Caramel Complected

My sweet housemate recently turned 28, and to mark the occasion we spent the afternoon in our favourite canal-side watering hole, Bar Ourcq, sipping sweet mint tea…soon followed by a round of bloody mary’s and remedial pichets of Côtes du Rhône.

No tea party would be complete without cake, and this year I wanted to make the birthday girl a little something special: a Speculoos and wild berry cheesecake with caramel au beurre salé.

Tea and cake.jpg#2Cheesecake #1Cheesecake #210991_10100254377050082_469152088_n

The cake itself was made with a speculoos biscuit base, secret layer of redcurrants, blueberries and raspberries, and a sumptuously tart lemon and cream cheese filling (recipe below).

The real magic was in the salted butter caramel sauce, which was a surprisingly successful experiment for a first attempt.

The first batch I made had a beautifully rich, thick dark honey tone but tasted slightly metallic as a result of my burning the sugar in the initial stages. For round two, I turned the heat down and whisked continuously throughout the process. The result was lighter in colour and texture, and tasted like Werther’s Original liquid gold with a welcome salty kick.

The secret is… never stop stirring!

caramel #2caramel #3caramel #4caramel #5

  1. Pour 150g caster sugar into a pan with a thick bottom on a moderate heat.
  2. Keep stirring until the sugar starts to clump together.
  3. The lumps will start to brown slightly as the sugar melts.
  4. Be careful not to burn the sugar , so keep whisking and when it becomes a light brown liquid, add 50g butter (I used unsalted).
  5. Turn down the heat and stir in a heaped teaspoon of crushed sea salt.
  6. Once the butter has melted, pour in 20cl double cream – it will hiss and bubble but just keep whisking and take off the heat.
  7. Leave to cool and thicken for a few minutes…and enjoy as you wish!

For the cheesecake you’ll need:

  • 200g Speculoos or digestive biscuits
  • 50g melted butter
  • 450g cream cheese
  • 170ml pot crème fraiche
  • 2 eggs
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • zest of 1 whole lemon
  • 100g caster sugar (I used very little sugar to balance out the caramel sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a couple of handfuls of your favourite berries

Remember that this is an overnight recipe, as the cheesecake tastes best when it has set in the fridge for a few hours.

  1. Preheat oven at 180°C.
  2. Blitz the biscuits to fine crumbs in a food processor or crush in a bag with a rolling pin.
  3. Stir in the melted butter and press this mixture into the base of a lined loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin.
  4. Put base in the fridge to set while you make the filling.
  5. Beat together the cream cheese and sugar.
  6. Add the lemon juice to loosen the mixture.
  7. Once the sugar has dissolved, add 1 egg at a time, followed by the lemon zest and vanilla.
  8. Beat in the crème fraiche and set aside.
  9. Take your biscuit base out of the oven and spread just a spoonful of filling over the base.
  10. Sprinkle the berries over this first layer then cover with the rest of the filling.
  11. Put in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.
  12. It is ready when the centre is still wobbly but the sides have browned slightly and come away from the tin.
  13. Turn off the oven and leave to cool with the door open slightly.
  14. Once it has completely cooled, put your cheesecake in the fridge overnight.

To finish, I poured over the caramel au beurre salé and then dropped a handful of berries into the centre, which created a beautiful effect as the scarlet berry juice bled into the caramel. Et voila…

551332_10100254370927352_1246571587_nWhat’s playing today?

In honour of International Woman’s Day 2013, here is my idol and the queen of Rock & Roll, Tina Turner, with a 1965 performance of Fool in Love.

 

Finger-licking Fondants

After 3 years in this delicious, boisterous, lip-smacking city, it’s fair to say that I have flagrantly made my way through a generous serving of desserts français. It all started in the name of education; when I didn’t recognise a pudding on the menu, I’d purposely order to discover what it was. There were a few hit and miss occasions, but for the most part I received a very sweet surprise: crochembouche (cream puffs glazed with caramel); baba au rhum (a little yeast cake doused in rum and filled with cream); clafoutis aux cerises (cherries in a flan-like bake); dame blanche meringuée and pretty much anything that comes with crème de marron chantilly.

However, despite all the tartes, soufflées and brûlées, my heart will always belong to the most decadent and devious of desserts, fondant au chocolat. Nothing can beat the satisfaction of plunging your spoon through the baked cake cocoon and into its secret underbelly of molten chocolate.

While in search of a sweet showstopper for a friend’s birthday dinner, I followed Gordon Ramsey’s fondant recipe and was delighted to find that it worked like a dream.

