Category: french

Ail je ne sais quoi; or “garlic I don’t know what.”

French pickled garlic (mais oui!)

Garlic. The most potent flavor packed into the teeniest package nature could possibly create.

It’s amazing isn’t it? The things you can do with garlic. The possibilities are endless. Roast it, sauté it, bake it, slice it, crush it, mince it, puree it, whatever it. Clearly, the only thing I can’t do with garlic is write a decent blog post about it. No, really. I have no idea what to write about this. True story.

Usually I just blabber so much I have to stop myself before I write a novel, but for this post- nothin’. Its not that I have something against garlic- I don’t, I love garlic. But I just really have no idea what to say. So with that in mind… I’ll just make up a story. Pretend you’re at your summer house in Provence. Yeah, that Provence (in France). It’s a warm summer day & you’re hosting an outdoor dinner party this evening.

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Chocolate plum jam & how I “Ferberized” my life.

This post is definitely about chocolate plum jam. Chocolate plum jam with an added kick. But there’s another side to it, and that’s the side I’m going to start with, if you don’t mind. But of course you don’t mind. You’re very accommodating, aren’t you, my dear readers.

But first, take a look at these gorgeous plums. Then keep reading.

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Anyway… something you may not know about me: I make it a point to seek out things that most people aren’t talking about, or get inspired by things that most people don’t know exist.

Let me clarify. I, by my very nature, seek to be different. It’s not always a conscious decision. There are times I go running to the supermarket in an outfit I find perfectly boring and get stared down. Although, I don’t think having a bandanna around my hair & tied in the front is particularly odd- haven’t they ever seen Rosie the Riveter or an episode of I Love Lucy!? And speaking of, my hair is almost always a cause for double takes, as odd as that may seem. This was not always the case. At least not visually. I kept my weirdness inside for most of my life, until high school when I let my freak flag fly. And it wasn’t easy to do in an all-girls Catholic school, but trust me, I found ways. And once I opened those gates, it was all over. I can’t fit into a mold. I can’t look like everyone else; even if I tried to I’d fail. I can’t pretend to enjoy what most other people might enjoy if I genuinely don’t. I’m just naturally drawn to the unusual, the unique, the borderline bizarre. I’ve always been a bit of a mad scientist & a loner. Creating things, pushing the limits of what I can come up with, but all very much inside my own head. A thinker, planning my attack quietly and then surprising everyone with my results. Of course, as is witnessed by this blog, I also have many normal and borderline “boring” (to some; not to me! Hence the quotes) interests as well. Like baking. Or buying beautiful fruit. Or making jams & jellies. So why not combine the two…. the element of crazy surprise and the pastime of preserving…

Time to see the plums again, I think.

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They were calling my name. So I had to buy them. I bought them without knowing what to do with them. I debated letting them just sit on my counter until they were too ripe to look pretty anymore, but good sense won out. Partially due to the fact that I can’t stand to waste anything, but also because I got inspired. Also- that whitish film? It’s called the bloom, and it’s perfectly normal (and safe).

One of the people I’ve been curiously drawn to as of late is Christine Ferber. Ferber is a pastry chef/chocolatier turned confisuese or maker of jams. Her jams and jellies are considered the best in the world, however of course she isn’t exactly a household name in America. As a matter of fact she’s practically unknown here by most accounts. She’s written a book that I’ve had on my Amazon wishlist for a while now- Mes Confitures: the Jams & Jellies of Christine Ferber. The mere phrase ‘mes confitures’ makes me think of jars upon jars of glittering jellies, in different colors, all open and half eaten with golden spoons sticking out. All of this on a beautiful table, like something out of the movie Marie Antoinette. Just that one little phrase speaks volumes to me about the book. This book isn’t a beginners guide to canning, quite the opposite actually. She assumes you already know the basics, and gets down to the nitty gritty of making her highly praised confitures. The varieties of unique recipes she comes up with are so intriguing to me, not to mention her history (pastry chef… chocolatier… confiseuse… what a resume). She kind of inspired me a bit. And the fact that we’re experiencing such a canning boom… I can’t imagine why she isn’t a more talked-about name here in the U.S. Oh, wait, nevermind, we idolize people like the Kardashians, not the true artisans that actually deserve our accolades. Not the mad scientists who create the genius desserts or chocolates that make you close your eyes and say “Oh my freakin’ GOD.” No. Those people don’t get any credit. Maybe if they compete on a Food Network challenge they do, but otherwise? Eh. Anyway, moving on. Upon doing my research I found out Ferber was born in Alsace, a place where I have family history (a set of great-great-great-grandparents of mine were from there). Immediately upon finding that out, I knew I wanted to know even more. It was then I found out she was a pastry chef who became interested in jam making (which reminded me of myself, kinda, except baking is still my first love). Unfortunately, most of the websites (including her own) are not in English. I did learn a few things from the German Wikipedia & this extremely interesting article, however, and at the same time brushed up on my translation skills (years of doing my German/Alsatian ancestry has made me surprisingly decent at reading & deciphering German).

Christine Ferber (born 1960 in Niedermorschwihr , Alsace ) is an award-winning pastry chef (Pâtissière) Chocolatière and Gelierköchin (Confiseuse) of jams , which are among the best in the world. [1]

Ferber Niedermorschwihr operates in the village at the foot of the Vosges north of Colmar, a small pastry shop, where she has worked as a pastry cook and fourth generation chocolate confectioner. In addition to the jam-making, she heads the bakery and patisserie with about 20 employees. Niedermorschwihr was used as a typical Alsatian village in the backdrop of a Japanese television show.

For three years she studied until 1979 at the Patisserie School of Brussels, then they could patissier, chocolatier and confectioner call Champion. [2] A further three years she studied with the top names in Belgium and France, including one year with the master pastry chef Lucien Pelletier in Paris.

