Cherry Clafoutis

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Early summertime is cherry season and traditionally this means adorning the top of a freshly baked pavlova with these juicy little jewels for Christmas day dessert. But if you want to try something a little different (and you wouldn’t be food lovers without a sense of culinary adventure) then may I introduce a dainty little dish called the clafoutis.

This fabulous flan-like dessert is a traditional dish of the Limousin region of France and is rather peculiar in that it contains cherries that are unpitted. It may sound odd and like a lot of work to ensure you don’t chip a tooth with every bite, but believe me when I say that the pips add an extra nutty nuance that makes it worth the effort. Just make sure you let your guests know before they tuck in!

Traditional cherry clafoutis:

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Ingredients:

  •  185 mL thickened cream
  • 125 mL full fat milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 30g almond meal
  • 400g cherries
  • 1 Tbsp Kirsch

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 F).
  2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split the vanilla pod in two, scrape out the seeds and add both to the cream.
  3. Heat the cream gently for a couple of minutes, remove from the heat, add the milk and leave to cool. Take the vanilla pod out.
  4. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture becomes slightly white and foamy.
  5. Sieve the flour, mix it with the almond meal and then add it to the egg mix. Whisk well to avoid lumps.
  6. Gently add the cooled cream and whisk until combined.
  7. Arrange the cherries at the bottom of your cake tray (use a 23cm or so baking tray), pour the mix over the cherries to about ¾ of the tray.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden on top. A good trick to check if your Clafoutis is cooked is to plant a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean then it’s cook!
  9. Dust with icing sugar and serve with a dollop of cream while still warm.

With this delicious dessert i recommend a Chateau Coutet “Sauternes” available from http://www.airoldifinewines.com.au

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Madeleine

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I often feel that much of the magic and romanticism surrounding French food lies in the mysterious origins of so many dishes. Factual histories become Chinese whispers, embellished and morphed along the way until each version has as many likelihoods and doubts as the next.

Madeleines are a perfect example of this, where the only thing we can be sure of is that they are truly scrumptious (and it’s probably also safe to say they were named after someone named Madeleine).

It’s accepted that these little cakes hail from the French town of Commercy, in the North of the Lorraine Region of France, and is now considered a speciality of the area. Beyond this, there is lots of conjecture on what the true origin of the Madeleine is.

One version claims that they were a family recipe, made by a cook named Madeleine, for her noble employer, Slanislaw L. Slanislaw’s daughter (and wife of Louis XV), Maria, shared them with the King who adored them and decided to name them after their maker. I like this version, but this doesn’t explain the unusual seashell shape, which is what makes this dessert so recognisable.

Another version, which is less romantic but explains the shape, poses that they were again made by and named after a cook called Madeleine, but this Madeleine was making them for pilgrims tracing the path through France to the final resting place of Saint-Jacques (St. James, the patron saint of Spain) whose symbol was the seashell.

While you’re mulling over your own thoughts on the matter, why not grab a coffee or tea and might I suggest adding the perfect petit-four to match – a Madeleine!

Madeleine:

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Ingredients:

  • 375 g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs (medium size)
  • 250 ml full fat milk
  • 200 g unsalted butter
  • 500 plain flour
  • 15g baking powder
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla essence or 1 vanilla pod seeded
  • 50 g grated coconut
  • 1 orange zest

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Method:

  1.  Preheat the oven at 200-220 degrees Celsius.
  2. In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs, sugar, 50ml of milk and the vanilla, then add the coconut and orange zest.
  3. Sieve the flour and the baking powder.
  4. Slowly add the flour to the egg mix while mixing with a spatula.
  5. Once the flour is mixed through add the rest of the milk, and mix until the milk is incorporated.
  6. Add the warm melted butter and mix until combined.
  7. Lightly spray the Madeleine mould.
  8. With a spoon or a pipping bag place the mixture in the Madeleine mould and bake for 10 minutes. Take them out of the mould as soon as they come out of the oven and place them on a cooling rack.

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Serve the Madeleine warm for an afternoon tea or for an after dinner treat with a glass of Chateau Viranel “Gourmandise” available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au .

 

 

Lune Croissanterie: A crescent-shaped piece of France in Melbourne

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I love croissants. I ate them for breakfast every morning when I was growing up in France. My Mum would wake up before everyone else and pop them into the oven so that the rich smell of butter and pastry would fill our noses as we woke up and dressed for school. We ate them hot, crispy and with a cup of black coffee (once we were old enough).

