Let me tell you the story of yesterday. Or rather, of yesterday afternoon.
We stopped at the gas station. Two French hot-dogs and bad cups of coffee later we turned right on the old road towards Kusmark. It had only been a couple of weeks since our last trip and yet, the never-ending sun turned the fields into a thousand shades of green. There is the blue-green of the conifers, and the vibrant tarnished-gold of sunrays through the birch leaves.
A wonderful forest made of apple trees and lilac, bursting and blooming, not unlike a kaleidoscope.
And just like the road, Svante’s garden had become a wonderful forest made of apple trees and lilac, bursting and blooming, not unlike a kaleidoscope.
I took my shoes off as I stepped out from the car and ran to the rhubarb plants, wondering how big they would have grown.
And if it’s anything to go by I’d say that it must have been much warmer this year than last, as they reached a good twenty centimeter above my head.
We picked and trimmed. And picked again.
Two bushes gave us a little over twenty kilograms, perhaps even thirty. All while we left the last plant – the one by the mountain of chopped wood, drying for the winter – mostly untouched.
This is the aftermath. A beautiful mess, of some sort. The bigger-than-I’d-ever-seen leaves went into the compost, and the stalks – at times green, at times red – were washed under ice-cold water, and stuffed into plastic bags.
There is something about it that I can’t quite pinpoint. Most likely one of these cliché childhood memories of my grand-parents potager [vegetable patch] in Fouras.
And just like a forever-carousel of happy recollections, neatly-arranged jars of confiture de rhubarbe [rhubarb jam] and silent wishes, here is my not-so-official June* rhubarb list.
1.Dipping peeled rhubarb stalks in sugar, just like K. told me about a few years ago, on one of the many summer nights we spend on the south bank. 2. Cooking rababersaft [rhubarb cordial], which everyone here freezes in small water bottles to bring a bit of summer throughout the winter days. 3. Maybe, making a batch of rabarberbullar [rhubarb buns]. 4. And an upside-down rhubarb cake. 5. I’ve been looking forward to trying Tartine bakery’s galette dough; and really, I think a rhubarb galette needs to happen. 6. Baking my favourite cake: a soft vanilla sponge with bits of chopped rhubarb and a swirl of rhubarb jam, little pockets of cheesecake and a heavy handful of streusel sprinkled over its top. 7. Of course, rhubarb jam. Not a year should go without. 8. I’ve been dreaming of creating a simple ice-cream recipe – with no special sugars (hejdå dextrose and atomised glucose) and no stabilisers (with perhaps, cornflour or gelatin as a thickener). And given the state of my fridge-turned-rhubarb-storage, I might have to start with rhubarb creamsicle ice-cream. TBC. 9. Thick sliced of brioches, French-toasted just so, with a generous spoonful of rhubarb compote. 10.What’s your favourite rhubarb recipe? How do you deal with your bountiful plants?
* June because living in the north of Sweden means just that: rhubarb in June. Enough said 🙂
The days are now long again. With the sun setting at ten thirty pm and rising just a short hours later at two thirty am.
And when I told Svante last Sunday “Det känns som sommar idag.”, he was quick to answer “Det är sommar.”, something that went in unison with his rhubarb plants, which have dramatically grown over the span of a few weeks.
So I guess summer has started; on a Sunday afternoon.
With the ice gone from the rivers of north Sweden for what feels a couple of days, K. turned into an almost full-time fly-fisherman. And as the last traces of snow disappeared (although I’ve now seen a little patch, by Bonnstan, which is still covered in a mountain of dirty snow), we packed our car, just so we’d have the essentials ready. All day. Everyday.
A blanket on the back-seat, in case we drop by Kusmark to pick up K.’s brother’s dog Kaiser. Waders, wading boots (for him) and hiking boots (for me), neatly arranged in a banana cardboard box in the trunk. A couple of rods and reels. Many fly boxes and manier flies.
Some days, I happily join him, along with our kaffepanna [Swedish coffee pot], two white plastic mugs, and our favourite kokkaffe; a chunky piece of falukorv [Falun sausage], and perhaps a baguette or a few slices of sourdough bread; a knife; a box of matches; and a few energy balls in a little plastic bag.
Raw vegan carrot cake balls I love to make a large batch of these and keep them in the freezer for days when we go on a little fishing/hiking trip. And really, they have now replaced the chocolate wrapped in foil that we used to bring along, at times with bits of roasted hazelnuts, other times with salty nuggets of lakrits [liquorish].
The last batch I made was this one: carrot cake-ish, of some kind. But the variations are endless.
You could substitute the carrot for raspberries (a favourite of mine) or bananas. Add a fat tablespoon of raw cocoa powder. Replace the oats for sprouted buckwheat or rye. Add seeds from a vanilla pod, or a grated tonka bean, or a few chopped nuts. And when the stone fruits will be in season, I urge you to try to make these with fresh peach and dried apricots (to replace the dates); and maybe add a pinch of saffron and a small handful of pistachio nuts. Another wonderful option is to use half passion fruit pulp, half grated apples, and roll the balls in matcha powder.
