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The nicest thing – Gâteau aux amandes et aux framboises garni de crème pralinée

[Raspberry, almond and cream layer cake]

almond-raspberry-and-cream-cake

I wish I’d come here today to tell you about how super excited I felt when I found out about Chris‘ pick for July’s daring bakers challenge. But things happened to be a little different.

It’s not that I didn’t like it. It’s just, that, well, there is so much more than buttercream-layered-cakes out there. Hence, this challenge initially felt a little frustrating.

Initially.

Then ideas started to pop like crazy. I knew I wasn’t going to make it buttercreamy, because, we all know I don’t dig buttercream.
I wanted it to have a summer feeling. Berries imposed themselves in the most natural way.

So did the cream filling; flavoured with a fragrantly nutty paste made from almonds and sugar.

The experiment
– three layers of butter and almond enriched génoise, sandwiched with
– an almond and cream filling, and
fresh raspberries, and glazed with
– a dark chocolate ganache

almond-raspberry-and-cream-cake

The cake is a génoise, enriched with butter and ground almonds, which both make for a moist and tender gâteau.
I kept the given proportions – almost – unchanged, but slightly tweaked the process because I dare to be different. I first whipped with egg whites until they formed soft peaks, then added one fourth of the sugar, and set those aside. Using the same whisk (no cleaning involved), I beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until white and fluffy, then carefully folded those into the whipped egg whites.

In a small bowl, I had handy the flour, cornflour and ground almonds – all, thoroughly mixed. I dumped this mixture onto the whipped eggs and folded using a large metal spoon, until just combined.
Finally, the warm melted butter (not clarified) was poured over and incorporated as fast as possible.

The batter was then transferred into a 20cm cake buttered-and-baking-papered tin. And the cake was baked for 30 minutes, or until it feels springy to the touch and separates itself from the sides of the pan.

The filling is made by folding almond praline paste into softly whipped cream.

The almond praline is very straightforward to make. The only you really need is a powerful food processor, and you’re in.
Just make a syrup with caster sugar and water, and bring it to 120°C. Next, ditch the blanched almonds in there, mix quickly and transfer onto a lined baking sheet. Allow to cool and chop into smallish pieces that you blitz using your super processor until smooth and creamy.

Now, you simply have to slice the cake into three layers, sandwich them using the filling and throwing in a couple of handful of raspberries; and finally glaze the cake using a basic ganache made of equal parts of dark chocolate and double cream.

almond-raspberry-and-cream-cake

Sooooo…
My cake was so moist that I didn’t find it necessary to brush it with syrup before going on with the layering part of the process.

In the end, I really liked this challenge, but who can go wrong with berries, almond and cream?
Oh, sure, I did find the chocolate a little overpowering and will totally leave it out if I ever happen to make this again. Because I will.

The cake is so delicate and fragrant; and most importantly, rose beautifully. The filling was thick and creamy, which perfectly complemented the tanginess brought by the berries.

Précis de photographie culinaire pour les trois ans de foodbeam

[Food photography 101 to celebrate foodbeam’s third birthday]

Fifteen days went by since the last time I talked to you my friends. But what feels even more unusual is that today is precisely foodbeam’s third birthday. I can’t believe you guys have been reading me and sharing your stories for three whole entire complete years.

Things haven’t changed; or so I tell myself. In fact, I’m now a grown-up, and part of this, is clearly seeing where and what I want to be. Such a pleasing feeling.

Pâtisserie has become a true passion of mine over the years, and hopefully, I’ll be able to call myself a pâtissier next year, on this exact same date.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, not that I’m superstitious or believe in luck, but well… your support truly is amazing and an actual happiness shot. Through this little unpretentious blog, I’ve had the chance to make great friends, to meet some respected writers and pâtissiers; and perhaps, most importantly, to find what makes my heart all happy inside. You know, the thing I can wake up at three am for; the thing I can work for countless hours for. No, not boys, you silly. Pâtisserie. And that’s totally thanks to you guys who encouraged me, supported me and helped me having the life I had always dreamt about.

