Tarte tatin / French upside-down Apple pie

This has been a year of apples and walnuts for us. The trees have given us so much. I am grateful to the trees and their Creator to finally be here after so many years of being away during the harvest and that the abundance was more than we were prepared to handle. I cannot express what a pleasure it was to gather the apples. The weather was cool and gray. Not much noise around except some cows and birds. I gathered what I could. Didn’t try to climb too high in the trees. Ate a few along the way and eventually enjoyed eating many imperfect, perfectly delicious apples. This blog and a couple of others to follow are all about the apples.

The pie you’ll see baked is a classic in French bistrot cuisine. This one’s a gift to our neighbors. They invited us to bring all of our apples to their farm and throw them in an apple press for making apple juice and cider. We came home with 20 liters of apple juice. That deserves a blog post all its own. Now, what about that “Tarte tatin“, that Upside-down Apple Pie?

INGREDIENTS

Pâte brisé / Crust

  • 200 g All Purpose flour
  • 100 g butter (cold)
  • 50-65 g cold water
  • a pinch of salt

Filling

  • 8-10 apples
  • 150 g butter
  • 150 g sugar ( I used some molasses I had handy because “it was there”. )

Method

  1. Preparing the crust. You could do this part in a matter of seconds with a food processor. I cut the butter into the flour the old fashioned way – because I had to. If you too do this by hand, just try to find a way to keep your hands off of the butter as much as possible. I used a pastry cutter, but you may want to use a fork or other instrument. Usually described as becoming sandy in texture when properly done, don’t worry if some lumps are still in the mix. This can create great flaky bursts of buttery flavor. Next pour in the beaten egg and some of the water. Begin to mix with a spoon, spatula or your hands (but work quickly). Add water as needed to get the mixture to come together. Be careful not to add too much water as that can make a crust less flaky and tender. Place your pastry in the fridge while you go to work on the apples.
The crust / Le pâte

2. Preparing the apples. Simply peel and cut them in half from top to bottom. Then core them. Don’t worry about them turning brown since they will be taking a long, slow bath in bubbling buttery caramel.

The apples / Les pommes

3. Caramelizing the apples. Place your tart pan on the stovetop for this first stage of assembly and cooking. Best to melt the butter first, then add the sugar. Let the fire do most of the work, stirring just enough to help things move along evenly. Cook until the mixture becomes a golden amber color, then begin loading up the apples. Stand the apples up on end and fit them in as tightly as possible being careful not to break them. They will shrink as they cook and loose water. You want the end product to still be a relatively tight structure. Cover the apples with aluminium foil and let them cook on the stovetop slowly. You want them to soften but not loose their structure and give the caramel time to thicken.

Caramelization

4. Putting it together, baking and unmolding. While the apples are cooking on the stovetop, take your pastry from the fridge and roll it out. Remove the caramelized apples from the stovetop and, while still hot, replace the foil with the pastry. You will need to tuck the edges of the pastry down into the tart pan – NOT creating a decorative edge over the pan. Remember, the top will become the bottom. Place the tart, pastry side up, into the oven at 350*F / 180*C for 20-25 minutes. When the crust is golden, remove from the oven, let cool only slightly for 5 minutes. Then, flip onto a plate that can hold the caramel that will ooze from below. Finally, enjoy warm or at room temperature with or without whipped cream or ice cream. For me, I just want a piece of that pie.

Assemble, bake, flip / Du montage au démoulage

Have a sweet and wonderful day. / Que vous ayez une très belle journée délicieuse.

Merci Dieu

Noix pralinés – Candied walnuts

We have been blessed, deeply blessed, by the presence of a number of mature walnut trees at our home. When we first came to France, the walnut trees were our primary place of residence, so to speak. The children were preschool age, the house just barely habitable, and the trees offered us a place in the shade with a breeze that seemed to never end. We played, read stories, took naps and ate our meals under the walnut trees day after day all summer long.

As international school teachers, we were never around when it was time to gather the walnuts. We flew to other countries at mid August every year to be with our students rather than with the crops in the fields. Still, we always had walnuts to crack, shell and eat thanks to our neighbors who share-cropped the apples and walnuts for us. They took all they wanted and left for us all we could handle when we would return in late spring. That pattern is changing quickly now. The kids are grown, I am retired and its time to collect walnuts again. A good thing it is, as this year’s crop is the most abundant that anyone in the area can remember.

