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Comme si toutes les gouttes de pluie avaient décidé de s’habiller en robe de mariée – Chamallows maison à la vanille

[As if raindrops decided to wear their wedding dresses – Homemade vanilla marshmallows]

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When it comes to food, I have that unhealthy obsession with categorising. Sure, there primarily is the good and the disaster; which you don’t hear very often about since I have a pretty lucky star looking upon me. But among the good, I do truly believe there are two sorts of kitchen ecstasy.

First, you’ll find the food you are familiar with. The food that makes you feel cosy and have that fulfilling sensation of I’ve been there before and my mouth knows this flavour, this texture, and this aroma.
This food is something I’ve been deeply on love with for quite some time now, and that just comforts me.

Then comes the food that tastes like the beginning of a relationship. Flirty and sometimes clumsy. This is somewhat new to me – the person who used to only make her favourites over and over again.
And trust me, it feels exciting.

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I simply love to be pushed out of my comfort zone, to feel that pleasing sensation of touching the unknown. With my latest project, I’ve been confronted with this feeling on a daily basis; and so far, I’m enjoying it. I’ve already made a couple of cards, took some macro Polaroid pictures, drew some funky design for one friend, did some stitching experiments, and made some fluffy vanilla marshmallows. Damn, those were delicious and so different from the ones we usually get around here.

In France, marshmallows get to have two different names depending on where you buy them. Visit a fine pâtisserie and they’ll be called guimauvesghee-mow-vhe (named after the plant that was once used to make them). If you go for supermarket marshmallows, you’ll be sure to find chamallowssha-mah-low; which name, I guess, comes from the French inability to correctly pronounce marshmallow.

Chamallows maison à la vanille
Adapted from Sébastien Serveau’s Confiseries.

If you’ve never made marshmallows before, this is the recipe to try first. It’s so very easy. Just make a syrup, bring it to 120°C and pour it over whipped egg whites along with some – soaked yet unmelted – gelatine sheets, and vanilla seeds and extract. Beat until the mixture reaches 40°C – or less accurately, feels warm but not hot, to touch. And you’re done.

I particularly like the fact that you add gelatine into its unmelted form – the heat from the meringue will simply dissolve it. I don’t know about you, but this makes the whole process so much easier.

As for the tasting part, well, those are good. I would maybe boost the vanilla flavour a little next time I make them. Because, yes, there’ll be a next time. Once you’ll have tasted those melt-in-your mouth little bites, I’m sure you’ll be craving for some more as well.

Chamallows maison à la vanille

makes 30-50, depending on the size you give them

6 gelatine sheets
250g caster sugar
80ml water
3 egg whites
seeds from two vanilla beans
one tsp natural vanilla extract

for the enrobage
50g icing sugar
40g corn starch

Soak the gelatine sheets into cold water.
Put the sugar and water in a pan over medium heat, bring to the boil and simmer until the syrup reaches 120°C.

While the syrup is heating, start whipping the egg whites using a stand mixer – or falling that, a powerful hand-held mixer. As the syrup reaches 120°C, increasing your mixer’s speed and gently pour the syrup down to the side of the bowl. Quickly squeeze the gelatine sheets and add them to the meringue. Finally mix in the vanilla seeds and extract, and mix until the bowl feels warm but not hot (careful as it gets really hot during the first few minutes).

As the meringue is cooling, get ready for some spatula action. Line a baking tray with baking paper and dust with the enrobing mixture.
When the meringue is thick and glossy – and not too hot, yet still warm (hope you got my point here), stop the mixer and using a spatula gently spread it onto the prepared sheet to a 2cm thick rectangle (if you want bigger marshmallows, just spread it in a thicker layer).
Allow to cool and set at room temperature overnight.

The next day, dust with the enrobing mixture and flip onto another lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife – which you heat either using a flame or hot water (don’t forget to whip it dry) – cut the marshmallow bark into cubes. Do not hesitate to clean your knife during the process.
Then throw the marshmallow dices into the enrobing mixture and toss around until they’re well coated. Put them in a sieve and gently whirl to get rid of the excess powder.

