Sablés bretons – Breton shortbread biscuits

The sablé breton – literally “Breton sand biscuit” in reference to its short, crumbly, sand-like texture – is an old traditional biscuit from the French Brittany/Normandy region: the glorious land of salted butter! History teaches us that in 1341, King Philip VI of France introduced a national tax on salt, the “Gabelle of salt”, that suddenly made salt very expensive throughout the country. If salt remained used to conserve fresh ingredients, salted butter became a luxurious product that peasants could not longer afford to make… Brittany however was not only exempt from this tax, it was also a region producing its own salt. Quickly, salted butter became a regional speciality, sought after and sold in the rest of the country. Up until now, Breton salted butter is the best you can buy (along with Guerande sea-salted butter: with its natural sea salt flakes, I could eat the whole thing on fresh baguette in one seating).

The sablé breton  (also known as galette bretonne) is a simple and rustic biscuit that goes wonderfully well with a cup of tea or afternoon coffee. The salted butter balances the sugar, making the biscuit light but also very moorish – you’ve been warned!

This was my first attempt at making them and I must say I was very pleased with the finished product. They were delicious and their texture was perfect. *Patting myself on the back for resisting the temptation to keep kneading the dough past the stage where it forms a ball*. The only thing I might change in the future is the thickness: as they cooked, the biscuits expanded a little bit, which made them thinner than I would have wished. I might also try and be a little bit more creative with the top of the biscuit in the future: a criss-cross pattern would look good and rustic. Well, any good excuse to make them again!

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Recipe for +/- 30 biscuits
Ingredients
  • 320 gr. flour
  • 120 gr. caster sugar
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 2 free range egg yolks
  • 200 gr. melted salted butter (ideally French or even Breton but I might be purist)
  • Optional: a lemon zest
  • Egg wash: 1 egg yolk + 1 tsp water
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
Method:
  1. Pre-heat a fan oven oven to 150 C. Line a large flat baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour and caster sugar) in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add the 2 egg yolks, the melted butter, the vanilla extract (and, if using, the lemon zest).
  4. Knead and form a ball. This is where you want to be extra careful not to overwork the dough: just gather it into a ball and put it down.
  5. Cover with clean cling film and place in the fridge to rest for an hour.
  6. Roll the cold dough between two sheets of baking paper to a thickness of about 3-5 mm. I did 5mm and it was a bit too thin to my taste, so I will probably go up to 6-8mm next time.
  7. Cut out circles with a cookie cutter (diam. 7 cm) and place on a baking tray, leaving enough room for the biscuits to expand a little bit.
  8. Brush the biscuits with the egg wash. Sprinkle iced sugar using a sieve.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes. You don’t want too much colour on these, sablés bretons are a very light golden colour.

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Blueberry muffins

Great news: our very dear friends Claire and Alex moved to our neighbourhood. Their (awesome) flat is literally 12 minutes from us. I’m very excited about them living so close and all that implies, especially impromptu get-togethers, unplanned weekend lunches, surprise afterwork drinks, etc! Chipmuncher is excited about having his best friend around and they have already organised a Saturday of football watching and crisps munching at our place… Sigh!

On the day they moved to the neighbourhood, Chipmuncher lent his strong arms and helped carry and install pieces of furniture, while I offered to meet everyone a little bit later and bring sweets to the brave. To each their strength, right? Everybody loves blueberry muffins, so I was certain not to go wrong with this one.

I think that most muffin recipes use buttermilk, but not this one. It’s still very soft and scrumptious though so give it a try!

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INGREDIENTS (for about 12 muffins)

  • 110 grams of butter (for a modern twist: try salted butter!)
  • 250 grams of plain flour
  • 250 grams of caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 125 ml of milk
  • 2 tsp of baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp of salt (not if you are using salted butter)
  • 225 grams of fresh blueberries

 METHOD

  • Pre-heat oven to 180 C (gas 4) and line a muffin tin with paper cases.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder and salt (if using any) together in a bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs and beat until smooth, then the milk.
  • Add the flour mixture to your wet mix, little by little to avoid any lumps and beat well until all combined.
  • Stir in three quarters of the blueberries, taking care not to break them.
  • Fill your muffin tins 2/3 full (if you overfill them, the muffins won’t rise).
  • Place 2 of the remaining blueberries on top of the mix without pushing them in.
  • Bake at 180 C / gas 4 for 25-35 minutes depending on your oven.
  • When they are golden and a inserted skewer comes out clean, they’re ready! (even if the bottom feels a bit soft, it will all settle when cooled down).

