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We first went to Aux P’tits Anges in 2017.

I found out about it online somewhere, because I was a bit fed up with the street hawkers and musicians strolling up and down Rue Felix Faure and Le Suquet outside of the main tourist restaurants.

Aux P’tits Anges fit the bill perfectly, as it is located far away from all that, yet is still in the centre of town on a side street near the Marché Gambetta: 4 Rue Marceau (near the corner of Boulevard de la République).

They still have the same maître d’, who likes speaking English. (He is fluent outside of saying ‘idee’ for ‘idea’, which is rather charming.) He worked in England for several months years ago and enjoys taking his family there on holiday.

The owner is the chef, by the way. He also employs two pastry chefs.

2017

Rue Marceau is a modest street of businesses and bars.

Aux P’tits Anges can be a bit difficult to find the first time around — and reservations are recommended. If I remember rightly, we scoped it out one afternoon and reserved a table during their lunch service.

We sat outside, which isn’t exactly scenic, but it did mean we could enjoy a cigarette between courses. Whilst service is good, the maître d’ serves all the tables, indoors and out, therefore, dining here takes a while.

We had the Menu Diablotin for €37 each. There is a higher priced menu, Menu des Anges, for €55. (More here.)

Starters

We both had the pan seared slices of the lobe of duck foie gras (escalope de foie gras).

We received just the right amount of slices, seared to perfection. On the side was a flavoursome mango chutney, which was an ideal complement.

Mains

We both had king scallops (coquilles St Jacques) seasoned with piment d’Espelette and topped with tiny slices of chorizo. We both enjoyed it a lot. As I noted in my food diary, ‘Beautiful!’

Wine

We had a Côtes de Provence rosé 2013 from Château Les Valentines in La Londe-des-Maures (Var). The château, incidentally, is named after the owners’ children, Valentin and Clémentine. I put the name in bold, as we ordered another of their wines in 2019.

Desserts

I ordered the cheese plate, which had two wedges of Tomme and one of Coulommiers.

My far better half (FBH) had a dreamy dessert which was a chocolate cigar — yes, it looked just like the real thing — with a creamy filling. It was served in a tuile ashtray. FBH still talks about it.

Verdict

We both regretted we had already reserved at other restaurants for our remaining nights. We resolved to eat here twice on our 2019 trip, which we did.

2019 — first visit

We did not make reservations for our first return visit this year.

It was a quiet Tuesday evening, and the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.

We opted for the Menu Diablotin again (still €37).

Starters

The chef changed the lobe of foie gras starter.

I preferred his former presentation, but FBH liked this one equally.

The highlight of this was the diced strawberries (with a touch of balsamic vinegar, I would guess) that came as the fruity garnish, rather than chutney, sautéed peaches or figs.

This year, the slices came in a sandwich format. The bread is a charcoal-turmeric marble loaf. The slices were lightly toasted with the foie gras slices in the middle. Obviously, this was not meant to be eaten with one’s hands. Chef probably thought this was a witty presentation.

For me, there was too much bread, especially as the top slice hid the foie gras. Why do that when fewer things are lovelier to look at than seared foie gras?

Initially, I left my bread behind.

Then, as more diners began arriving, the maître d’ understandably was busy taking orders and serving customers. I ended up eating the bread, which I still think is a strange combination of ingredients. However, such flavour combinations in bread have been the trend in certain French restaurants and bakeries in recent years. FBH enjoyed it, so it has its customer appeal.

Mains

We both had the roasted cod (cabillaud) loin topped with tiny slices of chorizo, served with a red pepper and raspberry sauce. It was to die for!

I don’t know how they do their sauce, and the maître d’ said that one could substitute raspberry vinegar for the actual fruit, but it was out of this world. I had to come up with a close facsimile when we got home, because we both wanted it again. What follows is my recipe, which comes pretty darned close to theirs.

Red pepper and raspberry sauce

200g raspberries
pinch of sugar
1 scant tsp balsamic vinegar
3 red bell peppers, finely diced
pinch of salt and pepper
dash of raspberry vinegar

1/ Put the raspberries and sugar in one saucepan and cook for 15 minutes over medium heat. Remove from the heat to cool, then strain. Keep the juice.

