The Musette: sticky banana pudding

Got a couple of bananas hanging around in the fruit bowl? Okay so you could make that lockdown staple banana bread or cake but why not make pudding instead? You all know how my beloved husband loves his puddings!

This self-saucing, all in one pudding is baked until the sponge has risen and set, while underneath lurks a luscious sticky sauce. If you fancy something sweet, sticky and utterly yummy, you can’t go wrong with this pudding, especially served with good-quality vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 125g (1 cup) plain (all purpose) flour, though I tend to use wholemeal
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 115g (2/3 cup) raw cane sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 medium-sized bananas
  • 250ml (1 cup) milk or plant-based equivalent
  • 85g (1/3 cup) unsalted butter or coconut oil, melted
  • 1 medium egg or 1 tbsp chia seeds and 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp natural vanilla extract

Topping

  • 115g (2/3 cup) raw cane sugar
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan). Grease a 2-ltr (1 lb) baking dish and put the dish on a baking tray.

2. Make the topping by putting the sugar, golden syrup and 250ml (1 cup) boiling water in a small saucepan and bringing it gently to the boil. Take off the heat.

3. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the salt, sugar. Mix to combine well.

4. In another bowl mash the banana with the milk, melted butter, egg and vanilla and whisk together well.

5. Add wet ingredients to dry and incorporate gently using figure of eight movements with a spatula.

6. Pour into the baking dish and put the dish on a baking tray.

7. Carefully pour the topping evenly over the pudding, then bake for 30-40 minutes or until cooked through when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool slightly – if you can – before serving with vanilla ice cream or cream.

The Musette: courgette fritters

I’ve made courgette fritters for years, initially using a recipe from that domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. However, I’ve shifted to making them less dairy laden and more acceptable to a wider range of regimes.

The word fritter usually conjures up something deep-fried, fat-laden, and overall heavy but these easy courgette (zucchini) fritters are testament that lighter ones are possible. Grated courgette joins forces with onion, flour, eggs, and grated Parmesan cheese to make low calorie, delicious little green pancakes that can be a light vegetarian meal, meze or side dish to a Mediterranean-style meal.

Fritters should be crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. If there’s one thing I loathe it’s soggy fritters, they are a big no-no. The only way to avoid sogginess is to wring out the excess liquid from the courgettes.  Grate, salt, leave in the colander for 10 minutes, then wring out. I know this can be a painful process but there’s really no way around it. In addition to removing the excess water, I like to add a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese to the batter. It both amps up the umami flavor and increases the crisp factor. I also like to use baking powder, which I believe helps enormously in making lighter fritters. You can leave it out, but do try it, you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes.

Ingredients (Makes about 12 small or 6 medium fritters)

  • 2 medium courgettes (or 4 small), coarsely grated
  • 11/2 tsp sea salt, divided
  • 2 spring onions (scallions), minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten or 1 tbsp chia seeds + 3 tbsp water
  • ½ cup all purpose flour (or GF flour or almond flour)
  • 1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast)
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil or mint, chopped
  • 1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 fat clove confit garlic (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. Place grated courgette (zucchini) in a colander, add 1 teaspoon of salt, toss and set aside for 10 minutes.

2. Wrap grated courgettes in a clean dish towel/kitchen paper/cheesecloth, squeezing and wringing all the moisture you can out of them. This step helps the fritters brown better, even when using less oil. It also keeps them from turning soggy and falling apart in the pan.

3. Place squeezed courgette in a bowl and add all the other ingredients, including remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and ground black pepper. Mix until well combined. The batter should be dropping consistency.

3. Heat two tablespoons of olive in a frying pan (skillet) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Drop two scant tablespoons of zucchini mixture onto the pan, press them flat with the help of a spatula and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.

4. Make only a few fritters at a time, do not crown the pan, so that the oil temperature doesn’t drop. Drain briefly on paper towels to soak up any excess grease and keep warm.

5. Serve with Greek yogurt, plant-based yoghurt or sour cream, and sprinkle with finely chopped scallions if you like. We eat them with my chilli and tomato jam.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can, of course, make fritters from a variety of vegetables. Experiment to your heart’s content once you’ve mastered the basics.

