French Cuisine

My Shot at a French Classic Dessert

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Tarts are a quintessential dessert for the French. While passing pâtisseries in Paris, you see colorful and dizzying arrays of tartlets filling the shelves through the glass windows. Their buttery crusts are filled with pastry creams, custards or fruits.

As readers of this blog know, chocolate is one of the true loves of my life. So, it’s not surprising that I wanted to try a French recipe that featured chocolate in all its goodness.

La Tarte Au Chocolat, one of Mimi Thorisson’s delectable recipes, was the winner! There’s really nothing I enjoy more than the combination of a flaky crust and smooth velvety chocolate.

Now, I am no baking expert, but I decided to try my best. I did cheat a bit by using a premade tart crust, but I really embraced the experience by preparing the rest from scratch.

Ingredients: 

For the pastry (When not premade):

2 cups plain flour

2/3 cup butter (softened at room temperature)

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 cup ground almonds

1 egg

1 pinch of salt

1. In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together until the mixture forms solid dough. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic film and place in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

2. On a floured parchment-paper covered surface, roll out the dough to fit your tart pan.

3. Line your tart pan with the dough; leave 1/4 inch/ 1 cm overhang.  Gently press the edges of pastry against the interior of the tart pan ring and prick the base with a fork. Use a piece of leftover dough to press down the edges (this trick will prevent any over-stretching or finger marks).

4. Cover with plastic film and place in the freezer for a least an hour (the longer the better). This will prevent shrinking.

5. Cut out a piece of parchment paper and line the bottom of the tart in the pan.  Place beans/marbles/any oven proof weight and blind bake in a preheated oven 180°C/ 350°F for 10 minutes.

6. Remove weight and parchment paper and bake for a further 3-4 minutes, or until slightly golden. Set aside.

For the chocolate filling:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup whole milk

1/3 pound dark chocolate

1 tbsp. salted butter

1 egg

1. Turn off the oven and keep the door semi-closed (leave a tiny gap open).

2. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl.  Set aside.

3. In a saucepan, add milk, cream and butter.  Bring to a soft boil and immediately pour over the chocolate.  Mix well until chocolate has melted completely.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg and pour gently and slowly in the chocolate mixture, mix well.

4. Gently pour the mixture into the tart, and place in the oven (switched off) for 15 minutes. Close the oven door.

5. Take out from the oven and leave to cool and set for minimum 2-3 hours.

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For the salted caramel sauce:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup cream (slightly warmed)

3 tbsp. salted butter (at room temperature)

1. Melt the sugar in a saucepan on a medium heat.  Do not stir until it has nearly all melted (it should be golden/amber colored).

2. Take away from the heat, stir with a wooden spoon and gently pour the cream.   Stir well, add butter, and continue to stir.

3. Return to a low heat for 5-10 seconds, stirring constantly.  Leave to cool.

Serve chocolate tart (cooled and left to set for 2-3 hours) with the mascarpone vanilla cream and caramel sauce.

To my surprise, my tart actually came out better than expected. It may not have come out as pretty as Thorisson’s but I’d say just as delicious. I plan on making it again with the actual almond tart. It’s a rich dessert, so a slice goes a long way, but can you really ever have too much chocolate? I definitely recommend trying! Enjoy!

 

My Food Adventures in Paris

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I often look back at my month abroad in Paris in the summer of 2015 and ponder about what I could have done differently. Yes, in all honesty it was probably the best month of my life. However, I’ll admit that I do have some regrets. They’re my food regrets. Food regrets? You’re probably wondering what those are. Well, although I had all the time in the world to explore my curiosities about French cuisine, I feel that I didn’t do enough of that.

It’s truly an exciting time, living in a new city, meeting new people and just taking the culture in. Often, in the midst of my excitement of just being in Paris, I’d get so distracted that I wouldn’t plan all the places I wanted to try, and I didn’t do as much research as I could have. So in dire times of hunger, my friends and I would rush to the nearest café.

In retrospect, I see these as missed opportunities. Not that the food at these places was terrible, but there were certainly more worthwhile options. Had I just asked a local for their recommendations or even planned my day accordingly, I could have tried so many different restaurants.

I won’t deny that there were a few times when by simply roaming the streets, we found some hidden gems. There was one particular café that became our go-to spot for happy hour. Café Rubis, located in Alesia, was great for draft beer with fruit syrup (something that the states should definitely have) and small afternoon snacks.

Then there were times when we planned exactly where we wanted to go, and completely lucked out. One of my favorite dinners was at Le Volant Basque, located in the 15th arrondissement. My meal, which consisted of veal and an egg casserole with mushrooms and vetreche was incredibly delicious. I also had the best crêpes with chocolate sauce at a small crêperie in Montmartre. These are just a few of the many positive dining experiences I had in Paris.

But being the foodie that I am, I guess it’s only natural to want to try it all. Some of the restaurants I wish I could have made it to are Carette, Café Trama and A La Biche Au Bois. I definitely will not be missing these on my next visit.