They’ll keep well in an airtight container for about a week.

pour 30 à 50 chamallows, en fonction de la taille que vous leur donnerez

6 feuilles de gélatine
250g sucre fin
80ml eau
3 blanc d’oeufs
graines de 2 gousses de vanille
une tsp d’extrait naturel de vanille

pour l’ enrobage
50g sucre glace
40g maizena

Faire tremper la gélatine dans de l’eau froide.
Mettre le sucre et l’eau dans une casserole, porter à ébullition puis fare frémir jusqu’à ce que le sirop atteigne 120°C.

Pendant ce temps, commencer à monter les blancs en neige en utilisant un batteur puissant – idéalement, un robot type kitchenaid. Quand le sirop atteint 120°C, le verser sur les blancs en neige en le faisant couler le long des parois du bol.
Egoutter rapidement la gélatine puis l’ajouter à la meringue. Enfin, incorporer les graines et l’extrait de vanille. Continuer à mixer jusqu’à ce que la meringue atteigne 40°C – elle doit être légèrement chaude au toucher, mais pas brûlante (attention, le bol devient très chaud pendant les premières minutes).

Alors que la meringue refroidit dans le batteur, préparer une plaque à pâtisserie en la recouvrant de papier cuisson. Puis recouvrir d’un voile de poudre d’enrobage.
Quand la meringue et épaisse et brillante, l’étaler à la spatule sur la plaque précédemment préparée en un rectangle d’une épaisseur de 2cm (plus si vous souhaitez des chamallows plus gros).
Laisser refroidir et prendre à température ambiante pendant une nuit.

Le lendemain, saupoudrer de poudre d’enrobage puis retourner sur une autre plaque recouverte elle aussi de papier cuisson. En utilisant un couteau aiguisé – chauffé à la flamme ou à l’eau chaude (puis essuyé), couper la plaque de chamallow en petits cubes. Ne pas hésiter à nettoyer la lame de temps à autre.

Jeter ensuite les cubes de chamallows dans la poudre d’enrobage et mélanger afin de les recouvrir. Puis passer au chinois afin d’éliminer l’excès de poudre.

Ces chamallows se gardent bien – conservés dans une boite hermétique – pendant une semaine.

One day, one thing, one happy me

Hello my friends. Today, I won’t be talking about food – or just very slightly. I’m here to tell you about a new project of mine, which I already love.

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The project is called onecube. From today and for as long as I can, I’ll be creating something new everyday – whether it is a drawing, a picture, a sculpture, a cake – and record it on je suis une cacahuète, my inspiration blog.

I would love you to join the fun, so if you want to feel happy and creative, just start making pretty things or writing pretty words; not so pretty pretties are also more than welcome.

And if you do happen to take part and want a logo, just email me, I have many available colours – just seems I was in a citrusy mood today.

My first creation was a lovely notecard; one shoe, a golden shoestring, and some sweet words: “I will lace your shoes”.

Tu me manques – Calissons maison comme des vrais

[I miss you – Homemade calissons, just like the real ones]

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Let me tell you something guys. You are so sweet. I mean, I don’t post for a few days and instead of the hatred words I was expecting, all I get are sweet notes and emails. One of you even sent the comforting recipe for his favourite cookies – thank you Chris.

You – or more exactly some of you – are obviously concerned; and well, you’re just damn right. I first did not intend to share the following story with you; it just felt a little too personal. But since my closest friends know – and more importantly, since I consider you as friends; special friends that is, but friends nonetheless –, I thought I would let you know.

On my birthday, my dog – Chiffon – died. I hadn’t seen her for two months and wish I could have spent her last days with her, while I was just in Revel, not knowing what she was – and had been – going through.

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You might probably not understand, let alone care about the following, but I want this to be a tribute to her. A place I’ll always be able to look at and help me not remember her. Not that I think I’ll actually forget; but I need to celebrate what a beautiful being she was.

I first met her when she was just a baby. It was some day around March 1996 – I’d say the 17th from memory, but can’t be sure about that.

My parents, sister and I were at that Spring party we used to attend every year; near St Tropez, in a wild yet gorgeous garden on the hills and a tepee as a main house.

As usual, the crowd was dense and cheerful. People from all over France – and the world. A couple from Paris. They had that tiny little dog. Beige with fluffy hair and the most adorable ears – yes, ears – you could ever think of.

I waited for my parents to get tipsy – but don’t tell them I told you – , and asked – well, begged – if that fluffy little person could be mine. If we could take her back home.

