Sunday, May 23, 2010



Annecy. Maybe I was expecting too much. I had seen the pictures, you know. Stunning, green, romantic, pictures of a hideaway town glittering in the reflection of the lake, empty, cobbled streets, delicate bridges perched above trickling canals, boats lazily crossing the lake. Maybe it was like meeting someone you have heard so much about, expectations high, or meeting someone for the first time face to face after having written pretty little billets doux back and forth…. The idea was formed in my head, pictures of the perfect lover, the city of my dreams, before I had ever stepped foot out of the car. And when I did, that first morning, map in hand, meandering in out of narrow, winding, shady lanes occasionally stepping out into a bright circle of sunshine in a town square, church to my left, bistro to my right, disillusionment washed over me like that one blind date gone wrong. Reality smacked me in the face! There was something Disneyesque about Annecy, I felt as if I had stepped onto some Sixtie’s family film set, all faux rusticity and costumed romance.

JP had slunk reluctantly off to his conference meetings that morning, loathe to leave his vacation – and me – behind, so I was on my own. But this town is small enough to handle on one’s own and on foot, so I waved him off and turned in the direction of the Old Town. It isn’t easy to get lost here as you are always sure to find yourself sooner or later on the edge of Annecy’s gorgeous lake, the sun reflecting sharply off of the surface so that even at 9 in the morning I found myself shading my eyes as I stared in utter disbelief at the picture postcard beauty spread out before me, the backdrop of lush mountains, her peaks kissed by snow, setting off the lovely lake, the boats, the swans making lazy circles in the water, the majestic old mansions lining the opposite side of the lake. The old center of Annecy is tiny, a doll’s town, easy enough to cross back and forth several times in the course of one morning. And cross back and forth I did, afraid that I must have missed something. But no, that’s all there is. I looked up, my eyes scanned the ancient facades of Centreville, all mustard-colored walls and chocolate brown beams, buildings leaning into each other, holding one another up, pushing against time who seems to be pushing back yet losing the battle. These elegant old ladies seem to be holding their own. But when I lowered my eyes I felt like I had been swept off to Disney World: “authentic French” bistros, gift shops, souvenir tourist traps lined up side by side, back to back, like school children jostling each other as they wait impatiently in line, like vulgar painted women luring unsuspecting couples to sample their wares, promising heavenly delights. Ogling tourists come to get a taste of the romance of Annecy trundle excitedly up and down the streets, popping in and out of shops, perusing menus written in bad English posted outside every restaurant and seem taken in, enchanted with the quaint, Main Street air of this town, but I had seen enough of this kind of thing before and found myself frustrated, angry and just a tad disgruntled. So I bought a sandwich from a streetcart vendor and ate lakeside, the calm breeze and the bright, warm sun easing the pain just a bit.

After lunch, I found my way a bit off the beaten track and in front of the pastry shop/chocolatier I had been looking for, La Marquise des Anges of patissier Paul Collet. And after wandering back and forth in front of the window, nose pressed against the glass, hemming and hawing, I finally went in and bought a small sachet of Roseaux du Lac d’Annecy, liqueur-filled chocolates, and a sachets of gorgeous, deep violet and garnet colored pâtes de fruit, gumdrops. Happy with my purchase, I headed off, uphill, to visit the Chateau.

Well, after my day of tourism and darling JP’s day of meetings, we met back at the hotel and prepared for an evening of elegance and gastronomic delight: a meal at L’Auberge du Père Bise. JP had thoughtfully, lovingly reserved a table at this Michelin-starred restaurant as soon as we began planning our trip, making sure that we would taste the delights of Sophie Bise, daughter of her famed Père. And delights, tremendous delights they were. This was easily one of the best meals I have ever eaten. Ever. Discreet luxury surrounded us, an attentive yet unobtrusive team waited on us, the food silently yet pleasurably placed before us, empty plates whisked away after a slight hesitation, nod of the head looking for a word of approval from us after each course.

(I must interject a small aside here before I begin sharing our meal and drooling over the memories of each taste, scent, the lovely vision of the lake at night: we left the hotel a tad bit early but really in good time to make our reservation. As this is most definitely a haut lieu gastronomique we wanted to be neither early – how gauche! – nor late – just plain rude! We began our drive and, knowing that the restaurant was only a few kilometers from the hotel, we began to sense that something was wrong when we had been driving for quite some time with absolutely no indication that we were approaching the town of Talloires. At JP’s request, I grabbed the map, not something I am happy doing in normal times, and realized with horror that we had started out in the wrong direction! We were driving the long way around the lake! All around the lake! Yipes! How long? We both panicked and, sweating, started searching for road signs, looking to see if we could perceive the end of the lake, but all we saw was water, water that seemed to go on forever! So, to make a long story short, it took us maybe an added half hour to drive all the way around the lake and we walked into the restaurant at exactly our reservation time. To the minute. And only slightly worse for the wear.)

