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Sometimes it’s the little things in France that give me pause. For instance, binders here have four rings, not 3 or 5. And they open separately. The two on top are connected, but not connected to the two on the bottom. You have to snap open both if you want to remove or add a page. It’s convenient so that papers aren’t falling out everywhere when you open up the rings, but I always forget. I start wondering why the paper is resisting movement and then I remember, “Oh yeah, French binder.”

At one of the companies where I teach outcenter, there are horses behind the office. No one really knows what they’re doing there. I’ve asked, because I can see them from the window. Once in a while I see someone come and feed them, but most days they just stare into the office window watching me teach. Today, one of them wouldn’t stop whinnying. Perhaps it knew I was carrying a batch of cookies with me to take into the school.

Not all of these cookies were the same. Two dozen had been colored green for the St. Patrick’s Day party we are having today. The other two were my own personal cookies. Ones I threw together and into the oven an hour before going to work.

I didn’t have eggs, but I was craving cookies. Could I make a good “vegan cookie” with what I had in my kitchen? I’d never made a successful vegan cookie before, but then again, I’d never taken the vegan cookie thing seriously.

But I turned on my Kindle and started flipping through Veganomicon until I found her Chewy Chocolate Raspberry Cookies. Instead of butter and eggs to hold the cookie together they use canola oil (no shock there) and raspberry preserves (shocking!).

What an amazing idea. Preserves for flavoring and binding a cookie. I didn’t have raspberry confiture in the house, but I did have confiture de citron – lemon that is, and decided to do what I could to satisfy my cookie craving without eating the cookies I had promised for work, or being late for class.

And while I don’t think these are quite vegan, they come as close as I’ll ever get.

(Almost) Vegan White Chocolate Lemon Cookies

Adapted from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

  • ½ cup of lemon preserves or confiture de citron
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (all purpose is fine too)
  • ½ cup cake flour or farine fluide*
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • White chocolate chips, about 50-60 grams

*I’ve been experimenting with baking cookies with farine fluide, which has a consistency close to cake flour. It’s not necessary and 1 ½ cups of all purpose flour would work fine, not to mention was the original recipe.

 

Combine your wet ingredients: sugar, preserves, vanilla, and oil in a large mixing bowl. Stir together with a spoon or fork.

Once blended add your baking soda, then salt. Sift together your two flours and add to the wet batter a third at a time, mixing together with a fork.

The last third you make have to finish by hand, kneading and mixing together until you get a homogenous dough.

Add your white chocolate chips and mix together.

Roll into small balls, place on a lined cookie sheet and press down a little until you get small discs.

Bake at 180°C for 10 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve.

I’m pretty sure it’s the white chocolate that cancels out the “vegan-ness” of these cookies. There’s milk in there after all. But whatever. I made “vegan” cookies in 20 minutes and made it to work.

The texture is there. Chewy: check. Soft: check. Lemony: check. Honestly, olive oil would have been a fabulous replacement for the canola – and I’ll be remembering that for next time. A really excellent cookie that doesn’t leave me lacking in the cookie comfort department. Everything that a cookie needs to be, they are. Even the husband liked them and didn’t say anything about their lack of eggs and butter. He said, – and I quote – “They were good, I taste lemon.”

Get ready for this weekend. I’m stuffing and roasting quail.

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Today was the first day of the year that it was warm enough to eat on the balcony. I didn’t make anything special for it as it was “leftover day,” trying to get rid of all the random stuff in our fridge to make way for more leftovers. I wish that I could portion things properly – like pasta. I know that I can make food and freeze it, but I have this thing about microwaves…

But I digress.

I had my lunch, which was roasted vegetables, tomato, homemade hummus, a slice of Itchebai cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread. Tomato soup. Crystal Light, courtesy of la famille who toted 6 packs of the stuff across the Atlantic at my request. Definitely a leftover day.

What is Itchebai cheese you ask? Well, it is French. Think cheddar with a Swiss twist.

This Christmas someone gave us a box set of small cookbooks on classic French cuisine by Larousse. What is Larousse? Obviously you’ve never had to buy a French dictionary. I was interested in making some sort of fruity pastry for dessert today and turned to the dessert volume for inspiration.