2. Feel free to add a tablespoon or two of fresh herbs. I like freshly chopped basil or mint and lemon zest with courgettes but parsley would work too with maybe some chopped capers.

3. You need a batter that’s of dropping consistencey. If it’s too wet add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry add some water a teaspoon at a time.

4. I rarely use raw garlic as it’s too strong a flavour. I always keep a jar of confit garlic (home-made) in the fridge for use in my cooking.

 

The Musette: spiced caramel tart

During the summer months we like inviting friends round for lazy Sunday lunches. You could call it a picnic on the terrace except that I can serve dishes I wouldn’t necessarily take to an extenal picnic, largely because of logistics. In keeping with the warm temperatures, I like to offer a selection of cold appetisers, main courses and desserts most of which can easily be prepared in advance, particularly the day before.

This spiced caramel tart recipe is simple to make, but the beautiful just-set texture of the filling elevates it to showstopper status. It looks innocent enough but really packs a flavour punch. Be sure to properly caramelise the sugar to achieve the required rich, deep and nutty flavour.

Ingredients (serves 10)

Sweet shortcrust pastry

  • 300g (2 3/4 cups) all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 200g (2 sticks, less 1 tbsp) ice-cold, unsalted butter
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 2 organic egg yolks, for egg wash

Spiced caramel filling

  • 150g (1 1/2 cup) caster (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
  • 1 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
  • 750ml (3 cups) cream
  • 3 sheets gelatine, (6g)

Method

1. Preheat an oven to 210°C/190°C Fan/(410°F)/gas mark 7. Lightly grease a 20cm (8″) loose-bottomed tart tin, sprinkle evenly with flour and set aside.

2. To make the pastry, combine the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can also do this in a mixing bowl by rubbing the flour and butter together using your fingers, then stirring in the sugar once a breadcrumb texture has been achieved). Continue to mix until the dough just starts to come together, then turn out and lightly knead until smooth – do not overwork, or the pastry will be tough.

3. Roll the pastry out to a 3mm thickness. Using your rolling pin, roll up the pastry and drape over the tart tin. Very gently press the pastry into the edges, using a rolled up scrap of pastry to assist you. Line with ovenproof cling film, baking paper or foil, fill with a blind-baking mixture (you can use rice, baking beads, coins whatever) and blind-bake for 15–17 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the blind-baking mixture and brush the tart with egg yolk – this will help to seal the case. Return to the oven for a few minutes until golden brown all over, then remove and allow to cool.

4. To make the filling, add the sugar, nutmeg and vanilla seeds into a large pan and place over a medium heat. Heat the cream in a separate saucepan and soften the gelatine in iced water.

5.  When the sugar has melted into a golden caramel, remove from the heat and pour in the warmed cream, whisking vigorously – take care as the hot caramel will spit.

6. Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out any excess liquid. Add to the caramel mixture and stir until dissolved. Strain through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl set over an ice bath.

7. Once the mixture has cooled slightly, pour into the tart case and allow to set in the fridge (at least 4 hours but preferably overnight).

8. This sweet, rich tart needs no adornment but, if you feel the need………….just go ahead.

Teatime in the blogosphere with Sue

As you know I love nothing better than an afternoon tea party and, consequently, have decided to join Sue’s teatime one.

While she’s about to experience the shortest day, I’m looking forward to the longest and the official start of summer here in France. Sue’s not unnaturally looking for something to keep her warm – soup anyone? I love the fact that she’s taken the recipe of a well-known chef and made it her own.

I, on the other hand, am enjoying warm sunshine moderated by a gentle breeze on my balcony, where we eat many a meal throughout the year. Summer of course also heralds picnics, I’ve already blogged about how popular picnics are in France. Barely a week goes by without us enjoying one on our own or, more usually, with a crowd of friends.

