If you’re anything like me, you’re thrilled that the season for summer fruits is finally in full swing. I like nothing better than returning from my market with a basket full of fresh peaches, nectarines, cherries, and whatever other fruits happen to look best that morning. And since I’ve started plying the Parisian vendors with Brownies, I’m getting much-desired VIP treatment at the market, and more often than not, there’s a few extra treats thrown in too. It’s nice to know that Parisians can be bought for the price of a simple square of chocolate.
While others may prefer to cloak summer fruits in fancy desserts, when the temperature starts soaring, the idea of standing in the kitchen for a few hours crafting some overwrought concoction has little appeal. And to be honest, it’s kind of a no-brainer when it’s this hot and I can be trying on jeans surrounded by Parisian jeunes hommes instead.
My appearance on a radio program recently prompted me to share two of my favorite summertime recipes: luscious White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream with Baked Nectarines and Cherries. During the summer I bake fruit all the time which doesn’t require standing over the stove. Invariably when I return from the market, I wasn’t able to resist anything, and I’m a hopeless wreck when confronted with everything so perfect this time of the year. But baking brings out the sweetness, softening fruits beautifully into this delectable compote, which is so seductively simple to spoon up with freshly-made ice cream.
For the baked fruit, I like to use light cassonade sugar, which is widely available in France. In the US, natural food stores and Trader Joe’s sell unrefined sugar, which is lighter than brown sugar but granulated and as easy to use as white sugar.
And since everyone gets their panties in a knot about making substitutions, yes, you can substitute 6 to 8 plums or fresh apricots for the nectarines, but be sure to use the larger amount of sugar since apricots get much more tart once they’re baked. They’ll also take less time to bake as well.
I know you’re going to ask about peaches (see, now you’re getting carried away…), but I find peaches soften too quickly and I prefer the tartness of nectarines. Plus nectarines don’t need to be peeled and really hold their shape much better than peaches. If cherries are out of season where you live, you can add a basket of fresh raspberries or blackberries when you take the fruit out of the oven, allowing the residual heat help them meld into the compote.
Lastly, some readers have asked me about ice cream makers so I’ve posted some tips in the previous entry if you’re thinking of purchasing one. They’re come way down in price in the past year and since I personally can’t imagine getting through the summer without homemade ice cream; you might think about making one your next purchase too.
White Chocolate And Fresh Ginger Ice Cream with Nectarine and Cherry Compote
Is there anything better than warm fruit, slightly-sweetened, topped with a scoop of ice cream melting on top or alongside? The creamy-sweet taste of white chocolate pairs marvelously with the piquant bite of fresh ginger. Just enough to serve as a pleasant contrast.
White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream
About 1 quart (1 liter)
- 3-inch piece (2 to 2 1/2 ounces) fresh ginger, unpeeled
- 2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
- 1 cup plus 1 cup heavy cream (500 ml, total)
- 8 ounces (230 g) white chocolate, finely chopped
- 5 large egg yolks
1. Slice the ginger thinly, cover it with water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook for 2 minutes. Drain away the water but return the blanched ginger to the pan. Add the sugar, the milk and 1 cup of heavy cream to the saucepan and re-warm the mixture.
Cover and steep for at least an hour, or until you are satisfied with the ginger flavor.
2. Put the chopped white chocolate in a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the ginger-infused cream mixture, whisking constantly as you pour in the warm cream. Pour the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Strain the custard into the white chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted. Discard the ginger. Add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and chill thoroughly. You can set the bowl over an ice bath to speed it up.
5. Chill mixture thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Nectarine and Cherry Compote
Four to Six Servings
I prefer my fruit less-sweetened, but you can add the larger amount of sugar if you like. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, just add a few drops of vanilla extract.
1 pound (450 g) fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 to 6 tablespoons sugar
optional: 2 tablespoons rum or kirsch
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (190 C).
1. Split the nectarines in half and pluck out the pits. Put them in a 2-quart baking dish with the cherries. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the fruit.