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Pecans and raisins bread and butter pudding

Some weeks ago, I enrolled a course to become an independent art curator (exciting!). It’s keeping me very busy, with classes all Saturdays and research and homework during the week. I’m loving it. And, bizarrely (or not), because I have less free time, I organise it way better! As a result, I have been cooking and baking much more than previously.

Last Sunday, for example, our dear friends visited us one last time before moving out of London and down to the seaside. These two like their food so we wanted to make something extra special for them. Special but unfussy – some honest, homemade, no-nonsense winter comfort food. So I made my pecan and raisins bread & butter pudding!

Now, I say *MY* bread & butter pudding and this is not entirely true. I actually based it on a recipe from Lucy’s Food recipe book and adapted it to our taste. The original recipe has dried apricot and an apricot coulis, but I like my bread & butter pudding a little bit more traditional.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 12 slices of brioche
  • 60 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature (spreading cold butter on brioche proved nearly impossible and extremely frustrating for short-tempered me 🙂 )
  • 60 grams of pecan nuts, roughly chopped
  • 60 grams of raisins
  • 150 ml of double cream
  • 150 ml of semi-skimmed milk
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 30 grams of caster sugar
  • 30 grams of cane sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • fresh nutmeg, or cinnamon, or cardamon to taste.

METHOD

  • Pre-heat oven to 190C (gas mark 5).
  • Spread the brioche slices with butter.
  • Layer into an ovenproof dish with the pecans and raisins.
  • In a bowl, mix the cream, milk, eggs, caster sugar and grate a little fresh nutmeg. Depending on the mood and season, you can also add a little cinnamon and cardamon to the eggy cream mixture.
  • Pour the mixture over the brioche.
  • Sprinkle evenly with the cane sugar.
  • Bake in the oven for 40-45 min, or until the pudding has puffed up and the eggs are cooked through (you can check with a knife)

Serve warm with a little double cream.

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Yes, it’s that easy and that tasty!

I like this recipe because I find the brioche makes it a little bit less stodgy than regular bread and butter pudding, and the crunchy pecans give the pudding a nice contrast of textures. I wouldn’t go as far as to pretend it is a light pudding, but definitely lighter than bread and butter puddings I have had before! 😀

Pumpkin blondies

I have been off the web for months now, can’t believe it’s gone by so quickly! Let me explain: I went on holiday for 2 weeks in the South of France (had amazing food there, especially in a lovely Bed&Breakfast in Nice where we were served 100% homemade breakfast every morning: from yoghurt, to jam, bread, croissants, everything! An amazing place I will probably write about at some point because I couldn’t recommend it enough). Then I moved houses right when we returned from holiday, before having the most manic of times at work at the end of October… To be honest I barely had time to bake / cook at all, let alone write about it! It’s crazy to think it’s November now and I haven’t written a thing since August.

But we are  finally all settled down in the new house. It’s gorgeous and I’m getting to know our new oven little by little. Isn’t it weird that it always takes weeks to get used to a new oven? This one is a gas one, like before, but fan assisted which my old one wasn’t; I am still working around it and trying to adapt cooking times from recipes… I had a few catastrophes with a cranberry frangipane tart that I burnt; and a bread a butter pudding that the boyfriend just managed to save (by scraping the black bits off the top!).