Two milk cows guarding a young walnut tree.

Now, what about those candied walnuts mentioned at the top of this page? So as not to delay any longer, have a look at the video below. Explanation to follow.

Making noix pralinés, candied walnuts.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg walnuts (shelled; preferably halves)
  • 350 g granulated sugar
  • 50 g butter (salted would be fine; would enhance the flavors)
  • 25 g ground cinnamon (I used sticks in the video but you can control your results more easily with ground cinnamon. The sticks may yield more cinnamon oil)
  • 10 g vanilla extract

Method

1. Place a large, heavy duty pot on the stove. Turn heat on medium high. Pour in the sugar and cinnamon. Allow the sugar to begin melting, then add the butter.

2. Closely monitor the melting sugar mixture. Allow it to attain a deep amber, caramel, then add all of the walnuts. Stir with a ladle or wooden spoon. You must work quickly because the mixture will want to harden. Work your mixture on and off of the heat folding the walnut mass over and over trying to avoid breaking the halves as much as possible. Work quickly to cover the surface of all the walnuts.

3. Pour the mixture out onto parchment paper or a silicon mat working quickly to flatten the mass into a single layer. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect. It probably won’t be.

4. When the candied walnut mass has cooled to room temperature, gently break the it apart into individual walnut halves or small groups of two or three but not more than that. Done.

Uses of your Noix pralinés.

1. Snack on a few with a cup of coffee or tea. A few! (They pack a caloric punch.

2. Crumble some up to put on top of (or mixed into) vanilla or mocha ice cream.

3. Crumble some up and sprinkle over a main-course salad.

4. Make Christmas gifts of small, ribboned bundles of this delicious nut candy. Guaranteed not to be returned!

Have fun making this with someone you love and have a sweet day.

(Today’s blog was written while zipping across France on the TGV headed home – back to those walnut trees and to my daughter. This batch of noix pralinés was left with my wife to lift her spirits as she is still working à l’étranger.

Petits gâteaux basquaises

If you are into French pastry traditions, you may have heard about the Gâteau Basque. It’s a regional desert from southwest France consisting of a slightly crunchy, buttery, dense, crusted cake with a fruit (and sometimes custard) filling in the middle. The most common filling is a layer of cooked cherries, but other fruits are possible (such as prunes). Well, as usual, I needed to find an application for unused ingredients from a previous recipe. So, here is my experiment and variation on a theme. The gâteau becomes petits gâteaux. The “basque” becomes “basquaises” – much like my biscuits arabesques. I learned from this experiment, and so can you. Spoiler alert: Learning from an experiment usually means that something went wrong.

Petits gâteaux – muffin-size cakes

Overall process

These little cakes have two (or three) components, the crust (for lack of a better term since it’s not exactly like a muffin or a cake or a pie) and the filling. Make the filling first. Whatever filling or fillings you decide to include, they will need time to cool and come to room temperature. It’s important that they be at room temperature when putting it all together. Too cool and you risk an expansion that could erupt. While the fillings are cooling you have plenty of time to make the batter.

Creamy orange date filling

I used the date filling that was in the center of some of my biscuits arabesques. To it, I added finely diced candied orange peels (brunoise) and the last of the orange poaching syrup. This filling is delicious and could be still enhanced by the inclusion of Grand Marnier.

  • 1 kg dates (pitted)
  • 200 gm cream cheese
  • 50 gm powdered sugar
  • 9 gm ground nutmeg
  • Candied orange peel of one whole orange
  • 50 ml orange syrup
  • 25 ml orange blossom water

Place all of these ingredients in a food processor and turn it loose until you arrive at a homogeneous paste. The consistency of this paste will be very important. You will need to be able to pipe it into the center of a pastry ring but it should hold its shape and not flow.

Creamy orange date filling

Gâteau basque recipe

You can find a variety of recipes for the gateau basque batter on the web. I chose the following because it can be piped into a pastry ring. This recipe is from Bruno Albouze.

 250 g Butter, room temp

 4 g Salt

 180 g Brown sugar

 2.50 g Vanilla paste

 125 g Almond meal

 150 g Eggs

 280 g Pastry flour

4 g Baking powder

As per Chef Albouze’ instructions, this batter is sufficient for a 9” / 23 cm cake pan or pastry ring yielding 8 slices. I used 6 muffin-size pastry rings at 2” high. There was still a bit left over.

