Tatin d’aubergines de Sandrine

Aubergine tatin

A neighbour who is renowned for her superb aubergine tart kindly submitted to pressure to reveal her secrets in an informal cookery lesson, held outdoors on a sunny day. We produced five magnificent tarts, which were shared along with glasses of chilled rosé. I will happily make these for guests, as a substantial starter or light main course.

Beyond the aubergines and tomato sauce, you can vary the other ingredients according to taste and whether you need it to be vegetarian. We used combinations of chopped black olives, chorizo, and anchovies. I think blobs of onion confit or pesto could be good as well. For the cheese, we used slices of a log of goat’s cheese. But you could substitute other soft cheeses: feta, mozzarella, sheep’s cheese …

White aubergines

Other ingredient notes: Sandrine recommends white aubergines; she thinks they are sweeter and more tender. She normally uses her own home-made passata for the tomato sauce, but you can use bought passata or pasta sauce instead. Likewise, for the pastry, either make shortcrust or buy it ready-made. Don’t use puff pastry though, it is too fatty for this recipe.
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Mirlitons de Rouen

Little almond cakes, the word mirliton described by Jane Grigson as suggesting “a cheerful twirling of skirts and light feet”. The filling is very similar to the classic filling for a Bakewell tart (as opposed to pudding). I used a recipe from Audrey Le Goff’s Rustic French Cooking Made Easy, which is a nice collection of traditional regional dishes, changing it somewhat to suit me. The original uses ready-made puff pastry, but the reason I made these is because I had some leftover sweet shortcrust. Either will work, although I’m not keen on puff pastry as a tart base personally. If you want to make pastry for them, I can recommend the recipe here. I chose to use some wild cherry jam as that goes well with almonds, but any good jam will work — raspberry, strawberry, apricot …
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Tarte rustique à la tomate

“Rustic” being code for “looks a bit thrown together”. A summery tart that I served as part of a copious apero. You could serve it as a starter or a light lunch dish as well.

If you don’t already know this, tomatoes and mustard are a wonderful combination. This recipe requires properly ripe fresh tomatoes. I made the pastry using surplus sourdough starter, but of course you can use a standard shortcrust recipe. Serve it just warm rather than hot. The bottom may be soggy, but it’s delicious anyway.

Update: You can make this with standard shortcrust, but I recently discovered a Nigel Slater recipe for olive oil pastry which is easy to make and works well with the Mediterranean nature of the tart. So I’ve added that as an alternative.
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Clementine jam

Clementine jam

I had a large bag of impulse-bought clementines to use up — they didn’t taste that great raw, but they turned out to make a very good jam. I’m calling it jam rather than marmalade because you don’t get a clear syrup with small strips of peel suspended in it; instead it has a thicker, more jammy texture, but still with the tang of marmalade thanks to the peel. It’s also a lot less work than marmalade.

I adapted this from a recipe on French cookery site Cuisine Actuelle. I liked the idea of keeping the peel on some of the fruit and peeling the rest. I didn’t though think it was a good idea to simply halve the unpeeled clementines — you’d end up with massive pieces of peel in the jam, hardly toast-friendly.

This amount will make about two to three 375 g jars. I wouldn’t make a much larger quantity than this, as it’s always difficult to get a set with a large volume. It’s best to choose clementines with as few pips as possible.
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Bread Masterclass: brilliant baguettes!

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Baguettes!

I was one of the guinea pigs for Cook’n with Class’s newly launched bread masterclass held in Arpaillargues, just outside the lovely Languedoc town of Uzès. We were just three students with chef Eric in the spacious kitchen.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

We started each day sitting around the table for breakfast: tea or coffee, and bread of course — from day 2 our own productions from the previous day. This was a good opportunity to a) wake up and b) get to know our fellow students. Then each morning was spent in a whirl of preparation, mostly bread but a few other items too: a delicious chocolate tart, and a classic tropézienne (brioche filled with crème diplomate) are just two examples. Most of the breads required several hours’ or an overnight rest, so we would make and shape the dough, then put it in the fridge for baking the next day. The morning’s work finished around 1 pm, around the lunch table. Each day we made something for lunch: quiche, pan bagnat, pizzas, to be served along with salad and followed by cheese, with bread and wine of course, and a dessert also made by us.

CooknwithClass: Bread masterclass

Eric is a great teacher, relaxed and communicative, always ready to answer questions and explain why he’s doing things a particular way. No matter how well I feel I know how to do something, I always learn something new from listening to and watching a pro. For example, in all the many years I’ve been making shortcrust pastry, I’ve never known about fraisage — smearing the just-blended pastry on the countertop to blend the ingredients without developing the gluten too much.

Likewise, I now make all of our bread, but the many different breads we made introduced new techniques, and nothing beats being able to see and feel how the dough should be. My best moment was seeing the amazing baguettes we made come out of the oven — my previous efforts have never approached this. Instead of taking them home, we ate nearly all of them while drinking aperos — on their own, or with Eric’s home-made pâté.

