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!

It’s virtually Easter!

We’re in our fourth week of lockdown in France! ¬†With lockdowns in place in numerous countries worldwide, it will mean that many people will be celebrating Easter this year very differently compared to previous years! ¬†The churches will be closed, large family gatherings are out of the question, and even family walks are restricted. ¬†I’ll be taking it in my stride, but I feel for those whose lives are being disrupted by being confined to their homes!

I’ll be following some of my Easter traditions such as dyeing hard-boiled eggs:

baking Hot Cross Buns:

and baking a cake in the shape of a lamb:

I will probably prepare Easter lunch using lamb, though this time I won’t leave the shopping to the last minute, as I did back in 2012!! ūüôā ¬†You can read my story of that Easter lunch here.

The town of Perpignan won’t be holding its traditional Good Friday procession, but you can have a look at what you’ll be able to see next time you visit around Easter!

Traditionally, families in our area of France (and perhaps in other areas of France too?) will go for a walk on Easter Monday to pick wild asparagus for the Easter omelette. ¬†This year being different, perhaps the omelette may have to be made with bought asparagus, but I’m sure the traditional omelette will be eaten!!

Do you have any Easter traditions you’d like to share?