French Yoghurt Cake

It’s pretty challenging figuring out how to work a new oven. Over time, I’ve baked in horrible studenty ovens that have either fried the cake from above or below, and set it on the grill by accident, or simply just turned the oven light, and nothing else on.

After a recent liquidy/crusty cake disaster at A’s house (they still ate the results with gusto?!) I decided to go back to a simple recipe, and bake a classic French yoghurt cake. Even French toddlers apparently make this with their eyes shut, so how could I get this wrong?

Armed with two pots of yoghurt, and some lovely new magic non-stick liner, I set to work. Here is the result!

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The recipe can be found at my fave Frenchie blog, Chocolate and Zucchini. It took longer to bake in my oven – around 45 minutes in total, but I covered the top with foil 30 minutes into baking to prevent the top from scorching. I also used two pots of strawberry yoghurts so it has an even better flavour!

Raspberry Macarons

When I was last in France, I spent my evenings glued to the screen watching Qui sera le prochain grand pâtissier. The incredible creations the contestants are expected to come up with….phew. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

Lately, I’ve had an increasingly strong desire to hop onto the Eurostar and go for a weekend in Paris, just to soak up all the incredible patisserie. Whilst I think London has a strong food scene, Paris still leads in this field.

In the meantime, I needed a little fix, so I made some more macarons.

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I’m so glad I finally purchased Pierre Hermé’s book Macarons, where it can proudly join Larousse des desserts in fat-filled glory. After making his salted caramel macarons a total of six times, ’twas about time I tried a different flavour.

One of the most difficult aspects of macaron-making is getting the colouring spot on. I keep forgetting that natural colours don’t show up on the shell after baking. When I first made these macarons, I tossed some freeze-dried raspberry powder in for colour and flavour. Grumpy noises ensued when I discovered the biscuit-coloured result.

Round 2, and I slugged in the red and pink food colouring as liberally as I dared. I also made the call of not adding freeze-dried powder, as this definitely seemed to have a darkening effect! The batter came out a vibrant watermelon pink, and hoorah, this time they definitely worked. I’m definitely buying a collection of colouring pastes so I can be more daring with my colours without worrying about the texture.

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Scones and a Surfeit of Cream

I keep accumulating bits and bobs I don’t want to waste. One of these was a total fail at freezing cream. The instructions always tell you to whip the cream up before freezing it, but I thought I’d be lazy and didn’t. On defrosting, the split mixture didn’t seem all that promising.

So, onto the internets for the solution, and I found a recipe for scones. Only 3 ingredients were required: flour, cream, and lemonade!

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Lemonade scones look like they originate from Australia. I’ve only ever made the traditional English recipe with butter, flour, an egg and a dash of milk, so I was intruiged.

First, out to go and buy some lemonade. We’re not big lemonade drinkers in this household. Then I had to figure out the British conversions for Australian cups. Hmm, confusing. As I was making them, I threw in some sultanas too. I love fruit-packed scones.

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When I made up the scone mixture, it already felt very light whilst I was handling the dough, so I had high hopes. It was a bit wetter than my usual dough, but nothing floury hands couldn’t handle. I popped them into the oven, realised I’d forgotten to eggwash the tops, but nevermind. They were rising like mad in the heat!

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Out of the oven, and onto a cooling rack, I was delighted by how puffy and tall my scones were. Texturally, they are the lightest scones I have ever baked. Feather-light absolutely describes these. Eaten plain, they didn’t taste of much, with a slight tang of fizzy lemonade…disappointing. Once the jam and cream was laden on top, you didn’t notice anymore. If your philosophy in life is that scones are mere vehicles for as much cream and jam as possible, this doesn’t matter! However, if I wasn’t eating them with extras I would say these scones definitely require additional flavouring.

I don’t think lemonade scones will quite replace my usual recipe. The use of fizzy lemonade makes me a little uneasy as it’s full of artificial additives like aspartame. I’m not sure if more natural alternatives end up doing the same job. All the same, it’s a quick and easy recipe to keep by, and worth trying out!

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On another note. I was browsing on Pinterest, and came across these horrific red velvet variants. With frosting! Sacrilege on scones, urgh, enough to make my insides curdle.

Tartes aux Fraises

Picture this – it’s a balmy summer day, early afternoon. There’s a faint breeze. It’s warm, fragrant. You’re relaxed against the tickly long grass, your feet bathing in the sunshine. And packed in your bag, a picnic lunch. Cold cuts, a crusty loaf of bread, crunchy salads. And to finish off, these little tartlets. Crisp pastry, cool creamy créme mousseline, and the juiciest of the season’s strawberries.

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I used my favourite rich buttery pastry recipe. Pierre Hermé, Christophe Felder, and Dorie Greenspan in Paris Sweets all have a recipe for this, in startlingly similar proportions, so there must be something to it.

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Aside from this, I used the créme mousseline recipe from Paris Sweets, and finished off with some beautifully sweet local strawberries from the market. Finally, I garnished the tarts with a sprinkling of chopped green pistachios, and a lick of raspberry glaze for extra shine.

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These tarts are best assembled just before eating. As there were only a few mouths this week, I only made 3 tarts. Despite Dorie advising us not to reduce the quantity of créme mousseline, I reduced it by one-third because I didn’t have enough milk anyways, and it turned out fine.

Strawberry tarts are an excellent recipe to assemble in parts. I made up the pastry on Sunday, and popped it into the fridge to chill. On Monday I made up the créme patissière, and lined my tart tins with pastry. On Tuesday, I baked up the tarts, added the extra butter into the créme patissière to turn it into a créme mousseline, and voila.