In the last couple of weeks, the majority of our Covid 19-related restrictions have been lifted but we’re still taking things gingerly. However, we have been entertaining friends and vice versa, plus we’ve been out and about supporting our favourite local restaurants. We’ve also used the time (wisely) to visit lots of our lovely local villages where it’s been so much easier to take photographs, without the usual hordes of tourists, and really appreciate these places. I like to think of it as a small window of opportunity of which we’re taking full advantage.

In addition, I’ve enjoyed the return of the English Premiership where my beloved boys in claret and blue (Aston Villa FC) kicked off the resumption of the season with a home draw. It’s going to be a nail-biting finish to the season. Will we stay up or drop back down into the Championship? I so hope we avoid the dreaded bounce. Meanwhile, there’s the forthcoming resumption of MotoGP and cycle racing to look forward to too.

On an even more serious note, like Sue, I’m disheartened about the violence and injustices happening all around the world. So little seems to have changed, but that doesn’t mean we should give up trying.

So what am I going to serve at my virtual tea party?

Let’s start with the refreshments. I generally serve Marco Polo tea by Mariage Frères, much my favourite tea which always finds favour with other tea drinkers. I’ll also serve iced tea for those that prefer a cold drink and, of course, coffee. If it’s a bit of an occasion, and I think this qualifies as such, I may break out a bottle of Champagne. Of course, should everyone linger over afternoon tea, we might find ourselves in Apéro time where my husband may be only too happy to whip up one of his cocktails. Sadly, it’s unlikely that Lenny will have time to drop by but, hey, a girl can hope!

The French like to try a little of everything, so I tend to prefer everything in miniature, bite sized portions. Petit-four sized cakes and scones, mini sandwiches, quiches, sausage rolls, tortillas………you get the general idea.

Why a virtual tea party?

Sue sees it as a fun way to share her love of food and conversation. Plus. it’s an afformation for Sue of the importance of her blogging community. She can’t invite us ll round to hers, so this is the next best thing!

Why don’t you join in?

Sue would to hear from you. What are you doing/reading/making? Your thoughts on the food, the drinks, and whatever she’s rambling on about. What’s making you happy or pissing you off? It’s your comments that make blogging so much more interesting.

And if, like me, you’d like to contribute a post of your own – even better. Maybe a shot of your cuppa and/or whatever you’re having with it. A recipe if you like.

Sue will update each of her posts with a ping-back to everyone else’s.

Don’t forget the #virtualteaparty2020 for anyone on Instagram who wants to post images (or even video?)

I hope you enjoy my small contribution to Sue’s virtual tea party. Sx

 

The Musette: almond marzipan batons

Hands down these are our favourite biscuits. Or, should that be biscotti since we generally buy them in Italy, made from almonds or pistachios, either as batons or more usually crescents. I’ve also seen way larger versions, tipped in chocolate, in Germany where they’re called Mandelhörnchen.

These satisfy my desire for something made with almonds, that’s dairy and gluten-free, and allows me to use up any egg whites lolling around in the fridge. Yes, I know I could freeze them but this is way more exciting. I also keep handy blocks of home-made marzipan in the freezer, as you do!

I’m not sure why I’ve never attempted to recreate these nutty crescents before, especially considering how easy they were to make. In any event, the texture was spot on: crispy on the outside with added crunch from the sliced almonds, with a soft and dreamy, chewy marzipan-like interior.

As I said, these were very easy to make, all you need is some some raw marzipan and the rest of the ingredients are easily thrown together.  You can, of course, use shop-bought marzipan but I recommend making your own (recipe below)  – cheaper and it tastes so much better!

Ingredients (makes 12 crescents)

  • 250g (8 oz) homemade or shop bought marzipan, chopped into small chunks
  • 120g (1 cup) blanched finely ground almonds
  • 125g (1 cup) icing (powdered) sugar, plus more for dredging
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed  organic lemon juice
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g) for brushing
  • 110g (1 cup) sliced blanched almonds

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/(325F/300F) gas 3½. In a food processor, grind the almonds to a flour, then add the sifted icing sugar, salt, lemon juice, marzipan, and egg white. Process in bursts until the mixture comes together in a thick and tacky, but not overly sticky, dough.

