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Just time for a quick post today.

A year ago at this time we were in Cannes.

One of the things I bought was Piment d’Espelette, which is all the rage not only in France but also in the UK and the US. It’s often pronounced in hushed tones because it’s supposed to be so special.

On a geographic and historic level, it is special, as Wikipedia explains:

The Espelette pepper (French: Piment d’Espelette French pronunciation: ​[pi.mɑ̃ dɛs.pə.lɛt] ; Basque: Ezpeletako biperra) is a variety of Capsicum annuum that is cultivated in the French commune of Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, traditionally the northern territory of the Basque people.[1] On 1 June 2000, it was classified as an AOC product and was confirmed as an APO product on 22 August 2002.

Chili pepper, originating in Central and South America, was introduced into France during the 16th century. After first being used medicinally, it became popular as a condiment and for the conservation of meats. It is now a cornerstone of Basque cuisine, where it has gradually replaced black pepper and it is a key ingredient in piperade.[2]

AOC espelette peppers are cultivated in the following communes: Ainhoa, Cambo-les-Bains, Espelette, Halsou, Itxassou, Jatxou, Larressore, Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle, Souraïde, and Ustaritz. They are harvested in late summer and, in September, characteristic festoons of pepper are hung on balconies and house walls throughout the communes to dry out.[2] An annual pepper festival organized by Confrérie du Piment d’Espelette, held since 1968 on the last weekend in October, attracts some 20,000 tourists.[3][4]

That said, it is really mild, which I did not know until I tried it at home.

The French like it because they’re not that keen on heat.

If you like heat, cayenne pepper is a far better — and much cheaper (€4 versus €13) — alternative.


Yesterday I discussed a French cookery show, Dans la peau d’un chef (France2), presented by Christophe Michalak, head pastry chef at Paris’s Hôtel Plaza-Athénée.

That post gave easy suggestions for achieving the French touch on a raspberry tart.

Today’s entry gives Michalak’s tips for piping two colours of crème Chantilly — thick, sweetened whipped cream — on desserts.

Michalak uses a mix of 400g double (heavy) cream, 80g of marscapone, 40g of sweetened condensed milk along with a dash of orange flavouring and vanilla. This thickness creates the perfect consistency for professional piping.

I think I would replace the sweetened condensed milk with an equivalent of icing (powdered) sugar, because I would have to use the remainder of the condensed milk in another dessert right away.

He then divided the whipped cream into two bowls so that he could colour one pink.

You will need disposable piping bags for this recipe.

Michalak used two piping bags which he then put into a slightly larger one for piping. The white cream goes into one of the smaller bags and the pink cream goes into another. Flatten both bags and cut the ends before slipping them one on top of the other into a larger piping bag. Cut the end of the larger piping bag.

Taking the bag into one’s hand, press down to make it balloon-shaped, then start piping the top of the dessert. You might wish to do a short test run on a plate to ensure the colours come out the way they should. Start at the side, work towards the top in a circular manner, and two colours of cream will appear, neatly and separately. It’s absolutely stunning — and, with a bit of practice, not that complicated.

The French touch — demystified and doable!

This video (16:42 minutes long) shows Michalak making Tulipe à la fraise — Strawberry Tulip — which has a fine moulded crust, topped with gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste) melted with Rice Krispies, a small amount of cubed strawberries in jam, a scoop of strawberry sherbet and the piped whipped cream. A small slice of strawberry and tiny mint leaf go on top in the centre.

The whipped cream part begins around the 12-minute mark:

Other tips:

1/ The crust — called cigarette pastry — is simple to make: 100g (three or four) beaten egg whites, 100 g icing sugar, 100g of softened butter and 100g of flour with a pinch of salt added. This same pastry is used to make rolled tuiles, similar to cigarettes, as well as the flat rounded-edged langues de chat (cats’ tongues).

2/ When the cigarette pastry has finished baking in rounds on a Silpat or other non-stick silicone sheet, remove them immediately to mould over the tapered bottom of a drinking glass or small bowl. Leave to rest for a few minutes.

3/ When using cigarette pastry for a tart, Michalak puts a small amount of the gianduja-Rice Krispies mix on top of the base of the crust before adding anything creamy. This is so the base remains crisp. You could also use a few biscuit crumbs to achieve the same effect.

