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Et je te mangerais les cheveux – Tresse danoise à la crème pâtissière et aux pépites de chocolat

[And I would eat your hair – Chocolate chip and vanilla pastry cream danish braid]

When I found out about what Kelly and Ben wanted us to make for June’s daring bakers challenge, I was thrilled.

Danish braid.

Read, layers of sweet buttery dough enclosing whatever filling you can dream about. And shaped into a lovely-looking braid.
Oh so marvellous!

The experiment
As said above, the Danish braid is made from:
– a pâte briochée feuilletée [egg-based yeasty laminated dough]
– a simple vanilla crème pâtissière [custard]
– a sprinkle of insanely good dark chocolate chips

Before I begin, let me assure you that unlike most yeasty doughs, Danish pastry is very quick to make.
The recipe calls for a five-hour rest once the final turn is made, but trust me, I started making the dough at two in the afternoon, and by six o’clock, the braid was out of the oven.
Sure I did bypass – or at least, reduce – a couple of steps, but the end result was beyond my expectations. Taking risks sometimes pays off.

Anyway, let’s move onto what I first intented to start with. The dough. Perfect as it is.

Made from flour, yeast, sugar and salt, to which milk, eggs and vanilla extract are added, and into which a beurre manié (simply butter mixed with a little flour) is encased; it is one of the most forgiving doughs I’ve ever worked with.

The détrempe is chilled for 30 minutes before the beurre manié is spread onto its lower two thirds. The dough is then folded into what could be called a business-letter fashion.
This is the first tour [turn].

After another chill in the fridge, the dough is rolled and folded; into three, according to the recipe, and into four for me. Making a double turn makes for a quicker process, without a loss in quality.
I love double turns.

The dough is chilled again and then folded in order to complete a single turn.
Then, the recipe calls for a long rest in the fridge. And well, I’ve been a bad baker here. Daring, but still bad.
I managed to wait for a dozen of minutes before rolling out the dough into a 1/2cm thick rectangle. I guess the fact that I kneaded the détrempe for almost ten minutes helped the gliadin and glutenin to come together into the darling gluten.
I love double turns and relaxed gluten.

Quite evidently, I put all those resting time to use by getting the filling – a vanilla speckled pastry cream – ready.
And this is all simple. Egg yolks, cornflour, vanilla seeds, sugar and milk. The milk was brought to the boil, along with the vanilla seeds and sugar.
I mixed the egg yolks and cornflour into a smooth paste; tempered this mixture with the warm milk, then put everything back in the pan and cooked the cream over low heat until thick.

As you can see, left the cardamom and orange juice out. Ornage juice isn’t a great thing to use in baked good. Sure it does bring flavour, but also acidity. Hence, it’s way better to use orange zest instead of juice.

Once I the dough and filling were both put together, it’s time for some shaping action.
The dough is cut to a mere 20 x 30cm rectangle. And cut into what reminds me of an Indian totem shape.

I then piped the crème pâtissière onto the centre of the dough, sprinkled with chocolate chips – yes, you do read right: amazingly delicious Barry Callebaut chocolate chips –, and folded the lateral dough stripes over so the whole thing forms a pretty braid.

Since my braid was around 30 cm long and 8cm wide, it fitted perfectly the Pyrex loaf pan I took from my parents house the last time I visited.
I left the braid in there for an hour, until it doubled in size, then baked it – still in the pan (to prevent it from ‘opening’) in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

This challenge is one of my favourites so far. The braid was so very yummy. I love how the pastry turned out: flaky, yet très-brioche. And I think the crème pâtissière brought a pleasing softness.
I’ll definitely make this again.

Tresse danoise à la crème pâtissière et aux pépites de chocolat

makes two small braids or a large one

for the détrempe
225g flour
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
40g caster sugar
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
80g milk
1 egg
1 tsp natural vanilla extract

for the beurre de tourrage
125g butter, at room temperature
1 heaped tbsp flour

Combine the flour,yeast, sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix in the milk, egg and vanilla extract. When the ingredients have been incorporated, start kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky. Form into a rough rectangle, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes, while you get on with the butter block.

Cream the butter and flour. Shape into a rectangle and wrap in cling film.

You now have a little spare time, just enough to make the crème pâtissière (recipe below).