I’ve seen clafoutis in boulangeries here, in the pastry section, looking rather cake-like and fruity. Normally they are done with prunes or cherries. I had neither in the house, but I do have a package of frozen berries and pineapple. The husband is not a fan of fruits rouges.

While, the ones I saw in the shops looked like cake – clafoutis is rather like a flan that has been thickened with flour. Deceptively cake looking, but not cake like. Though I had seen it, I had never tasted, nor baked it, but there’s a first time for everything and if I’m going to live in France and study French cuisine, I better start cooking.

Clafoutis aux (Fruits Rouges ou Ananas)

Adapted from A l’heure du dessert, Larousse:

  • 150 grams berries*
  • 150 grams pineapple chunks*
  • 3 eggs
  • 70 grams powdered sugar
  • 200 ml milk
  • 30 grams flour

*as I mentioned above, cherries or prunes are the most common fruits added to clafoutis, but use any fruit you like. It’s all good.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. If you want to serve this in individual portions break out the ramkins, otherwise find a small size cake tin for four.

If you’re using frozen fruit; which is what I did, you might want to defrost them now. In the meantime, whisk your eggs together in a good size mixing bowl. Add the flour and sugar and whisk again until incorporated. Add the milk and mix until you have a nice, smooth, and fluid batter.

Put your fruit in the bottom of your cake tin or ramkin. There’s no need to grease them.

Pour the batter on top of the fruit.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Let cool and serve.

The original recipe supposedly serves 4. I halved it, but used three eggs instead of two, and it still served four. I guess I like smaller desserts than the editors of Larousse.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, when the egg batter pushed its way down to the bottom of the pot and forced the fruit to the surface, which created a layered effect I wasn’t expecting.

While I don’t love flan, and clafoutis is not your typical rich, buttery, creamy, French pastry, this was something I could eat again. Not too sweet, comforting, mixed with the tart berry.

Next time I see one in the local bakery I’ll buy it to see how I compare to the professionals, but for now this French classic has won me over with it’s ease and adaptability if nothing else. I sound like an advertisement. Dinner’s just about ready so it must be the hunger talking…

The family has arrived. By that I mean my mother and sister. They, and the husband, pretty much constitute my intimate family. I have cousins, aunts, uncles, a grandmother, in-laws as we all do, but I’m bad about keeping in touch with them.

That’s neither here nor there I guess because France is a long way away from the US and I’m the only one who went back to the old continent.

It’s also vacation for me. At first, I was going to be nice and work and make my students happy. Then I realized that my family had spent thousands of dollars to come and visit me and the least I could was tell my students to take a hike for 10 days. This, to no one’s surprise, leaves all of us with more time to explore, eat, and cook.

On the menu for the week:

  • Sunday lunch at Table du Vigneron
  • Three days, two nights in Nice with a quick trip to Monaco
  • Plenty of restaurants in Nice
  • A visit to the Puyricard factory (see previous entry on Valentine’s day)
  • A dinner with the in-laws featuring Filet mignon de Pork – Wellington style, chocolate and lemon tart
  • Homemade pea pesto ravioli
  • and anything else I feel like cooking up

Yesterday had it’s own introductory meal. My sister and mom have both been to France before, several times each. Nevertheless, we had to do something classic for them. The husband and I went through a myriad of options including Cassoulet -too fattening and heavy, Raclette -we don’t have a raclette set, Lamb -we couldn’t decide what to do with lamb, Boar -not the right season. The husband wanted cheese. This is nothing new. He always wants cheese.

So we went with a mont d’or. Mild, creamy, brie-like cheese with white wine baked in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve with potatoes, vegetables, ham, and fresh baked bread.

We had two Mont d’or because one is never enough. Everyone ate their fill and then some.

Today, we broke out the sugar and made fudge.

My mom is the Queen of Fudge. No joke. She makes the best fudge of so many different flavors, always perfect, smooth, soft, fondant. Last year she tried to send me some for the holidays, when she normally makes it but it arrived two months late and was hard and moldy – completely ruined. This time we had an action plan. She brought the ingredients and made the fudge here.

Lots of sugar – at least a kilo.

