home - about - journal - london favourites - portfolio - press - contact

Du chocolat et du caramel pour une daring baker – Tarte au chocolat au lait et au caramel au beurre salé

[Enough chocolate and caramel for one daring baker – Milk chocolate and salted butter caramel tart]

chocolate-caramel-tart.png

Milk chocolate and caramel au beurre salé has to be one of my favourite flavour combination ever. I know, nothing too fancy or creative, but good enough for me. Creamy, smooth and sweet – just as I like it.
When I found out that the recipe chosen – by Patricia and Veronica – for this month’s Daring Bakers‘ challenge was a milk chocolate and caramel tart from Eric Kayser, I got very excited and well, bouncy!

chocolate-caramel-tart-cut.png

Things seemed to be just perfect:
1. I was finally a daring baker, which I had been dreaming about for – literally – months.
2. My favourite flavour combination was à l’honneur for my first participation.
3. The recipe was from Les tartes d’Eric Kayser – a cookbook I’d been wanting for ages but wasn’t too sure about

By the third of August (hence, just one short day after my entrance in the fearless world of the daring bakers), my tart was ready – all pretty and yummy.

The experiment
The tart itself is made of three main components (from bottom to top):
– a chocolate and hazelnut pâte sablée
– a rich caramel flan
– a smooth milk chocolate crème chantilly

chocolate-caramel-tart-square.png

The chocolate pâte sablée was very easy to make and a pleasure to handle – as with every pâte sucrée you should take extra-care not to overwork it (can’t wait to tell you how to produce foolproof pâte sucrée) nor manipulate it too much.
The dough is made like a traditional pâte sucrée, except it contains cocoa powder, ground hazelnuts instead of the regular ground almonds, cinnamon and baking powder.
I think it’s rather important to discuss the contribution and interests of each ‘special’ ingredients to the pâte.

The cocoa brought a pleasant colour and chocolate flavour – it always amazes me to see how little of that earthy coloured powder can produce such an amazing flavour. I definitely need to reconsider the use of cocoa powder in my baking – though, it has to be high-quality.

Just so you know right now, I omitted the cinnamon, thinking it would be the intrus, adding a very unnecessary flavour to the final tart. I strongly believe that if you call your tart milk chocolate and caramel, it should be milk chocolate and caramel, and not: milk chocolate, caramel and cinnamon.

On the same note, I found that the ground hazelnuts added an unwanted nuttiness. I do love the chocolate and hazelnut combination and I do think that ground hazelnuts help for the sable [sandy] texture, though I really didn’t like them here. I feel that using more neutral nuts, like almonds, would have had the same texture benefits minus the why-do-my-tart-tastes-like-nutella reaction.
I won’t describe how to make pâte sucrée – or more accurately in this case, pâte sablée au chocolat – as an upcoming post will explain this in details.

ps. As you can see for the pictures, my crust was way too thick in the angles); luckily my dough skills have much improved since then!

Lastly, I found the use of baking powder both a good and bad thing. Sure it prevents the dough from shrinking but it also results in disgracious ‘love-handles’. My verdict: if you know your doughs and how they react, shrking shouldn’t be an issue; hence, ditch it!

The second layer – caramel flan -, was somewhat interesting. First, because making caramel à la crème is always exciting. Second, because I found the use of eggs as solidifiers both attention-grabbing.

I began by making a caramel sec [dry caramel, ie. made without the use of water – just pure sugar]. Once the caramel got a dark amber colour, I incorporated the butter, small pieces at a time. Then I poured the boiling cream over and whisked for a couple of seconds.
This method is infallible – I’ve made it a thousand times before without having the caramel to seize.
It is imperative for the caramel to be dark-brown or the flavour will be too weak compared to the milk chocolate.

Regarding the butter, I highly recommend using French salted butter: beurre demi-sel, my favourite being Jean-Yves Bordier’s, which uses fine salt crystals for a subtle yet distinctive taste.

Once baked, this layer was firm and speckled with tiny holes, which reminded me of flan aux oeufs.