After the détrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 20 x 30 cm and 1cm thick. Spread the butter evenly over the centre and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the détrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns. Wrap the dough in cling film, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the dough on a floured work surface – the spine (picture a book spine) should be on your left. Roll the dough into another approximately 20 x 30 cm rectangle, and proceed with a tour double (what is a tour double?): visualise the middle axis of the rectangle, grab the lower end of the dough and fold it over so it meets the middle axis. Do the same with the upper end. I’ll call this an open book. Finally, close the ‘book’ and wrap it in cling film. The second and third turns have now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Do a final simple turn: place the ‘book’ in front of you, spine on the left and roll it into a rectangle slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper. Brush the excess flour away and fold in three, just like you would do with a business letter.

Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours; however, I tried with a short 20 minute rest and it worked perfectly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish dough into a 20 x 30 cm rectangle, approximately 1/2 cm thick. Transfer onto baking paper. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 10cm long cuts with a knife, each about 2cm apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.
Pipe the filling down the centre of the rectangle, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Starting with the top and bottom flaps, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Tuck in the ends.

You can either place the braid into a loaf pan, or leave it rest onto a baking sheet.
Both ways, allow the braid to double in size at room temperature, for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200°C and bake the braid fopr 10 minutes; turn around, lower the oven temperature to 180°C, and bake for a further 20 minutes, or until golden.

for the filling
2 egg yolks
20g cornflour
250g milk
one vanilla pod
50g caster sugar

2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

Combine the egg yolks and cornflour in a small ball. Heat the milk, sugar and vanilla pod into over medium heat.
Pour half a cup of hot milk into the egg yolks, and quickly mix to a smooth paste. Strain over the pan containg the remaining milk, then cook until thick.

Pour into a container, cover tighly with cling film and chill until needed.

Pascal Lac, son entremet fromage blanc et fruits rouges et un CAP pâtissier en apprentissage

[On Pascal Lac, his fromage blanc and berry entremet, and pastry apprenticeship]

A couple of weeks ago, I made it back home with the secret aim to find a place to be an apprentice at next year.
I got to spend a day in a dreamy laboratoire, being shown around by the young chef, decorating tarts and making beautiful loaf cakes; all with a view on the gorgeous black-walled chocolaterie room.

The next day I headed towards La Trinité, a small town, north of Nice, where the renown pâtisserie Lac has its laboratoire. The place is huge, probably ten times bigger – I mean, walk-in freezers! – that Pierre Hermé’s.
Pascal Lac, the chef, decided to make the move from the busy city back-shop laboratoire to this large open one for reasons that are quite understandable.

After the short interview, I asked my dad – who held the position of pastry-chef-in-the-being (=me) driver for the week end – to drive me to the city centre, so I could have a look and taste of Lac’s pastries.

Just as the pâtisserie from the day before, pâtisserie Lac had that gorgeous sleek look. Very chic. But as I entered, I had that overwhelming feeling that conducted me to choose Lac over any other pâtisseries I had applied to. Don’t laugh, but I totally felt connected with the various entremets, cakes and macarons. Those had my touch in them.

So well, here it comes. I HAVE AN INTERNSHIP FOR NEXT YEAR!
And I’m damn happy.

While we’re talking about internships, it fills me with joy when you guys let me know that you’re planning on become a pastry chef – and thus interning at a French pâtisserie.

However, I must admit that I’m getting bored of those many ‘how did you secure an internship at Pierre Hermé’ emails, as if I was the sesame to Pierre Hermé’s very own private paradise pâtisserie. I am not.

But because I do my best at being a lovely person, here is the answer.
I am passionate about pâtisserie, and I guess that if you do mean it when you tell me about how much you love pastry, then you might actually be passionate too. And this is just terrific. Passion is the key; the so-wanted sesame.
Thanks to my passion, I strive to make my dreams come true. It might take days or years, I don’t mind. All I want is to be satisfied about myself; and so should you.

What about this whole how-to-get-an-internship thingy then? Well, people, just get on it; be proactive; make your best to get what you want. If that means emailing Fanny about her Pierre Hermé internship, then do it. But do you really think that’ll fulfil you? Don’t you want to struggle for it? Or more accurately, are you even ready to struggle for it?