At 24, she took over the business of their parents and then developed the Department of pastry and chocolate. In the early 1980s she made her first jam, but her mother advised her of sticking with her other commitment, as the housewives in the village would make their own jams. She stayed there, sticking with the jams and finally gained international notoriety as far away as Japan. Ferber cooks her very unusual and delicious gourmet jams herself, of which she has composed nearly 300 kinds already in the copper kettles of their bakery. Each batch is cooked in small copper kettles, each of which is worth € 1000. This copper kettle was made to the specifications of a scientist for a better “set.” The native wild fruits are collected from friends and acquaintances. Fruits that do not grow in Alsace such as apricots, figs and exotic fruits, can be delivered to Ferber from the Paris wholesale market Rungis. The fruit is always cooked with no preservatives and no more than four of a certain variety. To 1 kg of fruit are only 800 grams of sugar and a little lemon juice. All fruits are heated simultaneously and only as long as necessary, i.e., about 5 minutes on high flame, stirring constantly. The careful preparation and quality of their creative jams from Alsace therefore brought nicknames like “jam queen of Alsace”, “la the fairy confitures” or “Christina, Queen of the jams.” Complex aromas (aigre-doux / sour-sweet) develop their creations, such as white cherry, peppermint, rose hips with orange, wild apple jelly with cinnamon, blueberry with licorice.

Several books such as “Mes confitures” and “Mes Tartes” followed. The three-star chef Alain Ducasse wrote a preface to and known to have never eaten a jam other than those of Madame Ferber.

In several countries, Christine Ferber has courses for making jam and confectionery offered, such as France, Italy, Japan and the United States. [5]

- Taken from via de.Wikipedia.org

(translated into English with many mistakes by Google Translate, fixed with a small amount of help from yours truly)

Sadly, her jams are nearly impossible to find here in the States, so I’ll probably never know if her jams & jellies are truly the best in the world. But regardless, I was inspired. Jams like Ferber’s aren’t the same old, same old you can find in any supermarket or Ball Book of Preserving. They aren’t your great-grandma’s jellies, made 12 pints at a time. They’re made from the highest quality ingredients in smaller batches, and in different flavors like strawberry lemongrass or black cherry with pinot noir. That’s the kind of canning I like to do. I have no use for 20 half-pints of strawberry jam, nor do I find it exciting. I’m not a preserver that preserves to make it through the winter, just like I don’t cook, bake or eat simply to sustain myself & prevent starvation. I create, and that means I create edible art that’s juts as beautiful as it is delicious, because that’s just who and what I am.

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I do things in the kitchen with the same crazy artistic flair (& sometimes oddity) that I possess in all other facets of my life.

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And therefore it’s in the vein of Christine Ferber and other unique jammers that I decided the plums I bought were not going to be canned in an average plum jam. Or plum jelly. Or even a slightly more interesting plum-orange jam. I decided I wanted to make a chocolate plum jam. And so I did. With a teeny bit o’ homemade cherry bourbon up in there for good measure.

Oh yeah. That’s right. I added some bourbon to the mix. Chocolate plum cherry bourbon jammy goodness.

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I mean, it’s almost fall. So we’re all getting ready to hunker down and the deeper, heavier flavors are coming out. So why not make a chocolate plum jam? With bourbon? What better to have on a chilly fall night. Even though it’s not chilly yet at all.

And I know there are mom’s out there who’ll see the title of this post and immediately think of another Ferber-izing. Sorry to disappoint. My kid has four legs and only kept me up at night for a week or so. This type of Ferber-izing, my type, is quite different. Because, see, it has nothing to do with kids. It’s just that I’ve decided that there’s definitely no reason for me to make boring preserves in massive quantities. Unless it’s a special request, or I have an enormous amount of berries here, why should I make just make jar after jar after jar of ordinary ol’ plain strawberry jam? Or ordinary raspberry jam? Or for that matter plain old blueberry? Nope. From here on out it’s exciting & unique preserves only. Ones with liqueur or herbs that you wouldn’t expect. Revolutionary pickles. Totally different combinations of things. Ones that are equally beautiful swirled into homemade ice cream as they are on artisan breads. Ones that make great cupcake fillings just as much as they make excellent toasted English muffin accompaniments at breakfast. I prefer to continue as I have been, buying the best quality ingredients I can and making them into uniquer items like raspberry jalapeno cilantro jam, champagne jelly, lemon-orange marmalade with Jameson Irish whiskey, rose petal hibiscus tea jelly, Molotov Cocktail pickles & hop pickles, or cherry vanilla vodka preserves. So no, Christine Ferber wasn’t the person who initiated all of that… I’ve been doing that stuff for a while now. But she’s the person who helped me officially decide what I had suspected for quite some time: that I could never be the person with the boring pantry filled with 600 jars of plain dill pickles & boring grape jelly.

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‘Cause really, you can just go and buy that stuff if you want it. Why not make the things you can’t buy? Why not have an imagination like Willy Wonka and create the things Smuckers, Polaner or Bonne Maman aren’t already doing? Sure, once in a while it’s nice to make a simple jam, or a simple few jars of pickled green beans. I understand- been there, done that. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Some people really dig on plain blueberry jam, and if you’re putting up fruits & vegetables to last you all winter, you might not want six jars of that chardonnay blueberry jelly, you might want the basics. But why do we have to just be boring all the time? Where’s the Ball Blue Book just for the rebels?

And okay, okay, I hear you. You’re saying, “Dude. Wake up. There are TONS of canning blogs giving me TONS of awesome recipes with vodka & bourbon & unusual/exotic jams.” Yes, this I know. And I read (and love) many of them, as well as the books I own that do the same. But I’m rebelling against the extreme banality that people who don’t do it associate with it. The canning blogs & books I choose to read are awesome- filled with important information but never boring. But there are ones out there that are like reading a DVD player manual. SNORE. And let’s face it, there’s still a stigma on it. You’re either a “wack job survivalist” or “doomsday prepper” canning for the end of the world, an old lady who plays bridge or you’re a farmer. Canning is still, despite the big resurgence, considered boring & old lady-ish. I get funny looks when I buy jars, as if people think, “I guess she’s making crafts/wedding favors/a chandelier she found on Pinterest” not “Wow. I bet this bitch is going to go home and make a ROCKIN’ batch of pickles.”

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Let’s change that, shall we? All of you, start going out there and buying jars to use for their actual purpose. START CANNING. Start making amazing recipes and sharing them with friends & family. Get them to start canning. Kick start the canning revolution in more places than just the food blogging world.