Raw vegan carrot cake balls
Makes 8-12 energy balls
120 g rolled oats
50 g shredded coconut
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch of salt
130 g grated carrots (approx. 1)
90 g pitted medjool dates (approx. 6)
2 tbsp coconut oil (approx. 30 g)
1 tbsp agave/maple syrup
Place the dry ingredients in a food processor and blitz for a minute until coarsely ground. Add the carrots, dates, coconut oil and syrup, and blitz until it forms a dough.
Transfer to a clean work surface and roll into a log. Cut into 8, 10 or 12 depending on the size you wish your energy bites to be.
Roll each segment into a ball and coat in shredded coconut.
Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before eating. The raw vegan carrot cake balls will keep in the fridge for around 4-5 days. You could also make a double batch and freeze them for up to 3 months.
You can ask any chef; staff meals are a luxury in the restaurant industry. Over the past ten years, I’ve come across almost anything.
The baguettes we’d be sent to buy at the wonderful Des gâteaux et du pain, sliced in half lengthways, and placed on the bench along with a container of Bordier butter, one of home-made strawberry jam, and one filled with fleur de sel. The barely-warm café au lait, drunk standing by the oven. The amazing canteen that had a soft-serve ice-cream machine, a salad bar and one for toasties too, oh and an espresso machine too! The delivery driver slash tarte tatin chef who’d make a pit-stop at the corner boulangerie during his rounds, and bring back warm pains aux raisins to the labo. The leftover chips from an order, eaten with saffron aioli at the end of a dinner service as the kitchen was getting scrubbed. The best poached eggs a breakfast chef placed in your fridge with a little note. The grenadine mister freeze I mass-produced in the summer months. And the watermelons we sliced and left around the kitchen in nine-pans, to be eaten whenever a rare quiet minute appeared.
One of my favourites were the “family” dinners we had every day at four pm when we opened John Salt with Ben Spalding.
I still remember vividly that my turn was on wednesdays. Vividly, because it was perhaps the worst day for it to happen: the usual putting-away of the morning veg and dairy deliveries, the weekly dry-store delivery, the morning deep-cleaning, the 10am kitchen meeting. This meant very little time to prep for service, let alone cook dinner for all of us.
If you’d ask me what I thought about staff meal at around three-thirty pm on a wednesday, you might have heard some French, and yet, four years on, it’s one of my fondest memories from my London years.
Some weeks, I’d make a simple salade niçoise. Or a large pissaladière. Maybe some cheddar toasted sandwiches. And a few crisp leaves dressed in an quick lemon vinaigrette. And, always something sweet: at times cookies, taken out from the oven a few minutes before the table was set; at times, burnt-orange marmalade loaf cakes or lemon squares.
And just like this, I thought I’d introduce a new feature: Feed the chefs. It’s something I’ve had in mind for a while; in fact, I have a draft from 2013 called Feed the chefs: Wholewheat flour and hazelnut cookies.
In this feature, you’ll find simple recipes that can be made at home or for a crowd.
For reference, a gastro is a 53×32.5cm metal tray, which is widely used in professional kitchens.
This recipe has been in my notebooks – under one form or another – for years. What started out as a curd made with only eggs, lemon juice and zest, sugar, and butter has evolved under the years into what I consider my perfect lemon bar.
I increased the butter dramatically. Added egg yolks to improve the texture. And reduced the amount of sugar, a little at a time. Sometimes, I like to add a dash of cream to the curd mixture as I find it takes the lemon squares to another level, on a par with my best lemon tart. However, if you’re out of cream, the lemon squares can also be made without!
It has a crisp tanginess and is wonderfully creamy, yet it still slices beautifully and holds well.
At times, I’ll make it with the most brittle shortbread, the one I talk about in Paris Pastry Club, but most days I’ll go for a flaky biscuit dough, with light brown sugar and demerara, which I think complements the lemon flavour in the best way possible.
– You’ll notice that the “home” recipe below makes a larger quantity of dough than you’ll need; but unless you’re willing to break an egg, whisk it, and use 16g for a third of the recipe – not to mention leave out the amazing cinnamon crisp biscuits you could make with the leftover dough – then I’d suggest you make the large batch, use 275g of it for the lemon squares and roll the rest in between two sheets of baking paper to 4-5mm thick and then proceed as mentioned in this beautiful recipe from Trine Hahnemann.
– The shortbread base does not need to be blind-baked with weights (or pulses). I like to prick it with a fork to avoid large bubbles and bake it as it is for a flakier result.
– I always rub my zest into the sugar to extract as much essential oils as possible.
– Whenever I’m making custard or curd tarts, I like to cook my curd over a bain-marie until it reaches 70-75°C. This has two purposes: first, it makes the final baking much more even and quick – you won’t find a custard tart with puffed up edges and a runny centre in my house. Secondly, it makes the bubbles disappear, leaving you with lemon squares that can be served without their traditional dust of icing sugar.
