The Musette: Coques – Andorran flat cakes

The Vuelta a Espana is dipping its toe into Andorra, home to many a professional cyclist on account of its favourable tax regime. I understand Andorran cooking is similar to Catalan but with influences from both France and, surprisingly, Italy.

I looked around for a traditional Andorran recipe and found coques, a flat cake made from a thick pancake-type mixture and stale bread. I’m not sure whether it’s a household staple but it sounds like the type of recipe where everyone probably has their own version. So, in the interests of research, I though I’d give it a go. I have to be honest, the first batch was a complete disaster so I played around with the recipe and my second attempt was delicious.

Revised list of ingredients for Coques (image: Sheree)

Ingredients (serves eight as a dessert)

  • 150g (2 cups) fresh white bread cut into small cubes (I used brioche)
  • 120g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 150ml (⅔ cup) almond milk
  • 4 large preferably organic eggs, each weighing approx. 45g (1⅔oz) without the shell
  • 200g (1⅔ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 100g (1 cup) freshly ground almonds
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5 (375°F/350°F fan) and line two baking trays with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

2. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the sugar until light and fluffy, then fold in the sifted flour, ground almonds, lemon zest and almond milk in batches, starting and ending with the flour and almonds. Cover the bowl and set aside to rest for an hour in the fridge.

3. Once the batter has rested, gently incorporate the bread cubes. Divide the mixture roughly into four and dollop onto the tins and spread to make two similarly-sized rectangles on both sheets. I trace two rectangles on the paper and then turn them over – to prevent getting pencil on the baked coques –  with the outlines visible from the reverse side.

4. Place them in the oven and bake until nicely golden brown and cooked through (about 20 minutes).

6. Cut the coques into triangles and serve warm, dusted with a little icing (confectioners’) sugar.

Sheree's Coques (image; Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the coques in the oven, put the timer on for 3-5  minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the coques are browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover them with an aluminium foil tent.

4. In devising my version, I reduced the amount of sugar from the original recipe by a third and substituted equal quantities of vegetable oil and hot water with almond milk. I also substituted one-third of the flour with ground almonds and added the lemon zest. So, not too much in common with the original recipe!

5. I’ve also made this recipe into one large coque, covered with really thin slices  – use a mandolin and mind your fingers – of eating apples with a few pieces of unsalted butter and soft brown sugar scattered on the top. Then, when it’s cooked, I glazed it with thinned down apricot jam to give a nice shiny finish.

6. Otherwise, I suggest serving them with some seasonal fresh fruit, such as apricots or peaches which will go well with the almond flavour in the coques.

The Musette: Quesada Asturiana – Asturian cheesecake

As the Vuelta a Espana finishes its second week, we’re in Asturias for a second day which features the climb to Lagos de Covadonga, arguably the most important climb in the modern history of the Vuelta. The road that leads to the lakes starts is 12.6 kms long at an average gradient of 7.3%, including the most demanding section at La Huesera, 7 kms from the top of the climb, with an average gradient of 15% for 800 meters.

Asturias produces many wonderful cheeses and this traditional baked cheesecake recipe is made with a local fresh goat’s cheese called requeson, but any soft fresh goat’s cheese would work just as well.

Goat's cheese is the star of the show (image: Sheree)

Ingredients (serves 12)

  • 450g (1lb) requeson (or substitute any soft goat’s cheese)
  • 100g (¾ cup) caster sugar
  • 55g (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 120g (1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 large organic egg, approx. 45g (1⅔oz), without shell
  • 1 large organic egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp brandy (optional)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • Sifted icing (powdered) sugar and cinnamon for decoration

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4 (350°F/320°F fan).

2. Grease the bottom and sides of a 24cm (9½”) glass or ceramic baking dish.

3. In a large bowl, combine the chosen cheese and butter. In another, beat together the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, preferably with an electric mixer. Then gently add egg and sugar mixture to butter and cheese.

4. Add lemon zest, cinnamon and brandy (optional) and continue to gently fold, then gradually add in the sifted flour until the batter starts to thicken.

5. Pour the batter into the dish, place in the oven and bake for approx. 30 minutes, or until the quesada turns pale golden colour, the centre doesn’t wobble and it’s just starting to come away from the sides of the dish.

