The Cookbooks To End All Cookbooks

The Cookbooks To End All Cookbooks

Introducing the most beautiful cookbooks of all times : Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse and his little brother Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse – Desserts et Pâtisseries, both generous Christmas gifts from my parents.

Alain Ducasse, for those of you who may not be familiar with the character, is one of the greatest (and probably richest) French chefs of this era. A creative genius, he owns and operates restaurants in New York, Monaco and Paris, and also runs a cooking school. I can’t imagine how busy his life must be, but he reportedly manages to take part in all the decisions – large or small – that concern his business.

And these books you see here, ladies and gentlemen, these books contain The Knowledge. In it, Ducasse shares the recipes he has elaborated and perfected over the 25 years of his career. Targeted at professionals, the first volume has over 700 (yes, seven hundreds) savory recipes, while the second one offers the key to more than 250 desserts and pâtisseries.

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Confiture de l’An Neuf

Confiture de l'An Neuf

[New Year Jam]

Just a couple of days ago, I happened to be around La Grande Epicerie de Paris, the quite huge gourmet food store attendant to the store Le Bon Marché. This kind of place works like a magnet on me, and although I was laden with different heavy items to carry, I still went in to browse around. This is really heaven for food lovers, but I didn’t stay long : there is only so much cumbersome aisle space negociation even I can take, as filled with tempting things as said aisles may be.

I did, however, have time to pick up the cutest jar of jam in history, with its little red polka dot hat and white knot. Christine Ferber is known as “la fée des confitures”, the jam fairy. I have mentioned her before, and how she makes fruit jams the old-fashioned way, in her little Alsacian village of Niedermorschwihr (pronounced whichever way suits your fancy). I have bought a couple of jars of her creations in the past, one Nougabricot (Apricot jam with honey and bits of almonds and pistachios) and one Framboise-Chocolat (Raspberries and Valrhona Guanaja chocolate). Both were memorably succulent.

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Chez Catherine

Chez Catherine

A couple of weeks ago, Maxence and I celebrated our seventh dating anniversary. To mark the occasion, we had decided to treat each other to dinner at a gastronomic restaurant. Our friend Baptiste happens to be a very good source for top-notch dining recommendations, a trait he gets from his father : let it be remembered that he’s the one who introduced us to Le Troyon. He was duly asked for counsel, and his answer was, without so much as the shadow of a hesitation : “Chez Catherine“.

Catherine Guerraz is considered one of the top French women chefs these days, along with Flora Mikula and Hélène Darroze. Her restaurant, off the avenue de Friedland close to the Champs-Elysées, is rumored to have very narrowly missed a Michelin star in the 2003 Guide Rouge.

After much anticipation during the day, we arrived at 8:30 and were led to our table. The restaurant has three rooms, warm and welcoming, with unusual brightly colored paintings on the walls (by an artist named Jean-Noël Duchemin) and red velvet banquettes all around.

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Chocolate and Candied Chestnuts Coffee Cake

Coffee Cake Chocolat Marron Glacé

[Chocolate and Candied Chestnuts Coffee Cake]

I wanted to bake a cake for our new year’s eve party – what’s a party without a cake? — and this is what I made. The recipe for this cake is originally a Sour Cream Coffee Cake from Bon Appétit (circa 1993), which my mother and I tinkered with a little while ago, lowering the sugar content, subbing yogurt for sour cream and converting the measurements from cups to grams.

My mother and I absolutely loved it, so perfectly crispy and caramelized and moist and flavorful. The original cake has a walnut and cinnamon topping, and I had made a delicious hazelnut and blueberry version for my birthday party last summer. A funny thing to note is that coffee cakes are not common at all in France, so when I tell people what this cake is, they always get a quizzical look on their faces, wondering why they can’t taste the coffee. So I have to explain that coffee cake is a cake to eat with coffee, not a cake containing coffee.

I wanted to try twisting it again, using more festive ingredients this time, chocolate chips and chunks of marrons glacés, those delicious glazed sweet chestnuts which are a typical holiday treat in France. I modified the recipe to account for the sweeter nature of my toppings, and avoid having my guests fall into sugar shock.

For the chocolate chips, I used the ganache drops I bought at G. Detou before the holidays, which characteristically came in a one-kilo bag. The candied chestnut pieces were generously donated by Maxence from his personal Christmas loot.

The resulting cake was as good as I had hoped. The little bits sunk to the bottom somewhat, which made for a scrumptious bottom layer. It is just the right sweetness, the tastes of chocolate and chestnut present but subtle, complementing the batter’s taste but not overpowering it in the least. And the texture is so pleasant that Maxence commented it was “comme un canelé, mais en gâteau”, which is really the best compliment he can make, considering how much he loves canelés. We served it along with a deliciously fresh fruit salad, a signature Marie-Laure concoction.

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Bacon Walnut Snow Pea Salad

Salade de Pois Gourmands aux Lardons et aux Noix

Veggie lover that I am, our new year’s eve party buffet had to include something green. Maxence and I love snow peas, because of the taste and the crunch and the look, but they’re seldom served in France, so I’m always happy to give them the space in the sun that they rightfully deserve. I think they’re perfect in salads, and this is what struck my fancy this time : a scrumptious combination that went surprisingly well with the terrine.

Terrine and salad were then followed by Stéphan’s sumptuous lamb tagine, complete with prunes, dates, apricots, almonds and walnuts, served in the beautiful tagine dish that Maxence’s mom brought us back from Turkey.

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