2. If it’s too sticky add a little more ground almonds and/or sugar to it. Wrap the dough in cling film (plastic wrap) and chill for at least 30 minutes (Note: this paste can be made days in advance).

3. When you’re ready to make the biscotti, break the dough off into pieces and roll them into golf-ball sized balls. Then roll each ball into a small log, tapering it off so each end is a little thinner. Or, for ease, just roll into short batons.

4. Use a pastry brush to brush egg white all over the dough.

5. Roll each biscotti into the slivered almonds. They don’t have to be completely coated. Now bend each into the shape of a crescent and place them on a lined cookie sheet leaving space in between, or just leave as batons.

6. Bake the marzipan almond horns/batons on the middle shelf for 10-15 minutes or until the tips are just starting to turn golden. Remove and let them cool completely before dredging in more icing sugar.

7. In theory these will last a week in airtight storage, in practice they disappear in nano seconds.

8. You can further embellish them with chocolate, in which case don’t dredge with icing sugar. Instead dip the ends or one half into melted chocolate (dark) or ganache. Place the biscotti back on the baking sheet or other surface to let the chocolate harden.

Homemade Marzipan

  • 180g (1 1/2 cups) blanched ground almonds
  • 190g (1 1/2 cups) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 1 tsp pure almond extract
  • 1 egg white (approx. 40g)

1. Place the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined and any lumps are broken up. Add the almond extract and pulse to combine.

2. Add the egg white and process until a thick dough is formed. If the mass is still too wet and sticky, add more powdered sugar and ground almonds. Remember: it will become firmer after it’s been refrigerated.

3. Turn the almond marzipan out onto a work surface and knead it a few times. Form it into a log, wrap it up in cling film (plastic wrap) and refrigerate.

4. It will keep for at least a month in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before using it in any recipe.

5. Makes approx 400g marzipan/almond paste (approx 14oz).

One from the vaults: I’d like to be able to tell you…………..

This is rather more recent from June 2017 and it explains when and how I first started to cook.

One of my friends recently asked me how long I’d been cooking. I would’ve liked to tell her that I learned to cook at my grandmother’s or mother’s knee but that would be a lie. I showed very little interest or even aptitude for cooking until my late teens. Home economics had been a disaster with most of my offerings ending up in the waste bin, deemed unsuitable for human or animal consumption.

This changed when I had a Saturday job waitressing at a restaurant in Birmingham. One day, when the restaurant was short staffed, I found myself cooking English breakfasts. It wasn’t exactly a success but no one died and no one complained. I set about this new task with vigour, adding grilled tomatoes and fried bread to the restaurant’s cooked breakfast offering. Eventually I got a rave review in the local rag and a number of bookings for wedding breakfasts. Try cooking breakfast for 32 people at the same time – it’s a challenge!

A year or two later, at university, I met the love of my life and wooed him via his stomach. It worked, we married and, having very little money, I started making edible presents for family and friends. We entertained at home, rather than dining out, and I started to acquire what has now become an extensive library of cookery books, and limited expertise in the kitchen.

We moved to London, life got busier and I had less and less time to spend cooking. We still entertained, but less frequently. Years passed and my cookery books started collecting dust. A few years ago, I decided to throw it all in, move to France and spend time doing the things I wanted to do, including re-discovering my love of cooking.

Our first Christmas in France, we held a cocktail party to thank our neighbours for their understanding during the lengthy renovations of our flat. I was delighted when they asked me where I had purchased the delicious nibbles I’d served and they were astonished when I told them I had made them myself. Yes, quelle surprise, the British can cook.

A few of my French friends joke that I’ve got a Michelin star – if only! But I’m never happier than when hordes of friends are coming over and I’m cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Many of these friendships have come about through our mutual love of cycling, rather than cooking.

It was my husband who first took up cycling. At week-ends, I would get up early to cook him an energising breakfast and would have lunch waiting for him on his return. I experimented – not always successfully – with energy bars to sustain him on his rides.