After allowing the tart to chill in the fridge overnight, I covered it with a milk chocolate crème chantilly.
Here, again, I used my own method as I know that adding warm chocolate to whipped cream will invariably results in a loss of air and thickness, and thus in a thin mousse.

I brough the cream to the boil and poured it over the chopped milk chocolate in three times, first mixing with a wisk and then a rubber spatula, until the chocolate was melted. I covered with cling film and placed in the fridge overnight. The next day, I just had to whip the ganache until fluffy. Perfect, I tell you!
I piped the mousse on top of the caramel layer and smoothed it down with a spatula.
As always, the milk chocolate chantilly, was a huge success – good enough to be eaten on its own. My favourite chocolate to use isn’t Jivara as you may have thought, but Lindt extra-fin.

chocolate-caramel-tart-detail.png

Soooo…
I’m sure I would have loved the tart if it wasn’t for the hazelnuts. I might sound picky but I really found they distracted me from the main actors.
Other than that I immensely liked the caramel flan layer – a satisfying and deep flavour, and a perfect texture.
As said above, I’m not very happy with how thick the crust is in the corners; but oh well, I know I can now do better.

Just another perfect summer day in Paris

coupe-glace-ispahan.jpg

La coupe glacée: pétale de rose et lychee with gaspacho de framboises.

I could share with you my foolproof recipe for a perfect tarte au citron meringuée [lemon meringue tart], my new exciting idea, the lovely places I discovered during my one-week road trip around les Alpilles, the best risotto ever to be made or even my method for flawless pâte sucrée. Yep, I could, but instead I’m spending my mornings at Pierre Hermé’s pastry shop – making pâtes, viennoiseries, sablés and brioches -, and my afternoon wandering around Paris.

Yesterday, I had lunch at Le café La Jatte – a lovely place located on the Jatte Island in Neuilly.
The food was simple yet elegant, with clean and fresh flavours: just the way I love it on a daily basis.

I started with a tartare de saumon d’Ecosse. The salmon was deliciously accompanied with a tangy fennel salad – a perfect match.

tartare.jpg

The chèvre frais moulé à la cuillère with concombre émincé and pamplemousse à la menthe fraîche was a hit too – ideal for a hot summer day.

chevre.jpg

Then I had wonderful lasagnes vegetariennes; these vegetarian lasagne had a great smoky flavour (brought by roasting the vegetables, I guess) that balanced the creaminess of the ricotta cheese.
My fellow lunch-er picked the daurade royale grillée, beurre citron-poivre,
pommes de terre roseval
, which although scary-looking (am I the only one to find whole fish on the creepy-side?) was utterly delicious.

main.jpg

As a I-want-to-be-a-pastry-chef person, I had to have dessert – to taste, you know.
I chose a very aromatic pêche rôtie served with glace à la vanille Bourbon and amandes caramélisées. The peach, which is roasted, has a delightfully soft and sweet flesh.

peche.jpg

The coupe glacée * : pétale de rose et lychee with gaspacho de framboises was fresh and as you can guess, inspired by Pierre Hermé’s signature entremet: Ispahan.
* I just love the old-fashioned connotation of the words! (I know, I know, useless note, but I had to say it).

As you may imagine, the lunch was seamless. But the day was about to become even better. As I was riding my bike home, I made a détour and stopped by Galignani – a great English bookshop where I bought the Rose bakery cookbook and Skye Gyngell’s book (blame Keiko and all her wonderful articles about the Pertersham Nurseries for that one).
As I was craving to read them, I crossed the Seine to visit le Café de Flore – a favourite for citron pressé, café glace and Mariages Frères teas.
There I had my regular citron pressé, which is basically freshly squeezed lemon juice served with a grande carafe d’eau and some sugar – sooo refreshing.

