Archive for month: June, 2012

Pudding at our B&B

I have been surprised at how popular pavlova and other meringue based desserts are here at our holiday cottage in the South of France . Most of our guests seem to love them but say that they could never make them. The reality is that provided you take some simple precautions they are very straightforward, but I’ll come back to that.

Many people suggest that meringue was the creation of Italian chef Gasparini when he was working in Mehringyghen in Switzerland and it is the place that gave the name. However there is a reference to meringue in Massialot’s book “Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liquers et les fruits” published in 1692. Although not called meringues there are earlier references in English cookery books to “white bisket bread” and the cooking ingredients and method are the same as for meringue. The Pavlova is named after the Russian Ballerina Anne Pavlova. The invention is the source of dispute between Australia and New Zealand but on balance it was probably created in Wellington New Zealand during her 1926 tour.

There are essentially three types of meringue. The first and most basic is Suisse where egg white and sugar are whipped together in proportions of 1 egg white to 50g (2oz) of caster sugar. Second is Meringue Cuite (cooked) This is not actually cooked in the preparation but it is whisked over hot water and icing sugar is used in a slightly higher proportion. It produces a firmer meringue. The third is Meringue Itallienne. This is the meringue used in professional patisserie work giving a similar result to meringue cuit but is a lighter finer mixture. It is made by making the sugar into a syrup before adding to the egg white.

So what are the key pointers to successful meringues?

1 Make sure the bowl and whisk are completely grease free, clean and dry.

2 Make sure there is absolutely no trace of yolk in the whites.

3 Eggs should be at room temperature and a few days old, but not stale.

4 The shape of the whisk and bowl can affect the quality of the meringue. The best is a balloon whisk in a rounded copper bowl and although it gives the best volume it takes a long time and a strong arm! I use a slightly narrower bowl and an electric whisk. It is important to use a constant speed and not to stop until the whites are stiff ready for the sugar to be added.

5 Use fine sugar. Caster sugar or icing sugar. Granulated is not suitable.

6 Dry the meringue rather than cook it! Low oven temperatures are essential. If the oven is too hot the meringue will lack crispness and be tough, you will also see beads of moisture oozing out. Some chefs will even say you should do meringues at 90o for about 3 hours with the oven door ajar to allow the steam to escape but that was before we became energy conscious!


Birthday Pud

Recently at Chez Maison Bleue we had a guest with a birthday and as a special dessert we produced a strawberry pavlova using lovely local strawberries from Mirepoix market. I like to beat some of the strawberries in with the cream to give the toping a nice light pink colour and then decorate with the whole or cut strawberries. Summer is the perfect time for making meringues with loads of delicious fresh fruit. Apricots and cherries are in season at the moment here in the Languedoc and peaches will be coming at the beginning of July. If you are worried about having all those egg yolks left over use them for lovely rich custards.

Baby friendly holiday home

A great review for Chez Maison Bleue in the south of France from guests who stayed with a young baby…”A beautiful, traditional yet modern gite in the most peaceful and idyllic setting, a real home from home! Wonderfully accommodating and hospitable, we have had a fantastic week exploring Carcassonne, Mirepoix, and venturing as far as the coastal resorts of Argeles and Collioure, definitely worth the 2 hour drive.” Photos of the Mediterranean courtesy of our guests.

Beautiful, quiet Mediterranean beaches, 2hrs from Chez Maison Bleue

“Wild” swimming in Puivert lake

Château de Puivert provides a stunning backdrop to a day out at the lake, 8km from our holiday cottage and B&B in the south of France; borrow our mountain bikes or an easy drive along quiet roads. On a Saturday afternoon where the temperature tipped 31 degrees it was a popular spot for the kids having tremendous fun diving from the jetty. Go early to have the lake to yourself before returning to Chez Maison Bleue for a leisurely breakfast on the terrace. Puivert Château built in the 12th century is one of the Cathar castles, the open countryside more hospitable than the wild crags of many of the Cathar sites. The very lovely, typically French town, houses a small museum and of course in these parts, the ubiquitous medieval church.

Puivert Chateau, a most magnificent backdrop for swimming in the lake




Tour de France – official route

The stages of the Tour de France 2012 have been published. Stage 14, the high mountain stage Limoux to Foix passes even closer to our holiday cottage and B&B in Sonnac sur l’Hers than previously thought – through Chalabre, only 3km from Chez Maison Bleue. So a walk or a cycle ride for us to be part of this tremendous sporting spectacle as it passes through the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Special People – Gluten and Dairy Free

When catering for people it is necessary to ensure that you provide the right kind of food. That is a statement of the obvious. What is not so obvious are the solutions. There is increasing awareness of food allergies and intolerances and these provide a challenge to the chef.

An increasingly common condition is celiac disease. This condition is intolerance to gluten. This protein is found in wheat, barley and rye. Anything that contains these or their products cannot be eaten. This means that normal baking and pastry making cannot be done. Substitutes need to be found such as potato or rice flour, maize flour and chickpea flour. The properties of theses flours is however slightly different to wheat flour. The amount of liquid they absorb is different and the elasticity of the finished product is significantly reduced. To overcome this sorghum can be added. Here in the Languedoc life can be particularly difficult as the condition is not generally recognised. The supermarkets are not as geared up to supplying suitable products. At our local supermarket in Mirepoix maize flour is about the only product available. The traditional French petit dejeuner is therefore off limits so the most common breakfast that gets dished up is eggs but without the toast!

Another prevalent intolerance is dairy. Strictly this is intolerance to all forms and products of mammalian milk. Some dieticians however describe it as relating to cow’s milk only. The reality is that the lactose which generally causes the difficulty is present in all mammals milk and it is just present in greater concentration in cow’s milk. This often results in initially sufferers being able to tolerate such products as goats and sheep’s cheese but then developing intolerance even to these. The usual substitute in terms of milk is soya milk but over use of this can also cause difficulty and it is best to use a variety of vegetable milks.

Pineapple Tartlet Gluten and Dairy Free

On occasions people have both conditions which can make life really challenging for the chef. Let me share a fine dessert we created at Chez Maison Bleue that caters for this. First you need to make a small flan case from a pate sucre using a blend of rice and maize flour (many UK supermarkets stock gluten free flour) and substitute sunflower oil margarine for the butter. Bake this blind as if you are making a normal mini flan. For the filling use a standard crème patisserie but use the same gluten free flour and in place of milk use coconut milk. This gives it a nice subtle coconut flavour. Then top it off with pieces of fresh pineapple. The combination of coconut and pineapple is a classic and works really well. This is a good illustration of how with a little imagination those who have these conditions need not miss out on fine dining.

Chez Maison Bleue, gluten & dairy free

More satisfied customers at our holiday cottage in the south of France. These guests were gluten and dairy intolerant and so provided quite a challenge to chef…”Thank you for accommodating our dietary requirements so graciously and deliciously. Warm hospitality, glorious food, wonderful to meet you both.” See chef’s blog for more information on what this means, particularly in the south of France where the condition is seldom acknowledged.