. The lemon and pistachio galette is a wonderful balance and combination of flavors, with the delicate pistachio nutty pistachio complimented by small bursts of citrus flavor from the candied lemon in a smooth but not overly sweet paste which is nestled between layers and layers of perfectly crafted feuilleté pastry. Divine!

Gontran Cherrier cutting galette des Rois

Boulanger Gontran Cherrier with his assortment of freshly baked Galletes des Rois

Galette des Rois Pistache

Galette des Rois- Mediterranean pistachio and lemon

The recipe does not include making the puff pastry from scratch, but if you really want to have a go at making your own pastry (and I highly recommend you give it a go), here are some great resources to guide you in the right direction:

Fail-proof puff pastry recipe and detailed instructions using tips of the trade from Ecole Ferrandi

A French-American mother and daughter team teach us how to make the galette from scratch, straight from their kitchen (video in English).

You can make either the traditional ‘frangipane’ version simply with ground almonds, or experiment with different flavors such as the lemon and pistachio, or try other non-traditional aromatic additions such as candied orange zest and sweet spices like cinnamon.

Recipe:
Gontran Cherrier’s Mediterranean Galette des Rois with Lemon and Pistachio
Galette des Rois- la Mediterranenne avec crème d’amande, pistache et citron confit

Serves 6 – 8

Ingredients:

2 discs of puff pastry- 24 cm in diameter.
70g butter
70g sugar
1 egg
50g finely ground pistachios
20g finely ground almonds
10g plain flour
10 g candied lemon peel

1 egg
1 pinch sea salt/fleur de sel

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200 ° C.

Soften butter to a spreadable consistency. Add the caster sugar in mixer and whisk until it whitens ‘creams’ to form a thick texture.

Add the egg and continue mixing until smooth and combined.

Add the ground pistachio and almond flour and mix well.

Finely chop the candied lemon and add to the mixture.
Prepare a flat baking tray with a layer of baking paper. Place one of the discs of puff pastry on the baking sheet. Using a baking brush wet a 2-3 cm perimeter edge on the pastry disc with water.

Spoon the almond pistachio mixture into the middle of the pastry disc and spread out the mixture, stopping 3 cm’s from the edge. Strategically place your ‘fève’s’ (you can also use one or 2 cent coins) into the almond mixture. Gently place the second disc of puff pastry over the top, and using the back of a knife held vertically at 45 °, press and seal together the 3cm edge of the two pastry sheets. Gently etch a design of your choice into the top disc of pastry using the edge of a knife.

Beat the egg with a pinch of salt. Use the pastry bush to spread on a thin layer of egg glaze of over the top disc of pastry.

Bake for approx 25 minutes, until puffy and golden.

Move the galette from the tray and baking paper and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Invite your friends and family to the table
Cut your galette into even slices for everyone
Eat with caution…

Enjoy!

Slice of galette

Pastry perfection. The delicate, flaky pastry with pistachio lemon almond creme is absolutely divine.

Old Galette des Rois Recipe

Retro recipe. A recipe card lift-out published in 1972 for the Galette des Rois

Cherry on top. Gontran Cherrier opens his first boulangerie in Paris

19 Dec
gontran_shop_bread

Gontran Cherrier, the new shopfront, braided brioche. Image of Gontran Supplied/©Marie Taillefer

Yesterday I went to the opening of the next big thing in the world of the bread and baked goodness. Gontran Cherrier: the 31-year-old Parisian, 3rd generation baker, hit author of 8 cookbooks and passionate, innovative entrepreneur has just opened his first shop front on the chic Rue Caulaincourt in the buzzing quartier of Montmarte. Gontran is onto a seriously good thing with his unique way of reinventing classics, successfully striking a balance between tradition and innovation, and taking the art of artisian boulangier into the future.

Talking about the future, the French are not big fans of change. If you relocate the office coffee machine, they will strike about it. If you swap the gruyere for goats cheese, they might not eat it. So… it takes one brave, clever and creative cookie to introduce change into something as sacred and intrinsic to every day French life as bread.

