Apricot Sticky Toffee Pudding

Apricot Sticky Toffee Pudding

[Apricot Sticky Toffee Pudding]

This past Sunday afternoon, we had decided to throw a little surprise birthday party for my dear friend Laurence. This sounded like the perfect occasion to try and recreate my own sticky toffee pudding miracle.

Among the different recipes that I had dug out or that you kindly recommended, my favorite was the one by Jill Dupleix, in part because it involved way way way less butter than the others. While hers called for dates, I knew that Rose Bakery’s sticky toffee pudding was made with apricots, so that’s what I used instead.

The pudding base was very easy to throw together, especially since I used my trusted food processor. I did have a harder time with the toffee sauce : it just wouldn’t caramelize and thicken. I think the thickness problem was that I couldn’t let it get into a full rolling boil, because my saucepan was a tad small, and the sauce, being cream-based, threatened to overflow. After a while I did manage to let it boil for five minutes without stirring, and it took on the right texture (thick and smooth) and the right taste (toffee, oh my!). It remained cream-colored however, when I was hoping for the same golden brown hue as my role model. I realized afterwards that I used white sugar when the recipe called for brown sugar : when I jotted down the ingredients, I forgot to copy the “brown”… Oh well, here’s something new : albino toffee sauce!

I took the still warm pudding and the sauce to Laurence’s appartment, where I glazed one with the other at the last minute. The designated candle-bearing cake was Ludo and Marie-Laure’s wonderluscious Gâteau Poire Amandine (a pear and almond cake), but I still planted one candle on mine for good luck.

The sticky toffee pudding was then sliced and served. Oh, how delighted with the result I was! It was exactly the sweet taste and moist texture I was trying to achieve. My co-eaters also enjoyed it very much : just like me, none of them had ever tasted anything of the sort.

And since I have acquired a 1kg bag of dried apricots at G.Detou to make this, I am most definitely repeating this very very soon! As a final note, the pudding base is so tasty that it could certainly be served without the sauce, for a lighter and quicker dessert.

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A Taste of Balsamic Vinegar

A Taste of Balsamic Vinegar

Wine tasting? That is so yesterday, haven’t you heard? Balsamic vinegar tasting is all the rage!

On Saturday afternoon, Maxence and I attended such a tasting, organized by the Bastille Slow Food convivium. It was held at Sur Les Quais, a spice and oil store in the covered area of the Marché d’Aligre. I’ve always been very fond of the taste of balsamic vinegar, but the wildly varying prices of what you find in stores are confusing, so I was delighted for the chance to learn more.

Paul Vautrin, the store owner, started out by telling us about balsamic vinegar and its characteristics. It is produced from the must of very mature Trebbiano grapes and aged in a series of barrels of different sizes and woods. He explained how the producer transfers a fraction of the vinegar from the younger barrels into the older barrels every year, which is why the age of a bottle of vinegar is only an average, being a mix of older and younger vinegars. The types of wood the barrels are made in, the quality of the grapes, the initial concentration, and the producer’s savoir-faire all come into play to make (or break) the quality of a balsamic vinegar.

Naturally, industrial companies started making balsamic vinegar too, aging it in steel tanks, cutting it with water and coloring it with brown sugar or caramel. In response, the original small producers have created a consortium and a D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata, if you must know) to protect the century-old tradition : only vinegar produced in a small region around the town of Modena can claim to be the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, their products are made following strict rules and are bottled and boxed in a specific way.

The real thing is very pricy (50 euros for 10 cl), but the taste is so intense and concentrated that just a few drops are sufficient. Of course the scope is pretty wide between the real unique nectar and its crappy over-industrial version, so a good dealer should be able to recommend a producer who may not belong to the consortium but still follows the rules, hence producing a quality product at a somewhat lower price.

The actual tasting began with a small glass of saba, the must (unfermented juice) that is used to make balsamic vinegar. Incredibly sweet and sirupy, with a strong grape taste, saba can be diluted in water or wine to make an excellent drink, or poured on ice-cream or fruit for dessert.

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Pink Buffet : More Pics

Pink Buffet!

If you would like to see more of the pictures I took while preparing the Pink Buffet last week, here is a little pink gallery!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding

See this? Doesn’t it look just scrumpalicious, nested in its little takeout box? See how the sticky caramel coating has rubbed off a bit on the right side, where the little pudding’s shoulder was leaning, as I carried it home?

I had walked to Rose Bakery for lunch, armed with a magazine and a notebook, my personal treat when I’m home on a weekday. Usually, after I’m done with the yummy and copious lunch (an assortment of their salads, a main dish, a coffee and a cookie), I have to drag myself away from the dessert case and resist buying one of their tempting pastries, because, you know, lunch was indulgence enough.

But this? This just looked too good. And really, with a name like that, who could resist? Try saying it out loud and enjoy the syllables : sti-cky-tof-fee-pud-ding. Then fast, stickytoffeepuddingstickytoffeepuddingstickytoffeepudding. Can you think of a cooler thing to say? I can’t.

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Dried Fruits with Marzipan (Fruits déguisés)

Fruits Déguisés

And what are fruits déguisés you ask? Most people would tell you that they are a traditional Christmas confection, in which dried fruits (dates and prunes mostly) have their pit replaced with a piece of brightly colored pâte d’amande (almond paste).

To me however, fruits déguisés are much more than that : they are one of my earliest culinary joys. When I was five, my kindergarten teacher had us make some as a gift for our parents. For the record, that teacher’s name was Marguerite and I didn’t like her because she felt the need to comment on my thumb sucking, but I digress. I don’t remember making the fruits déguisés, but I remember going home and sharing them with my family, and most of all I remember how immensely proud I was when my mother asked me to show her and my sister how to make them.

We bought the supplies, and I glowingly explained how you slit the fruit open carefully, remove the pit, roll a little bit of marzipan between your palms, insert it in place of the pit, and close the fruit on it, leaving it slightly open to show the beautiful dash of color. I emphasized, as the teacher had, how important it is to handle the knife with caution, to make even-sized marzipan pits of alternate colors, and to retribute yourself with the occasional piece of marzipan, in whichever color you like best.

I decided to make fruits déguisés again very recently, and this time improvised on the basic recipe a little : I used figs in addition to prunes and dates, and stuffed them with almond paste, but also hazelnuts, almonds, chocolate squares and little chunks of almond cookie. I then packaged them up, throwing in a few candied kumquats, and gave them as pretty little gifts to my cooking class students.

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