SPIKED CHOCOLATE PLUM JAM (adapted from Grow It Cook It Can It‘s recipe)

This recipe made me 3 half-pint jars and one 4-oz jar

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. plums, perfectly ripe (this is key)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons cherry bourbon (or Kirsch)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars and put the lids in a bowl of hot water. Keep jars hot.
  2. Dice the plums into a large bowl, and add the lemon juice. Toss to coat. Combine them with all the rest of the ingredients (all EXCEPT FOR ONE TEASPOON OF BOURBON/KIRSCH- leave that out for now) in a large saucepan. Turn the heat up to high, stirring occasionally (or else the fruit will scorch).
  3. Cook this way until the mixture reaches 220° degrees on a candy thermometer. Turn off the heat. Stir in the remaining teaspoon bourbon or Kirsch. Ladle the mixture into your hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.
  4. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Check seal.

The end there should really say, “Check seal. And then even if sealed, open immediately and spread all over everything. Then eat.”

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At least on some bread with goat cheese brie. If you prefer dark chocolate, then use a dark cocoa powder. I would have myself, but I only had regular cocoa powder on hand; the only dark chocolate I had was in bar form. And using melted chocolate in jams is tricky, it can burn at the high temperatures needed to make jam set. So I just left it at that. Also, if you like an orange-y flavor, you can use Cointreau instead of cherry bourbon or Kirsch. I guess you could also go in a totally different direction and use Chambord too, if you wanted. Or hell, I guess a tablespoon of just about any liquor will do. You could even up the chocolate quotient and use a chocolate vodka. And of course, I don’t think this needs to be said, but… yes, it’s still amazing whether it’s on toast, English muffins, in yogurt, on ice cream, with soft cheeses and even in/on/around muffins.

I will say this: no matter how or why you’re canning, or what you’re making- it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you put your all into it. I don’t care if you’re making nothing but strawberry jam your whole life because it’s your favorite thing. That’s totally cool with me, because I know homemade always tastes better than storebought. As long as you’re making it with heart, it’s all good. Because the point is, if that’s who you are, then be it proudly. If you’re strawberry jam, then go ahead and be an awesome fucking strawberry jam. Just don’t pretend to be a strawberry jam when you’re a cherry pinot noir preserve, or vice versa. For me, I just have to be who I am. And that’s anything but ordinary.

So when are you Ferber-izing your life?

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Side note: I get e-mails sometimes specifically asking about my dishtowels/cloth napkins/tablecloths/etc. For example, the towels/napkins in this post got a couple of questions, as did some of these: the jam muffins, both the pickled eggplant & the pickled shrimp, this post about my 5-year blogiversary, this one about the drunken cherry scones & of course, this one too. These e-mails center around “where do you get them?” or “where can I get that!?” And I have a feeling, a very distinct feeling, that the little embroidered lady at the top of this post will get a few questions too. Well there’s good news and bad news. You want the bad news first? Okay… the bad news is some of them (including that little lady) are vintage. Like the one in the picture at the top of this post. That means you’ll most likely never get your hands on them, although you might get something like them. The good news? The rest are interesting finds from places like Ikea, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma (mostly Ikea, ’cause they’re cheaper & can be replaced easily). If you like a certain something you see in a picture, feel free to ask! I’ll always answer, and point you in the right direction to get them yourself if possible. And just for your edification, the list of posts I linked to above? In the exact order of the links, the towels in the posts above are, Ikea, vintage, vintage, vintage/Ikea, vintage and Ikea.

Spring in a jar.

It sounds cheesy & cliched, but to me, that’s what Giardiniere (or Giardiniera, or Jardinière) looks like. Not only does the name translate to “garden” for the most part, it’s a jar of pickled brightly-colored vegetables such as cauliflower, carrots, peppers & zucchini and it just looks like a jar full of spring. And spring is upon us now, so that means I can start opening my windows & getting fresh air as well as look forward to fresh veggies. And I got a big surprise when I took inventory of my pots & found that some of my herbs came back full force! And by full force I mean INSANELY HUGE for this time of year. Gee, thanks, super-crazy-abnormally-warm New York winter. I’ve got chives & two types of oregano in the game already and it’s only the second week in April.

So that all makes me excited, but I wanted to start pickling again. As you can see, my chives (above left) are starting to get little buds, so I might make some chive blossom vinegar this year. But that’s not what this post is about. So let’s get to the point. Giardiniera.

Italian giardiniera is also called “sotto aceti”, which means “under vinegar”, a common term for pickled foods. It is typically eaten as an antipasto or with salads.[2]

In the United States, giardiniera is commonly available in traditional or spicy varieties, and the latter is sometimes referred to as “Hot Mix.”

In the Midwest region of the U.S., giardiniera is used as a condiment, typically as a topping on Italian beef sandwiches.[3]

A milder variety of giardiniera is used for the olive salad in the Muffuletta sandwich.

The Italian version includes onions, celery, zucchini, carrots, and cauliflower. The pickled vegetables are in red- or white-wine vinegar.

American giardiniera is commonly made with serrano peppers along with a combination of assorted vegetables, including bell peppers, olives, celery, pimentos, carrots, and cauliflower, and sometimes crushed red pepper flakes, all marinated in vegetable oil, olive oil, soybean oil, or any combination of the three. It is also common to see it pickled in vinegar.

Jardinière is a French culinary term, meaning a dish that is cooked or served with a mixture of spring vegetables, such as peas, carrots, and green beans.

I know there are a million variations & recipes for this, but this one is just a basic one that I came up with by combining two recipes; one from the Better Homes & Gardens book, You Can Can & another from the Ball Complete Book of Preserving. This was really a canning request from my mother, who loves Giardiniera. She had requested it a while back but I was in such winter mode, I couldn’t even think of it until we got hit with a stretch of 70+ degree days back in March. Then all of a sudden, I was ready to start making springy foods & pickles again. I made some Bourbon pickles but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to jar up some more fresh veggies. And what better way to do that than this? IT’S LIKE A GARDEN… IN A JAR!

I adapted it a bit seeing as she’s not a fan of zucchini & that seems to be prevalent in a lot of recipes. But I’m including the zucchini in the recipe below. This looked so beautiful in the jar from start to finish I couldn’t believe it. I could hardly stop taking pictures of it!

The point is, basically you can add whatever you want or take away whatever you want. That’s the beauty of it. You can use all of it: zucchini, carrots, cauliflower and the three colors of peppers, or you can use a hot pepper instead, or you can omit the zucchini or omit the carrots (but really who doesn’t like carrots!?) or even add pimentos. Heck- add green beans if you want. It’s just that simple. Honestly. Have I ever lied to you?