Sure I always get distracted by other things; prints, illustration and polaroids (I seriously considered enrolling in a CAP Polaroid, until I found out it doesn’t exist; damn, we need to find a solution).

But pâtisserie do and always will mean happiness for me.

Ok, enough for the tears-inducing words. Let’s move onto the real thing. The blog. And the pictures. First off, let me tell you I don’t consider myself a good food photographer. My pictures are decent, not terrific. But since I get so many requests about how I get such pictures, I thought I could share how I do it.


Along with the food, the camera is the only thing you really need to become a food photographer.

Yes, it’s that simple, or it’s at least what you think when unpacking the camera from it’s shiny cardboard box and before you actually spot the five-hundred-page manual, waiting there, just for you.

Manuals are like those guys who, sticky-with-love, always want to be by your side. You don’t want them, but certainly need them from time to time. Well, may I suggest you both get a little closer (or more accurately, you get closer from him), and you’ll find out how wonderful they actually are.

So yes, whether you have a Chelsea camera or an East-End one, read the manual. And try the different functions, get to see how it works and how you can get the results you want.

I now have a DSLR – read: digital single lens reflex. A canon 400D (or XTi, for you guys across the ocean). But back in the old days, I had to make the most of that other less fancy camera I had. But I have the feeling I succeeded. Not that my pictures were perfect – I’m pretty glad I never took the time to re-upload the pictures from the archives (after I moved foodbeam from blogger to wordpress).
Basically, you just need to know your camera, and how to set it; which is something we’ll discuss a little further.


Make it. Have fun. And don’t take it too seriously.


Did I say that all you really need are food and a camera? Well, seems like I was lying. I love to have an assistant handy as well.

My assistant – or slave, you choose – is most of the time my little sister or boyfriend. Pick someone you can harass, manipulate, and judge without going through much trouble. Yes, your eight-year old cousin will do.

While it’s not compulsory to have one, it might help you through tricky issues. I mean, which colour should I pick for the background? Or how in the world am I supposed to keep those delicately piled choux in place with such a wind?
See, very handy.


So, yes, as soon as the food is made, get ready to take the pictures. Get your assistant to measure the distance between your camera and the food, to determine the best focal length to choose considering the light conditions your assistant (again!) assessed using his new luminometer.

Or in the real world, find a place where you have access to natural light. I love natural light, but not when it’s too harsh; that why late summer nights and me have such a special relationship.
Don’t put the food in direct light either, but behind a window or under a porch.Thus, you’ll have soft shadows and a sufficient amount of light coming through your lens.

chocolate jelly

You can certainly invest in both a good tripod and flash; I can’t since I have other things in my to-buy list, which come first far away from this useful duo. Just don’t use your built-in flash. Never. It makes the food looks flat, with no contrast except for that bright white spot on the shiny surface of the chocolate jelly you’ve just made.


As much as I would like my pictures to look like pretty pages from my favourite food magazine, I just can’t. And I totally grown over this.

First, overstyled shots just don’t feel right to me; not that they don’t look good, they certainly do. They’re simply not – embodying – me.

Second, I don’t have enough money to buy tons of props, not enough time to style the food. It’s meant to be eaten after all and I’d much prefer my friends to enjoy the food rather that having them to wait angrily until I finished the styling and shooting. Two words: Ikea and garage sales. Those are the places where I find my tableware. I love Ikea for the cheap white plates that make any food look great; while the garage sales – or vide-greniers as we call them here in france – are a wonderful way to find lovely vintage scorched pans and plates.

Third, my approach to food photography is more food-geared than anything else. I want the bread* to stand out, not the neat polka-dot ribbon that’s tied around.
* replace with any food you plan to shoot.

That’s why in most of my picture you’ll find a container – plate, jar, cake stand – holding what matters most; the delicious food. Nothing less – and most definitely – nothing more.

By now you should all be aware that I love clean pictures. And needless to say, simple background. White cotton fabric is my favourite. Ever. But coloured – and even illustrated – fabrics are ranked high amongst my top-ten.

What I do is usually ask my assistant to bring a cardboard box, place it on the table and cover both with the chosen fabric. The food is placed on this, around 15cm in front of the box.