As you might have guessed, we did. She slept during the whole journey, comfortably snuggled in the small gap between my two legs.

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And she grew up with me. Or maybe, I was the one to grow up with her. You would always find us together, either playing, reading or dancing. I’m not senseless; I just was crazy about her. As with most of my friends, she had her own special nickname; seasonal. La petite chinoise – for her pretty almond shaped eyes. Boubinou. Chérie. Boops. Loulou. Cacahuète. You name it.

She was always so happy. Unless Pirate – our turkey-look-alike cat – ate her food or got a little too much attention. Unless she had some kind of branches stuck in her messy hair; in which case, she would totally stop moving and look at me so I could understand how uncomfortable she was and how she needed me – well, my hands – to remove the spiky stuff.

She had her favourite soft-toy, which we would refer to as her bébé. And although she sometimes forgot it around the garden or in one of the house’s room; she would always find it for some cuddling or playing.

But is there is one thing I’ll always laugh at when remembering her, it has to be her love for anything crispy. As soon as she heard one of us eating something with crunchy noise, she had to have it. She would first approach the table, then put her head on your lap, moving her nose in what we used to call a piggy fashion – son petit nez de cochon. Adorable.

Whether the chomp came from a carrot, biscotti, raw vegetable sticks, or nuts, she needed it. So I always used to get her to try what she saw as yummy – even if truly, she might have preferred a thick slice of meat, at least gastronomically speaking.

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At first, she moved towards the food, smelt it and gently took it away from my hand with her teeth. She would then start chewing, in a very delicate way. Sometimes, when she would like it, it would disappear in a matter of second; other times, she would put it on the floor and look at me. Those times, I would encourage her to taste again, and in the end, she just seemed to like everything and beg for more, with one or two paws. The rare times when she didn’t actually like what I gave her, she would slowly move to the door, get outside, find a quiet place and burrow the piece of food in a small hole dug with her museau, which would inevitably end up covered with earth.

The one thing she loved were nuts, or more accurately, almonds. She even used to sneak into the kitchen and reach the basket into which my mum places the almonds she picks from our tree. Whole almonds, with the shell. Using her sharp teeth, she would open them and eat the soft yet crisp inners.

So when I made those calissons last week, on the day I learnt she had had surgery – to remove tumors on her spleen – fifteen days earlier, I couldn’t help but think about her. I was in shock. She had been sick and didn’t even know about it; I guess my parents thought it was the right thing to do and I do think it was. Yet, it made me realise how fragile she was and made me want to spend as many hours in her company as I could. Since I would see my family on the following week end, I already saw myself taking thousands of pictures of her, so I would always have her near me.

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I didn’t get the chance to. On the next day, she died. She just stopped breathing. There is nothing my parents could have done. She didn’t get over the surgery. Things could have turned to be different and she might have lived for a couple more years. But here she was. Dying on my birthday. Clearly, I didn’t want to celebrate. And didn’t really; or in a very restrained way.

I love her and miss her more every second. I feel numb. Torn. My whole body stopped working altogether. I was all tears. Cry and scream.

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Today, I’m just starting have feelings again. Slowly getting conscious that life isn’t over. Yet.

It just hurts to know I’ll never get the chance to feel her, smell her again.

Now, only memories remain. Like when she thought my dad couldn’t see her when she was hiding under the kitchen table with her tail evidently banging on the floor. We were certain she thought she was perfectly hidden, just because she couldn’t see him.

Or when she was sleeping on my bed, while I was reading some book, and she heard my mum’s steps approaching. She would wake up, and gently shake her head, but wouldn’t move a paw. But if she recognised my dad’s steps, you can be sure she would jump straight to the floor.

She truly was the sweetest dog ever and will be remembered as such. We all miss her. Luckily, we shared so many moments with her that we have no regrets; just happy memories. And trust me, those memories, I’m not going to allow them to disappear. Secured. Preciously. Like little grains of sands. Or – more appropriately – like small almonds in a tree.

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Calissons maison comme des vrais

Calissons are a French specialty from Provence – and more precisely – Aix en Provence, where they’re so dearly-loved that they’re mass produced. Originally made with almonds and fruits confits [candied fruits], I took the easy way and made some with almonds mixed with a little icing sugar, homemade apricot jam, natural almond extract and orange blossom flower water, to a smooth and fragrant paste.

