14 July 2011

{Le 14 juillet}

I've been quite lazy the past couple of days. There's the excuse of fever and the flu to blame, of course, but really I think it has more to do with my recent get-away. You see, I just spent two awesome weeks in Brittany, learning French and, bien sûr, eating. And to be sure, I could write a library on the Breton people, landscape, language and culture, but I think I'll restrict myself to telling you a little bit about France instead. More specifically, it's national day, the 14th July which, by chance, is today. Year after year, I religiously count down the days until the one-four, because, I'll admit, I'm in love with France and spend most of my time wishing I was there. Even when I just left...

La Fête Nationale commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, whereby an angry crowd of Parisians stormed the loathed prison and massacred the, eh, Swiss soldiers and liberated the,well, seven prisoners. When it comes to France, I'll be the first to admit that I'm completely and utterly bias, especially when it comes to food. Many classmates have argued that Italian or Spanish food is better, but I won't budge. It's not that I mind these two cuisines, or any other, but with all due respect and love, they're just not as good – apart from the Norwegian cuisine, naturally. But not today. Today it's all about France. Today is the one day where I'm allowed to celebrate France and its cuisine as much as I wish. Which is funny, because most French people I've met hardly celebrate the 14th July, and the general sentiment towards the day was epitomised by my French teacher, who bluntly said ''The 14th July? I hate it!'' It's not really that they hate their country, but – as was explained to me several times – it's a day to celebrate their government, not the people. And there can be no possible reason to ever celebrate any government, is my opinion (and theirs).


There's a lot to celebrate about France. The fashion, the nature, the cities... What I love most about France though, besides the people, is the food. Even their so-called fast-food, like pommes frites, tastes of fresh ingredients. Eat them with moules, or mussels, and you'll never allow yourself to eat them alongside burgers ever again. A popular myth is that French food takes hours in the making, and although this is true to certain dishes, it does apply to the entire cuisine. Galettes de blé noir (buckwheat pancakes), for example, take no time at all to prepare, and yet it is one of the most delicious foods my tastebuds have ever encountered. Top them with anything from smoked salmon or goat cheese and you've got yourself a banquet. To me, there's nothing like a crisp buckwheat pancake. 

French gastronomy is not limited to dinners – a good thing, naturally, for what would France be without cafés, bakeries and pâtisseries? Could you imagine surviving a holiday in France without ever setting your teeth into a flaky croissant, a buttery brioche or a sweet macaron? Spending a fair amount of time having a chin wag with a friend whilst sipping coffee and nibbling on a pain au chocolat is time jolly well spent, I think. But even when you don't have time to sit down, and only stopped by the bakery to buy a baguette or, even better, pain de campagne, you can hardly claim the aeroplane ticket to France wasn't worth it. Non? Well, if you can, then shame on you.

As I have no intention of celebrating the French government, as you may have deduced, I'm content with celebrating French food. More specifically, the famous Paris-Brest. This choux pastry cake is perfect for summertime for two reasons: one, it's light enough for the season and two, its inventor was inspired by a cycling tour which, with the Tour de France still up and running (literally), just adds to its perfection. The Paris-Brest was born in the late 1890s, when cycling had become le mode in France, albeit only seen as vehicles to be used for short distances. Long-distance trips by bicycle were seen as dangerous by the general public and doctors alike. In an effort to dispel popular conception, a group of Frenchmen decided to arrange a race from Paris to Brest; a gruelling 1200 km ride to be completed within 90 hours. In September 1891, 206 brave riders defied the advice of contemporary quacks, and were thus the first to participate in the first competition of its kind and the longest running randonnée bike ride in the world. A local pastry baker, inspired by the brave cyclists he saw race past his window, created a choux pastry cake in their honour, which he then baptised the Paris-Brest. The cake was tire-shaped, piped with praline cream, mimicking the newly invented inner tubes of the day, and dusted with powdered sugar, imitating dust from the road. Et voilà!


{Paris-Brest, ma façon}
Adapted from Pierre Hermé, Secrets Gourmands

*Ingredients*
300 g. pâte à choux (recipe further down)
50 g. granulated sugar
50 g. chopped blanched almonds (or hazelnuts)
15 g. soft butter
Confectioner's sugar


1.On a baking sheet lined with baking paper, place a 22cm buttered baking circle. Pipe the choux pastry using a large star tip. Pipe one circle inside the baking circle, another contiguous one inside that, then a third circle on top of the first two. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and nuts.