2. Mix in the sugar and rum or kirsch, if using.
3. Turn the nectarines so they’re cut side down, arranging them in an even layer with the cherries and tuck the vanilla bean underneath.
4. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, opening the oven door twice during baking so you can jostle the baking dish to encourage the juices to flow. The fruit is done when a sharp paring knife easily pierces the nectarines.
5. Remove from oven and serve warm, or at room temperature with a nice scoop of the White Chocolate and Fresh Ginger Ice Cream.
Storage: The compote can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
There are a few options to consider when buying an ice cream maker, but rest assured that there’s certainly one that’ll fit within any budget. I’ve had several readers inquiring about ice cream makers and although there’s extensive information in my book, The Perfect Scoop, here’s additional information about the various kinds that are available, to help you make your decision.
I’ve been using the Cuisinart ICE-50BC with excellent results for the past few years and could not live without it. Not only is the machine very efficient, the price is extraordinary for a self-refrigerating machine. Although if you are a novice, and only make ice cream on rare occasions, it does fall into the “investment” category.
My ice cream maker has been a real powerhouse and I consider it an indispensable part of my batterie de cuisine nowadays. Some people find the noise bothersome, but frankly—it is a machine and machines make noise. I keep mine in another room when in use.
I do recommend if you buy this machine to purchase a separate plastic churning arm. Mine lasted several years but eventually snapped and it’s nice to have a spare on hand.
UPDATE: Cuisinart has released a newer model of this machine, the ICE-100, which boasts a sleeker design and gets good reviews, too.
A lower-priced option is a machine such as the Cuisinart ICE-21. This machine is a excellent value. The only drawback is that you’ll need to pre-freeze the canister for 24 hours—no cheating!, before you plan to freeze your ice cream or sorbet. These machines make great ice cream and are extremely affordable.
If you have a KitchenAid mixer, their wildly-popular KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment works very well. I had the opportunity to use one during my visit to the KitchenAid factory, and was really impressed with the care and precision of this attachment.
Like everything they make, the ice cream attachment did a great job of churning up the various ice creams that I ran through it.
Note: If you live outside the United States, European KitchenAid mixers are different and the ice cream attachment made for US-models will not work with them.
You can also find more of my recommendations for machines and ice cream making equipment at Let’s Make Ice Cream!
There are two periods during the year when stores are allowed to have Les Soldes, or The Sales. They occur once in the winter, beginning shortly after New Years Day, while the summer soldes start in late June. Although Americans think its odd, the government’s official explanation is that les soldes give stores a chance to blow-out all last seasons merchandise quickly by creating a little frenzy. But I think another reason is to give the little stores a break, since as we’ve seen in America, often the smaller merchants get squeezed out by the big guys offering lower prices on things by holding sales all the time.
So onward to the BHV. What is the BHV, you ask? Imagine someone scouring the every corner of the world, looking for the least-helpful people on the planet. Then they hire them and put them in one enormous department store that’s impossible to navigate but full of everything imaginable and necessary for daily life in Paris, so you really have no choice but to shop there.
And those are the people in charge of helping you.
And now, you get the idea of the BHV.
So today is the first day of les soldes and I would say to anyone who has fantasies that Parisians are polite, classy, and sophisticated, hasn’t been elbowed out of the way in front of the bins at the BHV department store, strong-arming anyone who might get between them and something they want.
Or don’t want.
It doesn’t really matter.
And Parisians tend to go a little wild here, since in general, things like clothing and housewares are pretty expensive. I happened to be heading to the BHV this morning, since last night I switched on my desk lamp and blew out some fuses in my apartment. Although I was determined not to get involved in the hubbub, once inside I got caught up in the madness and thought, “Well, I guess I could use a new pair of jeans.” Last week I discovered a bare spot forming in a place where not a lot of people get a close look at, thinking their days are numbered.
To make a long story short, I never made it to the hardware department, but instead got taken in by the stacks and stacks of jeans that were all 30% off. Since you can’t get away with wearing American-style baggy-assed jeans in Paris, you need to wear pants that are well-fitted, snug-tight up against your rear end (no matter what you weigh.)