Lulled by the muted atmosphere of the restaurant and the twinkling of the lights on the still, dark water of the lake, we began with a stunning “cake” of thin, stacked layers of smoked fish and foie gras served with the perfect tart Granny Smith apple jelly. Sublime! Blue lobster served atop tiny vegetable-filled cannelloni bathed in a wonderful carrot-infused cream sauce, a tender, peppery duck filet served aside its own kefta-inspired duck patty and crispy fried polenta, a selection of rhubarb and strawberry pastries and sorbets, a cheese course and finally, when we thought that nothing else could possibly come, the wonderful serveuse rolled over the magnificent dessert trolley. Wow! Everything was more than perfect, each dish filled with intense flavors playing off one another yet so perfectly balanced. It is truly difficult to describe and as some * ahem * refuse to allow me to carry a camera into any restaurant (escargot accepted), I have nothing to show you, only the link to their website to offer. Needless to say, this was the ideal, the perfect ending to a perfect week. Gastronomic delights, romance, fun and relaxation and we are refreshed and only waiting for that summer in Florida.

And Annecy had been forgiven….

My wonderful friend and fellow food writer Mardi of Eat. Live. Travel. Write. is hosting this month’s Hay Hay it’s Donna Day, a food blogging event started by my other good friend and cute person Denise of Chez Us in which one blogger chooses one recipe by Australian cookbook author Donna Hay (I have one issue of her magazine and my first Donna Hay cookbook Chocolate!) and the rest of us recreate the same recipe as we choose. Mardi chose a wonderful summer recipe, Blackberry Cheesecake Pots, highlighting my favorite of all berries, the blackberry. This cool and creamy dessert sounded perfect! Well, the recipe was so much like something that I had been craving lately and since Mardi is an especially good friend, I decided to play along.

Well, a couple of changes ensued… no blackberries to be found! At the best of times, blackberries are flown in from Holland, huge, plump and so deliciously sweet but way out of my usual price range. But it is still too early in the European fruit season. So I chose what is now in gorgeous, luscious abundance: gariguette strawberries. And as cream cheese cannot be found in Nantes (and I usually prefer a milder flavor anyway), I replaced the cream cheese in the original recipe with mascarpone. Perfect! And one more change? Three’s the charm, as they say! Instead of baking cookies to serve alongside the cheesecake pots, as Donna suggests, I baked a light, moist, flourless chocolaty sheet cake (which I normally make for my cake roll), cut out circles of the cake and created these individual desserts. Thanks Donna, Denise and especially Mardi for this fun event and wonderful dessert. Read all about how you can participate and see the recipe here.

The true test with anything I cook or bake is my darling JP. He scooped up a spoonful and tasted. And another. And another. He loved it! He thought it was so delicious, so perfect that it was worthy of a pastry chef. Ah, wonderful! I also found that leaving the dessert in the refrigerator 1 day and even 2 days before serving, it only got better: the cream thickened into more of a cheesecake texture yet thanks to this most perfect of cake recipes, the chocolate cake base did not get soggy at all! Rather the cake was now infused with a sweet hint of strawberry, which perfectly highlighted the bitter chocolate cake. The dessert was smooth, tender, creamy and just the perfect balance between sweet, chocolate and strawberry. Amazing!

The strawberry mascarpone cream can be served much more simply by spooning it into individual glasses and serving extra berries on the side. With your favorite cookie or biscotti on the side.

2 small asides, the latest updates:
If you enjoy my writing, my stories, I’d love to share with you my entry for the Independent/Bradt Travel Writing competition, “Return to Paris”, a white, icy, romantic tale of one day in Paris. And there is still time to vote! Simply click on the 5 stars below the story where it says “rate this entry”, register and click on the stars again. I would greatly appreciate your votes! Thank you!

And my latest article on Huffington Post Food is published: We are What We Eat: Putting the Cultural Back into the Global: finding the right balance of keeping our children at home culturally while letting them discover new worlds. Enjoy! And feel free to continue the debate by leaving your view and your experience as a comment after the article.

