Black Sesame Sablés (Shortbread)

After last week’s events in Paris, it’s not so easy to break the silence here. Writing about news and politics isn’t what I do, and I suspect it’s not what brings you here either, yet I can’t not acknowledge what has happened.

In the wake of these senseless, horrifying acts, which only reinforce the great concerns I have about the world we’re building and the society I live in, I choose to see the silver lining: how French men and women came together in historic numbers in the immediate aftermath, and how much international support has poured in. I am too much of a realist to believe that this tremendous reaction will have any lasting effect on the underlying issues at play, but at least for these few days, (most of) the French get to walk and talk and cry as one, and we can never have too much of that.

These cookies have a rather arresting look, the distinctive, toasty flavor of black sesame, and the delightful texture I look for in all my sablés, delicate and shatter-prone.

Of course I found it impossible to write while all this was unfolding — it suddenly seemed absurd to care about the tiny things I normally care about — but as a friend kindly said to me, writing about food and culture and travel helps bring people of different horizons to understand and respect each other, and that is nothing to sneeze at.

In any case, I thought it fitting to start the year off on a note both dark and sweet with these black sesame sablés. It is a recipe I developed for ELLE à table, a French cooking magazine in which I write a bimonthly column, and sang the luscious, nutty glories of black sesame paste in the holiday issue. This seed butter, made from roasted and ground black sesame, is a dramatic, shiny black and I keep a jar of it in my fridge to slip into all sorts of sweet preparations, or simply spread it on my morning toast of sourdough.

These shortbread cookies have a rather arresting look, the distinctive, toasty flavor of black sesame with a hint of salt, and the delightful texture I look for in all my sablés, delicate and shatter-prone. I understand these qualities won’t do much toward world peace, but if you can share them and make someone’s day sweeter, it’s a step in the right direction.

PS: Black sesame panna cotta, Yves Camdeborde’s perfect sablés, and the galette des rois you have until the end of the month to make, perhaps with your own shortcut puff pastry.

Black Sesame Sablés

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Best of 2014

View of the Canche river at La Madelaine sous Montreuil

View of the Canche river at La Madelaine sous Montreuil

Happy New Year! I hope your 2015 is a year full of joy, exciting ventures, great conversations, rich relationships, enlightening experiences, and plenty of delicious meals. It certainly promises to be a full year for me, and I look forward to keeping you updated on my various projects.

As we bid 2014 adieu, I have great pleasure in recalling this excellent year through these few highlights:

Biggest changes on C&Z: A brand new design, in which I’m happy to say I continue to feel wonderfully at home, the return of the monthly desktop calendars, and the recent addition of a shop section.

Most enlightening read: The Third Plate, by my culinary hero Dan Barber (if you care about food, you have got to read this).

Favorite new appliance: My griddler and waffle plates, with which I’ve made weekly batches of croque-monsieur and all kinds of waffles, including these irresistible Belgian waffles.

Most popular food gift I’ve made: These chocolate bars studded with cinnamon granola.

Favorite new breakfast items: Paleo granola with homemade yogurt and seasonal fruit, and healthy breakfast cookies.

Favorite resolution I’ve actually kept: Making the most of my cookbook collection.

Loveliest book publishing moment: Hosting a signing for my latest book, Edible French, in the company of my talented watercolorist friend Melina Josserand. (We wrote about our collaboration in The Cook’s Cook December Issue, page 39).

Most wonderful vacation: Renting a house in the Pyrénées ariégeoises with a few friends, and discovering the friendliest little neo-hippie enclave and the most gorgeous, unadulterated lanscapes.

Favorite Paris eats: simple, wowing plates at Cuisine, vibrant sandwiches at Le Look, kushiage at Peco Peco, big salads at Lockwood, fine dining at Porte 12, barbecued ribs at Flesh, and arepas at Bululu.

Blow-torched mackerel at Porte 12

Blow-torched mackerel at Porte 12

Most successful store-bought-to-homemade experiment: Vegan “cheesy” kale chips.

Most rewarding baking endeavor: Achieving madeleine perfection.

Favorite new quickie snacks: Easy nori rolls with cucumber and avocado and soy-roasted cashews.

Favorite travel tips: Fasting against jetlag and putting together a minimalist cooking kit.

Favorite new kitchen habit I’ve been trying to embrace: meal planning.

Favorite new way to eat my greens: This greens and walnut quiche.

Favorite do-ahead, weeknight treat: Oven-baked falafel.

Favorite new twist on a classic: Cherry clafoutis with chestnut flour.