Shortbread biscuits

There were some surprises too. I didn’t think I’d like chocolate bread, as I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but it was one of my favourites of the week: bread with cocoa powder and chopped dark chocolate in the dough. Eric reckoned it would be good with wild boar stew, but we also loved it for breakfast with marmalade. It’s a keeper in more ways than one — it was still soft and chewy several days later. I also wouldn’t have counted myself a fan of hamburger buns, but these home-made ones were a great base for pan bagnat. Oh, and potato bread made with instant potato flakes — a winner for serving with soup or stew!

Pan bagnat

At the end of day 3 we went home with goodie bags containing our baked goods plus some of Eric’s sourdough starter, and of course a booklet of recipes. I’d recommend this class to any keen baker — no need to be an expert to benefit from it. What a pleasure to spend three mornings just baking with like-minded people! And as afternoons are free, you can use them to explore lovely Uzès and the surrounding area.

CooknwithClass Bread Masterclass: Tropézienne

Gougères


Gougères, little domes of cheese-flavoured choux pastry, are a classic accompaniment for a glass or two of wine. Offering them to guests makes it seem that you’ve gone to a lot of trouble — and you have. But the actual processes involved are quite straightforward. I got this recipe from a professional chef on the choux pastry course I went on recently. Unusually, it includes crumbled roquefort as well as gruyère. It’s a good addition — it gives them an extra sharp tang, while the “blueness” is undetectable.

This recipe makes a lot of gougères — about 40. You could always halve it but a) they are very moreish, and b) they freeze pretty well. Just pop the frozen gougères in a pre-heated oven for 5-10 minutes and they will be as good as new. They are best still just warm, but if you’ve prepared them in advance (without freezing) you can again crisp them up briefly in the oven before serving. Or, if you don’t want that many gougères, split the dough in half before adding the cheese and use half to make profiteroles, choux à la crème, or chouquettes.
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Crème mousseline

Choux buns filled with crème mousseline

Yesterday I attended a half-day patisserie workshop based around choux pastry. In the course of it, we made some crème mousseline to fill our choux buns. This was a new one for me: it’s basically crème pâtissière with an unfeasibly large amount of butter beaten into it, resulting in a cream that is both airy and rich, and will not collapse under load. It’s apparently the basis for such treats as fraisiers and tropéziennes. Useful as a filling because its firmness means it won’t squelch out or drip when cut or bitten into. But it is very, very calorific, so special occasions only!

Best used on the day it’s made; it will go solid if refrigerated for more than a couple of hours because of all the butter. Apparently that can make it go grainy, but this can be fixed by putting it in the bowl of a stand mixer, starting the whisk at high speed, and then gently and briefly warming the outside of the bowl with a blowtorch (this is clearly a standard technique as our chef/instructor did this when the butter was too hard!). You could make this without a stand mixer (people obviously did in the past) but it’s a lot of work: much vigorous beating required.

The recipe below makes a massive amount, enough to fill at least 15 choux buns.
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Mini fruit financiers

Cherry financiers

I made these to use up some leftover egg whites. They are lovely, crisp at the edges and squidgy within. Normally financiers are made in small ingot-shaped moulds, but I don’t have any, so I used mini muffin moulds, which were perfect — they make dainty little cakes to serve with coffee or as an accompaniment to another dessert. The recipe, by Elly McCausland, specified plums as the fruit, but there aren’t any in December; instead I used cherries from my home-made whole-cherry preserve. Use any soft fruit you fancy, sliced if necessary: plums, apricots, raspberries, cherries, peaches … or else a small blob of good-quality jam.
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Jerusalem artichoke velouté

Many years ago, we grew some Jerusalem artichokes. I loved the flavour, but the knobbly little roots were such a pain to scrub and peel that it was a one-off experiment. But the other day I was shopping for Christmas in the wonderful covered market in Narbonne. Apparently progress has been made in selective breeding of Jerusalem artichokes. One stall had a box of oval pink topinambours about the size of new potatoes. No lumps and bumps! A plan was formed, and I bought half a dozen.

With my idea in mind I had a quick browse on Marmiton.org and picked this simple recipe for its overwhelmingly favourable reviews; everyone who tried it gave it 5/5. An excellent choice: easy to do, and the flavour was exactly what I hoped for. I’m serving it in shot glasses garnished with small cubes of foie gras, as an amuse-bouche on Christmas day. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can garnish with shreds of crisp-fried prosciutto, Iberico ham, or bacon; shavings of truffle; or just a drizzle of truffle oil.
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Tarte aux noix

Walnut tart is a classic in south-west France, especially the Dordogne. Recently some visitors arrived from the Lot with a big bag of freshly gathered walnuts, so I had to try making it. It looks a bit odd, but it’s delicious, like a very sophisticated version of treacle tart. I used the recipe from Geraldene Holt’s lovely book of traditional French cuisine, French Country Kitchen, which is no longer a neglected cookbook.

It’s well worth making the pastry with orange juice; it adds an extra zing. In light of this, I substituted Cointreau for the rum Geraldene uses in her filling, and that was a good idea too. Pro tip: it takes ages to shell enough fresh walnuts for this, but listen to something nice on the radio while you do it 🙂
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