Monthly themes


Regional Baking of France large

One of the many charms of cuisine is that it tells you so much about a place.  The culture.  The climate.  The people. 

I am fascinated by how local food can be unreservedly distinctive and diverse. Even in a small country, each region can boast its own unique specialities influenced by traditions, availability of ingredients and geography.

This month, I will be showcasing a small sampling of desserts distinctive to a handful of regions around France.

The characteristic gastronomy of Alsace in the northeast, and the gentle blend of German and French influence.  The rich dairy and farming lands of Brittany and Normandy, and the abundance of cream, crème fraiche, milk, butter and apples.  The characteristic rum and spice of the port region of Bordeaux, a vestige of the trade of yesteryear.  The temperate and sun-drenched climate of Provence and the orchard of citrus, fruits, herbs and nuts. 

I hope you will enjoy the trip around France with me.

Caramel month roundup

It seems as quickly as it started, it has finished.  Caramel month.  It has been a busy few weeks as I have navigated my way through caramel in many forms.  CrunchyCreamyClear

Sherry Yard has been my chief ‘instructor’, guiding me through the fundamentals of caramel via her book, The Secrets of Baking.  This is one of the most frequently referenced tomes in my collection (primarily due to its instructional nature), and has been invaluable in steering me through this syrupy affair.

Caramel quite simply starts with cooked sugar.  Most professionals use the ‘dry’ method to make caramel – an approach that requires a very good eye to gauge temperature.  A more foolproof approach is the ‘wet’ method that incorporates water with the sugar.  The addition of corn syrup or lemon in to this mix – which is common in many recipes – also assists in minimising the development of sugar crystallisation.  The ideal temperature to cook sugar is roughly between 160-180C (or 325-350F).  It quickly can burn, so is essential you watch it the entire time.  No multi-tasking!

The master caramel recipe of cooked sugar is used to produce crunchy caramel creations – praline, spun sugar, caramel decorations.  Add cream, and you have caramel sauce.  Add a liquid like wine, juice or water, and you have a caramel glaze.  Best of all, with this master caramel formula, you have an indispensable range of recipes at your disposal.

Mr Mélanger remarked I must be tiring of caramel.  Not at all.  Having only scratched the sugary surface of this caramel wonder, my fascination has only just been piqued.  But next month is a new theme.  And I am excited.  Any guesses?  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, here is a summary of the caramel recipes I tackled during caramel month.  I hope you enjoyed some caramel of your own this month, too!

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caramel cake:: Triple Caramel Cake ::
It is bold.  It is unashamedly rich.  And it superbly showcases caramel in many forms.  From the caramelised cake, to the soft caramel sauce infused buttercream, to the crisp hazelnut praline that crowns this four layer wonder.  { Recipe here … }

 

pear:: Belle Hélène ::
A simple, yet elegant dessert.  The refreshingly light chocolate ice cream combines faultlessly with the pears – the star of the dish – that has been deliciously infused with a simple lemon-vanilla syrup.  { Recipe here … }

 

creme caramel:: Lavender Honey Crème Caramel ::
The sweet floral of lavender is quite the perfect match for the spicy, sweet honey in this twist on the classic crème caramel.  Bake in individual dishes or as a family style flan for a more relaxed dessert.  { Recipe here … }

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ice cream:: Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream ::
Deep, rich caramel infused ice cream.  The ice cream is creamy, yet with an edge.  Enjoy by the spoonful whether it is 30C, or 30F, outside.  { Recipe here … }

 

cupcakes:: Chocolate Salted Caramel Cupcakes ::
The salted caramel harmoniously melds with the rich chocolate cake and dark chocolate frosting.  Lightly sprinkled to finish, the grey flakes, light and almost pearlised, look misleadingly innocent.  { Recipe here … }

 

macarons:: Salted Caramel Macarons ::
A classic French macaron flavour.  The sweet and salty overtones of caramel perfectly cut the sweetness of the macaron shell.  A sprinkling of fleur de sel on top seals the salty fate.  { Recipe here … }

 

dulce:: Dulce de Leche ::
Caramel at its richest.  Slow cooked milk and sugar produces the stickiest, creamiest and more-ish caramel treat. Eat straight from the jar or on bread, sweet biscuits or any accompaniment. Highly likely to be consumed within 24 hours.   { Recipe here … }

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brioche:: Brioche Tart with Caramelised Fruits ::
This egg rich bread is filled with creamy custard, topped with a tangy sabayon sauce, and served with caramel poached fruits.  Enjoy as a sweet weekend breakfast alternative to the typical pancake or waffle options.  { Recipe here … }

Caramel month

This month (with a 3-1 vote by Mélanger readers!), I will be tackling caramel and exploring what mouth-watering treats I can create with various proportions of sugar and water – plus butter and cream! 

Creamy or crunchy.  Hard or soft.  Caramel is a gem in the baking arsenal.  Often a well placed decoration in a desert or the all-round star of the show.  Either way, its versatility is undeniable.