  • 50g melted butter to brush the ramekins
  • cocoa powder dust the buttered ramekins
  • 200g good-quality dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 eggs and 4 yolks
  • 200g plain flour……………………as Gordon says, all this will make 9 fondants!

fondant ingredients 1fondant ingredients 2fondant cases linedfondant ramekinsfondant ingredients 5fondant ingredients 4fondant ingredients 6fondant ingredients 3

  1. I brushed the ramekins with melted butter and placed them in freezer for 5 minutes before brushing over another layer and then dusting with cocoa powder.
  2. Next I melted the butter and chocolate over a pan of simmering water, and set aside to cool.
  3. I whisked the eggs, yolks and sugar until thick and pale before beating in the cooled chocolate in 3 batches, and then folding in the flour.
  4. I then spooned the batter to fill ¾ of each ramekin and chilled 4 in the fridge overnight (and put the other 4 in the freezer to save for a rainy day).
  5. By the time the girls came over the following evening, all that was left to do was pop my chilled fondants into a preheated oven at 200°C for 12 minutes. (Over-baking risks turning your fondants into little muffins, which will still taste good but most certainly lose their pizzazz).
  6. I served these with vanilla ice cream and fresh berries, with a twinkling candle for one special southern belle.

fondant birthdayfondant au chocolat

What’s playing today?

Perhaps one of the sexiest covers ever recorded… No Diggity by Chet Faker

JAIOZI by JayZ

One of the greatest benefits of having a rainbow ex-pat family here in Paris, is the wealth of culinary wisdom shared and family recipes exchanged.

We’ve had Mamma Mazzone’s bistecca di vitello, Yiayia’s Greek stuffed tomatoes, Canadian maple roast sweet potatoes, my mama’s Jollof Rice, southern mashed potatoes and a juicy Thanksgiving bird! Last weekend came a traditional bite-size treat from China: Jaozi dumplings delicately hand-made by our very own petite chinoise, Jay-Z (a.k.a Jenny Zeng).

We spent our Saturday evening with a chilled bottle of Martini, moulding dozens of these double-saucer shaped little parcels. Jenny prepared the most fragrant filling made with minced pork, garlic, ginger, shallots, spring onions, shiitake mushrooms, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt + pepper. Following her lead, we put a teaspoon of the pork filling in the middle of the circular dough skin, dabbed the edge with a little water and then pinched the sides together to seal in all the goodness.

gyoza 4 gyoza 6gyoza 5 gyoza 7 gyoza 2 gyoza 1

We opted for the healthy cuisson of boiling the jaozi rather than pan frying, and so we placed them in boiling water, adding a cup of cold water after 5 minutes and again after 10 minutes to ensure that they had come to the boil 3 times so that the meat had cooked through.

gyoza 8gyoza 10

Dipped in Jenny’s homemade sauce of vinegar, soy sauce, fresh chillies and garlic, these jaozi were gobbled up in record time – adding yet another page to our intercontinental cookbook.

What’s playing today?

Werewolf by CocoRosie

B is for Buffin

How can something so magical cause such chaos and bedlam? The big freeze hit Paris on Friday evening and cloaked her in an ivory blanket for the night. By Sunday, downy snowflakes were still tumbling out of the sky – much to my Australian housemate’s amazement. Having flown in from the sweltering 40° tropics of Adelaide just 3 days ago, she was both enchanted and bewildered by this life-size shaken snow globe.

Paris sous la niege by Betsy Belavy

Paris sous la niege by my special friend, Betsy Belavy

So while airport runways were abandoned and railway networks struck by blizzards, we took refuge in our cosy kitchen and whipped up a tray of blueberry & banana muffins… ‘buffins‘.

In keeping with my New-Year-No-Crap nutritious diet, I substituted caster sugar and regular flour for brown sugar, honey and whole-wheat flour. To this I added:

  • 2 eggsbuffin ingredients
  • 1½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • a sprinkling of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • a small punnet of blueberries
  • a handful of porridge oats
  • 1 pot of natural yogurt
  • Sunflower oil to fill ¾ of a yogurt pot
  • Measure 1 empty yogurt pot full of brown sugar and 3 pots of the whole-wheat flour

bananas in cinnamon oilMashed bananaswhiskingbuffin mixture1buffin mixture 2buffin mixture 3buffins with blueberriesBuffins fresh out of the oven2

1. Preheat your oven to 180° and grease your cake tin – you can use a loaf or muffin tin, or something like this lovely mini-loaf tin I found in a second-hand store.

2. Sprinkle the cinnamon and nutmeg over the bananas, mash with a fork then pour over the oil.

3. In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar and yogurt into a smooth caramel-coloured mixture and then beat in the eggs.

4. Add the banana & oil mixture then sift in the rest of the dry ingredients and fold together gently using a spoon.

5. Throw in some blueberries and then pour the mixture into your tin. Sprinkle over the oats and the rest of the blueberries and pop into the oven.