I never used to eat much bread before I lived in France, now I just cannot escape it, let alone imagine not eating it. Not only is it served with every meal by default- but it’s always so darn good! Parisians will queue outside a boulangerie on a Sunday morning for 20 minutes while it’s snowing a blizzard and minus 4 degrees- just to get good bread, and on that note, I have a feeling my next busy chez Gontran will be greeted by a massive queue. A queue of enthusiastic Parisians, tourists and expats who appreciate his innovative menu of French classics with a twist, friendly international staff, totally reasonable prices and the buzzing ambience in the beautifully designed, gorgeous hausmannien shop itself (designed by Franz Potisek) where you will find his daily selection of gorgeous breads and pastries such as:

  • Green rocket juice, red paprika or black squid-ink bagel buns
  • Baguettes- traditional or wholegrain
  • Country bread- cut and ordered by weight/kg
  • Bread with black molasses, ginger and coriander seeds
  • Bread with chick pea flour, black olives, candied lemon and herbs of Provence
  • Red miso rye bread
  • Savoury tart of celeriac puree, broccoli, chestnut, endive and almond oil
  • Savoury tart of fennel, broccoli, chicken, pepper crème de comté, olive oil
  • Savoury cheese tart of parmesan, Comté, red onion, lemon, pepper, and thyme
  • Tartine baguette with pâte à tartiner- chocolate caramel or caramel vanilla
  • Brioche infused with fleur d’oranger
Gontran Cherrier Shop

Bakery buzz- friendly staff and eager customers

Focaccia and red pnion cheese tart

Gontran Cherrier Focaccia and Red onion, cheese and thyme tart

Brioche

Loaf of freshly baked Brioche

le menu

Le Menu

chou chou's and pear and almond tart

Chou chou’s and Pear and Almond Tart

Country bread

Country bread- cut and sold by weight

Squid ink and red paprika bagels

Squid ink and red paprika bagels

Freshly baked croissants

Freshly baked croissants

Brioche of vanilla crème, butter, almond marzipan, cardamom, cinnamon, rum soaked almonds and sweet orange

Brioche of vanilla crème, butter, almond marzipan, cardamom, cinnamon, rum soaked raisins and sweet candied orange

Bread

Seasonal (for Christmas):

“La couronne de pain”- a wreath of 8 combined buns with 4 flavours- wholegrain curry (for foie gras), chick pea and lemon (for oysters and seafood), nature/traditional (for meats and charcuterie) and of course chestnut for the cheese board!

La Couronne

Made for sharing. 8 buns, 4 flavours. The perfect bread for a complete Christmas feast

Coming up (À l’Épiphanie):

Gontran will share the recipe with me for his signature ‘Galette des Rois’ – a Traditional french sweet pastry eaten after Christmas and in the month of January- made with almonds, pistachio and cadied lemon. Yum!

Gontran's signature "Galette des Rois"

Coming soon- Gontran’s signature “Galette des Rois”. Image supplied/©Marie Taillefer

If you’re in Paris- here’s where to find the shop. Anywhere else in the world, don’t despair- I have no doubt that a Gontran Cherrier Boulangerie will be opening in your city in the near future!

Gontran Cherrier Artisan Boulanger
22, rue Caulaincourt
75018 Paris
Tèl : +33 (0)1 46 06 82 66
http://www.gontrancherrierboulanger.com

Libido-lovin ‘Lebkuchen’. A very special Swiss gingerbread recipe to celebrate a white Christmas in Paris.

5 Dec
lebkuchen

Libido-Lovin Lebkuchen

It’s snowing in Paris. Very unusual for November, I am told.

Paris is truly magical this time of year, especially with all the Christmas lights illuminating the whole city and Champs-Élysées- and now the recent addition of fresh white snow is literally the icing on the cake.

Here is a picture of the back garden in my apartment building in Paris- the two pics taken just 2 months apart.

autumn_winter_paris

Sudden seasonal change in Paris- the garden in my apartment building

Saying that, it’s bittersweet really- I mean the snow is beautiful, but the -4 degree temperatures can really take its toll. You can see how European traditions have developed over time to compensate for the long, hard winters, with simple pleasures in winter like copious amounts of cheese consumed in raclettes and fondues, warm spiced red wine, hearty soups and casseroles, and ‘Pain d’epice’ a sweet spiced bread served with traditional hot chocolate.

