Les Desserts de Printemps: La tarte au citron

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Bonjour à tous!

The weather is finally warming up, which means it’s time to pull out some fresh, summery recipes!

Lemon tart is my favourite dessert of all time. A lemon tart that is parfait has a zesty filling that’s not too sweet, and a thin pastry that’s not too crumbly or dry.

La tarte au citron originates from around the French-Italian border, but is popular all over France.

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A shot from my 2011 Eurotrip: Crowded beach in Nice

It’s a bit of a scary dish to make if you haven’t done it before. There are only two elements (the crust and the curd), so it’s important you get both right. This recipe isn’t baked, so you’ll need to leave the tart in the fridge overnight to set. Initially I found this time very stressful as I wondered whether the curd will set properly, mais ne vous inquiétez pas (don’t worry), follow the steps and it will.

The tart is incredibly versatile. Add meringue if you like, or keep it simple and decorate with fresh berries, passionfruit or lime rind (like I did below). For a fancier take on the recipe below see Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen for grapefruit and pepper meringue tartlets (yum!)

The recipe below is the easiest version of a lemon tart you could possibly make. It doesn’t use real pastry (although you could use the shortcrust pastry from my Quiche Lorraine if you wanted to make your own) and the curd is relatively painless – just be prepared to stir!

La tarte au citron

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Cooking time: Approximately 10 minutes + 25 minutes cooking (note: tart should be refrigerated overnight)  

-1 packet Marie biscuits

-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

-Pinch of nutmeg

-120g melted butter

-Rind of one small lime, to serve (if desired)

Lemon Curd:

– 3 lemons (you could use lime if you wish)

-4 fresh eggs

-1 cup caster sugar

-125g butter

Method:

Lightly grease 24cm flan plan. Blitz biscuits in a food processor until they have a sandy texture.dsc_1070

Combine the crumbs with butter, nutmeg and cinnamon. Press the mixture evenly into the flan pan using your hands, then put it in the fridge to set for about an hour.

To make the lemon curd, zest one lemon and juice all lemons. In a heatproof bowl (steel or pyrex work well) whisk eggs and sugar together. When really well combined, add lemon juice and rind, and combine again. Place the bowl over a simmering saucepan of water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon for about 25 minutes, or until it is as thick as honey (this does take a long time – be patient and don’t stop stirring!) Make sure the mixture doesn’t boil – if it starts to, take it off the heat for a little. Once thick, remove the mixture from the stove and whisk in butter.

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Action shot – keep stirring!

Pour curd into set tart case, cover with plastic wrap (try not to let the wrap touch the curd), and leave overnight. The next day top with lime curd, icing sugar, meringue or berries and serve.

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C’est tout – bon ap’!

xoxo

 

 

 

 

Taking it slow: Beef cheeks

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The backstreets of Bayeux, Normandie

The first time I went to France I was cooked a delicious, meaty stew in a thick, dark gravy, similar to a beef bourguignon. It was delicious, but as I almost reached my last spoonful, I was informed by the cook that the meat was pigs trotters.

Dieu merci (thank god) I found out after, as I’m not sure I could have eaten it if I was told before the meal. This experience gave me the nerve to try all sorts of new (and slightly scary) things, including snails and foie gras – délicieux!

In the 1600s, meat was a rare commodity for many French peasants, and was usually only eaten on special occasions. City people had much better access to meat, but could often only afford the cheap offcuts that required a lot of cooking. These days, some of these offcuts have made their way back into some of the fanciest restaurants.

If you have the time to both cook and prepare it (or are lucky enough to own a slow-cooker), using cheaper cuts of meat can be both cost effective and delicious. Look out for cuts like cheek, osso bucco (shins) and ox tail.

Searing your meat before putting it in the oven (or slow cooker) gives it a deeper flavour and caramelised texture on the outside.

Some tips for searing your casserole meat:

  • Make sure your pan is hot and has a thin coating of oil.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan – cook the meat in batches if necessary.
  • Leave it alone! Give it a couple of minutes on each side, but don’t constantly play with it (this is one I struggle with!)