2.On another baking sheet, form a fourth, slightly thinner circle, with a slightly smaller radius than the largest of the three circles piped previously. I prefer making choquettes with the leftover dough, bake them, and gently place them inside the Paris-Brest, but this is completely optional.

3.Bake both in a 180°C preheated oven, for 40 to 45 minutes for the large one, less for the small "inner tube." (or until both are a nice medium brown, not too pale). After 15 minutes of baking, crack the oven door open using a wooden spoon to let the steam escape. When the cakes are baked, let them cool on a rack. If you're making choquettes, 5 minutes with the oven door closed is enough, followed by 15 minutes of baking with the oven door slightly open.

4.Meanwhile, prepare the cream. When the cakes are cool, cut the larger ring in half, horizontally, using a serrated knife. Pipe a thin layer of cream. Place the "inner tube" on top and pipe more cream over it in a braid, so that a little will stick out the sides of the cake. Dust the top of the cake with confectioners sugar, then place it on top of the cream.

Hermé says the Paris-Brest can be served right away or refrigerated, but must be brought out 1 hour before serving.


{Pâte à choux}
Recipe adapted from Larousse du chocolat, Pierre Hermé

*Ingredients*
1,3 dl water
1,3 dl whole milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
110 g. butter
140 g. flour
5 eggs

1.Pour water, milk, sugar and salt into a medium-sized pot. Mix well, and add the butter. Bring to a boil while stirring with a wooden spatula. As soon as the liquid boils, pour in the flour in one movement. Rapidly stir with the spatula until the dough becomes smooth and homogenous. Continue stirring for 2 or 3 minutes, so that the dough dries out a little and no longer sticks to the sides of the pot.

2.While you're waiting, pour the dough into a big bowl. Break an egg in a little bowl and pour it into the dough. Mix it in well. [I used my hand mixer at this point]. Add the rest of the eggs in one by one in this way, making sure each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one.

3.Continue to mix the dough vigorously, lifting it now and then. At this stage the dough must be baked without waiting. Pour it into a pastry bag with a largish smooth tip and form the shape(s) you wish on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.


{Crème au beurre pralinée}
Recipe by Meilleur du chef

*Ingredients*
8 egg yolks
250 g. sugar
250 g. butter, softened
Praliné (recipe below)

1.Mix the sugar with a small dose of water (they didn't specify the amount!) Let it simmer over medium warm heat until it reaches 121°C. Pour the sugar syrup immediately into a bowl, preferably of metal, and add the egg yolks, one by one, making sure to whisk fiercly. Let the mixture cool completely, then add the softened butter, bit by bit. Finally, add the praliné and mix thouroughly together. 


{Praliné}
Recipe by Easy French Food

*Ingredients*
84 g. blanched almonds
80 g. hazelnuts
220 g. sugar
65 ml water

1.Preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread the nuts on a non-stick baking sheet and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, or until they are lightly toasted. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

2.In a cassarolle over low heat, stir together the sugar and water.Allow to come to a boil and cook until light caramel in color. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the toasted nuts. Immediately turn the contents of the pan out onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow the candy to cool completely before grinding - about 1 hour.

3.To grind, first break the candied nuts into small pieces. Place in the bowl of a food processor equipped with a sharp blade. Run the food processor, stopping frequently to mix the unground pieces with that which is ground and sticking to the sides of the bowl and under the blade. Continue until everything is ground smoothly (about 15 minutes). Try not to eat a lot of praline out of boredom. You can also grind the praline in a blender, but you will need to work in small batches and continually sift out what has been ground from what has not.

3 comment (s):

N said...

this Paris-Brest looks better than the one we tried to make together ^^

Madame Grenouille said...

Haha, yes and it was!

Kathy Houston said...

This looks soooooo good but I don't understand what the measurements are such as: dl, or grams I don't know how to translate that. We use cups, tablespoons & teaspoon in the United States. Can you translate the measurements for me because I'd really like to make this? It looks awesome!!!!
Thank you,
Katforever18

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