2/ While the raspberries are cooking, put the diced bell pepper into a pan with salt, pepper and the balsamic vinegar. Gently sauté until cooked through — around 15 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool.

3/ Put the raspberry juice and the sautéed bell pepper into a blender or food processor to blitz into a sauce. Strain again, if necessary.

4/ This is a sauce to prepare just before you cook your cod, because the sauce loses the raspberry aspect fairly quickly. If the raspberry taste needs topping up, add a dash of raspberry vinegar to revive it.

5/ Reheat the sauce and serve with the cod, spooning it around the side of the fish rather than on top.

6/ Top with sautéed chorizo slices or bits.

Wine

We had a red, La Punition (The Punishment) 2017, another great wine from Château Les Valentines (see above), priced at €45. The bottle’s tasting notes explain that the grapes — 100% Carignan — were difficult to grow for a number of years. The producers could hardly wait until they had enough Carignan to make this wine, hence ‘the punishment’. Whatever they’ve been doing to make their harvest successful has obviously worked.

Dessert

We both had cheese assortments on this occasion.

The maitre d’ did identify them for us, but I did not note them in my diary. They were very good, however.

2019 — second visit

We could hardly wait to return and, had in fact, booked our table in advance.

We opted for the Menu Diablotin once more, with FBH hoping for a second chocolate cigar!

It was rather windy that evening, so we ate inside for the first time ever.

The chef-owner’s wife and mother-in-law have chosen the little plaques and artwork about happiness. These small additions are rather over the top, but the general atmosphere is one of elegant charm.

Starters

FBH had the lobe of foie gras again, partly for the marble bread.

I opted for breaded gambas (jumbo shrimp), perfectly deep fried and served with courgette tagliatelle. It was delightful.

Mains

We both opted for the duck breast stuffed with foie gras. The sauce was a raspberry coulis, which was perfect.

We ordered seasonal vegetables. These were largely courgettes. The maître d’ explained, ‘Chef loves his courgettes. He puts them with everything.’

The duck was okay, but it was not great. In fact, neither of us would order it again. We expected a juicy, unctuous duck breast with a rim of rendered, crispy skin on top enhanced by an equally unctuous insert of foie gras. The reality was a dry duck breast devoid of all outer skin that even a foie gras centre couldn’t save.

Oh well.

Wine

Another bottle of La Punition (see above)!

Dessert

Amazingly, I did not write down what I had.

But that doesn’t matter, because I will now describe FBH’s dish which we dubbed ‘the dessert of the trip’.

FBH still has fond memories of the chocolate cigar, but the chocolate tart ranks right up there. The experience was further heightened when we saw the two young pastry chefs (both men) go out for a quick ciggie break. They were the same chaps who made the chocolate cigar in 2017.

It was the most elaborate — and tasty — creation.

The filling was a light chocolate mousse topped with a spun red sugar spiral, two tiny chocolate cookie/vanilla ice cream sandwiches and two caramel filled chocolates on the side.

We would have paid any amount of money to take a box of those chocolate caramels back to the hotel. The salted caramel oozed out and was sublime, if not divine.

Additional notes

TripAdvisor has customer reviews.

Conclusion

We will definitely return to Aux P’tits Anges on our next trip.

By then, the menu will have evolved further, including the desserts!

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My far better half (FBH) and I first ate at La Potinière in 2001.

It is located in the heart of Cannes, near the main post office and Palais des Festivals at 13 Square Mérimée.

Potinière means ‘gossping place’, by the way.

2001

I was not keeping food diaries at that point, but I vaguely recall having something with artichokes and most certainly had either prawns or Mediterranean sea bass (loup).

Desserts

What we remember most were the desserts.

The association of olive oil producers had put out a few new, cutting edge recipes that year. One was for strawberries in olive oil with basil, ground pepper and black olives.

It sounds disgusting until you taste it.