So, to celebrate my first white Christmas, keep the circulation going and prepare simple Christmas treats for friends and family, I am baking a big batch of Lebkuchen- it’s a kind of gingerbread, which originates from Switzerland and Germany with variations between regions. It’s made of molasses, brown sugar, honey, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Sometimes it has candied citrus, nuts and chocolate coating. Yum.

Now, you’re probably eager to hear what it has to do with Libido? Well ginger has a long-standing reputation for its powerful aphrodisiac qualities. A warm, pungent spice, that when combined with cloves (which has similar qualities), it warms the blood to increase circulation, aid digestion and increase metabolism. Perfect for the winter chill! Gingerbread’s popularity as a gift and aphrodisiac even dates back to medieval era when Knights would present shield-shaped pieces of gingerbread as love gifts to their ladies during jousting contests and tournaments. Embossed with cloves to resemble studs and painted with egg white to represent a polished shield, these love gifts were treasured and highly valuable possessions.

Anyway, I love this stuff and I make a huge batch of it every year with a recipe I’ve adapted over the years originally given to me by a German friend’s mother. It’s a one pot, one-bowl recipe so its quite simple to prepare, it’s completely fat free (of course the sugar content makes up for this) and it keeps for a few weeks in an airtight container so it makes a great Christmas gift when packaged and wrapped up nicely. You can add more or less spice depending on your preference- this version is quite strong.

You can cut the cookie dough into star, heart, Christmas tree, or round shapes- however you like. Or simply bake it in a flat, lipped tray, top it with the lemon glaze and slice it into squares. Sooooo good with a big cup of hot chai tea.

Happy (libido) baking!

Recipe: Lebkuchen (Swiss/German Gingerbread)
Makes approx 50-60 biscuits depending on size of moulds

INGREDIENTS

1 cup honey
1 cup molasses/treacle
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tbsps candied orange finely chopped (optional)
5 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 teaspoon ground ginger

Royal icing (for piping and decoration)

1 1/2 cups (230g) pure icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 eggwhite, lightly whisked

Hard white icing/glaze

Prepare as instructed above for royal icing, but gradually add additional fresh lemon juice until it forms a smooth, spreadable paste for application with a plastic spatula or knife.

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium saucepan, stir together the honey and molasses. Bring the mixture to a boil, remove from heat for 10 mins and stir in the brown sugar, egg, lemon juice and candied citron. In a large bowl, sift and stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

lebkuchen_sugars

Caramelising the sugars

sweet ground spices

Cloves, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon

Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. You may need to gradually add extra flour until it makes a moist cookie dough as the consistency will depend on the flour, humidity etc.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or baking trays.

lebkuchen_candied_Citron_Syrup

Adding the molasses mixture and candied orange to the spiced flour

Lebkuchen Cookie Dough

The mix should look something like this

Once combined, put bowl of cookie mix in the refrigerator until it has cooled to room temperature or lower.

Knead a few handfuls of dough at a time on a floured flat surface/bench and roll out the dough ready for the cookie cutters. Alternatively, Using a small amount of dough at a time, roll into small balls and press down to about 4cm diameter, OR roll out dough and place the mix into a rectangular baking tray with dough at approx 1 cm depth.

Rolling and kneading dough
Knead the dough on a floured surface then roll it out flat 

Cut out cookies using desired shapes and moulds and place onto greased trays.

lebkuchen_shapes

Cutting out shapes

lebkuchen_shapes_cut

Cookies cut with moulds

lebkuchen_on_tray

Cookies on greased baking tray

Bake for 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown and fragrant. Be careful not to overcook the lebkuchen as the sugars will go too hard when they cool and the biscuits will lose the desired soft center.

Allow to cool completely before icing and decorating.

To make the icing hard (piping):

Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and enough of the eggwhite to form a firm paste. Place in a piping bag fitted with a 1mm nozzle. Pipe royal icing onto the biscuits. Allow to set for at least one hour.

For the spreadable hard icing glaze, simply add more lemon juice and apply with a knife or spatula.

Enjoy!

lebkuchen_1

lebkuchen with spices

Lebkuchen, chai tea, cinnamon and ground ginger

Afternoon tea

Afteroon tea on a snowy winter day

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