Breakfast in Paris

J’adore Paris. It’s as simple as that. After my first trip, 27 years ago, not so much. But we’ve both mellowed a bit, Paris and I. She is more accepting of visitors, especially if you make an attempt at being polite in her language – bon jour madame or monsieur goes a long way. As does s’il vous plait, or please. I am more tolerant of her idiosyncratic bureaucracy – things open and close according to forces that are not in my control; if someone can’t help you, wait 10 minutes or 24 hours, and, often, they can or will. I don’t know why. C’est la vie.

Terrorism has changed a lot of life. There are now threat alerts posted at major locations. There are armed – as in machine gun armed, military personnel in the subway checking ID and at attractions patrolling. The Eiffel Tower base is now barricaded do prevent explosive vans from blowing the whole thing, along with the people visiting, up.

But a lot hasn’t changed. Parisians get up. Get on the subway. Stop at cafés. And have croissants – some much better than others. But nearly all better than what we can buy here.  Our guide noted, however, that doctors recommend eating no more than 3 per week.

We weren’t there to listen to doctors. We were there to eat and drink in all things Paris – from the croissants, to the metro, to the churches, to the museums, to the shops, restaurants, cafés, and, to even have a picnic dinner in the park watching the Eiffel Tower put on its nightly light show while men with green plastic bags hawked Champagne, wine, and beer to fellow visitors. It was heavenly. Where else could you buy a salted caramel and chocolate Pot de Crème in a supermarket.

This visit, in addition to buying the Seine River cruise and the Catacombs tickets (if you buy in advance the line is only about 30 minutes instead of the normal 90 minutes to 2 hours or more), I booked a 3-hour croissant class at La Cuisine Paris. The cooking school, which offers classes in English and was highly recommended in a New York Times review of cooking classes.

It certainly lived up to its reputation. La Cuisine Paris offers many classes, including a market shopping class that includes making lunch or dinner, macaroons, baguette, etc. But, for my daughter and I, learning to make the basic French pastry was the ultimate experience.

Our teacher, Guillaume, was from Marseilles and trained in Lyon – the epicenter of French cooking. His English was perfect, as was his ability to teach to all levels in our class, which included a Canadian student who had spent the year in Paris and whose mother told him to come home having learned how to cook something. There were several amateur pastry makers – American and Canadian, two novices (including my daughter, 14), and a Paris dweller.

We learned the three keys to the perfect pastry – butter (must be at least 82 percent butterfat which is typically found in European butters but not American, which requires 80 percent), technique, and time.

About the butter – this is really crucial. Guillaume recommended we buy President in the United States. Or basically any French butter. I didn’t really understand until I read Dorie Greenspan’s article on the difference in how the French make their butter.  Here is an article on the various types of butter you can usually find in American grocery stores and how they stack up. They aren’t cheap – you are going to pay about 150 percent more for half the butter. If you are going to make pastry, this is not the time to go cheap. I’ve done it. You will regret it. Because you will have about 24 hours invested in the process of rising, rolling, laminating, baking, etc. If you are going to do all of this, don’t try to save $2.

This goes back to the basics of cooking. When you have one star ingredient – in this case butter – make sure it shines.

I’m giving it a shot here in my U.S. kitchen. I bought butter yesterday – and I’m being daring using a U.S. butter cultured in the European fashion (the ratings are recommended, but not as high as Plugra, which is the best and I couldn’t find). The dough is rising as I write.