Strawberries in olive oil

1 punnet strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
1 – 2 tbsp olive oil
4 – 5 shredded basil leaves
3 – 4 twists of black pepper
1 – 2 tsp sugar
6 – 7 pitted black olives, thinly sliced
Dash of balsamic vinegar

Mix everything together 15 minutes beforehand and serve in a parfait glass with a sprig of mint.

As I was sceptical of this combination, I opted for the restaurant’s homemade ice cream. That was when lavender ice cream was all the rage along the French and Italian Rivieras. The owner said he would give me a scoop of lavender and one of pistachio. A Mediterranean combination made in heaven! Sheer bliss.

FBH had the strawberries and raved about them. I tried a spoonful. They were fantastic!

We made this recipe at home several times afterwards. Our guests loved it, too.

2003

Again, I had no food diary, but what we had was excellent.

I don’t think they had the strawberries on the menu anymore, which was somewhat disappointing.

Gossip

What I do remember was a conversation we had with the man we reckoned was the owner, who is no doubt the son of the founding family and father — probably — of the current proprietor. He was in his 50s at the time.

When we had been there in 2001, a chef from London opened his own restaurant next door. I’d read about it in the Evening Standard a few months before we went to Cannes. We didn’t eat there, as the interior was very dark: purple walls.

In 2003, the Englishman’s restaurant was no longer there. We asked the gentleman from La Potinière what happened. He said that he and other restaurateurs attempted to befriend him and welcome him into their little informal club. The Englishman, to his detriment, was not interested.

Our man told us how important it was to be on good terms with other restaurateurs in Cannes. Whilst they are competitors, they are also allies, sometimes friends. He said they can help you source better deals and, if you run short of something, they can supply it on a busy night.

Unfortunately, the Englishman, the man said, thought he could do it all by himself. Eventually, business trickled off and, as he had no restaurateur friends in town, it closed.

Moral of the story: when someone in the know, especially your next door neighbour, extends a professional hand of friendship, accept his kindness.

Subsequent years

We went to La Potinière a few more times afterwards.

I can’t remember when we stopped going. Possibly 2013 or 2015. The menu changed and seemed a bit lacklustre to us. Service, even from our man, was so-so.

In any event, they expanded next door, which was good.

2019

We wanted a restaurant nearby this year, because on the night we went, a new episode of Philippe Etchebest’s Cauchmar en Cuisine (Kitchen Nightmare) was going to air on M6 at 9 p.m. There’s nothing like watching one of your favourite foreign television shows on the night it airs, is there?

So, we opted for La Potinière. Our man was still there in the background, but it seemed as if his daughter (?) was running front of house. She made a point of speaking English to us most of the time, even though we kept responding in French. She was quite friendly, although rather forceful.

They had a new summer apprentice and she taught him how to present wine to the customer, how to open the bottle and then pour a tasting portion. He must have only just turned 18. He was rather nervous, understandably. It was his first day.

Starters

FBH had smoked salmon.

I had deep fried king prawn spring rolls Indonesian style (4 pieces), which were excellent: hot and crispy to the very end.

Mains

FBH had a roast chicken breast, which was competently prepared.

I had fillet of sea bream (daurade royale), which was outstanding.

Wine

We drank a bottle of white Cassis — Bodin 2017 — for €39.

Bill

We each had the €25.50 prix fixe menu. Our bill came to €90 — our least expensive evening out on this trip.

And, yes, we left the restaurant at 8:45 p.m., in plenty of time to be ready for Cauchemar en Cuisine, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

Additional notes

The founders’ grandson, Larry, was the head chef for several years and has been managing the restaurant for at least four or five years now. He trained under Jacques Chibois and also attended Alain Ducasse’s cooking school.

The current chef favours lighter, modern, no-frills dishes focussing on a main ingredient, be it fish, meat or aubergine. This is a vegetable-friendly establishment. They also have their own traditional pizza oven.

TripAdvisor has customer reviews for the restaurant.

Conclusion

Would we rush back? No.

Is La Potinière a good place for dining on simple food relatively quickly? Yes.

