Happy Easter!

Today is Good Friday, and it’s high time I posted again – it’s been a long time! I wrote the article below back in 2016, and I’ll be following the same time-honoured rituals today, dyeing eggs and baking lamb-shaped cakes! Some things never change, whilst others change beyond recognition! I hope you all have a good Easter weekend, wherever you may be!


For as long as I can remember, I have associated Easter with brightly coloured eggs. When we were children, my brothers and I would decorate blown hens’ eggs in the weeks before Easter.  For several weeks before Easter,  instead of cracking eggs open to use them in cooking or baking, a hole would be pierced in either end of the egg (a larger hole in the ‘flatter’ end), and the egg white and yolk would be blown out through the holes.  The resulting blown eggs would be washed and dried before being decorated.  The eggs might be painted, pasted with cut-outs, drizzled with coloured wax – anything and everything was allowed and encouraged as far as decorating techniques went.  The finished eggs would be hung with a piece of thread on the cut branches of forsythia or other flowering shrubs, and they would decorate the house during the Easter festival.

In the run-up to Easter, the shops would start selling brightly coloured hard-boiled eggs – you would be able to find them right next to the fresh eggs, in virtually every store!  They were always looking so perfect and shiny – as though they had been laquered.  Maybe they had been???  Those store-bought eggs didn’t make it into our house very often.  Instead, my brothers and I would help mum dye hard boiled hens’ eggs on Good Friday.  It’s a tradition I still keep alive, all these many years later!

There are a number of ways to dye the eggs using various natural vegetable dyes such as beetroot and spinach juice, or dried onion skins.  An easier and foolproof way, is to use  ready-made egg dyes.  One of my sisters-in-law sent me a packet this year – thank you Veronika!!

It’s best to dye the eggs just after they have been boiled and while they are still warm.  I put all my eggs into one pan (no, not into one basket!! ūüôā ) and covered them with cold water.  When they started to boil I set the timer for six minutes.

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While the eggs were cooking, I prepared the dyes.

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The packet contained five colour papers:  red, orange, green, blue and yellow – a rainbow of colours!  ūüôā  Since yellow does not really change the colour of brown eggs, I added that in with the orange.  Into each cup were put two tablespoons of white vinegar, 250ml of boiling water, and one dye-paper.

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Once the eggs had finished cooking, I briefly ran them under the cold tap, before they went into the dye bath, one at a time for each colour.

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They emerged totally transformed!!

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Bit by bit my egg box was filling up with wonderfully coloured eggs!  Below are the last four:

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This is a picture of the dye I used for this batch of eggs.  You should be able to find something like that on one of the internet mail-order sites or in your grocery store?

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To make them shine, the eggs can be rubbed with a little bit of olive oil.

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Baking a cake in the shape of a lamb is another Easter tradition in my family.  Some years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit my grandmother’s baking tin.  Nowadays, if I am home for Easter, I will bake at least one cake in that mould.  For the cake recipe, I looked at Gaston Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries.  It’s a wonderful book, full of very precise and easy to follow recipes.  I used his Genoise recipe, a very light sponge cake.

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The ingredients are very simple:  eggs, sugar, flour, butter and vanilla flavoured sugar!

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Three eggs are mixed with 78g of sugar and the vanilla flavoured sugar in a heat proof bowl – I used the bowl of my stand mixer for this.  The bowl is then set over boiling water, and the eggs are whisked for one minute – no more!  I then put the bowl on the mixer, and whisked the egg/sugar mixture on high speed for two minutes, and on medium low speed for another five minutes or a little longer, until it was cool and very white and thick.

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While all the whisking was going on, I brushed both halves of the mould very carefully with melted butter, and gave them a light dusting of flour, to prevent the finished cake from sticking to the mould.  I also melted 23g of butter for the cake mix.

When the egg mixture was ready, I sifted 78g of flour over it and folded it in gently.  Then I added the melted and cooled butter, and folded that in too.  The finished mix was poured into the mould, and the cake was baked in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes.  For the first cake I had set the oven to the wrong function (regular convection rather than fan-assisted), so the cake did not turn out from the mould as easily as it should have.

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I baked another one right away, using the fan-assist setting, and it turned out near perfect!

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And here they are – decorated with a dusting of icing sugar and some tiny bells hung with red ribbon around their necks, and surrounded by some dyed eggs!

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Do you have a special Easter tradition?  Would you would like to share it with me?

