We have a winner!
Everyone did their best, and most of you got the 3. Fruitcakes and 4. Tube of Sweetened Condensed Milk correct, but only one could figure out one of the other two.
So after much guessing about the items, here are the answers for the Culinary Contest…
1. Le farz.
This is a linen sack specifically made for making Kig ha Farz, a buckwheat dumpling from Brittany that’s simmered for an hour, then rolled to make little couscous-like nuggets. Although the bag doesn’t look very pretty simmering away, I’ve added a new of starch to my repertoire!
You can view my previous entry here for Kig ha Farz, and I use the recipe from Susan Loomis’ excellent book, The French Farmhouse Cookbook.
2. Hello Judith and Judy?
No one got this one at all.
This is orzo, deep, dark-roasted barley powder that’s becoming widely known in Italy (of all places), as a coffee substitute. It’s brewed like espresso and I bought this sack from Slitti, a great chocolate-maker in Tuscany. Orzo is becoming common in caffès and restaurants since some Italians are concerned about the amount of coffee they’re drinking…if you can believe it. I guess if I lived in Italy and had unlimited access to that extraordinary espresso each and every day, I’d get a bit concerned as well.
3. Date, Candied Ginger, and Pineapple Fruitcakes.
Since both my internet AND cable television have been down for over two long weeks although they finally gave me an appointment…in three weeks, at the end of November! You may now stop sending me comments like, “You’re so lucky to live in France!“)
So consequently, I’ve had lots and lots and lots of time on my hands and, like, what am I gonna do, read a book and get all literate? Well, okay, I did go to the Musee de Picasso yesterday in the Marais which was amazing…and I read a great book, yes a real book, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which I loved, and started another book about a hermaphrodite that everyone tells me is great, and got a new baking book in the mail from Nick Malgieri, and I was going to see A History of Violence today but thought it might freak me out, and I’ve been so out-of-sorts not having any connection to the outside world.
Who’s been indicted?
Who’s Jennifer Aniston dating?
Can Madonna’s career be resuscitated?
Anyhow…so I’ve been baking up a storm: Persimmon Breads, Apple and Cranberry Crisp with Polenta Topping, Dulce de Leche Ice Cream (two times), and Vanilla-Buttermilk Pound Cakes…plus I made Kig ha Farz…two more times.
And I decided to make a bakery-sized batch of the Date, Candied Ginger, and Pineapple Fruitcake from Ripe For Dessert.
Cheesecloth, as I know it, doesn’t exist in Paris (like customer service from your internet provider.)
But I found the French version in the fabulous fabric market of the Marché St. Pierre at the foot of Montmarte…étamine, a lovely, gauze-like cotton cloth that makes a far more beautiful wrapper for holiday cake gift-giving. I soaked the étamine in lots of whisky and wrapped the cakes and now they’re happily resting on shelves all around my apartment, soaking in their boozy blankets.
I have a feeling around Christmas, I’m going to have a lot of very happy friends…if the cakes stick around that long.
4. Nestlé Sweetened Condensed Milk
Even though France is justly famous for the most amazing dairy products on earth, for some reason, the milk selection is sorely lacking. More often than not, you’ll find ultra-sterilized (UHT) milk and cream, as well as an assortment of other Franken-dairy products, with happy names like Gloria™, a canned sweetened milk intended for coffee, as well as little packets of maybe-once-upon-a-dairy products that make Kraft Singles™ look like triple-crème Brie de Meaux.
But I was intrigued by this tube of sweetened condensed milk and wondered why anyone would put it in a tube? So I flipped it over, and there was a serving suggestion, a picture of someone squeezing it directly into their mouths. Ick! Would someone really do that?
(Ok, I did…hey, hmm, hey not too bad….)
So our lucky winner will get a personalized copy of The Great Book of Chocolate as a holiday gift.
The rest of you may just have to gift yourself a copy!…
Like most Americans, I’ve discovered that French people also aren’t so familiar with persimmons either. They see them at the market, but don’t stop to buy any. Or if they do, they take them home, bite into an unripe one, make a face, and toss ‘em out.