cafe-flore.jpg

Now, if everyday resembles that one, how am I going to share with you my foolproof recipe for a perfect tarte au citron meringue [lemon meringue tart], my new exciting idea, the lovely places I discovered during my one-week road trip around les Alpilles, the best risotto ever to be made or even my method for flawless pâte sucrée?
Moreover, I still have an awfully insane number of things to do in Paris. Here is the liste officielle (the real one if much too long for me to tell you; I’m way too ashamed of it):
– buy weird Asian ingredients at chez Tang Frères
– have tea or lunch or brunch at Rose bakery
– buy the most wonderful organic vegetables at marché Raspail
– eat more prawn and chicken Chinese wontons from la Grande Epicerie (and while I’m at it, buy Jean-Yves Bordier’s butter)
– have some falafel at l’As du Falafel
– try Berthillon ice-creams
– go and see Rachel at La Cocotte
– visit La librairie gourmande
– try anything from Sadaharu Aoki
– buy Pierre Hermé’s croissants, croissants aux amandes, brioches… for the upcoming write-up about the two weeks I spent au tour (the post where doughs are made)
And many many many more… Any ideas?

Follow the yellow (well, and green, and red, and white, and black) brick (hmm veggie) road – Ratatouille au four

[Oven-baked ratatouille]

oven-ratatouille-large.png

It seems that my fondness for wow-this-is-way-too-long post titles is utterly related to the fascination I had, as a child, for French longest word – anticonstitutionnellement.
I was indeed obsessed with dictionaries; which I would read like any other book. This had multiple effects on my grown-up life: I am now very good in orthographe and synonymes. However, there are side effects; the always-too-long-to-be-true titles being one of them. But well, that’s another story – I don’t want you to think of me as a bookworm (I love this word, though).

legumes.png

Other things have partially contributed to what I am now. Food, just as music, books or movies, is simply part of it.
I can sing every single song from the Wizard of Oz or make a ratatouille from scratch. This is me, the real me.
Further than just being able to sing or cook, this precise song-recipe has made me. I mean, I am Dorothy, I love simple food that highlights high-quality ingredients, and I rave about “children’s” movies.

Luckily, I have a little sister, which gives me the perfect excuse to fully enjoy childhood treasured secrets – la balançoire, les dessins animés, les goûters…
As you can imagine, I am the best big sister ever: I take Aïda (hasn’t she a lovely name?) everywhere she wants me to and we have more fun than it’s possible to have.

A couple of weeks ago, just a few days after the movie Rataouille had been released, we went to the theatre. I cried, she cried; I laughed, she laughed; I squeaked, she squeaked.
Regarde leur petits nez trop sweet! [Look at their sweet little noses!] – Oh well, yes, we’re part of those people who talk during movies. You know, the annoying ones.

When the movie was finished, she just told me one thing thing: ‘oh mais Fanny, c’est toi Rémi’ [but, Fanny, you are Rémi]. I couldn’t be happier – I was a rat with a small but sweet nose, who loves cooking. Minus the rat part, the description fitted.
I’m not good a critic, but I urge you to see this movie if you haven’t already – the story is beautiful and will make you feel super-good. You might experience the need to make ratatouille, whish I also encourage you to.

oven ratatouille

Where I live, ratatouille is considered staple food – every single person knows how to produce a succulent one. This is no coincidence: ratatouille comes from Nice, where every family has its own recipe: whether it’s a torn piece of paper, a beautifully handwritten notebook or just memories, la ratatouïa nissarda is definitely a precise combination of the best vegetables available.
According to Jacques Médecin, ratatouille is a time-consuming and difficult dish to prepare. It requires knowledge and precision. Yet, I love to make it, usually in big batches as it keeps very well for a week (it is actually even better the day after it is made).
I always make it following the traditional version – the one my mum taught me. However, when I noticed Rémi’s way of making ratatouille, I fell in love – not only it looked extra-pretty but it seemed to be delicious.

I guess I wasn’t the only one to rush to the farmer’s market, – with ratatouille my mind -, after having seen the movie.

