How I became an international French cheese smuggler

13 Mar

Now here is a very funny real life foodie adventure story.

We’ve all been there. Stranded at customs or airport security begging the security agent to let you though with you your so-called ‘prohibited or dangerous’ goods- usually an expensive hand cream, alcohol, perfume or gourmet gift that you put in your hand luggage, not knowing of, or forgetting the crazy cabin baggage policies of today. Bring back memories? I bet it does. I’m still laughing to myself about the journey I went through with my precious French cheeses went last night when taking a short EU flight between Marseille and Malta, and since it’s quite a laugh, I just had to share it.

– Printed board pass and passport in handbag? Check

– 15 kilos suitcase pre-paid check in luggage. Check

– Bag of edible goodies and gifts for expat friends ? (Check-in bag already at 15kg so will have to go in hand-luggage). Check

– Hand cream, lip gloss, nail polish and hairspray: All under 100 mls and sealed in plastic zip-lock bag? Check

And so, there I was. Bag checked in and ready to go through security to board my flight.

It started with the usual procedure. Laptop out, boots off, jacket off, liquids separated and in plastic bag, handbag in tray and on the conveyor belt. I then pulled out my shopping bag of goodies intended as gifts for friends and family in Malta and put it in the tray.

I had spent a good 45 minutes in the local fromagerie yesterday deliberating over which of the finest, stinkiest French cheeses to take with me and bring delight to those eagerly awaiting at the other end for their foodie fix.

Aside from a top French sauccisson and a block of fine dark chocolate, I had 750 grams ‘quota’ to fill with cheese After much indecision, I ended up choosing three of my favourites, just imagining the look of pure delight as they were received by their cheese deprived recipients.

A 250 gram Tête de Moine (my new favourite). Usually served as an appetizer, it’s a firm cow’s milk cheese that’s loads of fun to serve using it’s special ‘shaving handle’ implement which shaves it into cute little ‘chanterelle-shaped morsels.

Tête de Moine cheese

Tête de Moine shaved into chanterelle morsels

An 350 gram round wooden box of divine Mont d’Or. For those of you not familiar with this cheese, all I can say is: this is the stuff dreams (and round hips) are made of. An unpasteurised ‘cru’ cows milk cheese which has an exquisitely creamy oozing centre and washed rind. The best way to eat Mont d’Or is heated in the oven in it’s own round wooden box, mixed with white wine till it’s an oozing and melting pot of liquid heaven.

Mont d'Or cheese

Mont d'Or: a melting pot of liquid heaven

And finally- I couldn’t go past 250 grams of the irresistible and classic Blue d’Auvergne. Another one of my personal favourites (especially with a walnut and endive salad) it was also a special request anxiously awaited by my friend Dennis at the other end.

Now… I got a little carried anyway there describing those cheeses- let’s get back to the story.

The dialogue from this point went a little something like this:

Security checkpoint officer woman: “What’s in the plastic bag?”

“Oh… just cheeses.”

“What type of cheeses? As some kinds of cheeses are not allowed”.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe you actually can’t take unpasteurized cheeses outside of France? So, knowing that 2 of the cheeses were ‘cru’ and one was not- I responded sheepishly with “Tête de Moine” (the pasteurised cheese). Hoping that would get me out of the red. After-all, the x-ray machine can’t tell the difference….right?

So, I proceed to go through the scanner gate. No beeps. All clear. I wait anxiously at the other end for my bag, laptop, jacket, shoes and- cheeses.

The woman at the other end opens the goodie bag and goes through it piece by piece.

Saucisson- fine. Chocolate- fine. Tete de moine- fine.

Just when I think it’s all good, she starts poking at the slab of blue cheese, shakes her head, and then puts it aside.

Then she picks up the round box of Mont d’Or…. and … puts it aside.

“Sorry- you can’t take these two cheeses- the other things are fine”

My panic begins to set in. Stay calm, don’t look stressed.

“But why? They don’t say that the milk is unpasteurised? And it’s the EU?!

She glares back at me, shaking her head and says:

“No no no it’s not that- that doesn’t matter. You are carrying too much LIQUID”.

Now I’m getting confused. I respond:

“You mean, it’s ok that the milk is unpasteurised, but I can’t take it because it’s a LIQUID?!”

She calls over Mr French Security Officer to further explain.

He lifts up the two offending cheeses and starts squeezing and poking them, shaking his head in dismay.

I respond “Mais… je ne comprends pas” C’est incroyable… This is not liquid- It’s CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSE!!!”

“Yes, madame, but these cheeses are too soft so they are classified as liquid, and you can only take 100 mls of liquid on board.”

My jaw drops. I try to imagine possible ways of hijacking the plane armed with my Tête de Moine and Blue d’Auvergne. My imagination did not take me very far. Now I’m just annoyed at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.

“But I HAVE to take the cheeses with me- they are important GIFTS!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s the rule. Can you put them in your check-in baggage or give them to a friend?”