Still in a Provençal state of mind after this year’s holiday in Cannes, I planned a blow out Bastille Day menu this year.

Starter

We had half a lobe of goose foie gras, cut into thick slices and sautéed quickly over high heat.

Keep the thawed or fresh foie gras in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it. That way, it retains its firmness and shape in the pan.

Experts, such as Urban Merchants in the UK, recommend using duck foie gras for sautéeing instead, because goose has a higher iron content. They are correct in saying that goose foie gras does less well under this cooking method, nonetheless, it was unctuous! We had the other half of the lobe today.

As foie gras of any sort requires fruit or chutney on the side, I borrowed an idea from a restaurant in Cannes, Aux P’tits Anges (To the Little Angels).

Instead of using chutney, fig or sauteed peach, they served their seared duck foie gras with a tablespoon or two of finely diced strawberries instead. It is a perfect — and inexpensive — seasonal complement.

I prepared my strawberry garnish for two in a small bowl, mixed together as follows:

9 medium sized strawberries, hulled and finely diced
1 scant tsp balsamic vinegar
2 to 3 pinches of freshly ground pepper

Today’s foie gras is produced humanely. As I have written before, these ducks and geese are naturally conditioned to want food frequently. They are like overweight humans who, over time, turn off their bodies’ natural appetite suppressant in the brain.

Foie gras is healthful, as the French — particularly those in the southwest of the country, the main foie gras producing region — know only too well. There are a lot of healthy elderly people in France who are well into their 80s and 90s.

This 1991 article from the New York Times discusses the health benefits of foie gras and focuses on people in the southwest, many of whom eat it every weekend.

One thing I did notice in France was that most of the restaurant dishes are largely keto. Remember that bread is served on the side, so how much the diner carbs up is up to him! Too many carbs combined with too much fat will cause a health problem, which is what a lot of people do not realise.

Wine

Serve a sweet wine with foie gras, such as Coteaux du Layon or Sauternes. We had Sauternes this year.

Main

We had gambas — large prawns — for our main course. Ours were the largest, which come 8 to 10 to the kilo.

Earlier in the day, I deveined them and made a delicious stock from the shells and heads, which I used for a sauce (see below).

I put the prawns in an olive oil based fresh herb, crushed garlic and seasoning mixture to marinate for a few hours, then, refrigerated. Once I brought them out of the fridge to room temperature for 30-60 minutes (depending on outdoor weather), I sautéed them for a few minutes each side over medium high heat.

Prawn sauce recipe:

2 tbsp corn flour
2/3 cup prawn stock
3 to 4 cloves crushed garlic
Seasonings — salt, pepper, cayenne, Old Bay
2 tbsp Noilly Prat or other white vermouth
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp butter

1/ Make a slurry with the corn flour and prawn stock and place in a saucepan over medium heat.

2/ When the sauce thickens after a couple of minutes, add the crushed garlic and add seasonings according to taste.

3/ Add the vermouth and stir.

4/ Add the cream and stir.

5/ When finished, add the butter and stir for a glossy appearance.

6/ Take off the heat. Reheat once ready to serve.

Some people can handle starch and protein better than others. Those people get a hefty portion of chips. Others can have a timbale of seasoned rice on the side.

Serve with a green vegetable of choice.

Wine

As it was Bastille Day, we opted for champagne!

Other accompaniments

We watched the Tour de France — what else on July 14?

With St Patrick’s Day on Friday in 2017, a few readers have been eyeing my homemade brisket recipe from 2012:

Brisket and salt — corned — beef dos and don’ts

That post explains what to do. Anyone doing this from scratch will need to start on March 15. The prep work — brining and the rub — requires 48 hours.

Brisket is cheap. However, the cost of low-and-slow cooking can outweigh the savings on the meat.

Therefore, doing this yourself, as appetising as it looks on television food shows, might turn out to be more expensive and labour intensive than anticipated.

It is better to buy prepared salt — corned — beef from a supermarket or butcher.

Best wishes for a happy St Patrick’s Day!