What you want will never come onto a silver plate, which is especially true in the fine food industry.

You want something. Then make it happen.

I understand that some of you might need a little more guidance – I mean, even I, living in France and speaking fluent French, find it difficult sometimes; or actually, all the time. I struggle; making phone calls back and forth; emailing restlessly.
You want an internship in France; then follow this quick step-by-step.

1. Learn the basic principles of French grammar and orthography. You needn’t be an advanced French speaker and writer, but definitely have to be able to understand when people talk to you, formulate a coherent answer, and express your feelings and motivations in a cover letter.

2. Put together a resume in French. By all means, if you don’t have the knowledge to make it look pretty, just keep it simple.
In France, resumes must contain:
– a picture of you
– the basic info about you<
– your telephone number and email address
Plus, all of the usual stuff: education and work experience.
Never worked at a pâtisserie before? I hadn’t. But I managed to highlight how I included my passion into the different projects I conducted.

3. List the places where you want to apply. Use google maps, or les pages jaunes; for contact info. Do make an actual – written on paper – list! Write down the name of the pâtisserie, name of the pâtissier, phone number and email.

4. Write a two-hundred-word cover letter– if you’re not fluent, make it clear at the beginning, but say you’re definite about improving your French; in this case, keep it short and simple.
Basically, just try to convey your passion and enthusiasm through your words. Briefly expose a project you worked on and during which you managed to place pastry into the limelight.

5. Take a morning off (not Mondays, since most of the shops are closed), and call each of the listed place. Make the effort to speak French. Don’t try and speak too fast if you’re not confident; I much rather someone that talks slowly than someone I can barely understand.
Ask for the chef pâtissier. And don’t hesitate to make people repeat if you don’t get something.

When you’ve finally been put through the chef, make it brief. Say you want to apply for a stage [stah-ge]. Ask whether they accept stagiaires [stah-gi-air] or not. If they do, give your availabilities; then politely ask for an email where you could reach him for further communication.

Be warned, they will most likely ask for a stage conventionné, for which you need a convention – a sort of insurance contract – issued by your school or university. So if you’re not currently a student, I suggest you get some info elsewhere.

6. Cross the pâtisserie name off the list. And immediately send an email.
Thank them for the earlier conversation. Repeat what you called them for: stage, availabilities. Attach both your resume and cover letter, but still mention them in the email body.

7. Wait for seven days, then either call or email, asking about the processing of your application.
Don’t hesitate to call again and say you’re very motivated. Tell them you’re highly interested in meeting them for an interview. Actually make it to the interview, even for just one day.

Congrats. You are [insert your country’s name] next pastry chef.

Le songe d’une nuit d’été – Que faire avec des griottes?

[A midsummer night’s dream – What to do with sour cherries?]

For the first time in many months, it’s been sunny for more than two days in a row. And when I say sunny it’s a definite understatement – it’s actually been damn hot, like ice-cream hot (more about ice-cream to come later this week).

But well, you see, my immune system decided not to cooperate. There was no way it would have allowed me to enjoy those beautiful days. Hence the strep throat as a result.

After two days spent in bed, I found the courage to hit the farmer’s market this morning. Since I was already awake by seven am, the place felt quiet and relaxing; and I took the time to have a chat with each producer I bought things from. So very nice.

I got courgettes and courgette flowers – ten of them for less than a euro; definitely one of the best surprises ever. Gorgeous little cantaloupe melons; didn’t you know you can tell when a melon is ripe from its peduncle? And more accurately, by the detachment of the peduncle. When the melon is ready for harvest, you can see little cracks around its peduncle.
I also picked lovely white peaches, which got crushed at the bottom of my basket; fresh pasta; organic home-cured ham; fragrant butter; young onions and the first tomatoes.
As well as the last cherries of the year. Gines, I’m told they’re called. To be honest I had never heard about such a variety before; they seem to be very close to griottes [sour cherries] – only slightly sweeter since it’s the end of the season.

I never really make anything special from cherries. Just eat them – or yes, make clafoutis –, but with those, I do feel like making something unique.

Do you have any great recipe using sour cherries that you’d like to share?
Pretty pretty please.