One of my friends living north of San Francisco in Sonoma County had a enormous persimmon tree. Each fall, the leaves would drift off the tree, leaving bright orange globes of fruit dangling off the sparse branches. The beautiful, gnarled wood was quite a contrast to the smooth, brilliantly-colored orbs of fruit. (The wood of the persimmon tree is not just beautiful but it’s prized by makers of many of the finest golf clubs in the world and is considered superior to most others woods or man-made materials.)
The most common persimmon you’re likely to find is the Hachiya, a slightly elongated fruit that tapers to a point. They’re incredibly tannic and astringent when not ripe and need to be squishy-soft and feel like a full water-balloon before using, or you’ll be sorry. Once ripe, the sweet jelly-like pulp can be spooned out and pureed through a blender, food processor, or food mill, although some folks like to eat it as is or frozen. The pulp freezes beautifully, and in fact, I’ll often freeze some for late-winter use.
To ripen a Hachiya persimmon, simply let it sit on your countertop until it’s so soft, it’s like a water balloon about to burst. You can hasten the process by putting persimmons in a well-sealed container; adding an apple, which give off a lot of ethyline gas, which will speed things up.
The other common persimmon is the Fuyu, which is more squat than the Hachiya and matte-orange. Unlike the Hachiya, the Fuyu is meant to be eaten hard and is delightfully crunchy. I peel them, then mix pieces into an autumnal fruit salad along with dates, slices of Comice pears, pomegranate seeds and yes…even some bits of prunes!
Finding recipes for using persimmons can be difficult. I invented a recipe for a quick Persimmon Cake for my book Room For Dessert, which I make often for Thanksgiving. And I also like James Beard’s Persimmon Bread, a nifty recipe from his classic book on breadmaking, Beard on Bread, published over 30 years ago.
I was fortunate to meet James Beard several times when he came to dinner at Chez Panisse. In the years after he passed away, we’d get all sorts of celebrity chefs breezing through our kitchen. Many of them were hyped, media-created hotshot superchefs who I never found as interesting as people like James Beard, Jane Grigson, and Richard Olney, who were really wonderful writers.
The most charming thing about this simple Persimmon Bread recipe is that Beard gives bakers an inexact amount of an ingredient: sugar. So go ahead just this one time to improvise a little. Although I recommend using the higher amount of sugar, feel free to use whichever quantity you’d like…after all, you have permission from the granddaddy of all cooks, James Beard himself.
Two 9-inch Loaves
Using the higher amount of sugar will produce a moister and, of course, sweeter bread.
Adapted from Beard on Bread by James Beard.
- 3½ cups sifted flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 to 2½ cups sugar
- 1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
- 2/3 cup Cognac, bourbon or whiskey
- 2 cups persimmon puree (from about 4 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)
- 2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped
- 2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates)
1. Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins.
5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Storage: Will keep for about a week, if well-wrapped, at room temperature. The Persimmon Breads take well to being frozen, too.
It’s pretty unusual to find anything in Paris at a discount, so imagine my surprise when I came upon this rarity:
When I got to the place, however, that a cone of ice cream was 5€ ($6).
Gulp! I guess the concept of le discount isn’t quite yet fully-understood in Paris…spoilsports!
So I decided it’s time for a contest around here.
Yes, the winner will get a free, personally-autographed copy of The Great Book of Chocolate.
Here’s the contest…
These are 4 culinary-related items.
The first person who can correctly name at least 3 of them, will win a copy of The Great Book of Chocolate.
How many can you identify?
Leave entries under ‘Comments’…contest ends November 15th, 2005.
Certainly one of the most stunning pastry shops in Paris is Sadaharu Aoki. It’s so well-regarded that I ran into a famous chocolatier from the neighborhood during my last visit, who was picking up his goûter, or afternoon snack, as they call it in Paris. We recognized each other and he smiled at me while choosing a Thé Vert Napoléan; layers of vivid green tea pastry cream stacked between dark-golden puff pastry. (In French, a Napoléon is called a mille-feuille.) A wise choice since Sadaharu Aoki is considered the Parisian master of puff pastry. After one buttery, crackly bite…you’d agree.