Right now, though, the best ingredient you can find in our area is strawberries. I went out on Sunday – complete with jet lag and 84 degrees – and picked 8 quarts. I will be back this afternoon because all of those berries are turning into fancy little shortcake cakes. Not the biscuit kind, but the ones made with a sponge cake, a lemon simple syrup, lots of whipped cream, and berries. Lots and lots of berries.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. And I’ll keep you posted on the croissants.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Strawberry Shortcake Cake
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course breakfast, dessert
Cuisine American, French
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan with butter or cooking spray. Line with parchment and grease parchment. Or use mini paper cake pans that you have coated in cooking spray.
  2. Cut off tops of strawberries and thinly slice half of them, leaving remaining berries whole. Mix sliced strawberries with superfine sugar and half the lemon zest and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip eggs and egg white on high speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Gradually pour in 1 1/4 cups sugar. Whip on high speed until mixture is a pale yellow and thick, 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Fold in milk, vanilla and butter until completely combined. (I melt the butter in the milk when warming in the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds).
  5. Gently pour batter into prepared pan and bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and peel off baking paper. Let cool completely. If you are using mini cake pans, bake for 15 minutes, then check, and turn to evenly distribute heat. Check again after 5 minutes.
  6. To make syrup: In a small saucepan, whisk together 1/2 cup) sugar, 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon water, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and optional pepper. Simmer on medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture has reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in remaining lemon zest.
  7. Whip heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form.
  8. Using a serrated knife, horizontally slice cake in half. Generously brush each cut side with lemon syrup. Place the bottom half, cut side up, on a cake plate. Spoon sliced strawberries and any juices over it. Spread half the whipped cream over strawberries. Place the other cake half on top. Spread remaining whipped cream on top. Garnish with whole strawberries and drizzle with more lemon syrup for serving.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cooking at New York Times. Recipe by Melissa Clark with some modifications by Marnie Mead.

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Bake Madeleines for April in Paris

I’m head over heels in love – with spring. Everything about it renews my soul. The sound of the birds fills my head with song – sweeping away some of the darker thoughts of winter. On my walks I inhale the perfumes of the daffodils, the hyacinths just coming up  – even the dark, dampness of the soil.

The creeks are filled with purpose, rushing by the willow trees with the laughter of a young child. That same creek will meander like an old man by the time August comes around. But, for now, it reminds me of a toddler in a bathtub.

Out on the lake, the ducks, geese, and gulls are chatting away with their honks, squawks, and dives into the water.

The flowering tree outside my widow is showing small white flowers. If I look away too long, I suspect they will burst forth into bloom.

Yes, the the world is alive again.

Springtime reminds me of Paris. The last time I visited we were on the cusp between spring and summer – having the honor of experiencing both seasons (according to the calendar). In truth, the first day was gorgeous – and we were jetlagged. I think it was rainy and 50 degrees every day after. The Seine was threatening its riverbanks.

I visited during all four seasons – fall, winter, spring, and summer. And will be returning in early June. Perhaps I will have an opportunity to revisit during all the the seasons again. But, at the same time, there are other countries to visit as well.

In any case, it is spring. And I am thinking of Paris. Which makes me think of sitting at café outside, eating and drinking my way through one of my favorite cities. And this makes me think of the famous French madeleines, the little cakes shaped like shells that are famous in Paris.

Being very American, I was at first disappointed in madeleines. They weren’t cakes. They were cake-like cookies. I expected CAKE. American cake. Big slices of cake.

Over time, I appreciate how the French eat. They eat sweets, and croissants, and butter, and sauces, and French fries (called frites), and steak, and, and, and. And they aren’t fat. That’s because they eat in moderation.

So just one (or two) madeleines should take care of that sweet tooth after dinner.

They don’t keep. They are best eaten the day they are made. Don’t put into plastic or a container to try to save them. It won’t help. The batter keeps well in the fridge, so you can just make a small batch for a craving.

Like all things French, there is a debate about the correct way to make them. At issue is whether to use baking powder or not. If you do, use one without aluminum (so there is no tinny flavor), such as Rumsford (red and black label). I don’t use baking powder for mine because I don’t like the taste. As a result, my cakes are a little denser than those made with the baking powder.

I do use cake flour. Most recipes call for all-purpose flour. It’s up to you. I find them to be a little more delicate with the cake flour. If you do use AP, I like Gold Medal for baking. It’s a Cook’s Illustrated favorite.

Madeleines are made in a specific pan, which violates my code not to buy pans for just one purpose. Sometimes you just have to break the rules. If you are buying one, buy nonstick. Otherwise, I like to melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter with 1 tablespoon of flour. Then I brush that into the indentations in the pan to keep them from sticking. Remove the little cakes from the pans about 3 minutes after they come out of the oven.