It smelled insane while cooking. INSANE.

SMALL-BATCH GIARDINIERA

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients:

  • One smallish head of cauliflower (preferably organic/pesticide free), cut into florets
  • One each of a large red/green & yellow Bell pepper (again, preferably organic/pesticide free), cut into strips
  • Three large whole carrots (yet again… preferably organic/pesticide free), peeled and cut into slices
  • One half of a large white onion, cut into rings and then each ring cut into quarters
  • 1 small celery (you know the drill), cut into ¼” thick slices
  • 1 small zucchini (ditto), cut into ¼” thick slices
  • 3 cups white vinegar (5%)
  • 1 ¼ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon pickling or canning salt
  • 1 ¼ cups white sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced

Directions:

  1. Prep, wash & cut all your vegetables & keep them in separate bowls. Mince garlic. Prepare water bath canner, and sterilize jars and lids. Keep jars warm. Set aside.
  2. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine water, vinegar, sugar, pepper, garlic and salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 5 minutes, until the spices have infused the liquid.
  3. Add the cauliflower, onions, zucchini, celery and carrots and return to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in peppers.
  4. Pack vegetables into jars with a slotted spoon within to a generous ½” of the top of jar. Ladle the hot pickling liquid in to cover vegetables, leaving ½” headspace. remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if necessary, by adding more liquid (you may not use all the liquid). Wipe rims, center lids and screw bands on until resistance is met. Then adjust to fingertip-tight.
  5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they’re covered by at least 1-2″ of water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove canner lid and wait 5 minutes. Then carefully remove jars, cool, and store. Enjoy!

I really think it’s the prettiest thing I ever canned up. Truly. Everything around here has been all pastel & pink & pretty lately, and then this was like a technicolor shock to the system. Seriously, have you seen prettier Giardiniera, ever? No. No you have not. Testimonial time:

If you’re thinking of making this, and you have no previous canning experience, please take a peek at this post and read my (very basic) summary of what you’ll need to start. Then move on to the USDA’s directions (much clearer & informative, I admit). It’s not difficult, but you have a lot of reading to do to make sure you’re doing it right/have the proper materials, etc. The last thing you need is to give someone botulism. So yeah, be responsible & do your homework first. Then you can go ahead & make Giardiniera all damn day long.

Anyway, that’s that. Put it in a salad, put it on a sandwich, mix it with cooked chilled pasta for a quick pasta salad, pop it on a pizza, or eat it right out of the jar. Whatever. The liquid can be used as salad dressing too, once the vegetables are gone. Just mix it with a little oil. And again, like I said… it’s SO EASY. Literally the longest part of the process is the cutting of the veggies. Once that’s done, it’s 1-2-3. Just don’t cheat & buy a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. That’s awful. And lazy. Use top notch fresh ingredients and you’ll see how amazing it really is. I prefer to buy organic for things like this, just because of the lack of pesticides and since I’m using the entire thing (as opposed to just the pulp of an orange, etc), it freaks me out not to. But really, any good, fresh vegetables will do. Far be it from me to tell you how much to spend or what to buy. Buy what you’re comfortable with & what you can afford. Most of all… enjoy it. Enjoy the shopping for ingredients, enjoy the cutting & chopping, enjoy the process, enjoy the eating. Shopping for fresh vegetables & fruit at this time of year is all the fun! But of course, I can’t discount the ingesting of ‘em either.

Happy Spring!

Le Creuset rhymes with soufflé.

Where is everybody lately? Have you all still not recovered from the holidays, ’cause like I said on Facebook: you’re awfully quiet & dare I say… boring. I haven’t been feeling the love lately as much as usual. Are you all okay? Are you still in food coma’s? Maybe you just need some dessert & a good story.

Back in October, an extremely exciting thing happened to me. I won a set of Le Creuset mini cocottes from Susan at She’s Becoming Doughmesstic. This is doubly, triply, and quadruply exciting because of a few reasons: 1) I never win anything, ever, 2) I have a Le Creuset obsession 3) I was having a kind of shitty week at the time & so I needed the boost and 4) my pink pie plate was also expected to be delivered that week & I had just purchased a second pie plate so I had a lot of baking/cooking planning to do (re: those pie plates & the saga of the pies, see this post). That always makes me happy. I like planning what I’ll be making for the next 6 weeks. Or few days, at the very least.

The picture that drew me in…

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So there was this giveaway. A Le Creuset giveaway. As soon as I saw that picture I knew I had to enter- like I said, I have an obsession. And I never enter giveaways, ever. Mainly because I get so excited and then it’s a huge disappointment when I don’t win it. I sit there & think about what I’d do with it if I had it, what I’d make with it, etc. And it’s very sad when I’m not the winner. So it must have been kismet that I actually took the time to enter this one because I FREAKIN’ WON! Then I received them and they were even cuter than I anticipated.

How cute are they!? They’re actually gorgeous more than they are cute. But because of their size (about 4″ across) they definitely have an element of the cute. Le Creuset makes the most amazing casseroles, dutch ovens, stock pots & griddles. If you’re unfamiliar with them:

Le Creuset is a French cookware manufacturer best known for its colorful enameled cast iron casseroles, which the company calls “French Ovens”, or “Dutch Ovens“. The company also makes many other types of cookware, from sauce pans to tagines, and sells a line of corkscrews and wine openers under the “Screwpull” brand.

Le Creuset was founded in 1925 in the town of Fresnoy-le-Grand in Northern France by two Belgian industrialists – Armand Desaegher (a casting specialist) and Octave Aubecq (an enameling specialist). The pair introduced the signature Le Creuset round cocotte (French/Dutch Oven) soon after; the cocotte remains the company’s most popular cookware piece to this day.

In 1934 Le Creuset introduced the signature Flame (orange) colored enamel on its cast iron cookware items. The company also invented the doufeu, a Dutch oven with a concave lid that is filled with ice during the cooking process.

After World War II, Le Creuset began to focus on exportation, and by 1952, 50% of all cast iron production was bound for the United States. In 1955 Le Creuset introduced its first grill model – the Tostador – and in 1956 a new color, Elysees Yellow, was introduced to great success.

In 1957, Le Creuset purchased its competitor Les Hauts Fourneaux de Cousances and began producing some signature Cousances cookware vessels, including the doufeu, a cocotte with a water lid, under the Le Creuset brand.