Je ne fais jamais rien de spécial à base de cerises. Je me contente de les manger – ou si, je l’admets, de faire des clafoutis. Mais avec ces griottes, j’ai envie de faire quelque chose d’unique.

Est-ce que vous avez des recettes à me faire découvrir?
Pretty pretty please.

And by the way, happy midsummer to you and your loved ones!

Counting seconds… backwards – Crème caramel toute simple

[Simplest crème caramel]

creme caramel

When I look back, I realise that most of my days were spent lightly, even jokingly, complaining about how I never have enough time to turn all my ideas into real projects, how I’m always lacking that precious extra second.

All of a sudden, confronted with the unconfrontable, I didn’t have the choice but grasp the full measure of this situation, and the light and joking part of it disappeared.

Though hours, days and even months.

How in the world hadn’t I found the time – for those past twenty-three years – to make crème caramel?

I mean, my favourite dessert. And no time to make it.

These were totally impossible circumstances.

Sure, I was fed on my mother’s crème aux oeufs. Sure, I always ordered crème caramel when dining out. Sure, I make the most insanely delicious crème renversée au chocolat.

creme caramel

No crème caramel to be seen – or perhaps more appropriately – devoured.

You see, this is how I had first thought of introducing you this luscious crème caramel, inspired by Neil Perry but also by Linda.

And then came that show on much disregarded france 3.

Yes, that show about women in the fine food industry: somelières, cuisinières, maîtres d’hôtel or pâtissières. Seeing them being excited about what they do made my knees weaken, my stomach tear and my head spin.

creme caramel

And just as I’m writing this – live, really – I’m overwhelmed with an intense feeling of happiness, and the most definite anticipation.

While I used to count seconds backwards – wishing for extra hours to make my dreams come true – I’m now living them, and truly looking forward next semester during which I’ll finally start my pâtisserie training.

I am thrilled. Unstoppable. With joy-induced tears filling my eyes (who knew contact lenses could survive to such floods?).

creme caramel

Crème caramel toute simple
Inspired by Neil Perry’s The food I love.

This might be the simplest thing to make and yet it is one of my favourite dessert. I do seriously think I’ll choose crème caramel over any other fondants au chocolat or ice creams.

As you’ll see from the recipe, the baking time is quite loose as it really depends on your oven. I baked mine for 40 minutes and they turned out perfect.

The only thing that went wrong is the lack of runny caramel – but this is entirely my fault. I should have leaft the crèmes to chill overnight and not for just a couple of hours. Oh well, not too bad for a first time anyway.

Crème caramel toute simple

serves 6

for the custard
1000g milk
115g caster sugar
one vanilla pod, split with seeds scraped out
6 egg yolks
6 eggs

for the caramel
225g caster sugar
125g water

Combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla pod and seeds in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool down for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, get the caramel ready. Bring the sugar and water to a gentle simmer, and cook until light amber. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour 50g of caramel into one 250ml mould, and repeat with the remaining five. Swirl to coat the moulds halfway up their sides with the caramel. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Lightly mix the eggs and yolks in a bowl. Strain the cooled milk mixture into the egg mixture, slowly whisking. Strain again and pour into the prepared moulds. Place the moulds inside the tin and fill the tin with hot water until it reaches halfway-up the sides of the moulds.

Cover the tin with foil, and place in the centre of the oven to cook for 30-45 minutes, or until set.
Allow to cool, then store in the fridge overnight.

When ready to serve, carefully run a knife around the inside of the mould and jiggle the mould to loosen the custard. Place the serving plate on top and quickly upturn the crème caramel and slowly remove the mould, allowing the caramel to gently spill down the edges of the dessert.

pour 6 personnes

pour la crème
1000g lait
115g sucre poudre
une gousse de vanille fendue en deux
6 jaunes d’oeufs
6 oeufs

pour le caramel
225g sucre poudre
125g eau

Mettre le lait, sucre et la gousse de vanille dans une casserole et porter à ébullition. Réserver.

Pendant ce temps, préparer le caramel en cuisant le sucre et l’eau à feu doux jusqu’à obtention d’un caramel coloré. Puis le répartir immédiatement dans six moules de 250mL en n’en recouvrant le fond ainsi que les parois.

Préchauffer le four à 190°C.
Mélanger les jaunes d’œufs et les œufs dans un bol puis y ajouter le lait passé au chinois.
Chinoiser à nouveau la préparation, puis la diviser dans les moules préparés.

