Thursday, July 22, 2010

LEMON ICE CREAM

POSTCARD FROM FLORIDA


Sitting in my brother’s Florida kitchen I can watch out the back window at my two sons splashing in the pool like a couple of kids. The water’s surface is littered with floating tubes and blow-up rafts as two lanky figures cannonball into the deep end and throw pool toys as hard as they can at each others’ heads. A mother’s worry never abates even as they age; 20 and 22 now and they still act like grade-schoolers as I cringe each time one or the other crouches up on the edge getting ready to pounce as his brother swims by. All I can do is close my eyes and sigh. But after being apart for these past 4 months they seem to be enjoying each other’s company and I feel a warmth and a comfort as I watch them chat and laugh together. I only wish that boys didn’t need to express their brotherly love through so much roughhousing.

Having fun, wish you were here... xoxo

The last time I was back here with my family was for Michael’s funeral. Ten months have passed yet he has once again brought us back together. This time around we will be going through his things, divvying up his belongings, getting rid of everything that we aren’t able to drag back across the state or across the ocean to our own homes. A person’s lifetime floats in front of us, an entire life reduced to packing cases and piles of furniture, cardboard boxes and suitcases. He loved collecting beautiful things, unusual things and it is heartbreaking to think that these objects he so cared for will be scattered to the wind, snatched up by people who never knew him, never knew the thought and love he put into caring for each painting, dish or lamp. I comb through boxes of old family photos looking for hints of the past, childhood memories and emotions, and events long forgotten push their way back up through the thick haze of time and I smile sadly as I think of him. And then every evening as we gather at Andrew’s house, as the boys splash around in the pool, as the grill is fired up and the Wii golf turned on, discussion of Michael melds into more immediate concerns and life goes on and we move ahead.


Such a trip tinged with so much sadness also has its joys. This is the first family vacation the four of us have taken together for years. The boys laze around until lunchtime and then jump up and start to complain that there is nothing to do, begging to be brought to the mall to shop or to Uncle Andrew’s to swim. They clamor for game night – and JP cringes, fearful that someone will force him to actually sit down and play a board game. JP disappears to the beach for a morning walk and then drags his teen sons out again in the evening for a swim. Delis and diners, bbq joints and seafood restaurants lure us with their now-exotic flavors and the American grocery store, that Aladdin’s Den of mystery and delight, calls to us more often than we would like. Outside, the steam rises from the sidewalks, the air is heavy and the sun stabs at our skin. Palm trees sway in the slight breeze, sand peeks through the harsh grass in the front lawn and lizards dart across the cement walkway before scuttling back into the shade. This strange, savage environment never ceases to amaze us, this place where man is in a constant battle of control against the wild harshness of the flora and fauna: a stroll down the beach and we are faced with man-o’-wars and jellyfish while rumors of sharks just offshore send shivers up our backs and we step out of the cool water as it laps up around our ankles; the sharp rocks hiding underneath the water bite like sharks; the fleas and tics have poor Buster going mad; the heat is unbearable, pushing at us each time we step out the back door! But this is the land of my childhood, the sizzling summers of my youth and I feel like I’ve pulled on a comfortable old pair of sneakers, a familiar worn pair of jeans that I know so well, that feel just right.

They say that we can never go home again, but I am not too sure about that. I drive through this town that I knew so well and although I now feel like a stranger the memories of a childhood come rushing back as I pass Susan’s house and remember the slumber party in the tent in her backyard, or Shay’s house and think of that grade-school birthday party. I pass in front of the old elementary school and laugh thinking how many old friends I have found again all these years later, the stories and laughter that we share now each time we meet. TV blaring, ceiling fans swirling lazily overhead, air conditioner humming and I slip back into an old life as comfortable as if I had never left. Yet here I am with my sons, adults themselves now, and feel a stranger visiting a now strange land. Michael’s dog Buster rubs himself against our legs begging attention then flops down splay-legged on the cool tiles and we think of all that has passed, how life has changed for each of us and we laugh as tears well up in our eyes. I can’t wait to get back home to France. And I wish I could stay here – home – forever.