The current Le Creuset logo was introduced in 1970 and was designed to be a symbolic representation of metal casting and molding.

The company was purchased by current owner Paul Van Zuydam in 1987.

Anyway, yes, I won & Susan told me to pick the color (or colors) I wanted, and so I picked that set right there, called ‘Twilight’ which contains one each of a metallic pearl, metallic pewter & metallic black. And no, I did not pick the color scheme because of The Twilight Saga. I picked it because I love black, I have both black & white dishware, & I figured they’d go with anything. And this time I waited… I didn’t start planning what I was going to make as soon as I clicked ‘enter.’ However, as soon as I found out I won, my brain went into overdrive. I started thinking of what I could make in them that would do them justice. But try as I did, I just couldn’t think of any one thing that would be appropriate to make in these to break ‘em in. I thought of everything; sweet & savory. Mini chicken pot pies, individual size dips, baked individual French toast’s & Meyer lemon pudding cakes (all of which are still on my to-do list) were scrapped. After much thought (& some research, mucho thanks to the kitchn) I decided on something new & exciting for me- individual chocolate soufflés.

Delicious, one-for-you-one-for-me chocolate soufflés with a soft, pudding-like center. No sharing. No slicing or serving. Everybody gets their own! Who the eff wants to share? No one. That’s why cupcakes are so popular. Sharing is for suckers.

That last photo, directly above, was the first out of the oven- you can see it’s the highest.

I never made soufflés before, and I was admittedly a bit afraid. I heard that they were tempermental, etc. I heard Julia Child & Jacques Pépin talk about them & it always seemed intimidating. And I guess they can be, perhaps on a larger scale. I’ve heard stories of collapsing middles, soufflés that just never rise, etc. But these little ones were surprisingly easy to make, came out textbook perfect & were very delicious. Of course, keep in mind: you wait for soufflés- they do not wait for you. You eat them immediately, or they deflate as they cool. Of course they’re still edible… but they aren’t nearly as impressive. And by deflate, I mean actually deflate; the pretty tops that rise so high & majestic just sink back down, and it happens within a matter of minutes. It’s a “serve hot” type of dish. If you’re a few seconds late to the table, you’ll miss the awesomeness.

INDIVIDUAL CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉS (adapted from Martha Stewart by moi)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar, plus more for ramekins
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature, separated (whites & yolks)
  • ⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 5 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), chopped
  • ⅔ cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400° degrees F. Brush four 7-ounce ramekins generously with the butter; coat with granulated sugar. Whisk whites with a stand mixer until frothy, about 2 minutes. Add cream of tartar; whisk until soft peaks form. Add the ⅓ cup granulated sugar; whisk until medium peaks form, about 5 minutes.
  2. Set chocolate in a bowl. Whisk milk into cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring, until thick, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in chocolate until combined, then whisk in yolks and creme fraiche. Transfer to a large bowl. Gently fold in egg whites.
  3. Fill ramekins evenly with batter. Bake on a baking sheet, rotating halfway through, until soufflés rise but centers are still liquid, about 14 minutes.
  4. Remove pan holding ramekins from the oven gently. Dust soufflés with confectioners’ sugar, and serve immediately with fresh berries & whipped cream, if desired.

Can I just say one thing? AMAZEBALLS. That’s all. That’s the one thing. Just amazeballs. They rose just right, I was extremely impressed with myself! This recipe for me made the three Le Creuset mini’s plus three 4″ ramekins.

Once they start to cool, the centers firm up a bit.

This was the best introduction I could’ve given my little Le Creuset’s; a decadent French-inspired dessert that showed them off. And let me just say, they were nowhere near as scary or tempermental as people say. But whatever you do, don’t let their reputation scare you. All you have to remember is that they’re to be eaten immediately, you can’t wait on these. You make them, serve them right the hell away, and that’s it. Don’t mess around.

Also, if you can be patient & plan your meal & plans around them, they’d make a Valentine’s Day dessert that’s sure to impress & take anyone’s breath away. Nobody has to know how crazy easy they are to make. And really, why the hell would you tell them? Screw ‘em. Let ‘em think it took you tons of prep & hours of sweat.

Une petite glace à l’amande avec les financiers.

Before I start in on ice cream & financiers & such, I just wanna say that Jay is home from Switzerland! In case you didn’t know, Mr. Rockstar was over there playing a music festival in Muotathal. He’s safe & sound back in New York now. It’s nice to have him back in the same time zone as me, let alone the same breathing space. It was really weird to imagine he was somewhere 6 hours ahead of me. But anyway, I got my Swiss chocolates, and plenty of them. I shall be gorging myself on these for a few days, or at least a couple more hours. The first one there, the Cailler of Switzerland Lait & Caramel Pointe de sel? I can’t wait to hang my fangs on that one. The Lindt assortment is pretty amazing, though, in and of itself. I haven’t opened the Camille Bloch Torino one yet, but I’m intrigued to try it; it’s a ‘chocolat au lait suisse fin fourre creme de noisettes et d’amandes’ or, as it’s said in English, fine milk chocolate filled with a creme of hazelnuts & almonds. Mmm.

So speaking of Europe & European confections, last month, the people at Donsuemor contacted me and asked me if I’d come up with a recipe featuring one of their delicious French cookies for their Dessert a Day project. Being a little bit of a  francophile (although also an anglophile, and pretty much someone who’s enthusiastic about everything in general, especially desserts), I immediately jumped at the chance. I chose the French almond cakes, or financiers & I could not wait to get my hands on them. For a non-French company that’s fairly new (started in 1976), the selection of items & the implied quality impressed me. So I really was excited to make something with these little cakes… oh, and eat some too.

And then… they arrived! Pretty quick, actually. Oh, happy day!

Sacré bleu! I’d been brainstorming all kinds of recipes for these guys. Ah, little did they know when I first opened that box what their ultimate fate would be. Mes petits financiers, mes pauvres. Groped at by greedy hands was the least of it.

French Almond Cakes, or <financiers>, as they are known in France, are elegant little cakes with the rich and nutty taste of sweet almond. Soft and moist with crisp edges – a “Donsuemor signature” – these elegant treats are made with the finest quality, all natural ingredients.