Caramel is loved the world over.  But I think I personally know caramel’s #1 fan.  It comes in the always effervescent package known as Ms Contreras.

At 15, Ms Contreras moved from Chile with her family to Australia.  She spoke no English.  Quickly, she found herself caught up in the routine of her new life.  One such event was a trip to the local supermarket.

Ms Contreras thought all her Christmases had come at once when she spied an over-sized jar of caramel.  This jar spoke no Spanish, but she just knew it was talking to her.  Compelling her to buy it.  Needless to say, there was little resistance from Ms Contreras.

Once home, she quickly whipped the lid off the container, and with spoon ready, Ms Contreras dipped in without hesitation.  As soon as the spoon reached her mouth, alarm bells went off.  She may not have been able to read English at this stage, but her taste buds could immediately translate.

What she so longingly wanted to taste, was not her beloved caramel at all.  Her secret food desire.  But in fact, what she tasted was peanut butter.  Plain, old peanut butter.

With her little 15 year old shoulders slumped, and her spirit broken, she declared – and still does to this day – that to be the worst day of her life.

The treats I make during :: Caramel Month :: will never ever make up for that day, but hopefully one or two (that I, of course, will share!) will put a smile on her face.

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Earlier this year I shared the news of my impending nuptials – and the plan for my French macaron wedding favors.  Coordinating with the colours of the wedding (emerald green, aqua and lavender), a wave of flavour suggestions were made.

And quickly, my macaron trials were on!

1. Champagne Macarons
2. Liquorice Macarons
3. Blueberry Macarons
4. Matcha Tea Macarons

But the ultimate winner?  Champagne Macarons, bien sûr.

Now after all the planning, the big day has arrived.  This image is just a sneak peek of day.  Mr Mélanger and I are now enjoying our honeymoon.

I will return in October and share a few more images of the wedding preparation and the big day.

Plus, I will be raring to go with caramel.  With a 3-1 vote, it is the clear victor for my next monthly baking theme!  Thank you everyone for your choices.  Having a serious weakness for chocolate, I was totally surprised with the outcome – but I am really excited about the challenge.

A bientôt!

{ Image } ::  Mr Mélanger & Julia
Location @ Brisbane Powerhouse, New Farm
Photography shot by Sarah Sculley of Sculley Design

Pastry month round-upWhether an elegant or casual dessert, or simply an afternoon treat, I have re-familiarised myself this month with the fact there is quite simply a pastry for all occasions.  I only made a very small selection, but it has been enough to reignite my interest in pastry – and ensure I continue to include a pastry sampling (or two!) in my ongoing baking repertoire.

Until then, here is a summary of the basic pastry recipes I tackled during my pastry month, and my selected pastry desserts.  I hope you enjoyed some pastry of your own this month, too!

puffPâte feuilletée (or puff pastry) is the king of pastry.  Light, buttery and decadent.  The version by renown chef Jean Millet is outstanding.  Puff pastry is time consuming to make, but you are certainly well rewarded for your efforts.

tarte:: Tarte Tatin ::
This French classic is the ultimate dessert.  Simple yet impressive.  The taste is utterly sublime when made with an all-butter homemade puff pastry.  A winner for every baker.  { Read more here }

  

mille:: Mille Feuille ::
Mille Feuille, Napoleon, Vanilla Slice.   There are many names for this messy-to-eat-but-oh-so-finger-licking-good pastry.  Guaranteed to be all consumed within minutes.  { Read more here }

 

chouxThe lightest of all the pastries, pâte à choux (or choux pastry) can be transformed into an elegant croquembouche or a simple profiterole or éclair. 

eclair:: Chocolate éclairs ::
The simplicity of the chocolate éclair certainly does not translate to boring.  The addition of a light vanilla pastry cream and rich chocolate ganache glaze, provides a classic and mouth-watering dessert.  { Read more here }

 

sucreeJulia Child’s timeless recipe for pâte sucrée (or sweet tart pastry) creates a spectacular vehicle for any sweet tart.

basil:: Lime-Basil Tart ::
The traditional citrus tart is given a twist with the addition of fresh basil.  The fragrance from the basil is subtle but brings out the zesty overtones of the limes.  These flavours pair especially well with a basic sweet tart pastry.  { Read more here }

 

sableeCrumbly and buttery, pâte sablée is melt-in-your-mouth good.  This rich, sweet pastry has a delicate crisp and crumbly texture that seems to enhance the depth of any filling.

strawberry:: Strawberry and Pistachio Tart ::
The pistachio tart pastry produces an incredible aroma when baking.  The nuttiness of the pastry is a lovely complement to the creamy berry filling.  It is a perfect tart for a casual lunch with friends.  { Read more here }

 

briseeThe most basic of pastry.  An all-round baking basic.

cloudberry:: Orange-Spiced Cloudberry Galettes ::
Pâte brisée is made distinctive by Sherry Yard with the inclusion of cinnamon, ginger and orange.  The simple galette is quick and easy to prepare.  Perfect for an afternoon snack.   { Read more here }