 

BBC logoIf you’re a home cook who peruses the BBC food site for recipes, it’s time to print copies now before it closes.

On May 17, The Guardian reported that recipes and food articles are already being ‘archived’ and eventually will no longer be visible.

The site has 11,000 recipes, some of which have been available for 16 years. After these food pages are ‘mothballed’, one of the only ways to see them will be via the Wayback Machine using this link, which a Guardian reader helpfully shared:

https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://Www.bbc.co.uk/food

Of course, you won’t be able to search on it and will have to remember approximately when you saw the recipe first appear.

Recipes from current television programmes will be on the BBC site for 30 days after they are broadcast.

The move comes after George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the BBC was being ‘imperial in its ambitions’ by having so much online content. Articles on travel destinations and local news output are also likely to disappear or be scaled back in the coming months.

Other BBC services, channels and coverage could be consolidated or even ended as the broadcaster attempts to save money.

It is odd, though, that an online recipe collection — and the travel archive — can’t be saved. The pages are static. The British people paid for that via their television licence.

Guardian foodies are dismayed, to say the least. As I write at noontime on Tuesday — 12 hours after the article was published — there are already 1,859 comments!

However, there might be a glimmer of hope: a change.org petition to save the recipe site already has over 41,500 signatures of the 50,000 needed for consideration.

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week, Catholics and Protestants look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection and preparing a feast for family and friends.

You might find my past posts about Holy Saturday helpful in understanding its significance:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Last week, I summarised the first part of English food journalist Mary Berry’s look at Easter food traditions in various countries and denominations, encompassing those in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland.

The second, concluding part of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 aired this week. Berry’s enthusiasm for Easter as both a religious and gastronomic feast matches mine, which is part of what made the programme so enjoyable.

Christians make special breads at this time of year to recall Jesus as the Bread of Life. Lamb is also popular, as He is the Lamb of God, the once perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd John Sentamu explained, ‘Easter is the Passover of the Lord’.

Greece – tsoureki

Berry visited St Sophia’s Cathedral in London, a breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church.

Fr Savas, the priest who gave her a tour of the cathedral, said that 1,000 faithful normally attend Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. Everyone takes a lit candle home and blesses their home with the light of the Resurrection.

Fr Savas’s cousin Katarina made the traditional Easter bread — tsoureki — for Berry. It is a plaited (braided) bread with a red coloured hard boiled egg at the top. The three plaits symbolise the Holy Trinity. The egg symbolises Jesus Christ, and the red colour represents His blood that He shed for our redemption.

Tsoureki dough is an enriched one, resembling a brioche. It is flavoured with two spices: one, mastiha, which comes from tree resin and the other, mahlepi, from ground cherry stones which gives it an almond flavour.

Before baking, the tsoureki is glazed with egg wash and topped with sesame seeds. My Little Expat Kitchen has a recipe that looks like the one Katarina used.

The Netherlands – Easter Men

With the help of her grandchildren, Berry showed us the Dutch Easter Men recipe that she makes every year.

She saw them many years ago on a trip to Holland around Easter and was intrigued.

Berry likes the simplicity of the one-rise bread dough used to make this charming little bread of a man holding an egg — the risen Christ — in his arms.

Once the dough is risen, Berry portions it out and cuts into each one to shape the head, the arms and the legs. She secures a raw egg in the folded arms and decorates the heads with raisins or blackcurrants for simple facial features. She glazes the men with egg wash and bakes them for 25 minutes. The egg cooks as the bread bakes.

This is a simple, straightforward recipe that children will enjoy. They can help shape the limbs, once cut, and decorate the faces.

The Philippines – lechon

Berry visitied a Catholic Filipina, May, who made her a roast pork dish called lechon, an Easter staple in the Philippines.

May explained that, traditionally, lechon is a whole hog roast. Her father used to roast several hogs at Easter when she was growing up in the Philippines. Friends, neighbours and family would then join in for a massive Easter feast.