A little ice cream now and then is the one respite from Florida’s unrelenting heat, a little cold ice cream to cool and revive. This is a recipe given to me by my friend Clare when she visited us this summer and I absolutely love it. Smooth and creamy, tangy and sweet, it is the perfect summer cooler and a snap to make. And no ice cream machine needed.


LEMON ICE CREAM


1 large, juicy lemon, zested and juiced
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream, chilled


Chill a medium-sized glass or pyrex bowl and the beaters from an electric beater.

Combine the lemon zest and the granulated sugar in a food processor or grinder and whiz for a minute or two. The zest will be very fine and the sugar a very pale yellow.


In a large mixing bowl, combine the lemon zesty sugar with the milk and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the lemon juice from the juiced lemon.

Whip the chilled heavy cream in the chilled bowl with the chilled beaters until thick and stiff peaks hold. Gently fold the whipped cream into the lemony sugar milk until completely combined.


Pour the mixture into a loaf pan or plastic container, cover and place in the freezer. Stir the ice cream after about 2 or 3 hours and allow to firm up, several hours or overnight.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE MACARONS

YOU’RE CONFECTION, GOODNESS KNOWS…


Every honey bee fills with jealousy
When they see you out with me
I don't blame them
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

When you're passin' by,
Flowers droop and sigh
I know the reason why
You're much sweeter
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

We were driving down the highway one summer day years ago, windows rolled down, wind in our hair and radio blasting as we sang along. Radio Nostalgie, our preferred road trip station, was keeping us toe-tapping happy with The Best of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, French, English, American and even some Italian thrown in, the perfect driving music. All of a sudden, JP leaned over and turned the volume down. He glanced nervously in my direction and exclaimed, “I’m worried. There must be something wrong with me.” “What?” “Well, I just realized that I know all the words to every single song! Shouldn’t I be worried about that?”


I owe my music education to my husband. He does indeed know them all and carefully taught me to appreciate – and sing along with - each of them: the Groovy (Johnny, Michel Polnareff, Dalida, Mike Brandt, Michel Berger), the Classic (Piaf, Aznavour, Brel), the Unexpected (Fernandel and Bourvil) the contemporary (Jovanotti, Zucchero, Gainsbourg). He has all of us, sons included, singing along to Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, Willy Deville and Leonard Cohen. And jazz? His favorite. Ella and Louis, Nina, Chet and Django. Jazz, swing, fado, rock, the blues, from Pink Floyd to the Beatles, from The Dubliners to Gregarian chants, he listens to learn and then to enjoy. And he adores Opera! The very first videocassette he bought his young sons was Losey’s Don Giovanni, which he played over and over until they could sing from beginning to end. For my 40th birthday he took me to see Cosi Fan Tutte at the Paris Opera. Magnificent! And from there we were onto all the classic operas and opera singers, beautiful lessons indeed. Not to poo-poo those classic musicals either: West Side Story, Peter and the Wolf, Oklahoma and even Hairspray and Grease. His range is astonishing, his collection vast and ever growing.

So while I was listening to Journey and the Eagles, Boston and ABBA, he was listening to, well, absolutely everything! A day without music is torture for him. While I am perfectly at peace with complete silence wrapping her soothing arms around me, with simply the hum of distant cars and the mild roar of the city keeping me company or absolutely mesmerizing me with a delicious feeling of being near the seaside, he paces back and forth, uneasy and nervous until he slips in a CD or pulls up his abundant collection of music on his computer and yes, music does indeed soothe the savage beast!