Spoiler reveal

I succeeded and failed at my experiment. How? I succeeded in making very good minis-gâteaux in the small pastry rings. The pastry itself cooked very well and was beautiful. However, I failed to make a delightful desert for one reason. I seriously under-filled the pastry. The filling is absolutely delicious but I should have used three times the amount in each gâteau. This batter dries considerably when baked. It needs plenty of filling to create a delightful experience.

Watch the video to see how I filled the rings. You will see how my skills need to improve but how “it worked”.

Montage: putting it all together in pastry rings
Creamy date orange filling. More filling would was needed.

Future corrections

A matter of proportions. To make a moist, flavorful and interesting petit gâteau basque in the future, use the following guide: 2/3 pastry to 1/3 filling by weight. Example: A 90 g petit gâteau would have 60g pastry batter / 30 g filling; 120 g would have 80 g pastry to 40 g filling.

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Totally Nutty Chocolate Spread

I bought some peanuts the other day, wanting to make some peanut butter. However, as I was rummaging through the cupboard, I saw that I had some hazelnuts and almonds as well. Then I stumbled upon some chocolate bars and my mind quickly turned to Nutella. Of course Nutella has no peanuts, but a similar nut spread, Gianduja spread does.

Peanut, almond and hazelnut praline.

The recipe for this “Totally Nutty Chocolate Spread” is more simple than either Nutella or the Gianduja referenced above. Nothing gets masked in this recipe. The flavors are bold and straightforward. If you like dark roasted coffee, you’re gonna like this intense nutty chocolate spread on a piece of toast with your Java in the morning.

Ingredients

  • 200 g dark chocolate (72%)
  • 150 g milk chocolate (35%)
  • 250 g toasted peanuts
  • 150 g toasted almonds
  • 100 g toasted hazelnuts
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 2 pinches of sea salt (to make flavors pop, especially if you reserve some of the praline)
  • OPTIONAL: The addition of vanilla and/or cinnamon would work well in this.

Method

1. Pour the sugar into a dry skillet (non-stick if possible) over medium high heat. Do not disturb the sugar until it has begun to melt and change to an amber color below the surface. You are making a dry caramel. Because you have so much sugar in the pan, you will now need to turn down the heat a bit and begin moving the pan and lightly stirring the caramelizing sugar so he it doesn’t burn on the bottom and the surface sugar can melt too. Ideally all the sugar would be melted and amber before adding the nuts. I didn’t wait that long as I was afraid of burning the sugar. RULE: Never leave caramelizing sugar unattended.

2. Add all of the nuts and work them down into the liquid sugar. This will cause the temperature of the sugar to drop and the mixture will show signs of hardening. Work quickly but with small movements to coat all of the nuts. Add a couple pinches of salt at this point. NOTE: You do not want the mixture to stiffen in the pan. You will need to keep it pliable by raising the heat slightly and/or moving the pan off and onto the heat as you stir.

3. When thoroughly combined move quickly to pour it onto a silicone mat or parchment paper and work with a spatula to flatten it out. The mixture with stiffen quickly. You’ll need to work quickly. Still, it doesn’t have to be perfect for our purposes here. Let the mixture cool. You have made praline.

4. Melt the chocolate. Your choice of methods – double boiler or microwave. I chose the microwave. Break the chocolate bars into chunks to facilitate easier, faster melting. Go for 30 second bursts, then stir. Repeat until completely melted.

5. Time for “Robocop” – my name for my amazing food processor (some days I think of it as Wolverine). Break up the praline into chucks that the food processor can handle and let it run until a moist, sandy mixture forms. Add all of the melted chocolate and repeat. This recipe makes a grainy paste, easy to spoon and spread but not fluid. You have made “Totally Nutty Chocolate Spread.”

Enjoy on toast or crackers with a cup of coffee or tea. As you can almost see in the photo below, I reached for an espresso. In its own way, this snack made for a double shot.

10 AM Booster shot: chocolate nut spread, a bite of praline, a dose of espresso.

Je vous souhaite une belle journée.

May you have a beautiful day.

