The book has landed!!! The book has landed!!!
Naturally, this was news I couldn’t keep to myself so I called friends – all of them characters in the book – and invited them over for an apéro (or apéritif, shorthand for drinks before dinner). It was time for concrete thanks to all of these people who let me into their homes, their lives, their tables, and their refrigerators and freezers.
We set up all the tables in the courtyard to take advantage of the view – Dame Cathedral at her best, covered with late afternoon sun the color of honey. The fig tree is now in full, whispering leaf, the herbs waved gently in the breeze, and the shade would allow us to enjoy it all, because while the temperature flirted with 80F, the breeze kept it cool.
Because it was impromptu – the books were still hot to the touch – it had to be simple. Crudités from Baptiste’s farm, fresh radishes with butter and fleur de sel, a platter of cheeses, lots of fresh baguette.
Marie Boivin, an elemental character in In a French Kitchen, brought her red bell pepper tart – yum; Edith came bearing a kitschy dish which I filled with radishes; Alain and Philippe arrived with bottles of champagne in a cooler and lots of plant sprigs – they’re the godfathers of my garden, as well as my Sunday Lunch mentors. Nadine and Christian, dressed to the nines, offered a gorgeous bottle of Spanish wine; Nathalie and Arnaud came straight from work with roses; Dominique Leost arrived with his lemon cake from the book, and Bernadette ushered in a sparkling Vouvray to match the case that I had on hand. Baptiste, my favorite grower, showed up with what may have been the best contribution, his seven-week-old daughter Kiara.
Corks popped, everyone cheered and clapped, and when I served the profiteroles with home made ice cream and hot chocolate sauce, a reverential silence fell. No one left before 10 p.m. As a few of us sat in the garden afterwards, sipping Calvados and fake-smoking cigarillos, a friend said “Now that was a successful aperitif.”
His reason was that everyone had stayed so long. But I think it was more. Everyone present, aside from being part of my life was (and is) part of the book on one level or another, and each is accustomed to sharing their ideas, their camaraderie, their simple joy at being together in the same space with delicious things to eat and drink. That is the beauty of France, and teh French kitchen. So for me, the celebration of In a French Kitchen embodied the spirit of the book – a simple, delicious moment with joyous, hungry people!
An added richness to this evening was initiating Kiara into the fold, so she too will understand how important it is to gather friends, family and others to celebrate the finer things in life. The tradition continues.
For the Choux Pastry:
1 cup (150g) all-purpose flour
The zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic, minced
½ cup (125ml) water
½ cup (125ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
7-1/2 tablespoons (112g) unsalted butter, cut in thin slices
3 large eggs
For the chocolate sauce:
10 ounces (300g) semi-sweet chocolate, Lindt brand suggested, coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons (90ml) water
6 tablespoons (90ml) heavy, non ultra-pasteurized cream impossible to find
2 pints ice cream (of your choice)
½ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted – optional garnish
Fleur de sel – optional garnish
- Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Mix the flour and the lemon zest together.
- Put the water, milk, sugar, salt and butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour and lemon zest all at once, mixing with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball and comes away from the sides of the pan. Continue mixing for 1 minute to dry out the dough just a bit.
- Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined.
- Either form the choux using two teaspoons, or spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tip, and pipe out the choux (you should get 30), leaving about 1-1/2 inches (3.75cm) between each one. Place in the center of the oven and bake until they are puffed and golden, 25 to 30 minutes. (The baking time will vary depending on the oven). Remove them from the oven and poke each one with a skewer in several places, to let the steam escape. This way, they won’t fall.
- While the choux are baking, make the chocolate sauce. Place the chocolate and the water in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. When the water simmers, whisk the mixture until the chocolate melts. Whisk in the cream, and keep the sauce warm.
- To serve, cut three choux pastries in half, horizontally, for each person. Place a scoop of ice cream on the bottom of each choux pastry, and cover the ice cream with the top of the choux pastry. Spoon a generous amount of chocolate sauce over each choux. Garnish with toasted almonds and salt, if desired.
Serves 10 (makes 30 choux pastries, which can be frozen)