Like Caramels au Beurre Salé, only Spreadable

Like Caramels au Beurre Salé, only Spreadable

The other day, I was walking up the avenue d’Italie in the 13th arrondissement – I was coming back from the information meeting for a singing class I may take – and I noticed a bakery named “Le Grenier à Pain”. It was very inviting, so I walked in. I didn’t need or want to buy bread or pastries, you see, but I like to look anyway. I do the same thing with any food store or restaurant, looking at the menu, taking a look around, asking about hours of opening and about the business, making a mental note of places worth visiting again should the opportunity arise.

I have learnt not to feel intimidated that I am not buying anything. I will explain with a smile that I’m just looking around, sometimes adding a compliment about how good the place looks. More often than not, the person will be friendly (possibly flattered), tell me to take my time and be more than happy to answer my questions. I thank them as I leave, and tell them I will definitely come back (if I mean it). And sometimes, when I do return, they remember me and it’s as if I’d been a faithful customer for years. Sometimes this even works with impossibly grumpy salespeople : being unswervingly polite and amicable somehow breaks their pattern and they turn a milder flavor of grumpy, or even sometimes plain nice. Not a 100% rate of success, but worth giving a try.

In any case, this bakery was very nice : the bread looked good, they had samples on the counter, and the baked goods seemed scrumptious. They also had a variety of other food products displayed on the wooden shelves that lined the walls : jars of fruit jam and compote, tea, flavored sugar, old-fashioned candy…

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Sun-dried Tomato Polenta Squares

Polenta Squares

This recipe is from the apéro section of the cookbook Mes petits plats 100% naturels, by Catherine Mandigon and Patricia Riveccio. In France, apéritif (also called l’apéro) is the general term for the drinks and savory nibbles you offer your guests before dinner. It is also a widespread custom to invite people over just for l’apéro, which is a more casual way to entertain than a full-blown dinner invitation. French cookbooks often include a whole section devoted to that mini-meal. I particularly enjoy making amuse-bouches (or amuse-gueules), something about making a platterful of identical miniature cute bites really appeals to me (my Hello Kitty side, I guess).

Here’s how to make these polenta squares.

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Homemade Yogurts

Homemade yogurts

The yogurt maker (yaourtière in French) is often used to illustrate the concept of an appliance that seemed like a good idea at the time of purchase (back in the seventies), but ends up collecting dust in the dark depths of a kitchen cabinet. It strikes me as terribly unfair a way to disparage a perfectly respectable peace of household equipment.

I grew up on the homemade yogurts my mother made using her yaourtière, so much so that she is probably the only individual on the planet who actually had to buy a second one when the first one got so much use it broke down. Homemade yogurts have a taste and texture that make them absolutely perfect for breakfast in my opinion, eaten as is or poured on cereal. I had one every morning for as long as I lived with my parents but had to go without for the two years in the Silicon Valley (where I drank Kefir -fermented milk-, an acceptable substitute).

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Fennel & Tuna Polar Bread Sandwich

Pain Polaire

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of bakeries and sandwich places in France selling sandwiches made with Pain Polaire. Polar bread, sometimes also called swedish bread, is a round, soft flatbread with dimples. Polar bread sandwiches are made between two of these pancake-like slices, and the whole sandwich is then cut into halves. A popular version of these sandwiches involves smoked salmon, but any filling will work, really.

I love these sandwiches. The bread tastes slightly sweet and its texture is very enjoyable : soft enough so it doesn’t hurt your palate and make your jaw ache like baguette sandwiches do, but not mushy either, and there is no I-don’t-like-the-crust-so-much syndrome like there is with sandwich bread, because well, there is no crust.

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Honey Hazelnut Cake

Honey Hazelnut Cake

Yesterday, my parents came over for tea. This is always a perfect occasion for me to bake (yeah, like I need one), and today being my father’s birthday, I decided to bake a cake. After perusing my cookbooks and recipe files, I set my heart on this Honey Hazelnut Cake from the book “Les Gâteaux de Mamie”.

The original recipe is titled “Gâteau aux noisettes et au miel”, and is actually for cupcakes, but this was a birthday occasion and cupcakes would not do, so I made it as one cake. I noticed the amount of ingredients wouldn’t make a lot of dough, but it being just the three of us that was fine, and I decided to use my small non-stick charlotte pan that’s 18 cm in diameter, which resulted in the cutest mini-cake (you can see the size compared to the knife on this pic).

We enjoyed it very much. Both flavors come out very distinctly, and the inside is very moist and airy. It is a great companion to a cup of tea. The outside was a little too cooked for my taste, but my parents didn’t mind (at least they said so!).

This is a recipe I will definitely repeat, as it is pretty easy to make, but here’s what I will do next time :
– double the recipe,
– toast the hazelnuts to bring out the flavor even more.

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