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Des petits nids dans les citronniers – Lemon meringue tartlets

[Lemon trees nests]

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A few years ago, when my mum went to the pâtisserie on Sundays to get us dessert, I would invariably ask for lemon meringue tart with the exciting promise of a smooth and tangy treat in mind. Apparently, the flavour of those Sunday tarts always seemed to be nowhere close to my dream.
There is no such thing as bad lemon meringue tarts. Damp crust. Eggy filling, nonetheless flavourless. Tooth-aching meringue.

I’ve been pretending to hate lemon meringue tart ever since. But well, a couple of months ago, as my sister begged me to make her favourite dessert, I couldn’t help but change my mind. The lemon meringue tart I had made was simply perfect. And to be honest, I had the inner feeling that it was matchless.
So when I found out that this month’s daring bakers challenge involved making a lemon meringue tart, I got slightly disappointed. My first thought was something like: why would I make this tart knowing it can’t measure up to my go-to recipe? Quickly followed by: what the hell! It could be interesting to make it anyway.

The experiment
The lemon meringue tarts are made of three components:
– a simple pâte brisée
– a fragrant lemon cream
– a sweet fluffy meringue

The pâte brisée is easy to make and produces a lovely flaky crust. The dough is made of butter, flour, sugar, salt and water. When it comes to shortcrust pastry, the key is to have the ingredients ready and more importantly cold. The butter should be hard and the water ice-cold. This is what ensures a great crust that won’t shrink or soften in the oven.

Once the ingredients have come together roughly, I placed the dough into a plastic bag and refrigerated for 20 minutes. It was then rolled and cut into 13cm-wide disks (either for muffin-size tarts or 8cm wide ones). I slightly dusted the disks with flour and wrapped them, before setting them to chill overnight.
The next day, I re-cut the disks using a 12cm-wide round pastry cutter, as the dough shrank due to the butter contraction and the water evaporation. I then lined the holes of a muffin tin with the dough and baked it blind for 30 minutes.

The resulting crust was golden and flaky, and didn’t skrink in the oven although I kind of mess up with the lining process and was scared that my fingers might have warmed the dough a little too much.

The lemon cream was very interesting to make. Mostly because it’s so far from every recipe I’ve seen for lemon cream.
It relies on cornstarch, egg yolks and butter as solidifying agents, which you flavour adding lemon juice and zest, and sugar.

I didn’t have any cornstarch on hand so ended up using potato starch instead, which didn’t have any major impact.
I started with a cold liquid base: water to which I added the starch and sugar. This liquid was then brought to the boil until very thick. I then added the egg yolks, making sure to temper them with the starchy mixture first. I set the pan over moderate heat and mixed with a wooden spoon until the thermometer read 84°C – the temperature at which the egg yolks solidify.
The last step consists in folding in the butter, lemon juice and zest and dividing the cream into the baked (and cooled down) crusts.

Finally, I topped the tarts with a montagne of fluffy French meringue. The egg whites are whisked until they form soft peaks and caster sugar is added. In order to get a marshmallow-like meringue, I had to double the quantity of sugar (thus using 60g of sugar for each egg white). Indeed, I found that using only 30g of sugar per white yielded to a grainy and not-so dense meringue.

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Soooo…
Those lemon meringue tartlets were good. They certainly won’t replace my favourite recipe, but I’m happy with how they turned out. The crust had a pleasant crunch, and the filling was flavourful, although slightly starchy and didn’t had that smooth glossy feel Pierre Hermé’s has.

True love. That’s just how we match organs these days – Galette des rois

…there’s a couple in France, high school sweethearts – they’re trading brains.

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Cry. Really, that’s what I should be doing right now instead of writing on foodbeam; and the fact that the post is going to be about la famous galette des rois shouldn’t change anything about my state. Yet it does.

