The sails go round with a heavy swing
As the wild wind plays on the hill;
And the corn is crushed, and the flour is ground
Right merrily at the mill.
March 30th, Birthday Book for Children , Kate Greenaway
I couldn’t resist sharing this extract from Kate Greenaway’s ‘Birthday book for children’. It’s impossible not to flick through the wonderfully illustrated pages filled with delightful writing for each birthday of the year. Her work is a gentle reminder to keep our inner child awake forever.
This week-end has been all about Easter, eggs and my birthday. I consider myself lucky to have an ‘all-in-one’ theme during this long Easter week-end. Pretty pastel-colored eggs, chocolate, bunnies and cherry blossoms are such inspiration and joy. I have the most delightful tradition on my birthday every year, to sit under my favorite tree and make a wish. Nothing beats the intense feeling of looking up through the dreamy branches of pink petals under the early spring sun. A magical moment.
We decided to combine Easter and my birthday lunch on Saturday. Symbolic food adorned the table, from the potage aux primeurs, a simple yet beautiful soup dedicated to spring. Eggs in cocotte with foie gras, bread-crumbed milk-fed lamb with roast potatoes for the main course. For my birthday cake, I got to choose. It’s all about getting what you want, right? So I decided to make a Tropézienne tart. Brioche, gently perfumed with orange blossom water with a beautiful vanilla custard and Chantilly cream in the middle. In 1955, Alexandre Micka, a boulanger and pâtissier in St Tropez, was hired to cater all the meals for Roger Vadim and his crew when they shot the movie ‘Et dieu créa la femme’ (When God created woman’) with Brigitte Bardot. He once made a tart, inspired from his native Polish roots. Everyone loved it so much, especially Brigitte Bardot, so they decided to call it ‘La tarte Tropézienne’. There are quite a few versions, and this is the one I like most, so I hope you will enjoy it.
We organized an Easter hunt in the garden, hiding eggs and chocolate bunnies everywhere, especially on the blossoming trees to make it extra difficult for the kids. It was so much fun to see our littlest Gaïa Johanna egg-hunting. This is her first ‘real’ hunt for eggs, you should have seen the look on her face when she found a chocolate bunny hidden in the tree! Chocolate is her favorite thing, she calls it ‘colo’. Now she thinks there is ‘colo’ in the garden everyday, everywhere.
To complete the chocolate theme, my husband surprised me with a gorgeous Smooth Fox Terrier puppy he brought back from England. She’s from our favorite Smooth breeders, Jenny and Roger of Glendraterra, our second one from them. Her name is Glendraterra Jean Genie after the Bowie song, she even likes his new album and so do I. She’s a striking brunette, refined and elegant as only a Smooth Fox Terrier can be. I am overwhelmed by her beauty and grace.
Potage aux primeurs (spring soup)
2 leeks, white part only, cut in julienne strips
150 g/ 1 cup green peas (preferably fresh peas, but frozen are fine too)
150 g/ 1 cup fava beans (shelled)
1 large carrot, cut in julienne strips
2 turnips, diced finely
2 litres/ 2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock
A handful of celery leaves, chopped
A handful of parsley, chopped (to be sprinkled on soup when served)
Salt and black pepper, for seasoning
4 egg yolks
For the croutons:
Half a stale baguette/ small country bread
1 garlic clove
Slice stale bread into small cubes. Place in a bowl, add the ground garlic, salt and drizzle with olive oil. Mix well. Place on a baking tray (lined with parchment paper) and place in pre-heated oven (350° on grill mode for minutes.
For the soup:
Wash all vegetables, slice and chop according to ingredients list. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil and add all the vegetables. Turn the heat down and leave to simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Whisk egg yolks in a small bowl, add a few tablespoons of the soup to blend. Take soup off the heat and add the egg yolks, making sure to whisk continuously to avoid any egg curdling.
Spoon soup into bowls, season with salt and pepper to your taste, sprinkle a few parsley leaves and croutons. Serve immediately.
Eggs in cocotte with foie gras
3/4 cups full cream (200 ml)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon salted butter
A dash of piment d’Espellete (optional)
6 small chunks of foie gras (optional)
Coarse salt and black pepper
A few slices of toasted baguette bread (or any bread you like)
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F.
Prepare 4 individual ramekins.
In a saucepan, bring the cream to a soft boil, simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and mix well. Set aside.
