The Great French Hypothetical House Hunt – The perfect Kitchen.


Today I received a phone call from the French estate agent that thought that this would be my perfect house:

“Madame” he said, “If you are quick to put in an offer, you will be in a very strong position – no matter if your house in England has not yet sold”

“Yes” I mused, “I will be in a very strong position because no-one else wants this particular house – Its is very plain and very banal and not at all what I am looking for”

His call did however set me to reflecting about one of the most important rooms of a house. The kitchen.  With my new found passion for patisserie, I often dream of the large smooth granite slab atop my central island unit in my old kitchen and think how wonderful it would be with all its marvelous ‘coldness’ for creating chocolate curls, and preparing pâte feuilleté (puff pastry) and croissants.

And so my dreams started to formulate themselves into my new and perfect hypothetical kitchen. And at that moment I knew why, even with the smooth talking Monsieur’s …

“mais madame, on habite à l’interieur d’une maison, pas l’exterieur”

(but madam, one lives in the interior of a house, not the exterior)

..the house in question simply would never work, even if blindfolded on entry. The kitchen was simply too small and pokey for any kind of creative excess.

Firstly the ideal kitchen has to large, and how much more fantastic than to have an open fire and bold beautiful architectural features. Look at this vaulted ceiling!

Top of the wish list –  plenty of room for a huge table for family and friends to sit around.

and ideally doors leading out to the garden..

…and a view! I know of course that I’m getting carried away, but i’d like to be able to wander out and pick mint from the garden to put with the peas.

If I lower my expectations, this would do very nicely!

Did I mention how important it is to have a huge slab of polished stone for patisserie? I imagine I did!

Simplicity is key when choosing cupboards, and calm cool colours. All the ‘busy’ will come from the utensils.

Simple glassware and china..

..crocks and pots.

and a wonderful corner for friends to settle in and chat, or the kids to lounge about and talk about their day whilst I cook –

or dare I say it, for ‘husband à l’etranger’ and I to have ‘time-out’ with a glass of wine!

…leaning on some wonderful cushions made from old grain sacks like these from Atelier Be.

and an ‘aide memoire’ to remind me what I need to buy. I imagine blue means I need to order more and white, that I have enough. This cannot be my house, I have plenty of wine left and have not finished all the chocolate!

An old battered jug in which to put garden flowers would be lovely,

 and old French linen tablecloths,

and some old french plates found in a brocante.

and a wonderful old french clock to get us to school on time.

and perhaps some unframed portraits of odd ancestors!

and no matter what, with all those old brocante ‘finds’ , the old french windows and food from the market, the ideal kitchen is unmistakably French.

The perfect kitchen for lounging lazily at the table with a glass of wine and a delectable patisserie?

I’ll let you know once i’ve polished off these macarons!

All photos thanks to Google Images

Mille Feuille – Atelier de Patisserie


After the excesses of Christmas feasting the Atelier ‘Fait Vous le Même’ appeared to be hibernating through January. This week it reopened with a invitation to create the ancient French patisserie ‘Mille Feuille’.

With great anticipation I arrived, true to style rather early, which necessitated another walk around the Quartier St Marc; an experience not diminished through frequency! This time I turned off the main streets and pushed my nose up against the windows of various antique shops and mused over old distressed chairs and gilt mirrors in a nearby ‘brocante’.

The origin of the Mille Feuille is unknown. It is however referred to in 1651 in ‘The Cusinier François. It was later improved by Marie-Antoine Carème, known as the “King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings” who was an early practitioner and exponent of the elaborate style of cooking known as haute cuisine the “high art” of French cooking: a grandiose style of cookery favored by both international royalty and by the newly rich of Paris. Carême is often considered as one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs. She herself referred to the Mille Feuille as of ‘ancient origin’.

Traditionally the Mille Feuille is a patisserie formed from three layers of ‘Pâte Feuilleté (puff pastry) separated by a thick Crème Anglaise and dusted lightly with sucre glacé (icing sugar). Latterly it has been sweetened  with a layer of icing often feathered through with a chocolate pattern.


We begin the class by learning a little about the Pâte Feuilleté, and I wonder if this will be a repeat of the class on Croissants, and prepare myself to be disappointed about learning nothing new. Arnaud of course has other ideas!