Our unless you’re under the age of 21. Then you wear jeans hanging halfway down your butt, but only as long as you’re wearing boxer shorts underneath rather than those Euro-sling undies and swimsuits that some men in my age (well above the age of 22) like to wear here.
Not finding what I liked, I left empty-handed. But with my adrenalin (or was it my morning cáfe au lait?) pumping, I raced to the Levi Store in the Bastille. Not quite busy yet (aha!, I beat those young folks wasting their lives away in school), the young salesmen were instantly drawn to me, amazed at the Levis that I was wearing, which were made with a special cut and fabric that I bought in San Francisco. So there I find myself, surrounded by handsome, unshaven, young French men, all oohing and aahing while staring at my butt and crotch, reaching over feeling the fabric, and closing in all around me. I don’t know if it was me, or the summer heat has finally arrived once and for all, but it was surely getting much warmer in there. And naturally, I decided right away that I needed a new pair of Levis, and this was the place I must get them.
Helping me find a style I liked, one of the friendly young men, wearing a well-fitted t-shirt (was it Levis? If so, I want one too.) He kept calling me jeaune homme (young man), while asking me what I thought about the style that he was wearing by running his hands up and down his thighs to emphasize and make sure I understood how good they fit (yes, I did.) So he hands me a few pairs of the same jeans to try on, and transfixed, I head to the dressing room.
Since we’re in France, there’s no need to be shy and he pops right in soon afterwards and starts surveying the fit by yanking and patting and making sure all button-fly’s buttons were laying properly, exclaiming how well they fit. Yes, they’re supposed to be that tight, he told me. And for additional emphasis, in case I didn’t quite get it (yes, I did) he makes doubly-sure with his hands that I know there’s little room in there for anything besides maybe a Euro-sling, and perhaps a few centimes or fuses (…fuses? What fuses?…) But certainly not much else.
Soon all the other boys, er, I mean jeaunes homes, came by and made sure I’m getting properly fitted, admiring my choice in jeans. When I questioned whether I might need a larger size, one turned to show me how his fit him, sliding precariously down his backside, and he asked me if I wanted to same. (Yes, I did.)
But instead I went home with the jeans I had on, at 20% off, back to my darker apartment, thinking I’ll go back first thing tomorrow and get fuses.
But perhaps if the BHV took a cue from Levis and hired a few of these helpful young men as salespeople, customers like me might leave their store happily with something more than just a fuse in their pocket.
47, Faubourg St. Antoine
Tél: 01 44 87 03 06
I am a bad food blogger.
I mean, who would post a picture like this?
The most successful and popular food blogs start with a clever idea or beautiful image, and generally follow it with a witty or an emotionally-involving story behind it all.
Instead I’m posting this picture of the room where was to spend the entire weekend locked inside, which was to be my private retreat. Think Edvard Munch and The Scream, and I think you get the idea of my internal torment.
Last week I had left Paris to work on my next book, since it’s impossible to get anything done around here with all the caramels, chocolates, and glasses of red wine interrupting all the time. So off I went to the countryside for the weekend, armed with my laptop, some paperwork, too-little chocolate (which I later discovered, in a panic) and a good book.
So I arrive, start unpacking, and Merde!, I forgot my powercord! No electricity, except for the few hours on my battery, which luckily was new enough to get my through the first day. Since I’m two hours from anywhere civilized, and the hope of finding an Apple retailer is undeniably nil (although there is a nice egg farm & retailer next door) I was stuck doing nothing but reading and baking all weekend. So when you buy my next book, and find the last third of it blank, you’ll know why.
But all was not lost, since the house was surrounded by red currant bushes and the branches were loaded with tiny red berries, I spent a good portion of the weekend picking the little red orbs, relieving the branches of the tiny clusters of gorgeous little fruits.
And as I greedily filling my mouth with the puckery berries, I was overcome with a feeling of having to bake something. So all was not lost, and bake something I did!