On my quest to discover new cuts of meat, I stumbled across beef cheek at the butcher recently. As I mentioned in the last post, I really enjoyed eating beef cheek in France, and set out to recreate a version of the dish I had eaten at Le Fumoir in Paris. Despite a surge in popularity recently, I discovered that beef cheek was about the same price as buying any other cheap casserole meat such as chuck steak.

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When trimming your beef cheek, you’ll need to make sure you have a very sharp knife, as the raw cheek is very tough. In fact, I discovered just how blunt my knife had become when trimming the cheeks. I recently bought a good quality knife sharpener, and can’t recommend having one more.

Cooking stews like the one below is great for winter, and adding mandarin or orange puts a twist on more traditional recipes. They do take a good 3-4 hours (the longer the better), so pour yourself un verre du vin (glass of wine), crank up the heater and have a relaxing afternoon as your meat slowly braises.

Joues de boeuf aux mandarines:
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Serves 4

Cooking time: Approximately 45 minutes + 3-4 hours in the oven (or more if you can wait!)

-2 Beef Cheeks

-4 Cloves garlic, crushed

-1 Brown onion, roughly diced

-2 Carrots, roughly diced

-3 Sticks celery, roughly diced

-Rind of one mandarin or orange

-2 Tbs plain flour

-Salt and pepper

-2 Cups full-bodied red wine (like a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon)

-1 Cup beef stock

-4 Bay leaves

-6 Sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 1/2 tsp of dried)

Method:

Preheat oven to 120 degrees celsius.

Trim the excess fat and gristle off the cheeks. This is hard work, but you don’t need to be too fussy as most of it will melt off as it braises (making for a delicious sauce).

Cut your cheeks in half and put them in a large zip-lock bag with the flour and some salt and pepper. Shake the bag around until the meat is coated in flour.

In your casserole pot, fry the meat in a little oil for a couple of minutes on each side until it has browned. It’s best to cook the meat in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan.

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Put the meat aside and deglaze your dish with a little red wine, scraping any burnt meat off the bottom of the pan (again, this will make your sauce better). Coat the pan with oil again and fry your onion and garlic, followed by carrot and celery until it has started to soften.

Re-introduce your meat and add the wine, beef stock, mandarin rind, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to the boil. Once boiling, put the lid on your pot and put it into the oven.

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After 3-4 hours or once the meat falls apart when you gently scrape it with a spoon, take the meat out of the braising liquid and set aside (you can put it in a dish, cover it with foil and put it back in the oven if you’re worried it will cool. Turn the oven off first – there should be enough residual heat).

Using a stick blender, blend your sauce until there are no lumps. On a low heat, reduce the sauce until it reaches your desired thickness. If the sauce is a little too zesty, balance it out with about a tablespoon of sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Pour the sauce over the meat and serve with mashed potato, polenta or crusty bread.

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Bon appétit!

Bisous,

Sophie

Automne à Melbourne

 

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Sadly, the days are getting shorter and the weather cooler in Melbourne, but the local markets are buzzing and overflowing with beautiful apples, figs, bananas and pears. I’m getting excited about baked apples, and fruity crumbles.

As it get colder, I’m thinking more and more about my trip to Paris last September, at the end of the French summer. We covered all of the staples that I really miss – moules marinieres (muscles in white wine and garlic), soupe a l’oignon, lots of delicious, slow-cooked meat and a healthy dose of red wine, cheese and Normandy cider.

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Moules frites à Bayeux

But the one meal that really stuck out was an endive and scallop salad, followed by beautiful braised beef cheek in a tangy but rich gravy with hints of orange, and lots of garlic. The restaurant was Le Fumoir – a bustling bistrôt on the non-touristic side of Le Louvre. We sat in the library; a small, beautifully lit room away from the main service area where I’m told bookings are essential. Staff were friendly, and fortunately for me, spoke little English (it’s hard to practice French in Paris sometimes!)