Now in Melbourne, it’s amazing how many places sell croissants but how far they all are from tasting like the ones I ate as a boy. For the most part, I find them too sweet, too dense and too soft.

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You can imagine my skepticism then when Mrs. Fermier started raving to me about this little hole-in-the-wall croissant shop in the seaside Melbourne suburb of Elwood. She’d waited 1 hour in line and bought the last too croissants (they sell out every single day they are open).

In a word, they tasted like “home”.

As it turns out the master behind these edible little crescents is an Aussie-born but French-trained pattisière, named Kate. I had the pleasure of chatting to her one morning, and I learned that she even imports some ingredients from France to get the taste and texture of her vienoisseries just right. It’s no surprise that with such a dedication to quality ingredients and a clearly wonderful talent, every piece from Lune Croissanterie tastes like the real deal.

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It’s not just the basics that Lune nails. There’s a wide repertoire available including pain au chocolat, ham & gruyere croissants, specialties like Kouign-Amann (a Breton pastry pronounced “Ku-in A-mun”),“cruffins” (a mélange of muffin and croissant), and la pièce de la résistance, the “twice-baked”. Traditionally in France, left over croissants from the day before are filled with all manner of delicious things and then baked again. The Lune versions are only available on the weekend, sell out in a flash and come in ever-changing, mouth-watering varieties like Almond, Turkish delight and banana split!

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If you’re thinking about indulging in one of these baked pieces of heaven (as well you should be!), don’t even think about sleeping in and wandering down at about 10am on a Saturday. You’ll need to be waiting in line from at least 6:30am if you want your pick of the menu, but thankfully the amazing Lune team is busily making coffees for patient customers so there’s something to keep you going until they open.

 

Lune Croissanterie is located at 29 Scott St, Elwood and is opened Fridays from 7:30am, and Saturdays and Sundays from 8am, until sold out. http://lunecroissanterie.com

Lamb Pasta Bake with Tomato & Cheese Sauce

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The wonderful team at Barilla has treated me again with a sneak preview of some of their latest products. This time it’s their new pasta bake range which is fantastic for those casual dinners with family or friends as it’s hearty, cost effective and most importantly, delicious!

Some pasta bakes can be quite heavy on the cheese so I’ve kept this one lighter by only using parmesan cheese as the very top layer to add a nice crust as opposed to stirring a cheese all the way through.

 

Ingredients:

  • 500g Barilla Casarecce pasta
  • 1 Jar of Barilla’s new cheese and tomato sauce
  • 1kg lamb mince
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 5 sprigs rosemary
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 8 slices mild pancetta (2-3mm thick)
  • 2 onions
  • 350mL red wine
  • 4 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 4 Tbsp Peter Watson lamb spice mix
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 250 g parmigiano reggiano

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Method:

  1. Put a large pot of water on the stove for the pasta and preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 8 minutes, then drain and keep aside.
  3. Peel and dice the onions, crush the garlic, chop the thyme and rosemary. Roughly dice the pancetta and keep aside.
  4. Preheat a metal roasting tray on the stovetop on a medium heat.
  5. Cook the onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, and then add the thyme, rosemary and pancetta. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Add the paprika and lamb spice, stir, and cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add the red wines and reduce by about ¼.
  8. Add the lamb mince and cook until brown, making sure you don’t have any big lumps.
  9. Add the Barilla cheese and tomato sauce and the crushed tomatoes and 150mL water, stir then add the cooked Barilla Casarecce pasta, mix well and top with the grated parmigiano reggiano and bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes covered with foil, and then 5 minutes without it.
  10. Serve hot with a green salad

 

With this wonderful dish I recommend a Château “Falfas” AOC Cote de Bourg available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au .

Cheese platter with homemade fig and walnut bread

 

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Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you the many facets of my biggest food obsession – cheese. Few things, culinary or otherwise, are more ubiquitous with the hexagon nation than fromage. You’d be surprised at how many varieties and subtleties of flavour exist and so I just couldn’t fit everything into one post. For today, I’ve started at the end, showing you a platter of a few of my favourites (at least from the selection we are able to purchase in Australia, but that’s another story.)