Kale and Brussels sprout salad

Kale and Brussels sprout salad / Salade de chou frisé et de choux de Bruxelles

I’ve been making this salad for a few years by now after seeing it on a Bon Appétit site. It never fails to receive compliments, and friends often request that I bring it to dinner parties at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a bright, crisp, crunchy salad that contrasts well with braised or grilled meats and cooked vegetables. If you do not enjoy the taste of Brussels sprouts, fear not. Raw, young sprouts do not have the same flavor profile as when cooked.

The salad is not the only handmade thing appearing on today’s blog. I made the salad bowl (top left) for my mother 50 years ago – in 7th grade shop class.

I normally use our food processor to make this salad in order to “be quick about it.” However, today, to honor my daughter (again) who constantly advocates for muscle power in the kitchen instead of electricity whenever possible, I use a chef’s knife for this task and so can you.

Meditation on knife over “robot” (French for food processor). The decision to use no power tools has an immediate impact on one’s environment both internal and external. Yes, it will take longer to make the salad. No, this task is not strenuous (like making mayonnaise or whipped cream by hand can be). But more importantly, your world becomes quieter. If you can “let go” of time for a bit and focus on the simple tasks in your hands, you may discover a sense of peacefulness and the pleasure of your handiwork. To this recipe for working in peace, I added one more element – I turned off the kitchen lights and was able to work easily in the sunlight coming through the windows. A poor man would probably get a chuckle out of all this “talk”. After all, he is not in a position to make such decisions. Oh, just to keep it real and simple: 1) I would suggest to not play music while you work. Sing or hum a tune instead, 2) Enjoy renewed attention to your sense of smell too, the garlic, the lemon and the parmesan cheese when you grate it.

INGREDIENTS (All as fresh as possible. No precise quantities given. Watch the video below and judge how you might do this for yourself or your family.)

  • Kale : strip leaves from stem and chop as desired
  • Brussels sprouts: remove stem and chop as desired
  • Garlic: peel and mince
  • Lemon (zest and juice; one or two according to taste)
  • Parmesan cheese: finely shredded but not powdered (avoid buying pre-shredded)
  • Almonds (toasted and roughly chopped; used sliced almonds here since that’s what was in the cupboard)
  • Olive oil: use your judgement on quantity creating the consistency that you like
  • Salt and pepper (freshly ground; to taste)
9 ingrédients – 2 mains – 1 couteau

Biscuits arabesques

“arabesque”: decorative style, of Arabic or middle eastern inspiration

The “look” of these cookies was not exactly what I was going for. But the flavor…… I need to give these to friends asap or I’ll eat them all by this evening. These cookies are delicious.

WARNING: Despite my motivation for baking these, they are NOT “ma’moul”. They are a blend of Greek and Lebanese influences.

What about that “look”? I had been wanting to make a Lebanese cookie called “maamoul” for quite some time. You can shape them in the palm of your hand and then use a fork to create decorative patterns on the surface, or you can use small wooden molds (see below) for a more spectacular look.

I searched for months to find mamoul molds like those pictured above and found them in a shisha shop (of all places), but, alas, my molds are now in France and I am not. So… so…. what to do? I wanted to make these cookies and I was not confident that I could make them in my hand. “Aha!”, I thought. I’ve got some interesting molds that I could use to make a filled cookie.

As you can see in the photo above, I ended up using a mold AND making a few by hand. In the end, I learned that making them by hand was not as difficult as I had thought. Still, when I get back to France, I want to put those wooden molds to use.

What about that flavor? You’ll see and read the details below, but, just to say, clove, cinnamon and orange blossom water will put you in a dream state – and the only risk is caloric.

THE PROCESS IN A NUTSHEELL

  • Make cookie dough (reserve in fridge)
  • Make date filling
  • Make walnut filling
  • Make date filling balls rolled in pistachio powder
  • Make cookie dough balls
  • Assemble
  • Bake at 350 F / 190 C for 12 minutes and begin checking for light golden doneness.

COOKIE DOUGH

The recipe for the cookie dough in this blog comes from Dimitra’s Dishes. This Greek dough is lighter and more fragile than other doughs in this middle eastern cookie tradition. (US measurements from Dimitra. I did the metric conversions.)