Here I used ground almonds, but you could obviously use blanch almonds, which you grind yourself. However, I’m not good at lying and honestly – and as much as I love anything homemade – I’m glad with how those calissons turn out and don’t get the point about trying hard when you can get terrific results with bought – but high-quality – ground almonds.

Calissons maison comme des vrais

makes 15

180g ground almonds
80g icing sugar
50g apricot jam
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 tsp orange blossom flower water

for the royal icing
one egg white
200g icing sugar

Blitz the ground almonds and icing sugar for a couple of seconds, then mix in the jam, almond extract and orange blossom flower water until it forms a smooth paste (it should feel like slightly sticky pâte sucrée).
Place the ball onto a large piece of cling film, which you then fold over. Using a rolling pin, or your hands, roll out until 1cm thick.
Uncover and leave at room temperature for a couple of hours.
Using an 5cm long almond-shaped cutter, or falling that a knife, cut-out shapes and slide them onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper.

Prepare the icing by mixing the egg white with icing sugar until smooth. It should be soft to touch, but not too runny. Gently dip the top of one calisson into it, then remove, allowing the icing to drip for a couple of seconds. Place back onto the baking sheet, iced-side up. Repeat with the remaining calissons and allow them to set at room temperature overnight.

pour une quizaine de calissons

180g amandes en poudre
80g sucre glace
50g confiture d’abricot
1/4 tsp extrait d’amande amère
2 tsp eau de fleur d’oranger

pour le glaçage
un blanc d’oeuf
200g sucre glace

Mixer la poudre d’amandes et le sucre glace pendant quelques secondes; puis ajouter la confiture, l’extrait d’amande et l’eau de fleur d’oranger. Mélanger jusqu’à formation d’une pâte souple et homogène (comme une pâte sucrée un peu collante).
Mettre la boule au centre d’un morceau de film étirable, puis rabater. Etaler la pâte, au rouleau ou à la main, jusqu’à 1cm d’épaisseur. Laisser à température ambiante pendant quelques heures, puis découper à l’aide d’un découpoir oval pointu ou d’un couteau. Placer les calissons sur une plaque recouverte de papier cuisson.

Préparer le glaçage en mélangeant le blanc d’oeuf et le sucre glace – il doit être un peu moins liquide qu’une préparation formant un ruban. Tremper une des faces du calissons dans le glaçage, égoutter quelques instants puis reposer sur la plaque. Répéter avec les calissons restants et laisser à température ambiante une nuit entière.

A dévorer délicatement – Gelée agar intense au chocolat noir, sans sucre

[To delicately devour – Dark chocolate sugar-free agar jelly]

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Croissants aux amandes for breakfast. Rhubarb tart for lunch. Gianduja brioche for quatre-heures. Fruit cake for dinner.
This is probably what you think as my daily fare; and I won’t blame you. I mean, I bake cake, whip up entremets, assemble tarts, cut cookies out, proof bread doughs, make chocolate truffles, fill macarons, and put cupcakes together.

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However, when it comes to my everyday life, I would most definitely choose a piece of warm crusty bread dipped in homemade guacamole, over a slice of the most decadent chocolate cake.
See, breakfast means for me: a cup of green tea with a dash of soy milk. Lunch is certainly composed of vegetables, eaten raw. Quatre-heures might include a piece of cheese and some kind of fruits. And dinner. Oh dinner! Legumes and cooked greens, and yes, something sweet.

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Where do all the pastries end then? I think I owe you a couple of explanations.
Firstly, I rarely make full recipes, but instead, divide the proportions so they yield to a single tiny cake/tart/entremet. Those totally feed my post-dinner sweet cravings.
Secondly, I make my neighbours and co-workers (hmm, if you guys happen to read this, I promise I’ll bring something over soon) happy.

This only applies to the special pastries though. Not to the totally easy-to-make-and-healthy desserts I make for myself when I am in that indulge mood I love so much.
Whenever I feel like having something sweet, yet wholesome, I usually throw together a couple of natural and healthful ingredients, and the result is always eaten quickly, without the least guilt.

That last part – yes, the one about eating quickly – is the reason why I almost never share with you my much treasured recipes. That; and the fact I mostly make them at night, when it’s too dark outside to take decent pictures.