Well, don't buy sugar
You just have to touch my cup
You're my sugar
And it's oh so sweet when you stir it up

When I'm takin' sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You're confection
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose

As romantic as we are, we have never been romantic in a conventional sort of way. No pet names, no roses and champagne to celebrate those most traditional of occasions, no diamond ring has ever been slipped onto a finger. We were never formally engaged, the proposal, if you can call it that, was made on the sidewalk on our way to shop for the evenings’ dinner and it had more to do with having children than getting married. Our homemade wedding was most unconventional. He loathes celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries, dates mean nothing to him. And heaven only knows how it is that he pampers me and showers me with gifts on Valentine’s Day, for he adamantly refuses to play along with the silly faux holidays. “I don’t need someone else to tell me how or when I should show you how much I love you!” Personally I think it has to do with him turning into an old softie, but that’s just my opinion. But we do have an “our song” as strange as that may seem to those who know us well. Sappy and sentimental, it just isn’t his thing, but we simply stumbled upon a song that was perfect for us, romantic and a touch racy, jazzy with a dash of swing, a song to sing, a song to dance to in his arms around the living room, a song to make me giggle and him to gently roll his eyes while he amuses me, allowing me to carry on the silly idea that we actually have an “our song”.

Yes, ladies (and gentlemen), it is indeed that time of the month again. Another Mac Attack moment. This month Deeba and I asked all of our dear friends who bake with us in our virtual Mactweets kitchen to invent a macaron inspired by a song. Of course, there is no song closer to my heart than Honeysuckle Rose, our song, written by the great Fats Waller and sung by the wonderful Dinah Washington, the version I love the best. It is a song to inspire, a song that brings joy to all and any who sing it loud and saucy, eyebrows wiggling, hips swaying back and forth, arms waving like branches swaying in a gentle breeze.


Honey and Roses, sweet as can be, Honey and Roses will surely make a fabulous macaron. And indeed they did. I started with Strawberry Rosehip tea (because it looked so beautiful in the package) and whizzed a couple of tablespoons up with my ground almonds. Oh boy, the tea didn’t smell particularly enticing but processed with the almonds and the kitchen filled with the most mouthwatering scent of strawberries and rose. And the nuts took on a gorgeous deep mauve color. The shells baked perfectly though sadly they discolored ever so slightly and took on a sad, yellowish tinge. But it didn’t affect the luscious berry, rosy flavor of the shells. I was stunned by just how flavorful they were! I wanted to use honey in the filling but knew that a chocolate ganache would go over best with the son and his friends so I chose the only viable solution: Toblerone, that perfect honey nougat spiked milk chocolate and, strangely enough, my husband’s one and only chocolate weakness. It was perfect! These may be the most delicious macarons I have made yet on my long and winding macaron road.

When I'm takin' sips
From your tasty lips
Seems the honey fairly drips
You're confection
Goodness knows
Honeysuckle rose
- Fats Waller


HONEYSUCKLE ROSE MACARONS
Strawberry Rosehips Shells with Toblerone Ganache

For the macaron shells:
The shells are made with the same basic recipe I used to make my Chocolate Macarons with Pink Praline Filling, my Blueberry Hibiscus Macarons, my Chocolate Espresso Sea Salt French Kiss Macarons, my Coffee Macarons and my Violet Macarons:

200 g powdered sugar
110 g finely ground blanched almonds
3 large egg whites, about 112 g *
30 g granulated sugar
2 Tbs Strawberry Rosehips tea made all naturally with edible dried fruit, berries and leaves
1/2 tsp powdered red food coloring
A couple of drops of liquid red food coloring

Click on any one of the links about for full recipe and step-by-step how-to pictures.

* The egg whites should be left out in a covered container at room temperature for 24 hours.

Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 ½ inch-diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809).

Whiz the tea together with the ground almonds in a food processor or coffee grinder until fine. Sieve through a mesh strainer into a large bowl. I must say that since my tea had tiny chunks of soft, chewy dried fruit, the ground almonds became a tad damp in the process and I wasn’t able to push all of it through the sieve so I simply topped off what did get sifted with enough to make up to the needed 110 grams. The rest I saved to stir into cookie dough or something.


Sift the powdered sugar and the powdered food coloring into the bowl with the now mauve ground almonds and whisk to combine.

In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy and beginning to thicken. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you are whipping the whites until you obtain a glossy, stiff meringue. Add a drop or two of liquid red food coloring and beat just to evenly distribute the color pink.