Cuire au bain-marie pendant 30 à 45 minutes. Laisser refroidir puis réserver au froid pendant au moins huit heures.

Au moment de servir, faire glisser la lame d’un couteau entre le flan et le moule puis retourner dans des assiettes légèrement creuses.

Like drinking poison, like eating glass – Délicieux caramels mous au beurre salé

Before I start blabbering about those beautiful caramels and also about one of the books I’ve recently read, let me stop you right away. I do not know a thing about Martha Stewart. Never seen her show. Never read her books. Never made a single of her recipes.
The closest I’ve gotten to Martha is the 2006 Christmas issue of Living. From the cover showing a beautiful rainbow of old-fashion Christmas ornaments to the hand-made parcel labels on page 58, I loved it. Simply gorgeous. And thoughtful too.

So I might be completely wrong, but as I was reading about Gus – Kate Jacobs’ Comfort Food central character – I couldn’t help but feel like I was in fact getting a grasp of Martha’s life (may it be my very own special Martha).

Gus is that woman I suspect many of you want to be. She can cook superbly. She has two beautiful daughters. And a very dear friend. She owns a lovely 7-bedroom mansion. And quite obviously, she has her own TV show and the appropriate books that go along with it.
Her only downside being the loss of her husband. And perhaps Carmen. You know, that younger and once Miss Spain woman the producers want on your show – yours and hers, that is.

And well, I loved reading about how Gus – who terrified to appear less than perfect, holds it all together – reacts; and how this situation affects her family dynamics. I’m sure you will love it as well. But given I’m terrible at book reviews, I can only suggest you buy the book. Read it. Then make the caramels au beurre salé I wanted to talk about in the first place.

Those things. They’re lovely. And totally make you feel like Gus, or Martha. Even our national domestic goddess – Nigella will do. This is all about instant gratification. Something that is easy to make, delicious to eat and wonderful to offer as a present.

And if you’re lucky enough to have your own show and doesn’t want that 30-something to, damn, co-host it; may I advise you to hand a little basket – adorned with a pretty ribbon if you feel like it – full of homemade soft caramels to your producer, who will love them and might hopefully die from suffocation after trying to swallow too many at a time.

Délicieux caramels au beurre salé

Caramels are one of those things that look very pretty – and happen to taste damn good, but that’s another story – but are somewhat messy to make.

First, when you add the butter and cream the mixture will seize. Don’t worry, just keep beating the hell out of it, and it will eventually turn into a sleek, glossy amber mixture. Then, when you slowly bring it to the appropriate temperature, it will form bubbles that will explode, looking like what I call the multi-mouths monster. And it just keeps getting worse and worse as it reaches 120°C.

Luckily, the finished products look neat. And yes, is totally to die for.

Délicieux caramels au beurre salé

makes 40

180g caster sugar
70g liquid glucose
20g water
3g fleur de sel
70g high-quality salted butter
200g double cream, scalded

Place the sugar, liquid glucose, water and salt into a pan set over low heat, and cook until light amber.
Off the heat, mix in the butter and cream; then cook over moderate heat, until the caramel reaches 120°C.
Meanwhile, line a 25x25cm square pan with baking paper. When the caramel reaches the right temperature, pour it into the prepared tin and allow to set for 3 hours at room temperature.
Using a sharp knife, slice the slab into fingers or squares. Wrap in film or paper.

pour une quarantaine

180g sucre en poudre
70g sirop de glucose
20g eau
3g fleur de sel
70g beurre demi-sel
200g crème 35%, bouillie puis tiédie

Mettre le sucre, sirop de glucose, eau et le sel dans une casserole et cuire à feu doux jusqu’à l’obtention d’un caramel ambré.
Ajouter le beurre et la crème et cuire jusqu’à 120°C.
Pendant que le caramel cuit, recouvrir un plat de 25x25cm avec du papier cuisson. Quand la température atteint 120°C, verser le caramel dans le plat et laisser prendre à température ambiante pendant au moins 3 heures.
En utilisant un couteau aiguisé, coupé la plaque de caramel en batonnets ou en carrés. Envelopper-les individuellement dans du film ou du papier cuisson.