Wildly adapted by Jamie from a Donna Hay recipe

1 cup (250 g) mascarpone (can use cream cheese)
¼ cup (55 g) superfine sugar
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh heavy or double whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized, long life cream)
½ - 1 cup (125 – 250 g) strawberries or your favorite berry
Chocolate Cloud Cake (recipe follows) or other cake base * (see below)

Chill a glass bowl and a set of beaters in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before beating the heavy cream. Put the heavy cream in the chilled bowl and, using the chilled beaters, whip the cream until it holds in soft peaks. Continue beating as you gradually add 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Beat until the cream is very thick and dense and holds stiff peaks.

In a separate bowl, beat the mascarpone with the remaining sugar and vanilla until light and creamy. Using a spatula, fold in the beaten cream until blended. Do not over-mix.

Crush about 2 oz (60 g) of the strawberries – about 10 or 12 medium – in a food processor. Crush them but do not liquefy. Gently fold them into the mascarpone mixture, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours if possible. (I prepared these cheesecake desserts right away without pre-chilling the mixture).

With your ring molds, cut out circles of Chocolate Cloud Cake – about 5 medium, 6 small. Place the rings with the chocolate bases on a baking sheet or tray lined with parchment paper.

I flipped the cake over so the damper side was up.

Trim the top off of the remaining strawberries and slice each berry in half lengthwise. Cut sides out, line the rings all around with the strawberry halves, large end down, point upwards. Leave a tiny space between the berries for the cream to peep through.

Carefully place a heaping spoonful of the strawberry mascarpone cream in the center of the rings, inside the strawberries and with the back of the spoon press to fill, being careful that the strawberries stay in their places. Flatten the top of the cream. Once all the rings are filled, place a large piece of plastic wrap over the whole thing and refrigerate overnight. If you eat these the same day they are mighty delicious and meltingly good but after a day – and even 2 days – the cream sets and becomes denser, more like a cheesecake and the cake becomes infused with strawberry flavor. Gorgeous!

To serve, very carefully slide a wide, flat spatula under a ring, sliding it under the cake and lift onto a dessert plate. Dust the top with unsweetened cocoa powder and gently lift off the ring, lifting straight up. Serve immediately with extra strawberries. You can also crush the remaining berries with a little sugar and serve as a coulis.

From Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible

* For the Strawberry Mascarpone Dessert you can replace the Chocolate Cloud Cake with your favorite chocolate or vanilla sheet cake or genoise or even pre-baked sweet pastry crust or cookie, but personally I prefer a softer cake bottom than a crunchy pie crust or cookie as it is easier to eat and creates a uniform, elegant, tender and creamy dessert experience. And of course, I love the touch of chocolate this light yet densely moist cake brings to the strawberry cream.

1/3 cup (30 g) unsifted, unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ liquid cup (60 ml) boiling water
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs (30 g) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/3 cup (35 g) finely ground toasted almonds
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
6 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 17 x 12” (@ 45 x 30 cm) jellyroll pan, line it with parchment or non-stick oven paper and grease again.

In a small bowl, stir together the cocoa powder with the boiling water until the cocoa is completely dissolved and smooth. Stir in the butter until it is melted and then the vanilla. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the 6 egg yolks with ½ cup (100 g) of the sugar and beat, using an electric mixer, for 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the chocolate mixture and the ground almonds and beat until incorporated and well blended, scraping down the sides as necessary.

In a separate, large, very clean bowl (preferably plastic or metal), beat the egg whites until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually, as you continue beating, add the rest of the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. With a large whisk, slotted spoon or spatula, fold about 1/3 of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it before folding in the rest of the whites in 2 additions. Fold in the whites gently but until completely blended in. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18 minutes. The cake will have puffed, faded in color and lost its shine and the surface will spring back when lightly touched. If in doubt, leave in the oven for an extra minute or two. Remove from the oven and slide the parchment off of the pan onto your work surface. Allow to cool completely before flipping over and cutting out your circles.


Ken said...

Love individual desserts. Between you and Deeba, there's no shortage of Strawberry recipes.

Daniela said...

Questo tiramisu' e fantastico , le foto sono splendide. Ciao Daniela.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Lovely cheesecakes! So fresh and delicious looking! Yes, you are right, Annecy is a little like Disneyland. But, if you are able to put that aside, it nonetheless a gorgeous little old town with a wonderful lake!



Sippity Sup said...

I have said it before, but I want your life. Of course I'd settle for one of these dreamy cakes too. GREG

Giuky said...

che paesaggio e che magnifico cheesecake!:)

Anushruti said...

This looks fabulous Jamie and without eggs or gelatine perfect for me!

Jamie said...

@Sippity Sup: Greg maybe we could just trade for a bit. Your life seems pretty fabulous to me!