Led by the drive and determination of our talented French pastry chef and dedicated team, inspired by the Parisian original, Donsuemor proudly launched the French Almond Cakes in September 2009. Although we had the desire to bake other products over the years, we committed to do so only if they could live up to the standards of the madeleine. The French Almond Cakes exceed our standard, and thus became the first new product Donsuemor developed since the first madeleine was baked in Berkeley in 1976.

History of Financiers

Financiers were created by a baker named Lasne in the financial district of Paris in the 1890′s. Named after the rich financiers who frequented his bakery, traditionally baked in the shape of gold bars, Lasne designed the little unglazed cake to be enjoyed without utensils or risk to suit, shirt or tie.

Financiers are as rich as the bankers they were named for. They are made with ground almonds, butter, sugar, flour, and eggs – pure and simple ingredients.  Once you taste Donsuemor’s French Almond Cakes, you will know why Donsuemor is the one you remember.

- text & French Almond cakes photo from Donsuemor.com

I had to resist eating them all before making the recipe, but I managed. I also managed to keep them out of everyone else’s hands. Partly because I hid the box. Yes I did, & I have no problem admitting that. Although people I know will read that & get a bit miffed, I’m sure, considering I think I told them there weren’t any more. Oops.

The quality & taste was definitely what I had expected. Anyone who knows me or reads the blog knows I’m honest to a fault, so trust me here. My father liked them so much, he asked for the website name (perhaps ordering me a gift… hmmm?).  They were very moist, very cake-like, and had a great almond flavor. Because it was so warm & humid, I decided to go with an ice cream instead of a baked dessert; an almond ice cream to be exact. I crumbled up some of the cakes and mixed it in with the ice cream, and then topped each serving with a cookie. Mmmm.

Delicious little surprises in the form of chunks of almond cake throughout, plus those sliced almonds.

Do you love my ice cream sundae glasses? Not to mention ma petite tour Eiffel!

I’m not kidding when I say this is some amazing ice cream. Fantastique. You know birthday cake ice cream? It has bits of cake floating through it, and sometimes ribbons of buttercream or sprinkles? Well, that’s awesome, but too much for me. I find it too sweet after a few bites. This was not. I ate way more of this ice cream than you’d think was humanly possible. Seriously. I even ate it for dinner one night. I broke out my grandmother’s vintage jadeite dessert plates, too. This ice cream (& me) certainly deserved it.

Okay, enough teasing. You want the recipe, don’t you?

ALMOND ICE CREAM WITH CRUMBLED DONSUEMOR FRENCH ALMOND FINANCIERS

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4-6 Donsuemor French almond cakes, crumbled, plus more kept intact for topping (if desired)

Directions:

  1. Whisk together cream, milk, sugar, and eggs in a heavy medium saucepan until they’re completely combined.
  2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture is thick enough to coat back of a spoon. Strain custard through a sieve into a medium bowl. Add vanilla & almond extracts and stir to mix thoroughly. Cool completely, then chill in the refrigerator (covered), 6-8 hours.
  3. Freeze in ice cream maker according to maker’s directions, adding the crumbled cakes 2-3 minutes before it’s finished. Ice cream will be the consistency of soft serve, freeze overnight for firmer set.

I have the KitchenAid ice cream maker stand mixer attachment, so it took about 20 minutes in there. However I made mine on a night when we had torrential rain, incredibly high humidity and it was pretty hot on top of that. Thanks to those conditions, my first attempt at photos were an epic fail; sure they looked cute, mainly thanks to my vintage plate & Eiffel tower set up… but the ice cream was a melty mess. On top of the initial ice cream’s soft consistency, it just melted all over the place in the high humidity. So I popped it in the freezer and the next day, voilà, perfection. With a mug of hazelnut coffee made in my Keurig… *sigh* However it’s positively French-Victorian picnic style when served with a cut crystal goblet filled with some cold sparkling Effervé lemonade.

Effervé had nothing to do with this post, it’s just delicious lemonade.

A great way to salute the swan song of summer & say a delicious goodbye to that wonderful season. If not grudgingly. Also a good reason to hide in your house & hope Hurricane Irene steers clear of your home. Not that I speak from experience or anything…

‘Vanille français’ sounds nice, ‘curd’ does not.

It really doesn’t. It sounds gross. Curd. Go on, say it. Curd. It rhymes with ‘turd’ for Christ’s sakes! What kind of name is that for something as smooth, delicious and lovely as this?

‘This’ being David Lebovitz‘s “improved” lemon curd. For those of you not in-the-know about fruit curd, here’s a little Wikipedia to help you out:

Fruit curd is a dessert spread and topping usually made with lemon, lime,[1] orange or raspberry.[2] The basic ingredients are beaten egg yolks, sugar, fruit juice and zest which are gently cooked together until thick and then allowed to cool, forming a soft, smooth, intensely-flavored spread. Some recipes also include egg whites and/or butter.[3]

In late 19th and early 20th century England, home-made lemon curd was traditionally served with bread or scones at afternoon tea as an alternative to jam, and as a filling for cakes, small pastries and tarts.[4] Homemade lemon curd was usually made in relatively small amounts as it did not keep as well as jam. In more modern times larger quantities are feasible because of the use of refrigeration. Commercially manufactured curds often contain additional preservatives and thickening agents.[5]

Modern commercially made curds are still a popular spread for bread, scones, toast or muffins. They can also be used as a flavoring for desserts or yogurt. Lemon-meringue pie, made with lemon curd and topped with meringue, has been a favorite dessert in Britain and the United States since the nineteenth century.[4]

Curds are different from pie fillings or custards in that they contain a higher proportion of juice and zest, which gives them a more intense flavor.[6] Also, curds containing butter have a smoother and creamier texture than both pie fillings and custards; both contain little or no butter and use cornstarch or flour for thickening. Additionally, unlike custards, curds are not usually eaten on their own.

This recipe is actually a Meyer lemon curd, but by adapting the amount of sugar you can use regular lemons (as I did). I really had no idea that Meyer lemons were that different from regular lemons until I did a little reading on it. Apparently, they’re native to China & are thought to be a cross between a mandarin orange + lemon, and are milder & sweeter than regular lemons, Eureka for example. Meyer lemons were actually banned in the U.S. for a while! DISEASED REBEL LEMONS! Sounds like a punk rock band.