I’m sure you all have someone you miss. Someone you loved more than you thought you were able to. Someone you spent all your days and nights with. Someone who taught you how to make délicieux almond butter truffles. Someone you had tickle-fights and massage-slumber-parties with. Someone to whom you taught a good pile of some of the most randomest words the French language has to offer. Someone you used to watch House with, while eating a pint of cookies and cream ice cream straight from the tube with just one spoon and occasionnaly, your fingers.
I had managed to move on after he left for another country, but somehow House is now onto French television, and as I saw the preview, I couldn’t stop the mini-movies that my head was suddenly screening.

This is bad people. I mean, real bad. But maybe a slice of galette can help. Instant sweet-and-soothing-and-totally-delicious comfort that leaves you with a full tummy and a happy mind (especially since you had the fève in your slice).

*Yep, Dr House pretty much rocks.

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Galette des rois

This is the galette I’ve always seen my mum making. There even is a joke in my house that says ‘maman, je dois admettre que tu as tendance a brulé et oublié de saler un peu tout, mais rien qu’avec ta galette on pourrait croire que tu es un chef’ [mum, I have to admit that you almost always burn and forget to season your dishes, but by the taste of your galette, one could think you’re a chef].
Discharge: my mum actually is a pretty good cook. She just tends to, ahem, cook, thing a little longer than they should and well, forget what the word salt even means.

But one thing has to be taken for granted. This galette. It’s pretty damn good. A rich and buttery almond filling is encased into two layers of puff pastry. Please don’t forget to put a fève into your filling, like I do most of the times.
When I’m feeling particularly happy, I like to fold in a punnet of the frozen raspberries I pick every summer. Spreading Nutella over the base also is a great option. But my favourite and somewhat subtle twist consists in some chopped good almonds.

Galette des rois

serves 8-10

2 ready-to-use rolled puff pastry

For the crème pâtissiere
125g milk
seeds from half a vanilla pod
30g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp flour

For the almond cream
100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
25g corn flour

For the glaze
one egg
1 tblsp milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Start by making a crème pâtissiere by heating the milk with the vanilla seeds. While waiting for the milk to come to a boil, mix the sugar, egg and flour. Then pour the milk over and sieve back to the pan. Cook over low heat until thick, and set aside.

To make the almond cream, just cream all the ingredients together until smooth. Fold the crème pâtissiere into it; then spread the mixture over one sheet of puff pastry leaving a free 2cm-border. Run a wet brush around the border then place the second disc of puff pastry and press the edges to seal well.

Make the glaze by mixing the egg with the milk, and brush the galette with it. Using a small knife, lightly score the surface of the galette. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden-brown.

You make me merry, make me very very happy – Les florentins de mon arrière grand-mère

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To me, nothing feels as comforting as the perfumes that always filled my great grandmother’s house. That slight musky scent from the thin layer of dust, which used to cover the bibelots that sat on the wooden shelves. Those green, almost lemongrass-like, notes – most certainly la verveine [verbena herbal-tea] she had before going to bed every night after a perfectly cooked meal washed down with a glass of red wine and some squares of bitter chocolate.
We used to get on so well. Me, the 8 year-old and her, still glowing after 85 years of a forceful life. I miss her. And her fragrance; at least, the fragrance I think about whenever Mémé comes to my mind. A pungent aroma; a combination of caramel, floral honey and almonds. Les florentins.

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I loved to spend the day with her. I would watch her knitting or stitching the beautiful table cloth she later offered to my mum. After lunch, she would start making some sweet treats for le goûter; whether it was some gauffres, crêpes or sablés. But, really, nothing could beat her florentins.
She always started by making a caramel with sugar and honey, then deglazing it with full-fat cream. She would toast some roughly chopped blanched almonds, add them to the golden-brown caramel, and pour this over a thin layer of pâte sablée. I can remember the countless times when I burnt myself by trying to pick some of the piping hot almond and caramel mixture with my fingers. Patience has never been one of my virtues; definitely never.