You can glaze them with lemon and powdered sugar. Or I just sprinkle with powdered sugar.

TIP: Use a tea ball with a handle as a go-to powdered sugar spinkler for cakes, cookies, etc. It sifts, sprinkles, and can be stored in the container with the sugar.

Enjoy.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
French Madeleines
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine French
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Use an electric mixer to beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Stream in 10 tablespoons of the cooled melted butter in into the batter, beating just until blended.
  2. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  3. In the meantime, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the melted butter. Stir to combine. Use a pastry brush to coat the indentations in your pan. (Don't use it all. This recipe makes from 24 to 30 cookies). Place madeleine pan in freezer for 1 hour.
  4. Spoon batter into each indentation in pan, estimating it to be about 3/4 full. Do not spread it out. This will be about a scant tablespoon, depending on the size of your molds. Mine take about 2 teaspoons.
  5. Bake for 8 minutes. Turn pan. Bake for another 3-5 minutes. The madeleines should be browned around the edges and slightly golden on top. Remove from oven and cool 3-5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch.
  6. Dust cookies with powdered sugar.
Recipe Notes

You can make a batch of the madeleines and then refrigerate the remaining batter to make more the next day. This will keep for about 3 days.

Some people will decrease the amount of sugar to 1/2 cup and add 1 to 2 tablespoons each of honey and brown sugar; add 1 more egg; add baking powder; add lemon juice, etc. This is a recipe, once you make it, that you can then make your own. I sometimes use almond extract instead of vanilla. Or you could add lemon extract to boost the lemon flavor.

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Happy Pi Day

There are so many reasons to love Pi Day. The chief among them is that it inspires people to make pies, even if National Pie Day was in January. I know that makes no sense. But that is the joy of Pi Day.

For those of us who didn’t study math with any great enthusiasm, pi was just 3.141592 (rounded, of course, to 3.14). It first came to my attention in 2015, when the numerals lined up to 3/14/15, or March 14, 2015. I made a French silk pie, with a whipped cream pi symbol, π.

With the frightful weather outside, today was a good day for making pies inside. It’s also citrus season. The two combined to inspire today’s pie, which is Lemon Chess Pie. Why it is called chess pie is somewhat uncertain. That this is Southern is not in dispute. The rest is kind of murky. There are some theories on What’s Cooking America that it really was a term for cheese pie. There is no cheese in it, so it seems a bit of a stretch.

Even the ingredient list can vary by chef. The filling is lemon juice, sugar, egg, butter, and some cornmeal. Some recipes call for milk, cream, flour, cornstarch. Adding milk or cream will create a fluffier filling. The recipe I like has no milk or cream, so the filling is pure lemon flavor – a lot like lemon bars.

On this snowy Pi Day, this Lemon Chess Pie is a little taste of sunshine.

Enjoy

XOXOXO

Marnie

Marnie@meadballs.com

Print Recipe
Lemon Chess Pie
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
slices
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place pie crust into a pie pan, cutting off any excess overhang. Refrigerate crust while you make the filling.
  2. Add sugar, salt, cornmeal, and cornstarch to the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the eggs (4 eggs and 1 yolk). Beat on medium to medium-high until the mixture is pale and sugar is fully incorporated. With the mixer running, add the lemon juice. Then pour in melted butter in a thin stream. Continue beating for about 30 more seconds.
  3. Pour the filling into chilled pie shell.
  4. Bake the pie on the bottom shelf of the 375-degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the center is set. The top should be golden brown.
  5. Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool before cutting and serving.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

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Failure is Part of the Recipe of Life

People often ask if I have failures.

Yes. I do. Sometimes more often than I would like to admit.

Today, I will admit to a couple in the kitchen last week. I’ll admit to some personal ones in another blog later this week.

What do I do, then, with stuff that doesn’t turn out?

