Tartelettes au Citron Meringuée

A few years ago I had what was probably the best French lemon meringue pie ever. After spending the morning driving around the Opal Coast of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, we finally decided on a place to stop for lunch: Le Touquet-Paris-Plage. But choosing a restaurant proved to be no easy task. Kirstie wanted crêpes, I wanted seafood, and Hans just wanted to make sure we had a nice table, good food and great wine. After a lot of debate and a few rounds through the town centeer, we finally agreed on a cozy, little crêperie. At first, I wasn’t so sure about our choice, but I was persuaded by the fact that there was a seafood salad on the menu, which turned out to be absolutely delicious. Plump mussels, prawns, cuttlefish, smoked salmon, samphire and a little mound of caviar. Hans chose the carbonade flamande, and because there were no sweet crêpes at that moment (major disappointment), Kirstie settled for the waffles with Nutella. Everyone was happy.
When dessert time rolled around, the waiter told us that we could either choose from the menu or come and have a look inside at some of the pastries they had on offer. And how beautiful they were!  Edible works of art created out of chocolate, cream, gleaming fruits and custard! Plus, tartelettes of every kind, truffles and eclairs! How could I possibly choose?
I finally decided on a lemon meringue pie. The best lemon meringue pie I’ve ever had. I knew it was a recipe I had to recreate, and I dare say that the results were pretty close to what my taste buds remembered. The only difference was that my pie wasn’t enjoyed at a fabulous French beach town. But hey, if I close my eyes…

Tartelettes au Citron Meringuée

lemon pie

Makes 4 tartelette-sized pies

For the crust:

  • 150g all-purpose flour
  • 75g cold butter, cubed
  • 2 tbsps raw cane sugar
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt

Knead all of the ingredients, either by hand or with the help of a kitchen machine. Form the dough into a fat disk and chill for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3mm, put the tartelette moulds upside down on the dough and cut out a slightly bigger circle around them. Press the dough onto the buttered and floured moulds and prick the whole surface of the dough with a fork.
Line the dough with a small piece of baking paper and weigh that down with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes.
In the meantime, make the filling…

You will need:

  • 90g butter
  • juice of two lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 150g caster sugar

Melt the butter together with the lemon juice. Beat the eggs, egg yolk and the sugar. Add the melted butter and lemon very slowly to this mixture, whisking constantly as you go as to avoid curdling. Put the mixture back on the stove and allow it to cook slowly over a moderate heat for about 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently while it cooks. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, it is ready to be poured into the prepared shells.
Cook the lemon pies for approximately ten minutes at 200°C.

To make the meringue you will need:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 75g icing sugar

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with half the sugar until almost stiff. Add in the rest of the sugar and whisk until the egg whites are firm and satiny. Put this into a piping bag and pipe evenly over the pies. Brown the meringue using a torch or by placing the pies under a hot grill for a minute or two.
Allow the pies to cool and refrigerate before eating.

Sundays in Summer

The medieval village of Issigeac has narrow streets, authentically preserved architecture and quaint houses with shutters in pale shades of yellow, blue, pink, cream and mint green. When you wander through its streets, you feel as though you’re back in the Middle Ages.

sundays in summer sread

Although very busy, especially during the summer season, Issigeac’s Sunday market is really something that should not be missed. It is definitely one of the most colorful and folkloric ones in the region, but you do need to be very patient, as the masses of people will literally force you to walk at the most leisurely of paces. It isn’t a market you’ll want to (or will be able to) rush through. And if you have a small dog, like we do, it might be smart to pick it up and carry it safely away from all those scary feet!

sundays in summer issigeac1Sometimes, when we are lucky enough to find a free table, we like to have a drink at a great little café with its terrace situated under a roof of grape leaves. Life is good when you’re lazily sipping something wonderful while engaging in a little people-watching.
I usually keep my purchases to a minimum at the market. Mainly because we always drive to Soumensac for lunch afterward, and it isn’t a smart idea to leave food in the car when the temperatures outside are above 30°C. I do like to take home some nice Marmande tomatoes, a few boxes of fragrant strawberries or a sweet Quercy melon or two.

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The Issigeac market is a great place to start the Sunday, while Soumensac’s Marchés des Producteurs is the only way to roll into an unforgettable afternoon. I always refer to this market as the ‘Renoir-live-painting-lunch’. On a beautiful hilltop, vendors sell and prepare regional specialties. You’ll find just about every kind of duck product, all kinds of barbecued meats, some of the fattest escargots, fresh salads made with seasonal vegetables, refreshing fruit desserts, crêpes, fresh bread and of course, plenty of regional wine.

sundays in summer soumensac snailsLong tables are set out under the tall trees, and if you want, you can even dress your table with your own pretty tablecloth and tableware. I make the comparison to Renoir because for some reason, the colors and atmosphere are just as magnificent there as they are in Renoir’s paintings. The soft, dappled light, the colorful scenery, the foliage of the trees and the beautiful hats worn by most of the people make you really feel as though you are literally inside Renoir’s Le Déjeuner des Canotiers! Don’t you agree?