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She’s gone for seven years now and yet I hadn’t found the courage to make her florentins. But well, sometimes life pushes you and before you realise it you’re doing something you never thought yourself capable of.
One day, still an intern at Pierre Hermé Paris, as I arrived to the laboratoire, I was told by Guilhem ‘aujourd’hui, on fait les florentins‘ [today, we’ll make florentins]. This was my fate after all. So I made florentins. And tasted them. The happy memories brought by the first bite made my day. I wasn’t sad. It just felt natural. As if I had been rewarded for those seven years of patience during which I didn’t make or eat florentins. Trust me, those were tough years. Make them and wonder how I managed to resist for so long. Mémé je t’aime fort.

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Les florentins de mon arrière grand-mère
Adapted from Mémé’s recipe and inspired from Pierre Hermé’s process.

My great grandmother’s florentins’ recipe is quite close to Pierre Hermé (I’m just she would have jumped from joy if she knew it). However, she didn’t use orange peels and obviously didn’t need a thermometer, which I certainly couldn’t do without. But then, she could make candied chestnuts – something I tried and screwed during the holidays.
She also used coarsely chopped almonds while I decided to go for sliced almonds, just because they look pretty.

Regarding the steps, none of them is difficult. You simply have to make sure to spread the caramel and almond mixture quickly enough so it doesn’t get all sticky. The key is to work fast on a hot pastry crust. If this sounds intimidating to you, you can toast the almonds slightly before incorporating them to the caramel so its temperature doesn’t drop too much.

Les florentins de mon arrière grand-mère

makes 40

half a quantity of pâte sucrée

220g sugar
125g water
2tsp glucose syrup
100g honey
115g butter, at room temperature
125g cream, warm
300g sliced almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Roll the dough evenly, transfer to a lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes or until light brown. Then increase the oven temperature to 220°C and get on with the topping.
In a saucepan, combine the sugar with the glucose syrup and water, and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Cook the syrup until a light amber caramel forms. Remove from the heat. Add the honey, cream and butter and stir until the butter melts. Cook the caramel topping until the mixture reaches 124°C.
Stir in the almonds and immediately spread the caramel over the just-out-from-the-oven pastry crust with a wooden spoon. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake the pastry for 10 minutes or until the topping is bubbling. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes.
When cold, run a knife around the edge of the baking sheet to loosen the pastry and slide the parchment paper onto a work surface. Using a sharp, 4cm pastry cutter, cut out round shapes. These will keep well in an airtight container for a week.

Announcing Menu for Hope winners

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This year, Menu for Hope raised a whooping $91,188; how fantastic is that? Thank you so much everyone. You who offered prizes, you who promoted Menu for Hope and you who bid on the prizes.

If you are one of the lucky winners
, click on the prize code to go to the blog hosting your prize and contact the blogger, either via email or leave a comment on their blog. You should also receive an email by tomorrow with the email address to contact for your prize. If you have any problem at all, please feel free to contact me, or email Pim.

EU01 – Edible Paris food tour (worth 200€)

From Rosa.
Contact: Rosa Jackson.
= Charlotte Smelik

EU02 – Gorgeous Italian hamper

From Sara & San Lorenzo.
Contact: Kitchen Pantry.
= Nina Mc Collum

EU03 – Fun gourmet bag

From Tertia.
Contact: Koken and Co.
= Rolf HH Groenwold

EU04 – Paris market tour and lunch for two

From See.
Contact: Umami.
= Chee Wah Teo

EU05 – A box of Belgian homemade sweets by il cavoletto di Bruxelles

From Sigrid.
Contact: il cavoletto di Bruxelles .
= Paola Porfiri

EU06 – A signed copy of Mercotte latest book Desserts créatifs, plus Trish Deseine’s Fêtes Maison and Quiche, cakes et compagnie

From Mercotte.
Contact: La cuisine de Mercotte.
= Evelyn A Merrin

EU07 – A signed copy of Clotilde’s upcoming book on Paris: Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris

From Clotilde.
Contact: Chocolate and Zucchini.
= Susan Hurst

EU08 – Teatime at la Cocotte

From Rachel.
Contact: Rkhooks.
= Hsien Y Tan

EU09 – La Cocotte’s speciality dulce de leche Coquettines

From Rachel.
Contact: Rkhooks.
= Samantha Breach

EU10 – Homemade sablés aux olives noires and sablés au chocolat et à la fleur de sel, just like Pierre Hermé’s

From Fanny.
Contact: foodbeam.
= Jana Zunbaum

EU11 – Foodie week end with French girl Fanny

From Fanny.
Contact: foodbeam.
= Elizabeth Cheslock

EU12 – Two homemade loafs cakes (green tea and chestnut, and yuzu) plus Swiss specialty gruyère bricelets

From Marcia.
Contact: Sooishi.
= Céline Tissot

EU13 – A big box of Swiss chocolates

From Makiko.
Contact: Just Hungry.
= Sonja Habernig

EU14 – Bento Maker’s Starter Box

From Makiko.
Contact: Just Bento.
= Jennifer RK Iriye

EU15 – A special irresistible baking collection for all Moomin lovers

From Dagmar.
Contact: a Cat in the kitchen.
= K. Santos

EU16 – A jar of homemade chocolate and banana jam, and tea with Marion at Jean-Paul Hévin

From Marion.
Contact: Il en faut peu pour être heureux.
= Rachanawan Swusdipanee

EU17 – A shining new KitchenAid stand mixer with ice cream attachment, plus David’s lastest book: The perfect scoop (US only)

From David.
Contact: David Lebovitz.
= M Guia Palma

EU18 – A signed copy of Pascale’s Cadeaux gourmands, and a microplane grater (Europe only)

From Pascale.
Contact: C’est moi qui l’ai fait.
= Paul Reiss

EU19 – Cooking lesson in northern Umbria for two (worth 175€)

From Judith.
Contact: Think on it.
= Paul Reiss

EU20 – Name a sweet baby girl goat (names start with a D this year) that will make one of the finest organic goat’s cheese of the French Riviera

From Fanny.
Contact: foodbeam.
= Céline AM Rouquet

EU21 – A pretty vintage print advertising Beurre de Normandie.

From Lucy.
Contact: Lucy’s kitchen notebook.
= Margaret Pilgrim

EU22 – Seminar walk around Paris (worth 110€).

From Jeremy & Context Travel.
Contact: Context Travel.
= Hsien Y Tan

EU23 – A signed copy of Dorie’s beautiful cookbook: Baking from my home to yours (can be delivered by Dorie herself if you’re lucky enough to live in Paris)

From Dorie.
Contact: Dorie Greenspan.
= Jesper T Moll

EU24 – A lovely food tour of Lyon and a basket full of homemade chocolaty goodies

From Guillemette.
Contact: Chocolat et caetera.
= Kalen Delaney

EU25 – One of Kate’s much loved and precious hand-thrown Cassoulet pots from Camp Cassoulet

From Kate.
Contact: Kate Hill: A French kitchen adventure.
= Suzanne Heinrichs

EU26 – Pierre Hermé’s latestbook: Confidences sucrées

From Jessica.
Contact: La cilliegina sulla torta.
= Joseph J Fenush III

EU27 – “Artigianale basket” of Italian artisan goodies

From Sara.
Contact: Ms Adventures in Italy.
= Lauren K Kawakami

EU28 – Lunch with Elisabeth at Lenôtre in Cannes (France)

From Elisabeth.
Contact: La vie en English.
= Marty McCarty

EU29 – A signed copy of Sophie’s stunning book: La table du thé

From Sophie.
Contact: Chez Ptipois.
= Jeff Trockman

EU30 – A five-day cooking with fire workshop in the heart of Chianti for one lucky person (worth 2000€)

From Judy and Kate.
Contact: Over a Tuscan stove.
= Lucy Vanel

EU31 – A personal tour of elBulli kitchen laboratory with Ferran Adria

From Pim.
Contact: Chez Pim.
= Françoise E Galleto

EU32 – Two tickets to Madrid Fusion, worth 1,200 euros!