@Anushruti: Yes I was happy when a day later it firmed up like perfect cheesecake with no gelatin. No eggs, no flour, it is all purpose! And easy!

Brit said...

...and I am looking forward to revisiting Annecy this summer. Last time I was there with two friends and I must confess we were too busy talking and walking and eating to really notice how quaint it is (sound familiar?). I shall look more carefully this time, and think of you when doing so!!!

Leave-Room-for-Dessert said...

Yet another beautiful post Jamie! I too have experienced similar disappointment with someplace I was anxious to visit, and it is heartbreaking. Gorgeous, gorgeous cheesecakes (JP is correct - worthy of a pastry chef!). Though I must admit, I'm surprised that blackberries aren't indigenous to France!

I hope we don't experience disappointment when we meet at FBC :-)

Jamie said...

@Leave Room for Dessert: Julia, I surely doubt I'll be disappointed! I cannot wait to meet you! And I know that wild blackberries are often found in the country and we pick them during our walks. But I've only seen the big plump blackberries here in Nantes shipped in from Holland.

Mamatkamal said...

Franchement je salive devant mon ecran, c'est vraiment un dessert top, je note ta recette que je ne vais pas tarder a essayer.
Sublime cette recette!

Barbara @ VinoLuciStyle said...

Beautiful Jamie...despite using mascarpone in many recipes where I might have once used cream cheese, I've yet to try it for a cheesecake and these look stunning. Now to find some ring molds!

RJ Flamingo said...

Gorgeous, as always, Jamie - so freaking creative! Florida strawberry season is past, but now we're getting some Florida blueberries, and that's what I used for mine - along with some blueberry almond biscotti. I'm such a literalist. :-D

elra said...

Sometimes thing doesn't come up the way you want it to be if you expect to much. But, just judging from the photo, is enough to make me want to visit this town.

Your cake looks superb!

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

Wow Jamie - you went all out on this challenge! What a beautiful interpretation of this simple recipe - I chose it exactly because it was so easy to modify and put your own spin on. I agree that the texture was better after a few days in the fridge! Thanks for playing. Now, you can just pop one in the mail, ok? ;-)

Peter M said...

Jamie, this is my first time seeing the town of Annecy...very charming.

As for the cheesecake, nice attention to detail to assemble each serving...surely delish!

A_and_N said...

That looks fantastic, Jamie! How cool that you adapted. I'd have thrown a tantrum and cried and then figured something out and in the panic spoilt it all.

Sigh. Fantastic pics as well.

Anu Menon said...

My husband wants invite a ton of frds home n serve them an icecream cake. When i tol dhim i would make a cake instead he refused saying he wanted to eat eggless icecream cake... Frustrated i decided i'd suprise him with my version of an icecream cake... I'm still looking for a good enough recipe! Meanwhile i'm in love with your cheesecake :)

Barbara said...

The lake looks beautiful Jamie. Great interpretation of Donna's cheesecake and beautifully presented.

If you don't mind I would like to correct something. @Chezus is the current administrator of HHDD. I began the event in 2005 and ran it until handing over to Bron Marshall in 2008, who passed the baton to Denise at Chezus last year.

Jamie said...

@Barbara - Thanks for correcting me and duly noted! I only recently heard about the event and followed the trail back to Denise. But it also makes sense it started in Australia! Thanks, Barbara, and thanks for the visit!

Kitchen Butterfly said...

It looks superb - and perfect for this season Jamie. Yum - seems like I now have something lovely to do with the rest of my homemade mascarpone! I've just made a huge bowl of orange Tiramisu!

Heavenly Housewife said...

What absolute beauties. They are stunning daaaahling.
*kisses* HH

Ria Mathew said...

Beautiful cheesecake , Jamie! Loved your presentation!

RamblingTart said...

Beautiful, Jamie!! Well I know that dreadful feeling of setting out in plenty of time only to discover you've gone the wrong way. Ack! So glad you arrived safe and sound to partake of such culinary bliss. :-)

DebbieK said...

Jamie, I was last in Annecy in 1981 and was captured by its beauty. I could understand why Cezanne would be inspired to paint one of his pictures of the lake. But this link describes otherwise
Alas, I suppose things do change over time. I'll keep my fantasy of what was back then :) Loved your post-loved your sidetrack of trying to arrive just on time. I've been known to park close by to make it look like I have impeccable timing and HATE being late! Your creation looks mouthwatering...lucky JP, again!

gastroanthropologist said...

Bummer about Annecy. I loved it, but I also spent only one afternoon there - a lovely swim in the lake and dinner in town. It also wasn't a planned stop - I don't think I'll ever return to Annecy because we've sort of had our fill with that little part of the world, but maybe its better that way...A second visit might not meet all my memories and expectations. This is what happened with a repeat visit to Vienna.