Gently but firmly fold about 1/3 of the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds. Add the rest of the whipped whites/meringue and fold, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, scraping up from underneath, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should be flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds.

Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. When you have piped all of your batter out, sprinkle half of the shells with dried or candied rose petals or a bit of the tea if you desire. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!


Allow the macarons to sit out for 45 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched).

Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C). Bake the shells for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute). If your oven bakes unevenly as mine does, flip the trays front to back 5 minutes before the end of the baking time.

Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.


Allowing the shells to sit over night (I store them in a metal cookie box) made them wonderfully chewy underneath the crispy outer shell, just as I love them.

TOBLERONE GANACHE

I used approximately 150 g Toblerone with 125 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream and proceeded as I would a regular ganache:


Coarsely chop the Toblerone and place in a medium bowl. Heat the cream just to the boiling point. Pour the hot cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until smooth and creamy. Allow to cool until thickened and piping consistency.

Mine would not firm up enough, even in the refrigerator so I melted and added 50 g more caramel milk chocolate, warmed up the ganache and stirred them together until smooth and creamy. Again, I allowed it to chill until firm enough to pipe and hold its shape under the weight of the top macaron shell.

Fill the macarons:
Prepare your pastry bag with a plain tip that will pipe teaspoon-sized dots of filling onto the macaron shells. Pair up the shells so you have sets that match (same size and shape). Pipe the ganache filling onto one shell of each pair. Sandwich with the second shell. Allow the filling to set.


Results:
Fabulous! The delicate chocolate honey filling married perfectly with the incredibly fruity shell. In fact, it was so delicious I ran right out and bought a second package of this brand of infusion that was dried elderberry, blackberries and blueberries and I can’t wait to try using it to flavor macaron shells.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

CHERRY RHUBARB COBBLER

A LITTLE SUMMER SOMETHING


The rattle of cars across the cobblestones below floats through the windows on the breeze like the distant roar of ocean waves. The shade washes over me, soothing, cooling, the shutters pulled closed against the searing heat. Voices on the street mingle with the distant laughter of teens now out of school and summertime is finally upon us. Summer sneaks up on us in Nantes, plays tag with our emotions, one day cool one day blazing, rain hot on the heels of blue skies filled with lazy white clouds. Today the sun beckons, luring us out for a stroll, whetting our thirst for an ice cream, a refreshing tuna tartare, inviting us to pull up a chair at any one of the innumerable sidewalk terraces and order up one of the bright red, green or golden brews and lose ourselves in the surrounding holiday chatter.

The heat of a Florida summer always came early, riding in on a burning wind and settling down to stay. From winter chill to hot and humid seemingly overnight, the relentless summer sun gave us no escape whether in or out of the shade, no respite save for the flash thunderstorms every afternoon at 4 sharp. April, May, June, we braced ourselves for the long wait until the end of the school day, end of the school year, patiently listening for the alarm to sound three as we fidgeted at our desks, trying to concentrate as the temperature rose with the sun, and finally bursting out of our seats, through the doors and grabbing our bikes for that last ride home on that final day of the school year. Summer afternoons were spent playing ball in the street, gossiping with girlfriends as we circled and circled the block for hours. Barefoot on the steaming pavement, games of hopscotch or tossing basketballs through hoops could amuse us for hours. Occasionally one or the other of us would dash into the house for a glass of chilled Kool-aid or a popsicle from the freezer, our only arm against the blistering heat. These days, I only taste the heat of a Florida summer for a mere three or four weeks on those rare occasions when I can fly back home, and all of those tiny pleasures flood through my mind and rush back up to the surface. I walk out of the airport into the unrelenting heat and I am already craving a popsicle, cherry please, a dish of ice cream or a cold glass of juice.