For dessert the first night, I made a terrific Rhubarb and Red Currant Crisp with Polenta Topping. I sliced rhubarb into little pieces (about 8 cups), tossed it with some sugar (about 1/2 cup), some flour (about 3 tablespoons), a vanilla bean, and a few big handfuls of freshly-picked red currants, and voila, we had dessert practically right from the garden. Except for the sugar and vanilla and flour, although the house was surrounded by wheat fields, which was too green to pick and mill into flour. And besides, I’m not thatcrazy. Although I did go picked some wheat and cracked it open, but it was too fresh and I’ll sadly have to wait a few more weeks.
Aside from red currants, there were black currants (cassis) too, but they weren’t quite ripe. But the white currants were sweet and lovely but too precious to cook with, so I enjoyed them right off the branches. And next time you, or anyone around you, complains about the price of a basket of berries, go outside and pick a few hundred red currants and tell me what you think each basket is worth.
There’s a few running debates about the price of locally-produced, hand-picked berries, but you’re welcome to post comments here. And if you feel like picking any red and black currants, we’re heading back in a few weeks and could use a few extra hands.
(Warning: The pay stinks, but the rewards are delicious.)
Oddly enough, last year I saw a few baskets of white currants in my local convenience store. (You know, the kind of place where you can buy milk or butter or wine on dimanche if you urgently run out.) In their tiny, miserable produce section, just next to the shriveled carrots and brown, wilted lettuce (who buys that?), there were three baskets of plump white currants, so I made a mental note that if it’s ever a Sunday and I need some white currants in an emergency, I’d know exactly where I could get some. But finding a powercord in an emergency?…c’est pas possible.
No, the grapes weren’t quite ripe for picking yet…
But the egg farm nearby had lots of fresh eggs, so I made a Tortilla Española with bacon, and pomme de ratte potatoes, which everyone tries to tell me are called ‘fingerling’ potatoes in America, but I don’t think they’re the same thing, since I’ve never tasted any potatoes in the states that were as good as these. But if anyone out there can define what exactly is a fingerling potato, please let me know. Is it just any tiny potato?
So since this is summer, I’m becoming obsessed with making a lot of fruit crisps (instead of earning a living). One of my favorite ways to top them, and to ensure they live up to their crispy moniker, is to make a topping with polenta, coarsely-ground cornmeal. It can be difficult to find in Paris, and although instant-polenta is available, I bought it once…and that was one time too many. (C’mon folks, we’re friggin’ right next door to Italy!) But I was happy a few years back to find a good source for coarse polenta at the Arab markets that I like to prowl through, which they stock in abundance.
Fruit crisps are perhaps the best and easiest of desserts to make during the summer, when all the great fruits and berries are at their peak. They’re incredibly easy to put together if you’re anything like me and keep a bag of Polenta Crisp Topping in the freezer, so you can make one at a moment’s notice. In general, I find that 2 to 4 tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of flour, plus a dash of vanilla is just about right for almost any mix of fruits and berries. Mix it all together and put it in a 2-quart baking dish. Cover with crisp topping and bake in a moderate oven until the fruit is bubbling and the top is crispy and nicely-browned.
If using plums or apricots, double the amount of sugar, since they get rather tangy once baked. Although I used rhubarb and red currants in mine, you can use any mixture of peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries, and plums. Add a few raspberries or blackberries as well. Although I wouldn’t necessarily use white currants, you’re certainly welcome to. But if it’s Sunday and you’re fresh out, go check at your corner store to see if they have any in stock.
There’s something nice about living in a country where it’s impossible to find a powercord in an emergency, but white currants are available whenever you need them. Talk about priorities!
(More pictures from the country are on my Flickr page.)
Polenta Crisp Topping
Enough for about 8 cups of fruit filling
3/4 cup (105 g) flour
2/3 cup (90 g) polenta
1/2 cup (55 g) almonds or walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (110 g) firmly packed light brown or cassonade sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 tablespoons (115 g) salted butter (chilled), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Put the flour, polenta, almonds or walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to mix everything together.
Add the chilled butter pieces and pulse until the butter is finely broken up. Continue to pulse until the crispy topping no longer looks sandy is just beginning to hold together.
