Friday, 31 January 2014

An interesting perspective

Since I started this blog, I have learnt so much about pȃtisserie. The weekly challenges have lead me to research how many classical recipes have been made and to learn the basic techniques, and it's been a whole load of fun sharing them with you here. However, this week, I read an interview in a French magazine that has seriously altered my outlook about how I go about this.

The interview in question was one with Philippe Conticini, whose Pȃtisserie des Rêves in the Rue du Bac, I have visited a couple of times. Conticini is perhaps the most revered and admired pȃtissier in France today and his influence is widely felt. He was the first person, back in the 1990s to serve a dessert in a drinking glass, a practice so common in France today that they sell special glasses just for this; his reinvention of the Paris-Brest, a choux bun in the shape of a bicycle wheel filled with cream, has now become the standard version of the cake and has been copied by all the top pȃtissiers in the country. I could go on, but basically, Conticini is the closest thing that France has to a pastry god, and he's only fifty. 

Pȃtisserie des Rêves, 93 Rue du Bac, Paris

In the interview he talks about how he approaches recipe development: 'I have a golden rule when I revisit a traditional French pastry: I have to include absolutely all the principal ingredients of the original recipe ... I immerse myself completely in the original recipe until I understand all the steps involved in making it. Once I have grasped and analyzed the method, I finally begin to work on my own way of doing things.'

It has become clear to me that this is what I need to do. I need to perfect the traditional recipes first and then I can start to add my own ideas and flair, taking the work of my favorite pȃtissiers  like Christophe Michalak for inspiration. 

For Christmas, I received a copy of the amazing Patisserie! by Christophe Felder, which is like a textbook of the classic french pȃtisserie techniques. I am going to work my way through the recipes in that, and blog about them, and then start to create my own versions and post the recipes. A slightly new twist, a little way into the New Year, but then today is the first day of the Chinese Year of the Horse. 

This weekend, I am going to make a traditional tarte au citron from page 38 of Felder's book, which features pȃte sucrée, one of the basic pastries. Then later in the week, I will create my own version and post the recipe.  So watch this space for both of them and enjoy the photos to come. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Challenge of the Week #5

Like most French patisserie the true origin of the small cakes known as madeleines is lost in the mists of time. However, also like most French patisserie, there is creation myth, in fact two. It’s generally agreed that they were named after a cook called Madeleine Paulmier, but one version has her living in the 19th century and the other has her working in the 18th century, for Stanisław Leszczyński, ex-King of Poland, Duke of Lorraine, and father-in-law to King Louis XV.  Leszczyński subsequently introduced them to the court at Versailles ensuring their entrance into the canon of French cuisine. 

The second story rings true, because the town of Commercy, within the Duchy of Lorraine, claims them as their own a claim supported by the early 20th century writer Marcel Proust who mentions them in his classic À la recherche du temps perdu. ‘Mentions’ in fact is an understatement, since Proust devotes no less than 1,043 words singing the praises of this little cake, which he finds a most sensual experience.

As Proust puts it, the cakes are baked in a special tin that makes them look as if they were ‘molded in a fluted scallop shell’. The top of the madeleine is supposed to rise dramatically in the middle which Proust describes as ‘richly sensual under the severe and pious pleating’. If you look the photographs, I think you can see what this typically French man was thinking about. One side is like a ridge bishop’s mitre, while the other has a baby bump.

The baby bump is formed by creating a ‘thermal shock’ achieved by cooking the cakes in a very hot oven and then lowering the temperature for the rest of the cooking. The cooking time is very short, which combined with a process of resting the batter, contributes to a very light but moist cake which can actually be heard to sigh when you bite into it. You, see, I am turning into Proust.

To make madeleines properly you need a special mold, which is available all over France, quelle surprise, but also widely available elsewhere. Here is a link to, for example, You can flavor the madeleine with vanilla, orange water, or as is traditional lemon zest. Whatever you choose the flavor should be subtle and delicate just suggested in the background to the, sumptuous, elegant sponge.

The recipe below is a classic one, but in future weeks I plan to revisit the madeleine perhaps taking it to some very surprising places. But for now, sit back and enjoy the taste and perhaps compare it to Proust’s experience.