This is probably the trickiest part for those of you who don’t know a thing about how cameras work – basically, this description fitted the person I was three years away from now.

Consider your camera as a small window through which light beams. The amount of incoming light is what makes the picture, so this is most definitely a critical point. For a couple of minutes, please excuse me if I stop sounding silly. We need to concentrate.

When I take pictures, I always work in manual mode and pay attention to:
– the shutter speed
– the aperture
And then tweak the ISO settings so I have enough incoming light.

The shutter speed is the time during which your shutter will stay open. Quite obviously, the longer it remains open, the more light will go through it, and the brighter your picture will be.

It is a fraction that looks like 1/3000 or 1/100 or 1/3 or 1/10″… the longest being 1/10″ and the quickest 1/3000. I recommend not using a shutter speed lower than 1/100 or your pictures might turn out blurry.

The aperture is lens-dependent. I currently own two lenses: one 50mm (focal length) f/1.8 and one macro 100mm f/2.8; which I both have now words for except they’re the real thing. The 50mm is cheap and totally amazing; while the 100mm is somewhat more expensive, but worth every cents.

The mean f-slash-number represents the maximal aperture of a length. The smaller the number, the wider the lens will be open and thus, the brighter the picture will be.
But what makes aperture special – more special than shutter speed, at least in food photography – is its ability to produce a lovely blurry background, while the main subject is well in focus. To get that depth of field, I tend to use the wider aperture possible: f/1.8 with my 50mm lens and 2.8 with the macro one.

Now, the hard thing is to combine both the shutter speed and aperture to produce a beautiful picture with just the necessary amount of light. If too much light comes through the lens, then the picture will be overexposed. In the other case, it’ll be all grey – or even worse, black.

These misfits would happen all the time if the exposure bar didn’t exist. You know that -2…-I…0…+I…+2 at the bottom of your viewfinder. It helps you see whether the picture is underexposed (negative) or overexposed (positive).

Sometimes, when I have both the shutter speed and aperture set in order to have the maximum amount of light coming in, but it’s a little too dark outside, my pictures look greyish. Well, in those situations, I just increase the ISO speed from 100 to 200 or in extreme conditions, 1600.
Increasing the ISO speed does affect the quality of your picture by adding graininess to it; but this is totally worth it when you don’t want the party layer cake you’ve spent hours making look like a pantone shade of black.


Do you need actual help on this?


Once the pictures are in and the cake eaten, I will transfer the pictures onto my laptop. And then, I edit all my pictures using Photoshop CS3. Yes, all of them.
In fact when you see a strawberry cake, it is really a chocolate flavoured one.

Oh yes, I do use Photoshop for every single of my pictures, but that’s mostly to crop them into neat 410px-wide rectangles so they fit perfectly into the little food heaven that foodbeam is.

Sometimes, I will tweak the levels or colours, but only when much much needed – read: when you can’t clearly recognise what’s in the picture.

Oh damn, I could talk about food photography for hours. There is so much to say I’m crazy to try and express how I feel about it in just one post. I certainly don’t want to bore you. Getting you grab your camera with excitement is what I aim for. So please, experiment, take your time and enjoy yourself. With this, I’m positive that your pictures will look beautiful.

And, remember:
– natural light
– simple composition
– good framing
– macro or manual settings
– love

Oh what about that last picture. Yes, it is totally a delicious blueberry focaccia, which recipe will come soon.

On aura qu’à se cacher sous les draps – Brownies-like cookies en ice cream sandwich au chocolat et à la banane

[We could just hide under the bed covers – Brownies-like cookies and banana ice cream sandwiches]

Quite unexpectedly, summer showed up; with its glorious harvest, hot breezes and refreshing drinks.

Quite unexpectedly, I hadn’t noticed how time flew by. These past months; this past year.

It seems that since I came back from New Zealand, things haven’t stopped. Not even for a brisk moment. New Zealand. Bang. Nice. Bang. Pierre Hermé. Bang. Nice. Bang. Paris. Bang. Toulouse. Bang. Nutrition & Santé. Bang.

