Category Archives: gourmet

Making Fromage Blanc

I’m never really sure how to describe fromage blanc to my American friends. Literally, it’s “white cheese,” but that’s not quite the full picture. The consistency is similar to yogurt, although fromage blanc is creamier. It’s slightly less tart than most yogurt and thicker. There’s a subtle taste of cheese, but I don’t really consider it a soft cheese, like I would goat cheese. You usually serve fromage blanc with fruit for dessert (kind of like yogurt…only not quite. Again, tough to describe it). 
Anyway, it’s delicious. That’s the take home message. 
Since you can’t find it here in the US, I’ve taken to making my own (something else to DIY…yipee!). Unlike making your own yogurt, you can’t use fromage blanc from your previous batch to inoculate your next batch. You have to use a new packet of fromage blanc starter cultures each time you make it. But, one packet of fromage blanc cultures inoculates 1 gallon of milk. You lose some from straining, but you still get a lot of fromage blanc out of it. 
I get my cultures for all my cheesy creations from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Someday maybe I’ll be lucky enough to take a workshop from “Ricki the Cheese Queen,” but New England is just a bit too far from California to jaunt over to learn how to make cheese. Bummer. 
So, to make fromage blanc, you need a packet of fromage blanc starter culture and a gallon of milk (whole milk or 2% is good. You can use non-fat, but it wont be as good). You’ll also need a big pot with a cover, a cheese thermometer, a ladle, a colander, a large bowl and butter muslin
Once you’ve assembled your equipment and ingredients, make sure everything is very clean. This is important anytime you’re making cultured or fermented foods. 
Next, pour the entire gallon of milk into the pot. 

Heat it over low-medium heat to 86 degrees (in the picture, the thermometer had already cooled back down…don’t refer to the picture. 86 degrees is what you want). 

Mix in your fromage blanc starter culture.

Cover the pot, set it aside, and wait 12 hours. I always get this started at night before heading to bed.

The next morning, the fromage blanc will look like this. The milk has thickened up and separated from the sides of the pot.

This kind of colander is perfect for straining fromage blanc because it fits right inside my large bowl, which supports the bottom of the butter muslin over a large surface area and facilitates drainage.

Put the colander in your bowl.

Cover the bowl with butter muslin.

Ladle the cultured milk into the butter muslin.

This is halfway through ladling. A lot of the whey has mixed back into the curds, but that’s okay. It will drain out soon enough.

Now put the bowl in the refrigerator. Periodically remove it to drain out the whey at the bottom of the bowl. Early on, you need to do this every few minutes. After 15 or so minutes, you’ll be able to only check on it every 30 minutes or so. It will need to drain for 3-6 hours (depending on the kind of milk you used. I find that less fat= faster drainage, because there are less curds).

You’re almost done! I used 2% milk for this batch and it ended up draining a bit too much, which resulted in a not-smooth-enough-for-my-french-blood fromage blanc. I just threw it into my mixer with the whisk attachment. I whipped it on medium speed and added a bit of milk to help smooth it out.

Here is the finished fromage blanc! Serve with whatever fruit suits your fancy.

Note: This post brought to you by Bastille Day. Because what Bastille Day would be complete without a tasty French dessert like fromage blanc?

Happy Bastille Day!!

Advertisements

Pierre Herme- beyond the macaron

Ahh Pierre Herme. There is no doubt that he is king of the macaron as I’ve already blogged about once during this trip. I never really venture away from macarons when I go to Herme, because my time in Paris is always so limited (as are funds dedicated to luxury pastries) and I know they will never disappoint me.

My parents, though, rarely go for macarons and instead prefer his “verrines.” These are small glasses filled with different layers of gelatins, creams and compotes. So, for Trevor’s last night here, they treated us to verrines from Pierre Herme. Oh my am I in trouble.