Active time: 20 mins
Total time: 1 hr

1 lemon
90g / 6 tbsp butter
3 eggs
110g / 4oz flour
100g / 1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and let it cool for about five minutes.
3. Remove the zest of the lemon using a potato peeler; chop into small pieces using a sharp knife.
4. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl with a whisk The mixture should thicken slightly and be very frothy.
5. Add the flour and baking powder and mix with the whisk until incorporated. Then add the butter and the lemon zests. The result will be a batter which falls off the whisk in ribbons.
6. Leave the batter to rest for 30 minutes. During this time you can grease the molds with butter.
7. Using a piping bag, half fill the molds with the batter. Then bake for 4 minutes. Lower the oven to 200°C / 400°F and bake for a further 8 minutes.
8. Leave the madeleines to cool a little before removing them from the molds.

The top side of the madeleines showing the 'baby bump'.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Post holiday vacation

As you will have noticed, I have taken a few days off after all that Christmas baking but will be back later this week with new recipes from Paris. Happy New Year!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Challenge of the Week #4

The challenge: The classic post Christmas cake the galette des rois

On 26 December, through the magic of Christmas, the bûches de Noël disappear from the pȃtisseries of Paris, and in their place appear flat discs of puff pastry, destined to be eaten on the Feast of the Epiphany or the Fȇte des Rois, celebrated on the Sunday closest to January 6. They tend to come in three varieties, some with plain tops, some with simple geometric designs, and others with elaborate patterns of laurel leaves, rather like the gold, frankincense and myrrh offered to the baby Jesus by the three Kings. 

Biting into the cripsy exterior, your mouth fills with a sweet almond frangipane as flakes of pastry fall like needles from the Christmas tree to cover the floor. But let the eater beware, for one lucky person will have, concealed in their slice the fève, orignally, as the name suggests, a bean, but now more commonly a ceramic figure from the Christmas story. Tradition dictates that the youngest person present must sit under the dining table while the galette is cut and chooses the order in which the slices will be distributed. On finding the fève you have the honor of being crowned King for the day, with a cardboard crown supplied with the galette

A selection of traditional fèves

In keeping with the commercialization of Christmas, you will often see galettes sold in the supermarket with fèves in the shape of cartoon characters, or whichever children's film is popular that year. This year, for example, my local supermarket was touting the rather bizarre concept of galettes concealing Bilbo Baggins. 

The recipe for the galette des rois is quite simple in itself, but it calls for pȃte feuilletée, which as you will remember from my last post, is anything but simple. If making the recipe below, you can either make your own, or do as many French people do nowadays, and buy it ready made from the shop. 

Here is a link to a round of up of the galettes des rois created this year by the top pȃtissieres here in Paris. 

La galette des rois

Active time: 20 mins
Total time: 1 hr

500g pȃte feuilletée (puff pastry)

For the frangipane:
125g / 4 tbsp butter
125g / 5/8 cup sugar
125g / 1 cup powdered almonds
2 whole eggs
1 tsp almond essence

For the glaze:1 whole egg, beaten

1. Make the puff pastry, if you are starting from scratch, and give it four turns only. 

2. Make the frangipane. Beat the butter and sugar together using a whisk or an electric mixer. Add the powdered almonds and mix well. Then beat in the eggs and the almond essence. 

3. Roll and cut out two large discs of the pȃte feuilletée (approximately 8 inches each). Put the frangipane into a piping bag and then, leaving about an inch  at the edge, pipe a spiral into the center of one of the discs. Take the fève and push it into the frangipane in a random place. 

4. Using a pastry brush, wet the exposed edge of the pastry with water. Then cover the whole with the second disk and press down to stick the edges of the disks together. Brush the whole of the surface with beaten egg and leave in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes. 

5. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 390°F Brush the surface with a second layer of egg and then make a small hole in the centre with a knife. Score a pattern on the top with a sharp knife, being careful not to cut through the pastry. 

6. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes and then a further 10 minutes with the oven door open. Bon appetit!

I decided on a star design for my galette in keeping with the Epiphany story.