Makes 25 small squares or 9 large ones
Makes one gastro (around 60 squares)
For the shortbread base
100 g light brown sugar
25 g demerara sugar
zest from 3 lemons
375 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
250 g cold butter, cubed
For the shortbread base
100 g light brown sugar
25 g demerara sugar
zest from 3 lemons
375 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
250 g cold butter, cubed
For the lemon curd
240 g caster sugar
zest from 2 lemons
150 g egg yolks (around 7-8)
110 g eggs (around 2 large)
180 g lemon juice (from approx 3-4 lemons)
120 g unsalted butter, cubed
40 g double cream (optional, read note above)
For the lemon curd
650 g caster sugar
zest from 6 lemons
420 g egg yolks
300 g eggs
500 g lemon juice
300 g unsalted butter, cubed
120 g UHT cream (optional, read note above)
Make the dough
Butter your baking tin (or gastro) and line the bottom with baking paper, leaving 3cm on each side to use as handles to take out the tart from its tin after baking.
Place the flour, sugars, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl, and mix to combine. Add the butter, and rub it in the flour mix until it resembles coarse oats. Add the egg and work the dough until just smooth.
If you’re making the smaller lemon squares in a 25x25cm tin, use only 275g of shortbread dough and keep the rest to make cinnamon biscuits as mentioned in this recipe.
Place the dough in your prepared tin and flatten using the palm of your hands. Prick with a fork and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days.
Preheat the oven to 175°C.
Bake the shortbread for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Once baked, set aside until needed and reduce the oven temperature to 120°C.
In the meantime, make the lemon curd.
Make the curd
Place the sugar and zests in a large bowl, and rub in between your fingers to extract the oils from the lemon zest.
Add the egg yolks, eggs, lemon juice and butter, and cook over a pan of simmering water until it just starts to thicken and the foamy bubbles disappear; it should be around 70-75°C.
If using, add the cream now and stir to combine.
Immediately, pass the curd onto the cooked shortbread base using a fine-mesh sieve. And bake for 15-20 minutes. The centre should still jiggle slightly.
Allow to cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before gently lifting it from the tin and cutting it into squares.
To do this, fill your sink with hot water and dip your knife in it for a few seconds. Wipe the blade clean making sure the sharp edge isn’t facing your fingers, and slice the tart into 5x5cm squares (or 8x8cm if you’re a lemon lover), rinsing and wiping your knife in between each slice.
Serve with a dust of icing sugar or some blow-torched Italian meringue for a faux-lemon meringue tart.
We passed by this abandoned lime kiln on our way back from Åsen, and I had to stop the car. We parked by the small house across the road. We walked around the beautifully-decayed factory and right then, an almost-alternate reality opened in front of our eyes. It was breathtaking.
Perhaps you don’t know, but I’m fascinated with industrial buildings, especially those that have been deserted. The metal pipes and sheets. The wind through broken windows and the electric silence. The rawness, almost bare.
An art of some sort; a stillness that moves me and makes me reflect on what surrounds us.
When it comes to laminated doughs, you find two types of tours (literally turns, although I tend to refer to them as folds in English): the tour simple – or single fold – and the tour double – otherwise known as double fold.
I’m planning on making a post describing both types, along with some notes; but today’s pastry chef tip is all about double folds.
On the diagram below – representing both single and double folds – you’ll find the classic double fold most books and online resources will use: the dough gets “sectioned” in quarters, both ends gets folded over the centre “spine”, and finally, to complete the double fold, the dough gets folded in half.
Today’s tip is the proof that something simple can have a tremendous impact; the beauty of pâtisserie really.
I might be wrong, but I like to think that this tip was given to me by Graham Hornigold – a sensational pastry chef and even better human being who is very dear to my heart, yes, he’s the best – in our basement prep-kitchen at the Mandarin Oriental too many years ago. Thank you Graham!
When doing a double fold, slightly offset the centre “spine” to your right as shown on the diagram below:
Then proceed as normal:
1. Fold the right end toward the offset centre “spine”.
2. Fold the left end to meet the first fold.
3. Fold the dough in half to complete the tour double.
The reason behind it
The “spine”, as I like to call it, where both ends meet is traditionally at the centre of the rolled-out pâton. But when you fold the dough in half to complete the tour, the two ends separate slightly due to the physical action of folding, leaving a thin gap with only one layer of dough instead of two.
By offsetting the “spine”, you ensure that all parts of the dough get laminated, creating a dough with consistent and continuous lamination.
One of our readers, Martin, has a very interesting insight in the comments
Offset folding also helps by moving two of the less well laminated edges into the centre mass of the sheet. If you fold in the regular style, the poorer lamination is never adjusted and remains on the outer rim of the dough.
Notes and resources
-I like to trim the ends, again, to ensure a consistent lamination; but more on that later in another pastry chef tip!
– Always gently brush off excess flour before completing the folds.
– As I’ve mentioned it above, I’m also working on a more general article about lamination, but in the meantime, this post about cinnamon croissants contains many of my tips (and the most wonderful breakfast one could ever have).
There was a day spent in the garden. A rake in the hands, and dead leaves piled high on a wheelbarrow. That day, the sun was high and warm, just like the two eagles we’d seen earlier, right after sunrise.