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Festival foods

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent. During the Middle Ages, that day meant the start to 40 days of strict religious fasting. Dairy products along with meat and eggs were forbidden foods until 1491, when Pope Julius III allowed Catholics to eat butter/oil, eggs, cheese, and milk during Lent. Until 1491, people had to find ways to use up the ‘forbidden ingredients’ before Ash Wednesday, and thus were born some of the foods which today are still associated with this time of year. In Britain, Shrove Tuesday is synonymous with pancakes, a dish with simple ingredients – flour, eggs, milk, butter. Making pancakes the day before the fasting started was a way to use up all those ingredients rather than throw them out or, perish the thought, risk sinning!!

In Germany, doughnuts or Krapfen are traditionally eaten during the Carnival celebrations which precede Ash Wednesday. The ingredients are pretty much the same as for pancakes, so this is another recipe which uses up ‘forbidden foods’! Following a recent phone call with my parents where we chatted about Carnival and food, I developed a serious craving for doughnuts!! I knew that none of the shop-bought doughnuts would satisfy that craving – they are nice enough, but they just don’t measure up to a freshly-made yeast-raised doughnut!! Bakeries in France don’t tend to make deep fried pastries, so doughnuts are usually bought-in. And more often than not they are made with baking powder rather than yeast.

So, the only way I could satisfy my craving was to make the doughnuts myself – and that’s exactly what I did!! I started my search for a recipe in my grandmother’s old Regensburger Kochbuch – a book which has seen much use over the decades! It is one of those old-fashioned encyclopaedic cookery books where there are no pictures (yes, none whatsoever!! :)) and where the instructions for each recipe are kept to a minimum. In the picture below you have all the ingredients I used, apart from the oil I used for frying. Just so that there is no confusion – I was going to make jam (or jelly) filled doughnuts!

I used 500 g flour, 25 g fresh baker’s yeast, 1/2 tsp fine salt, 250 ml milk, 4 egg yolks, 80 g butter, 50 g icing sugar (you can use regular sugar too), 1 tbsp rum, and the finely grated zest from one lemon. I also used one jar of apricot jam for filling the doughnuts and icing sugar to dust the cooked doughnuts. I compared various other recipes and they all seemed to agree on the flour and egg ratio. The rum was not in the recipe in my grandmother’s book, but I had a little left in the bottle, and I thought it would do no harm. In case you are wondering, it didn’t, quite the opposite in fact!

I warmed the milk to lukewarm and dissolved the yeast in four tablespoons of the warm milk. To the remaining milk I added the butter, sugar, salt, and the egg yolks, and mixed it until blended. I put the flour into the bowl of my stand mixer, made a well in the centre and put in the dissolved yeast. With the mixer running on low speed, I added the milk/egg/etc. mixture, the lemon zest, and the rum, and left the machine to do the work until a soft dough formed. Once that was done, I increased the speed of the mixer a little and let it knead the dough for 10 minutes while I had a cup of tea. ūüôā

Here’s what the finished dough looked like:

I covered the bowl and let the dough rise – the kitchen was not very warm that day, so I heated the oven to 50 degrees centigrade, turned it off and put the covered dough in the oven. It was lovely and cosy in there and in next to no time the dough looked like this:

Looks fabulous, doesn’t it?? I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and deflated it by kneading it a little. I then used a rolling pin to flatten the dough to a thickness of about 2 cm. Using a round cookie cutter (mine was about 8 cm in diameter) I cut out rounds which weighed about 50 g each. I put the rounds on a lightly floured cloth and covered them to rise once more. I formed the dough scraps into balls which also weighed 50 g each.

While the doughnuts were rising, I prepared the oil bath. I used grape-seed oil because of its neutral flavour and also because of it’s fairly high smoke point (420 F / 215 C). I also like using grape-seed oil because it is a byproduct from winemaking! ;). I prepared my cooling racks by lining them with paper towels, and I sieved the apricot jam to remove any bits and skins which might block the nozzle of the filling tube.

And then it was time to start the frying – the doughnuts were beautifully puffed up, and the oil was at the right temperature, 320 F / 160 C.

After three minutes I flipped them over and cooked them for a further 2 minutes.

The oil always bubbled a little more once doughnuts were flipped over, but it was easy cooking without any splattering. I cooked the doughnuts in four batches and left them to cool before I filled them with the apricot jam. Just before serving, I dusted them with icing sugar.

They were beautifully fluffy and the outside had a slight crunch – heavenly! The flavour was fabulous with a hint of lemon and rum. They definitely hit the spot and fulfilled my craving!!

Have you ever made your own doughnuts? How do you like your doughnuts filled? Or do you prefer your doughnuts with a hole in the middle??