Depends. If it is a total disaster, it goes into the waste bin. If not, it may be recycled.

Most of the disasters happen when I bake. And usually it is when I am not following the recipe, precisely. I do like to wing it now and again. With more than 40 years of baking experience, I generally know most of the chemistry. So I know what a batter looks like for a cake, what the texture is for a pie crust, etc.

The oven and your pans, however, can play a real role in the success for failure of your baking adventure. If your oven temperature is 25 degrees off, high or low, even a minute or two will make all the difference between overcooked and raw in the middle. The first time I made the recipe, I had the oven temp at 400 degrees, like the recipe stated. But I have a convection bake setting, so after 12 minutes, they were borderline burned. The second time, I set the timer for 10 minutes and the temperate at 375 degrees. When the timer went bing, they middles were sunken. So I walked away … and forgot for 5 minutes. Once again, overdone.

On the third time, I checked after 10 minutes. Middles still sunken. This time I set the timer for 2 minutes – barely enough time to pour a cup of tea and sit down. Bingo. Twelve minutes was perfect.

So what did I do with the less than perfect ones? Burned and chocolate, even slightly burned, isn’t repairable. They went into the waste can. The batch that we baked, but just not runny in the middle, I turned into cake pops. Essentially just crumble them up in a food processor, add frosting, roll into balls, and dip into chocolate. I also could have made a chocolate trifle, with layers of chocolate sauce. crumbled cake, and whipped cream.

It’s a lot of work to rescue a failure.

Earlier in the week, I was working on no-sugar baked goods made with almond and coconut flour. One was sweetened with oranges that simmered for two hours and then were pulverized in the blender. The other was sweetened with applesauce.

Both were dreadful. Just awful. They represented an entire afternoon of time, some very expensive ingredients (almond flour, olive oil, and a dozen eggs aren’t cheap), and wishful thinking.

Failure happens to anyone who tries. To anyone who dreams, “what if?”

If you keep at it, sometimes you get that perfect molten lava cake. And you get to eat it, while wearing PJs, on the couch, with the remote, and with as much ice cream as you like.

XOXOXO

marnie

marnie@marniemeadmedia.com

Print Recipe
Chocolate Lava Cakes
These are best served about 15 minutes after coming out of the oven with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Course dessert
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Servings
cakes
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees (375 degrees if using convection bake). Coat 6 ramekins with cooking spray. Place on baking sheet.
  2. You will need 4 bowls for this. One will need to be large enough to mix all the ingredients together.
  3. In the first bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, and salt.
  4. In a microwave-safe bowl, add chocolate and butter. Cook, uncovered in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir well. If not fully melted, return to microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Don't cook too long or the butter and chocolate will separate. Let sit for about 5 minutes.
  5. In a third bowl - this one large enough to hold all ingredients - and fourth bowls, separate eggs, discarding one white. The yolks go into the larger bowl with the sugar. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light, frothy, and the sugar has dissolved into the eggs. Stir in vanilla. Beat the two egg whites until light and fluffy.
  6. Add melted chocolate/butter mixture to the eggs. Then stir in the flour. Don't beat it. You want to stir until the mixture is glossy looking. Then stir in egg whites.
  7. Pour mixture into the prepared ramekins. You can refrigerate this now if you won't be serving soon. If you refrigerate, take the ramekins out of the refrigerator long enough so the batter comes to room temperature before baking - at least 30 minutes (and depending on the temp in your kitchen, up to 2 hours).
  8. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. The tops will be puffed, but not cracked. The ramekins will have some shimmy left in the batter if you move them, but won't have an indentation in the middle indicating raw batter. I check mine after 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Set timer for 5 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges of the ramekin. Invert each onto a wide spatula, then flip over onto a plate to serve. These are best eaten while still warm served with ice cream or whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking From My Home to Yours."

Use your favorite chocolate that you like to eat, bittersweet, milk, or semi-sweet. If you are using the milk chocolate, use just 4 tablespoons of the sugar. If using semi-sweet, then 5 tablespoons. Bittersweet gets all the sugar.

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