If you don’t have a food processor, chop the nuts finely with a chef’s knife then work the butter in with your hands or use a pastry blender.
Storage: Topping can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen in a zip-top bag for up to one month.
Recipe Adapted From: Ripe For Dessert.
Summer is here in Paris. It arrived without warning last week and was brutal. It was hot, and it hit around 31°(about 88°) and so humid, I faced a real-meltdown of chocolate. And just about everything else around here, including me, suffered the same fate. Just when no one couldn’t bear it anymore, it stopped. Then we had rain and cool weather. It’s so other-worldly (hey…am I back in San Francisco?), but summer arriving means a lot less clothes, and since I’m now European, it’s obligatory that they’re much, much tighter. Damn Europeans and their fine-tailoring. So that means it’s time to pay for the last 8 months of eating too many pastries, tasting too many chocolates, snacking on too many macarons, and drinking perhaps a bit too much vin rouge. I don’t know if I can hold my stomach in consecutively for the next three months, but I’m going to try. I’ve unpacked my shorts for summer and they definitely are un peu serré.
Speaking of tightening my belt, last week I got to spend the morning at my favorite place in Paris, getting rid of a few excess US dollars I had lying around. My favorite place isn’t the Eiffel Tower nor the Louvre (they don’t take dollars), nor was it the Museé d’Orsay or the Jardin du Luxembourg. Yes, I got to go to the American Embassy, my favorite place in Paris! I like hanging out there, since everyone there understands me, unconditionally, and without judgment. There’s no raised eyebrows or startled expressions, like last week when I recently ordered ‘Big Turd Jam’ (confiture des grosse selles), when I meant red currant (confiture des groseilles). Luckily they were out of the first one.
But the American Embassy is great: I can argue back with impunity and get huffy with them. Hey, why not? I’m on equal turf, and I’m an American and my English is just as good as theirs.
And I can argue with anyone all I want and make perfectly-formed sentences with correctly-placed pronouns and not worry if this verb is masculine to I need to match the adjective to the gender as well, or decide if I need to decide which of the gazillion French verbs I need to conjugate correctly, unlike I have to do at the Préfécture.
What are they going to do if I screw it up my English at the US Embassy? Kick me out? Or in?
So there I was, on the rue St. Florentin, where I waited, stood in line, got scanned, went through the metal detector, then had my water bottle confiscated (I guess it’s a threat to national security), then headed to the IRS office. Being a foreign resident you get an automatic extension for paying your taxes, which comes in handy when the mail isn’t very reliable. I guess somehow they caught on and give us expats a break.
So in my bid to help fight the war on terror and make the world a safer place (though things don’t quite appear to be quite heading in that direction) I sat under the over-sized, overly-glossy, and over-polished pictures of George and Dick (whose has a rather curious smirk on his face for an ‘official’ portrait), and wrote my checks.
And prayed things wouldn’t get any worse.
And in fact, for me, they were about to get better.
A whole lot better.
Since I was in the neighborhood (well, not really, but since I left my neighborhood, I’m gonna stretch it), I decided to visit chocolatier Jacques Genin. A lot of people talk about M. Genin with a hushed reverence and most of it is directed at his terrific chocolates. But one bite of his Passion Fruit Caramels and I’m singing a different tune. And you’ll be too.
I had stopped at a bakery down the street for bread and noticed les palets Breton, delicate buttery cookies made from salted butter, so I bought a stack. Four was the minimum for some reason… this from the country where you can buy half a baguette for 42 centimes, and when madame wants to buy one fig, madame will be given the same courtesy and service (and take as much time) as, say, an American pastry chef trying to race through the market buying a flat of figs or a few kilos of nectarines to test recipes.
So I bought four, but M. Genin was happy to relieve me of half of them. In exchange, he swooped his hands into the tray he was wrapping of caramels and stuffed them in my bag (and those caramels are as precious as gold, since you can’t buy them in stores.) As you can see, each caramel is buttery, tender, and keeps its shape just long enough to get it into your mouth, where it dissolves into an explosion of creamy-smooth sweet goo, slightly tangy from the passion fruit, with exactly enough of the tropical pulp to offset the restrained sweetness of the caramel.