By the mid 1940s the Meyer lemon had become widely grown in California. However, at that time it was discovered that a majority of the Meyer lemon trees being cloned were symptomless carriers of the Citrus tristeza virus, a virus which had killed millions of citrus trees all over the world and rendered other millions useless for production.[5] After this finding, most of the Meyer lemon trees in the United States were destroyed to save other citrus trees.

A virus-free selection was found in the 1950s by Don Dillon of the California company Four Winds Growers,[6] and was later certified and released in 1975 by the University of California as the ‘Improved Meyer lemon’ — Citrus × meyeri ‘Improved’.[7][8]

Crazy the shit you find out just by looking up recipes. Anyway, this post is going to be pretty huge, because it’s really two recipes in one. See, with this lemon curd, I made a French vanilla ice cream. Or, ‘vanille français.’ Why? Because a) it was a request by my mother for her birthday on the 5th and b) I had seen during my numerous searches on this big, beautiful interwebs that some people mixed their lemon curds with frozen yogurt or ice cream, and it sounded good. Although lemon curd is also great on toast, scones, crumpets, or as a filling in cakes or cupcakes.

The curd cooking away…

LEMON CURD (from David Lebovitz)

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup freshly-squeezed Meyer or regular lemon juice
  • ⅓ cup sugar (or ½ cup, if using regular lemons)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

  1. Place a mesh strainer over a bowl, and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.
  3. Add the butter cubes and set the pan over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted. Increase the heat and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.
  4. Immediately press the curd through the strainer. Once strained, store the lemon curd in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.

Some people like a little zest in their curd, feel free to add a teaspoon or so of it if you do. David says it makes a cup, but I actually got 1 ¼ cups myself. My lemons were pretty big though, and I didn’t want to waste any juice so I just squeezed it all out. Haha. That entire sentence sounds dirty. Anyway, I’m sure this could be doubled or tripled easily if you want to use it to fill a cake, etc.

Alright, well that ends the fruit curd portion of our program. So now, on to the ice cream! Vanilla ice cream has always been my favorite, just like vanilla cupcakes have always been my favorite. Some may find that boring, but really, when you’re as awesome as I am, you can’t have too much other stuff going on, you have to let the awesome-ness speak for itself. Vanilla is always the perfect backdrop or companion for everything. But have you ever wondered what the difference was between vanilla & French vanilla?

While today’s ice cream enthusiasts may view vanilla as a bland or generic offering, it used to be considered a very exotic flavor indeed. Because it became such a popular choice for consumers, vanilla became the standard bearer of the ice cream family, closely followed by chocolate and strawberry. The complex flavors created by the vanilla bean, a member of the orchid family, were never intended to become a generic base, however.

There are several variations on the standard vanilla flavor, including a particularly rich and creamy variety called French vanilla. While both traditional vanilla and French vanilla ice creams can still be used as a base for milkshakes and other dessert treats, there are a few differences between them. Traditional vanilla flavor is derived from the seeds of a vanilla bean pod, or at least a synthetic chemical equivalent called vanillin. French vanilla is more of an egg custard before freezing, and contains egg yolks for a richer consistency.

Traditional vanilla ice cream is also likely to contain small flecks of vanilla beans, but French vanilla is often strained to remove these flecks. Because of the egg yolks, French vanilla ice cream also appears to be a deeper shade of yellow than traditional vanilla ice cream. French vanilla ice cream is often viewed as creamier in texture than many standard vanilla ice cream brands, which may be a result of starting with a custard base instead of cream.

- Wisegeek

..

The term French vanilla is often used to designate preparations that have a strong vanilla aroma, and contain vanilla grains. The name originates from the French style of making ice cream custard base with vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks. Inclusion of vanilla varietals from any of the former or current French dependencies noted for their exports may in fact be a part of the flavoring, though it may often be coincidental. Alternatively, French vanilla is taken to refer to a vanilla-custard flavor.[19] Syrup labeled as French vanilla may include custard, caramel or butterscotch flavors in addition to vanilla.

-Wikipedia

 

Well that settles that, huh? Ya learn somethin’ new everyday. The reason for that particular little culinary history lesson is that I’m sharing today a recipe for French vanilla ice cream. It does not have the little black vanilla seeds in it, true to form, and it is indeed quite an off-white color.  This recipe is from the little booklet that came with my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, so the directions given are for that particular brand. The thing is, it requires an ice cream maker. If you don’t have the KitchenAid one & you have another brand/model, that’s totally fine, just mix the ingredients together either with a hand mixer or another stand mixer, refrigerate for the 8 hours +, and then just freeze according to the directions of your ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker- buy one. But be forewarned: you’ll make a lot of new “best friends.” Anyway, I mixed mine for 30 minutes in the freezer bowl and then froze it for a while (couple of hours) since it wasn’t firm enough for me. It was like soft-serve consistency, which is nice, and I won’t lie… I ate more than I should’ve while it was soft. But I like it better firmer, and it was pretty hot & humid, so it melted fast anyway.

There’s Lola, mixin’ it up…


THE MOST AMAZING HOMEMADE FRENCH VANILLA ICE CREAM

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups half-and-half
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 ½ cups whipping cream
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat half-and-half until very hot but not boiling, stirring often. Remove from heat, set aside.
  2. Place egg yolks and sugar in a mixer bowl. Attach bowl and wire whip to mixer. Turn to speed 2 and mix about 30 seconds, or until well blended and slightly thickened. Continuing on speed 2, very gradually add half-and-half and mix until blended. Return half-and-half mixture to the medium saucepan; cook over medium heat until small bubbles form around edge and mixture is steamy, stirring constantly. Do not boil.
  3. Transfer half-and-half mixture into large bowl; stir in whipping cream, vanilla and salt. Cover and chill thoroughly, at least 8 hours.
  4. Assemble and engage freeze bowl, dasher and drive assembly as directed. Turn to STIR (speed 1). Using a container with a spout, pour mixture into freeze bowl. Continue on STIR for 15-20 minutes or until desired consistency is achieved. Immediately transfer to serving dishes for soft-serve or freeze in an airtight container until firm. Prepare yourself for the deliciousness.
Served with lemon curd, blackberries & raspberries