Rub garlic in the base of each cocotte (keep remaining garlic for the bread). Pour the hot cream evenly into each cocotte, and break the eggs in one by one into the cream. Place a sprig of thyme, add black pepper, a dot of butter and cook uncovered in a preheated oven for approximately 5 minutes. Put in a slice of foie gras on top of each egg and bake for 2-3 more minutes. The eggs should not be overcooked and slightly runny. (note: If you do not use foie gras, bake the eggs in cocotte for 7-8 minutes)
Rub toasted baguette bread with the remaining garlic clove. Sprinkle each cocotte with piment d’Espelette (optional). Serve with eggs immediately.
Roast bread-crumbed lamb with potatoes, garlic and parsley
1 milk-fed lamb shoulder – approx. 1 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds (épaule d’agneau de lait)
½ cup olive oil
5 slices of stale bread (for breadcrumbs)
850 g/ 1 & ½ pounds potatoes (peeled and sliced in rondelles)
9 cloves garlic (keep 4 for the lamb, and 5 sliced for seasoning)
80 ml/ 1/3 cup good-quality beef or vegetable stock
A large bunch of parsley
60 g/ 1/4 cup unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper, for seasoning
Preheat oven to 210°C/410°F
Rub meat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Coat lamb with the breadcrumbs and place in a large roasting pan. Dot lamb with butter and place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Remove lamb from roasting pan and set aside on a large plate. Cover loosely with aluminium foil. Add potatoes and garlic cloves to the roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and cook in the oven for 15 minutes. Return lamb to the roasting pan (place on top of potatoes), pour in the stock, and cook for a further 25-30 minutes (or until lamb is cooked to your taste). You can cover lamb with a piece of foil to avoid the breadcrumbs to burn.
Chop garlic and parsley finely and sauté in a little olive oil for 3 minutes on a medium heat.
Place potatoes and lamb on a large serving plate. Sprinkle garlic and parsley on top of lamb. Serve immediately with flageolets beans.
300 g/ 2 & ½ cups plain flour, sifted
25/ 2 tbsp granulated sugar
120 g/ ½ cup unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
50 ml/ 3 & ½ tbsp lukewarm full-cream milk
12 g fresh yeast (levure boulangère)
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp orange blossom water
A good handful of small sugar grains (to sprinkle on brioche)
A dash of icing/confectioner’s sugar (to sprinkle on tart just before serving)
For the eggwash:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
Mix both ingredients together in a small bowl.
For the brioche:
Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl the lukewarm milk. Set aside for 5-10 minutes or until it turns frothy. In a large bowl, mix sifted flour, salt, sugar, yeast and butter. Add eggs, orange blossom water and mix well with a big wooden spoon. Start kneading until you get a smooth ball-shaped dough, about 8-10 minutes. Cover bowl with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm room/environment for 2 hours.
Start kneading the dough on a non floured surface, just to get rid of a few trapped air bubbles, about 1-2 minutes. Line the brioche mould generously with butter and place the dough inside. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise again for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F. With the help of a brush, glaze the surface of the brioche with the egg yolk. Sprinkle with sugar grains all over and bake brioche for 30 minutes. If the top starts to brown too much, place a sheet of parchment paper to protect. Set aside, unmould after 10 minutes and leave to cool on a pastry rack.
For the crème patissière (vanilla custard cream)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
400 ml/ 1 & ¾ cup full-cream milk
200 g/ 1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
60 g/ ½ cup corn starch (maïzena)
160 g/ 2/3 cup unsalted butter
1 tbsp orange blossom water
180 ml/ ¾ cup whipping cream
In a saucepan, bring the milk to soft boil with the vanilla seeds and sugar. In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the corn starch. Pour the milk into the egg/corn starch bowl, whisk continuously. Return mixture to saucepan and stir on a low heat until the cream thickens (it should have a thick cream consistency). Set aside. Add half of the butter and stir until blended. Pour cream in a bowl, cover and set aside until completely cooled. When cooled, whisk until it becomes smooth, add the rest of the butter and continue to whisk until the cream becomes fluffy and light. Prepare the whipped cream and combine to the vanilla custard cream.
Carefully slice brioche in half horizontally. Smooth cream mixture over bottom layer, and place second layer on top. Make sure to refrigerate for 1 hour. Just before serving, sprinkle the cake with icing sugar.