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The créme mousseline caused me a little angst because when I first beat in the butter, it looked curdled and yellow – not the light cream I had envisaged. However, turns out it’s just like crème au beurre, and just requires a lot of patience, and hard work from your electric whisk. Eventually, the curdled mixture metamorphosised into the lightest of pale silky creams.

I also didn’t have any redcurrant jelly handy for the glaze, so did this instead: mixed a spoonful of raspberry jam with a spoonful of liquid glucose. Heated it until liquid, added a squeeze of lemon juice, and then sieved through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the lumpy bits.

I’ve made many a strawberry tart before in my lifetime, but these were officially the best ever. It was unbelieveable how light the créme mousseline was, and it beautifully enhanced the crispness of the pastry, and sweetness of the strawberries. The pistachios, as well as adding a little sprinkle of greenery, also added extra flavour and textural contrast. A true taste of summer holidays in France, in the form of these very summery sweet tarts to enjoy!

Pushing Baking Boundaries

My job exhausts, drains and makes me feel like a semi-human being most of the time. However, it’s also true that without it, I couldn’t splurge on cookbooks and baking ingredients the way I have been lately. My latest acquisition is Christophe Felder’s Patisserie, now translated into English. Behind the floridly pink cover, it is full of pictures, techniques, instructions, and I can’t wait to get baking from it. Being written in English, my mind reads the recipes with far more ease than the heavy dictionary-usage required with Herme’s Larousse des desserts.

I feel like I’ve really made progress from my beginnings with The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, which is veritably dog-eared by now, as is Ottolenghi. This year, I want to push myself further, and get out of my baking comfort zone. I’ve started with the Gateau L’Opera, but I’ve set myself some other goals too.

I want to make:

  • crème pâtissière (yup, still never made it before!)
  • eclairs
  • laminated croissant dough
  • brioche
  • daquoise
  • crème brûlée (because A likes it, and I need an opportunity to try out my new blow torch)

Maybe some things that aren’t so French-orientated will spring to mind later, but at the moment you can see where my thoughts lie!

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Meanwhile, I also need to figure out how to use up my accumulated random ingredients! Any thoughts of uses for: frozen whipping cream, double cream, puff pastry, pate sucrée pastry, a tiny ball of sweet shortcrust pastry, lime juice, and leftover coffee syrup?

Gateau L’Opéra

There’s something so enticing about fancy, fancy Parisian style desserts. This opera cake had all the makings of a showstopping creation – three layers of syrup-soaked joconde sponge, coffee buttercream, chocolate ganache, and the final layer of chocolate glaze.

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This cake is not for the faint-hearted baker. After making it, I realise I could never be a contestant on the Great British Bake Off. You know when you see them panicking about techniques they’ve never practised, and the cake tins and bowls start piling up, and Mel and Sue start counting down….

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The making of this Gateau L’Opera was kinda like that.

I used the recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweetshaving heard many a good thing about both author and cookbook.

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The coffee syrup was easy, just boiling together water, sugar and coffee in a pan. Next, the coffee buttercream. This required the makings of a sugar syrup that is then beaten into whisked eggs, before mixing in softened room-temperature butter. Room temperature is a funny thing to gauge – I mean, is your kitchen the same steady temperature the whole year round? Anyway, needless to say, I added the butter when it was decidedly not room temperature. The buttercream immediately curdled, and required about 20 minutes solid beating with the electric whisk before it relaxed into something softer and more cohesive.

Next, the joconde. It looked similar to the process of making a swiss roll, but with the addition of ground almonds and melted butter. I might add that I have never successfully made a non-eggy swiss roll, but nevertheless, continued on. The mixtures were whisked, combined, and I carefully poured in one-third of the batter into my prepared cake tin.

Then horror of horrors, realisation struck that I had forgotten to add the melted butter. In a panic, I scraped the batter back into the bowl, threw in the melted butter, gave it a stir and hoped for the best. At long last, into the oven went sponge numero un.

Things seemed to be going ok at this point. The first sponge came out of the oven. It looked alright, though to my nose I could still detect that eggy undertone. Sponge two went in. I scraped up the batter for sponge 3, and there to my disgust, was a large clot of solidified butter floating at the bottom of the bowl. The butter hadn’t mixed into the batter after all.

I’d all but given up now, but used up so much ingredients-wise, that I thought I might as well carry on and assemble the whole thing. The ganache went on, the sponges were brushed with syrup, and finally I glazed, trimmed, and chilled the whole thing.

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Finally, the taste test. Luckily, I had plenty of cut-offs to choose from. Unfortunately, I’ve never eaten a true Gateau L’Opéra before, so I didn’t have a source for comparison. However, this was really delicious. The cake had a light, delicately melty texture. The coffee and chocolate flavours are strong, and meld perfectly together. Despite my fears, the joconde wasn’t eggy at all, and the liberal lashings of coffee syrup kept it from being dry.

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The cake was enormous (I used 13 eggs!) and probably large enough to feed at least 30 people! I cut out 8 fingers, and put the remaining rectangle into the freezer for another occasion.

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Given the difficulty, and level of faff required making this, I don’t think I’ll be repeating it anytime soon, not without at least practising the individual skills required for making the joconde and the buttercream. Given the size, I’d want to halve the recipe too, although Dorie advised you not to, as it throws the proportions of the ingredients off.

If you want to have a go at making this cake too, Edd Kimber has adapted the recipe I used, and it can be found here.