Nutrition & Santé. That’s what keeps me busy at the moment. And actually, that’s what has kept me busy for the past few months as well.

It might sound cliché, but although four months have passed by, the day I arrived feels like it was yesterday. Now the project I’ve been working on is drawing to an end, and just the thought of it gives me that strange sensation: I know where all those hours of hard work go – into a terrific biscuit, period; however, I can’t help but wonder why the hours faded away this fast.

Time is such a delicate concept. Something you can’t grasp unless you’re missing it. Yes, time is one of those things you aren’t aware of until the day you realise you don’t have it anymore.

And I think this day has come for me.

Sure, I’ve always complained about how I don’t have enough time to make random things. But today is an entirely different matter. I just realised I haven’t lived for a year. I just kept doing what people wanted – expected – me to. And, well, yes, the whole I-hate-not-having-spare-time situation is part of it, but it was only a very teeny part.

I’m happy though.

Everything I do makes sense. Giving people happiness. Sharing. Working. Having fun. But somehow it feels different.

Maybe I’ve just become an adult. A lovingly crazy adult, that is; but adult nonetheless.

By the way, are adults allowed to eat ice cream sandwiches now and then?

Gosh, thank you. Can’t believe I once saw adults as austere beings. If only I knew back then, that one can have the life one dreams about.

Brownies-like cookies en ice cream sandwich au chocolat et à la banane

Okay, so let’s get this off right away. I did not make this luscious banana and chocolate chunk ice cream. I wish I had, but I’m the sad owner of a non-turbine-à-glace. Read: please somebody buy me an ice cream machine.

The inexpensive ones don’t fit in my tiny freezer and the huge ones… well, I just seem not to be able to keep six hundred euros long enough for me to rush to Darty and get myself the most prized and loved Magimix.

Anyway, this is mostly a recipe for cookies. Killer cookies that taste and feel like brownies. I love them. Day and night. But I have to admit, I love them even more with ice cream sandwiched in between two of them.

To me, the perfect ice cream conveyor. Cookies that make me wish ice cream sandwiches were more popular in France than they currently are. Maybe one day.

Brownies-like cookies en ice cream sandwich au chocolat et à la banane

makes 20 ice cream sandwiches

180g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g dark chocolate, chopped
30g butter

150g brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract

500g ice cream

Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.
Place the chocolate and butter into a glass bowl set over simmering water, and stir until melted. Set aside.

Beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy, then fold in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Working quicly, tip in the flour mixture and using a wooden spoon incorporate it as quickly as possible.

Form walnut-sized balls of dough with your hands and drop them onto the prepared sheet – make sure you give them plenty of room as those tend to expand when baking.

Bake for 10 minutes; they should still feel very soft, but will harden as they cool.
As soon as the cookies are cold enough, transfer them to the freezer while you get the ice cream ready. Either form scoops and gently squish them down, or cut out 5cm wide disks of ice cream. The choice is yours, and either ways, I’m pretty sure it’ll be delicious.

Sandwich the ice cream disks between two cookies. Place back in the freezer until ready to serve.

Comme si tu m’aimais plus qu’un gâteau au chocolat – Choux croustimoelleux au fromage blanc et à la ciboulette

[Like you loved me more than chocolate cake – Fromage blanc and chives crispysoft choux buns]

Believe it or not, but I’ve made pâte à choux twice in the past couple of days; and nope, no flat little choux buns were involved. This might not sound special; but trust me – if you’re unaware of my choux-bun-helplessness – it is.

Choux pastry is something I love to make. I mean don’t you dream about not feeling your own arm anymore, because you’ve just beaten three whole eggs into a thickish dough, which tends to split as you do so? Come on! Admit it, you love it too.
Well, I do. But choux buns. Oh no; these definitely don’t love me back. They probably even hate me; and that’s a massive understatement.

We all know how the story ends. On a random day, I decide to overcome this feeling, persuading myself that choux buns do actually love me. After all, there just made of flour, milk, water, salt, butter and – breathe – eggs.
So, yes, I make pâte à choux. It looks sleek and pretty, and has the most wonderful smell. I gently pipe it onto a lovely baking sheet. And bake. And cry.

