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Posts tagged ‘French desserts’

No. 301: Crème Chantilly

chantilly_cream_France.jpgAs if there weren’t enough lip-smacking things to gobble up in France, along comes the tried-and-true crème Chantilly fresh from the town of Chantilly in Picardy. This is not what you would call delicate whipped cream. It is a hardy, stand-alone dessert topper whose snowy peaks and designs hold their shapes after a good whisking, like a 60s beehive-hairdo shellacked with VO5 spray.

As the story goes, French Chef Vatel first came up with the recipe to help “stretch out” his short supply of cream during a banquet given by Fouquet honoring the Sun King. (Supposedly he never lived to taste the cream because he committed suicide during the banquet when he found out there was also a shortage of fish for the diners.)

His one-time secret recipe is now a standard in French cooking, and the essential ingredient for a perfect Chantilly cream is top-quality whole crème fraîche (fresh cream),  with a bit of icing sugar, and pod of vanilla mixed in; But beware, precise whisking is a must as too many strokes will turn the cream to butter…not necessarily the worst outcome, mais probably not the best consistency for embellishing desserts.


When visiting Chantilly, be sure to order a big bowl of the delicious cream to share.


No. 238: Lost Bread


It was another rainy and cool day in Paris, making it the perfect day to serve up some pain perdu, lost bread as the French call it, or “French toast”, as we Americans call it.

The facts and history don’t seem to back up our anglicized name, as its origins date much further back than the foundation of a French state. En fait this delicious French dessert or American breakfast staple can be traced back to medieval times when the recipe (and I use that term loosely) first appeared to make inedible, stale loaves of bread more appetizing. Times were tough back in the day, and the masses could not afford to throw away any bit of edible anything, so the otherwise “lost” bread was battered, buttered, rescued and revived instead of being thrown out.

It doesn’t appear that the French were the first to dip their bread in a milky-egg mixture and fry it up. The English had their own versions (suppe dorate and tostees dorees) during the Middle Ages, and later a similar dish called “Poor Knights of Windsor”. There are even some “French toast” recipes traceable to ancient Roman times, which ironically, the French named pain a la Romaine (Roman bread).

It is also interesting that pain perdu was not just a meal for the poor man. Indeed the wealthy kept this staple on their menu too. Of course, the rich had their chefs make it to order, which meant only the finest white bread could be used—the crust cut off and discarded—before it was dipped in a mixture of beaten eggs, sugar and rose water, fried in butter or lard and topped off with more saffron and sugar infused rose water.

Like the medieval peasants, I also grew up making pain perdu with stale bread we could not afford to throw away. And boy, did my dad make a mean Sunday morning French Toast (and “Eggs Over Bread”), another poor man’s delight.

In France, I have learned that the best and most authentic way to make pain perdu is with day-old brioche (a lightly sweet bun or loaf-that the boulangers of France do so well), sliced thickly and dipped in eggs, milk, or better yet crème, seasoned with a little sugar and nutmeg, and gently fried in, what else, salted butter from Bretagne.

C’est délicieux! Que pensez-vous?

Here is a recipe for the “original” pain perdu, and please click the underlined links for my other favorite “lost bread” recipes along with my daddy’s famous Eggs Over Bread.


From: The Medieval Kitchen, Recipes from France and Italy by Odilie Redon (dated to 1450)

  1. Take slices of white bread, trimmed so that they have no crusts.
  2. Make these slices square and slightly grill them so that they are colored all over by the fire.
  3. Then take eggs beaten together with plenty of sugar and a little rose-water and put the slices of bread in to soak.
  4. Carefully remove them, and fry them a little in a frying pan with a little butter and lard, turning them very frequently so that they do not burn.
  5. Arrange them on a plate, and top with a little rose-water colored yellow with a little saffron, and sprinkle with plenty of sugar.



C’est délicieux! Que pensez-vous? It’s delicious. What do you think?

pain a la Romaine: Roman bread

pain perdu: French toast, literally: lost bread

No. 136-137: Gâteaux et Tartes

I don’t know how many different types of cakes and tarts there are in France, but since there are over 350 different varieties of cheese available here, I’m wagering there has to be at least that many possibilities for decadent dessert.