Strawberry mascarpone cheesecake looks delicious. It's not even June and I feel like I've eaten a lifetime's worth of strawberries this year, not complaining - I've loved each and every strawberry I've eaten and never tire of them!

Juliana said...

Oh! The little cheesecakes are elegant :-) Enjoyed the pictures as well.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

I'm ready to head for Annency = and have a slice of that deletable mascarpone cheesecake.

MeetaK said...

simply awesome jamie! love the story although wish i had one of these to spoon while reading it. jp rocks!

Rachel said...

That is one pretty cheesecake..and great read.

tasteofbeirut said...

I remember feeling a tinge of envy when a lady artist I know announced she was moving to Annecy; I would not mind the Disneyland aspect, either! I get plenty of freeways and parking lots over here.
That tiramisu is beguiling.

tasteofbeirut said...

Would love to live in Annecy, Disneylike or not, it beats my view of the freeways and parking lots here in Dallas;
that dessert is luscious! the berries give it some tang and balance out the richness of the cream.

Deeba PAB said...

Absolutely perfect as beautiful Jamie. Gosh, you won my heart with these. Are these the dessert rings from India? You did brilliantly sister... I must get you some square ones next time we meet! The pictures of Annecy are charming, and full of old world European charm... just beautiful!

Jamie said...

@tasteofbeirut: Ha Ha I can so understand your sentiments about living in Annecy!

@PeterM: Thanks much, dear!

@Deeba dahling! I love my ring molds and I'd even fly all the way to India for some square ones! Thanks love!

@thanks to all of you for your very kind comments! I love seeing each of you here! And I know that some of you I'll see next week in London! Yay!

lisaiscooking said...

This is exactly what I like in a dessert: just a little chocolate, a good amount of strawberries, and cheesecake! And, now I need to find a way to visit Annecy some day soon.

Cristie said...

What a lovely, lovely dessert. Thank you for the step-by step instructions. I have two events coming up and one of them will have this as the finish. Thank you!

Muneeba said...

This is one super charged post ... I dunno where to look, and the amazing dessert or that quaint town .. I'll just have to go back several times and take it all in! *imagining that I'm sitting in a cafe in Annecy eating THAT cheesecake*

asiangrrl said...

Wow. Just wow. I am glad your vacation was saved by a fantabulous dinner. And, may I say, your strawberry mascarpone cheesecake looks to die for?

Lisa Michelle said...

Ok..this always happens to me. Whenever I look forward to never turns out to be what I was looking forward to or just turns out to be a downer in general. On the flip side..whenever I'm dreading always turns out wonderful or better than expected. life in general or shall I continue to hope for 'dread' to be rewarded with awesomeness? LOL

I'm SO looking forward to making those beautiful strawberry mascarpone tarts, although I'm positive they will not turn out as beautiful and delicious looking as yours (which means they will) lol I have two pints of strawberries itting in my fridge..could not have been better timing!

Chez Us said...

Jamie, I am just getting around to looking at the HHDD entries - darn trip to Europe - anyhow, I love what you did with this recipe. Looks amazing! So glad you participated this month & hope to have you play along more!

I have to say I love your beautiful photos of Annecy, so pretty!

Pratiba Bhat said...

I never knew one can bake these at home. Thank you for the recipe :) An inspiration for a newbie like me entering into the cooking world! :)

Jamie said...

@Pratiba Bhat: Ah this is a fabulous desert for a newbie baker! This can easily be done without the cake layer if you choose. The mascarpone cream is simple and fast and so delicious! Don't forget that if you make these in ring molds, don't eat them right away rather leave them a day or even two in your fridge as the cream will firm up to something like cheesecake texture.

OysterCulture said...

We loved Annecy when we stopped it, it was a bit surreal so I appreciate the Disney World quality and can relate to the driving. We were in the area to see a few stages of the Tour de France and were totally discombobulated with the signs and streets. I started to request we park a bit out of town and just walk in to avoid the stress.
Your cheese cake looks simply amazing and I'd be willing to deal with the driving and craziness just for a bite.

Amandine said...

I have just discovered your blog, and a page after another, I fell on this post.

I was born in Annecy and live in a small town near there. (In fact, exactly on the other side of the lake, in front of Talloires :o) )
And although I love my birth town, I have to say you are really right.
My lovely town is now a touristic fief, and it's even worst in the summer.

But despite all of this, I still think I am lucky to live here. And I hope you'll appreciate to come back one day or another. :o)

Have a great day !


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