If anyone would like me to translate the Tulipe à la fraise recipe, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below or on any of my other posts.

When the Cannes sun got too hot late in the afternoon, I normally retreated to our hotel room to watch three television shows: Des chiffres et des lettres (France3’s word-and-numbers game show, the forerunner of Britain’s Countdown), Questions pour un champion (also on France3, a tough but congenial general knowledge quiz) and — in between the two — Dans la peau d’un chef (France2).

One of France’s most famous chefs, Christophe Michalak — head pastry chef at Paris’s Hôtel Plaza-Athénée — presents the show with an equally accomplished guest chef (a different one every week). Michalak and his guest alternate showcasing their recipes with two contestants who then have to make them on their own with minimal help from the chef. The chefs then judge the contestants’ efforts, and the successful home cook wins €1,000. One contestant won €16,000 during May and June 2015.

Dans la peau d’un chef appealed to SpouseMouse and me for two reasons: Michalak demystifies French cooking for the home cook and gives us the secrets behind beautiful presentations! It’s a surprisingly friendly show, given the techniques involved. Admittedly, the contestants find preparing the dishes — one per show — stressful in the time permitted.

In the YouTube episode below (14:35 minutes long), Michalak tells us how to prepare a stunning raspberry tart. It has a base of melted white chocolate and crushed French shortbread biscuits (sablés) topped with a soft sponge with raspberries in it. Homemade raspberry coulis with a dash of Tabasco, a scant teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a few fresh raspberries mixed in at the last minute act as the ‘glue’ between base and cake as well as the fixative on top of the cake for the fresh raspberries.

In the video Michalak sets aside half the raspberries for the top and dusts them with icing (powdered) sugar. On the finished cake — which he assembles starting at the 10:25 mark — he carefully alternates the dusted raspberries in neat rows with the plain berries. So simple! So striking!

This dusting of berries is quite common on French pastries. We saw it everywhere. Some tarts and cakes had dusted berries on two end rows. Whatever the presentation, we would not have known how it was done unless we’d seen Michalak’s demonstration.

Michalak also gives three other presentation ideas:

1/ Once the base and the cake are assembled one on top of the other, with the last half of the coulis in place for the raspberries, dust the edges with icing sugar. This gives a professional appearance on the sides and around the top.

2/When the berries are in place, intersperse a few slices of fresh coconut between them. Alternatively, this could be a few fine shards or curls of white chocolate or tiny mint leaves.

3/ When placing the tart on the presentation plate, put it at a different angle. Michalak’s cake was a diamond in the middle of a square plate.

With just a few simple techniques we can all recreate the ‘French touch’ for Sunday lunch or a special occasion. 

As France2 and France3 are geolocalised, Dans la peau d’un chef is not available for general global viewing. The YouTube videos are the most one can see.

One of the amusing things from this episode from June 16, 2015, was that the champion that week, Barbara, did not care for desserts much less making them! We are most curious as to how she got on in the following week.

In closing, Francophones can find the recipes on the France2 site. Anyone who would like to have me translate this particular recipe can get in touch in the comments below or on any other post.

Food Network UK has been showing some of the network’s American shows.

One which particularly impressed me — and is being rerun in the UK between 8 and 9 a.m. Monday through Friday (Freeview 41) during June 2015 — is The Kitchen.

The Kitchen‘s crew of cooks and critics has as its unofficial doyen Geoffrey Zakarian. Zakarian‘s first job as a professional was for renowned chef Daniel Boulud at Manhattan’s Le Cirque. Anyone who was anyone went to Le Cirque in the 1980s. Zakarian was Chef de Cuisine between 1982 and 1987 before pursuing his own interests as an executive chef then restaurateur. He appears on at least three Food Network shows: Chopped, The Kitchen and Iron Chef.

Zakarian takes his culinary precision seriously but wears it lightly. Another striking thing is that he can cook whilst in a jacket and tie. No aprons for Geoffrey.

In one episode, Zakarian made scrambled eggs.

Instead of whisking the whole eggs and a dash of cream in a bowl, he used a glass cocktail shaker with a lid. Within seconds, the eggs were emulsified and ready to pour in the pan.

I used a 400g (approximately 1 lb) mayonnaise jar with a lid and had excellent results with two of my omelettes recently.

Less mess, less washing up — and great results for scrambled eggs or omelettes.

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