For home cooks, May recommends pork belly. She brined one with thyme, crushed lemongrass and bay leaves. After several hours, she removed the pork belly from the brine and patted it completely dry, enabling it to crisp when baking.

May laid it out flat, skin side down, and, in the centre, placed a few stems of crushed lemongrass, several spring onions cut lengthwise in half and added a lot of crushed garlic on top before seasoning well with salt and pepper. She then rolled the pork belly tightly and tied it well with butcher’s string.

Once roasted, the lechon had a glossy, dark outer skin. Inside, the meat was moist and tender. The belly fat had cooked out, with some going into the meat. As this recipe has no crackling — the outer skin is too hard to eat — it might be suitable for cooks who prefer less fatty, yet succulent, pork.

May explained that the Spanish introduced lechon to the Philippines centuries ago.

The dish is also popular in Cuba.

England – roast lamb

Berry went to York to watch the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu — a political prisoner from Idi Amin’s Uganda who moved to England 42 years ago — make her own recipe for roast lamb.

Sentamu and his wife Elizabeth both talked about how important Easter was for their large families in Africa. Sentamu’s mother taught him and his siblings how to cook. His father insisted not only on roast lamb on Easter but also curried goat and curried chicken.

He and Elizabeth have been using Berry’s lamb recipe ever since they saw it on television years ago. Berry confessed that she’d long forgotten about it, but it looks very tasty, especially with the touches the Sentamus have added over the years.

The Archbishop cut the main bone out of the leg of lamb. He took several thin slices of deli ham, spread a herb (predominantly rosemary leaves) and garlic mix over each slice and layered them neatly one on top of the other. He rolled the layered ham neatly and inserted it into the middle of the lamb.

He layered his roasting tray generously with tarragon and placed the lamb on top. Around it he put several onion halves. He took a bottle of white wine and poured it until it just covered the onions.

Once the roast was resting, he strained the juices from the roasting pan and made a sumptuous gravy. My mouth was watering. The Sentamu family must surely look forward to lunch on Easter!

Italy – Easter dove bread

Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian bread made in a dove mould, although it can be made in a round one.

The dove symbolises Christ, the Prince of Peace.

To see it made, Berry visited Maria, who cooks for the priests and visiting clergy at St Peter’s Italian Church in London’s Little Italy.

The dough is enriched, as for a brioche, and contains currants and orange peel. It requires a 12-hour rise.

Maria placed the dough into a dove-shaped mould and topped it with whole almonds and crushed sugar. This recipe, which includes a picture, resembles Maria’s. The sugar bakes into the top of the bread leaving an appetising topping.

I wished I’d been with the two very happy priests when she served it to them. They tucked in with gusto.

Easter feast

Nearly all of the show’s participants and their families gathered at Berry’s parish church in the Home Counties not far from London for a sumptuous Easter feast.

They brought their special dishes and Berry brought hers. If you can see the hour-long episode, you’ll agree with me that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable occasion. I would love to have been there.

Everyone got along famously and tried to learn each other’s language. It was a beautiful sight as many promised to keep in touch with each other.

I hope that everyone’s Easter feast is as special as Mary Berry’s.

As we eat, may we remember the risen Christ and give thanks for His resurrection from the dead and His promise to us of life everlasting.

On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.

The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.

Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)

Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.

Hot cross buns

Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.

The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.

St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.

The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.

Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.

For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.

During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.

Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.

A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.

Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.

Jamaican bun

Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.

Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.

Escoveitch fish

Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.

She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.

Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.

Russian devilled eggs and pascha

Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.

Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.

Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.

Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.

Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.

Babka

Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.

In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.

The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.

Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.

A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!

Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.

I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.

In the UK, Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday. In 2016, it falls on March 6.

These two posts give the history behind this association between Laetare Sunday, the Church and mothers:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts this week focussed on food: beef, pork, microwaved potatoes as well as gravy and sauce in the hope that some of my British readers will consider cooking for their mothers this Sunday. If they can manage it without too much stress, their mothers would no doubt appreciate that much more than being taken out for lunch or dinner, no matter how elaborate or filling.