Ratatouille au four
Inspired by Thomas Keller’s Confit Byaldi

It can appear wrong to call this dish a ratatouille: a tian, a gratin or a confit would be more appropriate; but I deliberately did so.
Although it is not made the way traditional ratatouille is, it has the exact taste and texture of correctly made ratatouïa nissarda.

I got my inspiration from the movie, which is obvious, but also from Thomas Keller, who allegedly created the dish for the movie.
I did keep the basic element of the recipe: a layer of fragrant tomato sauce (wasn’t that excited with the piperade option suggested by Thomas) and a layer of finely sliced summer vegetables.

The tomato sauce I came up with was utterly delicious and is now my favourite tomato-sauce recipe, the one I’ll be using from now on. I used Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes for their sweetness and their great flesh/seed ratio (as I’m not the type of person who removes every single pip although I know that seeds make the sauce bitter, I always go for the tomatoes that contain the less seeds).

For the vegetables layer, I chose to use tomatoes, onions, aubergines, red peppers and courgettes (both green and yellow, for appeal and taste). I finely sliced them with my favourite sharp knife and got satisfying results. It is certain that a mandolin would have yield to more consistent slices, but I was and am happy with a rougher thus less standardised look.

oven-ratatouille-top.png

You can arrange the slices as you want. I found this step to be relaxing and funny: ‘courgette-poivron-aubergine-jaune-tomate-oignon’, I would say aloud. I did have some leftover vegetable slices, which I threw into a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil, covered with baking parchment and foil, and baked along with the ‘pretty’ ratatouille. It made delicious roast/confit vegetables.

oven-ratatouille-sheet.png

The very low oven temperature and long baking, give beautifully confit vegetables that still retain their shape and taste. I must say that this recipe is now an absolute favourite. Actually, it might even replace my usual method for ratatouille.

Ratatouille au four

serves 3-4

for the tomato sauce
2 tbsp extra-virgin fruity olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, grated (fanny: I use my Microplane grater which does wonders)
1 medium white onion, finely sliced
750g Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes (approx. three big ones), peeled, seeded and diced
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp caster sugar
fleur de sel

for the vegetables
4 Roma tomato, sliced into very fine slices
1 green courgette, sliced into very fine slices
1 yellow courgette, sliced into very fine slices
2 small white onions, sliced into very fine slices
1 small aubergine, sliced into very fine slices
1 small red pepper, sliced into very fine slices
1 clove of garlic, grated
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
thyme leaves
fleur de sel and pepper

Start by making the sauce: combine the oil, garlic and onion into a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat until very soft, about ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, thyme, parsley and bay leaf and bring to the boil over medium heat. Mix in the sugar, reduce the heat and simmer until very soft and very little liquid remains, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, and discard herbs. Spread the sauce in the bottom of a 26cm skillet (or like I did, three small 16cm skillets).

Pre-heat the oven to 140°C.
Arrange the vegetable slices over the sauce until the pan is filled. Drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with the garlic and thyme, and season. Cut a round of baking paper to fit the tin and then cover with foil and crimp the edges to seal well.
Bake for 2 hours. Uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes.
You can eat it hot, warm or cold.

Guess which movie I saw a couple of nights ago?

oven baked ratatouille

Can you believe we – French people – had to wait until last Wednesday to be able to see this delicious movie?
And yep, I totally couldn’t resist to make this gorgeous and luscious ratatouille au four [oven ratatouille].

Sunday night I went to the theater with my little sister, and the next morning, by 8am* I was ready – wearing sunglasses to hide my obvious dark circles (I got so excited by the movie that my mind was just thinking about ratatouille and how lovely the meaning of the film is) and carrying my favourite sac en osier – to go to the market.
I arrived to the market around 8.30* and got as many légumes d’été [summer vegetables] as humanly possible. Carrying my then 100kg bag with somewhat difficulty, I put everything on the passenger’s sit and drove home like crazy; endless ideas popping in my mind.
The rest is another story, and I promise you’ll soon hear it (along with the most delicious ratatouille recipe ever).
You’ll have to wait for a week, though, as I am leaving for a one-week holiday! See you next week…

* times have been changed for evident reasons – did you honestly think that I woke up can wake up at 7?