The best laid plans…

Sometimes the best intentions get you nowhere and the best laid plans fall apart. ¬†It’s been like that with this week’s blog post!¬† I planned to write a new article about the French custom of eating galette des rois during the month of January. ¬†I’d found a great recipe for a¬†galette au chocolat on the Valrhona website (in French), and I was going to make that and show you the process and the results on the blog. ¬†And then life intervened in the shape of the music festival that I help organise, and the¬†galette never got made.

But to keep with my plan to post an article every other week, here is a re-run of an article from 2014 about¬†¬†regular galette des rois –¬†I hope you’ll enjoy it just as much.

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In France, Twelfth Night is celebrated with the galette des rois Рa wonderful confection of buttery puff pastry, which is filled with almond frangipane.  The galette is usually eaten with friends and/or family, and can be found for sale in French bakeries throughout the month of January.  A small feve (bean or charm) is usually hidden in the filling, and the person who finds the feve in his or her slice is crowned king or queen for the day.  The feve can take all sorts of forms, from a simple dried bean to a porcelain figure such as this:

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If you don’t live anywhere near a bakery where you can buy a ready-made¬†galette des rois, here is how to make your own. ¬†The basic ingredients are very simple, especially if you buy the puff pastry ready-rolled: butter, almonds, sugar, cornflour, eggs. ¬†I’ll be listing quantities at the end of this post as a printable recipe. ¬†I had planned to add some dried yuzu (Japanese citrus) peel to the filling, which is in the yellow packet. ¬†In the end I decided against it.

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To make the frangipane filling, beat the soft butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.

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Add the eggs and beat until incorporated.

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Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet. ¬†I used the bottom of a cake pan (25cm diam) to cut a neat circle, as the rolled sheets are always slightly oval. ¬†Spread the apricot jam on the base to within 2 cm from the edges…

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…and top with the frangipane mixture.¬† Don’t forget to put the feve into the frangipane filling!

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Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zigzags or diamonds Рwhatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

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Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven (200C, 185C fan, gas 6) for 25 to 30 minutes.  When it comes out of the oven it should look somewhat like this:

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Leave the galette to cool to lukewarm, before you cut it!

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A few notes on the recipe: ¬†I’m not sure whether I’ll be using the apricot jam the next time I make this. ¬†I thought the tartness would complement the rich filling, but having tasted it, I’m not sure that it does. ¬†You could roast the almonds before grinding them. ¬†If you prefer a more pronounced¬†almond flavour, you could add almond essence to the frangipane. ¬†I brushed on too much of the beaten egg so that it went over the edges of the pastry, which stopped it from rising correctly.

Galette des Rois

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
2 rounds of ready rolled puff pastry
2 tbsp apricot jam
100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
125g ground almonds
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp amaretto or brandy
1 beaten egg for glazing

Pre-heat the oven to 200C – fan 185C – gas mark 6

To make the frangipane filling, beat the softened butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.  Add the egg and egg yolk and beat until incorporated.  Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet.  I used the bottom of a cake pan to cut a neat round (the rolled sheets are always slightly oval).  Spread the apricot jam on the base, to within 2 cm of the edges, and top with the frangipane mixture.

Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zig-zags or diamonds Рwhatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  Leave to cool to lukewarm before cutting.

Bonne année !

Bonne annee - vineyard sculpture

Found in a vineyard of Domaine de Pa√Įssels, near Saint-Chinian

Bonne ann√©e, meilleurs vŇďux, et surtout la sant√© !¬†¬†This year, our traditional exchanges of new year’s wishes won’t be accompanied by the obligatory kisses, but the wishes won’t be any less cordial. ¬†As much as Christmas is a family affair, new year’s wishes are exchanged with practically everyone, family, neighbours, shopkeepers, you name it. ¬†People in France send their cards in the new year, rather than at Christmas and it is deemed to be a no-no to wish anyone a happy new year before January 1st! ¬†At the end of January, it’s all over – the new year is no longer new, and everyone is glad to be done with the wishes! ¬†ūüôā

The current pandemic has caused a lot of hardship and heartache all over the world, but with the availability of the vaccines there is hope that our lives will become easier once more. ¬†I’m looking forward to meeting up with friends and family, hugs, handshakes, kisses, concerts, theatre visits, restaurant meals and some travelling ‚Äď but only if it‚Äôs safe to do so!!

At the start of 2021 we have 365 days ahead of us! 365 days to fill with love and hope, 365 days to make our dreams become reality, 365 days to make a difference, 365 days for re-connecting with friends and family,  365 days to make the world a kinder place!  

What will you do with your 365 days?

 

Celebrate the season!

What a year 2020 has been – a roller coaster of lockdowns, quarantines, travel restrictions and more!! It’s kept us all on our toes and watching the development was never dull, there was always something new. It’s been a tough year for many of us on so many levels, work-wise, financially, personally, and we’re not out of the woods yet!

