Sunday, 28 September 2014

Paris in the Sun

The weather is changing. 

The season changes from day to day.  I don't know what to think of it, personally.  

One day we have an Indian summer, the next, a Scottish winter.  Extreme changes.  Frightening, but exciting at the same time.  You never know what you're going to get.  

A Tart or Two

At our party, there was not as much food as I would have usually liked.

It was made it up through the home made punch and the dancing, (oh the dancing)...

 Guests started arriving early. All of a sudden that strawberry tart with peppered mascarpone that I wanted to make just didn't get constructed.  I spent the first half of the party wondering if anyone would notice if I sneaked to the kitchen and whipped it up. (I'm not sure if you know anything about Parisian flats, but they are small.)   Just something to enjoy at that point when midnight seems well away and you're yearning for something, anything to soak up the rhum and white wine; a combination which has made a nice little coctail in your ubriacated system.

Thankfully I had made a lemon cake, soaked with a lemon syrup which went down nicely with the pinenapple spiked drink.

The next morning I learnt that the strawberries had gotten drunk by beer.  The consequence of an unfortunate clumsiness.

A couple of nights after the party, the figs I'd bought in the market were looking neglected, so I made a fig tart to use them up.  Something to look forward to for breakfast, I told my cousin.

I bought this book called Le Repertoire des Saveurs (The Flavour Thesaurus) by Niki Segnit.  She says that once the figs are very ripe, they reach a honey-like taste, a taste that complements almonds.  The light combination creates a nougat-like taste, she tells us.  I wanted to re-create this taste.  

It was late in the evening.  Eleven or twelve.  Too late to start making tarts.  But I got in this state that I often get in when I cook or bake.  It's like a fixation, an obsession.  It's scary, perhaps.  It's a state that I find hard to achieve when people are near.  It's a little like meditation- it must be concentrated, it must be precise.

There was no sugar in my pate sucrée (ironically.) But you will see in this recipe I have added 50g of icing sugar because it lacked a tad of sweetness.  I baked the tart with creme d'amandes in and the fig compote was added later.  A few of the prettier figs were reserved for decoration.

The figs were tossed in a frying pan and a few tablespoons of sugar were added.  Two tablespoons.  Or three?  Nothing was really measured. I wanted to use sugar like one uses salt and pepper, simply as seasoning, to get the honey taste I was after, a taste that would be crushed by the abundance of white sugar. 

Pastry was rolled out and creme d'amandes was made.  

I was happy with it, and told my cousin that there was breakfast on the table.

She came into the kitchen and she said:  "We can't keep that to ourselves."  I looked at her and I said, "Don't be silly.  It just took a few moments.  We have nothing else for breakfast."  (Not only a worry but a deep anxiety.)

"We must have a dinner party.  We cannot keep this to ourselves."   She concluded.

The next morning I left the house, breakfastless.

So we made another dinner party.

Photo taken by Anja Eva

It was uncomplicated for a quick mid-week supper.  It was intimate and friendly.  I used my friends as tasters (testers?) for a well thought out series of fresh vegetarian nibbles centralised around the main element of the dish.  The Mushroom. The Fennel.  The Onion.  The Fig.  

The Mushroom: Garlic and Cream Baby Mushrooms on french crostini tradition.  

The Fennel: Slow cooked Butter Fennel with Lemon and Grana Padano.

The Onion: Pissaladière (Savoury tart from Provence) Ground olive paste, caramelised red onions, black olives and a light touch of crumbled feta. 

Red wine infused Fig Compote Tart with Almond Cream Butter and Toasted Almonds

Pate Sucrée:
- 100g Butter
- 50g Icing Sugar
- 250g Flour
- a pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk.

Creme d'amandes:
100g Softened Butter
100g Sugar
100g Almond Powder
10g Flour
2 Eggs

Fig Compote:
6-8 Figs
Half a Glass of Red Wine
2- 3 Tablespoons of Sugar

Crushed and toasted Almonds to decorate.


Prepare your pastry in advance. Cream the butter and the sugar add the egg yolk, the pinch of salt and the flour.  Reserve in the fridge with some cling film so it doesn't dry out.

Make your creme d'amandes:

Cream the softened butter and sugar.  Add one egg, mix.   Incorporate half of the almond powder.  Mix in the other egg.  Incorporate the rest of the almond flour and the flour.

Prepare your figs by slicing the tops off.  Put in a pan with the sugar and once it is at a hot heat add the wine.  Put at a medium - low heat and allow the figs to cook and the wine to reduce.

Roll out your pastry and spoon in the creme d'amandes neatly.  Cook at 200 degrees C for 15- 20 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

Once the pastry base is cool, spoon in the fig compote.  Decorate with figs and crushed almonds.


This photo is a fig tart at "Des Gateaux et du Pain" a patisserie on rue du Bac.  I thought it would be interesting to post this photo for decoration ideas.  And also because I am on the subject of fig tarts, of course!

What is your favourite tart?  I would love to hear your suggestions!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

I Signori Siciliani / The Sicilian Sirs.

Two men at a bar, who would, if two men were at a bar elsewhere in the world possibly (probably?) be drinking manly drinks, a pint each or a strong whiskey.  These two men instead, have granitas with whipped cream and a brioche.  A piece of brioche is torn away, and then a spoonful of granita is put on the brioche.  There is a technique to how the granita and the brioche are eaten.

Unfortunately I was only able to snap a photo of these signori siciliani once they had  finished their granita. In the photo, they are sitting with their arms crossed, seemingly identical in their looks and posture.  I thought that that moment was priceless.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Finding the Masters

 It was not only perchance that  my horoscope predicted by Rob Brezsny in the internazionale told me this two months ago:


23 ottobre – 21 novembre

“Rispetta chi è superiore a te, se mai esiste”, diceva Mark Twain. Cosa pensi di questa frase provocatoria, Scorpione? C’è qualche genio o qualche eroe che consideri degno del tuo rispetto? Se non ne hai nessuno, ti consiglio di andarlo a cercare. In questa fase della tua evoluzione hai bisogno di persone che ti ispirino con la loro grande personalità. È importante che tu impari da maestri e modelli che conoscono meglio di te il gioco della vita. Penso che ti farebbe bene anche provare ammirazione e riverenza.

"Respect who is superior to you, if they ever exist,"  said Mark Twain.  What do you think of this provocative phrase, Scorpio?  Is there a genius or a hero who you consider to be worthy of your respect?  If there is not, I suggest you go and search for them.  In this phase of your evolution, you need people who inspire you with their great personality.  It's important that you learn from masters and role-models who understand life's games better than you do.  I think it would be good for you to show some admiration ad reverence."   

I was told to search for a "maestro," a "master."  Someone who will teach me what I want to learn. 

So I searched. 

And I found that place.