My advice for anyone that wants to make the most of their dining experiences in Paris or in any other city in the world: don’t settle! Don’t settle for what’s easy, what’s convenient, and what’s close. If you want to truly immerse yourself in the culture for a week or a month, or if you simply want to have an outstanding meal, do your homework. Do some research and discover some non-touristy spots. Make a list of all the restaurants you want to try and plan your day with them in mind. Trust me, it will definitely be worth it because food adventures are the best adventures.

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Tell me about any of your food regrets and advice!

Top 5 Ingredients in French Cooking

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In a French woman’s pantry there are key ingredients that simply cannot be missing. Although I am sure there are some slight variations in what every woman deems as “essential,” these remain pretty consistent:

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1. Butter

Butter is indispensable in many recipes, ranging from sauces to pastries, or just for spreading across a piece of baguette. French butter is often slightly fermented or made from cultured cream, therefore, packed with an extra depth of flavor. So purchasing a great high butter-fat brand will give you loads of it. Bake it, melt it, sauté it, cube it, or smear it, any way you use it can create something truly delicious.

2. Wine

Good wine is not only satisfying to drink, but also capable of elevating your dishes to a new level of flavor. Wine is often added to sauces like Bordelaise, a shallot and red wine sauce, which pairs perfectly with steak or Sauce Vin Blanc, a white wine sauce which pairs deliciously with fish. Wine is also instrumental when it comes to deglazing the pan. Using it to get all of those brown bits off the bottom makes for a quick and easy pan sauce.

3. Shallots

Shallots are similar to onions, but provide a less pungent, mellower flavor. They can be roasted alongside chicken or pork, making them as soft and mild as roasted garlic. Like onions, they create a great base for a dish when sautéed and caramelized with olive oil or butter. Shallots just add to the overall, fancy and classy feel of French cuisine.

4. Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard provides sharp flavor and comes in both smooth and grainy consistencies. The smooth version can be whisked into vinaigrettes and sauces, while the grainer version can be rubbed onto meats. Not only does it provide a punch of flavor, but also great yellow color. Dijon mustard is a key component in many recipes such as Dos de Cabillaud Dijonnaise, Emincé de Quasi de Veau Dijonnaise and Sauce Rémoulade.

5. Cheese

Where do you even begin with French cheese? It’s just so good, it deserves its own course. Brie, Camembert, and Roquefort are only a few of the many options that are enjoyed after the main course. The French typically start with the mildest and end with the strongest in flavor. Because France produces the greatest number of cheeses in the world, many being the finest, it’s impossible to not keep a selection on hand. And hey, throwing it into a tart or soup doesn’t hurt either.

There are other ingredients to keep stocked if you want to cook dinner the French way. They include fleur du sel,truffles, champignons de Paris and of course, French bread. Next time you’re at the market, grab some of these and experiment with them in your dishes. Let me know how it goes!

The Tricks You Need to Simplify French Cooking

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Although French cuisine is generally perceived to be fancy and complex, it can actually be quite simple and inexpensive. Yes, there are plenty of French restaurants that are known for their exquisite dishes like Le Bernadin and La Grenouille in New York City, and they will cost you a pretty penny. But there are also ways to achieve harmonious luxurious-tasting dishes at home.

In order to create a heavenly French meal on an average weeknight, you’ll need to focus on the right ingredients and techniques. And don’t worry; they don’t require an Eric Ripert (Le Bernadin’s owner and executive chef) level of expertise.

Start with the Right Ingredients

If you want food that shines flavor, you need to start with in-season vegetables. The French prefer to buy local and in-season foods. Vegetables and herbs like chives, onions, shallots, parsley and garlic will give a dish amazing aroma and flavor. The base to many sauce-heavy French recipes is composed of diced celery, onions, carrots and garlic, therefore starting off right is essential.

Don’t Forget About The Spices

In order to elevate a simple dish, you need to have plenty of basic ingredients on hand. These include wine, whether it be red or white, Dijon mustard, butter, and fresh herbs. Cloutilde Dusoulier says, “Vegetables are such a welcoming canvas, whether you are flavoring them with citrus and spices, turmeric and hazelnuts, or an ayurvedic blend of cumin, coriander, turmeric, and ginger.” Although simply adding salt and pepper is an option, you can’t obtain an extraordinary French dish with just the two.

Technique, Technique, Technique

In French cooking, sautéing, roasting, braising, poaching and broiling are a must. We can’t all make a spectacular sauce like chef Jacques Pepin, but a simple shortcut can work wonders for the everyday cook. Deglazing the pan with some wine and broth after sautéing meat can create a delectable sauce. Roasting vegetables before adding them to dishes can also bring out extra flavor. Let’s just say, there’s a reason for everything.

Take Pleasure in the Dining Experience 

The French have a way of enjoying meals, which we Americans don’t. They sit around the table in camaraderie, while they let their three-course meals progress. Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table, says, “It’s meant to unfold, so it’s a really relaxing moment at the end of the day. It’s about the pleasure of sitting down, enjoying family, company, and food.”

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Once in a while (or often), it’s more than acceptable to splurge on a French dining experience. However, if you’re feeling like sprucing up your everyday routine, why not try it the French way. Grab the wine, grab the cheese and enjoy the cooking experience from start to finish!