Now, it’s not just the cheese that matters on a cheese platter. What you eat your cheese with is equally important. A good quality crusty loaf of bread is a must and a touch of sweetness like a fig or quince paste can really enhance the flavour. I’ve combined the two in this delicious fig and walnut bread recipe that you can easily make at home and impress your guests with.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 kg baker’s flour
  • 100g fresh yeast (or 35g dried yeast)
  • 800mL luke warm water
  • 35g salt
  • 200g walnut kernel
  • 150g dried figs
  • 150g dried apricots (optional)

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Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees on fan force.
  2. Mix the yeast with a little bit of water, just enough to dilute it.
  3. Put all the dry ingredients into a big mixing bowl and give it a stir before you add the yeast. You don’t want the yeast to be in direct contact with the salt, as it would “kill” it.
  4. Roughly chop the walnuts, figs and apricots (if you are including them) and keep aside.
  5. Add the yeast to the dry ingredients then add the water. Knead the dough well for about 5 minutes, by hand or using an electric mixer with a hook attachment.
  6. Put the dough on a lightly floured bench, spread it a little bit and arrange the nuts and dried fruits in the middle. Knead well for a further 5 minutes by hand to make sure the garnish is evenly spread.
  7. Put the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to proof until it doubles in size, then knock it back down with your fists (as if you’re punching it).
  8. Portion the dough in 300g balls and using the palm of your hands, form an oblong shape, kind of like a big Baguette.
  9. Cover the bread with a towel and leave to proof until nearly double in size.
  10. Bake the bread until golden and crunchy around the outside (about 15 minutes). To know when it’s ready, gently knock on the bottom of the loaf and if it sounds hollow, then it’s ready.

 

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I paired this wonderful bread with a cheese platter in which I used the following cheeses:

  1. Pico goats cheese : Perigord region, France. Soft ripened cheese
  2. Fourme D’ambert: Puy De Dome in Auvergne France. Semi Hard blue cheese
  3. Brebirousse d’argental: Lyon region, soft ripened bloomy rind sheep’s milk cheese
  4. truffled brie: Rouzaire Ile De France, soft cheese

I also used dried apricots, dried figs, grapes, crackers and moscatels on the platter

All those are available from feast in Hampton or Richmond café and Larder cheeses, you can also visit their website: www.rhcl.com.au

With this amazing cheese platter I recommend a Chateau “ Ollieux Romanis” Corbiere red available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au .

Roasted pork fillet salad with a grilled pear and walnut dressing.

 

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I really enjoy pork fillets in springtime. They’re a nice change to the heavy roasts and slow cooks of winter, and the perfect complement to this crispy pancetta salad. The hero of the salad aside from good quality pancetta is the dressing, which combines freshly grilled pears and walnuts. It’s so good that you could almost eat it on it’s own!

This dish is the perfect Sunday lunch, reinvigorated for warmer months, and the best part is that any pork leftovers will be just as delicious to eat cold the next day, sliced and thrown into a salad or as cold sandwich meat with your favourite accoutrements.

Ingredients for the salad:

  • 1 purple cauliflower
  • 1 bunch baby Dutch carrots
  • 1 oak leaf lettuce
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 4 globe artichokes
  • 5 slices mild pancetta ( 2 mm thick)
  • 40 g walnut
  • 1 bunch chive
  • 1 packam pear
  • 1 pork fillet ( about 400g)

 

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Method :

 

  1. Set up a steamer on the stove and preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Cut the cauliflower into little florets, peel the carrots and asparagus, wash the lettuce and take the leaves, stems and the fluff of the artichoke until only the heart remain, place the artichokes in lemon water straight away to prevent them from going black.
  3. Steam the vegetable separately or in different basket if you have a multi level steamer. Cook them until just tender, a good way to check is to use a small knife if it goes in easily, it’s ready.
  4. Preheat a shallow frying pan with a bit of olive oil, cut the meat in equal pieces, season it with salt and pepper and seal the pork all around then put in the oven for about 10-12 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, slice the pear (2-3 mm slices) and grill them on a grill pan for 1 minute on each side, then cut them into small dice and keep aside. Finely chop the chive, roughly crush the walnut and mix with the pears.
  6. Heat up a small frying pan on a high heat and cook the diced pancetta until crispy (no need to add any oil in the pan), transfer the pancetta in a bowl with some kitchen paper to soak up the excess fat, then mix with the rest of the dressing ingredients.
  7. Add white wine vinegar and olive oil to taste, season with salt and pepper. Mix the vegetables together and arrange them on serving board or a platter, place the pork pieces around the salad and drizzle the dressing over the top.

 

With this dish I recommend a Chateau “Ollieux Romanis” Blanc, available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au