First he slices some pâte feuilleté in half and points to the cross-section where faint stripes can be seen in its consistancy. These he explains are the layers of pâte and butter, essential for excellent raising qualities. The pâte will ultimately be made of 6 tours of three layers. The pâte for Mille Feuille is not the same as the pâte for Croissants. It contains neither yeast nor sugar. The Mille Feuille rises grace to its layers of butter and pâte and keeping the détrempe cold and not overworked is essential. Once butter starts to warm it is absorbed into the pâte, and once absorbed it will not rise.

Arnaud shows us how to correctly roll the pâte. A small downward push and roll being infinitely preferable to a forward push whilst rolling. There are three methods for making Pâte Feuilleté; Simple, Rapide and Inversé. We have already used the Simple method in the preparation of Croissants. The Rapid method involving small knobs of butter dotted over the pâte gives vastly inferior results. Today we learn the Inverse method.

The Inverse method is the opposite to the Simple method. Rather than placing butter on the pâte détrempe, we place the pâte détrempe on the butter, which has been altered to a Beurre Marnie.

First we proceed to make the Pâte. We pour our flour onto the marble worktop and add the butter and salt. Adding half the quantity of water we begin to incorporate the two, gradually adding the remaining water, all the time remembering to keep the mixture cool. We kneed the mixture until smooth, supple and elastic.

We then begin to make the Beurre Marnie. We pour the flour onto the work table and add the butter. We incorporate the flour into the butter until an even consistancy, again remembering to keep the butter cool. If either the Pâte or Beurre marnie feel tepid we refrigerate for five minutes.

Bearing in mind that the finished width of  the “pâton” (prepared but yet unused pâte feuilleté) is 15cm we form the beurre marnie into a basic rectangle by knocking it into shape on the worktop. We then repeat the process with the détrempe. We are ready to make the Pâte feuilleté!

First we place the Beurre marnie on a lightly floured worktop. We roll out the beurre marnie so that it is one third longer than the détrempe.

We place the Pâte Détrempe onto the Beurre Marnie and then fold the free part of the Beurre Marnie over the détrempe and fold again. The first ‘Tour Simple’ is complete.

We pivot the “pâton” by 90° leaving the open side to the right. (Commencing the push down and roll technique at the open edges of the pastry to effectively partially seal and prevent the détrampe from squeezing out under pressure) We roll out our pâton until it achieves the width of 15cm by a length of 3 times our desired finished Mille Feuille size of 20cm. Therefore a length of 60cm. We then make a ‘Tour Double’ turning both ends to the centre and folding in half.

We ensure the pâton is still cold or refrigerate for 5 minutes. Once again, we turn the pâton by 90° with the opening to the right, and make another ‘Tour Double’. We leave it and ourselves to repose for a few meager minutes (or it can at this point be suitably covered and frozen.) We turn the pâton through 90° again and do one final ‘Tour Simple’. At this point we divide the pâton in two in order to make two 15×20 cm Mille feuille, always keeping  the opening to the right hand side and we cut in half from front to back.

We roll out the pâton to a dimension slightly greater than  15x 60 cm allowing for potential shrinkage of pastry on a lightly floured surface.

We leave the pâton, the finished pâte feuilleté, to repose for five minutes.

Using a ‘Pique-Vite’ or alternatively a fork, we prick the pastry all over, turning and repeating the process on the other side. This encourages even rising.

We transfer the Détrempe to the lined baking tray using the rolling-pin and leave it to rest for half an hour. No repose for us though, we have more important things to do!

Whilst we wait for the pâton we begin the Crème Anglaise.

Arnaud gives us a lesson in gelatine. Crème Anglaise can be frozen successfully,  but is usually ruined by the quantity of water in the recipe. It is essential to correctly dissolve the gelatine. The quality of gelatine is referred to by its bloom quantity. Professional gelatine is 200 bloom. Shop-bought gelatine is usually 150 bloom.  For professional gelatine the quantity of water added to the gelatine should be 50g water for every 10g gelatine; For shop-bought gelatine the quantity of water added should be 40g for every 10g gelatine. For a recipe specifying 8g of 200 bloom gelatine, increase the weight of 150 bloom gelatine to 10g. Gelatine prevents the cream in our recipe from flopping after whipping.

We place the milk and sugar into a saucepan and put to heat.

We place the poudre à flan (cornflour or farine d’amidon with vanilla), the sugar and the egg yolks into an inox bowl and mix.

Once the milk is warm we add half  to the inox bowl of  egg mixture, place the pan to the side and mix thoroughly. Once mixed, we pour the contents of the inox bowl back into the pan. We mix again thoroughly. We relight the flame and bring to the boil whisking constantly. Once thick we retrieve it from the flame and add the gelatin and water mixture and mix thoroughly.