A jar of fluff.

I think the reason why my mom’s fudge is so good isn’t the ingredients, but the fact that – as she says “I like stirring.” And if you’ve ever made fudge, you’ll know how much stirring it takes.

Stirring.

And then came the butterscotch. Why make chocolate when you can have butterscotch with chocolate on top?

This was a group effort. One to stir, one to add the butterscotch chips and one to take photographs.

Pouring it into the pans and adding the chocolate was also a group effort.

As was licking out the pot in the end. We love our fudge.

This is just a taste of what the week is going to bring. We’re all loosening our belts and enjoying a vacation together.

Today is World Nutella Day.  A day of chocolate hazelnut spread. A day of goodness. A day that should be celebrated by all.

I kind of stressed about what to make for World Nutella Day. There are soooooo many options but all of them seemed to be tried and true. I’m fearful of creating my own pastry recipes as I’m not a pastry chef and don’t believe – sometimes resulting in incredible fails – that pastry is a precise art.

So, let me tell you a bit about Nutella instead. It’s orginally Italian, though many people I know believe it to be French or Swiss. It’s manufactured by the Ferrero company. They also make chocolates called Ferrero Rocher and Kinder. If you’ve ever been to Germany, Switzerland or France, you’ve had a Kinder. They’re the chocolate eggs with toys in them. They have other types too, but Americans love the idea of the toy inside their chocolate.

I first had Nutella when I was an exchange student in Switzerland. My host mother set it out for me alongside a loaf of bread before she went to work. I got up, my first day in a new country and had a taste of hip-spreading goodness. And it was hip-spreading – I gained 15lbs in Switzerland.

But that’s not the point. What is important is that I learned about a wonderful and versatile dessert. Nutella can be used for all sorts of amazing recipes. Or simply enjoyed with a spoon out of the jar.

You can find all sorts of Nutella recipes on the World Nutella Day website. But let’s keep it simple. Here are some ways you can use Nutella to add that special, sweet indulgence to your dessert:


Nutella and crêpes are a classic French and Swiss tradition.

Try Nutella on top of vanilla ice cream

Go one better and put a waffle under that vanilla and Nutella sundae.

Or just go all out and make Nutella ice cream. Featured here with vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.

Get back to simplicity with Nutella on a warm, fresh brioche.

But wait: who could forget my fabulous 50k Oatmean Nutella Cookies? Not me. They were filled with chocolate, Nutella, cocoa powder, rolled oats and a multi-grain flour that gave these cookies a fabulous crunch. Make them right away.

Enjoy it in coffee or hot chocolate if you’re somewhere snowy and cold.

You can even make your own as I might be doing later – try this recipe for a bit of variation: Hazelnut and olive oil chocolate spread. If there’s anyone who knows how to make homemade Nutella it would be Juls, a Tuscan girl.

So there you have it. There’s not much more to say about Nutella except that it’s fabulous and today of all days is the day to indulge.

Happy Nutella Day!

February 2nd in the United States is all about waking up some poor, snuggly groundhog and showing him his shadow. Or not depending, on whether or not you like ski season, I guess…

In France, February 2nd has it’s own name: la Chandeleur, also known as Candlemas. It has to do with the Virgin Mary and Jesus and before that it supposedly had to do with asking the fertility gods to come back and bless the various barbarian tribes of Europe.

Far from being a religious celebration, the French have forgotten all about the Virgin Mary and Jesus and instead, February 2nd has become all about the food. Much like everything else in France. I think that’s what I like about the French. It’s always all about the food.

From bars and cafés to gourmet restaurants, February 2nd is where we all sit down at the table – or stand around the stove – and eat crêpes.

What can I say about crêpes that hasn’t already been said? Other than if you haven’t had one, make them immediately. They aren’t pancakes because they are too flat and thin and they aren’t pannenkoeken for kind of the same reason and because they are French. Pannenkoeken I’ve been told are encouraged to puff. It would be a crime to puff a crêpe.

There are two types of crêpes that can be served today. Sweet and savory. Both are easy to make, but require a different set of ingredients. This meant I had to make a mess of my kitchen.