From Pim.
Contact: Chez Pim.
= Itir Karaesmen

EU33 – A signed copy of Cléa’s latest book: Quinoa

From Cléa.
Contact: Cléa cuisine.
= Florence Luisier

EU34 – Very Swedish: a parcel containing a great cookbook, Swedish bread, spices, candy and a hand-made heart-shaped potholder

From Anne.
Contact: Anne’s food.
= Caitlin R Myers

EU35 – Duchy original cookbook, and a print of one of Meeta’s pictures

From Meeta.
Contact: What’s for lunch honey?.
= Don Vienne Sebathit

EU36 – Vintage Gourmet vegetarian food for carnivores cookbook, and a gorgeous Christmas box with one of Sandra’s homemade jam

From Sandra.
Contact: Un tocco di zenzero.
= L Chu

EU37 – Gastronomic tour of Barcelona with Silly Disciple

From Mariano.
Contact: Silly Disciple.
= Abby S Dyson

EU40 – Lunch for two at Alain Passard’s Arpège

From Pim.
Contact: Chez Pim.
= Jeff Trockman

Réussir la focaccia, pas à pas – Mastering focaccia, step by step

By now, you guys should be aware that to me, Dan Lepard is to bread-making what Pierre Hermé is to pastry. My icon and absolute role model.
I never really used to make bread, except for the occasional pizza dough; but since I’ve discovered Dan’s take on bread making I’ve literally been unstoppable. Fresh yeast has become a staple in my fridge and I’m known to run to the grocery store as soon as my flour stock approaches 2kg.

So far, I had only made white loafs or buns; to which I regularly added ingredients such as herbed butters or cheese or mashed potatoes.
However, I needed a focaccia for the Christmas Eve dinner my sister and I were hosting. While I firstly intended to make my reliable pizza dough, only slightly wetter; I quickly moved on Dan’s recipe. And boy, I’m glad I did!
This focaccia is the best flat bread I’ve ever had and it’s a delight to make. Still, the whole process can seem a little daunting because of the different steps and resting times.
Given that I really want you to make this focaccia and bite into a crusty yet moist square of this fragrant bread, I thought it would be great if we made some together. Get your aprons ready!

Again, the mise en place is fundamental and will make you save precious time. Here, we’ll make a ferment then add water, oil, flour and salt.

For the ferment, you’ll need:
200g water at 20°C
150g flour tipo 00 (French type 45 works well too)
7g fresh yeast, finely crumbled

To which you’ll add:
150g water at 20°C
15ml olive oil, plus extra for folding
375g flour tipo 00
10g fine salt

Mix together the ingredients for the ferment in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave at warm room temperature for 2 hours, giving the mixture a good stir after the first hour.
After the resting time, the mixture should be all bubbly and have doubled in size.

Whisk in the water and oil. Then mix in the flour and salt with a spoon, until roughly combined.
Cover the bowl and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Rub your hands, the work surface and the dough with some oil and scrape the dough onto the work surface. Work the dough by gently stretching it with your right hand, keeping it in place with your left thumb. Then fold and rotate the dough. Repeat this kneading about 10 times, but make sure to stop before it starts sticking to the work surface.
Knead again twice at 10-minute intervals. The dough will change from lumpy to smooth and elastic.
Cover with a cloth and leave to rest for 40 minutes.

It’s now time to do some serious stretching and folding. This will stretch and elongate the upcoming bubbles making for big and uneven holes in the final bread.
Stretch the dough into a rectangle then fold it into thirds first in one direction then the other. Repeat this twice with 40-minute intervals.

Once you’ve stretched-folded three times, allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes before going on with the shaping.

Rub a baking tray with olive oil and place the dough onto it. Lightly flatten the dough using your fingers – it’s normal if it springs back. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Pick the corners of the dough and stretch them out until they reach the corners of the tray. Sprinkle with a little water and some oil.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 200°C and bake for a further 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.