Gâteau Saint Honoré

Gâteau Saint Honoré

Gâteau au chocolat

Gâteau au chocolat

Charlotte Mont-Blanc…biscuit cuillère, crème vanille, chantilly, marron glacés et crème de marrons...

Charlotte Mont-Blanc…biscuit cuillère, crème vanille, chantilly, marron glacés et crème de marrons…

En France, I have never met a gâteau or tarte I don’t care for, and this being a birthday weekend chez nous, I thought I’d share a few pictures of some of my favorites I’ve indulged in either in reality or in my dreams.

Even when I’m being good (which is most of the time), I’m lucky to be surrounded by this dazzling eye candy. Not only are they delicious on the taste buds, but they are also exquisite works of art.

 Tarte au citron, c'est notre préféré...

Tarte au citron, c’est notre préféré…


tarte aux pommes

tarte aux pommes


Bonne dégustation!



Bonne dégustation! Enjoy! (literally good tasting)

c’est notre préféré: it’s our favorite

chez nous: at our house

gâteau au chocolat: chocolate cake

gâteau or tarte: cake or tart

tarte aux pommes: apple tart

tarte au citron: lemon tart

No. 118-119: Spéculoos and le Musée du quai Branly Combined

Out and about this morning and in search of a birthday gift for Charlotte, my favorite soon to be 4-year-old, I decided to pop into la librairie du Musée du quai Branly and take a peek at their unique collection of gifts. Much to my delight, I came across this in the children’s book section:

Spéculoos! La quête/Spéculoos! the Quest

Spéculoos! La quête/Spéculoos! the Quest

When I first spied it, I thought surely, there must be another meaning for the word Spéculoos that I don’t know. Mais non!


This is actually a tale of an extraordinarily happy, rotund and spoiled princess from a magical far eastern land who is saved by Spéculoos!

The princess leads a grandiose life. When she wakes up, she nibbles cake and pralines. For dinner she gobbles pralines and cake, and for dessert, she savors ice cream with pralines. Mais un jour, la Princesse n’eut plus faim/but one day, the princess was no longer hungry. Well, this certainly makes her very sad and she cries for a very long time. Not one single soul in the entire kingdom can find a cure for her sickness.

But then one day Maurice, le ménestrel de la Cour, who, naturally, is profoundly in love with princess, has an idea. He will go to the sorcière, and ask if he has any ancient potions to cure his secret love. And this is what the sorcerer tells him:

J’ai ce qu’il te faut, une très vieille recette de biscuit, mais qui agit mieux qu’une potion/I have what you need, a very old cookie recipe, that is better than any potion. 

…and the cookie that’s better than a magic potion? Spéculoos, obviously.


So he travels dans des contrées lointaines pour ramener le gingembre, le clou de girofle, la cannelle, la cardamone et la muscade/to distant lands to find the ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Upon hearing about his plan and envisioning the recipe, the princess falls instantly and madly in love with her hero.

From Nigeria to Zanzibar, to India and the red Orient, and onward to Sri Lanka and the Indonesian archipelago, love struck Maurice diligently gathers the indispensible spices.

Upon his return he bakes her the cookies (as can Charlotte, by following along with the simple recipe)…

…et en goûtant le Spéculoos, la Princesse avait retrouvé toute sa gaieté. Mais plus que le biscuit, c’était le courage de Maurice qui l’avait conquise/and upon tasting the Speculoos, the princess’ cheerfulness was restored. But more than the cookies, it was the courage of Maurice that conquered her malady and won her heart.



I have to say, I’ve had some days where Speculoos is as good as, if not better, than any other magic potion to chase away the blues. I’m glad the Musée Branly thinks so too!


But if you don’t like Spéculoos, the Quai Branly Museum has plenty of other nifty and colorful gifts for you to choose from.


la librairie du Musée du quai Branly: the bookshop at the Branly Museum

le ménestrel de la Cour: the court minstrel

Mais non! But, no!

sorcière: sorcerer