Aaah si je savais faire… – Gougères au piment de Cayenne et au parmesan

[Aaah if I only knew how to make… – Cayenne pepper and parmesan cheese puffs]

gougeres - cheese puffs

Honestly, I don’t know many cooks who don’t mind when they fail in the kitchen. But somehow, I think that every single person has une bête noire – something they don’t succeed in every time when cooking.
Well, I might just assume this because I have my own anathema. Indeed, it seems I can never find the right balance of texture for a number of batters. It tends to always be on the too-runny side; always!
When I whip egg whites, I get so panicked by the thought of a grainy mass (indicating that the egg whites have been overwhipped), that I just stop too early. And although, I am fully aware of this fact, it remains exactly the same, time after time. As you can imagine, this is a huge problem when making meringues, pavlova, tiramisu or macarons. Luckily, after a quick stay in an egg-whites rehab – otherwise known as Cloud-like Paradise -, I managed to overcome my fears and whipped up egg whites to perfection.
Still, the problem wasn’t solved as the pâte à choux-dilemma was still is the way. And to tell the truth, I had no intention whatsoever to beat that phobia. Having tried and failed in the past, I just decided that choux were simply not for me; I would say to people: ‘Oh you know, we don’t get along very well, that’s life’.

gougeres before baking

However, when I received a copy of Leçon de cuisine about pâte à choux, I took it as a sign, and decided to make some gougères.
Gougères are a classique in the French cook’s repertoire (seems I was/am the only person not to be able to make them – I was jinxed at my birth, I tell you). They are small savoury choux; usually flavoured with gruyère.

Do you have any bête noire in your kitchen? Please, say yes so I don’t feel lonely ;)

gougeres

Gougères au piment de Cayenne et au parmesan
Inspired by Sébastien Serveau’s Leçon de cuisine – pâte à choux

These chilli pepper and parmesan gougères make for a somewhat original nibble and are delicious served with Champagne.
I did twist the recipe a little; first, I preheated my oven to 200°C instead of the suggested 150°C (never seen choux pastry baked at such a low temperature), then I incorporated some parmesan into the dough to give more flavour and added some Cayenne pepper flakes to give a spicy kick.
The end-result was more than satisfactory with the fifty puffs disappearing in less than five minutes (only four people involved there ;))

While I can’t say that I totally master the pâte à choux process, I am proud to have faced this fear. Well, as you can see, the choux are rather flat and not very puffy – maybe I should try using only water next time (although I heard Pierre Hermé saying that it’s the combination of milk and water that gives the best results) as I’ve seen some beautiful choux there and the recipe doesn’t call for milk. Any advice?

Gougères au piment de Cayenne et au parmesan

makes approx. 50

125ml milk
125ml water
125g butter, diced
pinch of salt
140g flour
4 eggs (each weigh approx. 60g)
50g parmesan, grated
1/8 tsp Cayenne pepper (adjust to your own taste)

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line two baking sheets with parchment (do not use a silicon mat as the dough would spread during baking).
Put the milk, water, butter and salt in a pan, and slowly bring to the boil. When fully boiling, take of the heat and add the flour in one go. Mix with a wooden spoon until smooth, put back on the stove (medium/high heat) and mix for one minute.
Transfer to a bowl and beat in three of the eggs, one at a time. Then in a small bowl, beat the remaining egg and incorporate it to the dough spoonfuls at a time until the dough is thick enough to hold its shape but soft enough to be piped. Add 40g of parmesan and the Cayenne pepper and mix well.
Put the dough into a piping bag fitted with a 10mm nozzle and pipe 3cm rounds onto the prepared baking sheets; then sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the piped mounds.
Bake for 15 minutes, then readuce the temperature to 180°C and bake for a further 10 minutes. Turn off the oven, stick a wooden spoon between the oven and its door and leave for another 10 minutes.