As a last little tribute to summer, this blog contains une autre tarte tatin with tomato and basil. It’s sweet, fresh and light – and really hard to stop eating! The tarte tatin is so versatile – and you really can use any of your favourite flavour combinations.

For dessert, there’s a zesty strawberry, lime and coconut parfait that would be an impressive and easy dessert for dinner parties. Trop délicieux!

 Tarte tatin à la tomate et au basilic:

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Serves 4 with salad

Cooking time: Approximately 15 mins prep + 30 minutes baking

-2 Tbs butter

-1 Tbs brown sugar

-1-2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

-6 Roma tomatoes (seeded and halved)

-1 Tbs balsamic vinegar

-1 Tbs chopped oregano (fresh)

-Handful of fresh basil leaves

Method

Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Grease a round cake pan or casserole dish.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add sugar and cook until dissolved. Add tomatoes, cut sides up. Turn down heat, and cook tomatoes for about 10 minutes or until they release juices. Add vinegar and cook for a further 2 minutes.

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Take tomatoes out of saucepan and place in cake pan or casserole dish. Sprinkle oregano and season. Place whole basil leaves on top.

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Cut pastry into triangles and arrange over tomatoes, forming 2 layers of pastry. Tuck pastry in at edge, then bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden. Stand for 5 minutes.

Serve with salad.

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Serves 4

Cooking time: 20 minutes to prep, 6 hours to chill

Strawberry layer:

-1/4 tsp lime rind

-2 tsp lime juice

-2 tsp caster sugar

-250g punnet of strawberries, hulled

Coconut parfait:

-1 Tbs hot water

-1 tsp gelatine powder

-125ml evaporated milk

-1 Tbsp caster sugar

-2 tsp shredded coconut, toasted

Method:

Process a third of the strawberries, lime juice and rind, and sugar into a blender and process to a puree.

IMG_1046Thinly slice strawberries. Divide puree among four dessert glasses and top with remaining sliced strawberries.

IMG_1053To make the coconut parfait, place hot water in heat proof dish and sprinkle with gelatine. Place dish in small saucepan and add enough boiling water to come half way up side of dish. Whisk with a fork until gelatine dissolves.

Beat gelatine mixture, evaporated milk and sugar in large bowl until fluffy (approx. 1-2 mins). Spoon mixture over strawberry mixture and chill for approx. 6 hours (until set).

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Enjoy! And keep an eye on this space for some winter recipes coming soon.

Bisous,

Sophie

C’est automne! Madeleines au citron (lemon-scented madeleines)

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Bonjour à tous!

It’s that time of year again – it’s Autumn in Melbourne, which means it’s time to curl up inside with some good books, a cosy fire et bièn sûr, some delicious treats.

These gorgeous little cakes carry fond memories for me. During my last stay in France I stayed with a family in a beautiful village outside of Grenoble, just at the foot of the French Alps. This is classic French countryside, with snow-capped mountains, ancient cathedrals and hidden chateaus.

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To my delight, the family I stayed with carried my passion for food, and were excited to show my friend and I dishes from all over the country. One morning, I wandered down from the little attic to the delicious smell of the buttery little cakes. Mais non – my host was very apologetic, she had overcooked the madeleines!

P1010201The French love their madeleines. Shaped like a cute little shell, they are a sort of hybrid between a cake and a biscuit, crunchy on the outside, and soft and moist in the middle. They are also extremely versatile, and could be flavoured with any citrus fruits, berries or cherries.

The madeleine is said to originate from Commercy and Liverdun, communes not far from the city of Nancy in the Lorraine region. A rather famous cake, the madeleine was chosen to represent France in Café Europe, a cultural initiative of the Austrian President of the EU on Europe Day 2006.

The madeleine will go well with cup of tea, or if you’re like me, will provide the much needed inspiration to get you through that large pile of work that’s been piling up.

A word of warning first though, the madeleine is delicate, so to avoid the same mistake as my host (quelle catastrophe! But really, they were still delicious…) make sure you have a timer on hand when baking them.