Herme is famous for combining unusual flavors that actually work together. In this verrine, he combined citrus, strawberry and wasabi. Unusual, right? Wasabi in a dessert was not something I had tried before. I’ve seen it used in other savory dishes (besides sushi), but never in a sweet. Well, not surprisingly given Herme’s reputation, it worked. The biggest surprise about the wasabi was that there was no heat. Just essence. You knew immediately upon tasting that it was there, but you didn’t get a rush of wasabi heat in your nose. I was seriously impressed.

So, for a rundown of each layer, here is what we decided as we savored our verrines…

The bottom layer was some sort of citrus gelatin. It was very tart and refreshing.
The next layer was a strawberry compote. The sweetness worked to lessen the tartness of the citrus. 

The following layer was a wasabi cream. Like I said above, no heat, just essence. Very interesting and very delicious. 

On top were miniature “pates de fruits” (soft strawberry candy) and wasabi-coated cookies, with a glazed strawberry on the top. 

Pierre Herme has been called the “Picasso of pastry” and once again he has created art for both the eyes and palate.

The perfect meal: Confit de Canard and Macarons

We’re still in Paris. Trevor is here for about one more week, and I have 2 more weeks. While we’re here, there are a couple things that we always have to eat. There are the usual suspects- cheese, bread, pastries…and then there are a few lesser known delicacies like Confit de Canard and macarons.

Confit de Canard is much more delicious than it sounds when you describe it in English. Basically, it’s duck legs, preserved in rendered duck fat, which you then pan fry and serve with potatoes sauteed in some of the extra rendered duck fat. I promise, it’s totally, amazingly, delicious.

Macarons are probably easier for everyone to get excited about. They are the fanciest oreo you’ve ever tasted. The cookies are a kind of almond-based meringue and they are filled with something creamy and delicious. They come in delicate flavors like fresh mint, salted caramel, rose, jasmine, rose vanilla, passion fruit…all of the possible colors and flavors make my head spin!  I have a bit of an obsession them, as I’ve already written about eating them here, here and here; and I’ve written about making them here and here. Unfortunately, the macarons you can find in even the best bakeries in the US do not compare to those you can get here, so we get our fill when we come to Paris.

Last night, we decided to live it up and have them both.  I documented the entire meal for your viewing pleasure.

Confit de Canard with Sauteed Potatoes.
Macarons from Pierre Herme (arguably the best in Paris)
Fresh mint- I love how much these taste like real mint
Chocolate Caramel- good, but not my favorite. I prefer the more delicate flavors
Rose Vanilla- The flavor was very good and delicate. But the filling was a little too firm for my preference.
Jasmine- Very subtle flavor. Almost too subtle, but still one that I will get again.
Salted Caramel- Hands down, one of my favorites. The flavor of the caramel is so pronounced, while the filling is soft and delicate. Amazing.
Rose- Also one of my very favorites. I never imagined a cookie that tastes like a flower would be so wonderful. This one is perfection.
Aaaaand, gone. If you’re wondering why the knife is there, it’s because Trevor and I always buy 6 different macarons and cut them in half. That way we get to try a good variety of flavors.

Paris Wrap-Up

Before leaving for Paris, I daydreamed about all of the food-related delights that would be a part of our time there. I had so many foodie things to be excited about that I decided to compile them into a top ten. Now that the trip is over, let’s review it:

Foodie Top 10: Reviewed.

10. Being totally jet-lagged, waking up at 5am, and walking down to the corner boulangerie to pick up a piping hot baguette and croissants for breakfast.

  • Check! This happened on many occasions while we were in Paris, though not always at 5am and not always while we were jet-lagged. Sometimes the piping hot baguettes come out around 6pm….and once in a while they make it all the way home to be eaten with dinner…or even breakfast the next morning.

9. Going to the farmer’s market to buy some melon and asking for one “for today” and having the farmer choose a perfectly ripe melon.