  • ½ pound (227 gm) unsalted butter softened
  • 1 tablespoon (12 gm) granulated sugar
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar (110 gm) (NOTE: I believe that the super light texture of this dough comes from this ingredient).
  • 2 egg yolks (100 gm)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 gm) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (250 gm) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt (<2gm)
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder (2 gm)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (NOTE: I didn’t have any oranges in the house. I added 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water……… an addition that fills your senses every time you start to take a bite. Use this ingredient if you can.)
Mise en place
Be careful when using a hand mixer. It is more difficult to control the speed than with a stand mixer. Too fast can produce a tougher dough. I thought of working in the dough with a spatula but didn’t want to push the air out of the mixture.

CREAMY DATE FILLING (The following recipe makes enough filling for several batches of cookies or other deserts; keeps very well in the fridge.)

  • 1 kg dates (pitted`)
  • 200 gm cream cheese (not a traditional ingredient)
  • 50 gm powdered sugar
  • 9 gm ground nutmeg

I had a block of dates that I had to pit and then place in a food processor to create the paste. TIP: Lightly oil the blade and bowl of the processor before beginning. The dates are a bit tough and sticky. Then 1) process the dates into a sticky mass, 2) add the other ingredients and process until well combined and smooth. You may need to pulse, scrape the sides and pulse until you are satisfied with the texture. NOTE: The cream cheese is not a traditional ingredient in these cookies. I added it because I wanted a filling that I could pipe into other deserts as well. To counter act the tanginess of the cheese, I also added the powdered sugar to keep the sweet kick kicking. It worked well and tastes wonderful.

SPICY WALNUT FILLING (from Dimitra’s Dishes with a couple modifications)

  • 125 grams ground walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon ( 3 gm) ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon (about 1 gm) ground cloves
  • 2-3 tablespoons (app 7 gm) powdered sugar (Dimitra uses granulated sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons orange blossom water (Dimitra suggests water or rose water)
  • SPOILER: I also added a slurpy tablespoon full of some leftover sweet elixir from some orange confit that was in the fridge. It seemed like a good thing to do. It had a little butter in it too. I think some crêpes suzettes was in its history.

ASSEMBLY REQUIRED

AFTER OVEN

Le pain au levain fait main/ Handmade sourdough bread

Added a couple of videos to show mixing and shaping the bread by hand.

Le Four de Sainte Anne à Chez Bonneau

First bread baked in the oven of Sainte Anne since before COVID-19.

I have hesitated all summer long to bake a load of bread in our precious oven. For one, I haven’t baked in it since the summer of 2019. I have heated it up a few times with small fires just to “season” the bricks but not wanting to shock them with a full-blown fire of 250 degrees Celsius. To heat up the oven is a commitment of resources that one should never waste – mainly wheat and wood. I finally pushed myself to get going again though still in a smaller way than will become the norm. I made 10 loaves of approximately 1 kilo each – enough to justify getting back “online” but not too much in case the bread didn’t turn out as hoped for.

Le pétrin – placed in line with the morning sun to…

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Le pain au levain fait main/ Handmade sourdough bread

First bread baked in the oven of Sainte Anne since before COVID-19.

I have hesitated all summer long to bake a load of bread in our precious oven. For one, I haven’t baked in it since the summer of 2019. I have heated it up a few times with small fires just to “season” the bricks but not wanting to shock them with a full-blown fire of 250 degrees Celsius. To heat up the oven is a commitment of resources that one should never waste – mainly wheat and wood. I finally pushed myself to get going again though still in a smaller way than will become the norm. I made 10 loaves of approximately 1 kilo each – enough to justify getting back “online” but not too much in case the bread didn’t turn out as hoped for.

Le pétrin – placed in line with the morning sun to help warm it. I can make 50 kilos of bread at a time in this pétrin.

I got up at 3:45 AM to get my levain started. I had been experimenting with different flours for the leaven over the summer and had a lot of poor results. I keep some very dense sourdough starter in the fridge and have no real difficulty waking it up. It usually takes me about 5-6 hours for the starter to bring the leaven to full bloom, ready to make bread. I made 1 kilo of leaven for this batch of 10 loaves.

Top: 3.25 liters of water with 80 gm sea salt. Middle: 5 kilos bread flour with seeds. Bottom: 1 kg of leaven.

Time to mix it up.