Some of you out there might have plenty of space to work with. I don’t. I live in an Ikea-sized apartment. The kind you see set up as an example of small living spaces. We’re still setting up.

Anyway. First get out your crêpe pan. It’s thin, flat, and thin. My crêpe pan was inherited from the husband’s grandmother and is rather small, but that’s alright. It just means we get to layer our crêpes in the end.

Prepare your savory:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 150g Buckwheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 375ml water
  • ½ tsp salt


Buckwheat flour or sarrasin has an essential color, flavor and texture that is important to the savory crêpe. It’s just that much better than all purpose flour because it’s thinner and more wheaty in taste. I  have no idea what to call it – wheaty seems good.

Anyway, whisk your ingredients together. Set aside.

Prepare your sweet:

Makes 8 crêpes

  • 125g flour (see below)
  • 30g unsalted butter, melted
  • 25g – 30g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 120ml water
  • 120ml milk


There are other batter recipes out there, but this is the one I used and it came out lovely. A word on the flour – I used farine de fluide which supposedly exists as fluid flour in English speaking countries, but I had never seen it until I moved here. It’s very, very fine. I might see if there’s something else I can do with it other than crêpes because I have so much of it now, but anyway, if you don’t have farine de fluide, all purpose works fine.

Mix everything in a bowl, whisk together. Set aside. In the meantime, do your dishes. And prepare your toppings. People recommend letting your batter sit for an hour or two, but I let it sit for 30 minutes and it was perfectly fine.

You can put practically ANYTHING on your crêpes. Seriously. Take your pick. I’ve seen hamburger crêpes, chicken curry crêpes, cheese filled crêpes, lamb crêpes, whatever. I decided on an egg with veggies and some aged gruyère. The husband had an egg with ham.

This was my first time handling the crêpes entirely on my own. The two years previous the husband did the cooking and flipping. It was a stressful moment.

The photo is blurry, but I still thought it a neat shot.

The thing about crêpes is: for the perfect one you want the batter to be completely even on the pan, and as thin as you can possible get. You want to be able to almost see the black of the pan under your batter.

I kind of failed that so my crêpes are a little thick, but that’s alright. It just means they took longer to cook and were slightly harder to flip.

Pile your toppings on your crêpe. Make a little sandwich with the savory ones. It’s delightful.
Crêpes are designed to be enjoyed one at a time, made one at a time standing over a stove top. So it’s the type of thing you eat standing up. Enjoying a glass of cider. The husband was in charge of that. Pajamas are par for the course.

Anything goes for the sweet crêpes too. There’s the crêpe suzette which is set on fire and lots of fun. But we wanted to keep it simple. Crêpes with powdered sugar are the easiest, simplest option, but even better is Nutella.

The husband made a smiley with his.

What else is there to say? Crêpes are wonderful, adaptable, easy, and fun. And I get to use the ^ hat accent on my keyboard over and over and over.

Enjoy your February 2nd and all of your coming weekend with some crêpes and cider. On Sunday enjoy them with Nutella because the 5th is World Nutella Day. I’m still not sure what I’m doing… maybe I’ll go with what a friend suggested and just break out a big spoon.

There’s a stereotype about couples who have their first baby. Their house becomes a “baby zone.” Baby toys, baby food, baby medicine, baby blankets, baby paraphernalia everywhere. That hasn’t happened to our house. But it has turned into a cat zone. My desk is piled high with prescription cat food and medicine, cat toys are everywhere, two food bowls, back stocks of litter and food piled in the corner. Cats on the bed, cats on the couch, cats on the table. I found a cat in the garbage area under the sink this morning while making pizza.
Ok, so we have two cats, not twenty, but in an apartment of 45 square-meters that’s enough to turn it into a cat-zone.


Dumpling is doing well. She has an infection in her mouth and is on antibiotics, but she’s eating (very) well and seems to have gained a bit of weight.  She likes to sleep with us at night and is very curious about what we are doing, and especially what I’m cooking. She needs to learn some manners though as she has a few bad habits such as scratching on everything and climbing everywhere.
Pistou is recovering. In fact, he seems to want to play with her, but she doesn’t seem to understand the game. There’s been a lot of nose touching and sniffing and there’s still apprehension, but things are looking promising. We still aren’t sure if we will keep Dumpling once her fostering period is up, it depends a multitude of things, but at least for now she’s settling in and we’ll be able to turn her into a friendly, sweet cat that can be in a multitude of homes.