When I too started riding, I began to help out at cycling club events. France doesn’t have a tradition of ending a ride with a coffee and cake. There’s no need. Clubs take it in turn to organise rides most Sundays. Drinks and snacks are provided at a pre-agreed rendezvous point. Some of these pointages are spectacular with the local villages providing untold goodies to tempt us to visit, while others are downright shameful. Personally, I think the clubs should be awarded stars, or maybe toques, for their efforts.

At our cycling club’s various events, I decided that our unique selling feature would be a selection of my home-make sweet and savoury cakes to supplement the shop bought ones. It was a universally popular move  among the local cycling fraternity. At one such event, the local mayor declared that:

 Not only have the British taken over the Tour de France but their women are clearly much better cooks than we thought.

I think that was a case of being dammed with faint praise, but hey ho! In addition, I have catered for participants (up to 500) in a number of local races, club events and for our large and merry band of volunteers to say “thank you” for their tireless efforts at said events. It’s a strategy that’s made me (in)famous the length of the Cote d’Azur. My hand has been sought in marriage by many a local rider and there’s now a long list of pretenders to my beloved husband’s throne.

 

The Musette: lemon curd

During lockdown my precious preserves store has been not just depleted but emptied!

I decided I would start by making some lemon curd for a friend’s husband. He loves my lemon curd and is quite a keen cook himself. He recently gave my beloved some of his homemade marmalade which was adjudged not bad! I’m not allowed to gift anyone a jar of the marmalade I make for my beloved, so lemon curd it was.

If you’ve ever made it on the top of the stove, you know it can be quite tricky, requiring your full attention, lots of patience, straining and waiting. Well, guess what? There’s a way to cut to the chase and make lemon curd from scratch in around six minutes! Rich, creamy, thick and bright this lemon curd is the real deal made with so much more ease in a fraction of the time!

Ingredients (make a large jar)

  • 115g (8 tbsp) unsalted organic butter
  • 130g (2/3 cup) caster sugar
  • 2 unwaxed organic lemons, zested
  • 120ml (½ cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 medium organic eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

Method

1. Place the butter, sugar, lemon zest and juice into a microwave proof bowl and microwave on medium power for 4 minutes, just until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.

2. Beat the eggs and egg yolk together until very smooth (sieve the mixture to make it ultra smooth). Stir the eggs into the butter mixture.

3. Microwave again on medium for 3-4 minutes, stirring every minute, until the curd has thickened. The lemon curd is done when it coats the back of a spoon nicely. Additionally, it will become more opaque, forming a lovely sold bright yellow colour. This is how you know the eggs are fully cooked.

4. Allow to cool slightly before pouring into a sterile jar, covering the surface to prevent a skin forming.

5. Store in the fridge.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. DO NOT be tempted to use store-bought lemon juice, you need the fresh flavour and acidity provided by real lemons to make the right flavour.

2. Either mix the sugar with the lemon zest in your food processor, or use a small microplane to zest the lemons. If they’re not organic, wash well beforehand to remove the wax finish.

3. Always use room temperature eggs.

4. Use raw or coconut sugar to make this with an unrefined sugar.

5. Lemon curd is one of my favourite things to keep on hand as it really dresses up everything from cakes and ice cream to fresh berries and cream.

6. The lemon curd will keep fresh in the fridge for 3-4 weeks. All you have to do is put it in an airtight container, or a sterile jar, and lay cling Film (wrap) directly onto the surface to prevent it from forming a skin.

7. It goes without saying that this makes a lovely gift, and no one will ever know you made it in a matter of minutes.

 

 

Things about France that surprised me: the French love of picnics

Almost 30 years ago, for reasons best known to himself, my beloved bought me a two-person picnic hamper. Before moving to France, I had used it twice. Both times to picnic in Cleveland Square Gardens with my god-daughter. However, it’s now one of the things we chuck in the car (not literally) every time we go on a road trip in Europe. Yes, our French friends have converted us to the joys of picnicking. You see, although France is well known for its culinary prowess, French people LOVE to picnic! During summer it seems like every meal is taken outdoors. The sun doesn’t set until after 10pm so the picnics go on until late in the evening in public places.