We cover a wire rack with clingfilm. We overpour with the Crème Anglaise andd cover it with clingfilm to prevent it crusting and leave it to cool.

After the Pâte Feuilleté has rested for its 30 minutes we place it in an oven at 180°, overlaying it  with a metal grill rack to prevent the pâte feuilleté from rising. (If a grill rack is not available, remove the pâte feuilleté mid cooking, and press down to remove air).

We remove the pâte feuilleté from the oven when it is crisp and golden on both the top and bottom surfaces.

At last comes the really fun bit – we are ready to assemble the Mille Feuille. We remove the Crème Anglaise from the chiller, and place the now jelly like pieces into the Kitchen Aid and beat till light smooth and creamy. We then add 50g of an alcohol such as Kirsch or Marashino and continue beating before folding in first one half and then the remainder of the whipped cream.

Cutting horizontally with a bread knife (serrated) we divide the length of Pâte feuilleté into three parts choosing the most attractive for the top surface. We load generous quantities of Crème Anglaise filling onto the base, firmly pressing down the middle layer and using a palate knife clear the sides of cream before continuing to the top layer.

Once the sides are neat we dust with sucre glacé (icing sugar) and proceed to make a caramel decoration.

In a pan we melt spoonful by spoonful caster sugar continuing to agitate over a flame until a deep golden colour.

Arnaud shows us how to crunch up a sheet of greaseproof paper and restraighten, before pouring the molten caramel over it. Lifting the sheet into the air he turnes the sheet vertically in a rotating motion until the caramel sets in a thin layer over the sheet. The crumpled paper gives a wonderful crackle effect to the caramel pieces.

Once hardened Arnaud peels the caramel off the sheet and breaks into large leaf shaped pieces.

We all laugh alot when Arnaud owns up to not having any cake boxes tall enough to close round our Mille Feuille. Two of us are going home by bus! We might be mobbed! But we shall fight them off …

Safely home and dressed with its caramel leaves the Mille Feuille is ready to eat.

Oh, If only I could describe the taste….

For the recipe please click here.

La Galette des Rois – and the feast of Kings.


From the first of January until sometime towards the end of the month, the boulangeries across France are laden with delicious patisseries called the ‘Galette des Rois’ (Cake of Kings). Strictly speaking the galette should be eaten at Epiphany or ‘twelth night’ to celebrate the gifts of the wise men, or ‘kings’ who brought their gifts to the baby Jesus. The tradition has mutated somewhat to encompass whichever day during January one chooses to savour this delicious gateau because quite frankly, once is not enough!

The galette varies from region to region, most commonly a puff pastry filled with Frangipan, though it has many varients, including apricot and Grand Marnier, chocolate, frangipan and red fruits, and crème Anglaise. To the west, the pastry is more usually shortcrust, and to the south a brioche with candied or dried fruits. I’d be inclined to say that here in Normandy we are treated with the best version, the traditional Pâte Feuillettée.

I passed some pleasant moments with my nose pressed up against the counter of my local patisserie wondering which tempted me most!

Inside every Galette is hidden a ‘fève’ , the exact translation of which is a bean. The fève appeared in the 18th century in the form of a porcelain representation of the baby Jesus. Whoever received the hidden figurine in their slice of the gateau became a king for the day irrelevant his or her age or status within the party. Since then the fève has become something of a collectors item, with various themes on offer. ‘La Fornil de la Gare’, another boulangerie in my Quartier lays them all out on display throughout the month of January, and it’s fun to see what’s on offer!

Last year there was a general obsession for Fèves in the shape of shoes!

This year we will just have to wait and see!

The crown is an essential element in the ‘making of the king’. They were all piled up on the counter at ‘Yvonne’s’ Patisserie ready for the event!

During the revolution, the very name ‘Galette des Rois’ put the patisserie in danger. An attempt was made to change the name to the ‘Galette de l’Egalité’ and the ‘Convention National’, the ruling assembly in France at the time of the revolution, attempted to forbid the fabrication of the patisserie itself. At the tribunal, the Galette  triumphed. A short time afterwards the Convention National changed the name of the day from the ‘Jour des Rois’ (the day of Kings) to the ‘Jour des sans-culottes’, translated literally as ‘without short trousers, and referring to the revolutionaries who were defined by their long striped trousers, and the Galette des Rois lost its ‘raison d’être’. Its disappearance was only momentary however, and it quickly reappeared on the tables as soon as the circumstances permitted.