“I have already checked in my bag, and there is no-one here who can take them from me.”

“Then, I’m sorry Madame, but there is no other option.”

Now my determination takes over. I respond, evidently flustered, in clumsy French:

“I cannot leave the country, and arrive empty-handed, without the cheeses- everyone waiting for them will be soooooo disappointed!”

He looks mildly apologetic, shrugs his shoulders and again, apologises. Now I am even more determined- I refuse to abandon my beautiful cheeses at the border.

That’s when it occurred to me. A flash of inspiration. A wise, authoritative voice in my head says:

“Pull out the Grandma story.”

So that’s exactly what I did.

Holding a piercing gaze with Mr French Security Officer, I respond with full conviction and my best possible French:

“You don’t understand. My Grandma is going to CRY if I don’t bring this cheese”

His face instantly starts to melt, kind of like the gooey Mont D’or. Now that I know I have struck a chord, I come in for a second strike.

“She has rung me twice this week, just to remind me not to forget her cheese”

His bottom lip begins to quiver.

“She has been waiting SIX MONTHS for me to come, with this cheese, and if turn up, empty handed, she will be DEV-A-STAT-ED.”

The Grandma guilt trip is working. Mr French security officer is clearly disturbed by the thought of my sweet little 87 year old ‘Mamie’ missing out on her long-awaited cheeses.

He takes a deep breath, lowers his voice and pulls me aside.

“OK. There is one thing you can do. Are you listening?

Yes.

“Go back out of Security with your belongings, and the soft cheeses. Go over to the café, and buy two baguettes. Cut each of the cheeses in half.

“O…..K……”

“Put one half of each of the cheeses inside a baguette, and wrap up the other half separately.”

“OK…”

He continues: “ This way, technically, the cheese between the baguette will not be classified as a liquid substance anymore, and the other half will be closer to 100 mls.”

Again, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. First the cheese is a liquid, now a baguette is a liquid defying agent. Craziness.

“You mean, if I put the cheese in a baguette, It’s not a liquid anymore?”

Mr French Security Officer whispers with a very serious face:
“Yes… It’s not really ‘by the book’ but it’s the only way.”

And so off I went. Back out through security, passers-by watching and wondering why I am going in the wrong direction.

I go to the café and alors- there is only one baguette left for sale- and of course it’s filled with ham.

I buy it anyway. It’s better than nothing. Out goes the ham, I take a plastic knife and begin chopping the blue d’Auverge in half, much to the baffled looks of the other café patrons at my table. I then proceed to stuff the empty baguette with massive slabs of blue cheese, and wrap the remaining half.

I then realise the sad reality. There is no solution to save the Mont d’Or. Quelle dommage. This beautiful cheese, and I’m going to have to throw it out. Even if there were baguettes, it’s too soft to remain edible once its been squashed inside a baguette.

In desperation, I do the only thing I can to make the most of the situation.

I crack open the Mont d’or. I tear away a piece of the baguette and I scoop a big morsel of cheese, then eat right there, on the spot.

I have to say, cheese has never tasted as good as that moment there. Time stopped for a precious 10 seconds as this ‘forbidden’ cheese, about to be abandoned at the border, slowly melts in my mouth.

A Final boarding call for my flight abruptly ends my moment of pleasure with the Mont d’or.

I wrap up the blue cheese baguette, painfully drop the box of Mont d’or in the bin then run back to security.

The security officers let me jump the queue. I go through the drill once again with my belongings on the conveyor belt where I meet once again with Mr and Ms Security Officer who are giggling at my determined efforts to save the cheese. Amused, they inspect my baguette and hacked slab of blue cheese as I explain that I did exactly as they had asked me, and how I had to make the agonizing decision to throw out the Mont d’Or.

“It’s better than nothing” says the security officers.
“At least your Mamie will have some good French bread to go with it!” Someone else adds.

I thank Mr Security Man on behalf of my Grandmother and run to the boarding gate where I just make my flight, short of breath, stinking of blue cheese and proudly satisfied with my success.

Once again, Grandma saves the day.

And so there you have it. 10 points to the French for this one I say. Who else but the French care enough about food and the family bond with food, to bother finding a solution in the pursuit of getting good cheese across the border?

My faith in the French is restored.

I arrive at my destination and present my friend with his much awaited blue cheese. It’s not pretty. It’s squashed inside a stale airport baguette. It’s been through a tough journey.

But damn did it taste good.

Thanks Nanna.

The end.

Got a similar story to share? What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for the love of food? If you enjoyed this story or have a good one to add, add your comments below.

Blue cheese in baguette

The 'non-liquid' Blue d'Auvergne arrives at it's destination

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.

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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


Ingredients:

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:

Savoury:
• 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)

Sweet:
• 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

Tarts_Baking

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!

