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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Local French dairy products

     One of the major challenges to French cooking I have found here in America is the fact that dairy products that are unpasteurized are not allowed.  I grew up on unpasteurized milk, cream and all sorts of “not allowed by the FDA” products, like so many other millions of people around the world and have never had a problem.  Raw dairy builds the immune system up like crazy, making for strong bones and a general healthy outlook.

     So here are the best dairy products I could come up with so far, if you want to cook like a true French person (as much as we can on this side of the world):



          From left to right:
  • “Natural by Nature” pasteurized heavy cream.  Unlike most cream, this one IS NOT ultra-pasteurized, which means it is boiled only once, and not at very high temperature, which makes for a much more stable and thicker product.
  • True whole milk en bouteille de verre, also by “Natural by Nature”, which is sold at Whole Foods Market.  It is so thick that you can collect up to 2 tablespoons of cream at the top of the bottle when you open it.
  • An excellent option for butters are the French ones from Poitou, a region suited to the rearing of goats.  All the dairy from this part of France is extra rich and creamy.  This “Sèvre Belle” is slightly salted.  Ideal for the baguette and petit noir of the morning.
  • Whenever I can, I buy a 1-pound roll of salted and unsalted butter at my local Farmers Market.  The one underneath the French butter comes from an Amish farm in Wisconsin from grass-fed cows.  You can actually taste the difference. 
  • For a bit more flavor, especially for ice-cream or a creamy dessert, nothing beats goat’s milk (see the cream leftover inside the bottle).  Also available at Whole Foods.
  • The Vermont Creamery makes an excellent crème fraîche, one of the staples of French cooking.  Their cheeses are also quite imaginative and creamy.

     A very good recipe to use two of the products above is a panna-cotta.  I suggest using the goat’s milk for the vanilla portion and the whole cow’s milk for the chocolate one.  It can be done with one or both flavours, and although it may seem lengthy to prepare, the majority of time required is for refrigeration.  The dessert can be made up to two days ahead and will keep for another two in the fridge.  It is an ideal end for a rather light dinner, of fish for example, as it tends to be filling.  The measurements are good for 4 servings.

 

La panna-cotta au chocolat, vainille e crème de violette:

 

Ingredients for the vainille et crème de violette panna-cotta:

  • 3 Tbsp. cold water
  • 2 ¼ tsp. unflavoured gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup half and half (combine half cup of cream and half of milk from “Natural by Nature” brand)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. crème de violette liqueur
  • ¼  Tahitian vanilla bean, scraped
  • Pinch of salt
Ingredients for the chocolate panna-cotta:

  • 1 ¾ cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 ¼ tsp. unflavoured gelatin
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 ounces finely chopped quality dark chocolate, 70% cacao
For the whipped cream topping:

  • ¾ heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp crème de violette liqueur
  • A drop or two of violet food colouring
  • Small pieces of chocolate for decorating

Preparation for the vainille et crème de violette panna-cotta:

     Pour the cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin.

 

     In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, half and half, sugar, lavender and salt over medium heat until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.

 

     Remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine strainer and into a measuring cup with a spout.  Stir in the crème de violette and the vanilla seeds, followed by the gelatin mixture, stirring until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

 

     Divide among 4 individual serving glasses and bring to room temperature, then place on a flat surface in the fridge and refrigerate overnight.

Preparation for the chocolate panna-cotta:



     Once the vanilla layer has been set, it’s time to make the chocolate one. 

 

     Pour ¼ cup of the whipping cream into a small heatproof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Place the bowl into a larger one with hot water and stir mixture until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

 

     In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the remaining cream, sugar and salt just to a boil and remove promptly from the heat.  Whisk the chocolate until completely incorporated and smooth.

 

     Add the gelatin mixture until well combined, pour it through a fine strainer and into a measuring cup with a spout.  Let sit until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.

 

     Divide among the chilled vanilla-crème de violette panna-cotta layered glasses, cover with plastic wrap and let chill in the refrigerator overnight.

To prepare the whipped cream topping:



     Make this 2 hours before serving.  Add the crème de violette liqueur to the cream, stir and let sit in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 1 hour – the longer it sits, the better the flavor. 

 

     Chill a mixing bowl and the metal whisk/s to be used to beat the cream for 15 minutes prior to mixing.  Add the cream with a drop or two of colouring and beat until it forms a soft peak. 

 

     Top each dessert with a dollop of cream and a piece or two of dark chocolate.




Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Our" French Café

     I have bought pastries at My French Café ever since my good friend David Moore recommended it on his group Wine Lovers & Adventurers.  They are, without doubt, one of the best options for French patisseries in Central Florida.  Owners Avy and Morgane Bendavid open their venture last fall, but they never imagined the success they’re enjoying. 

     This past weekend I decided to eat in and tried their “Little France” crêpe – typical ham, cheese and béchamel.  It was tasty and very filling; however, I was disappointed.  It was an American crêpe, not a French one, made too thick and served with a salad.  In France, the batter would have been cooked into an extra thin crêpe, and the filling would have been enough but not overpowering like this one was.



    The macaroons however, are spectacular.  Two round, fluffy meringue sides, about 2” in diameter.  There is a pistachio-blackcurrant version with raspberries, crème chantilly and a solid chocolate ganache center.  All the macaroons come with a vial of sauce – in this case blackcurrant – to be dispensed over the top or even inside of the macaroon, to counter-balance the sweetness.  If there ever was a perfect balance of flavours, this macaroon exemplifies it beautifully.



     My French Café is the only place in Orlando so far where I could find the classic French Opera cake.  Rich and with the typical accented taste of coffee, it pairs wonderfully with a strong espresso or a glass of brandy.



     The Mille-feuille is a cake best eaten just an hour or two after it is made.  My French Café can make it by special order in big size to impress your guests after an elegant dinner.



     There is also the Paris Brest, a dessert created in honor of the cycle race that it is named after.  It consists of a wheel-shaped pate choux pastry filled with almond cream and topped with slivered almonds.  Especially fulfilling at tea time.


     
     They also do catering and can make your favorite cake in larger sizes.  Just imagine the ohs and ahs from your friends when it’s time for dessert!