Currently crushing on… liberté!

eiffel tower

Fireworks in Paris – Photo by Flickr user oleg.ski

It’s that time of the year when streets in France turn into blue, white and red, the champagne flows, military forces parade on the Champs Élysées, the café waiters race with their loaded trays,  and people go dancing at firemen’s balls before watching the fireworks. And flags are on full display. It is as patriotic as France can get.  Le 14 juillet, also known anywhere in the Anglo-Saxon world as Bastille Day, is for sure the ultimate French celebration.

Growing up, I never really cared about it. A holiday in the middle of my two-month summer vacation did not make much of a difference. But now that I’m far from my country, thinking about it makes me sort of nostalgic and longing for some French spirit.

tarte aux pommes

A French classic: the tarte aux pommes (apple tart)

If you want to indulge in French lifestyle and catch a glimpse of this holiday, there is a good chance that something is organized not far from where you live. Major cities will have some kind of event. In Seattle, there will be a Bastille Bash in Madison Valley, a day early, on the 13th, and a pétanque tournament on the 14th. Personally, since I’m always looking for an excuse for a soirée, I’ll be throwing a “down with tyranny party”, a commemoration of both the 4th and the 14th of July, to celebrate the glorious liberation of our respective homelands from oppressive and unjust rule. If there is one thing that France and the United States have in common, it’s their revolutionary spirit!

If you feel like celebrating too, here are some ideas:

We’ll be drinking the Liberté cocktail, a mixture of gin and lillet.

There is no specific food tradition associated with the 14 juillet, but here are 10 French classic recipes that will take you to Paris.

A video of the military procession — it is quite long…

No good 14 juillet without playing pétanque.

How to celebrate Bastille Day in Paris.

blue-white-red flowers

Blue, white, red flowers for Bastille Day

Have a great weekend and Vive la France!

Bee

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a dessert for the lazy: the clafoutis

Clafoutis

Last weekend, as I was browsing the Broadway farmers market in Seattle, I suddenly realized that we’re right in the middle of le temps des cerises (the cherry season). I’ve been travelling so much recently that I completely lost track of the seasons. In France fresh cherries mean clafoutis, one of the easiest cakes you can make. It’s about as complicated as making pancakes or crêpes. Actually, no. It’s easier because you just have to throw it in the oven and wait. A clafoutis is a rustic dessert, filled with fruits, the consistency of which is halfway between a cake and a custard. Today, people make clafoutis with any seasonal fruit, but the true, authentic clafoutis is made with black cherries (griotte).

Cherries at the market

Cherries are like madeleines to me. They’re nostalgic and bring back lots of tender memories. While I was pondering whether or not to buy cherries, I thought about that beautiful cherry tree that still stands in my grandma’s garden and how every summer I would fight with the birds to pick the best cherries and be rewarded for my epic victory with an amazing clafoutis. Nothing can top my grandma’s clafoutis, but you will have to take my word for it, because even if I wanted to, I would be unable to give you the recipe. Not that it is a family secret, but my grandmother does it intuitively, without a scale or a recipe book, and it’s always delicious. She would rinse the cherries, lay them in a single layer in a dish, whisk together two or three eggs, add some flour, sugar, milk and cream and pour it over the cherries. Then she would bake the delicious mixture until the batter is just set with nicely browned and puffed edges.

Cherry Clafoutis

My recipe is slightly different and includes some almond powder, but everybody in France has his or her own take on this classic, notably when it comes to leaving in the pits or not… There are two schools of thought on this: The traditionalists recommend using unpitted cherries, as the pits supposedly release a nice flavor when the dish is cooked. But nowadays, the modernists prefer clafoutis with pitted cherries, since it’s easier to eat. Personally, I always leave the pits — not because I’m a traditionalist but, to be honest, I’m just lazy. I really think the story about the pits adding more flavor to the clafoutis is just a way to justify the cook’s laziness.