The Pumpkin blondies are ready

The Pumpkin blondies are ready

Last weekend, I decided to try my luck again and somehow celebrate the halloween season with some pumpkin blondies. I used a recipe from Table for Two and adapted it to the ingredients I could find. It was the first time ever I used (and even came across) pumpkin puree. Obviously, before putting it in anything I was going to bake, I tasted the pumpkin puree on its own and out of the can. Errrrrr can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it, it tasted of something somewhere between baby food and overcooked mash. I know you are not supposed to eat it out of the can; and once baked I did enjoy it, but I thought you should know my feelings about it 🙂

Ingredients

  • 320 grams of plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tbsp of cinnamon powder
  • 225g of unsalted butter, melted
  • 220g of dark brown sugar
  • 100g of caster sugar
  • 1 free-range egg
  • 1 tbsp of vanilla extract
  • 1 can of pumpkin puree (Table for Two says not to use pumpkin pie filling, but in the UK I could only find a single sort of pumpkin puree anyway – Libby’s – so decided to worry about the subtlety)
  • 100 grams of fudge chunks
  • 100 grams of white chocolate, roughly cut into chunks
  • 100 grams of unsalted toasted peanuts, chopped roughly

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Preparation

Preheat oven to gaz 4 (around 175c) and line a baking tray with baking paper.

In a bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon powder and salt. You can sift it if you’re a sifter (I’m not!).

In a separate bowl, combine the butter (cooled down to room temperature) and both types of sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the egg, vanilla extract and pumpkin puree. Stir until well combined.

Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until fully incorporated and your mix is thick and smooth.

Finally, fold in the fudge and white chocolate chunks and the chopped peanuts.

Pour the preparation into your lined baking tray and bake for 55-60 minutes (the original recipe said 40-45 minutes, but I had to put it back for an extra 15 minutes). It is actually a bit difficult to check the cooking of this brownie with a skewer as the fudge chunks and chocolate chips make it look wet. Trust your guts and remember it is better to take it out too early and put it back in for a while; rather than risk overcooking it!

When you take it out of the oven, leave to cool fully in the baking tray (as it will be soft before that and you’d risk breaking it if you handling it too much).

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Once cooled down completely, cut it into (generously big) square; pour yourself a cuppa coffee and eat as many as you can before the rest of your household’s inhabitants storm into the kitchen.

 

 

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Fruit Tea Loaf by Buon Cibo

About 2 weeks ago I found this recipe by fellow blogger Buon Cibo and thought OH MON DIEU! I must try it.

My (future) father-in-law loves fruit cakes and fruit loaves and always complains that no one makes them for him. It was therefore a great opportunity for me to shine!

The fruit loaf is let to cool on a rack

The fruit loaf is let to cool on a rack

Because there are no eggs in the recipe, I was a bit concerned that it wouldn’t hold together, but stephstephxo kindly advised me. Reassured, I pulled my sleeves up and made it on Friday night (while chimpuncher was getting drunk with his work colleagues… cough cough…)

It is SO easy and quick. Almost easier than spreading butter on a piece of toast. No seriously, the easiest recipe for fruit loaf you’ll ever find.

I am not going to repost the recipe as you can find it on the link above, but I thought I’d share the photos anyway.

Hopefully, this will make you want to bake this too.

Victoria sandwich with fresh strawberries

Last weekend was Chipmuncher’s birthday. Don’t remind him about it, he thinks he’s growing old, and he has a bald patch.

Birthday = cake, so I made a cake. I wanted something light because I knew this was going to be a weekend filled with food and drinks, so I opted for a very British Victoria sponge cake, with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. I don’t know if it’s because I’m craving summer but I’m obsessed with strawberries at the moment…

I wouldn’t say the Victoria sandwich was a *massive* success as I overcooked the sponge and it didn’t turn out as soft as I would have liked. But, still, it was edible. Tasty even.