What initally surprised me was how casual the gatherings were. Maybe it’s just me, but when I plan  – you know how I love planning – a picnic, I usually try to make it a little fancy and do a lot of food preparation ahead of time, like the cheese and charcuterie board pictured below. In France, there’s no big co-ordination or preparation and things tend to get organised on the hoof. People just pack a bunch of seemingly random things and show up. Once in situ, everyone takes everything out and it’s potluck. There’s much more emphasis on the social aspect than who brought or made what food. Though the French still like to eat in courses. Even for a casual picnic there will be an appetiser, main course, cheese and dessert. There is always dessert!

Let’s look at how le pique-nique took hold. It started with a shady grove of trees, a soft grassy patch, a small pond or lake with a boat on it. Then someone tipped over a basket lined with grape or fig leaves, spilling peaches, cherries, and figs onto a blue brocade dress doubling as a tablecloth. A pouf of bread sat nearby. No wonder Édouard Manet’s painting was quickly renamed from “Le Bain” (“The Bath”) to Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe,” or “Luncheon on the Grass.” While the food might have seemed like an afterthought to the formally attired men gazing at the nude, it was the start of a 19th century French trend to romanticise the countryside that would continue onto Instagram today.

The bucolic but scandalous ideal of Manet’s pique-nique was quickly followed by Monet, who added substantially to the spread on an actual tablecloth: two bottles of wine and brandy, more peaches and plums, a loaf of bread, two sturdy saucissons, a roast chicken and a towering meat pie. By now the idea of a picnic had taken shape with the French population. Whereas peasants might have eaten a midday meal or a casse-croûte (snack) in the field, it was the newly industrialised Parisians that forever defined the idea of picnicking.

So taking our clues from the painterly masters, what is essential for a French picnic today? Location is crucial: a shady, sunny, grassy soft, flat, tabled place near water – on a lake, along a river, by the beach. ‘Who’ is a group of friends and family; people we want to share our time and food with. ‘When’ is critical because the weather must co-operate so that even a trek through snow on a sunny day can be as acceptable as a perfect May afternoon under a shady grove near a lake. ‘What’ might seem trivial at this point, but in fact what makes a great picnic is the obligatory tablecloth, baskets from which all the food magically spills out, and of course, the food itself. Open to interpretation the food can be as simple as a loaf of bread, some cheese and charcuterie, and a bottle of wine – or elaborate as in a towering meat-and-game pie and crystal goblets of Champagne.

Here’s my formula for a perfect picnic:-

Bread

I have an Italian girlfriend who makes the most divine focaccia which pretty much guarantees her an invite to any of our local picnics. If we’re really lucky, she’ll also make some farinata. In addition, you simply cannot beat some delicious, crispy, sour-dough bread, preferably baguettes, either home-made or from one of our local bakeries. It’s simply not a picnic without bread.

Nibbles

For the all important appetiser, I like a selection which might include savoury cake, a cold soup such as gazpacho, some marinated olives or tapenade on slices of toasted bread, socca crisps, truffle butter popcorn….you get the idea. Little morsels of deliciousness that you can just pop into your mouth while the picnic is being laid out.

Charcuterie

Slices of beautifully cooked artisanal ham, salami, pork or duck rillettes (home-made) with the obligatory cornichons, maybe some salty Parma ham to go with a juicy, apricot-fleshed melon, a roast chicken still warm from the rotisserie. I could go on but you get the general idea. If I’ve had enough notice, I may make a  raised game or pork pie, these are always well received. Mostly, I’ll make individual tortillas or crustless individual quiches.

Cheese

No picnic would be complete without cheese. But, just so long as it’s ready to eat and flavourful, pretty much any cheese is acceptable. I prefer to either have a whole one, such as brie or camembert, or a trio maybe a creamy blue one, a sharp crumbly goat’s cheese and a hard one made from cow’s milk – ensure that there’s plenty of contrast in the flavours.

Seasonal Produce

Most of my friends grow their own salad stuff so we can generally rely on one of them to provide a delicious chopped mixed salad, plus a vinagrette dressing. Strawberries, grapes, figs, cherries, melon or other perfectly ripe seasonal fruits are obligatory. I also look at vegetables in the same way. Fresh crudités of grated carrots and celeriac, bunched radishes, or crowd-pleasing salads such as coleslaw, potato and pickled vegetables complete and enliven the meal.