Cherries

Pick your cherries carefully. Choose the nicest fruits: plump, firm, shiny and juicy. I bought some Utah Giant cherries: They were very flavorful, sweet and slightly sour — an important detail if you don’t want your clafoutis to be overly sweet. Bing cherries would also be a good choice. Don’t hesitate to adjust the quantity of sugar based on the sweetness of your cherries.

Cherry clafoutis

Yields 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
  • A pinch of fleur de sel
  • About 1.5 pounds cherries (enough to cover the bottom of a baking dish)
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup golden brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (10 cl)
  • 1 cup whole milk (25 cl)
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grease a baking dish, cast-iron skillet or a Pirex pie plate with the softened butter. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of brown sugar and the fleur de sel (my secret touch!). Wash the cherries, remove their stems (and their pits, if you want), and layer them in the prepared dish.

Cherries layered in a baking dish

In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer if you like, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture almost doubles in volume. Gradually add the almond meal, flour, cream and milk, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients as you combine them. Mix until the batter is homogeneous.

Clafoutis batter

Pour the mixture over the cherries and place in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, until golden and puffed. If you desire, sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy lukewarm or cold (with homemade lavender-chocolate-chip ice cream, as Em and I did! — more details to come soon).

Cherry Clafoutis 2

ode to butter (or, how to make kouign amann)

Kouign Amann

Let me tell you one thing: Perfection is to be found between the texture of a croissant and the taste of a salted caramel. It’s called kouign amann (kween a-mon). Don’t let yourself be scared by this unpronounceable name. In the Breton language “kouign” means cake and “amann” means butter. That says it all. Imagine layers of laminated dough filled with butter, topped with a little bit of salt and enveloped in a beautifully caramelized shell.

mini kouign amann

I was recently struck by the sudden fuss around this typical buttery pastry from the Brittany region of France. If you’re in Seattle, you can find this little wonder at Le Rêve Bakery or Crumble and Flake. Part of my family being from Brittany, I felt it was my duty to test the field. My general impression? They’re rather good, but compared to the original, one thing comes to my mind: Not. Enough. Butter.

Since then, I’ve been obsessed with trying to find the perfect recipe for kouign amann — and believe me, it took a lot of dedication and sacrifice. I won’t disclose the total amount of butter I used over the last two months, all in the name of research. And if you ask, yes, my cholesterol level is fine, although I wonder if my husband’s decision to start running again is related to me feeding him with sticks of butter. I ended up sharing part of my batches with friends and colleagues who I hope won’t hold it against me if their cholesterol spikes.

layers of the kouign amann

I wish I could share with you a family recipe, but my knowledge of the kouign amann is limited to the ones we used to buy at the farmers markets. My older sister, who has Breton blood running in her veins (long story short, we share the same father but it’s her mother who comes from Brittany), introduced me at a very young age to this cake. When I told her I would try to make one, she laughed. My mother’s family is three generations removed from Brittany, so apparently I lack the necessary heritage. But I insisted and maintained I would do it with or without her help. (Imagine this conversation happening on Skype with an ocean separating us.)

caramelized kouign amann

She finally agreed to go ask her baker for advice. I could already picture myself making a true kouign amann but was slightly disappointed when she did not get the exact recipe. The recipe her baker uses for kouign amann is a secret apparently shared with very few people, and I was not among those lucky folks. The baker nevertheless gave us the best advice I could have hoped for, which perfectly summarizes the spirit of this cake: When you’re done adding butter and sugar to your dough, add some more. The kouign amann must perspire butter.

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Rule number one, and I won’t accept any excuses: Use good quality butter. Salted butter is usually recommended as salt is at the very heart of Breton baking. I personally prefer using unsalted butter and sprinkling fleur de sel afterwards. Fleur de sel (flower of salt) is one of the finest salts you will find. It is hand-harvested in salt ponds mainly in Guérande, Noirmoutier and Île de Ré. As suggested by its name, its texture is fluffy and flaky but delicate. It has a complex and mineral flavor, less aggressive than other salts. It’s perfect for sprinkling over meat and fish or creating a contrast with the sweetness of a dessert. Don’t hesitate to splurge if you see it; you will never look at your regular table salt the same way.