Did you hear about the Costa Concordia? Last October the husband and I took our honeymoon on that boat, cruising to Savonna, Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, and Barcelona. We had a big suit and balcony and loved every second. I also saw it docked in the harbor of la Seyne every so often, when it was too windy to dock in Marseille, bringing back happy memories. So it was sad for us to see this huge ship leaning on its side, half submerged in the sea.
I felt like singing Nearer my God to Thee but then I remembered I’m not religious and this isn’t the Titanic.

Anyway, today was rather productive. I got up early and started an apple pie before going out for an eight mile run around the harbor where there were no cruise ships docked today.

My fruit bowl is overflowing again and my smoothie drinking can’t keep up with it. So pie it was. Plus I’ve never made a pie before.
That’s right! This is my first apple pie EVER.


Apples and lemons and salt and sugar and cinnamon and nutmeg draining in a bowl. Let it sit for a few hours and let strain it through a colander to get your liquid base.


Add butter and boil it.


I didn’t make my own crust. One thing at a time. This is an organic pate brisée which is less sweet than many pie crusts but oh so buttery.


Add your apples.
Add your liquid.
Bake at 225°C for about 40 minutes.
Turn your head away when you open the oven. I think I burned my face.



I sat outside on the balcony with Pistou, who needed his outdoor time. There is a cat in that photo, I swear.


I worked on the still unfinished novel for a bit, guarding the door from the outside, while Pistou roasted in the jardiniere.


Dumpling isn’t allowed outside to go play yet.
The novel was going badly for a time, but I believe that it has picked up again. I managed 2000 words in 90 minutes and got somewhere with the story. That’s progress. Redoing the outline for the end was the best idea I’ve ever had concerning writing and I always hate to outline. When it’s done, I’m having a party. BTW: Do you live in Argentina? Or did you once live in Argentina? If so I need you.
After working on the novel I needed a break so I made granola. But that’s an entry for another day.

And I promise I’ll stop talking about my cats.

Also, if you’re wondering about the lack of a top on my pie, it’s not something that is often done in France. Pies have no crusty tops. And one thing at a time. I’ll do a top next time around.

Two things tend to rule my life. Food and Art. Any type of art, and I often define art as simply the creation of something that stands on its own. I’ve always been involved in an art in someway. It’s what keeps me busy as I’m not a TV person, a cinema person, a club person and to be honest, I have no idea how other people spend their time. For most of my life I’ve spent my evenings, mornings and any time I don’t know what to do writing.

Today, it’s November 2nd. Since October I’ve been waiting to start National Novel Writing Month, or NaNo, which I’m unusually excited about. Yesterday was a national holiday in France and I had the day off from work. I could have slept in. Instead I was awake and writing at 7am.

3,000 words, one 10 km run, and a shower later, the husband and I went to buy a new TV.

But that isn’t exciting.

These cupcakes are exciting.

I’ve always wanted to make Red Velvet cupcakes and decided that yesterday, in honor of NaNo, I’d try my hand at it. I used a recipe by Joy the Baker, who has never steered me wrong.

Ok, these aren’t red. They are a chocolatey brown. I’m not sure where I went wrong here. Perhaps I didn’t add enough food coloring. But that doesn’t matter because they are still velvety.

The key to success for a light, velvet, airy cupcake is the batter. Follow Joy’s directions and mix until everything is smooth and fluffy. Some people might prefer a rich, dense cupcake, but these are so light and smooth that they melt in your mouth. The buttermilk, cocoa powder combined with the fact that there’s less sugar in these cupcakes than a cookie gives the dough a nice tang to it. It’s sweet, but not overwhelming.

The frosting is melted white chocolate combined with light cream that was simple to do. Put the cream in a bain marie to heat it up and then add the chocolate. Wait until it melts and stir until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Immediately drizzle over the cupcakes and let cool.

I could have made the cream cheese frosting but decided against it.

Why?