I vaguely remember a 4th of July here or there, dad taking us out to Wickham Park where we could pay ball or jump into the lake while waiting to eat. Or tossing hamburgers on the grill set up on the driveway in front of the house, loading down our plates with store-bought cole slaw and potato salad. Or up in Albany at cousin Sandra’s tasting my first clams, chewy and strange but so intriguing, all the better for being dipped in hot, salty melted butter. Then chocolate popsicles in the yard, playing hard with a houseful of cousins waiting for the night to fall. Lighting sparklers wherever we were, fascinated by the dancing flame, silvery and bright, biting our skin, our cheeks, even better than the sky full of fireworks. Or standing on the lawn while dad, and later Andrew, shot off Roman candles, missiles, spinners and parachutes down at the end of the driveway to the delight of us (and later our) kids as we swatted away Florida’s inevitable mosquitoes. Watermelon, always icy cold watermelon, all summer long, bought at one of those ramshackle wooden stands lining the highway and set up in every gas station parking lot then shoved into the refrigerator to chill. Huge Florida watermelons sliced open with the biggest knife, the slices plopped onto paper plates to eat outside, their weight too much for the flimsy cardboard, each rosy slice threatening to drop onto the ground before we could make it outside. And those spitting contests, who could spit the tiny black seeds the farthest? And would we find a tiny sprout of a plant pushing up through the dirt next spring?


The 4th of July slips by unnoticed now, relegated to the rare trip home to the States and my family, consigned to memories of my youth. The 14th of July, the French national holiday, goes much the same way. Caught between two worlds, neither makes much sense to me. Two nationalities, two religions, sons a bundle of cultures, we often feel no allegiance at all, or too many. We’ve created our own little nation between the four of us, our own homeland, or none at all. Nomads, we have never felt an attachment so strong that we would not hesitate to pick up and wander off to a new land to discover a new world, add one more culture to our closet. So all those holidays, the Independence Days and Thanksgivings, the Christmases and Hanukkahs that come and go, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, as we watch our friends prepare and celebrate with food and good cheer, we snuggle up on the sofa in front of a good movie and dinner for two or four or take a picnic lunch and the dog for a romp in the vineyards, we cook together or pop open the oysters, we clink glasses of chilled white wine and give a hearty hurrah to us and everything we have. We celebrate our life and our time together, as strange and a tad selfish as it may sound.

Far from family and friends, there is no joy in the backyard barbecue, no sparklers, no parades. We create our own holidays and eventful celebrations just as we please. Each vacation spent with family, whether special occasion or not, each get together with far-away friends is a cause for festivities. The feast is spread, the champagne popped, no need for this date or that to enjoy what we have and give thanks. It’s all there, right in front of our eyes.


Cherries are out in full force, deep ruby red, plump and luscious. Rhubarb has hung around the marketplace long enough to woo the lovely cherry sitting coyly over at the other end and together they make a blissful, tempting, bewitching pair. What is summer without this match made in heaven? Rhubarb’s tangy intensity tamed by Cherry’s sweet perfume, cooked to tender perfection under a delicate cloud of dough. I made Dorie Greenspan’s Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler (with only slight changes) because I couldn’t help myself, because it was just what summer called for!


CHERRY RHUBARB COBBLER
From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours

For the filling:
1 pound red cherries, pitted and halved
12 ounces (3 – 4 fat stalks) rhubarb, trimmed, peeled and cut into ½-inch slices
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbs cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon


For the cobbler dough:
¾ cup flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tbs packed light brown sugar
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cubed
½ cup whole milk (I had none so used half heavy cream and half low fat milk)
1 – 2 Tbs cinnamon sugar for sprinkling over the dough, optional

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

Prepare the filling:
Mix the prepared cherries and rhubarb together in a large bowl. Sift the cornstarch over the sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine. Sprinkle over the fruit and toss until the dry ingredients are evenly coating the fruit. Toss the fruit often while you prepare the cobbler dough.

Prepare the cobbler dough:
Put both flours, the brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl (Dorie uses a food processor). Stir or whisk to blend. Add the cubes of butter and, using only your fingertips, quickly rub the butter into the dry ingredients until incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse meal or wet sand. Working very quickly, add the milk and stir with a spoon or fork until well incorporated and you have a smooth, thick batter (Dorie makes a dough but mine made a thick batter which worked perfectly). The dough should be light and fluffy, so don’t overwork.