Favorite new soup recipe: An ayurveda-approved lentil and butternut squash soup.

Favorite new baking trick: A simplified puff pastry, to make a caramelized apple tarte fine for instance.

Favorite new way to cook eggs: This kid-friendly one-egg omelet.

Favorite way to cook broccoli: charring it.

What about you?

What are some of the most memorable things you’ve seen, experienced, discovered, and tasted in 2014?

Vertical garden on rue d'Aboukir in Paris

Vertical garden on rue d’Aboukir in Paris

January 2015 Desktop Calendar

Happy New Year!

At the beginning of every month in 2015, I am offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

The desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for January is a picture of my perfect madeleines, based on a fabulous recipe by Fabrice Le Bourdat, pastry chef at Blé Sucré.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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Raspberry Bûche de Noël

Holiday meals are just around the corner, and if you’re still unsure what to make for dessert, I’m just one step ahead of you: we will be having Christmas lunch at Maxence’s mother’s, I’ve offered to bring dessert, and I’ve only made up my mind yesterday, when I did a trial run to make sure the recipe would work as I imagined it would.

The classic French dessert to serve at Christmas is the bûche de Noël (yule log), which people typically buy ready-made. Depending on the fanciness of the pastry shop, it is either A- loaded with buttercream, pretty kitschy, and entirely too sweet*, or B- a refined and elaborate affair that costs about twice the price of the rest of the meal, and requires you to wait in line among other stressed-out customers openly freaking out over the unchecked items on their to-do list.

I’m all for simple and peaceful during the holidays, so my plan instead is to bring this easy homemade bûche, rolled up with vanilla cream (a quick mix of yogurt and mascarpone cheese) and studded with raspberries. It is a moist and super refreshing dessert, light on the tongue and bright on the palate, moderately sweet and interspersed with the tangy, perfect notes of the berries. Just the kind of dessert I wish for at the end of a rich meal.

Two of the guests at our lunch don’t eat chocolate (I know!), but if that wasn’t the case I would likely have added dark chocolate shavings to the filling and some cacao powder dusted on top. I also considered adding chopped hazelnuts or toasted coconut to the cream, but decided to keep the flavors simple (sensing a pattern here?) and stick to the vanilla and raspberry pairing.

Raspberries aren’t exactly in season this time of year (unless of course you live in the Southern hemisphere) but I buy them frozen and can live with this exception to my season-abiding cooking habits. For a more winter-friendly filling, you could replace the raspberries with poached and diced pears, and add some toasted walnuts or crumbled bits of candied chestnut for flavor and color.

As far as decorations go, again I’m going for simplicity, but you can place small paper stars on top the cake to act as stencils when you dust on the confectioner’s sugar, you can drizzle the top in a zig-zag pattern with melted chocolate or caramel sauce, or you can place little marzipan trees across the top.

Join the conversation!

Will you be doing any cooking or baking for holiday meals this year? What are your plans? And have you ever made, or wanted to make, a Bûche de Noël?

PS: An equally holiday-friendly raspberry dacquoise, some holiday gift suggestions, and my ginger and almond chocolate clusters.

* And not necessarily made in-house: more and more pastry shops just buy frozen, factory-made bûches and pass them off as their own. If a neighborhood pastry shop seems to be selling lots of different sizes and designs, it is worth asking whether they are homemade. You can view a France 5 documentary on that subject (in French) for another few days: Noël, une bûche à tout prix !

Raspberry Bûche de Noël

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Warming Pink Lentil Soup

The days are getting shorter, the air is getting chillier, and our collective noses are getting snifflier. It’s time for a warming bowl of wholesome, immune-boosting ingredients, and this pink lentil soup is precisely that.

It is drawn from an early review copy of Sarah Britton’s upcoming book My New Roots, which won’t come out until spring, but this particular recipe is one that’s actually available on her beautiful blog of the same name.

The entire book is a treasure trove of inspiration and I’ve tagged many recipes to try, but this one was first in line: it is incredibly quick to put together, with hardly any prep work at all, and mostly pantry ingredients you likely have on hand as we speak.

The result is a remarkably satisfying, lightly chunky soup that hits all the right spots — the sweetness of the lentils, the earthiness of the cumin, the acidity of the lemon, the umami of the tomatoes, the fiery kick of the ginger and chili pepper — and I can already see it becoming a staple of my wintry repertoire.

Join the conversation!

What’s your favorite warming, soothing dish to prepare when you need to keep the cold, and the sniffles, out?

PS: A winter vegetable curry, my favorite gift ideas for the holiday, and chocolate walnut cookies.

Pink Lentil Soup

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