Because on Sunday, the husband and I had these:

They may not look like much but they were deadly, butter cream, chocolate, mousse pastries. We had three each. I couldn’t bring myself to make something else so rich.

Since my cupcakes don’t have a red color, I can’t call them Red Velvet. Instead, I’m calling them NaNo Velvet Cupcakes. In honor of NaNoWriMo.

I considered making them blue, since the NaNo website is blue, but I don’t think it would have worked out any better.

As of today, I have just over 5500 words, and I’m taking a break to tell my writing friends, my foodie friends, and anyone else who stumbles upon this page about these fabulous cupcakes. Because there are two things that you need to get you through NaNo: a desire to write and snacks.

And rewards. I’m still considering what I’ll cook or bake when I hit 25,000 or 50,000 words.

Maybe duck?

It’s fall. That means pumpkin and apple recipes abound. Last night I tried my own pumpkin recipe – pumpkin gnocchi. It totally failed.

Ok so, it didn’t TOTALLY fail, but I didn’t measure right, had to use two different flours and there’s just something wrong with them that I can’t quite figure out. They’re edible, but they aren’t serve-able. If you know what I mean. And I don’t like to fail.

Nobody likes to fail. Failure is such a personal thing. There’s no one else to blame. It’s my fault. Rejection I can handle. There are two people involved. It’s an opinion. Someone else’s technique is better, someone else’s sound or story preferable. It happens. But I don’t tolerate failure in art.

Cooking is an art.

So today, I had to prove my dominance in the kitchen to make up for last night’s mistakes.

I decided on two types of breads. One savory, one sweet.

The first, the savory, the ficelle.

A ficelle is basically a small baguette stuffed with something savory: cheeses, sausages, and olives are the most common. I love buying them for lunch at my local boulangerie because they are a perfect compliment to a soup or a salad. So the husband recommended that if I was going to make bread, why not try a few ficelles for the week. Good idea, husband.

These are pretty easy and I found a recipe here: Ficelles aux lard

Sadly, for those of you who don’t speak French, it’s in French. Don’t be turned off by the lard – it’s just ham chunks, not chunks of fat.

Anyway this is what you need:

  • 500 grams of flour

  • 320 ml of warm water

  • Salt

  • Yeast 1 package

  • 1 pat of melted butter (optional)

  • FIXIN’S – whatever you like, we’ll get to my choices in a bit.

First prepare your yeast in a small bowl with about 4 tablespoons of warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile put your flour and salt in a mixer with the dough hook attachment. If you’re using butter, add now. Add your yeast and water and mix on a low speed until it stops sticking to the sides. Add a handful of flour and mix some more. The dough should be sticky but also satiny. I spent about 10 minutes mixing it on low speed.

Take it out, put it in a bowl and let it rise for 1 hour until it doubles in size. I went for an 8 mile run and let the husband clean up.

Next separate the dough into 8 small balls, flatten out into small rectangles and let it sit for 45 minutes to rise again.


Now it’s time to prepare your fixings. I used an organic smoked sausage – at the husband’s request, vegetarian mushroom paté for me, and Camembert cheese for both of us.

Fold one end of your dough, then add your filling. Roll the dough up into a – well a roll – and then starting with your hands in the center of the dough, roll it out into a long strip. Place on a baking sheet and do it with the rest of the seven rectangles.

Let rise for another 30 minutes. Then bake at 230°C for 20 minutes.

They are lovely and puffed up quite bigger than I expected. The husband has already eaten half of one, even after the huge cabbage stew we had for lunch. I used white wheat flour because it’s traditional for the ficelle but you could easily use any flour you wanted. Also, if you want a nice gold color, brush the dough with oil or melted butter before baking.

And now the sweet, the chocolaty, the sugar, the sacristain. These are SUPER easy if you buy pre-made dough. Why did I use pre-made dough?

For this treat you need pâte feuilletée which when baked is a leafy, flakey dough. It’s kind of difficult to make and takes a while because it requires a lot of folding, rolling out, folding, rolling out and quite frankly, I didn’t feel like doing that. So I bought some organic dough instead.

