In her new pastry cookbook, Gâteau – The Surprising Simplicity of French Cakes, award-winning American culinary writer, Aleksandra Crapanzano, explores how Parisians shop and bake. Here she offers baking information and tips, as well as two great recipes.
I’ve written a dessert column for the Wall Street Journal for nearly a dozen years, so it’s no wonder, I guess, that I want to debunk the great myth that Parisians come home from work and whip up a batch of impossible desserts. . delicate macarons or, say, a layer of millefeuille, and also to highlight the brilliance of French home baking because the classics are, indeed, brilliant.
Many of the recipes in this book date back, in one way or another, hundreds of years, some even as far back as the Middle Ages.
They have stood the test of time because they are intractable, infallible.
The French are less fascinated by novelty
Whenever I return to France, one of the things that immediately calms me in an inexplicably profound way is the immediacy of the French connection to its history.
They are simply less captivated by novelty and more interested in eating what they know and love, appreciating that it is done well and skillfully.
This is true across the country, but in Paris, there’s a mix of playful irreverence and a knack for twisting and turning things around.
Paris is where home cooks and chefs confidently borrow from every region of the country and, for that matter, the world.
Outside of Paris, France remains deeply differentiated by region
Identity remains deeply tied to the land. And the gifts of the land, region by region, are remarkably different: from Agen prunes grown in Aquitaine to walnuts from Périgord and Grenoble; from the apple orchards of Normandy to the golden mirabelle plums of Lorraine; from the vast lavender fields of Provence to the spicy Espelette pepper of the Pyrenees.
Read more: MAP: A tour of France in local fruits and vegetables
Almost every Frenchman I know has some sort of agricultural map of France imprinted on his mind.
And Paris, drawing young people from all corners of the country, has for centuries embraced the best of these regional specialties.
inspiration is never far away
It goes without saying that shopping for food in the French capital is taken very seriously. Anyway, Parisians love shortcuts.
Step inside, for example, La Grande Epicerie de Paris, the large gourmet supermarket in the seventh arrondissement, and you’ll see shoppers buying prepared puff pastry and freshly ground almond flour, not to mention jars of luscious fruit suspended in sugar syrup and tender frangipane. a warm touch of the mixer.
You will find nuts of all varieties, and candied orange peel, candied and dipped in chocolate.
And you’ll find a multitude of sugars, from raw to rock, from the lightest powders to the damp sand of a dark Demerara. Inspiration is never far away.
Why cake, you might ask?
Although Marie Antoinette didn’t actually bark, “Let them eat cake,” the French have a soft spot for cakes.
Even madeleines, financiers and bouchons are considered small gâteaux, as are pecan cakes, savory cakes and celebrations. christmas flowers.
Read more: Beware pastry chefs? Normandy start-up creates 3D-printed pastry
A French cake, in general, will have less sugar, since the nuances are more appreciated than the sweetness.
A little salt will blossom the flavors. A cup of yogurt could add a moist touch backstage. Vanilla is used sparingly. The pure flavor of apples is rarely masked by cinnamon. And the pucker on a lemon cake isn’t undermined by a thick layer of frosting. Chocolate is almost always dark and bittersweet.
Gluten-free cakes abound, but are rarely named as such. They simply reflect an appreciation for nuts, roasted and ground, in baking.
Parisians tend to be avid tea drinkers. Think Mariage-Frères, Palais des Thés, and the teas of Fauchon and Hediard. Simple after-dinner infusions of verbena or mint perfume over a sponge cake.
Read more: Did you know? France has a longer history of tea consumption than the UK
Parisians, when baking, are most likely to reach for a handy bottle of Calvados, Armagnac, Cognac, eau-de-vie, Poire Williams, or crème de cassis and add a splash, more to impart depth of flavor than overt punch. of alcohol
Rose water and orange blossom water add delicate floral notes, as do chamomile and lavender blossoms.
The French sometimes marinate fresh fruit in a little leftover white wine to serve alongside a slice of cake, but crème fraîche is more or less de rigueur.
A cake may be lightly glazed or dusted with cocoa or icing sugar, but rarely heavily frosted.
These modest cakes have a timeless, understated elegance. No wonder they are classics.
Gâteau au Yaourt à la Farine d’Amande (yogurt cake)
Almond flour has been a pantry staple in Paris for as long as anyone can remember. It just so happens to be less expensive than here (US) and, perhaps due to turnover, usually pretty cool.
