I have found my dessert fix for the summer – an apricot and rosemary crumble that is dolloped with heaping spoonfuls of maple cream.
I first made it a last week when we had friends over for dinner. Ever since, I’ve made it twice more, and am on my way to make it again right after I publish this post.
I don’t care much for snacking on raw apricots, but with a little butter, sugar and heat the apricots are transformed. And ever since I learned what an outstanding combination apricot and rosemary make last summer at Cordon Bleu, I’m a convert. I’ve roasted them and I’ve pan fried them, and I think I prefer the pan frying method because it gives me more control. First, heat up a cast iron pan until blistering hot, add a knob of butter, followed by rosemary and a sprinkling of light brown sugar. Then, place the apricot halves, searing their flesh. Finally, turn down the heat and let it cook slowly for 12-15 minutes, flipping it over halfway.
Many months ago, I was a stagiaire at a fantastic little restaurant in Paris. The food was classical, and the kitchen packed with copper ware. I helped on the line with the appetizers and desserts for lunch. Before service , I did the mise-en-place which entailed cleaning squids, battling live scallops and chopping things into perfectly tiny bruinoise among many other things. I also ended up doing everyone’s least favourite task: plucking the beard off the mussels. But that also meant, I got to make lots and lots of moules en papillote. On some days after service, when the kitchen staff took off for their break, I’d hang in the kitchen with the chef making kouign amann with Bordier butter. Good times.
I’ve been fascinated by brioche even before I really knew what it was. I think it was the unusual shape of a brioche à tête that charmed me at first. It wasn’t until I moved to France more than 2 years ago that I got a taste of the real brioche Parisienne.
My first brioche was from Boulangerie Au 140 on Rue de Belleville. It was soft, smelled faintly sweet and milky. Quite like a baby. Every other evening, I’d walk downhill to the boulangerie and wait in line for my loaf. If the wait was too long, I’d use it as an excuse to pop into Fromagerie Beillevaire next door for two tiny wheels of Rocamadour. If I was monstrously hungry, I’d ask the vendors at the boulangerie to slice the loaf of brioche (which I’d otherwise take as a whole to keep fresh longer) because I knew I’d quite easily finish half the loaf in no time. My favourite way to eat the brioche was to make peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwiches. I then moved on to smearing it with mountain honey from G. Detou.
I bring to you this cake as a good reminder of how lovely and versatile the milk cake can be. It’s soft as a pillow and moist and buttery. When it’s baking, the house is filled with the fragrance of summery lavender that’s just coming into bloom. To make the lavender milk cake, I rubbed the lavender buds into the sugar and went on with the recipe as usual (skipping the bay leaves). Slice up, and serve with a dribble of honey.
I like Thursday mornings because that’s the day I get to have breakfast with Arjun after a week of rushing out of the house at 7AM. I take the time to make a lovely little breakfast for us as we sit at the table and slather whatever we’re eating with butter and watch the boats on the river go by.
This time, I made scones because they’re just so easy to put together- rub the cold butter into the flour. Add a spoonful of sugar and baking powder and then bring it all together with an egg and some milk until it’s a wee bit sticky, cut into pieces and bake. Fresh, hot scones from the oven ready in 20 minutes. We ate the scones with clotted cream and a lovely apricot jam that our friend’s aunt in Orléans, France makes over summer and shares with friends and family. It is delightful – jam that tastes like fruit, not a jar of sugar.
I like the scones plain, but you can play around with flavours – some vanilla, lavender or lemon zest. Maybe even some nuts (always toasted) and dried fruits chopped up and stirred into the flour.
- 220g plain flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 80g cold butter
- 1 egg
- 50-60ml milk (I approximated this, until I got a dough that came together and was a wee bit sticky)
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
- Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Work quickly with your fingertips, you don't want the butter to melt.
- Next, add the eggs and milk and work the dough until it comes together. It's okay if it isn't a very cohesive - just as long as it holds together.
- Roll out to a thickness of 2.5-3 cms. Using a pastry cutter, cut into rounds. Or if you'd like you can even cut it as though you're cutting a pizza.