  • Check! We made it to a few farmer’s markets. Although I must say the organic “Bio” farmer’s market was quite a disappointment. The cheese was good, but the vegetables we got from there were not fresh. The Ave de Sachs market is much much better. And the melon was amazing.

8. Espresso at every corner.

  • Well, if by this I meant “drinking espresso at every corner” then I didn’t get this one. But there sure was espresso at every corner! I did partake in a particularly memorable espresso in a cute cafe in Montmartre, on top of a hill (even more so than most cafes already are in Montmartre), with an incredible view of Paris, but without the crowds of the Sacre Coeur.

7. Taking a picnic of baguette and rillettes to the Jardin de Luxembourg.

  • Nope…got this one separately, but not together. We did visit the Jardin de Luxembourg a few times, but not during lunch time. We also had rillettes with baguette for lunch a few times. Maybe next time!

6. Nutella crêpes from the St. Michel crêpe stand.

  • Also nope! Although I did have crepes on 3 different occasions during my 2 total weeks in Paris. We re-discovered a wonderful creperie called “Creperie des Canettes” on Rue des Canettes, near metro Mabillon. The crepes are delicious! For dessert I tried the simple “sugar with butter” and the “salted butter” (on 2 separate trips) and both were absolutely perfect. Highly recommend.

5. Falafel for Sunday lunch in the Marais.

  • Check! We did this the day after we arrived. Our good friends from San Diego arrived on a Sunday, so we walked all over Paris, with a stop at the Marais for falafel. Once again, the line was 1/2 way down the block (with the poor falafel competitor across the way only having a measely handful of people). We realized that our falafel place, L’As du Falafel, received rave reviews in the New York Times, which explains the sudden boost in diners in 2006.

4. The incredible dairy section at any grocery store.

  • Check check check! Mmmm….I LOVE the yogurts in France. Nuf said.

3. Being mesmerized by the selection at the cheese shop down the street from us. And then asking for a camembert, “bien prêt” (meaning, “ready,” which for a camembert means “soft & flavorful”).

  • Check! We also got to enjoy our local cheese shop’s selection at our anniversary dinner. The cheese place around the corner from us is Quatrehomme, and apparently Marie Quatrehomme is famous for her cheeses. I thoroughly enjoyed my camembert “bien pret.”

2. Looking at, taking photos of, and eating delicious pastries, but especially…
1. …Macarons from Pierre Hermé and Ladurée!

  • Okay I realize that I kind of cheated on this one by combining #2 and #1. But the macarons really deserved to be separated from the rest of the patisserie world, in my opinion. And yep! I definitely took full advantage of the pastries and the macarons. Tomorrow, a friend and I will attempt to recreate the beauty by whipping up some Macarons Caramel Fleur de Sel…and maybe Macarons a la Rose. We shall see!

So what do you think? Do I get an “A” for “effort” on my foodie top 10? Cuz I can tell you, it was rough. …(kidding!)… What would be on your foodie top 10 (in Paris or elsewhere).

EDIT: Okay looking at this post I realized that it was way too hard to differentiate between the original top 10 and the “reviews,” so I added bullets to the reviews. Hope this makes the post easier to read!

If Laduree is heaven, then what does that make Pierre Herme??


…I’m not sure that I can really put my finger on it, but it’s even better. Don’t get me wrong, Laduree is kind of like the classic beauty that you are always in awe of no matter how many times you encounter (or in this case “taste”) it. But Pierre Herme is new and exciting, like a new style or new innovation that- at first glance- looks completely “wrong,” but in the end is absolutely perfect. Pierre Herme manages to take flavors that you would never expect to taste together and meld them beautifully. It makes you wonder why they haven’t always been paired. Take “Vanilla Olive Oil,” for example. At first glance this seems like an odd combination, at best, and downright gross at worst. Not so, for Pierre Herme. These flavors are perfect together. Now why didn’t I think of that? I know that I’m a bit of a Pierre Herme fanatic here, but what can I say? He’s one of my culinary heros. He has turned macarons into edible art, and for that, I have to say he’s a step above Laduree (even though I love Laduree too!).