Pour the prepared fruit into the buttered baking dish. Using a tablespoon, place equal-sized heaping tablespoons of dough in rows on top of the fruit – I got 4 rows of 4 balls of dough. If you like, sprinkle large pinches of cinnamon sugar over the dough.


Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until the cobbler dough is puffed up and golden and baked through. The fruit should have created a thick juice which will be bubbling up around the puffs of dough when it is done.


Remove from the oven and serve hot, at room temperature or even chilled. With ice cream or whipped cream, of course.



Results:
This recipe is slightly different than my Cobbler recipe I usually use (which I will be making shortly – and posting for a comparison) and although Dorie’s Cobbler was delicious, I found the dough was a bit too imposing, not allowing for the full fruit flavor to shine through which, after all, is the purpose of a fruit cobbler! I suggest using all white flour if you prefer a more neutral-tasting biscuit topping.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

CHALLAH LOAF WITH HAZELNUT MAPLE SWIRL

SUMMER IN FRANCE


The French Open, the traditional harbinger of another summer, skidded by in a flurry of so many thunderstorms, each French loss weighing as heavy and thick as the gray clouds that hung over the courts. No joy in Mudville, as I say, as another tennis tournament came and went with nary a change in either the national spirit or the weather. May unfolded into June and we were still bundled up in sweaters and raincoats, trudging to market in the chilly drizzle of a season loathe to leave, heating up soup and crusty warm baguette.


Next on the calendar was The World Cup. Yup! The World Cup. Now, this does not happen every summer, which makes the Holy Grail of all football events very much anticipated! But this year the country followed Les Bleus rather half-heartedly down to South Africa; maybe their lukewarm enthusiasm was due in part to the gloomy weather, the steel gray skies dragging them down and instilling a sense of doom. As the days and the matches rolled by, passing one after the next before our anxious eyes as, hands clasped, hearts pounding, we prayed for a miracle as we have been praying for a turn in the weather. Days passed, and although our spirits sunk, the sun slowly appeared over the rooftops, the dusky clouds turned fluffy white lambs skipping across the porcelain blue skies and suddenly picnic season had arrived. Summer.


The clock ticks and the Tour de France waits for no man…or football match. As we impatiently wait for the quarterfinals to light up television screens around the world, so many men in tight shorts and jerseys will be lining up at the starting gate and pedaling off for that most famous whirl around the country of romance. Turn on a television set in France anytime of day or night during these first two weeks of July and all you will see are men on bikes. Men on bikes. Men on bikes. And cars and screaming fans lining the roadsides and standing much too close to the roar of the wheels. The French love their bike race with unmatched zeal, and now that les Bleus have been eliminated from the World Cup and sent home, maybe their countrymen will be able to concentrate comme il faut on the Tour. And maybe not. Europeans are football fans before anything else and their eyes will be riveted onto their screens as they sit down to dinner. Happily, the Tour de France ends at sundown every day, leaving the French free every evening to tune into football.


The French calendar is defined by sporting events and between tennis, football and biking, among all the rest, we are carried through the summer days straight up until the moment that the French can pack their swimsuits and load up their cars and head to their summer vacation on the beach. Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even their beloved sports will keep them home. More than their sports and their favorite teams, the French love nothing more than les vacances!


As for this American, well, let us just say that sports on tv does little more than make me hungry. Rugby match, you say? How about a plateful of scones warm from the oven or a slice of dense, gooey chocolate cake? World Cup match on tonight? Homemade pizza anyone? As we move from a rainy, chilly, dreary end of spring to a brilliantly sunny, sizzling hot summer, the coffee table in front of the tv gets loaded down with salads or taboulé, cold soups of cucumbers or tomatoes, bowls of ice cream and fresh strawberry treats. I spread the red checkered cloth on the table and, dashing between kitchen and living room, make sure everyone is well fed, tummies full, the wine chilled and the bread fresh. As husband surfs through the channels – his only sport – if I see one image of a man’s lycra-clad butt perched upon the seat of a bike as he pedals through small towns or winds through mountains, I bury my face in my hands and yell “No! No! No!” until the channel is changed once again. I sit snuggled up against husband or we each take one sofa and prop up our legs (lucky is he or she that gets a warm dog curled up in his/her lap) and watch the World Cup, our only concession to football, and clap our hands as our chosen team scores or groan loudly as the ball flies off into the heavens, and we let ourselves get carried away. And the 4th of July slips by quietly, unnoticed like a cat slithering through the room only rubbing gently against my legs to remind me that Simon’s birthday is the following day and a cake must be made.