- Brush with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a dash of milk)
- Bake in a preheated oven at 175C until golden brown.
- Serve with clotted cream and jam.
I met my culinary hero. Live, in the flesh. I took a photo with him and he signed my book!
I do look up to loads of chefs, and even stalk some of them (which may or may not have to do with their good looks), but when it comes to Pierre Hermé, it’s undying reverence. And when I learned that he was going to be at Salon du Chocolat in Paris last November, I had to buy a ticket for the day he was demonstrating a recipe.
I sat through a few demonstrations before his, so by the time he was up, I had perched myself in the perfect spot. Just as he was about to come on, I kept turning to Arjun and telling him in a staccato-toned voice, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to be seeing Pierre Hermé. L-I-V-E. Pierre. Hermé!”
With his demonstration, everything was a class apart. No frantic scribbling of recipes – printed copies were handed out. And when it was time for tasting, perfectly plated baba au rhums were distributed to the entire audience, not itsy-bisy pieces of a big baba au rhum. Shortly after, everyone rushed to line up to get their books signed. Most were getting his new book, Ispahan, signed, but I’d lugged my copy of Macarons along for him to sign.
While I haven’t made his baba au rhum today, I’m sharing another iconic Pierre Hermé creation – the macaron. [read more…]
10 Commandments of Pierre Herme (French)
Cooking Family-Style With Chef Greg Marchand
The 15 Year Old Chef
How Iñaki Aizpitarte Does Lunch at Home - his restaurant, Le Chateaubriand, is where I’ve had one of my most memorable meals in Paris. I remember when I walked out of the restaurant, and thanked him for the meal, he came across as someone so friendly, so unassuming quite unlike his badass rockstar looks. “Merci, à bientôt!” he said. I’ll definitely be back soon.
Dinner with Iñaki Aizpitarte and Delphine Zampetti – yes, I’m an Iñaki stalker.
Photo essay of a Tuscan butcher breaking down a pig.
Tartine Book N°3 (USA | UK | India) Given the success I’ve had with the first Tartine Bread book, I can’t wait to start baking from this one.
French Regional Cooking – This book is out of print, but I was lucky enough to find it online for a mere £0.01! My chef at Cordon Bleu recommended I buy this book when he read about my disdain for the bouillabaisse we made at school. He promised I’d change my opinion on the much spoken about seafood soup from the South of France.
Currently on my Kindle: The Belly of Paris (USA | UK | India), A Pretty Good Number One (USA | UK | India).
Margot Henderson on women in commanding positions in the kitchen.
The prettiest choux video ever.
Christophe Adam (swoon) make Baba au Rhum (thanks, Poppy!)
Iñyaki on video. Last one about him, I promise.
I’d been contemplating getting a few new tools for my knife kit. I just ordered 9 Pallarès Solsona carbon steel knives and am pondering over buying this oroshigane.
I’m pretty good at detecting flavours in recipe. I’m even proud of it. But when it comes to identifying bay leaf, I’m foxed.
I can’t seem to distinguish the subtle aroma that everyone else can. Even at school, when we made a bouquet garni of thyme and bay leaf rolled up in leek leaves and tied up with a twine, I’d never be able to identify the fragrance other than that of thyme and leek wafting from the pan.
I wondered about its importance in food, and I wondered why having too much of this might be toxic. A friend of mine even told me that it was absolutely imperative for us to add bay leaves while cooking Feijoada (Brazilian black beans) because that’s what sets them apart from the way black beans are cooked in the rest of Latin America. I smiled and I did as I was told, still wondering what difference they’d actually make.
Thank you everyone for your overwhelming response to the baking classes in Mumbai (as always!) I had so much fun teaching some of my favourite recipes and sharing tips and tricks. I was so happy to see many of you come back year after year, and was delighted to learn from so many of you that attending my class spurred you to start your home baking business. I’m around and happy to help you troubleshoot if you need me!
There has been quite an infux of emails about the classes lately. I don’t have any planned for the foreseeable future, but if you’d like to be updated about them, you can bookmark the page on baking classes, I’ve created just for this or fill out the form below and be the first to know when something comes up!
Happy baking! x Shaheen
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