6. Remove and allow to cool before serving. Decorate with a dusting of icing (confectioners’) sugar and cinnamon and serve with fruit compote.

Good enough for Samu! (image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cheesecake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.

4. A lot of the recipes I saw for this cheesecake suggested substituting ricotta but it’s a much sweeter cheese, doesn’t have quite the same tang, and is made from cow’s not goat’s milk. So I used a local soft French goat’s cheese which has the consistency of creme fraiche.

5. I do not have an overly sweet tooth so I reduced the amount of sugar in the original recipe by a third and it was just right, particularly given that it’s served with a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon.

6. If you’re not a fan of cinnamon, substitute 1 tsp of freshly grated orange zest and dust with just icing sugar.

7. The texture is not dissimilar to that of a traditional New York baked cheesecake, so I felt it needed to be served with some seasonal fruit compote. This time I’ve used white peaches.

8. The original recipe calls for brandy but it’s not a flavour I favour, particularly when the fruit compote has been cooked in alcohol. So I left it out.

9. You may have noticed that my sugar jar has cinnamon sticks in it. I have a number of flavoured sugars in my cupboard. Typically, vanilla – repository for all those used vanilla pods – cinnamon, rosemary and lavender. Great for adding a little je ne sais quoi to baked goodies.

10. Like me you can also make the quesada in individual dishes or ramekins but don’t forget to reduce the cooking time accordingly. These were made in crème brulée dishes and they took 17 minutes to cook.

One wedding, lots of cake

My beloved’s nephew and godson is getting married this week and we’re going to the UK for the wedding. Since the date clashes with the Vuelta a Espana, which is visiting some of my favourite locations in Spain, there’s every chance I would’ve skipped the wedding except I was tasked with making the cake.

The nephew’s long-term partner is a graphic artist and the two of them had very definite ideas of what they wanted the cake to look like. I initially received loads of photos from them (above), probably from Pinterest, of US style, mile high, sponge wedding cakes until I gently pointed out some of the challenges with their suggestions. Finally, they agreed on a single tier, traditional fruit cake. I’ve never made a wedding cake before though I have over the years made hundreds of iced and marzipaned fruit cakes,  I’ve just never made one quite this large. To put it in context, it’s six-times the size of one of my Christmas cakes.

The bridal couple decided that, as not everyone likes fruit cake – though I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t like mine – they’d only have a single-tiered cake, 25cm square (serves 90 fingers), along with plenty of iced cup cakes for their 120 guests. Thankfully someone else is making the cupcakes.

Of course, I did my research and found out how much bakers charge for organic iced fruit cakes of this size. To be honest, I think I’m still in shock. Needless to say, this will be their wedding gift. I also discussed the shape of the cake with the caterers who expressed a preference for a square cake, much easier to cut, even though round cakes are easier to decorate.

 

 

I will be flying with the cake which has its own carrying case, so it’s fortunate that they didn’t want any elaborate iced decorations. After plenty trial and error on my part (pictured above), practising on the Christmas cakes, the pair decided they’d prefer a lightly grey marbled finish, not dissimilar to that of their wedding invite. Fortunately, I cracked this effect on the trial cake I made earlier in the year. You know me, planning and preparation are key to success!

 

 

It took me ages to ensure that the trial cake was properly mixed. I couldn’t use my mixer, it was too small. Once I’d creamed the butter and sugar and added the eggs, the remaining mixing was done by hand. After it was baked, I allowed the cake to rest, before commencing its decoration. Fortunately, I still had plenty of fondant icing left over from Christmas which I’d been practicing with to try and achieve the desired overall pattern.

It took quite some time to roll out and measure both the marzipan and icing. It was much easier once I’d acquired some spacers! These more easily enable you to roll out both to a similar overall thickness. At least the marzipan is affixed to the cake in panels using apricot jam, whereas the fondant icing has to be in one giant, continuous piece. I must’ve spent over 45 minutes rolling it out.

 

The trial cake threw up a major issue. While the thickness of the icing and marzipan passed muster, we realised that we’d never attempted to cut any of my cakes into 4″ fingers, just great fat wodges. It was far too moist to easily cut into fingers. I now appreciate why wedding cake is always so dry, it cuts much more easily. Fearing the wrath of the caterers, I decided that I’d probably have to cook the cake for longer and dial back on the copious amounts of rum!

