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A pastry stall and other stories

cake in the making

Sometimes, it all gets down the simplest things. A few words exchanged with a new friend, an idea that as has been kept asleep for too long, a birthday cake assembled and eaten.

And suddenly, it makes sense.

I have decided to launch my own business. Possibly a small pastry stall. Possibly at Borough Market. Possibly selling some fine French patisseries and English favourites with a twist.

Possibly.

But I can make it happen. With some endless research and business plan writing, delicious recipe development, adorable moments, and perhaps, if you feel like it, with your support.

la pomme d'amour

As a matter of fact, I am now accepting donations that will go straight into the opening of la pomme d’amour. There is a small cupcake on the side bar right here which allow you to give me as little or as much coins as you wish. In return, I promise you thousands chocolate kisses and tons of sugar, flour, and eggs to be used.

Now I just can’t wait for this to happen. I’ve already started working on the carte and it’s looking sweet. The classics will include my hands-down favourites. Tarts, loaf cakes, sables, viennoiseries, meringues and many many more.

To finish this, just three words: peach melba tart.

It sounds perfect. It tastes even better!

And since we’re on the subject, I thought I would share some dessert ideas that have been haunting me lately (I can’t be trusted around a punnet of strawberries, but who can – in all honesty?).

strawberry-love

One one them even made it to the menu: sour cherry clafoutis with almond sorbet and cherry-stone jelly.

clafoutis

Maintenant ou jamais – Mousse à la vanille et rhubarbe pochée à la grenadine

[Now or never - Vanilla mousse and grenadine-poached rhubarb]

rhubarbe

I was in love with someone. Or, as I recently realised after some happy times we spent together again, I was just loving some parts of this someone. Very much.

In fact, I was so smitten with the idea of him, that I would live in the illusion and forget – or more accurately, not even notice – the things that didn’t feel right.

But I now see them. Bright and sparkling. Right at my face. But I’m not crying, as I thought I would. Instead, I’m smiling. Embracing the facts, stopping expectations, celebrating the lovely moments we’ve had.

And before it gets too late because our love is wasted, I lock all the memories we have in a safe place.
Memories made of cold winter nights, squirrels, and film photography. And more recently, memories made of Pimm’s and lemonade, afternoons at the park, and breakfasts taken too late to admit it.

park

On any given day we would have piping-hot brownies with a tall glass of fridge-cold milk. But last Monday we shared a giant bowl of French fromage blanc, lightly sweetened and with just enough vanilla seeds to give it that lovely freckled look, topped with the pinkest rhubarb compote.

And as we were digging our spoons in it, I couldn’t not refrain myself from remembering the delicate vanilla mousse served with poached and compoted rhubarb that I told you about weeks ago.

I had made you a promise. And as bad as I am with promises, the less-frequent sight of rhubarb stalks at the farmers’ market, made it a now-or-never kind of thing.

Just like our break-up. It’s either now and we’ll be fine, or never and we’ll be torn.

rhubarbe

Mousse à la vanille et rhubarbe pochée à la grenadine
Despite the super-long recipe, its name says it all. It’s basically a vanilla mousse served with grenadine-poached rhubarb, a rhubarb compote and meringue.

As usual you don’t have to make all the components. The mousse itself is a delight, topped with fresh fruits or even a chocolate sauce.
You could even pipe it into small bowls, and arrange some sliced poached rhubarb and rectangles of the rhubarb compote on top for an easier dessert.

For the poached rhubarb, I’ve decided to cook it at low temperature overnight so it keeps it shape and flavour. To do this, I place it in a Ziploc bag, along with a mix of sugar syrup and grenadine (a French favourite cordial). Then vacuum-pack it using a method very similar to this one (check the packing without the vacuum section). And finally, cook it overnight in warm water.

Mousse à la vanille et rhubarbe pochée à la grenadine

serves 8

for the rhubarb compote
4 gelatine leaves
750g pink rhubarb stalks
150g caster sugar

Soak the gelatine leaves into cold water.
Peel the rhubarb making sure you keep the peels aside. Slice the stalks roughly, into cube. Then tye the peels into a ball using kitchen string.
Place everything into a pan, and mix in the sugar. Cook over low heat until the rhubarb pieces are soft, and the juices have reduced nicely. Remove the ball of peels, and add the softened (and squeezed) gelatine leaves.
Pour into a 20x20cm container, and allow to set in the fridge.

for the vanilla mousse
200g milk
one vanilla pod
3 egg yolks
50g caster sugar
3 gelatine leaves
200g cream (35% fat)

Place the milk in a pan. Slice the vanilla pod lengthwise, and scrape the seeds. Add to the milk, along with the empty bean.
Cook over medium heat until boiling.
In the meantime, soak the gelatine into cold water.
Then, mix the yolks and sugar until smooth. When the milk is boiling, pour it onto your egg mix, then transfer to a bowl which you set over a pan of boiling water. Cook, mixing all the time until it reaches a temperature of 84°C. Mix in the drained gelatine leaves, and set aside.

Whip the cream to soft peak, then incorporate into the anglaise when it’s not warm to the touch anymore – around 30°C. Immediately pipe the mousse on top of the rhubarb compote. Then smooth the top by gently tapping on a work surface. Set in the freezer overnight.

for the poached rhubarb
75g caster sugar
75g water
20 pieces of 10cm-long peeled rhubarb (approx. 300g total weight)
150g grenadine syrup

Make a syrup by bringing the caster sugar and water to the boil. Cool down before using.
Place the rhubarb sticks, syrup and grenadine into a Ziploc plastic bag, and vacuum-pack as explained above.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Turn off the heat, place the bag into it, cover tightly with cling-film, and allow to cook overnight or until tender. If after a night in the water-bath, the rhubarb still feels hard to the touch, then reheat the water slightly and cook some more.

for the meringues
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
100g icing sugar, sieved

Preheat the oven to 100°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
Whip the whites until soft peak, then add the caster sugar and keep on whisking until thick and glossy. Gently fold in the icing sugar.
Pipe into long sticks using a 1cm nozzle. And bake for an hour or until dry.

for the montage
When your cadre is still frozen, slice it into ten 4x10cm portions using a hot knife. Allow to defrost in the fridge. Then arrange two pieces of poached rhubarb on top, and serve with meringue sticks.

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.