So I can’t say I’m going to get any thinner, or my shorts will soon fit better, or when I hit the beach in August, I’ll be turning any heads. But when you have a guy like Jacques Genin feeding you chocolates and handing you caramels, who cares if your belt needs to be loosened out a notch.
133, rue de Turenne
Tel: 01 45 77 29 01
NOTE: This post was updated in 2009, and now M. Genin has his own boutique in Paris, at the address above, which is open to the public.
Want to know what’s it like to visit one of the finest chocolate shops in Paris?
258, blvd St. Germain
Tél: 01 45 55 66 00
Once upon a time, I worked in a restaurant that was well-known for using ingredients of exceptional quality. The most magnificent fruits and vegetables would come barreling through our kitchen door every day, from plump, rare black raspberries to teeny-tiny wild strawberries, fraises des bois.
While I can’t really guess the psychology behind it, we would often treat these marvels like precious jewels, reserving them for the perfect moment.
Or we’d just forget about them, then throw them away.
Unfortunately, because they were so fragile, they’d often last no longer than a day or so, and we’d arrive the next morning to find they hadn’t been used the previous evening and had to be tossed. While I don’t want to apologize or make excuses for this inexcusable behavior, restaurants are odd places full of strange people acting unusual…and no, it’s not just the customers. There’s mis-communications, too much going on all at once, and frankly, things don’t always happen like they should. And don’t tell me that you haven’t let something accidentally spoil in under your eagle-eye either.
Because I’m not buying it.
So one day, one of the other cooks started to dub things as they came through the door, “Too good to use.”
He used the phrase to refer to things that were so special, that we just couldn’t bear to use them. And soon, the rest of us picked up the phrase too, and when something beautiful would arrive, it became the joke to label it as being something that was “too good to use.”
So, last year when I led an Italian Chocolate Tour through Tuscany and Torino, we stopped at Slitti in the tiny town of Monsummano Terme. Although Slitti started out in 1969 as a coffee-roasting company, Andrea Slitti (the son of the founder) started applying his roasting expertise to chocolate-making and now Slitti is regarded as one of the top chocolate-makers in the world. After our visit, on the way out, Palmira Slitti (Andrea’s wife who runs the shop) pressed a jar of their Crema da spalmare al Cioccolato Fondente ricca di nocciole into my already loaded-up bag of chocolates with a cheerful ciao bella.
When I got home, I put the jar on my kitchen shelf so I could admire it, and it sat there day-after-day. Each day I would gaze up, all glassy-eyed, imagining the chocolate-y goodness through the glass of the jar, and I could practically taste the tiny bits of roasted Piedmontese hazelnuts, embedded in a rich, dark chocolate paste that were speckled throughout.
One day I decided it was no longer “too good to use” and abruptly pulled the jar down from its perch, opened it up, and with knife poised, got ready to spread.
Instead of dipping into the tasty spread, I peered inside first and saw that the entire surface was covered with green, dusty mold. Ick! So at 6:30am, I had the unenviable task of cleaning moldy chocolate. Not a pretty thing to wake up to. I managed to get all visible signs of mold off, then I poured in a shot of Jack Daniels (which around here is definitely not too-good-to-use) and swished it around to kill any microscopic traces of green hairiness.
Thankfully I didn’t toss it, and the hazelnut-chocolate paste was the best I’ve ever tasted. Unlike commercial hazelnut and chocolate spreads, this crema da spalmare from Slitti was made from the best, just-blended chocolate imaginable, studded with the world-famous Piedmontese hazelnuts from Langhe. And I’ve been enjoying it for the past few weeks, the warm weather in Paris makes it the perfect spreadable (ie: heap-able) consistency for my morning toast.
So maybe you have something in your cabinet, something you picked up on a trip that you’re holding on to. Or do you have a bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Or is there something else that’s so special that you can’t bear to open it?
Do you have something that’s “too good to use”?
Cioccolato e Caffè
Via Francesca Sud, 1268