The circumstances are certainly very permitting in France nowadays, and I hurried home to cook my own!

Forty-five minutes later my Galette Frangipane is piping hot from the oven.

We had a little argument on whether to leave it to cool or eat it straight away. Although my boys prefer it cold we found that we really couldn’t wait!

What is probably not appreciated about this patisserie is that the containment of the hidden fève leads to serious competition over who gets which slice. It is not unknown for hitherto calm and rational families to decend into complete anarchy as each individual vies for the opportunity to become king for the day. The french of course have come up with a solution!

The smallest and youngest member of the party finds himself placed under the table with the responsibility for calling out the name of each family member in no particular order to receive their slice. Since the small person cannot see the patisserie there is no chance of cheating, unless of course one of the other family members has seen a glimpse of the fève and gives him a sharp kick under the table. But I imagine the squawk would probably give the game away!

and the king for the day is…

But thankfully he’s forgotten to order us about, and is right now clearing the plates from the table still wearing his crown!

Atelier de Patisserie -Le Dessert Royal Chocolat


Version français

I should be saying “sadly I knew that no-one would make me a birthday cake”, but sadness doesn’t come into it at all. In fact I was perfectly over the moon at the prospect of booking myself into ‘Fait le vous-même’ again. What I had discovered was that on my birthday the patisserie for the day was ‘Royal Chocolat’ and not even a wild hound from the gates of hell could have kept me away.

This time, aware that the buses didn’t always run to plan I arrived in very good time, and enjoyed fifteen minutes taking a ‘tour’ about the neighbourhood. The shops weren’t yet open but the shopkeepers were setting up their wares and I took the oportunity to take a few photos:

and I have this message for all little piggies out there – Do not sleep if you value your lives – because this shop has plans for you!

But after these beautiful specialist shops, this one reminded me that the day has begun and it was time to get cooking …. chocolate!

I met Arnaud, the Maitre Patisier coming across the square and we entered the shop together, donned our aprons and awaited the other three royal chocolatiers!

The Royal Chocolat is a three tier gateau; a base of biscuit, a layer of ‘chocolat craquant’ and the top layer of ‘mousse au chocolat’. In any good patisserie this would cost anything between 10€ and 25€ depending on the level of superficial decoration at the end.

Arnaud began by explaining the biscuit viennoise base. The first ingredient on the list was TPT which Arnaud explained was a “half and half mix” (tant pour tant) of icing sugar and “poudre de fruit sec” (dried fruit powder). In this instance we were going to use a mixture of icing sugar and almond powder. The beauty of this receipe is that it can equally be made ‘gluten’ free and is an ideal recipe for sufferers of coeliacs. The small quantity of flour being replaced by rice flour or Maizena (cornflour).

When making this recipe it is essential to beat the eggs before weighing the quantity required. Waste can be refrigerated and used for quiches or omelettes later.

Having measured out the ingredients we added the almond TPT to the beaten egg mixture and beat it until white and fluffy. We then beat in the flour.

Arnaud is intent on developing our whisking muscles and electric beaters are “interdit”!

In a separate bowl – do not forget that it must be inox – we beat the egg whites into fluffy peaks or ‘neige’ (snow) as the french describe it adding the granular sugar a bit at a time.

We added a small scoop of meringue to the TPT mixture and mixed quickly and thoroughly. We then folded in the remaining TPT mixture gently. If the meringue is mixed in one ‘lot’ the resultant product becomes too liquid and grainy.

Making a ‘cork’ (bouchon) with a section of piping bag pushed into the nozzle (douille) of the same, we loaded the biscuit viennoise mixture into the piping bag. We used a flat spatula to push all the mixture well into the piping bag before releasing the bouchon and then inverted the piping bag so that the mixture did not immediately pour out through the nozzle. For a few of us, there was a little escapage before we got a hang of the technique!

We placed a gateau ‘mould’ on a greaseproof sheet, and starting with nozzle of the piping bag in the centre of the mould we squeezed the biscuit viennoise pâte in a spiral until a centimetre from the mould itself; removed the mould and continued to squeeze the pâte for one more spiral. There is enough of the mixture to make two such biscuit bases, one of which can be frozen for a another day!

Whilst we are waiting the ten minutes necessary for the biscuit to cook we begin the ‘base chocolat craquante’. The chocolate ‘covering’ for this section of the receipe is for hardening the praline. Any colour of chocolate can be used and makes no difference to the taste.