Taken from this recipe Sacristain, also in French. So you need:

  • pâte feuilletée
  • 1 egg
  • powdered sugar
  • fixings – I used cinnamon, sugar and this:

organic dark chocolate nutella. Yeah. It’s fabulous.

Anyway, crack open and mix your egg. Roll out your dough. Here I deviate from the recipe above. First, I didn’t want the massive sacristain you see in the bakeries. I wanted little treats to have after dinner or with coffee. So I cut my dough into four quarters.

Brush your dough with the egg.

Add your topping. Use a thin layer of chocolate or nutella, because if you don’t it will explode – as mine did.

Fold your dough and brush the top with egg again. If you’re using cinnamon or sugar, add some more on top here.

Then cut into 2 cm wide strips. Twist to make little curls, like my hair, if you’ve ever seen it.

Brush with egg again.

Add some more sugar or cinnamon.

Bake in the oven at 180°C. The cooking time depends on how brown you want your sacristain to be. The minimum is 15 minutes, but I think mine were in there for about 18.

Take out of the oven and add a little powdered sugar to the cinnamon and sugar ones. Voila! They are light and flaky and very fun and you can potentially add any type of sweet treat that can be baked in the oven.

Other finds at the organic market – AKA Botanic – was this:

Purple cauliflower.

Isn’t it gorgeous? When I do something with it I’ll let you know.

Tonight, I’m making baked falafel with pan-seared veggies for dinner. And thus, with this frantic day of cooking and baking, I will be able to reclaim my success in the kitchen.

NaNoWriMo is coming up. So are two seminars to teach in October. And a deadline for a short story contest on December 16th. Not to mention the other deadline in 3 days.

I’m reeling. I’m enjoying this week of relative calm knowing that next week begins madness. And beginning my National Novel Writing Month preparation.

I won’t have as much time to cook as I’d like to. The husband and I already made a run to chez Picard surgelé so that we could have frozen meals to eat on nights and days that we just can’t bare to cook. Except for a few cooking and restaurant plans I have for October and November there won’t be many updates.

So today, I made you something that actually took time and preparation and I had to pay attention to.

The Bordelais Cannelé. (pronounced can-nel-AY)

According to this website, by a man obsessed, the cannelé has a fascinating history. The little pastry was invented in the 18th century by a convent of nuns in Bordeaux. The whites of egg were used by the monks of a neighboring monastery to make their wine, and they gave the yolk of the egg to the nuns, because they didn’t want to waste it.

But what were the nuns going to do with a bunch of egg yellows? Apparently, they came up with this recipe – which they baked and baked and baked and gave to the poor.

The cannelé has also been called “dressed up crepe batter.” Only you can decide.

 

I first had these at a place called Pat’s. Sorry, Pat, but your cannelés suck. They were rubbery, dry and tasteless. After going to Bordeaux (see this entry) I discovered that while the cannelé was definitely supposed to have some bounce, it was anything but tasteless and dry.

Next up? The husband’s step-mother gave me a book of dessert recipes from the TV show Un Dîner Presque Parfaît and lo! the cannelé was present. All I needed now was a mold, ingredients and time. Which the husband and a student cancellation provided.

To make 12 Cannelé Bordelais:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 50 grams of butter
  • 50cl of milk, divided
  • 25cl of rum
  • 150 grams of all purpose flour
  • 250 grams of white powdered sugar
  • one vanilla pod (it’s called a gousse de vanille in French and I don’t know the translation)

Use this online conversion if you don’t have the right measuring tools.

In a small casserole, bring 2/3 of the milk and all of the butter to a boil. In the meantime put the rest of the milk and the egg yolks in a bowl. When the milk and butter are boiling add them to the cold milk and eggs and mix. Let it cool down to room temperature.

Add your rum, your vanilla grains, and sugar.

Pour the flour into a sifter and sift the flour directly into the bowl with one hand, starting to mix the dough with a fork with the other.

The batter will be a liquid, lumpy, unappetizing thing.

Once all the flour has been added switch to an electric mixer and start mixing until its as smooth as possible. Mix it on a low speed, then high, then low again. Go slowly. Love your batter. Sing to it. There will still be lumps.