Once the ingredients are mixed together in an homogenous, lumpy, sticky mass, give it a few gentle pats, cover with a towel and let rest for about 40 minutes. Now, the rest of my day is planned:

  • 4:00 AM prepare the leaven, go back to sleep
  • 9:30 AM Leaven is ready. Measure flour, salt, warm water
  • 9:45 AM mix dough, let rest 40 minutes
  • 10:30 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 11 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 11:30 AM turn and stretch the dough
  • 12:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 1:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 2:00 PM turn and stretch the dough
  • 3:00 PM divide the dough into 1 kg portions and shape the dough into tight balls. Place in individual baskets and cover with a towel. If the outer skin holds the tension during this process, then the dough should be strong enough to hold together as it continues to ferment and expand.
  • Prepare the wood-fired oven during the bread’s final fermentation. It takes about 3 hours to bring our 2 meter diameter oven up to temp. When the soot from the burning wood falls off of the bricks and the oven is clean again, remove all wood and embers, and clean the floor of the oven with a very wet towel. This hydrates the oven to prevent the crust from forming too early which allow more moisture to escape the dough. Once this is done, close the oven door for a few minutes to allow the heat to distribute evenly.
  • 6:30 PM If the bread has done its job and doubled in volume and is ready for the oven.
  • 6:30-7:30 PM Baking bread. One hour should be enough. However, test a loaf to see if it’s ready or not. I tested this load of bread and they were not ready. I left them in for another 30 minutes. AS IT TURNS OUT, I hadn’t closed the oven door really well and I lost some heat. In the end, the bread came out nicely cooked through and through.
  • 8:00 PM Put the bread in a safe place and wait til morning to enjoy it.
Sourdough, butter, honey. What a beautiful day. Merci, Dieu.

Lasagna with beef and béchamel – Slow Food heaven.

Traditional lasagna – slow food heaven!

Make this dish for someone you love. If you can, make it with someone you love. Plan ahead. Don’t do this in a rush. So many recipes on the Internet catch our attention with titles that say, “easy”, “quick”, “in less than an hour.” Throw those quick and easy ideas to the wind and embrace the slow, rewarding process of making something wonderful that can’t be done on the run. Then take the time to share this together. Tell the world to stop. Yes. Tell it to stop while you share this meal. You’ll be oh so glad you did.

My daughter and I slowly put this dish together over three days. Not that we had to or that we planned it that way. We just kept being busy with other chores and not having enough time to make this dish all at once and do it the way we wanted – making everything from scratch.

We all can get in a rush, have “so many things to do,” be too tired to cook, etc. But I’ve learned that such a busy life doesn’t mean we can’t do some things that require time and patience. Allz you need to do is look ahead and “do a bit right now,” and, “do a bit a little later.” That’s what we did with this luscious lasagna.

Timeline:

  • Sunday evening: Made a double batch of beef ragù – Mom’s recipe
    • for fettuccini Sunday evening (reserve leftover in the fridge)
    • for Lasagna… sometime later, not sure when, but soon-ish
  • Monday evening: Make the lasagna noodles……. let dry overnight
  • Tuesday morning – today’s the day !!!
    • 6:30 AM take the ragù from the fridge; adjust by adding bay leaves, red wine, a bit more salt. let simmer for 2.5 hours with uncovered lid
    • While the ragù is simmering, begin making grape jelly before the bees eat all of the grapes. 11:15 AM – make béchamel
    • 11:30 AM – Assemble the lasagne and put in the oven
    • Lunch at 1 PM

RECIPES AND PROCES

Handmade pasta

Ingredients for Pasta (For a medium-size lasagna)

  • 400 g AP Flour
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg yolk (for structure)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Method: We did this in a large bowl just to keep things from getting too messy. We cracked and mixed the eggs in a separate bowl and then poured them into the flour. Mix by hand. Add oil as needed to respond to wet/dry ratio coming from egg size and flour quality. I have always found that using olive helps to create a wonderful pasta dough, easy to manage in a hand-crank machine, supple and sturdy.

RAGÙ – family recipe (not quite typical). No quantities are given here. My daughter was in charge of this while I was elsewhere. Truth be told, quantities are not very important. Follow you instincts and the size of your pot.

Ingredients for “our ragù” – It’s all about flavor and texture that pleases you.