The following is a basic recipe for lemon-scented madeleines from Rachel Khoo’s beautiful “Little Paris Kitchen”:

Madeleines au citron:
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Makes about 15 madeleines

Baking time: Approx 40 mins prep + several hours to rest + 22 minutes to bake

-3 eggs

-130g sugar

-200g plain flour

-2 tsp baking powder

-Zest of 1 lemon

-20g honey

-60ml milk

-200 grams melted butter, cool

-Icing sugar to serve

 

Method

Beat eggs and sugar until pale and frothy. Mix flour and baking powder in separate bowl and add lemon zest. Mix honey, milk and butter then add to eggs. Very slowly add the flour. Cover mixture with cling-wrap and refrigerate for several hours to overnight.

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Preheat oven to 190 degrees celsius. Butter and flour a madeleine tin (the tin is important, you will see why when they are baked).

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Spoon batter into each madeleine shell until almost full. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn oven off for 1 minute to allow madeleines to form their peaks. Turn oven to 160 degrees celsius and bake for further 5 minutes. When cool enough, transfer madeleines to wire rack and repeat baking process with remaining batter. Dust madeleines with icing sugar and serve immediately.

photoglassMadeleines go perfectly with a cup of tea!

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Bon appétit!

 

Sophie

Tarte Tatin: Two ways

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Bonjour à tous!

Ça fait trop longtemps (it’s been too long!)

I have been busy finishing uni (yay!) and planning a very exciting trip to Europe in September. I’ll be flying to Paris for a week of delicious food and wine, before heading to Greece. Mais ne vous inquiétez pas, I’ll be sure to report back with photos of everything I eat while en France.

To make up for my absence I have a jam-packed post for you. Today, we’re talking tarte tatin – upside down tart for the uninitiated.

Trusty wiki claims that the tarte tatin was developed in the 1800’s about 100km south of Paris at the Hotel Tatin. One of the owners, Stephanie Tatin, was so run off her feet in the kitchen while making an apple pie that she forgot about leaving her apples, butter and sugar cooking on the stove. In a desperate attempt to save the tart, Stephanie quickly put the pastry on top of the apple mixture and baked it in the oven. After turning it out, Stephanie found the hotel guests were surprisingly impressed with the caramelised apple tart. And the tarte tatin was born.

While the apple tarte tatin is most common, many cooks have created their own (savoury and sweet) versions.

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I’ll show you a traditional and more modern version of the tart. You really can’t go wrong with this one so feel free to combine your favourite ingredients for the topping. Les fabuleuses tartes (the fabulous tarts) are sophisticated yet deceptively easy to make, making them perfect for your next dinner party. You could even have a French theme and cook one for dinner and dessert like I did here. Pourquoi pas?

For the sake of simplicity, I have used frozen puff pastry in both recipes below, but absolutely feel free to make your own if you have the time! The use of red and green apples makes for an interesting mix of sweet and slightly sour in the traditional tarte tatin.

NB: Both savoury and sweet recipes are my own take on ones from taste.com.au

Tarte tatin au potiron et aux oignons caramélisés (Pumpkin and caramelised onion upside-down tart):

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Serves 4-6

Cooking time: 20 mins to prep + about 1 hour 40 to bake

-1/2 butternut pumpkin, cut into 2.5cm wedges

-1 medium red onion, diced

-Garlic head, cloves separated and unpeeled

-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

-2-3 sheets puff pastry, thawed

-Thyme, to serve

-Salad leaves, to serve

Method

Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Grease and line a tray with baking paper. Place pumpkin, onion and garlic cloves on tray and coat with good olive oil. Season well, then roast for about an hour or until tender. Leave aside to cool.

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Cook balsamic vinegar and sugar on low heat for about five minutes until sugar has dissolved. Pour the mixture into the bottom of a cake pan. It’s best to use a round cake pan, but if you don’t have one (like I didn’t on the day), a square or rectangle pan will be fine.

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Arrange the pumpkin and onion over base. Remove skin from garlic cloves and arrange over vegetables.

