I arrived at the studio where I give classes in Paris to find a small poster taped to the door of the building with the anouncement “Coupure de Gaz” (cutting off the gas) in livid black letters. I looked closely to see when. Oh no! “le 11 May de 8 h jusqu’au 18h” was written; right in the middle of my class.
I did what anyone would do. I sat down on the doorstep and cried.
Not really. I got to the studio, pulled out my computer and hoped that I could reach my students. What would I say? I looked at the emails and, Glory Be! There were cancellations (2015 is the year for cancellations. Is it the lenient policy which allows for the class to be taken any time within a year? Perhaps. Or maybe everyone’s lives are uncertain). But, there were students, and so I emailed them. The choices: come, for a raw meal. Change the date. Get a refund.
The answers suprised me, and I began to plan a raw meal, discarding the grilled duck breast with shitakes, the braised asparagus, the wilted spinach. I was puzzling over the dessert when I remembered the electric oven. Which got me thinking further. Could I do the entire meal in the oven? A few techniques would go by the wayside, but perhaps I could make it work. The flaky pastry with sweetened berries I’d planned would stay on the menu. But a total, oven-cooked meal? I decided against it, mostly because everyone was up for a raw meal. Besides, even if the meal failed, the dessert would win over anyone’s heart and palate.
The following day was unseasonably warm, perfect for a raw meal kind of day. Not only that, but as we all can see, so many new, gorgeous, young vegetables are on the market. I picked up the ingredients for a meal that would include radishes with butter, sea salt and bread; baked mushrooms with Bellotta chorizo; a main course of beet soup with cream clouds (we buy beets pre-cooked in France). As for the asparagus, I decided to grill it with herbs, in the oven. Ok, the meal wouldn’t be one hundred percent raw, but almost.
I set off for market, jaunty with the challenge and met students there, equally jaunty. We picked up our ingredients, made a stop at Poilane bakery on the way home, and set to slicing, dicing, mincing and zesting.
Our meal, which featured the room temperature beet soup as a main course, framed by the baked mushrooms with chorizo, the radishes, some raw asparagus and some roasted in the oven, a gorgeous green salad dressed with a delicate soy vinaigrette, and those puffy, crisp and tender cakes with strawberries, was a success! You should try it sometime; the blend of raw and cooked was sublime, the raw asparagus a true revelation.
The gas remained absent for the duration but did we even notice it? No. And now if it happens again, I’ll just shrug, smile, and head to the market!
STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM CAKES, FROM ON RUE TATIN
FRAISES A LA CREME ET GALETTE A LA ON RUE TATIN
1 pound (500g) strawberries, hulled and sliced, lengthwise
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
For the cakes:
1 cup (130g) all purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 tablespoons (70g) sugar
6 tablespoons (3 oz.; 90g) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup (250ml) heavy, non ultra-pasteurized cream
For the Crème Fraîche:
1 cup (250ml) crེme fraîche, chilled
2 tablespoons (25g) vanilla sugar, ground fine
- Combine the strawberries and the tablespoon of sugar in a medium bowl, toss, and set aside for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Chill a large-size bowl and a whisk or whisk attachment or rotary blades of an electric mixer (for whipping the cream).
- In a large bowl, or in a food processor, combine both flours with the salt, baking powder, and 4 tablespoons of the sugar. Stir well, or process once or twice, to mix. Add the butter and process, or cut it in with a pastry blender or two knives until it ranges from the size of coarse cornmeal to the size of a pea. Add the cream all at once, and lightly mix until the dough gathers together but does not completely adhere. Be very careful not to overmix. If you are using a food processor, pulse just two or three times.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, dust it lightly with flour, and press it down with a rolling pin until it is somewhat rectangular in shape and about ½ inch (1.3 cm) thick. Fold it in thirds like a business letter, and turn it one quarter turn (90 degrees). Lightly flour it and gently press it out again until it is an even rectangle about ½ inch (1.3 cm) thick, fold it in thirds, and turn it another quarter turn. Lightly flour the dough again if necessary to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin, and roll it out to form a very even rectangle measuring 6 x 12 inches (15 x 30cm). Cut it in half, crosswise, then cut an X through each half so that you have eight triangular pieces. Sprinkle the pieces with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about ¼ inch (1/2 cm) between them. Bake in the center of the oven until the shortcakes are golden and puffed, about 12 minutes. Slide the parchment paper off the baking sheet and onto a wire rack to cool.
- Whisk the crème fraîche in the chilled bowl until it holds a stiff peak. Whisk in the sugar and taste – add additional sugar if necessary.
- To serve, arrange a piece of shortcake on the center of each of six plates. Top with equal amounts of berries, and a dollop of cream. Garnish with mint leaves.
Serves 8 (or maybe 4, if you’re really hungry!)