The following morning was an entirely different story. A story made of snowflakes and a crackling fireplace. Both lasted all day, for the record.
I baked the sourdough bread that I had left to proof on the porch overnight. And although it turned out to be much too big for my cast-iron pot, it was restlessly devoured while still warm, with only a few slices left for the next day.
I painted too. A dalahäst. Although I still need to draw on top of the watercolours, using ink, just like I always do.
And in the afternoon, when it became clear we wouldn’t leave the house, I whipped egg whites and folded them into fromage blanc, to make the one cake that might have possibly been baked weekly in my kitchen for a little over ten years, which I’ve yet to tell you about.
Fromage blanc cake
This recipe is a classic case of natural selection.
What started with the words tarte au fromage blanc, hastily written with a not-so-steady hand over twenty years ago has slowly turned into a cake – a term close enough, yet, hardly accurately describes the wonder that it really is.
All it took, really, was to remove the pâte brisée base. And just like that, many childhood memories resurfaced. The tourteau fromagé du Poitou; the burnt crust, the pâte brisée I would leave out in favour of the insane texture of this fresh goat’s cheese “cake”. And perhaps also, the soft cake that came from a cardboard box at the supermarket; halfway between a mousse and a cheesecake.
And maybe that’s what I should call it: Fromage blanc French cheesecake. But then, it’d sound much more flamboyant that what it is.
Because it is not. It’s a plain, slightly sour from the fromage blanc (however, Greek yoghurt makes and excellent substitute) and warm with vanilla (by any mean, please use homemade vanilla sugar) cake.
If eaten piping hot from the oven, it’s the softest thing you’ve ever had. And in the morning, after a night spent on the kitchen counter, it becomes firm and yet delicate; a form, which is without a doubt my favourite.
You could also add the zest from a lemon or an orange. Or fold in a light jam right before you pour the batter into its tin. I often don’t. For the sake of its plain, unpretentious character.
Fromage blanc cake
4 eggs, separated
a pinch of salt
100 g caster sugar
500 g fromage blanc or Greek yoghurt
100 g cornflour or plain flour
30 g vanilla sugar
Preheat the oven to 175°C (185°C for traditional ovens). Butter and line the bottom of a 22cm cake pan with baking paper, and set aside.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until foamy. Add half the sugar and keep on whisking until they reach hard peaks.
In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Gently fold in the fromage blanc, cornflour and vanilla sugar.
Then, using a rubber spatula, fold in the meringue until barely smooth: it’s absolutely fine to still have bits of egg whites in the finished batter.
Transfer to your prepared tin, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until well-domed and golden-brown. The top might have cracked a little and it should feel firm to the touch.
Allow the cake to cool down to room temperature in its tin, then unmould onto a plate. Serve dusted with icing sugar or with berries, just brought to the boil with a spoonful of caster sugar.
We’re in Åsen for the week. With a very limited internet connection, but this kind of thing doesn’t matter when you have for only alarm, the soft light of the sun through a forest of birches, and the mésanges‘ songs .
There are the woodpeckers too, not unlike a ticking clock.
Yes, we’ve seen many birds perched in the trees that line the forest, but mostly blåmeser [blue tits] and talgoxer [great tits].
And I wanted to find a simple way to feed them as I know for the fact that they’ll be heading north soon.
So this morning, I made a quick coconut bird feeder. Kalle was still asleep. And a loaf of sourdough bread was getting brown in the oven, later to be sliced while still warm (a guilty pleasure of mine) for breakfast.
I took the coconut that Kalle sawed last night, and some string we had in the kitchen; and really, I liked the first one I made so much, that I took some pictures to show you.
Fresh coconut flesh is ok for birds to eat, but please don’t feed them any desiccated coconut as it can be harmful.
After I took the pictures, I asked Kalle to drill a hole at the bottom of the eye-less shell, pictured here, to make sure water would drain in case of rainy weather.
You could make it way fancier, adding more strings and braiding them; but I just wanted to make something easy, fast and durable. However, I’m pretty sure, I might make more macramé holders soon, perhaps for plants.
Macramé coconut bird feeder
– a coconut – sawed in half and with holes drilled at the bottom of each half for draining purposes
– kitchen string
– hooks (optional, to attach the coconut bird feeders more easily to branches)
1. Cut 4 strings, each measuring around 60cm.
2.Group the string by 2 and make them meet in their centre.
3. Knot them together tightly.
4. Separate in four strands again and tie simple knots, around 3-4cm from the centre.
5. Place on top of one coconut half. And group two strands from different thread together, as shown above. Tie another simple knot, 3-4cm further. And repeat with the remaining strands.
6. Repeat this process one last time (or more of you have a large coconut) to that the final “line” of knots reaches the rim of the coconut half.
7. Place your macramé coconut bird feeder upright and pull the strings, trying to centre them. Make a knot. Add a hook.
8. When the birds will have eaten the coconut flesh, refill the feeder with seeds and grains of your choice.
Which birds do you have in your garden these days? Lots of love, X Fanny.