Sundays in summer renoir

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Le_Déjeuner_des_canotiersThere are many different stands selling freshly prepared regional foods, and everything is bountifully displayed. At one stand a friendly couple offers simple plates of salads composed of rounds of cucumbers, ripe Marmande tomatoes, finely sliced sweet onions and thin slivers of peppers. They are dressed with nothing more than a little olive oil and some salt, letting the summery tastes and aromas of the vegetables shine through. Another stand sells warm crêpes with granulated sugar. Of course, there are grilling stands where everything is being barbecued right on the spot: fat duck sausages, tournedos with tender hearts of foie gras, chicken pieces and skewers of various meats and seasonal vegetables. The robust aroma of anything grilled is hard to resist, meaning that the lines there are usually the longest. Right across from the grilling area is a lady who offers fresh fried chips. Dessert offerings include slices of squidgy-bellied clafoutis dotted with halved prunes or refreshing parfait glasses composed of layers of vanilla pudding, tart berries and coulis.
If you are in the Lot-et-Garonne, you might want to check out this market. Who knows? You might bump into me there. If you do, please stop by and say hello!

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Three Recipes To Transport You To Fields of Lavender

Visiting France always provides me with plenty of culinary inspiration. I came up with the following lavender recipes after returning from my travels through the Drôme Provençale.
Note: The key to cooking with dried flowers is to use a light hand. That way the flowers enhance the flavour of food instead of masking it with their intense aroma.

Strawberry Lavender Jam
My favorite strawberry jam recipe reminds me of France and is my own little tribute to the summer season. A friend once said that it “tasted like Provence”. What a delightful compliment! Perhaps it’s the addition of lavender, one of the most fragrant (and beautiful) gifts of summer, and a symbol of one of France’s sunniest regions. You’ll love the jam on summer mornings, spread over a toasted, lightly buttered piece of baguette and washed down with a nice bowl of French-pressed coffee.

Strawberry Lavender JamNote: make sure to use lavender that is safe for consumption! Sterilise your jars by boiling them.

Makes about 500ml

  •  600g strawberries, washed and hulled
  • 250g gelling sugar
  • 1 ½ tbsp dried lavender (suitable for cooking)
  • juice of ½ a small lemon

Cut the strawberries in half and place them together with the sugar and the lavender in a stainless steel pan. Mash them a little with a potato masher, but make sure you leave some nice chunks. You don’t want to mash the strawberries into a sauce! Add the lemon juice, stir and quickly bring everything to the boil. Lower the heat and allow the jam to cook for approximately 30 minutes, stirring frequently. You’ll want the jam to bubble away nicely, but make sure that the heat isn’t so high that it splatters everywhere.
To check if the jam is ready, drop about a teaspoonful onto a cold saucer. The jam should be thick and immediately start to set. Transfer the jam to your sterilised jars and allow to cool before placing in the fridge. The jam keeps well when stored in a dark, cool place.

Quatre Quarts with Red Berries and Lavender
My version of this classic French cake is made with a good handful of dried red berries (cranberries, cherries or strawberries) and a touch of lavender. A beautifully scented, red-speckled, buttery loaf perfect for tea time, or any time!

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Serves 8

  •  250g all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 225g soft butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender (suitable for cooking)
  • 120g dried red berries

Soak the dried berries in hot water for approximately 15 minutes. Drain thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 165°C. Line a 28 cm rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Sift flour and salt into a bowl. Add the baking powder and the lavender and stir thoroughly. In a separate bowl, whip the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add them little by little to the butter and sugar mixture. Fold in the dry ingredients and the dried berries in two batches, stirring thoroughly after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for about an hour and 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Allow to cool on a wire rack before serving.

Dainty Chocolate and Lavender Cookies
One tablespoon of dried lavender is all you will need to transform a simple chocolate cookie into something beautiful. I always store these thin, crisp treats in my prettiest of jars. But in all honesty, I’m afraid they never stay there that long!

Dainty Chocolate Lavender Cookies

Makes approximately 40 cookies

  •  200g caster sugar
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsps good-quality cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt (preferably fleur de sel)
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers (safe for consumption)

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a cookie sheet with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar with a handheld mixer or standing mixer. Add the egg and continue beating. Beat in the flour, chocolate, salt and lavender, making sure that the lavender is evenly distributed. Take small teaspoonfuls of the dough and form them into fat, little discs of about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place on the prepared cookie sheet about 2 ½ inches apart and bake for 15-18 minutes. Carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. The cookies will be soft when they come out of the oven but will crisp while cooling.

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Diary of France: Lunch at La Cigale

on markets and good food dessert

Today was one of those days. A typical day in France in which we somehow seem to experience a week’s worth of fun in the time span of a single day. We had a leisurely walk through the market in Chalon-sur-Sâone, enjoyed a glass of wine on a busy terrace, visited a very typical French antique market and drove through the vineyards of Meursault.
For lunch, we stopped at La Cigale located on Rue de Strasbourg. At first, we were a little disappointed because the streets were completely deserted. Two streets full of restaurants and only a few with customers! Luckily though, a few more people joined us, which made the lunch experience just a little cozier. We chose the menu du jour. Kirstie and I started with a tomato mozzarella salad which was very fresh and tasty. I liked the idea of using lemon juice in the dressing instead of my usual balsamic vinegar. The addition of finely chopped chives was also lovely. Hans ordered the chicken salad as his starter. He seemed to enjoy it, although he did mention it was rather garlicky! We followed with a steak seasoned with Herbes de Provence and served in a light, creamy gravy. The chips that went with our meal were absolute perfection. Crispy and so nicely seasoned! Kirstie, the little gourmande, had the salmon in beurre blanc served with wild rice and girolles. And oh dessert! We enjoyed a layered raspberry tart with fine pastry, sweet cream and icy, bright red raspberries!

 

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