The 'finished' product

The ‘finished’ product

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 eggs
  • 225 gr. caster sugar
  • 225 gr. self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 225 gr. soft butter (room temperature, not melted)
  • Strawberry jam (Bonne Maman is always the best, unless you’re making your own jam of course)
  • Whipped double cream

METHOD:

  1. Preheat oven to 180C
  2. Grease and line 2 x 20 cm tins (mine were bigger, hence sponge overcooked, hence it wasn’t soft enough. I’ve warned you, don’t mess this up.)
  3. Mix the eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder and butter into a mixing bowl until everything is well-combined and texture is soft.
  4. Divide the mixture between both tins.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes and DO NOT open the oven door in the first 20 minutes (or your sponge will collapse). Check the cakes are cooked with a skewer: if it comes out clean, it’s done. Take the cakes out and turn them out onto a cooling rack.
  6. Once cooled, assemble your sandwich: jam, whipped cream, fresh fruits.
  7. For extra naughtiness, you can even add cream + fruits on top of the sandwich. Of course, that’s what I did.

Fruit tart with crème pâtissière

First of all, please people, it is called crème pâtissière (pronounced /pa.ti.siehr/) and NOT crème pâtisserie! Hearing this always makes me cringe, because it doesn’t make sense and it sounds silly. It’s easy to remember, “pâtisserie” is a noun (that qualifies a pastry itself or the shop where you buy pastries) and “pâtissière” is the adjective that qualifies anything pastry-related. Here, we are specifying the type of the cream, hence we need to use the adjective. There, it’s said, let’s move on. No I’m not grumpy, I am just a grammar freak…

This fruit tart is a classical and all-time French favourite. It’s easy to make when you have friends visiting, especially as the crème pâtissière can be made the day before and keeps well in the fridge, and it’s sure to please everyone: all you have to do is pick their favourite fruit!

Strawberry and blackberry fruit tart

Strawberry and blackberry fruit tart

First, the pastry: normally for a fruit tart, you should use a sweet shortcrust pastry (90 grams softened butter, 65 grams caster sugar, 3 egg yolks, 200 grams plain flour) but I used a rough-puff instead this time (250 grams butter at room temperature but not softened, 250 grams plain flour, 150 ml cold water, 1 tsp sea salt). It worked ok, so I guess it’s really up to you! Line your tin, cover with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake the pastry for 10-15 minutes in a 190c pre-heated oven (until it’s cooked through but hasn’t turned  golden yet) and allow to cool.

While the baked pastry cools down, make the crème pâtissière. You need:

  • 250 ml full fat milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 60 grams caster sugar
  • 25 grams plain flour
  • optional: 2 tbsp kirsch

(1) Place the milk, vanilla seeds and pods into a large saucepan and warm through.

(2) In a mixing bowl, place the egg yolks, sugar and flour and whisk until mixture becomes pale.

(3) Gradually add the warm milk and vanilla to the egg mixture and, once well mixed together, return to the pan.

(4) Cook on a low heat, constantly whisking, until the mixture thickens and reaches the wanted consistency. You want it thick enough to be scooped with a spoon.

(5) As soon as it reaches the right consistency, pour the cream into a clean bowl and place a circle or greaseproof paper, or cling film, on top of the mixture, to prevent a skin forming at the surface.

(6) If you choose to add kirsch to your crème pâtissière, do it once it has cooled down completely.

Fruit is glazed with warm apricot jam

Fruit is glazed with warm apricot jam

We can now assemble the tart!

(1) Put 4 tbsp of apricot jam in a saucepan with a little bit of water and warm through until liquid. Carefully brush the inside of the pastry case (this will stop any leakage of cream or fruit juices through any small cracks).

(2) Spoon your crème pâtissière into the pastry case and make sure it is equally distributed around the tart.

(3) Top the cream with sliced fruit. Here, I used strawberries and blackberries, but you could also have kiwis, raspberries, blueberries, anything you fancy (see the other tart I made earlier this year). To give your tart a more ‘rustic’ look, just throw your fruit in. I am a bit OCDed so I always have to line my fruit perfectly, but there’s no rule here…

(4) With the rest of the warm apricot jam mix, lightly glaze the fruit. This will not only make your tart shiny and appetising, but it will also prevent any oxidation if you don’t eat it all on the same day. Clever stuff.

This is delicious with a cup of Earl Grey. Or, a sweet dessert wine…

A fruit tart I had made before, with a different selection of fruit.

A fruit tart I had made before, with a different selection of fruit.