This afternoon, I started gathering things I want to bring with us to Åsen (two more days!!). A film camera, and many rolls of my favourite film – Kodak Ektar in case you’re wondering, two bags of stone-ground flour, a glazed ceramic tray, watercolours and brushes.
And in the center of the block of cold-pressed paper, I found these illustrations I made two summers or so ago. Sat on the patio of our cabin in Åsen, to the sound of raining trees.
And I thought I’d tell you about the life-changing way to scan watercolours. A simple trick that I read about on Elizabeth’s blog.
The process, which allows to control the rendered texture of the cold-pressed paper that makes editing a watercolour in Photoshop a pain, has become a favourite. And K. may have had to hear me ramble about it for a week or so, happy-dance included.
Step one: scan the watercolour
But scan it twice, rotating the image to 180° on the scanner bed for the second scan.
Step two: open in Photoshop
Layer both images, align the content, and set the top layer to 50% ( more or less, it’s up to you how much “texture” you want to show).
Step three: edit as you usually would
Which for me means: extracting the illustration using the channel panel, possibly correcting the white balance/saturation/contrast, and exporting.
For a more detailed instructions, please head over Elizabeth’s for a beautifully illustrated tutorial.
One morning, we left for Byske as soon as K. got home; with, for only reason, the two horses that he’d seen and wanted to show me.
In the distance, a farm broke through the wall of björkar [birches] that lines the road. As we approached, it became clear that the horses had been moved.
Instead, we stopped a few hundreds of meters later, way past the runestone that I’m still very curious about (note-to-self: go there again, please). We sat on the car and ate the two apples I had brought along. K. cut some birch branches for the påskris [Easter tree] that was to happen.
Another day, we sat in the setting sun; to the sound of a crackling fire, and geese heading north above our heads, not unlike a compass of some sort. There might have been korv and baguette, chocolate and kokkaffe. And before dusk settled behind the trees, Kalle threw his first cast into a river that had lost its winter ice.
Tonight, we heard raindrops against the glass rooftop of our veranda. And really, I had forgotten how wonderful rain can be after months made of silent snowflakes.
From what I’ve gathered, romtårta [litterally, roe cake; a savoury roe cheesecake] is a summer classic.
It does, however, get made as soon as the sun makes its return in the north; perhaps, not unlike a rain dance.
This recipe comes from my friend Suss, and I fell in love with it when she made in at the café for an Easter du jour special.
The earthiness of the bread, which I highly recommend to be a sunflower seed-heavy rågbröd, meddles beautifully with the lemon and the sea-saltiness of the roe.
Make sure to top your tårta with plenty of vegetables to add texture and freshness. I went for thinly shaved radishes and cucumber, sliced sugar snap peas, and bits of lemon segments.
You can make it either as a large tart, which I think would look stunning on a dinner table, or like I did, smaller individual tarts.
In any case, I truly think it will become an Easter tradition in our house. And perhaps in yours too.
A note on the gelatin
As you may know, I’ve been trying to write an article about gelatin for – literally – years. And every now and then, I become obsessed with it again.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, as it’s an ingredient that is so tremendously different from one country to another that it makes my job as a chef and a food writer quite difficult.
I won’t get into details about it now, but let me just tell you that in between France, the UK, and Sweden, I’ve had to adjust my recipes a lot to fit the gelatin available in each place.
When I first made this recipe, it called for 4 gelatin leaves. The gelatin we get from the supermarkets here is extra guld [extra gold], so I’m assuming its on the higher end of the bloom spectrum for gold gelatin, perhaps 220-230 bloom.
However, I have found that 4 leaves was slightly too much in this case, so I’ve reduced the gelatin in the recipe below to 3 leaves, bringing it to 5.1g of 220-230 bloom gelatin.
Please, note that the gelatin here in Sweden is much stronger than the gelatin found in French or English supermarkets, so you might need more. In fact, one leaf here seems to be almost the equivalent of a professional gelatin leaf, both in strength and weight.
If in doubt, go by weight: 5 grams; and add a couple of grams if your gelatin has a strength comprised between 160-190 bloom.
However, remember to start with less, as a cheesecake with a creamier texture – although it might look a bit messy – will always be better than an over-set one.
Makes 8 individual tarts or one 24cm.
For the base
200 g rye bread, pumpernickel, or even crackers
75 g butter, melted
a fat pinch of salt
For the “cheesecake”
3 gelatin leaves (around 5g, see note above)
300 g cream cheese
200 g crème fraiche
1/2 red onion, finely minced
juice and zest from a lemon
a pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
80 g fish roe
Prepare eight 8cm-wide rings or a large 24cm ring on a tray that fits in your fridge, and is lined with baking paper.
Blitz the bread into crumbs, and add the melted butter and salt. Divide the mixture in between the prepared rings, and press to form a base.
Set aside in the fridge until needed.
Make the filling
Soak the gelatin leaves in ice-cold water.
In a large bowl, mix half the cream cheese with the crème fraiche, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper.
Heat the remaining cream cheese – either in the microwave or over a bain-marie – until around 60°C.