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Today, however, I’m going to tell you about one of my favourite variations of the dessert I make the most: agar jelly. Chocolate agar jelly, that is.

I love agar – a seaweed galactose polymer – for many reasons. The first being its vegetal nature, which is great for people like me who try not to eat animals or animal products. The second reason is related to his high gelling properties, which make for a fast-setting jelly. And the third – and somewhat less explored – reason is its ability to form a gel that holds its shape even at high temperature (imagine jelly ribbons in a cake).

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Some people argue against agar by bringing up the different mouth-feel and texture of agar jellies. While I do agree on that, I’ve made the choice not to consider agar as a replacement for gelatine, but as an ingredient of its own kind.

What I like about gelatine is how softly it melts in your mouth. With agar, a whole new array of sensations appears. The jelly has more bite and holds better. And it has that pleasing cold feeling; ‘cold’ having nothing to do with temperature, more with creaminess. The colder in mouth, the less creamy and the sleeker it feels.

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* By the way, it’s totally my birthday today; so guys, I’m off to see my family for the week end. Hope you all have a lovely time around while I’m not here!

Gelée agar intense au chocolat noir, sans sucre

As said above, this chocolate sugar-free agar jelly is one of my favourites. I love how quick it is to prepare and how fast it sets into an intense chocolate glossiness.If you’re using agar for the first time, no need to be afraid, really. It’s very simple and you’re totally unlikely to mess up. Just sprinkle the agar over the tepid liquid and bring to the boil for one minute (or two if you’re feeling insecure). The resulting mixture will still be fluid and will set as it cools down.

Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that different brands of agar powder can yield to subtle differences in textures; so I strongly advise you test you agar powder. If it’s a little too firm today, reduce the amount you add the next time. I’ve found I need to use between 1.6 and 2.1 grams, depending on the brand I use.

The differences might also be explained by how difficult it is to accurately measure such small quantities. Even my kitchen scales show some troubles doing so.
Therefore, I generally use half a teaspoon (2.5ml) of loose agar powder and get great results.

And just in case you’re wondering, one serving contains less than a hundred kcal.

Gelée agar intense au chocolat noir, sans sucre

for eight servings

500ml skimmed milk
120g dark chocolate (55 to 66% cocoa solids), finely cut
1.8g agar powder

Put the milk and chocolate in a pan set over low heat and slowly mix until the chocolate is melted. The mixture should feel slightly warm, but definitely not hot.
Sprinkle the agar powder over the liquid and using a wire-whisk, mix so the powder dissolves and doesn’t form clumps. Increase the heat, bring to the boil and simmer for one minute, constantly stirring. Pour the mixture into a 500ml, or eight 70ml, jelly moulds, allow to set at room temperature for an hour before refrigerating. Unmould and serve.

pour 8 parts

500ml lait écrémé
120g de chocolat noir (entre 55 et 66% cacao), finement haché
1.8g agar-agar en poudre

Mettre le lait et le chocolat finement haché dans une casserole et chauffer a feu doux tout en remuant jusqu’à ce que le chocolat soit fondu. Le lait doit être tiède au toucher, mais surtout pas chaud.
Verser la poudre d’agar-agar en pluie sur le liquide tiède et mélanger vivement en utilisant un fouet pour dissoudre la poudre et obtenir une préparation homogène.
Porter le mélange à ébullition et laisser frémir pendant une minute puis débarrasser dans un moule d’une contenance de 500ml – ou huits petits moules – et laisser refroidir à température ambiante. Garder au frais puis démouler et servir.

Des recettes en français sur foodbeam – Recipes now in French on foodbeam

As you might have noticed, I’m now giving recipes in both French and English. This is due to my helplessness – and to be honest, dullness – in handling the eighteen-plus daily emails I receive, which talk about this very exact topic.
So basically to please everyone, French or not, I decided after many months of indecisiveness to offer you the French translation.
Have fun!

Comme vous avez peut-être pu le constater, je publie maintenant les recettes à la fois en anglais et en français. L’explication est simple: je reçois plus de dix-huit emails tous les jours à ce sujet.
J’ai donc décidé de mettre en ligne une traduction des recettes après plusieurs mois d’hésitation. J’espère que cela vous fera plaisir.
Amusez-vous bien !