A JAUNT THROUGH PARIS
I rarely travel to Paris these years and I forget how beautiful a city it is. Living in Paris had become a hardship, that glorious city becoming a cage and I merely a rat on a treadmill. Rushing along crowded sidewalks through a jumble of tourists on my way to work or pushing my way along quays, weaving in and out among the motley crew lining the track’s edges down in the gloomy, damp bowels of the earth, each one of us with somewhere important to go, bothered by the unforgiving heat of the bodies pressing too close, the weight of impatience blocking the watery light above. Frustration always accompanied me wherever I went, blinding me to the loveliness of what surrounded me; aggravation and exhaustion painting the city in soot and noise, taking away any pleasure I could possibly have. Always in a rush, dashing from one appointment to the next, I quickly became disenchanted, the romance of the City of Lights turned sour and I wanted nothing more than to leave as quickly as I could.
Time away has healed the wounds and I was anxious to return if for nothing more than to spend a quiet, enjoyable day with a friend. Yet once out of the station, out of the flurry of travelers and the smell of trains and onto the street, I turn my face into the cool breeze and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and the joy of being back in Paris washes over me. My step is light and bouncy as I weave along my route and dance down the pavement towards where she is waiting. I admire the stunning old buildings all gussied up by Belle Epoque mosaics and balconies graced with delicate floral motifs. I find myself following a stone wall enclosing one of Paris’ quiet, beautiful cemeteries and all is calm and green. I nod my head at the majestic Lion de Belfort at Place Denfert-Rochereau as an old friend and I am glad to be back. I finally find my friend waiting in front of her hotel, sipping tea so cool and collected as if she has lived here forever. We hug as friends do and began chattering as if we met every single day, as if old, old friends since childhood.
I now see Paris through a tourist’s eyes. Glancing up at the buildings standing side by side in elegant disarray, each dressed in pearl gray grandeur adorned by stylish swirls of ironwork and I pause to admire them. Like true Parisiennes, these beautiful buildings are both graceful and stately, inviting and imposing, haughty women confident in their ability to impress. We slip through silent, empty squares, shadowed, cool respite, or scurry across the busy streets, dodging cars and bikes, skirting around tables of diners and coffee drinkers who spill out of cafés and bistros onto the too-narrow sidewalks, just whiling away the sunny afternoon as good Parisians are wont to do. Pausing to check our maps or search out street signs, we hurry along, backtrack or change direction, all the while giggling and jabbering like schoolgirls on their first jaunt through this mythic city.
I spent a day in Paris last week with Abby Dodge. First, I want to clarify that I have no close girlfriends… okay, to be totally honest, I have no girlfriends at all nearby. No one to go shopping with, not a one to meet for lunch and a good gossip, no friend with whom to gaze longingly at the gorgeous and outrageous shoes poised like precious jewels or objets d’art in the Christian Louboutin boutique window. And certainly no friend, male or female, as passionate about baking as I with whom to spend hours upon hours giddily gliding between the towering shelves of baking supplies, one shop after the next, ogling each and every mold, utensil, pan, squealing with delight, screeching with amazement, each of us grabbing up objects and holding them aloft for the other to see, calling each other excitedly from another aisle like teenagers gawking at movie stars or finding the perfect dress or just the right shade of nail polish for the prom. “Oh, look, Abby! Isn’t this fabulous?” or “Jamie, oooh I have always wanted one of these!” or “Quick, come over here! Look at these colors!” or “You most definitely need a cake pan/cookie cutter/chocolate mold/fill in the blank… in the shape of the Eiffel Tower!” filled our hours together in joyous abandon. A luxurious pause for lunch with some more serious talk followed by more shopping after quite a number of minutes with our envious noses pressed against the glass panes of that luxury shoe store. Ah, what a day! At 5 p.m. I left her newly ensconced in that same armchair in front of her hotel and dashed off to catch my train home, wishing I could have stayed one more day. I definitely deserve to spend more girly days just like that one with a friend like Abby, adorable, delightful, smart and absolute fun… What a joy finally getting to meet and getting to know someone I have only known on-line. And I ended that day feeling as if I had known her forever.
And speaking of Twitter, a few of us decided that since we couldn’t enjoy a day of baking together in person, well, baking together virtually was the next best thing. Abby, chef patissière that she is, selected an incredible Chocolate Truffle Tart that she had created for Fine Cooking magazine and offered us the recipe. She took control of the situation and suggested we all bake the same luscious tart only giving it our own individual, personal twist. I replaced her graham cracker crust with my own Sweet Pastry Crust adding a handful of finely ground, emerald green pistachios, which I had bought with her in Paris. I added Amaretto to the chocolate truffle filling then simply circled my individual tartlets (though big enough for two to share) with fresh, ripe strawberries. Perfect. Sweet and fudgy filling on a wonderful, delicate pastry shell and topped with a luscious mascarpone cream, this dessert is worthy of the most elegant Parisian dinner party and the balance of creamy, fudgy and fruity is just perfect to split with a good friend.