That’s where care and patience comes in. Find something in your house with tiny holes. A strainer of sorts. I used my tea pot’s strainer because it’s all I have.

Pour your batter in and let the liquid pour into another bowl, while the lumps remain inside the strainer. You’ll have to mix and scrape the batter away from the strainer’s walls often. It’s gooey.

Once that’s done and there are definitely no more lumps left – seriously no lumps! – let the batter rest in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Some recommend 24 hours.

Heat up your stove to 200°C. Butter up your cannelé molds.

OK. Don’t use muffin tins. Don’t. They are too big. You need tiny muffin tins for this. In France, they sell special cannelé molds obviously, however, if you’re craving these, not in France and in a bind, find the smallest mold you can, otherwise they won’t cook properly.

Fill your molds up to about 2/3 – ¾ of the way. Put them in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

At the end of 20 minutes rotate the mold and lower the heat to 160°C. Bake for another 30 minutes.

Cannelés really are like souped up crepes. They have a crisp outside with a spongy, bouncy center that is moist and so good right out of the oven. The rum, though it may seem like a lot in the recipe is not overpowering. The alcohol adds a bit of sauciness to the pastry, something more than your typical sugar butter vanilla combination and makes it the perfect afternoon or post dinner treat. Serve warm. Serve with coffee.

Those were some lucky poor.

Wish me luck with NaNoWriMo!

A Word To the Wise: Cannelé do not keep for very long. A day or two at most. Eat them warm! Eat them fresh!

What can I tell you about Boston?

I grew up outside the city. I went to graduate school there. I’ve spent countless hours wandering the known streets like Newbury, Mass Ave, Boyleston, Huntington. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit at New England Conservatory, despite never having been an official student. North End, Southie, Back Bay, Chinatown, Cambridge. You name it, I’ve been there.

And STILL I got lost. Blame the buses as I’d always taken the subway.


But at least I got to sit in TeaLuxe in Harvard Square on a rainy Wednesday and enjoy some organic tea while musing over my recent spree at Origins.

Thursday, I left the city with the sister and headed to Salem. We went to the Witch museum.

We saw a statue dedicated to Samantha from Bewitched.

We took advantage of the Psychic Fair and had psychic readings. The psychic told me I needed to write. In fact she said “Go home right now and start writing.” Talk about pressure.

We had sandwiches at Coven.

While there are many great things about French food, there are many things I missed about American cuisine and the artisanal sandwich was high on the list. You just can’t find creative sandwiches in France and as soon as I saw Coven listed as one of the best places in Salem, MA, we had to go.

Though the name “Coven” might make you think about witches and cauldrons and pentacles or pentagrams, the restaurant/café is more of a kitsch-niche than anything else. It was filled with old games – such as battleship –

This was an epic battle to the death. I won, but only by the skin of my teeth.

And showed movies like Labrynth on flat screen TVs. David Bowie in tights is always a fascinating watch when you’re eating a sandwich called “Fraggle Rock.”

All the sandwiches had names that took me back.

But they were fabulous. The sister and I shared as sisters do.

The sandwiches were excellent. Incredibly filling, on crunchy, chewie baguettes. The fraggle rock – the chicken salad one was a bit on the mayonaise-y side, but not enough to make me complain. The valley girl sandwich (with the sweet potato) was a wonderful change. The cheddar a surprising compliment to the cumin dressing. With high tables, low couches the casual atmosphere of Coven suits any mood.

We also split a cookie dough brownie, but I was less impressed, though their pastries are supposed to be famous. I found it rather tasteless and too rich at the same time. As if it was composed of a lot of unflavored sugar. Their sandwiches are definitely a better find. And the coffee was good too.

Salem, despite being marketed to the witch-obsessed is also a quaint town. Pretty and quiet and fun to poke in all the shops and with fairly friendly people. It’s also home to the Peabody-Essex museum where the sister’s friend works but we did not go.

You can also attend the local school of witchcraft and wizardry. If I didn’t already have three degrees and three wonderful student loans to pay, I’d be there.

Strangely, today as I was typing this entry, I received some possible good news about a short story submitted months ago and I completely forgot about. That psychic might have been onto something.

Coming soon: Mexican, family dinners, ice cream joints and more.