Dissolve the gelatin in the warm cream cheese, and incorporate it into the crème fraiche mixture using a whisk.
Gently fold in the roe, and divide this cream into the prepared ring.
Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Unmould by running a small knife around the rim of your rings and top with prawns and sliced vegetables of your choice.
I intended for today’s post to be short – almost-wordless short. Really, it was just meant to be a recipe that I developed for a nut-free pâte sucrée.
And that what it is, in essence. With a few notes around it.
In France – or at least at the pâtisseries where I worked, and in books and magazines – pâte sucrée will always call for ground almonds (or some other kind of ground nuts, depending on the finished tart). This gives the dough a short, crumbly texture, and a wonderful roasted aroma. No questions asked.
But here in Sweden, I’ve found that many people have food allergies, so I’ve had to improvise. And after many trials, I’ve finally worked out a nut-free recipe that I’m happy with, and that stands against the pâte sucrée I grew up making.
Now, I could tell you a few stories about chefs that I worked with in London and their relationships with customers who have allergies or dietary requirements. But I think it would be 1) too mind-your-French kinda stories and 2) too long to tell them all.
I must, however, share my favourite of all. Picture a couple of vegetarians asking about options in a very meaty menu. All I heard in response went along the lines of: “Do I go in a *insert swear-word of your choice* vegetarian restaurant and ask for a *insert swear-word of your choice* rib-eye?”.
Of course, a beautiful vegetarian tasting menu was promptly made, but this sentence somehow stuck with me, and I love to remember it fondly every now and then, and of course, to tell it to anyone who cares enough (or not) to listen.
This is the recipe that I started with. It’s absolutely beautiful – a given when it comes to Pierre Hermé, really.
However, over the years, I’ve come to adapt it into an easier-to-work with dough; which to this day remains my standard and usual recipe.
Pierre Hermé’s pâte sucrée
300 g unsalted butter
190 g icing sugar
60 g ground almonds
1 tsp sea salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
100 g eggs
500 g plain flour
This recipe, which I think stems from a combination of Pierre Hermé’s, Valrhona and a few tweaks here and there, is as its name reveals without a hint of suspense, my favourite.
It’s one I can make with my eyes and my recipe notebook closed.
Of course, I always make a much bigger batch, somewhere along x5.5, which gives me enough to dough to roll fourteen 28.5x45cm sheets (a format, rather than being practical, obeys the rule of the baking paper that we have in kitchens: 45x57cm, which religiously gets cut in half in the morning, forming large piles that fit into gastros and baking trays, and lasts us through the day).
For those of you wondering about regularity of thickness between sheets, read further down to Notes, where you’ll find the answer.
Fanny’s favourite pâte sucrée
255 g unsalted butter
190 g icing sugar
70 g ground almonds
1 tsp sea salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
100 g eggs
510 g plain flour
A nut free alternative
When I realised many people here had food allergies, it made me question everything I had learn, heard or done in the past.
In France, at least, back when I was living there, very few pâtisseries catered to dietary requirements; yes, [to be said with a French accent] eat the tart or don’t. It was not something I’ve ever seen anyone – chefs or customers – think about, let alone be concerned.
In Sweden, it’s on the literal opposite of the spectrum, so much, that I always make sure to have at least three or four gluten-free options, two dairy-free alternatives, a couple of nut-free pastries, and a lactose-free crème brûlée (flavoured with tonka bean at the moment, because I think tonka and winter were always meant).
And this is why I had to give up my favourite pâte sucrée. I started working on a recipe, with mixed results – from my perspective only judging by how quick the lemon tarts sell out every time I put them in the display.
But after a few batches, I found the one that I’ve now been using for the past few months. A crisp, golden-brown crust that stays so.
Fanny’s nut-free pâte sucrée
280 g unsalted butter
180 g icing sugar
1 tsp sea salt
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
100 g eggs
40 g egg yolks
545 g plain flour
Or simply follow this process:
1. In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the cold butter (see note n°1 below), icing sugar, ground almonds (if using), salt, and vanilla, until just smooth.
2. Add the eggs (and yolk for the nut-free recipe) one at a time, mixing well after each addition, a minute or so. If making a larger batch, the eggs can be added a couple at a time.
3. Mix in the flour (read note n°2 below if making a larger batch) and work on low speed until just combined.
4. Divide the dough into three pâtons, roughly 350-360g each. Flatten each onto a feuille guitare (cf note n°3) using the palm of your hand and top with another feuille. Roll, always from the centre upwards, giving the dough a quarter turn every time, into a large disk, around 3-4mm thick. Place the dough onto a baking tray and set aside. Repeat with the other two pâtons; and either freeze for up to two months, or chill in the fridge for at least two hours or for up to a week.
If making a bigger batch, please refer to note n°4.
5. Line your tart ring and chill or freeze for an hour or two. Blind bake (see ressources below for a link to one of my posts “A few notes on blind-baking”).
N°1. The butter does not need to be at room temperature as many recipes might suggest. Yes, it makes for an easier mixing (especially by hand, which I suspect this rather obsolete step comes from) but it also makes the water contained in the butter more available to bind with the flour proteins, hence developing gluten more than cold butter would.
