Tarte aux Fruits and a 19th Birthday!

My lovely daughter had her 19th birthday this week. It’s quite astonishing when I consider that we arrived in France when she was just twelve. Then she didn’t have two words of french to her repertoire, now she dances rings around me with perfect conjugaison, ado-speak and a measure of verlan thrown in! What, may you ask, is verlan? It’s an argot of the french language with inversed syllables and is largely meaningless to hapless adults, especially the linguistically challenged like me who often cannot get the syllables in the right order, let alone inverse them!

One thing that we are both capable of doing in equal measure however is eating french patisserie and so it came as no suprise at all when, on the subject of birthday cakes, my daughter opted for a french Tarte aux Fruits from Yvonne instead of a typically english cake. Yvonne is our old favorite boulangerie/patisserie in Rouen Gare where we used to live.  It is still no more than 10 minutes walk away, but a combination of home improvements, tax bills and all our electrical kitchen appliances breaking down in the same month made me baulk a bit, as Yvonne’s tarts are sublimely tasty, stunningly beautiful and extravagently expensive but more importantly a little on the small side!


So on wednesday I got down to what I had been putting off for months. Making my own Tarte aux Fruits, Yvonne style. What I discovered in the course of the day was that they are supremely easy, and moreover, by the end of the evening – equally delicious.

There are two important facets to the Tarte aux Fruits. Firstly a rich sweet pastry which holds it’s shape and which doesn’t succumb to the moistness of the Crème Patissière. Then the smooth sweetness of the crème to contrast with the slight acidity of the fruit.

In my humble opinion pastry making is something of an art form. Throughout last summer I had the pleasure of standing in the kitchen with a professional patisserie chef and watching him effortlessly making perfect crisp pastry cases. I learnt several things.

-Firstly it is very important to keep the pastry cool and work the flour and butter mixture to the minimum, stopping mixing when the dough can just hold itself together.

-Secondly that the least amount of water or egg possible should be used to bind the ingredients together as during the baking process the evaporation of the liquid causes shrinkage.

-Thirdly the pastry should always be chilled for at least an hour before baking to prevent slippage in the mould during cooking.

-And finally the dough should never be stretched when fitting it to the mould as this also encourages slippage of the sides of the pastry case during the baking.

I asked the chef how to stop air bubbles appearing in the base of the pastry case, and he recommended using a pastry ring as opposed to a tin, and a perforated silicone baking sheet placed directly on the oven wire rack. In this way, no air is trapped between the pastry and a pastry tin.baking sheetsCercle-a-tarte-inox-24-cm


Having prepared the pastry case I began to cook the crème patissière.

I added the milk to the pan and incorporated a small proportion of sugar. By adding sugar to the milk, the milk is prevented from sticking or burning to the bottom of the pan as I bring it to the boil. The milk boils at 100°, the sugar at 170°, the higher boiling point of the sugar protects the milk.

It is essential to boil the milk if using fresh, unpasturised or raw milk.

By adding the egg yolks to the poudre à flan and the sugar, the egg ‘cooks’ in the mixture. It will not curdle when added to the boiling milk.

I switch off the flame on the hob. Half of the boiling milk is added to the egg mixture which is then stirred and poured back into the remaining milk. The flame is once more ignited and the mixture simultaneously cooked and beaten until it begins to boil. Once boiling, it is beaten for a further 30 seconds until thick and smooth before the butter is added.

When the butter is incorporated I remove the pan from the flame and pour the Crème Pâtissière thinly over a wire rack covered with cling-film, and cover with another layer of cling-film to prevent from forming a skin and leave to cool. At this point it is possible to freeze the crème for another day or use straight away for a gorgeous tart.

Once cooled I put the crème patissière in my Kitchen Aid and beat until smooth before filling a piping bag with the crème.

The piping bag is partially stuffed into its nozzle to form a “bouchon” (cork) to prevent the creme from passing through the nozzle when I fill the bag. When I have transferred all the creme into the bag, I untwist the “bouchon” and push the creme down to the nozzle opening with the help of a spatula.

piping bag

piping bag1

Starting from the centre of the pastry case I squeeze the crème patissière through a 8mm round nozzle spiralling outwards until I reach the rim of the pastry case. This prevents the need to spread the crème with a spatula and the danger of damaging or”dirtying” the pastry case itself.

Once done it is just a simple matter of positioning the fruit. I chose raspberries with a strawberry edge, and every so often upturned a raspberry and filled it like a mini “cup”with a raspberry coulis.

strawberry tart

Afterwards  you  can dust softly with icing sugar, or lay a sprig of black currents or redcurrents and a sliced strawberry or two as decoration.

I was worried that my daughter would be disappointed that she didn’t have a real Yvonne tart for her birthday. But when she came in from work she opened the fridge and uttered a “ooooh”.

After dinner, when we were sitting replete from second helpings, my pudding monsters declared it was a huge success, especially as they didn’t have to forgo being greedy as they would have done with Yvonne’s little masterpiece, and moments later it was “snap-chatted” to celebrity and my daughter declared that judging by the responses of her friends – I better get making another one!


For the recipe click here


Rooting for a Lovely Garden!

Another burst of warm spring sunshine seems to have sent all of the neighbourhood into the garden. Looking at ours and the thought of the work ahead is very daunting but today I decided that I needed to focus little by little on the garden closest to the front door. All part, I suppose of the idea of “entrance” and having a pleasant vista to return to at the end of the day.