It was a long and difficult decision, but I chose this perfect Chocolate and Salted Butter-Caramel Tart for my goûter. It was extraordinarily good. Buttery-crisp pâte sucée filled with rich and salty caramel that oozed out when I attacked it with my fork. On top sat a spiral of milk chocolate mousse, so soft and so creamy.
Macaron-lovers will swoon over flavors like caramel and chocolate, but also more creative confections that include yuzu, red bean paste, and green tea.
Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki
35, rue de Vaugirard
56, Boulevard Port Royal
After the end of a long week: I renewed my Carte de Sejour, braved the hectic but incredibleMarché St. Pierre at the foot of Montmarte…and tried to get an answer about why after 10 days, I still don’t have internet access or cable tv.
With all that stress, I felt it was an absolute necessity to visit Ladurée twice this week, especially since all my homemade chocolate macarons got wolfed down at a friend’s birthday party and I forgot to stash away a few for myself. I needed to get my fix…and I needed it fast.
But sometimes life tosses the weak a life preserver, namely chocolate-covered macarons – where have they been all my life?
16, rue Royale
75, avenue des Champs Elysées
21, rue Bonaparte
– Check out my recipe to make your own French chocolate macarons at home. Dipping in chocolate is optional…
Welcome To Prune Blogging Thursday!
I was, frankly, a bit surprised that anyone but me participated…but most of the prune-skeptics out there seem to have been won over. Participants were from all over the world: Italy, Estonia, France, Scotland, Spain, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Thanks to everyone for sending me your entries and I encourage readers out there to visit their web sites to read about their prune-alicious adventures.
In spite what I now see as a highly-organized, internationally-recognized conspiracy against prunes, here are entries from all over the world.
Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!
The divine Judy of Over a Tuscan Stove has a savory and amazing recipe for Cinghiale in Dolce Forte, adapted from an ancient recipe. Her wild boar stew has nice plump prunes…along with a suspicion of chocolate!
The zesty red-headed Laura of Cucina Testa Rossa began a torrid love affair with, what she writes, “the most expensive prunes in the world”, the famed Stuffed Prunes from Agen. Then she went on to make a creamy Glace de Pruneaux d’Agen et Armagnac, Prune & Armagnac ice cream, making full use of her new ice cream freezer.
Fellow Parisian Christine who resides at Chez Christine presents a stunning Terrine de Canard aux Pruneaux et a l’Armagnac (Duck Terrine with Prunes and Armagnac) along with the recipe, which sounds worth tackling for the holidays.
Or perhaps she’s taking orders?
Zorra, from Andalucia, Spain, made some fabulous tapas of Sherry-Soaked Prunes in Bacon, a variation of the delicious bacon-wrapped dates which I’ve had grilled and served in many tapas bars. I can’t wait to try it with prunes and it’s simple enough for anyone to make…no matter where you live.
My gal Alicat slinks in with two original tarts; Apricot & Prune Tart, and Dark Chocolate, Pecan, & Prune Tart. Both tarts look terrific and she and I did a mind-meld and were the only ones who combined chocolate with prunes in our desserts.
Peter at Tea Leaves found his own translation for pruneaux d’Agen. And even if a scholar of the French language might take exception to his method, his entry How To Eat Prunes had me eying my prized bottle of Armagnac in anticipation of making his boozy infusion.
I was almost afraid to open Lindy’s post at Toast since it was titled “Nightingale with Prunes”. But instead of something ‘fowl’, I found a delicate and delicious prune-presentation inspired by a recipe from pastry hero Pierre Hermé.
Pille, an Estonian living in Scotland, who’s captivating blog presents an I Am So Good For You Prune Cake called hapukoorekook kuivatatud ploomidega, (although she slipped once and called it ‘plum juice’ when she meant ‘prune juice’). In spite of the, er, high-fiber benefits of prunes, her recipe packs in some extra wheat bran!