The actual wedding cake was made in mid-August, having soaked the dried fruit for two weeks beforehand in much less rum than usual. I cooked it for seven hours in a low oven and in a much lined and insulated tin. When I turned the cake out of its tin, I inverted it so as to have a perfectly flat top to decorate. I then had to wait for a coolish morning to firstly afix the marzipan. It had been so humid, I feared the marzipan would be too sticky to roll out. I then had to leave it a coupe of days for the marzipan to dry before applying the final coating. Fortunately, I had plenty of icing just in case……..

Unfortunately, my first attempt at icing the cake suffered from elephant’s foot. Which is a technical term to explain hairline cracking. I read everything I could find on the internet but there was no way to fix it. So, I took all the icing and marzipan off, and started again! This, thankfully was much more successful.

4C8A96F7-C065-4A5E-9BEA-0BF091D578B8

9D9BBF77-839C-4AAE-AD37-6F4707CEEE99And here it is! It’s a bit of a whopper. I’m going to decorate the bottom of the cake with some bright green ribbon provided by the bride and the cake topper is the lego bride and groom pictured above. I’m now praying it makes it safely through customs and onto the UK bound plane without incident.

The food in Italy

I’ve previously waxed lyrical about the food in Spain, now it’s the turn of our nearest neighbour Italy. Who doesn’t love pizza and pasta? Exactly! I’m so old I still remember eating in Birmingham’s first Italian restaurant, called Gino’s which opened on the Smallbrook Ringway in the early 1960s. My father and I ate lunch there on Saturdays after my ballet lesson. I always had the set menu of  Minestrone, Spaghetti Bolognese and Apple Crumble. Three courses for 5/-! Of course, as we all now know there is no such Italian dish as Spag Bol.

Gino’s opened just after our first vacation in Italy where, at a family run hotel in Laigueglia, we ate a different pasta each day, all absolutely delicious and a total revelation. Don’t forget this would have been around the time that the pasta experience of many Brits was limited to tinned spaghetti hoops. Remember them? They were are truly disgusting and amazingly still around today.

Of course, there’s so much more to Italian cuisine than pizza and pasta, however it’s the Italian attitude to the latter which I think shapes their cuisine. Pasta is sacred in Italy and there are an infinite number of debates about how to make it, what sauce to serve with which type of pasta etc But why is Italian pasta soooo good?

It’s not rocket science. The bond between flour and water (and in some cases egg) is sacrosanct, and it must not be broken unnecessarily, compromised by sloppy cooking or aggressive saucing or tableware transgressions. That means cooking it properly, and relying on a system of vigilant testing to ensure it’s cooked al dente (barest thread of raw pasta remains in the centre of the pasta), no more.

Pasta should also be sauced sparingly, in the same way a French chef might dress a salad, carefully calibrating the heft and the intensity of the sauce to the pasta itself. That means refraining from unholy acts of aggression such as  adding oil to the boiling water, adding sauce to the pasta or cutting it with a knife and a fork. Above all, it means thinking about subtraction, not addition. Not what else can I add, but what can I take away?

Italian cuisine, at its very best, doesn’t seem to add up. A tangle of pasta threads, a few scraps of pork and a grating of cheese are transformed into something magical. 1 + 1 = 3: more alchemy than cooking. However, as in most things, it’s all about the quality of the ingredients.

Yes, more than genius cooks, Italians are genius shoppers intent on returning from the market with the best produce possible. Whether buying a single tomato or a kilo of sardines, be selective, demanding, relentless in your search for perfection. Let what’s best in the market guide your menu, not the other way round.

Restraint is the common bond between all great Italian regional cooking – a culture where Parmesan on many pastas (especially seafood-based pastas) is a sacrilege, and even a wedge of lemon can be seen as an assault on pristine seafood. Savour the taste and simplicity of every ingredient and remember less is almost always more. This also applies to their cooking of other dishes.