Dessert

Fresh fruit not enough? No, there must be a dessert. I usually take along something that’s easy to cut and serve such as brownies, banana cake, tangerine and almond cake. Or maybe I’ll make a crostata. In any event, a small slice of something sweet and delicious completes the meal.

Drinks

Water, soft drinks, a chilled rosé or champagne, Aperol Spritz, some craft beers are all de riguer for any picnic, plus the means to keep them cool, also flasks of tea and coffee.

It’s fair to say that over the years of living in France our picnic equipment has expanded well beyond our original hamper (header picture). We now have enough cool boxes, unbreakable and reusable crockery and cutlery, serving bowls and dishes to cater for up to 25 people!

 

 

The Musette: cherry clafoutis

In full bloom

As we head big time into cherry season here, it seems only right and proper that I’ve prepared a French Classic using these fresh, succulent, juicy red cherries. However, bottled ones or frozen will do just as well. This is yet another recipe where every French woman declares that her grandmother’s recipe is simply the best.

Lots of plump juicy griottines

Traditionally this dessert is made with whole cherries but I prefer to remove the stones. Safer for everyone’s teeth!

Ingredients (serves six)

  • 350g (approx 12oz) sweet cherries, washed, stems removed and pitted
  • 150g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp freshly finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 medium organic eggs, approx 40g (1½oz) in weight without the shell
  • 2 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 50g (¾ cup) freshly ground almonds
  • 100g (1 cup) crème fraîche
  • 100ml (⅓ cup + 2 tbsp) milk, buttermilk or cream
  • ¼ tsp of fine sea salt
  • Icing (powdered) sugar for dusting

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).

2. Butter the base and sides of a 20cm (8″) square baking dish or similar.

3. Place the cherries into the bottom of the dish. A lot of recipes call for the fruit to be added after the batter, but I prefer to keep the contents a surprise and not have them poking through the batter where they might catch and char. In addition, cherries often bleed their juices into the batter which I personally think makes the dish look less attractive.

4. Whisk the eggs, salt, lemon zest and sugar until light and fluffy.

5. Sift in the flour and gently fold into the egg mixture with the ground almonds.

6. Then gently stir in the milk and crème fraîche.

7. Pour the batter over the cherries, place the baking dish into a bain marie (water bath)  – I find this helps the dish cook more evenly – put it in the centre of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and set. The batter will rise up and then sink back down again.

8. Allow to cool for 15 minutes or so – it tastes better warm – before dusting with icing (powdered) sugar and serving with a big dollop of crème fraîche!

I like it best just warm

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 clafoutis in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. You can make clafoutis using pretty much any soft fruit or berries. I’ve made them with raspberries, pears, plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines. I tend to change around the flavourings to suit the fruit. For example if I use plums, I’ll infuse the milk with cinnamon and star anise and omit the lemon zest. It’s yet another recipe where you can let your imagination take over.

4. I’ve also make clafoutis with ground pistachios – they turn the batter a delicate jade green – and cherries but have found that when using hazelnuts or walnuts, the remaining bits of skin adhering to the nuts gives the batter an unfortunate muddy colour.

5. The dish can also be turned into a savoury one. Omit the sugar, fruit and lemon zest, substituting approx 100g (3½oz) cubes of feta cheese and a similar amount of cherry tomatoes and half that amount of pitted black olives. Or add 250g (9oz) of chopped roasted vegetables to the batter. A handful of complimentary chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, dill or a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme wouldn’t go amiss.

Friday Photo Challenge – comfort food

Today’s challenge is comfort food. That’s an apt description for most of the recipes in my The Musette series generally posted on Saturdays, so I have plenty of ammunition! Here goes:-

 

I’m much enjoying these weekly challenges hosted on alternate weeks by either Amanda or Sandy because they force me to think about what’s in my photo archives and how I might re-use them.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not join in the fun?

Friendly Friday