  • ground beef
  • fresh tomatoes from the garden that needed to be used before going bad (blanched and peeled) and canned tomatoes (whole or diced)
  • tomato paste (no more than a tablespoon)
  • aubergines (diced)/ eggplant
  • mushrooms (your favorite ones; make it earthy)
  • basil, thyme, bay leaf (2 or3)
  • red wine (enough for body and flavor, not for volume)
  • salt …….. NO PEPPER (Can you believe that? No pepper? My daughter insisted. Results were amazing.)

Method: Begin on medium high heat.Brown the ground beef. Then add the diced eggplant and mushrooms. Allow these to loose water and soften. Then add the herbs and let them warm up. Next, get those tomatoes in there with all their juice. Lastly, heat the wine to get rid of the alcohol then add it to the mix. Turn the heat down LOW. Leave the LID OFF and allow the ragù to slowly melt together, thicken and bring the flavors together. Yes. Easily 2 hours. AS WE DID, this can be made 1 or 2 days in advance if that works best with your schedule. TEXTURE: This ragù was quite chunky. Great for spaghetti or tagliatelle, but not for a multilayered lasagna. So, I took an old fashioned potato masher and mashed big time. This allowed for thin, even layers of ragù between each layer of pasta.

BÉCHAMEL

Ingredients:

  • 35 g butter
  • 35 g AP flour
  • 1/2 liter (2 cups) milk
  • nutmeg (a very generous pinch)
  • salt to taste

Method:

Melt the butter the add the flour and stir using a whisk. Allow the mixture to bubble and to change a yellowish color, a minute or two. Begin pouring in milk a little bit a a time followed by vigorous whisking. Keep the sauce on the stove at a low heat, stirring occasionally, allowing it to thicken. When the sauces reaches an almost lumpy consistency, remove it from the fire and cover it until ready to use..

Assembly

  • Spray your container with oil
  • Cover the bottom of your container with a thin layer of ragù.
  • Then make the following repetitive layers until all ragù and béchamel is used.
    • pasta
    • ragù
    • béchamel
    • pasta, etc.
  • TOPPING – Be sparing with the sauce at each layer. Cover the pasta completely, but thinly. The top should receive a generous layer of béchamel PLUS some other melting cheese. Mozzarella is the most traditional choice. We didn’t have any on hand and substituted emmenthal and conté. It was wonderful.

BAKING: Place in an oven at 200 degree Celsius for 35-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Coq en croûte

When my daughter saw this dish come from the oven, she said it looked like Beef Wellington. The idea was spot on, but this is about a rooster, not a bovine.

Breast of a coq in puff pastry

This recipe is based on things I had on hand and what I hoped would work. ON HAND:

  • Breasts of a large old rooster marinated in red wine for 48 hours. (Part of a Coq au vin i was preparing but not destined for the long braise of that recipe.)
  • Puff pastry that I had made for the Tourtière limousine.
  • Tomato paste with Italian spices.
  • Emmental (“Swiss”) cheese
Coq with elements of the marinade: red wine, fresh rosemary, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, celery, carrots.
Breasts after 48 hours in the red wine marinade (in the refrigerator); split with emmenthal cheese inside).

The breasts of any fowl would work fine – chicken, turkey, Guinée hen or rooster, etc. I would suggest some kind of marinade. It doesn’t have to be the one I used. Lots of other flavor profiles are possible. A marinade is meant primarily to guarantee a moist and tender breast.

One recipe of quick puff pastry (Bruno Albouze) divided in thirds – I still have 1/3 left for another “something” to come.

With the breasts ready to be tucked away in their flaky, buttery bed, take the puff pastry from the fridge, roll it out (generously using flour to prevent sticking) and spread your paste all round, leaving the edges clean so that the pastry sticks together when folded. I used an herbal tomato paste. A pesto would also be an amazing choice.

After applying the paste (plus adding salt and freshly cracked black pepper), wrap each breast in the pastry. You should wet the edges of the pastry so that it holds together.
Brush the pastry with an egg wash (one egg with yolk and white) and score with a knife with a design of your choice)

Place in a a preheated oven at 375-400 F / 200C. Check at about 20 minutes. Cover with foil and let bake 10 minutes more. Thirty minutes total should enough for this moist, buttery, flaky dish. It certainly was for us.

Menu: Tomates au basilique et l’huile d’olive, Coq en croûte, polenta. Wine? We had a Chardonnay but an Italian red would work well.

Bon appétit à tous.

Coq en croûte