We’ve never eaten a poor meal in Italy and have often eaten lunchtime in restaurants whose offerings are targeted at the local working population. Three courses, wine, coffee and water for 11 – 15 Euros/head. It’s always delicious, home-made and we’ve never, ever been disappointed. It’s just simple, seasonal, ingredients lovingly prepared.

 

Things about France that surprised me: popularity of pizza

France may be known for its fine dining, but recent studies have revealed that the French also have a taste for fast food. I’ve previously written about their growing love of Le Hamburger; now let’s talk about their love of pizzas.

Yes, unbelievably, the French regularly challenge Americans as the world’s largest consumers of pizzas. According to the latest available information, they now eat more pizza than any other country in the world, with a whopping 819 million consumed in 2015. Though, to be fair, they’re probably much smaller pizzas than those consumed in US.

It was a phenomenon that I noticed fairly early on after our move to France. Pizzas are everywhere:  pizzerias, food trucks, take away joints, home delivery services, fresh and frozen pizzas in every supermarket. They’re ubiquitous. Our own on-site clubhouse even sells pizzas on Friday and Saturday evenings.

To put the French appetite for pizzas in context, they scoff around 10kg of pizza per head every year, that’s enough to put them third in the world league table, just behind the 13kg of pizza digested by Americans and 11kg by Norwegians, putting them well ahead of the Italians, the inventors of pizza.

Some 96% of the French declare a love for pizza – their favourite being the Reine – (tomato sauce, ham, cheese and mushrooms) followed by the Margherita, and a massive 84% order takeaway pizzas at home.

Here are a few reasons why the French are so ready to grab a slice and go:-

Comfort eating

Pizza is the number one French comfort food according to a 2018 Harris Interactive survey. The study states more than 8 out of 10 French people eat to comfort themselves when they feel depressed. Of those 8 out of 10, 34% said pizza is their go-to dish to ease the blues. Hamburgers and fries come in a close second at 28%, followed by pasta at 25%.

A contrast

The French take the most time eating and drinking compared to other countries. If the norm is to sit down, en famille, and spend hours chatting and slowly eating every bite, then grabbing a pizza and throwing it in the oven might sound pretty tempting every once in a while. In other words pizza is a switch from their usual dining routine though it also fits perfectly with another French trait, because it’s a dish you can share.

It’s relatively inexpensive

While eating out in France is not necessarily overly expensive, there’s no doubt that pizza is generally a cheaper option and attractive to those on a tight budget. The average price of a pizza in France is €6.15, according to a 2017 Gira Conseil study, which takes into account the price of pizzas sold in supermarkets as well as those in restaurants.

It’s a long-term relationship

Don’t forget, parts of France, including where I live were once part of Italy and, over time, Italian cuisine has become more popular in France though marketing has helped expand the popularity of this iconic Italian dish.

Cheese anyone?

According to the Yale Food Addiction Scale, pizza is at the very top of the addiction scale because of the cheese. Cheese has a particular ingredient called casein, a protein found in all milk products, that makes it more addictive. And who eats the most cheese in the world? The French. France has the per capita consumption of cheese.

So, there you have it. A few reasons why the French love pizza, lots of pizza!

The Musette: speedy Sunday roast

It’s possible to have a roast lunch within 45 minutes of returning from a Sunday morning ride. I admit that it’s a pared back version with few of the typical British trimmings but to be honest my beloved much prefers it this way. I appreciate that this probably amounts to sacrilege to those of you who think no Sunday roast is complete without roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and oodles of gravy but this is my healthy version which relies, as always, on the very best ingredients treated with the utmost, love, care and attention.

Ingredients

French butchers will typically have a photo of the cow from which their beef comes. Mine is no exception and this well-hung and well marbled 500g (1lb) piece of beef from the ribs (côte de boeuf) came from a cow with a twinkle in its eye. Obviously, he had no idea what was in store for him. Probably thought he was going on an away day. This joint served three hungry cyclists.

Well hung and marbled beef and a magic touch of truffle flavoured salt (image: Sheree)

Method

1. As with so many things in life, a bit of planning and preparation the night before pays dividends. Blanch your vegetables firstly in boiling salted water for two minutes and then refresh in iced water to retain the colour. Drain, dry with kitchen towel and place in the fridge.