Okay… this is the most amazing ice cream I ever had. The absolute best French vanilla ice cream EVER. I must stress the pure vanilla extract here. Usually, I don’t make a fuss because in a cupcake, especially chocolate or other flavor, it’s not really that big of a deal. But in this, you really need a good, true, real vanilla flavor. For a vanilla lemon curd ice cream, just spoon some of the curd (or all of it, depending how much you made/like) into the ice cream maker a few minutes before it’s ready. If you want streaks of it throughout, add it much closer to the end, just so there are ripples of lemon curd in it. If you want it mixed in completely, add it about 5-10 minutes to the end. The curd is also excellent served on top of the ice cream and then topped with fresh blackberries or raspberries, like I did above. The blackberries & raspberries were huge & beautiful… and also buy one, get one free, so you better believe I bought those babies. Vanilla ice cream is so easy to build on, you can top it with anything, or add anything. Add crushed cookies, fruit, jam, chocolate chips, brownie pieces, broken waffle cones, etc. Top it with chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, butterscotch sauce, whatever! An Italian restaurant me & Jay go to serves their French vanilla ice cream in a parfait glass with two delicious, soft almond cookies. Amazing. You could even freeze it until it’s really firm, then sandwich it between two chocolate chip cookies to make a homemade Chipwich!

I know, there are like 10 egg yolks and 2 extra eggs in these recipes combined. A whole dozen. But, like the coconut cupcakes that take 5 eggs, it’s so worth it. And you can freeze the whites and use them to make meringue later on! Or, use the whites to make meringue, use the curd to fill little pie shells or tart shells (even store-bought ones), then top them with the meringue- and you have mini lemon meringue pies! So cute.

And that, children, concludes the most epic Cupcake Rehab post ever, a.k.a. the post of the century. After writing all of this up, I will now go and collapse on the floor and cradle my newly Carpal Tunnel ridden-wrists.

No pain, no gain.

Of course by pain I mean the French word for ‘bread.’ Duh. And by gain? I mean weight. Haha. Yeah I know, I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Don’t you just love bread? I certainly love bread. All kinds of bread. Soft white bread, dense 9-grain bread, whole wheat bread, sandwich bread, artisan bread, ciabatta bread, sourdough bread… you get the idea. I’d never go on a diet where bread was a no-no. Actually, I’d never go on a diet, period. Thankfully I’m blessed with good enough genes so I can fit into my jeans. Hah. Lately I’ve been on sort of a carb-kick, well actually a bread-kick, and the desire to make my own was upped to the highest levels possible. Especially after making some garlic knots. I have been craving homemade bread with salty, creamy butter for ages now. I just needed to get off my lazy ass and make some, which is where this post comes in.

Abby’s Sweets has a recipe for French bread from Taste of the South magazine and just looking at her pictures of it sold me. It sounded very easy, the rising times didn’t seem incomprehensible, and I figured it was worth a shot. And it really was easy. I made it and when I was finished I actually looked at the clock and was amazed; it hadn’t taken much time at all. I was sitting there, eating warm slices of delicious bread before I knew it. Therefore, I put it in the ‘quick & easy’ category, although I’m aware that those words to some people imply opening a can or defrosting something in the microwave. Those people should either close this page right now, or attempt to make something more complex than a Hungry Man dinner. YOU CAN DO IT. I promise. This bread does not involve a starter and it comes together really easily.

Okay so, I love making breads, but the thing that I hate is the kneading. Sure, I could just leave it in the mixture & have the dough hook mimic the kneading, but I think hand-kneading really makes a difference, so I always try to do it. But boy, did I get a workout with this one! 10 minutes of kneading this bread and my muscles rivaled Popeye‘s, without the benefit of spinach. It really is a stiff dough. I used 5 cups of flour and it was more than enough, but it’s one of those things, you have to play it by ear. Or uh, by hand? Add more flour as needed, if the dough is sticky, add more. If it’s not, then don’t.

Lola wanted some face-time again, and I can’t blame her. She did all the heavy-lifting & hard work. All I did was buy the ingredients, measure them out, knead the dough, grease the bowl, divide the dough, shape the loaves, bake them… hey, wait a minute. I did most of the work! Sneaky mixers, tryin’a take all the credit. She’s still beautiful though, so here she is. Love her. Appreciate her. Be jealous of her. My mixer can kick your mixer’s ass any day, and not get the slightest chip in her enamel.

(Honestly, if there’s anyone out there reading this who doesn’t have one of these & bakes a lot or is contemplating getting one but is on the fence- stop whatever you’re doing & just order one. It will change your fucking life. BUY ONE. NOW. Go. I’ll wait for you… *lengthy pause* Done? Good. You won’t be disappointed.)

FRENCH BREAD (from Abby’s Sweets/Taste of the South)

Le pain ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 (.25 oz) package active-rise yeast
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 ½ -6 cups bread flour, divided
  • ¼ cup cornmeal

Le pain directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Let stand until foamy, approximately 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine yeast mixture, 1 tablespoon oil, salt and 3 cups flour. Using the dough hook attachment, beat for 2-3 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Stir in enough of remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, approximately 1o minutes.
  3. Grease a large bowl with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Place dough in bowl, turning dough to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size. About 1 ½ hours.
  4. Punch dough down, and divide in half. Shape dough into 2 (approx. 17″ x 3″ inch) loaves.
  5. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with cornmeal. Place each loaf on a prepared baking sheet. Make 4 cuts diagonally across the top of each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Just a side note: Only use stainless steel, Pyrex or plastic bowl for the dough. Don’t use aluminum or any other reactive metal- it’ll mess with the rising. It’s also important to use bread flour, or a flour with a high-gluten content. That gives the bread it’s heft, and it has a higher protein content which results in the perfect texture. You could use all-purpose, and get a decent bread out of it, it just won’t be as chewy or have the right feel to it. I’d just use the bread flour if I were you. And if you do not have a KitchenAid stand mixer, or a stand mixer at all, especially one without a dough hook… I don’t recommend using a hand mixer. Even if it has a dough hook attachment. You’ll end up with a burned-out motor and a doughy mess. You’re better off using your hands if anything. But like I said- get a stand mixer!

I don’t like measuring, and I certainly don’t like being told how big or small to make my bread. So when it came to shaping them into loaves, I just winged it. No idea how long or wide they were. They were not 17″ though. I made mine more misshapen/rustic, and slightly shorter & wider. It’s an absolutely gorgeous bread when finished baking; it would make a beautiful grilled cheese (especially with this recipe), an amazing bruschetta, and a perfect hearty sandwich bread.

However… like I said, it’s fantastic alone with just butter.