What follows are my tips for foolproof crêpes, which make a delightful and convenient dessert. They can be made in advance and reheated before serving.

Foolproof crêpe recipe

I use Delia Smith’s crêpe recipe, which requires no ‘resting’ of the batter. It calls for:

110g (4 oz) of sifted flour

2 eggs

7 oz (207 ml) of milk mixed with 3 oz (89 ml) of water

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp (30g) melted butter (omit the pinch of salt if using salted butter)

This will make six crêpes.

As this recipe does not call for sugar, the crêpes can be used for savoury fillings.

Cooking tips

I use a copper crêpe pan but cheaper alternatives are available. In addition to the crêpe pan, you will need a dinner plate, a soup ladle (large enough to provide a small cup of soup), a long thin metal spatula and several sheets of aluminium foil.

Make sure the pan is hot (medium heat) before pouring in the crêpe batter. Because my pan is so heavy, I begin heating it before I start the batter.

Once you have mixed the first three or four ingredients well, melt the butter in the crêpe pan, tilt the pan so the butter covers the bottom and sides, then pour all of the butter into the batter. Stir well.

Use a soup ladle (large enough to provide a small cup of soup) to spoon the batter into the pan. Fill the ladle almost to the top, leaving 1/2″ (1 cm) empty.

Put the ladle close to the centre of the pan and pour the batter into it. Quickly tilt the pan so the batter reaches the edge and is evenly distributed.

The first crêpe takes the longest, twice as long as the last one. Be patient, increase the heat slightly from medium to medium-high and wait. My first one takes five to six minutes, but that is normally when my kitchen is cold.

Crêpes are ready to be turned over for cooking on the other side when you can slide the spatula under it and the crêpe holds its shape. If the crêpe moves or starts to bunch up, it is not ready to be turned over and will tear.

Once the crêpe is turned over, it should only need a minute or two of cooking time.

Cooked crêpes look golden brown in the middle of one side and often have a mottled appearance on the other. When serving, show the more attractive side.

When the crêpe is cooked, lift the pan and slide the crêpe onto your dinner plate. Cover tightly with a sheet of aluminium foil and ladle the next bit of batter into the pan.

You should not need to add any butter to the pan when cooking the rest of the crêpes. If you do, add just a tiny bit and rotate the pan so it distributes evenly, then add your batter and repeat the rest of these steps, remembering to place a sheet of aluminium foil on top of each crêpe.

Be prepared to turn the heat down if your crêpes are in danger of burning. I start on medium-high and turn the heat back down to medium by the time I make the fourth.

When all your crêpes are made, cover the uppermost tightly with aluminium foil. If you are making these in advance, let them cool thoroughly before refrigerating. Take them out of the refrigerator and let them get up to room temperature before reheating in a 150°C (325°F) oven for 10 – 15 minutes or, having removed the foil, microwave them for one to two minutes. You can fold them up before placing in the microwave to make room for several on a plate.

The first crêpe

Many British cooks, including the professionals, say the first crêpe is never any good.

I disagree. I have only ever thrown out a first crêpe once. Had I been more patient, I could have served that one, too.

Part of the reason for the first crêpe theory is because people leave too much melted butter in the pan. You need just enough to cover the surface and sides, no more than that.

Serving suggestions

Most Britons prefer their crêpes topped simply with sugar and lemon juice.

I prefer my Amaretto sauce and whipped cream.

You can also use a variety of fruit coulis, other sweet sauces, ice cream or sherbet.

A popular trend in France now is to make a layer ‘cake’ of the crêpes, putting Nutella between each layer. The cake is then cut into wedges for serving.

And, of course, let’s not forget the classic Crêpes Suzette for which there is a Jacques Pépin recipe (see steps 3 – 5).

One of my readers, Flyinthesky, has an excellent recipe for gluten-free white sauce made with cornflour.

I have tried it and it works beautifully.

He posted it in a comment in January 2016, and is well worth reproducing here for anyone who has problems with gluten.

Flyinthesky’s gluten-free white sauce

Bring required amount of milk with the desired amount of butter to the boil.