Salt ponds ile de Re

Salt ponds at Île de Ré

Ingredients

Yields 12 mini kouign amann

  • 7 g (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm water
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 cups (260 g) all-purpose flour + additional for rolling out the pastry
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 1 stick + 6 tbsp. butter, for laminating, chilled
  • fleur de sel, to taste
  • 1 cup (200 g) sugar, for laminating
  • 2 tbsp. butter, for muffin pan
  • 2 tbsp. sugar, for muffin pan
  • 2 tbsp. butter, for topping the cakes

ingredients

In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water with a pinch of sugar. Stir and let stand for about 5 to 10 minutes, until foamy. Gradually add the flour, salt and melted butter. Flour your hands and briefly knead the dough until it gets soft and elastic. Add a little bit of flour if it gets too sticky. Don’t knead the dough too much. Overworking it will activate the gluten and result in a product that’s tougher and less light and flaky. As soon as the dough is smooth and elastic, stop kneading. 

Form a ball and, with a knife, score the top of it the dough the shape of a cross and put it in a greased medium bowl. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for about 1 to 1 1/2 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the butter. The butter should be cold but pliable. Cut it in pieces and form a square.

butter square

Cover with parchment paper and use your rolling pin to spread it in a 8″ x 9″ square.

rolling the butter

Take the dough out, lightly flour it and roll it out to form a rectangle that’s about 18″ x 9″ in dimension. Place the butter in the center, sprinkle with fleur de sel and fold both sides of the dough over the butter, so that they meet in the center.

letter fold

Rotate the dough 90º clockwise and gently roll the dough, always starting from the center and working your way to one side and then to the other, until obtaining a rectangle approximately 18″ x  9″ in dimension. Dust the surface of the dough with a third of the sugar.

dough with sugar

Fold the dough over the center in such a way that one side of the dough is covered by the other side. Congratulations, you just made a single fold! Cover with cling film and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

DSC_8461

Turn the dough 90° clockwise again and roll it to form a rectangle of about 18″ x 9″. Dust with the second third of sugar and fold it into thirds again. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Rotate again by 90° and roll again to reach approximately the same size and shape as before, dust with the rest of the sugar and fold it again like a letter. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare your muffin pans. Brush with butter before coating with sugar.

muffin pan

Take the dough out of the fridge, roll it into the usual rectangle and cut it into 12 squares. For each square, fold the corners towards the center and place into the prepared pan to proof.

unbaked kouign amann

Alternate version: You can also cut vertical strips and roll them up, cinnamon roll-style.

unbaked kouign amann2

Let the dough rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Sprinkle each mini kouign amann with sugar, top with a little bit of butter and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and caramelized. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Put your diet on hold and be ready to fall in love.

kouign amanns

Keep in mind that your dough does not have to be as perfectly rolled as puff pastry. Worst case, if you see that the rolling is not going well, you can stil put the whole thing into a big pan and cook it as such. After all, what can go wrong with yeasty dough, butter and sugar?

Bee

time for making (and eating) crêpes!

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You might not be aware but today is the French national crêpes day, otherwise known as Chandeleur (Candlemas). It happens that I just took a crêpes-making class at Paris Eastside and subsequently interviewed Muriel Foucher for the Seattle Globalist. If you want to learn the secret for a perfectly delicate crêpe have a look at this article. You will be surprised by how easy it is to make.

Have a great weekend! Eat lots of crêpes and if you happen to have a sugar lemon one, think of us, it’s one of our favorites!

Collage_crepe

I was so happy to see that they sell Fraises Tagada… Those little pink candies are very popular in France and among my favorites.