Now go ahead, it’s your turn!
I am proud, nay thrilled, to share with you my feature in the May issue of CRUSH, South Africa’s stunning on-line food and wine magazine. Thanks to my gorgeous, super talented friend, chef extraordinaire and wine connoisseur Michael Olivier, I am featured (along with 5 of my recipes) in Which wine? Which food? which you can find on pages 10 and 11. You must subscribe to this beautiful and informative magazine (it’s free!) and don’t forget to follow them on Twitter at @Crush_online.
CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE TORTE WITH MASCARPONE CREAM AND BERRIES
Prepare the Sweet Pastry Crust, the Chocolate Truffle Filling and the Mascarpone Cream as follows.
Select fresh, ripe strawberries, raspberries or blackberries to top. I find that the rich chocolate fudge (because, yes, it becomes very fudge-like) and the luscious cream are gorgeously balanced by the light fruitiness of fresh, juicy berries!
Have extra finely ground pistachios and a bit of powdered sugar to decorate the top of the Tart or Tartlets.
1 Sweet Pastry Crust, prebaked:
1 1/4 cup (175 g) flour
1/4 (50 g) cup sugar
¼ cup (about 50 g) finely ground pistachio nuts
7 Tbs (100 grams) unsalted butter, cubed *
1 egg, lightly beaten
* Most pie crust recipes call for the butter to be chilled. I have found that butter at room temperature is easier and quicker to work into the flour and to dough seems to be fluffier. If the dough is too sticky to roll out right away, several minutes in the fridge should do the trick.
Combine flour, sugar and ground pistachio nuts in a mixing bowl or on a work surface and toss or whisk to combine. Using only your thumbs and fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until the consistency of damp sand and there are no more large chunks of butter. With a fork, vigorously stir in the lightly beaten egg until all the dry ingredients are moistened and a dough starts to form.
Gather the dough together into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Using the heel of one hand, smear the dough little by little away from you in quick, hard strokes in order to make sure that all of the butter is blended in well.
Scrape up the dough together, re-flour the surface lightly and work very briefly and quickly until you have a smooth, homogenous dough. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 to 30 minutes or until it can be easily rolled out without sticking to your rolling pin.
Keeping your work surface as well as the surface of the dough lightly floured at all times, roll out the dough and line a buttered 9” fluted pie dish, springform pan or similar or six 4 ¼-inch individual tartlet pans. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until ready to bake.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line the tart shell or tartlet shells (it is easier to line up the individual tartlet pans on one baking sheet) with parchment paper and fill with pastry weights or dried beans. Bake in the preheated oven for 8 minutes then very carefully remove the pie plate or tins from the oven, lift out the parchment paper with the weights, lightly prick the shell(s) with a fork then return to the oven to bake for an additional 10 minutes or until completely baked: the shell should be set and dull and beginning to turn golden around the edges. If using a glass pie plate, carefully lift up the dish and check that the bottom of the pie crust is evenly golden brown.
Remove the baked Sweet Pastry Crust from the oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. If using individual tartlet shells, gently and carefully lift the baked shells out of the tins (slide a small, sharp knife under the edge of the shell and lift out onto a plate or rack once cooled.
Chocolate Truffle Filling:
12 oz (340 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped **
4 Tbs (60 g) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 Tbs Amaretto
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream
½ cup (125 ml) whole milk
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch table salt
** I used mostly Lindt 70% chocolat doux which is a milder tasting, less bitter bittersweet chocolate. About 20 grams was Lindt chilli chocolate and another 20 or 30 grams was Lindt chocolate with orange. I basically used up what I had in my pantry, but all of it was 70%.
In a heatproof medium bowl, melt the chocolate, heavy cream, milk and butter in a microwave or over simmering water. Remove from the heat and add Amaretto, vanilla and salt. Whisk the mixture until well blended. Set aside, whisking occasionally, until room temperature and slightly thickened, about 1 hour. (For faster cooling, refrigerate the filling until thickened to a pudding consistency, about 30 minutes, whisking and scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula every 5 minutes.)
With a rubber spatula, scrape the mixture into the pre-baked crust and spread evenly. Let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate until the filling is set, about 4 hours and up to 1 day before proceeding with the recipe.
Mascarpone Cream Topping:
8 oz (I used one 250 g/ml package) mascarpone
¾ cup (about 190 ml) chilled heavy whipping cream
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar, or to taste
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Have the beaters of an electric mixer and a glass bowl chilled. Simply beat the mascarpone and heavy cream on low speed until combined and smooth then increase mixer speed to medium and beat until thick and creamy and firm peaks hold. Using a small spatula or the back of a tablespoon, spread the Mascarpone Cream over the chilled Chocolate Truffle Filling leaving lots of swirls and peaks. Cover loosely and chill until ready to serve. Abby recommends chilling for several hours but I found the Tartlets ready immediately.
Serve the Tart or Tartlets dusted with finely ground pistachios and powdered sugar.