The quick mixing of the cold butter with the sugar acts as a mechanical (as opposed to physical) softener. And before you know it, you’ll have a smooth paste, ready to receive the eggs.
N°2. If making a large batch – larger than 5 kilograms in total weight – I’d recommend adding around 10% of the flour to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and working on low speed until incorporated; and then adding the remaining flour and mixing until just combined. Never overwork the dough as it would make the tart shell tough instead of crisp and crumbly.
N°3. Feuille guitare, litterally guitar-leaf, is a transparent polyethylene/acetate film that is somewhat rigid. Although it can be replaced by baking paper, I would – if given the choice – always use it to roll dough. It prevents the formation of creases in the dough (which could later results in cracks during baking) and yes, it looks neat.
They are also amazing for chocolate décors, which i could show you if you’re interested (let me know!).
N°4. When I make a x5.5 batch, I divide the dough into 14 pieces, around 450g each. And then roll them into 28.5x45cm sheets, making sure to trim the edges into a neat rectangle. This way, I can store my dough in the freezer in an airtight plastic gastro, and take out sheets when I’m making a tart shell mise-en-place.
By weighing each pâtons and rolling to the exact same size every time, I ensure an even thickness throughout the batch. This produces a dough that bakes uniformly, making sure all the tartelettes on one baking tray will be ready at the same time.
N°5. My absolute favourite rings when it comes to tarts are not the traditional tart rings that have rolled edges. I like simple entremet rings from Matfer. They’re 35mm-high and are completely smooth, with no welding mark.
I find that with 35mm-high rings, I get more use out of them. If I want to make a 2cm-high tart, then I simply cut a 2cm strip of dough that will become the edges of the tart. However, if I’d like to make a deeper tart, perhaps chocolate or pecan, then I simply line the ring up to its rim.
I know DeBuyer has recently come up with perforated rings in collaboration with Valrhona; and although I’ve tried them a couple of times, with great results in term on crumb texture and even baking, I don’t really like the marks they leave on the outer edge of the tart case.
N°6. I always bake my tarts onto Silpain – a variation oriented for bread bakers of the now-famous Silpat. I find that it gives the quickest and most even baking.
La cerise Le citron sur le gâteau [The cherry lemon on top]
Just like I did in Paris Pastry Club (almost its two-year birthday!!), I can’t resist to share the lemon tart recipe that has followed me for years – despite the MANY other lemon curds that I’ve tried to like. Of course, it’s from Pierre Hermé. And really, trust me, it’s the best you could, and will, ever make.
The recipe will leave you with some extra lemon curd – that always tend to disappear on top of ice-cream if my mum and sister are around. Or you could also, divide what’s left in piping bags, tie them tighly and freeze for up to 2 months.
Tarte au citron meringuée
Makes one 24cm tart, serving 12-16.
one 24cm blind-baked tart shell, using the pâte sucrée of your choice (or as I do in my book a lemon shortbread topped with a lemon sponge).
For the lemon curd 240 g caster sugar
zest from 3 lemons
200 g eggs
140 g lemon juice (around 3 large lemons) 300 g butter, cubed, at room temperature
Place the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl, and rub the zest in the sugar for a minute or two. This step, although optional, diffuses the fragrant lemon oils into the sugar, resulting in a deeply flavoured and more complex lemon curd.
Whisk in the eggs (I like to handblend the eggs before adding them to the sugar as I find it gives the smoothest texture) and the lemon juice.
Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook the lemon curd until it reaches 81°C, stirring every minute or so.
remove the bowl from the bain-marie and allow to cool down to 55-60°C. Then whisk in the butter, one cube at a time. Handblend the curd for 6 minutes then pass through a fine-mesh sieve into a plastic container.
Clingfilm to the touch and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours or better yet, overnight.
When ready to assemble the tart, make the Italian meringue.
For the Italian meringue
100 g egg whites
1/2 tsp sea salt
200 g caster sugar
60 g water
Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place the sugar and water in a small pan, and bring to the boil over medium heat.
When the syrup reaches the boil, start whisking the egg whites on medium speed.
Cook the syrup to 118°C and pour over the soft peaks egg whites, making sure to run the syrup along the sides of the bowl to avoid it from splashing around the bowl.
Increase the speed slightly and keep on whisking until the meringue feels barely warm.
In the meantime, pipe a generous layer of lemon curd into your blind-baked tart shell using a piping bag fitted with a 12mm nozzle.
Pipe the meringue on top into a pattern, or simply pile it on and swirl. Burn using a blowtorch, making sure to rotate the tart to get every nook and cranny.
It’s still very much winter here in Skellefteå. In fact, we’ve had a blizzard over the weekend; snow, at times twirling around with the winds; and at other times, falling almost horizontally. A western under the snow. Not unlike the Dyonisos album that lullabied my teenage years.
Oh love me, Oh kiss me,
I’m lying on western under the snow
You’re the sky of my heart
So come to me and take off your clouds
But there’s been something different in the air. It might have started on a Monday, almost a month ago.