Dissolve, at a guess, two tablespoons of cornflour in a small quantity of water.

Slowly add while stirring the cornflour water mixture into the liquid until the required consistency is achieved. [Note from Churchmouse: when the cornflour is cooked, it will have lost its opacity. At that point, the sauce thickens.]

Apart from the fact this tastes near the same as roux base it has two advantages, it’s gluten free and it’s heat stable.

I use this for pepper, basic cheese, Stilton and all savoury sauces including gravy.

Top tips for gravy: white pepper to taste as well as sugar and milk. When I put sugar and milk (full cream, of course) in gravy I get puzzled looks from guests, but they love the result.

———————————————

Mr Fly and I had a disagreement about flour-based sauces. He says they return to a watery state if heated for a long period of time. I said that I’d found that true of cornflour-based sauces.

In retrospect, I had problems because I was not adding enough cornflour.

My cornflour box states that the proportion should be 1 tbsp for every quarter litre (8.8 oz.) of liquid.

Besides being gluten-free, other advantages of using cornflour are that it gives gravies and sauces a lighter texture and lends a translucent look.

I’m using cornflour in all my sauces now, thanks to Flyinthesky.

It is surprising that more food sites do not mention the time and money saving tip of using Chef Mike — the microwave — to cook potatoes.

I’ve been doing this for several years. Perhaps you have, too.

Here are five takes on potatoes à la Chef Mike.

Please note that these are instructions for medium-sized potatoes. Larger potatoes will require longer cooking time, but experiment by extending cooking time by one-minute intervals until you have found the perfect length of time.

Parboiling for roasting

Wash the potato(es), then dry with kitchen (paper) towel.

Using a knife, make a shallow slit in the potato so that it does not explode in the microwave.

Cook for 4 minutes.

Remove from microwave and let cool thoroughly before roasting, so that all the steam can evaporate.

Baked potatoes

Wash the potato(es), then dry with kitchen (paper) towel.

Using a knife, make a shallow ‘X’ in the potato so that it does not explode in the microwave. Place the potato ‘X’ side up in the microwave and cook for 5 to 6 minutes.

Alternatively, cook for 4 minutes and finish in the oven at 170°C (or 325°F) for 15 minutes.

The only downside with cooking the potato completely in the microwave is that the bottom can get a bit hard, which is unappetising.

Mashed potatoes

Follow the first two paragraphs of instructions for baked potatoes above, cooking for 6 minutes.

Let the potato(es) cool enough so you can peel it then break or cut it up in a wide-bottomed bowl. Add salt, pepper and enough butter (and/or milk) to mash with a fork. A fork works really well as a potato masher. It gets rid of all the lumps quickly.

Warm the potato up in the microwave for one or two minutes. Stir the mash again and serve.

Twice-baked potatoes

Clean and dry the potat(oes) as stated above.

Carefully cut a flap around the top of the spud but leave the flap on for cooking.

Microwave for 6 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Remove the flap and discard.

Carefully scoop out most of the potato, but leave enough in the bottom and around the edges to stabilise it.

Mash the scooped out portion in a bowl using butter or — my favourite for this recipe — mayonnaise. Season well and add herbs or Old Bay to the mix. Mash away any lumps. Some people like to add grated cheese and cooked bacon lardons.

Spoon the mash back into the potato and bake at 170°C (or 325°F) for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sliced potatoes

The French cooking site I visit, which is part of JournalDesFemmes.com, has a recipe for sliced potatoes. My translation follows.

Wash and peel the potato(es). Finely slice it.

Arrange in a shallow dish, drizzle a little oil over the potatoes, season with salt and pepper then cover with cling film (plastic wrap). Make a few holes in the cling film. Alternatively, one can use a microwave cooking bag.

Microwave for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and test with a fork or knife. If the potato slices yield easily, they are done.

If not, microwave for another minute and check again. It is better to microwave by the minute and recheck rather than wrongly overestimate cooking time.

You can top the potatoes with chopped parsley or chives and, if you like, a warm cream or cheese sauce before serving.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
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