During my whole life, I might have gotten choux buns right once or not twice. Not a single time more. So well, after giving up for a year, I made it again. Thanks to the NY Times magazine – yeah, finally a twoway relationship!

When I spotted the recipe for herbed fritters, my heart felt quite excited. How could fromage blanc and chives folded into pâte à choux then fried could taste bad? And, perhaps more importantly, how could I possibly failed that?
Frying. This is like totally different from baking. Three different letters, and a couple of litres of oil later, I found myself dropping little balls of the most beautiful dough ever into some bubbling greasiness. It felt good. Quite dangerous –yes – but I’m wild and fearless, so that doesn’t count.

Anyway, since I got such terrific results, I decided to love the NY Times even more. And even got the idea to make one recipe from it every week. Oh, I know, those don’t looks as yummy as the frosted cake and luscious tart I got you used to; but well, they pretty much have the same calorie content!

Choux croustimoelleux au fromage blanc et à la ciboulette
Adapted from the NY Times.

This is quite straightforward a recipe. If you know how to make pâte à choux, then you’re done. And it happens to actually be true as well if you don’t know a thing about choux.

You first make the pâte à choux. Heat the milk, water and butter together, then throw in the flour and salt in one go. Now using a wooden spoon, mix the dough like mad until it forms a ball. Finally mix in the eggs, one at a time. Here I have a couple of things to add: 1) you needn’t a stand mixer, keep using your wooden spoon. And 2) you might not need the entire third egg, so what I advise you to do is to crack it into a small bowl, mix it with a fork until smooth and slowly pour half ot it onto the dough. If it feels right, add more. If not, throw the remaining egg mixture away.

Once the dough is made, it should be used immediately, so I can only recommend heating the oil before you even start making the dough.
Making the fritters is just a matter of folding: some fromage blanc – which you can substitute with ricotta, a handful of chopped chives, and freshly ground pepper.

Then comes the frying. Be careful. I decided to pipe the dough into the hot*hot oil. Basically, I filled my piping bags with the dough, squeezed it over the oil and cut it – using my tiny pair of scissors – to form little balls.
Oh and yes, while I’m at it. I don’t own a thermometer that goes high enough in temperature, so I just rely to the dip-it test; i.e. spoon a little of the dough and se it it pops up and float. If it does, the oil is hot enough; falling that just wait for an extra couple of minutes before trying again.

Choux croustimoelleux au fromage blanc et à la ciboulette

makes 30

for the fritters
150g fromage blanc (ricotta cheese may be substituted)
a handful chopped chives
ground black pepper
one batch warm, just-mixed basic choux pastry
canola oil, for deep-frying
fleur de sel

Fold the fromage blanc, parsley, herbs and black pepper into the choux dough.
Place a cooling rack over a sheet pan. In a large heavy pot, heat at least 5cm of oil to 180°C. Working in batches, pipe-and-cut (using scissors) the dough into the oil, and please don’t burn yourself. Fry each ball for 3 to 5 minutes, turning, until deep brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fritters to the cooling rack and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Let cool for at least 2 minutes, then serve. Repeat with the remaining batter.

for the basic pâte à choux
100g flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g butter
125g whole milk
125g water
3 large eggs

Mix the flour and salt in a small bowl. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the milk and water over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Bring to a rolling boil, add the flour mixture and stir briskly for one minute. The dough should form into a ball, and a thin film should cover the bottom of the pan.
Immediately transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Mix on low to quickly release the steam. Just after the steam subsides, add an egg and increase the speed to medium. The dough will break into lumps at first. Once the dough comes back together, add the second egg and continue mixing.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the third egg. Stop the mixer. When the dough is lifted with a spoon, it should detach and form a slowly bending peak. If the dough is too thick and doesn’t bend, mix in half of the beaten egg. Check the dough again; add the remaining beaten egg as needed. The dough is now ready to be used for any recipe calling for choux paste. It must be used while still warm.