For me 2020 has been a year of learning:

  • I learnt how to get by without handshakes, hugs or kisses
  • I learnt to take nothing and no one for granted
  • I learnt how to smile with my eyes when wearing a face mask
  • I learnt that Zoom-ing, Skype-ing, Facetime-ing and WhatsApp-ing are great ways to keep in touch with friends and family
  • I learnt to do more with less
  • I learnt a few new skills, such as sewing face masks
  • I learnt that vegan food can be totally delicious and satisfying

What I didn’t learn was a musical instrument or another foreign language. I’ve not yet joined a gym or taken up running, but perhaps that’s for next year?? ūüėČ

I have a few New Year’s resolutions in mind: one of them is that I want to start writing blog posts on a regular basis again, probably not every week but perhaps every other weeek? So, watch this space!!

In the meantime, I’d like to wish you an enjoyable festive season – take care of yourselves and above all, stay healthy!!

Look forward to catching up with you next year!!

Let the music play

Under normal circumstances, the Fete de la Musique would be taking place all over France this weekend. ¬†With the current Covid-19 crisis, the events have been cancelled pretty much everywhere. ¬†So here is a virtual Fete de la Musique, by means of an article I wrote in 2014 – I hope you’ll enjoy it!


On June 21st, the whole of France celebrates the Fete de la Musique, with parties and concerts everywhere – and who am I to miss out on a party!!?? ūüėÄ

So I rounded up a  few friends and together we went to Beziers to see what we could listen to!  We left fairly early, and as we walked from the underground car park up the Allees Paul Riquet, it became clear that we had arrived a little too early.  But still, it was good to be able to have a look around without missing anything!  The food stalls looked colourful and the smells were tantalising!!

We headed for Place de la Revolution, where the Sardanistes would be dancing later in the evening.  The plan was to have dinner at Brasserie du Palais, and be able to listen to the music and watch the dancers from the comfort of our table.  On the way to Place de la Revolution I came across some interesting details.

The atmosphere in Beziers was very summery and festive – lots of people out in the streets, all getting ready to party in one way or another!

Our meal at Brasserie du Palais was delicious!  A large plate of tapas to share, followed by great main courses, and nice desserts.

The restaurant takes its name from the former archbishop’s palace, which is just across the square, and today houses the local courts of justice.¬† Next to it is the cathedral, and we had a fine view of that from our table.

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We were just about finishing our desserts, when the musicians started to gather on the stage, and it wasn’t long before they struck up their first tune.

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And as soon as they started to play, the dancers appeared – at first only a few of them joined hands to form a small circle.

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Now a word about the music and dancing – the Sardana is a Catalan tradition, played on instruments of which a few are not found elsewhere in France or Europe.¬† The band is called “Cobla” and the dancers are called “Sardanistes”.¬† For the full explanation please have a look at the Wikipedia entry, which I think explains it all very well.

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I was watching in blissful ignorance, enjoying the uplifting sound of the music and watching the dancers with fascination.¬† It seemed as though anyone could join in, and the circle grew larger and larger, until it was all around the fountain and the square.¬† The steps seemed to be very simple – it was only later, when talking to a couple of the dancers, that I found out that there was a lot more to it! ūüôā .

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The band, as well as the dancers I spoke with, had come from Perpignan, where they had already performed earlier that day.¬† They explained that the Sardana is a traditional dance, as opposed to a folkloric dance, so nobody wears any special costumes.¬† Both the dancers were wearing the traditional espardenya shoes though – you’ll be able to see these shoes in the video below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the webpage to view the video).

 

Did you notice how the flute player also plays the tiny drum, which is strapped to his arm?  The double bass has only three strings, and its player is really going for it!  We sat and listened and watched, and enjoyed every minute of it!!

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It was getting dark and the lights came on, and with the whole square alive with music and dance, it was just magical.

When we had had our fill of the Sardana, we wandered over to the cathedral, where another concert was just coming to the end:  Nicolas Celero at the piano, playing music by Franz Liszt, and Michael Lonsdale reading in between the musical performances.

On our way back we walked down Rue Viennet and passed Place du Forum, across the road from the town hall, which had all been transformed with strings of lights into the most magical of places.

The Eglise de la Madeleine looked very majestic, lit up against the black sky.

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And then we reached the Allees Paul Riquet once more, and wandered amongst the many people who were either watching the act on the main stage in front of the theatre, or just enjoying the start of summer.

Mark your calendar for next year, and plan to be in Herault around June 21st – I promise you’ll enjoy the festivities!