In the United States, it is still seen primarily as a flour alternative for those with gluten sensitivities or the health-conscious, who like it for its protein content.
Almond flour provides texture and flavor, and keeps the cake moist, since almonds are naturally high in fat. That’s why I use less oil than in a flour yogurt cake.
Almond flour and yogurt keep the cake moist; Photo: Simon & Schuster
The downside is that almond flour cakes don’t rise as much.
However, made with equal parts flour and almond flour, it allows you to capture the best of both worlds. This cake is light, tender and moist and lasts for several days.
Like the classic yogurt cake, it combines well with spices, extracts, liqueurs, syrups and floral waters. Here I’ve added sliced almonds on top, for crunch.
2 large eggs, at room temperature
245 g whole yogurt
200g granulated sugar
24cl vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon almond extract or 2 teaspoons dark rum
1 teaspoon orange blossom water, optional
Zest of one lemon or orange
210g almond flour
1.5 teaspoons of baking powder
1.5 teaspoons of baking soda
1.5 teaspoons fine sea salt
125g all purpose flour
36g sliced almonds, optional
- Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Butter and flour a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, or longer French loaf pan, or line with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, almond extract, orange blossom water, and zest until smooth. Add the almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix well until completely smooth. Sprinkle the flour over the dough and fold it in with a rubber spatula until there are no streaks of flour.
- Pour the batter into the loaf pan, then sprinkle the top with the sliced almonds, spreading them all over the surface.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. (If your oven gets hot, start checking after 35 minutes.)
(Concorde Chocolate Meringue and Mousse Cake)
Once everything is done, layer the meringue disks and ganache, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours; Photo: Simon & Schuster
chocolate meringue discs
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
200g granulated sugar
50 g of almond flour
25 g without sugar
dutch processed cocoa
- Position two oven racks equidistant from the top and bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 225F (110C). Line two 18 x 13-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Trace three 8-inch circles on the parchment at least 3 inches apart. Two circles will be on one sheet, and the third on the other. Flip the parchment ink side down, then liberally butter the top side.
- In a stand mixer or using electric hand mixers, combine the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt and beat on medium speed until fine bubbles form. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar and beat until the meringue is stiff and glossy, but not dry, another 2 to 3 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix together the almond flour and cocoa powder. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the egg whites and, using a rubber spatula, fold to incorporate. Repeat with the rest of the cocoa mixture, folding just until combined. Scrape bottom of bowl to catch and integrate any loose streaks of almond flour.
- Using a pastry bag or small spatula, fill the circles with the mixture.
- Bake for 3-3 ½ hours, or until meringues are firm to the touch. Turn off the oven, but do not remove the meringues. Leave them in the closed oven for at least 6 hours and up to 12.
Whipped chocolate ganache (as mousse)
50cl of double cream and 280 grams of dark chocolate, that is. Valrhona Caraïbe 66% cocoa
- Bring 20cl of the cream to a boil and immediately pour over the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to melt for a minute, then whisk to create a smooth ganache. Set aside to come to room temperature. This shouldn’t take more than about 10 minutes. If it gets too cold, it will start to solidify, which you don’t want. If that happens, heat it up just a bit, just enough for easy stirring.
- In a stand mixer or using electric hand beaters, beat the remaining cream until you see soft but structured peaks. Stir a third of this whipped cream into the ganache to lighten it, then fold the remaining ganache into the whipped cream with a rubber spatula. Use immediately.
Making chocolate curls is too time consuming to do at home. Instead, I like to use a mandolin to cut thin slices of chocolate from a bar. These bits are more, shall we say, industrial-chic than dainty, but let’s not get precious about it.
Use at least 200 grams of dark chocolate if you want to cover the entire cake and still allow everyone to eat a few bits before dinner. Alternatively, dust the cake with cocoa and then with icing sugar.
- Take 3 chocolate meringue disks
- Place the chocolate meringue discs on a sheet of parchment. Top each with a third of the ganache. Then stack them, one on top of the other, on your pie plate. The surface will be ganache.
- Scatter this with lots of curls or chocolate shards.
- Create a tent dome with aluminum foil over, but not touching, the cake and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to two days. Let it sit at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes to allow the ganache to soften a bit before serving it to the table.
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