Recipe:
Carrot, Lemon Confit & Coriander Tart
Courtesy of Catherine Kluger

Carrot_Lemon_Coriander_Tart

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 gourmet.com

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
www.tarteskluger.com

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

La petite cuisine à Paris. Paris private dining for two chez Rachel Khoo

12 Jan
Rachel Khoo Kitchen

La cuisinière. La petite cuisine. Copyright © Rachel Bajada

I love meeting cool people doing cool new things. Recently I was a guest at the first of many private dining experiences to come at ‘La petite cuisine à Paris’ (literally ‘The little Paris kitchen’) a unique new project by the talented British, now Paris-based culinary creative Rachel Khoo.

After packing up and leaving a fashion career in London to study Pâtisserie at the world-renown Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Rachel began by baking sweet treats at Paris’ specialty cookery bookstore, La Cocotte. Four years on, she now jets around Europe cooking and catering for prestigious events, launches and private parties. In between all of this, she has also found the time to knock out 2 wonderful cookbooks in French: Pâtes à tartiner and Barres de céréales: Muesli & granola.

‘The little Paris kitchen’ is the now the delicious testing ground for her next recipe book where she will be developing and perfecting all her recipes to go in the publication. “La Petite Cuisine” is her first English publication and is due for release in Spring 2012. The concept is simple and is sure to fill a growing craving for simple, modern, uncomplicated recipes that reinterpret traditional cooking techniques and traditions from the godmothers of French cuisine such as Elizabeth David and Julia Child. Rachel Khoo’s goal is to “Make French food fun.”

What better way to start than to invite people, two at a time for a memorable, delectable experience as taste-testers in her private kitchen where all her culinary creations are made with the ingredients sources at her local produce markets, fromagerie and favorite specialty stores and boulangeries.

Update as of March 19th, 2012. Rachel Khoo now appears on BBC two at 8.30pm Monday evenings UK time. The Paris “Test Kitchen” is therefore no longer open but you can get your fix of Rachel Khoo and her delightful recipes and tiny kithen on TV and through her new book. Enjoy!

La Petite Cuisine eye candy

La petite cuisine- eye candy Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Cosy Corner La Petite Cuisine

Cosy Corner, La Petite Cusine Copyright © Rachel Bajada

So… back to LE FOOD! Well Rachel cooked up a delicious storm in a teacup in her tiny Paris kitchen for myself and other lucky guest- the fabulous Amy Thomas from the super godiloveparis blog.

Le Menu:

Entrees:
Creamy bèchamel cauliflower gratin with a hazelnut crumbs

Mains:
Sticky lemon & lavender roast chicken

Dessert:
Baked apples with a sweet spiced bèchamel sauce

Bread: From Du Pain et des idées in Paris’ 10eme. This stuff is dangerously good bread by the way- still warm and fresh out of the oven when it landed on the table- it took some serious restraint for me to stop eating it! Oh the simple pleasures…

La petite cuisine a paris- table for two

La table. L'inviteé. Le pain Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Preparing cauliflower gratin with roast hazlenuts Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Comfort food. Finishing touches on 'Gratin au choufleur avec noisette chapelure' Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Cauliflower Gratin - Choufleur Bechamel

Creamy comfort food. Can't beat it. Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Roasting Lavender lemon chicken

Chicken roasting with lemon and lavender glaze Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Sticky lemon and lavender roast chicken

Flavour harmony. Sticky lemon & lavender roast chicken Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Preparing baked apples with cinnamon

The art of the apple. Preparing sweet spiced apples with cinnamon Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Preparing apples for baking in papillote

Spicy sweet bundles Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Spiced baked apple with vanilla crème anglaise bechamel

Spiced baked apples with vanilla crème anglaise/sweet bechamel Copyright © Rachel Bajada

Now of course, this post would not be complete without a recipe! Rachel’s menu was based around making the perfect béchamel, and what I loved about her approach was that the same base for this sauce called the “Roux” can be used to make both a sweet or savory sauce- depending on the seasonings and aromatics you use.

For a savoury sauce– follow the standard Bèchamel formula (here is a good recipe for a classic béchamel sauce) and add a combination of classic aromatics such as:

Onion
Bayleaf
Clove
Nutmeg

Rachel also suggests:

Saffron, orange zest, turmeric or cumin

For a sweet sauce or alternative to crème anglaise:

Simply leave out the salt and savoury additions above, and sweeten with sugar to taste, adding fresh vanilla seeds and optional spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg.

Here are Rachel’s top three tips for the perfect bèchamel:

1. Use whole milk. Semi or skimmed just won’t give you that rich creamy taste.

2. When you add your milk to the roux (flour and butter thickener) make sure to do it a slow, gradual stream and then whisk, whisk and whisk!

3. Classic bèchamel aromatics are: onion, bayleaf and clove but feel free to experiment with non traditional flavours such as saffron and orange zest or tumeric and cumin.

Bonne Bèchamel!

At elizabeth david's table- book

Inspiration at the table- modernising old school classics

Pates a tartiner- cookbook by Rachel Khoo

Published success. Recipe books by Rachel Khoo

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

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