2. Before leaving for your ride, take the beef out of the fridge and leave in a cool spot to come to room temperature so that it’s ready to cook when you return.

3. On your return, pre-heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas mark 7 (425°F/400°F fan) while you’re having your post-ride shower.

4. Season the meat, rubbing it all over with plenty of salt – in my case one flavoured with truffle – and especially into the fat, place on a trivet in the roasting tray and cook for 20 minutes for medium rare (15 minutes for rare).

5. Cut the panisse (recipe below) into fat slices, toss in 1 tbsp olive oil and season with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Place on a baking tray (half sheet pan) in the oven at the same time as the beef. Take the haricot beans out of the fridge.

6. Finely chop half a fat shallot and gently fry in 1 tsp olive oil until translucent.

Allow beef to rest for at least 15 minutes (covered in foil) then carve on diagonal (image: Sheree)

7. Take the beef out of the oven, cover with aluminium foil and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, turn over the panisse and switch off the oven.

8. Add 1 tsp unsalted butter to the shallots then add the haricots, warm through for ten minutes before serving.

9. Discard the fat and the bone  – I give the bone to a neighbour’s dog – and slice the beef on the diagonal. Serve with the crisp green beans and panisse, which should be golden and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside – just like roast potatoes. Serve with the juices from the meat and enjoy.

Sunday roast is served (image: Sheree)

 

Panisse ingredients

  • 1 litre (4 cups) filtered water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¾ tsp sea salt
  • 285g (2¼ cups) finely ground chick pea (garbanzo) flour

Method

1. Lightly oil a 23cm (9 inch) square cake tin and line with cling film (plastic wrap).

2. Bring the water, oil and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan. Don’t let it boil!

3. Whisk in the sieved chick pea flour and continue whisking, to avoid lumps, until it thickens – about three minutes.

4. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes very thick. This generally takes around ten minutes and helps you work up a bit more of an appetite.

5. Pile the mixture into the oiled and lined baking tin, smoothing the surface with a pallet knife and leave it to cool.

6. Once cold, tip out onto a chopping board and cut into servings and cook as suggested above.

7. In Nice panisse are shaped a bit like flying saucers because they pour the mixture into saucers to set. They’ll keep for a week in the fridge but I generally freeze any excess for up to three months.

Sheree’s handy hints

1. It’s important to cook meat from room temperature otherwise the centre of the meat won’t be sufficiently cooked. We’ve all been served wonderfully caramelised steaks and burgers only to discover when we cut into the meat that it’s cold and raw on the inside – send it back!

2. If you prefer you can cook the beef by initially browning it well on both sides in an oven-proof frying pan (skillet) and then popping into the pre-heated oven for a further 5-10 minutes depending on how rare you like your meat.

3. Obviously, you can serve the beef with whatever you want but choose side dishes that you can easily prepare in advance and then pop into the oven with the beef to reheat or finish cooking on the hob.

The Musette: melon gazpacho

What do you do when your fridge freezes everything? “Isn’t that the fridge freezer you recently paid a small fortune to have mended?” I hear you ask? Yes, it is! We returned from vacation to discover the temperature of the freezer was -25C, and the fridge -10C. I fiddled about – a technical term – with the inner dials and managed to increase the temperature of the fridge to -8C. Hardly a result.

I rang the company that services my appliances only to be advised that my technician of choice was on vacation until 20 August, but would be able to visit on 31 August. Yikes! An awful lot of fridge/freeezers must be playing up. Are they all Gaggenau?

The company promised the technician would give me a call with some advice before the end of the month, so I sent him a video which I hope might help him diagnose the problem. So, now what to do with some partly frozen fruit and veg?

When we ate out last week, my beloved had Melon Gazpacho as a starter. So, that’s what I made. It was really refreshing, just what’s needed in the hot weather.

Ingredients (lunch for 2)

  • 1 medium sized melon
  • half hot house cucumber
  • spring onion (scallion)
  • 240ml (cup) filtered water
  • bunch coriander
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

Method

1. Remove rind and seeds from melon. Chop everything into bite sized chunks and add to liquidiser. Process until smoothish and taste to check seasonings.

2. Pour into bowls while still chilled and enjoy.

Now, could anything be simpler than that recipe? Anwers below please!