With the natural sweetness of the ripe bananas and blueberries, I’d actually halved the usual measurement of sugar but they tasted all the better for it. These buffins turned out wonderfully golden on the outside, soft and almost toffee-flavoured on the inside!

Vintage buffins 2What’s playing today?

A new artist for a new year – Don’t Regret Me by fellow Londoner, Rainy Milo

Merci

It’s been 3 months since I last posted. I’ve been working my little socks off and the heartbreaking consequence has made me a stranger to my own kitchen. I miss both my virtual and tangible cucinas.

Today is my last day at work before the holidays. In 2 days I’ll be checking into CDG Roissy and boarding a 24-hour flight to Sydney for 3 weeks of festive merriment, sun-kissed tan lines and a rustic wedding in the Blue Mountains. Truth be told, I’d already spiritually absconded from the office weeks ago; so while I sit at my desk, mentally packing my suitcase, I thought I’d take a moment to decompress and dedicate a post to my first ever Thanksgiving.

As a 90′s adolescent, Thanksgiving was always a vague North American concept – along with Prom queens and Spring Break – that I’d seen on shows like Fresh Prince and My So Called Life. However, to actually indulge in the real pecan pies and marshmallow roasted sweet potatoes was an experience I’ll cherish! My lovely friend, Christina, invited me to her 3rd annual Thanksgiving dinner here in Paris, a tradition that she created along with a bunch of intercontinental buds.

I’ll start by saying that with everything from the food, to the digs, to the Salon du Vin wine, our host truely out did herself. Not to mention the fact that she was catering for a mere 25 guests who would appear eager and ravenous to give thanks. I arrived in the afternoon to join the other sous-chefs in the kitchen enjoying a tipple of festive red, and for the next few hours I was in bliss… chopping, stirring, peeling and basting while sweet music filled the slick MTV-Cribs-style apartment she had borrowed for the occasion.

A table!

With 2 turkeys in the oven, the rest of the menu unfolded with hints of cranberry, fruity stuffing, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, grated pumpkin fritters and a plethora of sweet potatoes – baked… roasted… grilled… mashed or spiced up with cinnamon and nutmeg as the heart of a velvety pie.

festive saladA table!

…which brings me onto dessert, to which there was an entire banquet dedicated. Most people had contributed wine or pudding and so once the devoured turkeys had been banished to the kitchen, out came a carnival of pies, cheese cakes, tarts, crumbles and, one of my personal favourites, pumpkin flavoured macarons! Oh la la!

      

Le dernier macaron! It was a beautiful soirée, and I left feeling like a bit of a stuffed turkey myself but extremely thankful for laughter, music and food, glorious food!

What’s playing today?

Parting Ways by Cody ChestnuTT.

What a beautiful lyric…

“May you be blessed with good drink and food, and may your tongue be covered with a garment of good news.”

Sunday’s Cocotte

There’s nothing like a last-ditch heat wave to bid farewell to summer and coax in the next season. With temperatures scorching past the 30° mark, it was certainly an opportune weekend for my big sister to come and celebrate her 28th birthday à Paris. She had kicked off the day with a champagne breakfast at Searcys in St Pancras International, and the bubbles sure continued to flow throughout the rest of the weekend.

We indulged in a decadent birthday meal at one of the Canal Saint Martin’s finest resto’s, Hotel du Nord, the highlights of the night being a tuna sashimi and crispy gyoza pastry layered tower and a naughty pain-perdu pudding drizzled with thick caramel salé syrup.

We woke on Sunday morning to more sizzling sunshine and a one-word question on our lips, “Brunch?”. I took the girls to a breakfast spot tucked into the cobbled back streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Eggs&Co. This is a intimate space with a lunch bar at the entrance and about 5 tables on the mezzanine floor above. By a stroke of luck we were able to get a table sans reservation, and we each ordered a jam-packed brunch menu of tea/coffee + freshly pressed juice + eggs (baked, poached, scrambled, fried, boiled…) with roast new potatoes and a salad with sesame dressing + a fruit cup + a thick American pancake with syrup. It was a decent amount of food, and all very delicious, but at €22-26 per menu, it’s not as much cheap as it is cheerful. Having said that, the eggs were just as they should be – that perfect blend of tender, fluffy, mellifluous magic!

Œufs Norvège

My œufs en cocotte were quite special. It’s a classic French baked egg recipe in which the whites are separated from the yolks, and whipped up with butter and cream (and strips of bacon if you like). The mixture is poured into a ramekin and the yolks are placed back on top before the whole thing goes in the oven. The eggs come out looking like a soufflé, and tasting like one too!

After devouring the last syrup-soaked speck of pancake, we wondered through the quartier, and between the warm breeze and rich sounds of the jazz band outside L’église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, I think it’s fair to say that Paris was, once again, basking in all her blazing glory.

Pont des Arts

What’s playing today?

Ritual Union by Little Dragon