My Amateur Gourmet Survivor, Melissa, survived her search for two prune recipes and discovered an Iranian Prune Stew and a ‘Plumb’ Cake that I could almost smell just looking at the pictures.
Marc gave prunes, what he calls, “some X-appeal”, and he re-created my pal and baking guru Nick Malgieri’s X-Cookies, using a gift from his ex. Hmmm…he looks like he’s become an X-pert in cookie-making.
Ulrike made a stunning Couscous Tabbouleh with Glazed Prunes, a trans-Atlantic combination of organic California Prunes cooked up in Germany. (Check out the swirly Apfelrezepte carving off to the side of the blog too!) Ulrike wasn’t the only one who looked to the Middle East for inspiration…
Another Scottish import (seems like a trend, Scottish food bloggers!), Iain, presents a Beef in Beer with Guiness-Soaked Prunes that looks like just the thing for that blustery winter coming soon to Scotland.
Over in LA, Rachel makes one of my favorite snacks, Dried Plum Financiers and offers an explanation of their mysterious journey from ‘prunes’ to ‘dried plums’.
Sarah Lou from Canada made a flaky Moroccan Basteeya Pie, which is one of my all-time favorite dishes; layers of filo dough brushed with butter then filled with shredded chicken, cinnamon, and a touch of sweetness.
Michele said I gave her the courage to tackle prunes in a Lamb Tagine with Prunes. While I appreciate her kinds words, I think comparing me to her grandmother in her post means I deserve some delicious gift, don’t you?
Perhaps some salted-butter caramels Michele?
And Melissa said , “Okay, David, you’ve won. Then she came out with a lovely Whiskied Prune and Custard Tart that features a juicy prune filling spilling out from a flaky tart filling. She did mention she still felt unease when cooking with prunes (wait ’til tomorrow if you want to feel uneasy, Melissa…)
When I’m not using his blog for my socio-political rants, fish-headed Brett stewed up a lovely melagne of Masala Chai Poached Prunes which combines sublime Indian spices with smoky Assam tea, creating a nice warm bath for his prunes from Casa Gispert in Barcelona, one of my favorite food places in the world.
I will forgive Fatemeh for calling me neurotic (after all, Woody Allen’s made a career out of it…why can’t I?) Especially since she’s driving me across the Bay Area soon in our pursuit of the best Chinese dim sum soon. So I was afraid she might make Prune dim sum, but instead found inspiration in a recipe from her childhood, which Prune Blogging Thursday happily rekindled: Toss Kabak, a savory Meat and Prune Stew with the addition of quince.
Molly of Orangette, I thought, would dip her prunes in delicious dark chocolate, but instead stewed up a storm with Stewed Prunes with Cinnamon and Citrus, which she’s going to “stew us into submission” with. Glad she overcame her friend’s giggling fits when she told them about prunes. I mean, when her friend gets old and wrinkly, I hope no one’s giggling at her!
And a few late entries…
Cathy sent in her recipe and photos for Prune Bread from her blog at My Little Kitchen.
Spicy Prune Mole from Jocelyn at Brownie Points using Dagoba organic chocolate, which is one of my favorite chocolates.
Alanna from A Veggie Venture has a Prune Tsimmes.
And from Barrett at Too Many Chefs, Bleu Cheese, Prune, and Onion Tart, and from Meg, who actually loves prunes and is under 60 years old (it was our visit to the farm expo here in Paris that prompted prune-madness) and posted her idea of The Best Thing To Do With Prunes. Find out for yourself at Too Many Chefs.
And from Elizabeth, there an Icelandic Prune Layer Cake and a savory Chicken (or Lamb) Couscous with Prunes and Apricots from another part of the world. Prune lovers unite!
Prune Blogging Thursday gave me the courage to perfect my recipe for making chocolate French-style Macarons with your choice of a creamy chocolate ganache filling, or an Armagnac-scented prune filling.
Thanks again to everyone for participating in the first, the original, (and the only) Prune Blogging Thursday.
(PS: All my chocolate macarons are gone! They were quickly wiped out at my friend Heather’s 30th birthday party this weekend. Thanks for asking.)