Enough drooling from me, though. Here are some “food porn” photos (as my dad likes to call them), so that you, too, can drool.



Laduree Macarons….heaven?


Yesterday marked our 4th day in Paris. We’d kept ourselves busy – walking to the Invalides, Louvre, Centre Pompidou, Opera, Place de la Concorde, Champs Elysee…etc. But we hadn’t yet found the time to go to Laduree for some of the best-known macarons in Paris (or anywhere, really). We were already at the Champs Elysee when we decided it was macarons-time, so we headed down to the Place de la Concorde, and made a left down the Rue Royale…with the impressive Madelaine church in front of us. The window decorations at Laduree are intricate and ornate, fitting very well with the style of their tea room and pastries in general.

We chose a box of 8 macarons…but got a 9th one thrown in (for free, I think!). From the long picture, left to right, the flavors included: Salted Caramel, Fruits Rouge, Cassis Violettes, Chocolate, Coconut, Lemon, Mint, Vanilla, and Dark Chocolate. My favorites were Cassis, Mint and Vanilla…and Coconut. The consensus was that all of the macarons were incredibly flavorful. Mint, especially, is always a surprise because it has a distinctly minty taste without any chocolate, which is how people usually taste mint. All were delicious. Our friends visiting Paris with us could not wait to compare with Pierre Herme’s macarons…and neither can I!

Macarons- Caramel Fleur de Sel


I’ve already written about the culinary delight that is a “macaron” once. That blog post featured my first attempt at making this delicate treat, and while I was pleased with my end result back then, I’ve since refined my recipe and had some even better outcomes. The first time I tried making macarons (pronounced mac-ah-rõ, with the nasalized /o/ and no /s/ at the end), I filled them with lemon curd. This was tasty, but a bit runny and messy to eat. My most recent attempts have included several more flavors, including: coffee, vanilla, apricot-lavender, salted caramel, and lavender. The standout favorites among these were the salted caramel and lavender macarons. So these are the ones I will write about for you (starting with the salted caramel recipe). I’ve had many requests lately for a post about these- mainly from the French ex-pat crowd. So without further ado…la recette des Macarons au Caramel Fleur de Sel est à vous.

Macarons Caramel Fleur de Sel

For the macaron cookie (the “coque”):
110 g ground almond
225 g powdered sugar
120 g egg whites (about 4 eggs)
1 pinch of salt
50 g caster sugar (e.g. superfine sugar, or baker’s sugar)

Instructions:

  1. First things first: Where do you get ground almonds? This is something I’ve gone back and forth about. You can find “almond meal” at Trader Joe’s for a reasonable price, but it has the almond skin in it, which can make the batter heavier and stickier once baked. One way around this is to sieve the almond meal several times before weighing it, to remove as much almond skin as possible. This works pretty well, but you end up losing a lot of almond in the process, which is a shame. You can also buy almond flour from Bob’s Red Mill (I believe it is sold at Whole Foods). This might have a finer consistency than the Trader Joe’s one (I don’t know, I’ve never tried it), but it’s expensive (over $12.00/lb!), and also has the almond skin mixed in. Not really the best option out there if you ask me. So to get around this problem, I’ve actually started buying whole almonds, blanching them, removing the skins by hand, and grinding them in my food processor. This is a little more time consuming, but you can make a lot of ground almonds all at once for a much better price. Once you blanch the almonds and remove the skins, they need to sit out for a while to dry, otherwise you’ll end up with a clumpy paste rather than a fine powder. I prepare my almonds the day before I plan on making macarons. (Just a little side note: In the macarons I have pictured here, I’ve included some of the store bought almond meal, because I like the little flecks it makes in the finished product…just in case you were wondering).
  2. Once your almonds are ready, place them all in the bowl of a food processor and turn it on for a few minutes (you might want to wear ear plugs for the sake of your hearing…this process can get pretty loud). After several minutes of processing, you should have a slightly grainy mixture of ground almonds. Don’t worry if the almond meal doesn’t look fine enough. This will be taken care of in the next step.
  3. Weigh out all of your ingredients. One of the “macarons secrets” I’ve stumbled upon several times in my research is to let your egg whites sit out, uncovered, for 24 hours before making the macarons. Something in the egg white’s chemistry makes it safe for them to stay at room temperature for that long (or so I’ve read). However, if you’re uncomfortable leaving your egg whites out that long, or just plain don’t have the time to wait, you can mimic the aging process by microwaving your egg whites for 10 seconds before using them. Once all of your ingredients are measured, place the powdered sugar and ground almonds back in the food processor and turn it on for another couple of minutes. Now you should get a fine powder. Sieve the almond/sugar mixture and set it aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites with a small pinch of salt. Turn the mixer on medium-high. When you can see the lines made by the wire whisk in the beaten egg whites, slowly add the caster sugar. Turn the speed up to high and continue beating until you get a stiff meringue (about 2 minutes). Turn off the mixer.
  5. Pour the almond mixture onto the meringue and begin folding it in. After the first few strokes, you can add some gel food coloring if you so desire (but for the caramel macarons, I think they’re just fine without added color). As long as your meringue is stiff enough, you don’t need to be overly careful about breaking the meringue. Just make sure the almond mixture is well incorporated. You should end up with a thick batter, the consistency of “magma.” Basically, the batter should settle about 30 seconds after stirring it. This is probably the most delicate part about making macarons. If you overstir the batter, you will get cracked tops, and if you understir you won’t get that nice dome-shape to the cookie. Don’t worry about this too much on your first try. It’s trial and error kind of thing.
  6. Cover 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. You might want to spray the corners of the cookie sheets with oil to help the parchment paper stay in place. Pour the batter into a piping bag, fitted with a #12 round piping tip. Pipe the macarons on the prepared cookie sheets, about 1-inch in diameter and 1-inch apart. Some people trace circles onto the parchment paper to ensure that their macarons are a consistent shape, but I think this is just a crazy amount of extra work for little reward. So I just count 4 seconds for each macaron and they end up being about the same size.

7. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the piped macarons sit out for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place one cookie sheet in the warm oven for 7 minutes. Keep the oven door slightly ajar by placing the handle of a wooden spoon in the oven door. After 7 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet, lower the oven temperature to 310 degrees, and bake for another 7 minutes. Take the cookies out, and do the same with the other cookie sheets (I’ve found that I get the most consistent results when I only bake one cookie sheet at a time). Let the macarons cool slightly before removing them from the parchment paper and placing them on a cooling rack.

For the Caramel Fleur de Sel filling:
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or scrapings from one vanilla bean)
200 g heavy whipping cream (warmed)
4 g fleur de sel
140 g butter (chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces)

This is what really makes these macarons. This recipe is amazingly delicious, and actually quite simple to make. I have to give props to Chubby Hubby, who originally posted the recipe from Chef Pang. Thank you for sharing!

Instructions:

  1. In a 1 liter heavy based pot, cook the sugar, stirring consistently until you get an even caramel. Add in the vanilla bean paste.
  2. Slowly add in the warm cream. Be careful to only add a little cream at a time, as it has a tendency to splatter when mixed with the caramel. Once the cream is completely incorporated, add the fleur de sel. Stir to make sure everything is well mixed, and that the salt (from the fleur de sel) has dissolved.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C). Add the butter to the caramel. Using a hand blender, blend this mixture until you get a smooth glossy paste. Cover the surface of the caramel with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.


When you’re ready to fill your macarons, just spoon the caramel fleur de sel into the cookies, and sandwich them together. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, but it’s best to bring them back to room temperature before serving them.