Turn oven up to 220 degrees celsius. Cut pastry into triangles (for a round dish) or rectangles (for square/rectangle dish) and arrange pastry over vegetables. Fold back any excess pastry and bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden. Leave to sit for several minutes, then turn out onto a plate. Sprinkle with thyme and remaining pan juices, then serve with salad greens.

Enjoy!

Now for something a little sweeter…

Tarte tarin aux pommes (apple upside-down tart):

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Serves 4-6

Cooking time: 20 to prep + about 25 to bake

-50g quality unsalted butter

-2 medium green apples

-2 medium red apples

-1/2 cup brown sugar

-2 Tbs cold water

-1-2 sheets puff pastry, thawed

-Cream or ice-cream, to serve

Method

Preheat oven to 220 degrees celsius. Grease and line a round cake pan.

Melt butter in large pan over medium heat. Add apple and cook for several minutes until golden. Add sugar and water then cook for 2 minutes or so until sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for several minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.

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Arrange apple in prepared pan and spoon over the caramel. Cut pastry into triangles and arrange over apple mixture, forming 2 layers of pastry. Tuck pastry in at edge, then bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Stand for 5 minutes, then turn onto plate. Serve with cream or ice-cream.

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I hope you enjoy this tarte tatin feast!

Bisous,

Sophie

P.S Happy Valentines to those who celebrate! What did you cook/bake for your lucky person on the weekend?

Mon salade d’hiver: My winter salad

 

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The Louvre under snow

France is divided up into 22 metropolitan regions, most of which boast their own culture, dialect, and of course plats (dishes). When Napoleon became emperor in 1804 he tried to bring an end to the emphasis on regionalism and establish a unified France, promoting one language (French), civil law (or “The Napoleonic Code”) and a centralised education system.

Although France is now unified around its administrative departments, a strong sense of regionalism prevails. Many French people still speak their regional dialect (Corsican, Occitan, Bourbonnais etc.) and lay claim to certain regional dishes. A common regional dish is the region’s own take on a salad, and salads such as the Lyonnaise, Niçoise and Alsacienne still make a popular menu item today.

Admittedly, salads are not the most appetising thing on a cold, wintery day. However my winter salad is warm and nutritious – perfect for whenever you’re feeling a bit run down and need some nourishment. In France, salads are usually eaten as a first course, not as a side, but this salad can easily be eaten on its own as a plat principal (main course). The split peas and root vegetables make it hearty and healthy. Above all though, it’s super façile (easy) and quick. You could also use whatever vegetables you like, but I like to make it as colourful as I can.

Mon Salade d’Hiver de Légumes, Roquette et Pois Cassés:

Serves 3-4

Cooking Time: 10 mins prep + Approx. two hours to roast vegetables 

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-Approx. 2 Tbs olive oil

-Half a pumpkin (I like butternut), chopped into bite size pieces

-2-3 medium sized tomatos, chopped

-1 green capsicum, chopped

-1 red onion, chopped

-Approx. 4 cloves garlic (more if you like)

-Approx. 1 cup split peas or puy lentils

-100g feta cheese

-Rocket to serve

Vinaigrette:

-4 Tbs olive oil

-Splash white wine vinegar

-Splash lemon juice

-Herbs as desired (I like to use fresh basil or dill)

-Salt and pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Chop up vegetables. Place pumpkin in oven tray and cover with olive oil. Toss to make sure the pumpkin is coated. Bake for about an hour. Add other vegetables and toss in the remaining olive oil. photoSeason with salt and pepper and put back in oven. About half an hour later fill small saucepan with water until one third full. Once water is boiled, add split peas and cook for 10-15 minutes or until peas are soft, but not mushy and over-cooked. Take vegetables out of oven once crispy. Make bed with split peas then add vegetables on top (keeping garlic cloves aside).photo copy 2 Chop up garlic cloves and sprinkle, or squeeze the flesh out of the cloves across the salad. Add feta, then finish with a good handful of rocket. Combine vinaigrette ingredients in a small jug and dress each salad.

Voila!

Bonne chance!

Sophie