There are the birds. And a sun warmer and brighter than it’s been for months. There are the morning walks by the river. And the temperatures that have risen from -26°C to -10°C.
Today, we opened our windows as the sun rose – the crisp air filled our flat while we were safely nested under the duvet. A make-believe spring of some kind. Something only we know; or perhaps, something only we make up.
Not much has happened in our kitchen. Dinners made of glass noodle salad with barely-warm roasted salmon. A few nights made of crispy rice and red wine. And Kalle’s wonderful breakfasts; the latest edition involving tomato sauce with plenty of onion and garlic, golden-brown bacon, eggs – with a yolk runny as it should be, perhaps some beans too. But most importantly, the råg or vete-kakor [soft polar bread] that he cuts into four and fry in the rendered bacon fat until almost burnt.
You’d also find a glass-jarful of biscuits on the counter. Sometimes, drömmar or syltkakor; but mostly our favourite cinnamon shortbreads.
And just like we were in love with a crispy cinnamon biscuit recipe last year (which you should try too as they’re on the opposite spectrum of the shortbreads I’m showing you today), 2016 has been about kanelkakor.
Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads
Adapted from Leila Lindholm’s A Piece of Cake.
In Swedish, these shortbreads are called spröda kanelkakor; literally brittle cinnamon biscuits. And they are just that. Crisp and golden. With cinnamon just so. And when bitten, they’ll crumble into tiny morsels.
I like to bake them until golden-brown, which would be considered an offense by any Swedish mormor [grand-mother]. Yes, here, most biscuits are likely to be baked into the palest shade of gold; when the base just starts to brown around the edge.
But no matter how far north I now live, you can’t take the French in me away from deep-caramel tones.
The original recipe calls for a tablespoon of water, which I of course replaced with vanilla extract. Yes, vanilla never is a bad idea. And yes, you can forever-quote me on that.
The dough itself comes together in a minute or so. And perhaps, that’s why we’ve baked these shortbreads more than any other over the winter.
And although the recipe rightfully suggests to leave the dough wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge for at least an hour before baking, I haven’t found it necessary when I used cold butter. However, if your kitchen temperature exceeds 18°C, I’d recommend going ahead with this step to make sure your shortbreads won’t spread too much.
Our favourite cinnamon shortbreads
Makes 12 larges biscuits or 16 smaller ones.
For the dough 225 g plain flour
75 g icing sugar
60 g potato starch
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
225 g cold butter, cut into 0.5cm cubes
For the eggwash one egg, beaten
For the cinnamon sugar
Combine: 100 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
Line two baking trays with baking paper and preheat the oven to 175°C (165°C for a fan-assisted oven).
Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and mix on low speed until it forms a dough.
Roll the dough into a log and cut it into either 12 or 16 even slices, depending on the size you want your shortbreads to be.
Roll each slice into a ball, then flatten it onto the prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining slices.
Press a fork into each shortbread, then brush with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 to 24 minutes, or until golden-brown. Allow to cool down completely before placing them into an airtight box. These will keep for at least a week; although they’ve never lasted this long in our home.
Analysing the impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in brioche formulas
The recipe shown below will make two 500g loaves. I chose, however, to make half a batch, yielding to a single loaf, which is something I’ll carry on doing over the next experiments, as the kneading time of a half-recipe takes longer when done in a stand-mixer; more on that to come in part two: the method (ingredient list, pastry chef tips and techniques on brioche).
Brioche #1: Control formula
I haven’t finished writing about the method and techniques associated with rich doughs, so in the meantime, please refer to this article for detailed instructions on how to make brioche.
I ended up making the control brioche twice: after I baked brioche 2, I was amazed by the differences in between the two batches. So much in fact, that I thought something had gone wrong with the control brioche (I mostly suspected slow yeast or underproofing). So I went ahead and made the control brioche again, only to find out the differences were the result of the formula substitutions; and in no way related to the other ingredients or the method.
The difference in crumb colour on the pictures above is due to lighting (natural versus halogen) as I’ve just gotten an industrial halogen lamp so I would be able to take pictures at night – also known as 2pm here, hehe – and I’m still trying to figure it out.
The oven-spring isn’t tremendous.
The crust is very thin and soft. As the loaf cools down, it wrinkles.
The crumb is light and soft, with a slight moistness to it. It’s has a beautiful texture and a lovely chew, almost reminiscent of a doughnut.
This “generic” brioche turned out amazing. I fell in love with its crumb and soft crust. The loaf stayed beautifully soft on the second day too; as we topped it with a thick layer of hjortronsylt [cloudberry jam].
I’ll definitely be making it again and again.
More on a brioche study
A brioche study, part one: the approach
A brioche study, part two: the method (ingredient list, pastry chef tips and techniques on brioche)
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #1, the control
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #2, the almost Chavot-brioche
A brioche study, recipe: brioche #3, the pain au lait
A brioche study, recipe: brioches #4 and #5
A brioche study, part three: impact of the egg-to-milk ratio in rich doughs.
A brioche study, ressources: Brioche in literature.