 

 

The Musette: vegan tortilla de patatas

I love potato tortillas though I’m really not supposed to eat them as they contain eggs, lots of them. So I’ve been looking into vegan alternatives and found this recipe in Richard Buckley’s excellent book Plants Taste Better. It’s one of my more recent acquisitions and I’ve been itching for some free time to try a number of his recipes.

Ahead of a family wedding, where both of us are a bit concerned about fitting into our designated wedding outfits, my beloved is partly embracing my vegan lifestyle and, in addition, has given up desserts and alcohol. From past experience, I know this is all he needs to do to drop those last stubborn kilos. So this tortilla looked ideal fare for a light lunch.

This recipe also gave me an opportunity to try out my new double tortilla pan picked up while on our most recent vacation. Is it as good as the real thing? Honestly? No, it’s nowhere near as unctuous however it is seriously tasty.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 100g (31/2oz) gram (chickpea) flour, sifted
  • 150ml (2/3cup) filtered water
  • 800g (1lb 12oz) waxy potatoes
  • 500-750ml (2-3 cups) olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 5g (1tsp) sea salt
  • 1 tsp hot smoked pimenton (optional)

Method

1. Put the sieved gram flour into a sterile bowl and whisk in the filtered water to form a smooth batter. Cover with a clean cloth and leave the bowl somewhere warm (22°C/71°F) for 24-48 hours. The longer the fermentation period, the better the flavour.

2. Cut the unpeeled potatoes into rings or 1cm (1/2″) dice and place in a saucepan. Cover completely with olive oil and heat gently until it starts to boil. Stir gently, from time to time, to prevent the potatoes from sticking. Once the oil is bubbling, add the finely sliced onion and simmer gently until the potato is cooked, about 15 minutes. Once cooked, strain the contents of the saucepan through a sieve over a bowl to catch the oil.

3. While it’s still warm, add the potato and onion mixture to the batter with the salt and pimenton.

4. Put a couple of tablespoons of the previously heated oil into a 23cm (9″) frying pan (skillet) and heat gently. When hot, tip in the batter. Flatten it down with a wooden spoon, making sure there are no gaps. Fry gently until the bottom is firm and golden brown.

5. Ensure the tortilla is loose in the pan, then firmly hold a plate over the top, invert the tortilla onto the plate and then slide it back into the pan to cook the underside.

6. Once cooked, turn out onto a board and allow to cool to room temperature before cutting into slices and serving with crusty bread and a sharp tomato relish (see below).

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.To cut down on the calorific content, I boiled my potatoes in their skins, peeled and then diced them before adding while warm to the batter along with some spring (salad) onions.

2. Instead of inverting the tortilla onto a plate I (successfully) used my double frying pan.

3. I made my sharp tomato relish with 4 large peeled and diced tomatoes to which I added a finely diced shallot, a tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tsp cider vinegar, a tsp sea salt and some coasely ground pepper. Mash slightly with a fork and allow the flavours to mingle before serving with the tortilla. This relish is all about the quality of the tomatoes.

The Musette: coconut financieres

When I make crème anglais (custard), ice cream and lemon curd, I have a lot of leftover egg whites. But I don’t throw these away Instead I store or freeze them to use later in meringues, buttercream, angel food cake, pavlova, mousse, nougat, marshmallow and financieres.

The cakes were created in the late 1800s by a bakery near the Paris Bourse. They were named and made for the wealthy bankers who frequented the shop. The cakes are rich with brown butter, small and crumbless for portability, shaped like a gold bar – ideal for a busy banker or handy for a cyclist’s back pocket. Financieres are very forgiving and versatile cakes which can be made in a variety of small shapes and flavour combinations. Typically they’re made with ground blanched almonds which have little flavour so I like to play around with them and one of my favourite combinations uses coconut and coconut sugar which I think gives them a more unctuous and interesting flavour.