We take the opportunity to taste various pralines – one made from noisettes (hazelnut) and the other from almond. For this recipe we decide to make a mixture of both.

Arnaud takes the opportunity to discuss how to melt chocolate – and states catagorically ‘NEVER in the microwave’. The science behind it is simple. At 55° for dark chocolate, and 45° for white and milk chocolate the cocoa-butter burns. Once burnt the chocolate becomes unworkable. Using  “bain-marie” is the only option. The water under the “bain-marie” must be heated to simmering and then the heat source switched off. The chocolate is left to melt in its own time in the residual heat.

We have a lesson on chocolate. To add liquidity to chocolate add cooking oil. It is the cocoa-butter which gives the liquidity to butter and it’s melting point is 34° which is the approximate temperature of the mouth. Hence why chocolate is so pleasurable to eat!

Bought chocolate can be very low in cocoa-butter. Arnaud recommends ‘Lindt Special Dessert’ as the best ‘on the shelf’ supermarket chocolate for cooking, but also recommends the chocolatier Michel Cluizel for his bulk-buy chocolate. Arnaud has 6 varieties of Michel’s chocolate and we get down to some tasting!

Arnaud also explains that it is possible to make your own chocolate. This is called ‘grande charge’. By adding powdered cocoa to cocoa-butter and sugar it is possible to create a chocolate to ones own desired consistancy. By adding milk powder one can achieve ‘milk chocolate’. Cocoa-butter can be bought at a french pharmacie.

But it is time to return to cooking. The chocolate has melted and the praline is added and mixed very well before folding in the ‘crepe dentelle’ ( a brittle crepe ‘biscuit’)

The biscuit viennoise is golden all over and ready to come out of the oven. We remove it from the hot tray and onto a cooling rack. The top surface of the biscuit is turned face down onto the final serving platter which prevents the finished dessert from sticking during serving and the mould is placed over the biscuit to neatly cut the irregular edges and is left in place for the rest of the session.

Immediately we spoon over the chocolate craquant and press firmly into the edges and smooth all over.

But now the time has come to make the mousse au chocolate and one has only to look at the recipe to note that there are only two ingredients – chocolate and cream. This is a seriously indulgent little number!

I have already noted that cream in France is an entirely different species from that of its neighbouring England. I am glad that Arnaud takes time to talk about cream as I have already made some mistakes on its behalf! French cream tends to be thinner and less easy to whip than its english counterpart. Arnaud explains that the fat level in cream (matiere grasse) must be above 35% for it to whip. He explains that crème liquide has had milk added and that crème epaisse and crème fraiche are better than crème liquide. Crème epaisse is sometimes treated with lactose which gives it a sourer taste, whilst crème cru (raw) can have an acid taste which is removed by boiling it. The best english equivalent would be whipping cream rather than double for this recipe.

If whipped cream is added to chocolate which is too hot it will separate the fat from the liquid, whilst on the other hand adding cream to chocolate which is too cool will cause it to harden instantly. We test the temperature of the chocolate in the bain-marie, which is a good excuse to lick our fingers later and remove the bowl from the ‘bain’.

We scoop all the required whipped cream into the bowl of chocolate and whip quickly until it is all evenly incorporated and pour over the ‘chocolat craquante’ in the mould.

We use a spatula to push the mouse into the edges of the mould to avoid air gaps and then begin to smooth the top surface.

Next comes the fun bit – removing the mould with a heat-‘gun’.

et voila! the 10€ dessert…

…but wait!

Arnaud is not content with the 10€ dessert!

He proceeds to pour a liberal quantity of melted chocoltae onto the marble worktop and smooth thinly across, re-scoop and re-smooth several times with a palate knife until the chocolate takes on a whitish dry hue. Still workable, the chocolate is rolled into chocolate ‘cigars’ with a sharp butchers knife.

and now we have the 20€ dessert….

But Arnaud is still not entirely happy with our creation. Why have a 20€ dessert when one can have a 25€ dessert….

Arnaud gets out the gold..

But as I said – It was my birthday and the 25€  Royal Chocolat has been eaten, so if you want to see the end result you will have to make one yourself!

Oh all-right then, I did take just one shot of it before I headed for the bus – all the time whilst walking, grinning smugly at passers-by and thinking…

‘If only you knew what was in my cake box i’d be in real trouble!’

It was truly the best birthday ‘cake’ ever tasted!

For the recipe click HERE