We still prefer rugby!

And as for that summer vacation? Well, this year we fly off to steamy Florida. I will save that for another post. Meanwhile, I’ve baked bread. I returned to a favorite recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg M.D. I wanted to bake for Zorra’s (of 1x umrühren bitte aka kochtopf) Bread Baking Day this month and her theme is nuts! So I took this wonderful, perfect Challah recipe – I wanted to make the brioche but thought it a bit too rich for every day – and created a swirl of buttery maple hazelnuts in the soft golden bread. I sprinkled the top with more chopped hazelnuts and, as soon as it was out of the oven, I brushed more maple syrup over the golden crust. Perfect! The bread is stunningly perfect, light and moist as a great Challah should be with a wonderful nutty hazelnut crunch and redolent of pure maple syrup.


And I'd like to send this to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting!

My latest article is up on Huffington Post Food: Football, Food and Nationality.
Is there one factor, one measure of knowing when a new community is totally integrated? As individuals, families, and whole communities emigrate, they bring with them their eating habits and traditions…

Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment after the article to continue the debate! And please share with your friends! Thanks and hope you like it!

My Challah loaf with hazelnut malpe swirl is a featured recipe on the cool new site Maple Syrup World, a world dedicated to maple syrup products, information and great recipes!

CHALLAH LOAF WITH HAZELNUT MAPLE SWIRL
For step-by-step images click here.

This recipe makes four 1-lb (500 g) loaves.

1 ¾ cups lukewarm water
1 ½ Tbs active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs Kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup honey
½ cup unsalted butter (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil), melted and slightly cooled
7 cups flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
About ½ cup or more coarsely chopped hazelnuts

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter (warm, not hot) with the water.

Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon, a food processor or stand mixer. I used the spoon. Stir and fold just until all of the flour is blended into the wet ingredients and is moist.

Cover with plastic wrap (not airtight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough should rise then collapse.

The dough can be used right away but is easier to work with when chilled. I made the dough the day before I made the Challah. Simply knock down the dough to deflate then cover with a fresh piece of plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.

To prepare the bread:

I used a small 6 x 3 ¾ x 2 ¼ inch cardboard loaf pan given to me by my great friend Clare. I pulled off a grapefruit-sized ball of dough (1 pound/500 g) from the chilled dough and placed on a well-floured work surface. Now, as you will see from the photographs, the pan was too small or the dough was too much (a regular loaf tin would work), but it still came out perfectly!

I gently kneaded the dough, adding extra flour, until it was no longer sticky. I very gently rolled the dough out to a rectangle of about 6 x 10 inches with the narrow side towards me. I brushed the surface all the way to the edges with about 1 tablespoon (15 g) of very softened butter then I brushed/dabbed on about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. I sprinkled on ¼ to ½ cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts.


Using my dough scraper to help it along, I carefully rolled up the dough, rolled it in a bit more flour and somehow lifted it into the waiting loaf pan.


Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 1 hour 20 minutes (40 minutes for unchilled, freshly-made dough). It should double in size.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle on more coarsely chopped hazelnuts.


Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes for a 9-inch loaf pan; I baked mine for 40 minutes as my loaf pan was too small. The top of the loaf should be a deep golden brown (don’t hesitate to cover the bread with a piece of foil during the baking if you think it is browning too quickly) and crusty and the inside should spring back when pressed in the center. The top cracks a bit and I could peek in a see when the insides were done.


Remove from the oven and immediately brush the top of the loaf liberally with about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.


Allow to cool before slicing.


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