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L’espace d’un moment – Un rêve éphémère

[Spur of the moment – An ephemeral dream]

I am home – or more accurately I have been home for a week or so – forced to stay here.

Sometimes, nature compels us to slow down, perhaps for the right reasons.

Spending time here – just doing simple things – especially after the impulsive decision to fly back to France after a night – filled with tears and screams – that I can barely remember, make my stay in London feel as brief as a dream.

Something so ephemeral that I can hardly think it was real. Particularly after the nightmare I’ve just had. A nightmare that isn’t one. A nightmare I have to face. In fact, not a nightmare at all, just a fact.

I keep wondering about how I am going to breathe the same air as before except it will taste different now that I am on my own.

Luckily, I have time to think. And time to let my passion guide me.

rhubarb and vanilla

During this break, I have made the most delicious vanilla mousse, which I topped with slowly poached rhubarb and slices of the pinkest rhubarb compote.

It was delicious, light, and just tangy enough.

With the same elements, I also assembled an entremet that I will share later this week if I ever find my way back to London. Something I want so hard and yet fear.

But as nature told us, there is no need to rush. So why not spend a day or two in company of the coolest kid in town – Peanut, the bunny – or maybe, enjoy some drinks at a café or on a beach with friends – old and new.

peanut

See you later my lovelies. You make my world a little bit better and I just want to give each and everyone one of you a big hug. x

Comme un lait fraise – Cheesecake à la vanille at aux fraises

[Like a strawberry milk – Vanilla cheesecake with strawberries]

cheesecake

As a child, I thought my dad was the coolest person to hang out with. And since he was – and still is – a work at home dad, I did get to spend a lot of time with him.

He would take me to his tennis tournaments, for tea at Rohr, to some fishing parties, or on the chantier [building site] he was working on.

And in between all of these, we would unconditionally stop at a café or a bistrot where he would get me a lait fraise [strawberry milk].

strawberries

A couple of days ago, as I landed on the French soil again after a night made of blur and tears, he greeted me with a roadtrip to St Tropez and a somewhat obvious – and quite providential to tell the truth – halt at a bar.

This time, lait fraise wasn’t ordered, but a glass of white wine felt like the perfect fit.

cheesecake baked

And just being there, sitting in the sun on a less-comfortable-to-admit-it designer chair, sipping through some golden drink-me potion, and maybe more importantly, spending time with the right people, everything fell into place.

cheesecake macaron detail

Sometimes, it does take longer than you’d think to find out that what you’re loosing might just have been what you – in fact – needed.

But it also takes some time to discover what opportunities the loss will bring.

cheesecake naked

And after a much essential grief state, it’s now the right moment to move on. Preferably under the sun, with a bottle or two of wine and the right people.

cheesecake macaron

A slice of vanilla cheesecake served with the very first strawberries might also help.

cheescake simple

Cheesecake à la vanille at aux fraises

Containing no flour, this cheesecake is all you would dream about. Thick, rich and creamy, it’s the closest I could get to the New York cheesecake I’ve never had.

I baked it in a classical 18 cm cake pan with a removable base lined with foil so the water from the bain-marie wouldn’t get in.
I chose to bake it at 140°C because my oven is fan-assisted and thus, feels really stronger than any other oven I’ve had in the past.

Whatever your oven is, just make sure you never bake it over 170°C.

As for the time, I would say around one hour, but make sure you check it every now and then after 45 minutes. It is baked when the centre is still a bit wobbly. Don’t worry it will set as it cools down.

I like to use whole-wheat digestive biscuits for the base as it gives a nice earthy contrast.

Cheesecake à la vanille at aux fraises

serves 8

for the base
90g butter, melted
150g whole-wheat digestive biscuits, crushed

for the cheesecake filling
450g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
2 eggs
seeds from one vanilla pod

for the strawberries
one handful of strawberries
4 tbsp caster sugar
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 140°C (see note above).

Place the melted butter and crushed biscuits into a bowl and mix until homogeneous. Line the bottom of a 18cm cake tin with it, gently pressing down with the back of a spoon.
Chill while you get on with the filling.

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, caster sugar, eggs and vanilla seeds using a hand-held whisk.
Pour it onto the biscuit base. And bake in a bain-marie for one hour or until just set.

Allow to cool on a rack. Then transfer the the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours.

Run a hot knife around the edges of the cheesecake and remove it from its tin. You can smooth the sides by pressing a hot spatula (dipped in almost boiling water, then quickly dried) around the edges.

Dice the strawberries, and combine with the sugar and vinegar. Set aside for an hour or two until all juicy.

To serve, you can either top the cheesecake with the strawberries, or slice the cheesecake into neat rectangles, then serve it along with the strawberries and perhaps a macaron filled with strawberry jam.

L’espace d’un moment – A party

One prune tart please!, calls the voice through the interphone.

Run to the downstairs kitchen. Tell Elliot – the pastry commis – to put a prune tart into the oven. Grab a large rectangle plate. Pipe a thin line of wine reduction. Drain a prune marinated in spiced wine. Place it on the plate. Take the roasted nibbed almonds box. Sprinkle a couple of them onto the plate for the Armagnac ice cream to sit on them later. Wait for the prune tart to be fully baked.

And observe the guys around. One is plating some salmon. Another is deep frying. Another is making soup. Another is cleaning the edges of a shiny white plate. The chef is checking the plates before they are sent.

Service please!

starter

Elliot brings the soufflé tart. It looks like a golden cloud. I sprinkle one of its halves with icing sugar, then carefully place it on the far-left of the prepared plated. A quenelle of Armagnac ice cream, and a loud:

Service please! Table ten.

At the Capital Hotel, the downstairs kitchen could be described in a few words: hot, skilled and vibrant.
Plates are coming from the different sections on a matter of seconds. Waiters keep popping to call for starters, mains and desserts.

main

But as much as I love the excitement and rush, I must admit, I have a crush for those three-nights-a-week that I spent in the upstairs kitchen.

Up there, things are different. Quiet and slow.

Even when there is a party to be sent, we always do it in a restricted team. Three chefs, and one pastry chef.
All of a sudden, the usually-still room turns into a miniature version of the downstairs kitchen. We clear the central work plan, arrange plates, get that burner working, close the doors for maximum heat so the plates won’t go cold.

Then I hear a: desserts in ten minutes!

dessert

I have all the components for the prune tart ready. Red wine reduction, marinated prunes, isomalt sugar, Armagnac ice-cream.

The tarts themselves are in the oven. It’s time for some plating action. I un-clingfilm the pile of plates that have been prepared for me and start drawing lines of reduction across all of them.

You know the rest already…

PS. The pictures were taken with my film Pentax ME Super, which seems to be my camera of choice for the restaurant.