On first appraisal the flower bed or “bordure” nearest the garden gate was just a raggle of weeds and I was hoping for an easy half-hour to clear the bed. Then I spotted some pretty blue flowers and took one in to identify. The news wasn’t great. While pretty, the vincus minor or periwinkle is a bit of a pest, and judging by the lack of any established flowers, with the exception of one very fragile and straggly rose, the bed was riddled with its root system.

vinca minor

An afternoon later I am not exactly flushed with success, but the “bordure” is much clearer than before. I managed to bend the prongs in of my brand-new garden fork in the process when the vinca-minor root system was not the only one I tried to uproot. I had a pretty eventful time with the roots of our fig tree too.WP_20150322_007

Some are still in the ground blissfully unaware of their impending rendez-vous with “Husband à l’etranger”. “Husband à l’etranger” is blissfully unaware too,  – well he was until just about now!WP_20150322_009

But to be fair, I did put in quite an effort filling the wheelie-bin full of roots,WP_20150322_010

Who would have believed that one flower bed could contain so many ? But since they self -root from runners under the ground, any roots left in will stunt all other flowers placed in the bed.

After calling it quits on the roots, it was fabulous to look at the first of the spring flowers in other parts of the garden.


WP_20150322_003But the slight chill of the early evening brought me back to thoughts of lighting the fire, and helping myself to a glass of wine.

WP_20150322_004But before I go, perhaps some of you are able to identify some of the following. Perhaps I have more hardwork in store rooting these out as well….



WP_20150322_013or perhaps I shall just invest in a pig and put an end to all this “cochonerrie” (slang for mess) once and for all!

After all I have these great little urns to deal with, and that’s much more fun!WP_20150322_011



Petits Morceaux!

When I was still in England the phrase “Ooh la la” was synonymous with France, along with frog’s legs, strings of onions and berets. It was one of those phrases that I imagined all English speaking people assumed the French uttered every day, along with the great Gallic shrug, but which in reality no longer existed in today’s every day speech. So in today’s “petit morceaux” I decided to put you straight!

Not only do the French utter, alarmingly often “ooh la la”,but now shockingly, so too do I! It has become part of my everyday language! “Ooh la la”, works from expressing slight astonishment to downright outrage. If one is lost for words, there are various expletives of course, such as “merde alors” , but nothing quite tops “oh la la” for linguistic acceptability in any situation whilst registering quite clearly the gravity of the situation.

A friend’s central heating’s broken down – a simple conversational “oh la la” will be perfectly adequate whilst expressing sufficient sympathy, but being the recipient of an ‘arnaque’ or ‘rip-off’ or cheated out of something important, the number of “la’s” will increase exponentially.

As I entered my appartment this evening my salesman neighbour was standing by the side of his car next to a pile of huge boxes, stacked harpazardly on the pavement, talking loudly into his mobile phone, and suddenly he uttered…

“Oh la la la la la la la”

Seven “la’s” – I tell you – I am agog!

If only it wasn’t rude to stand about listening!

A tout à l’heure!

Shoaled Out!

WP_20131116_006Inspired by the Normandy coastline, its abundance of little creeks and inlets, and its majestic chalk cliffs which dominate the coastline, this shoal of fishes in fabrics inspired by the Impressionist painters who graced the region around the 1860’s are filled with beautiful scented Provencale lavender.

Last year the entire shoal sold out in a matter of hours, and I find them once again in great demand and have been busy “creating” when I find a rare moment of peace. The scented “poissons” are perfect for laying between layers of clothes in a chest of drawers, or hanging from a lone door handle to gently fragrance a room. I should know, because with 50 poisson already wallowing in the shallows of my grandmother’s old wooden trough, my home smells wonderful!

If you would like a few to buy as gifts this Christmas for an elderly aunt or an ageing grandmother, contact me in the comments section and I will be in touch.

This shoal have been netted by my children’s school Christmas Fête,

..but there are plenty more making their way upstream!



Keep Talking!

Today I was sitting on the metro, when I noticed a profoundly disabled woman sitting on a seat not far away. She was mumbling to herself a little and talking herself through what she had done and what she was about to do. People near her were looking distinctly uncomfortable and no-one seemed to choose to sit in the seat next to hers.

I couldn’t help being full of admiration for her. Despite the fact that society as a rule feels awkward in the face of externalised behaviour, I spent that journey thinking that how amazing she was. The total mastery of a language in the face of adversity. Despite the fact that I have all my limbs, and no obvious mental issues, I face daily the frustration and the feeling of inadequacy which comes of an inability to master the French language. No matter how many French books I read, nor how often I chat to people during the day, somehow my brain just will not store and sort the information I give it. Yet this woman, despite all her disabilities had succeeded, probably without even being aware of it, with something that I find so difficult. Does she even realise how hard the french language is?

Yesterday I sent an email to a French mother to let her know that I had all I needed to get on with some craft for the school ‘Marché de Noel’. At the end I added a quick note apologising for the fact I had probably needed to use the subjunctive tense and that my grammar was ropey.

Her reply was as follows:

“merci pour ton mot.
Pour la grammaire ,c’était:”j’ai tout ce qu’il me faut’ ou ‘j’ai tout ce dont j’ai besoin’ ou encore ‘j’ai tout trouvé”

Not only had I got it wrong, but there were at least three correct ways of saying it!

We take language for granted. When do we ever stop to realise what a huge achievement it is to communicate fluently. To take on a disability mid-life is a humbling experience. Mastering the art of communication is an incredible ability.

So “Keep talking” I thought of the woman ” You are so skilled …

and I could learn a thing or two!”