Defrosted egg whites to the left

Ingredients (makes 72 petit four sized cakes)

  • 180g (3 cups) desiccated coconut
  • 150g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 75g (¾ cup) coconut sugar
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 225g (8oz) egg whites (7-8 egg whites)
  • 90g (3oz) butter ‘beurre noisette’
  • 110g (4oz) clarified butter
  • 120g (1 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour

Method

1. Prepare the beurre noisette (‘hazelnut’ butter, so called for the scent of hazelnuts the browned butter produces), cut the butter into pieces, melt it in a small saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat. Once the butter boils, keep a close eye on it — you want it to turn a golden brown. The deeper the colour, the better the flavour, but be careful not to let the butter burn and go black — something that can happen very quickly.

2. Melt the rest of the butter in another saucepan over a low heat, remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool and for the milk solids to settle.

3. In a large mixing bowl combine the coconut, sugars and salt and fold in the egg whites.

4. Add all the butters (but not the solids) in three steps, mixing thoroughly after each addition.

5. Sift the flour onto a piece of greaseproof (parchment) paper and add in three stages folding gently each time to incorporate.

6. Cover the batter with cling film (plastic wrap) and chill for several hours or overnight in the fridge.

The batter will firm up in the fridge

7. Take the batter out of the fridge. Pre-heat oven to 190ºC/170ºC fan/gas mark 5 (375ºF/325ºF fan).

8. Generously butter  – financiere batter is notoriously sticky – and then sugar your preferred baking moulds – the smaller the better. I use mini muffin and mini financiere tins.

9. Fill mould three-quarters full – I use a small ice cream scoop so that they’re all the same size – place tins on baking sheet, put in centre of oven and bake for about 15 minutes. The cakes should be a dark golden brown, springy to the touch and easy to pull away from the sides of the pan.

10. Unmould the cakes as soon as you remove the tins from the oven. If necessary, run the handle of a teaspoon or a blunt knife around the edges of the cakes to help ease them out. Transfer the financieres to a wire rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

11. The cakes are best eaten they day they’re made but they’ll keep in the cake tin for 1-2 days, providing you can resist temptation, or sit in the freezer for a month.

Little bars and coins of chewy deliciousness

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the financieres in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. With financieres it’s all about the ratio of crisp exterior to soft chewy interior which is why they’re so often served as petit fours.

4. If you bake yours in silicone moulds, still generously butter the form as it’ll create the much-desired crispy outer crust.

5. Once you’re conversant with the recipe, experiment. I often use ground pistachios instead of coconut and add some matcha tea powder to intensify that gorgeous green colour.

6. If you make larger ones you can pop some fruit in the centre, raspberries with pistachios, pineapple with coconut, apricots or peaches with almonds – there’s no end to the possibilities.

7. You can even make savoury ones but leave out the sugar!

8. The batter will keep for a week or so in the fridge so there’s no need to bake them all at once.

The Musette: beignets de fleurs de courgettes

Went down to my local market this morning and all the vegetable stall holders had beautiful golden courgette flowers. I first ate these stuffed many, many years ago at a Father’s Day Luncheon at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons – such a delight. Since moving to France this is one of my favourite summer treats, despite them being deep fried! I bought some and rushed home to prepare them for lunch.

 

Ingredients (12 pieces, starter for 4 hungry cyclists or main course for 2)

  • 20g (3/4 oz) aquafaba or 1 large egg yolk
  • 125g (1/2 cup) self-raising flour
  • 175ml (3/4 cup) ice-cold sparkling water
  • 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
  • pinch sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 12 courgette (zucchini) flowers

Method

1. Firstly, if necessary, separate the flowers from each courgette and check them for insects, remove the stamens, cut any large ones in two, and set them all aside. Save the courgettes (zucchini) for another dish, another day.

2. Heat a 10cm/1 litre (4 cups) depth of oil in a suitable deep, heavy-based saucepan until it registers 140°C (285°F) on a frying thermometer.

3. In the meantime, make the batter: sift the flour and  turmeric together and add the salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl, then whisk in the aquafaba, olive oil and sparkling water. The batter should be quite light.

4. Cook 2–4 courgette flowers at a time, depending on their size and the diameter of your pan: dip the flowers into the batter to coat, then carefully lower them into the hot oil. Deep-fry for 1– 2 minutes, until puffed up, crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Serve with lemon wedges and, if you like, a spicy sauce. I love Sriracha mayonnaise (vegan mayonnaise mixed with Sriracha sauce)!