One of the most vexing tasks some bakers come across is making the perfect Parisian macaron, those ethereal little domes of almond meringue seen all over Paris, often filled with buttercream, ganache, or a fruity filling of jam. Although the original macaron didn’t have filling, but were simply fused together while warm.
So I decided to create two recipes for chocolate macarons: one with an Armagnac-scented prune filling, and another with the a pure, dark chocolate filling.
Tender, picture-perfect macarons are not easy to make. Les Macarons are all about technique, rather than about just following a recipe. Armed with a good recipe, almost anyone can make a decent brownie. You just mix, pour, and bake. I’m also a firm believer in cultural divides; there are some foods from other cultures are best left to their home turf. I’ve never had a great Madeleine in America and if you’ve ever had a ‘croissan-wich’ in the US, you know what I mean.
Using my anti-globalization stance as an excuse, I’ve never tackled macarons until I moved to France. But here I am and I have no excuse.
I phoned my friend Rob who worked at Fauchon, and he warned that the batter for perfect macarons needs to be folded just-so. One extra fold, and it’s all over. Not enough, and you won’t get that little foot. And he also advised that the chocolate macarons were the most difficult of all to get right But since those are my favorite, I was determined to get them right, no matter how many batches I had to make.
Curiously, many recipes warn to let the piped cookies sit for two hours before baking to develop a shell. Testing that theory, I baked one tray right away which rose nicely but didn’t have the perfect ‘foot’. Two hours later, I baked the second baking sheet, the same mixture, the only difference was letting it sit. The second batch rose and had a nice little ‘foot’ around each.
I spoke with my friend from Fauchon again, who said, “Let them sit for a few hours? No way, we just popped those suckers in the oven right away.”
So I tried another batch, baking them off as soon as I piped them out. This time the first batch had the perfect ‘foot’ and the second batch didn’t. Then I made yet another batch, where I tried rapping the baking sheet hard on the counter top to flatten the batter before baking, and that first batch looked great with little ‘feet’ but the second batch I baked later formed little domes.
Determined, another batch followed. I took the advisement of Pierre Hermé who says to begin baking macarons at a very high temperature, then turn it down quickly. That caused all the macarons to crack (ouch!) which I knew could be alleviated by using double-baking sheets but I didn’t feel like trying it again and washing all those dishes.
Anyhow, to make a long story short(er), here’s the successful recipe I came up with after seven tries, which are perfect. You can choose from either filling.
Makes about fifteen cookies
Adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway) by David Lebovitz
- 1 cup (100 gr) powdered sugar
- ½ cup powdered almonds (about 2 ounces, 50 gr, sliced almonds, pulverized)
- 3 tablespoons (25 gr) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 5 tablespoons (65 gr) granulated sugar
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces (120 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 gr) butter, cut into small pieces
15 medium prunes (pitted), about 5 ounces (150 gr) prunes
2½ ounces (70 gr) best-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Armagnac
Preheat oven to 350º F (180º C).
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.
Grind together the powdered sugar with the almond powder and cocoa so there are no lumps; use a blender or food processor since almond meal that you buy isn’t quite fine enough.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until very stiff and firm, about 2 minutes.
Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten the macarons, then bake them for 15-18 minutes. Let cool completely then remove from baking sheet.
To make the prune filling:
Cut the prunes into quarters and pour boiling water over them. Cover and let stand until the prunes are soft. Drain.
Squeeze most of the excess water from prunes and pass through a food mill or food processor.
Melt the milk chocolate and the Armagnac in a double boiler or microwave, stirring until smooth. Stir into the prune puree. Cool completely to room temperature (it will thicken when cool.)
To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.
Spread a bit of batter on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together. (You can pipe the filling it, but I prefer to spread it by hand; it’s more fun, I think.)
I also tend to overfill them so you may or may not use all the filling.
Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.
For further information, troubeshooting, and tips about making macarons, visit my post Making French Macarons.
Related Posts and Recipes
Pierre Hermé’s Ketchup Macarons (Recipe)
I Love Macarons (Recipe Book)
Chocolate-Coconut Macarons (Recipe)